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Communist-speak

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:23 UK time, Thursday, 22 November 2012

Last time we discussed the Communist Congress as a ritual, so I thought this time we could deconstruct Communist-speak.

I'm not a specialist in Chinese, but I know that the very title of the Communist Party in Chinese is food for thought. Zhōngguó Gòngchǎndǎng apparently translates as "party of common prosperity" rather than "communist party".

However I'll leave off the Chinese and stick to what I know best - Russian or Soviet-communist speak.

What are my credentials to discuss this? In one of my books - called A Speechwriter - I told a story about the time I was present at a conference where every speech had been written by me.

The first thing to say is that Soviet communist-speak was quite far removed from normal speech.

There was a joke about a communist who, when asked "How many languages do you speak?" replied, "Russian, Communist and Administrative-Cursing Languages".

Secondly, it was different from ordinary language, not just through the usage of communist terms like Leninist, party, scientific communism, rotting bourgeois-capitalist etc. - but also through overcomplicated syntax and structure. Words would negate one another, so that people would be made to clamber along great strings of highly ideological phrases to get to the end of a sentence, but when they got there they would be none the wiser as to the meaning of any of it.

Any hint of everyday sense to be found in epic reports and speeches extending across many hours would be taken by the general public back to their private kitchens and mulled over again and again, spawning a multitude of guesses and assumptions.

'Reading between the lines' was the most popular phrase back then.

Since the entire communist ideology was in fact a type of religion it also inherited the religious linguistic legacy.

The most striking example in communist-speak is the phenomenon of what you might call "double gerundisation", which came from Church liturgical language. For instance, in the language of sermons the word "glory" would become more solemn if it was made into "glorifying" rather than "glorification".

Communists would take any good, practical word and do the same with it: "speed" would turn into "speedifying" and then into "speedification".
Though at first glance this seems like innocent linguistic play, in fact it goes much deeper.

Having failed to achieve a change in reality (remember the famous Marxist thesis: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it"), they decided to effect a change through words.

In those "double-gerundial" nouns there is always a verbal element, the element of action.

For instance the word "better" always requires the act - "to make" or "making", i.e. "to make better". Communist-speak invented the word "betterisation" which doesn't require the act of "making", but magically takes you straight to the result.

One could write dissertations on these twists and turns in Communist-speak, but I would like to end this piece by quoting a predecessor at the BBC, George Orwell, from his novel 1984:

"'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?


George Orwell worked on propaganda for the BBC during World War II

In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.'"

And:

"In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird."

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