宁静致远:ningjing zhiyuan

A quiet life enables one to accomplish something lasting.

Or: tranquility yields transcendence

They all represent types of democracy.

Ancient Greek democracy (where it existed) worked as follows. A pubescent boy would stand naked in the middle of the assembly. If the other men could see evidence of puberty, then the boy was deemed to be a man and admitted to the assembly. Needless to say, such Greek democracy was limited to adult males who were not slaves or foreigners.

Donald Trump is an excellent example of liberal or bourgeois democracy. This type arose in Europe after the French revolution and it typically has a limited number of political parties that are much like one another. Occasional elections are held, while most of the actual governing is done by a parliament, which spends its time pandering to the rich and powerful. It is a system that can produce someone like Donald Trump, who embodies the truth of such a system.

Vladimir Putin represents illiberal democracy. It has many of the trappings of liberal democracy, with some political parties, elections and parliaments. But the system is geared to ensure one party stays in power.

Occasionally I come across the comment that the greatest offence of my Stalin project is that I assume that Stalin could actually think. It may be surprising to some, but many deny him the ability to think, let alone think dialectically. Was he not the one who was a novice at theory, mocked by his comrades for his faltering efforts? Was he not a cunning political operator at best, a woeful destroyer of Marxist theory at worst? Patient and careful attention to his works suggests otherwise. It is a shame so few people actually his written materials, dismissing them as hypocrisy or sophism.

And yes, the Stalin book is almost complete after too many delays. Final outline soon.

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This course, ‘From Mao to Now’, will be kicking off some time in the new year. All the filming, on site in China and in the studio in Newcastle, has been completed, so now it is up the editing and production people. Here is an early version of the introductory trailer.

While doing the final (studio) filming for the MOOC on Chinese Marxism, we got talking about the role of criticism in relation to socialist democracy. The widespread and mistaken international image is that criticism is ruthlessly censored in China.

This is far from the case. In fact, three points are worth noting:

  1. The long socialist tradition of criticism and self-criticism, which the Chinese both inherit and to which they add their own cultural approach. As my Chinese friends tell me, ‘we Chinese are very good at self-criticism’.
  2. The basic difference between constructive and destructive criticism. The Chinese government encourages the former, with constant projects and research focusing on problems and how they might be solved. Take Xinjiang, for instance, where many problems may be found. The efforts to identify the problems and proposed solutions are myriad. But as long as they are constructive. Suggest a destructive solution, such as the secession of Xinjiang as a country, and that will be seen as destructive.
  3. An even more basic distinction is between disdain and friendship. The Chinese are very good at picking up the difference. A foreigner does not have to say anything explicit, but Chinese people will pick up very quickly if aforesaid foreigner looks down on and disrespects China, and they will react accordingly. But if people get the message that you are a friend, the whole situation changes, people open up, and the possibilities for constructive engagement are far, far greater.

With these thoughts in mind, I filmed a segment of the MOOC on the role of criticism in Chinese socialist democracy.

For some perverse reason, I am thoroughly enjoying the finger-pointing and angst over supposed Russian hacking during the recent US election campaign. The fact that the Democrats are sore losers is the least interesting item here. And ludicrous is the claim that it undermines the ‘integrity’ of the US version of bourgeois democracy, which is totally stuffed anyway. But somehow the most obvious point – our friend, the elephant – is that the United States has made it an almost daily routine to interfere in the internal politics of other countries for quite a while. About time they found out what it feels like.