China’s strongman Jiang Zemin is following in the footsteps of Vladimir Lenin by declaring a war on the political left. You heard me right — the left.

“If we fail to combat leftism, we ourselves may be driven off the political stage,” he was quoted in the South China Morning Post as telling a leadership meeting in Beijing last week.

He went on to say that while the nation had suffered from both leftism and rightism, which he defines as “bourgeois liberalization,” it has been leftist errors that have wreaked the most havoc on the country.

What is he talking about? Isn’t Jiang a Communist? Aren’t Communists left-wingers?

As a matter of fact, Jiang is not a Communist in the true sense of the word. He may reign over the Communist Party in China, but he is a power-hungry pragmatist who has much more in common philosophically with Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini than he does with Karl Marx.

These days, political labels are not so easy to pin on people. You have to judge them by their actions, not their membership, or even leadership, in a particular political party.

In fact, this has always been true.

Lenin, for instance, also declared war on “infantile left-wing” thinking. He called it a mental disorder. He was a pragmatist, too. Another one who had no qualms about sending millions to their death for the good of the state.

What I’m saying is that many people today are confusing communism with fascism. Not that one is better than the other. They are both murderous, barbaric systems of totalitarianism. And it’s sometimes easy to confuse them. But there are important distinctions between them that, if recognized can lead toward much clearer thinking in the West and better preparation among free people.

You see, leftists — or, for lack of a better word, “pure” communists — don’t believe the state should ever relinquish any control or authority. The state always knows best. The state can produce more in the long run than private enterprise, they think. And, even in the interest of short-term economic gains, the state should never experiment with capitalism — even in the most controlled and limited ways — for fear it will grow like a disease and consume the communist’s utopian dreams.

Jiang, on the other hand, is willing to experiment with capitalism — because he knows it works. He wants to build China into a true superpower in every sense of the word. He sees China has a chance to dominate the world through rapid economic growth. He’s smart enough to see that previous experiments with totally centralized “command-and-control” economies were dismal failures.

He’s willing to let some individuals get rich — very rich — if they can help him consolidate his power and quickly build his country into an economic and military colossus. So was Hitler. And it worked. In a very short period of time, Germany recovered from a devastating war and rebuilt itself — through a collaboration between big business and government — into a powerful military machine.

Jiang also says he plans to use “conglomerates” to gear the economy towards market forces while maintaining the dominance of the state. The official People’s Daily last week ran front-page stories playing up the success of China’s conglomerates — saying they would be “the backbone fleet” of industry.

The newspaper said that the country would soon produce “aircraft carrier-type” conglomerates that would be at the cutting edge of development. It added that the government would nurture a few large state-owned enterprises and conglomerates in each strategic sector to point the way for other companies and the economy as a whole. Jiang sees these conglomerates one day becoming China’s version of Mitsubishi, General Motors and Microsoft.

For some reason, this is music to the ears of people in Washington. They ought to be hearing the cacophonous noise of World War III.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, fresh back from a trip to Beijing, is upbeat about Jiang’s plans. While expressing some minor concerns about human rights abuses in China, he said the U.S. had a better chance of influencing the country through engagement and dismissed suggestions that China posed a military threat to its neighbors.

Neville Chamberlain had similar ideas.

The greatest threat to America’s freedoms is not from communism but rather from the kind of fascism we see breeding in China today. This is true both domestically and internationally. One of the reasons it is such a threat is precisely because Americans don’t recognize the ugly face of fascism when they see it.

In October, they’ll get a chance to see it, up close and personal, when Jiang comes to Washington to meet President Clinton.

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