In last week’s blog entry, I briefly introduced the topic of my independent project–literature under Communism–and used the design of a panopticon to illustrate the incorporation of surveillance with disciplinary mechanism. I believe the transition of punishment from body to soul will be a reoccurring theme throughout my readings on common people’s lives under communist parties. With this thought in mind, this week, I explored some aspects of Karl Marx’s view on human history, Lenin’s reinterpretation on communist ideology, and the political system Mao implemented in China in order to better understand the fundamental theories behind communism.
I know the list I just generated above seems to be a compile of elusive information, but please have no worries! I want to share with you what I have learned this past week, and thus I will try my best to explain these ideas in a simple language. First, let’s start by imagining a fair and just society for …
1) a city boy who can inherit millions of wealth from his parents
2) a farm girl who has devoted her life in the small farm her family owns
3) a boy born with the absence of legs and arms (phocomelia)
4) a blind girl who lost her parents
How can we make sure all of these children receive equal treatment, including health care and equal access to education? Simply creating a system of welfare will not solve the root cause because the rich can pass down their wealth through legacies, and on the contrary, the poor and the disadvantaged will continue to be marginalized. As you can notice from the examples above, class struggles are inevitable in a capitalist society.
In the 19th century, Karl Marx noticed the incompatible interests of the owners of productive resources and those of the workers (proletarians). In Marx’s analysis, capitalists have to curtail the price of labor and extend working hours in order to attain surplus labor and profits (Wolff 71-73) (Why Read Marx Today?); however, workers want to have higher wages, better working conditions, and shorter hours (Ollman) (What’s Marxism? A Bird-Eye View). This inevitable, yet constant conflict between the rich and the poor is called “Dialectical Materialism” in Marxist thinking. Marx suggested that in the battle with capitalists, the workers’ victory can create a “classless society” and thus eliminate the oppression on the lower class.
Marx and Engels stated that “Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, or an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things (The German Ideology).” However, the Bolsheviks in 1930s’ Russia loosely interpreted Marx’s theory and advocated for an immediate national transfer to the establishment of a communist state. Lenin believed the establishment of a communist state is the prerequisite to build the communist ideal. In his book The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, Lenin suggested “Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the whole people.” Although Marx envisaged that the uprising of a Communist society will take place at a highly advanced stage of capitalism, Lenin retorted that Communism should be implemented in a poverty-stricken and tormented community, such as pre-revolutionary China (Siu and Stern xv). Although Marx believed that the communist revolution would ultimately make the oppressive state of society obsolete (The German Ideology), the Soviet Union upheld the value of a powerful state. Despite its reference to Marxism, Leninism diverted from Marxist original thinking and evolved to become a tool used in bold revolutionary experiment.
Mao Zedong combined both thoughts of Marx and Lenin and adapted them in the unique agrarian-based society of China. From 1949, the creation of the People’s Republic of China, to 1979, Mao’s death, he had devoted three decades to the complete socialist transformation of China. Mao attempted to foster a “collective spirit” amongst the mass, asking them to sacrifice their self interests for the maximum happiness of the crowd, economically and politically (Siu and Stern xviii). In order to train the young generation to become revolutionary successors, textbooks were imbued with stories about revolutionary martyrs and derogatory depiction of foreign powers (Siu and Stern xviii); however, the set of education system in China before the Cultural Revolution was self-corrupted as it couldn’t support the increasing demands for professional education. Enrolment to high education was not only based on students’ academic achievements, but also determined by their class labels, a designation for each family according to its members’ occupation before the Liberation of 1949. Especially after the cultural revolution of 1966-76 and the national movement of sending urban youths to “learn from peasants”, the rising discrepancy between visions and realities disappointed many Mao’s followers.
After the collapse of the Gang of Four, the Mao Generation received a new liberation in their forms of writing. Their hopes and despairs, fantasy and disillusionment can finally be published in state-sponsored literary publications. Through short stories and fictional accounts, they not only revealed past hardship, but also called public attention to problems existing in the post-Mao era. Some of the famous authors were Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Gu Gong, and Shu Ting. In next week’s blog, I will mainly examine Pan Xiao’s “Why Is Life’s Road Getting Narrower and Narrower” and Gu Gong’s “The Two Generation”. I will analyze the change of mindsets in the Mao generation and its comparison with the old generation.
“Classless Society.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/classless-society>.
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It.” The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016. <http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/IC17.html>.
Marx, Karl. “A. Idealism and Materialism.” The German Ideology. Marx Engels Archive, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm>.
Ollman, By Bertell. “What’s Marxism? A Bird’s-Eye View.” Dialectical Marxism The Writings of Bertell Ollman. Bertell Ollman, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016. <https://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/what_is_marxism.php>.
Siu, Helen F., and Zelda Stern. Mao’s Harvest: Voices from China’s New Generation. N.p.: Oxford UP, 1983. Print.
Wolff, Jonathan. Why Read Marx Today? Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.