What is the Chinese version of having an argument with yourself?

The mind questions the mouth and the mouth questions the mind (Journey to the West, p. 1710).

The burden of growing up in China. A youthful Mao reflects:

The study of how to be a citizen is the study of the history, geography, political doctrine, and artistic climate of one’s country … Certainly, the study of being a person or a citizen is easy, while the study of being a Chinese is difficult. There are five thousand years of history, the land extends over seven thousand li, political doctrine is extremely complex, and human feelings and customs are broad and complex. How can we approach all this? If we were Japan, with only three islands within our borders, or Germany, with a history of only half a century and land equivalent in size to our two provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong alone, how easy things would be! (Mao’s Road to Power, vol. 1, p. 79)

More from the young Mao, even before he was a communist:

China has freedom but the Western countries have despotism. China’s politics and laws are simple and  taxes are light, but the Western countries are just the opposite (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 22)

It must be the 60th anniversary of Joe Stalin’s death today that has brought up a somewhat strange conjunction. Only a few days ago I was enjoying the company of some of those involved in the Lenin research group in Nanjing:

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Here is to be found a person holding a position to which everyone should aspire: a Professorship of Scientific Socialism.

Needless to say, I gave a lecture while in Nanjing:

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 And then, hours later, I was trudging through the snow of eastern Germany:


Climbing a hill called Langsamer Tod (Slow Death):


All in order to get to the evening meal of the Zinzendorf Society:

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… as one does.

Two weeks of perpetual motion thus far: Beijing, along the Chang Jiang (‘Yangtze’) for three days, Wuhan, Frankfurt and then all night (unplanned) on trains and stations in the Romanian countryside, Baia Mare in Transylvania, and then more trains to Berlin. A few preliminary images; reflections later.

Heartwarming to see Lenin posters about. There should be more, many more.

I guess you can really do this only in China.

But now it gets a little more interesting:

For this is none other than the bed of the younger Mao and his wife – when they lived in Wuhan. So this is, as I observed when we were ushered in, where it happened.

Couldn’t resist sharing the same space … until I was sternly reprimanded by the staff.

I really must get a sign like this for home.

But then, after 60 hours of travel, most of it on multiple trains, I was in Romania.

I spent some time hanging out with the locals in Transylvania, in the mountains and villages.

From the old woman’s house, we stumbled across the local distillery.

That small mug was full of Palincă, plum brandy. He handed it to me and said ‘drink up’ …

Which is probably why I agreed to wear some local winter gear.

Thankfully, I was not alone in enjoying such delights.

Soon I am off, for China and New Zealand and a few lectures and papers. In one of my regular acts of shameless self-promotion (thank God I don’t have one of those silly facebook accounts!), the titles:

Venerating Lenin – invited public lecture, Beijing Foreign Languages University, 20 August.

On the Myth of Classicism - keynote address at Renmin University Summer Institute on Christian Culture, Suzhou 27-31 August.

A Dead Spouse, A Vegetable Garden and a Cousin’s Field: On Private Property – paper at Bible and Critical Theory Seminar, Auckland, 1-2 September.

Trading Ventures and Other Tall Tales of the Hebrew Bible – seminar at Otago University, Dunedin, 7 September.

As you can see, both ‘The Matriarch’s Muff’ and ‘The Music Album Musical Bum of the Bible’ have yet to be unleashed.

I have just returned from China, where an increasingly strong feeling is that a critical reappropriation of the Cultural Revolution is around the corner – as part of retelling the story of the past to open up possibilities for the future. More of that later, especially in relation to Confucius. But it is worth noting a few other signals, over against ‘romantic’ Western Marxism that I have taken to task in earlier posts and that always imagines the perfect revolution is yet to be achieved (the flabby Žižek, among others, take note).

From Russia comes a story of the steady increase of the Pioneer Communist Youth League:

Over 5,000 boys and girls clad in red ties and side caps flooded onto Red Square in Moscow to be accepted into the ranks of the Pioneer Communist Youth League.

Almost 90 years ago to the day, the Soviet scouting movement was created at the second All-Russian Komsomol Conference. Komsomol was the youth division of the Soviet communist party.

And while the original Pioneer youth organization of the Soviet Union has been defunct since 1991, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) has continued the tradition.

Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the youths gathered on Red Square“pioneers have always been model examples of how to love one’s motherland, how to be a good and honorable student, and how to help one’s elders and juniors alike.”

The children who were sworn in on Sunday came both from Moscow and surrounding regions.

CPFR secretary Yury Afonin says there were delegations from 30 different regions across the country, including Siberia and beyond, RIA Novosti reports.

Afonin insists “it isn’t just a tradition; they are doing real work with the children.”

He also said that around 4,000 youngsters from around the country take the oath to“warmly love and protect their homeland” annually, though the number who want to join is actuality much higher.

But while logistic and security concerns have limited the number of the movement’s slowly building ranks, next year even more youths will be wrapping themselves in the red pioneer scarf.

Despite a lack of state support, Afonsin believes the enthusiasm of today’s generation of pioneers keeps the movement alive.

For the children,“it’s a holiday that lasts a lifetime,” he concluded.

The video on the link noted earlier is worth watching.

(ht sk)

Since bunga bunga became a little hot under the collar in discussion over a previous post on China concerning the question of class, I thought I’d explain.

Put simply, class is defined in both objective and subjective terms. Objectively, class designates the difference between those who work to produce goods and those who extract a surplus from those goods but do not produce them. This objective difference is manifested in division of labour, which operates in complex patterns of distinctions between male and female, mind and body, city and country, material and immaterial wealth. The subjective dimension involves a consciousness of belonging to a particular class. That consciousness includes a complex web of cultural assumptions, modes of speech, social codes, world outlook and religion. Most significantly, class consciousness is determined by a class opponent, the differences with which are marked by opposing assumptions of one’s role and importance within production, and by the cultural assumptions each holds.

To take the classic example from Marx, while the objective conditions for a working class emerged well before 1848, it was only with those revolutions that a distinct working class emerged. How? Up until that point, all had been united on a common front with promises of freedom and equality. However, when the bourgeoisie gained power, the workers expected and demanded the same freedoms. Bugger off, said the bourgeoisie. They aren’t for you. At this moment a class enemy becomes clear. And in that identification of a class enemy, the consciousness of being a working class emerges. Only then is it possible to speak of a ‘working class’, where both objective and subjective factors play a role.

As colleagues in China have explained to me, this analysis works very well there. With the problematic adoption of certain aspects of capitalist economic relations in the late 1970s, they brought with them objective conditions for a working class and a middle class. So you do have a situation where some work on farms, others work in industries that supply most of the world, and others in various management positions. And you do have millionaires, or rogue capitalists, who make their living off the surplus produced. This is a situation that many find highly problematic and much energy is being expended to deal with it. But you do not have the subjective conditions for a working class or a middle class, since the class enemy has not been identified through a crucial incident or series of incidents. All of which means that the loose terminology of China’s ‘rising middle class’ or exploited ‘working class’, bandied about in the Western media, or even among those who should know better, misses the point.

Should a point of class consciousness and the identification of class enemies occur, then that may well be the signal that the Chinese experiment has failed. But if they can manage to avoid that moment and cut back the situation that has created the objective conditions, then they may succeed with their unique experiment.

Have the Chinese leaders been reading Lenin (again)?

Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand this.

Collected Works, volume 32, p. 334

Why is it that in concealed (and farcical) one-party states, such as Australia, the USA or any ‘liberal democracy’, the range, strength and intensity of political debate is far less than in explicit and open one-party states, such as China or the former USSR?