Showing posts with label Cultural Revolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultural Revolution. Show all posts

23 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution - Part 2


by Eve Fisher

Where we left off two weeks ago, was with the collapse of old regime governments and the rickety nature of the moderate governments that take over.  That rickety nature is because, as I said last time,
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes (the radicals) because
  • the moderates must maintain government, want to maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it.
The Extremists 

Revolutions work in stages:  from moderates to extremists, until finally the lunatic extremists take over.  Now the lunatic extremists are always a minority, and such a tiny minority that everyone discounts them, because obviously they don't speak for the majority.  But the extremists are willing to do ANYTHING to get into power, including attending all those boring committee meetings that everyone else ignores, where they quickly become the secretaries, treasurers, and chairmen.  This means they run the bureaucracy of the revolution:  they control who gets elected, who gets jobs, who gets money.  And, as the extremists' candidates start winning elections, they change the voting rules - the electorate is shaved down, elections are rigged and eventually elections are eliminated, because the extremists have to stay in power in order to "maintain the revolution."

And then comes the Reign of Terror.  Ideological purity is made the touchstone of everything, which makes it increasingly dangerous to be different - and the lunatic extremists keep changing the goalposts, making ideological purity not just harder and harder to achieve, but impossible to achieve. Nobody is ever pure enough.  Let me repeat that point, and please remember it, because it's a dead giveaway, then and now and in future:  Nobody is ever pure enough for the extremists.



The Reign of Terror (and there always is one)

The Revolution has been very busy killing off its enemies:  the obvious Royalists, White Army, capitalists, bourgeois industrialists, or feudalists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Huguenots, and whatever other category they deem dangerous.  But now it starts eating its own.  The last thing to be in a revolution is one of the first revolutionaries, because you are going to get killed:  Danton is guillotined; Trotsky gets it in the head with an ice axe; Liu Shaoqi - former President of the People's Republic of China - dies naked and alone in a windowless cell.  Robespierre, Stalin, and Mao all killed almost everyone who used to be their comrades in arms, as well as thousands to millions of innocent citizens.

The other fun things about the Reign of Terror are:
  • Individual liberties are suppressed, if not made illegal, especially free speech and the right to dissent.  As I said earlier, elections are either obviously rigged or banned outright.  
    • NOTE:  This is actually not hypocrisy.  The extremists know that they have the true answer to how men should live, and so any opposition must be wiped out for the good of the country, perhaps even the good of humanity.  To oppose them is to oppose God (or whatever term the extremists use).  
  • Virtue is enforced.  They ban every vice, from gambling to drinking, whoring to theater, and a lot of stuff that just seems like it might be fun, like dancing or reading.  And it doesn't have anything to do with religion:  although some revolutions have been religious in basis (the English Civil Wars were quickly taken over by extreme Puritans, among others), even atheist revolutions (Mao's Cultural Revolution) are extremely ascetic.  
  • Robespierre guillotining the
    executioner after having
    guillotined everyone else in France
    • NOTE:  This is why George Orwell's Big Brother banned sex; as Julia says to Winston, "When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?" 
    • FURTHER NOTE:  Quite a few leaders of the extremists, like Robespierre and Thomas Paine, are Pure Young Men, which only increases the push for extreme virtue and terror, because nobody is ever pure enough for a Pure Young Man, who will, if pushed, kill maniacally in his cause.   For a definition of a Pure Young Man, see yours truly's article in SleuthSayers http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/06/emergency-pure-young-men.html.  For an example, watch the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Peter O'Toole's Lawrence starts shooting everyone in sight, with great bloody joy.
  • Extraordinary courts and special revolutionary police are set up - no evidence needed, no lawyer provided, just a quick snatch off the streets, and a rubber-stamp of "guilty - condemned" for all who are unfortunate enough to be hauled before them. 
  • There are mass exiles, imprisonments, and executions.  Endless executions.  Sometimes it seems if the extremists want everyone dead.  Sometimes they do.
  • War is common, indeed necessary:  War is used to spread the gospel of revolution abroad and as a distraction from how bad things are at home under the extremists.  (Sometimes it's imaginary - North Korea's been battling the United States in its own mind for almost 70 years - but it's still effective.)  
The End of Extremism

Here comes the good news:  flesh and blood can only take so much, and eventually the extremists are ousted.  For one thing, the common man and woman just can't take being forced into early sainthood, and fear will not work forever, even if it seems like it.  Some, like Robespierre, call for one too many deaths and are executed themselves. Others, like Mao and Stalin, die of natural causes, and afterwards their supposed followers can't move fast enough to lighten things up.  In China, they arrested the Gang of Four, led by Mao's last wife, Jiang Qing, and blamed them - especially her - for everything; shortly thereafter, Deng Xiaping declared "To get rich is glorious!"



In France, once Robespierre was dead, people opened the bars, pulled out the wine, and women started dressing sexy again, which is how Josephine Beauharnais nabbed Napoleon.  It's a giddy time - everyone is free, free, free!

Madame Recamier, by David, bringing sexy back
Return of Absolutism

And then comes the Restoration.  Literally in England, with Charles II.  Brezhnev in Russia.  Calles in Mexico.  A brief empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and then the Bourbons returned.  (Talleyrand said of them, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing," which is why the restored monarchy only lasted until 1848.)  The Chinese Communist Party clones, president after president.

      

And yet, something has changed.  Just as nobody survives a deadly disease without some change to their psyche, so no country survives a revolution without some changes to their society.  Not habits:  human habits are hard to change, or at least were before mass media required us all to mimic Hollywood images. But ideas did change, took root; civil rights were expanded; there was some redistribution of wealth and/or land.  In France, the Revolution left behind a secularization, universal education, the metric system of weights and measures, and governmental centralization that is still in place, and, thanks to the Napoleonic Empire, was spread all around Europe.  In both China and Russia, the peasants got land and permission to engage in some capitalistic behavior, in exchange for which the Party was allowed to stay in power.  What were once revolutionary symbols - the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - become the national liturgy.  And each revolution "proves" that revolution can work - if you just get it right, so maybe next time...

And the memory of the Great Revolution is enshrined, if not downright embalmed in holy incense, as a sacred time when people were unified and pure.  Or as a time of amazing excitement and brotherhood, such as never has been known since.  It is a Golden Age.  Except, of course, to the families of those who were killed.  But who's listening to them?  After all, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs" - that came out of the French Revolution, too.

21 November 2013

Speaking of the Other: China


by Eve Fisher

(NOTE:  Using my emergency blog because I have just emerged from computer hell, and a weekend at the pen, and I have literally not had time to work on anything but that.  Will update you on the boys next time.)

What's the deal with China? Are they really out to take over the world? (Maybe)
Are they going to invade? (No)
What do they want? (Life, food, clothing, shelter, a little fun...)
Why don't they understand human rights? (Define your terms.)
How can they call themselves Communist if they practice capitalism? (see below)
Don't they know that's wrong? Don't they know what's wrong? Don't they practice Zen Buddhism? Is that where the samurai came from? (Sigh.) Yes, I've heard all of these and more back in my teaching days.

Jade Emperor
First of all, China has been in existence since the Shang Dynasty (around 1600 BCE) and ever since has considered itself to be the center of the world: that's why China's name for itself is Zhongguo, the Middle Kingdom. And China has been the dominant powerhouse of Asia for almost all of those millennia. To grasp this, consider that America has been a superpower for less than 80 years, and we're pretty possessive about our status. Every week - probably every day - some pundit/politician is screaming about America losing its dominance in the world sphere as if that is going to bring about the end of the world.

Meanwhile, China laughs. Being the dominant cultural, economic, and military presence in Asia for over 3000 years has meant that the Chinese pretty much see everyone else as culturally inferior barbarians. Yes, they're willing to adopt the technological advancements or cultural quirks those crazy barbarians come up with that might be helpful or fun, like KFC or cars–  but that doesn't mean they're going to adopt Western ideology. Why should they?

The truth is, China and the West share almost nothing in background, history, religion, or social values. China never experienced Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon. The West never experienced Qin Shihuangdi (the emperor of the Qin Dynasty, from which we get the name China), Cao Cao, Empress Wu, or Kublai Khan.  And most Westerners have never even heard of them.

Empress Wu
China knew absolutely nothing of the Roman empire, the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the discovery of the New World. On the other hand, the West knew absolutely nothing about the Zhou, Qin, Sui, Tang (a Golden Age), or Song Dynasties. Chinese and Western history only merge in the 1840's. And even then, the West never bothered to learn Chinese history.  (For the most part, we still don't.) They just wanted the porcelain, silk and silver.

NOTE: Porcelain is French for pigs in wool: the first imports to the West (post-Roman empire) were to the French court, which was the only one that could afford them, and the merchants brought lots of pigs (porc), a symbol of good luck and fortune in China, wrapped in wool (laine) to keep them from breaking.

SECOND NOTE: The West got gunpowder, paper, pasta, and various navigation equipment from China, but, since (once imported) all of these could be made at home, the Chinese did not get credit for them for a very long time.

Back to differences: in the West, the religious background is primarily Judeo/Christian/ Islamic; in China, it's Confucian/Daoist/Buddhist.

Lao Tze, Confucius, and Buddha frolicking in a glade

The great Western religious are monotheistic, exclusive (you can only believe in one at a time) and have a strong belief in the afterlife; the Eastern religions aren't and don't. You can be a Daoist Confucian Buddhist, no problem.  On the other hand, in the West, science has practically become a religion, in which nature is a group of objects that we can use, shape, predict, control. In Asia, animism– the idea that every stick and stone has a living spirit in it– was (and still to some extent is) the norm.

The Western philosophical background is Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; theirs is Confucius and his followers. Our philosophical tradition is one of logic and reason, and it's bred in our bones. We believe, naturally, innately, that when a thing is proved, it's proved, and you cannot hold two opposite beliefs at the same time without something serious being wrong with you. The Eastern way of thought is based on harmony and synthesis. Just because you prove one thing doesn't automatically mean that its opposite is wrong. In the Eastern mind, two opposites can - and should - balance each other very well, because that's what life is all about: yin/yang, male/female, good/evil, etc. Instead of creating equality by erasing differences, equality comes through fulfilling separate spheres that balance each other.

Our social background, especially in America, emphasizes individualism, freedom, and equality. The Chinese social background emphasizes community (especially the family), loyalty, filial piety, and hierarchy. Harmony is the primary goal on all levels of life, which can lead to a lot of sublimated emotions in the search for exterior peace. It also means that, if there's a choice between order and freedom, guess which wins? Order, every time.  For thousands of years, the watchword of every government has been "Stability above all."
Qin Shihuangdi

A lot of this is thanks to Qin Shihuangdi, the most ruthless emperor of Chinese history. In less than 20 years, the Qin Emperor set up a system of unified weights and measures, laws, money, and written language, all of which are still pretty much in place. He built roads, bridges, and much of the Great Wall of China using slave labor. He also came up with all sorts of ways to control the people, including thought control.

Legend has it that he burned all books except for "useful" ones like medical or agricultural works; that he tried to wipe out Confucianism and its teachers; and set in place the still-useful idea of collective responsibility. Basically, under collective responsibility, if one person committed a crime, or was just suspected of it, his entire family, perhaps his entire clan, would be arrested, tortured, perhaps killed. This encouraged people to police their own family, even to the point of turning them in, in order to save the clan. Harmony, order, above all.

Mao Zedong liked the Qin Emperor's style, and claimed to be his reincarnation. Certainly the Cultural Revolution appeared to be a Qin repeat, in which entire families were wiped out or sent to the country for reeducation because someone was a teacher, doctor, or otherwise educated.  (NOTE:  Mao was crazy, but not a fool - during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese nuclear scientists were kept carefully protected from any harassment.)  Today all of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution are blamed on Mao's 4th wife, Jiang Qing, former actress and leader of the "Gang of Four".  Mao is still officially revered, even worshipped as a (minor) deity among some.  But the cult of Mao is why any current Chinese leader who appears to be rising up above the norm (i.e., have a personality) is quickly chopped down (see Bo Xilai, soon to be tried by the Supreme People's Court for everything from corruption to murder; he may be guilty of some of it, but his primary crime was being interesting).

But what about Communism?  Well, I could go into all the philosophical/political differences between Chinese Communism and Russian Communism - for one thing Chinese Communism basically threw out the thought of Karl Marx and Lenin because they had to.  But the real way to look at it is quite simple:  The Chinese Communist Party is basically the latest Chinese Dynasty.  Mao Zedong led a cult of personality, just as the founder of almost every dynasty has (especially the Qin Emperor - maybe Mao was the reincarnation).  But really, the style of government barely changed:  the Chinese government always had tight control of almost every aspect of Chinese life, laws have always been strict, the peasants have always been screwed, and everyone has always been scrambling to get wealthy.  As Deng Xiaoping said (after Mao's death):  "Poverty is not socialism:  to get rich is glorious."  They're still practicing that, too.