Dr. Dawg

On neo-Maoism

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Mao red criticism.jpgThis year is the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Zedong to root out “bourgeois tendencies” among the Chinese population. This purity-fest went on for a decade, at enormous cost. China’s schools were shut down, and the nation’s youth, one vast vigilante group known as the Red Guards, were set loose upon the older generation. 1.5 million Chinese perished: millions more were imprisoned, tortured and publicly denounced as enemies of the people.

The man in the photo above, wearing a dunce cap that lists his alleged crimes against the masses, is Luo Zicheng, a Communist leader in Heilongjiang Province. He is taking part in a a ritual form of public humiliation called a “struggle session.” It was a grotesque caricature of the criticism and self criticism that had informed revolutionary practice previously. Anyone working within a movement for social change would agree that the latter is plain common sense. What we see in the photo is not.

This approach to differences on the Left is not dead, by any means. “Pas d’ennemis à gauche” has been replaced by “Pas d’amis à gauche.” Groups fighting for human rights, liberation and social transformation create silos instead of bridges: their behaviour is that of rival cults, not engines of social change. Instead of solidarity, they fetishize “allyship,” a repulsive locution that effectively comes down to endless critique of other progressives, based upon toxic identity politics, that effectively paralyzes collective action and makes long-term mass movements all but impossible.

I have written about this crisis of inaction before, and I won’t repeat myself here—at least very much. But I’m going to tell a little story—not in the way of a complaint, but as an instructive example of what I’m talking about. The personal is the political, or so I’m told, so I’m following in a grand tradition, even if I’m not a member of an oppressed group.

A few days ago I wrote a short article about the racist killing of a young First Nations man, Colten Boushie, by a farmer in Saskatchewan. It was published by Rabble.ca, who will not be asked to publish this piece. In it, I referred sarcastically to the RCMP as “historically renowned for its even-handed treatment of First Nations people.” The problem was, as it turned out, that some folks didn’t get the sarcasm, and read this literally. Others got it, all right, but fretted that still other folks might not.

I can well understand the indignation that would follow such a misreading, though, so once I encountered the reaction (both at the Rabble.ca site and on its Facebook page), I stopped shaking my head and inserted a footnote. You would think that might have ended the matter. Ha! Not on your nelly.

The neo-Maoist denunciations followed swiftly. To a claim by a First Nations woman that FN people don’t get sarcasm, I responded with a couple of FN links that indicate the opposite; I agreed, though, to place the footnote. But a stream of invective followed, both from her and from others whose aggressive, sneering self-righteousness was not a joy to behold. The adage “You are only offended if you want to be” sprang to mind. They wanted. How they wanted.

They didn’t argue: instead, they spewed gratuitous insults with an admixture of bizarre misreadings of nearly every word I said. In answer to the snarky question, “Are you only writing for Settlers (capitalized)?” I responded, truthfully, that I write for readers. It would never occur to me to segment my readership by “race” or ethnicity. But that, among other responses of mine, was held to be disrespectful, offensive, etc., etc., ad nauseam. One young imbecile asked (sarcastically!) whether I wanted a “hero cookie.” The hole I was digging just got deeper and deeper. You can probably find the whole thing over on Rabble’s Facebook page, but no link from me.

I stopped digging just before I disappeared. Reasoning with the unreasonable, as I yet again discovered, simply fans the flames of unreason. But matters didn’t end there, either. The trolls took their quarrel over to Rabble.ca itself. I asked my editor to remove my own comments from the thread, which he did. Apparently this thing has now dribbled into Twitter as well, although I don’t do Twitter. It’s alleged that I’m silencing them. Could have fooled me.

Anyway, this in a nutshell is how easy it is for anti-racists to sidebar an article about racism. But wait! Matters didn’t conclude with an inconclusive sic et non about sarcasm and settler-colonialism.

I am reliably informed that other complaints have been made as well: specifically, about my use of the word “lynching” and the phrase “Say his name,” referring to Colten Boushie. Apparently Black people are alleged to hold proprietary rights in both cases. How dare I apply either to the racist killing of a First Nations man? Wasn’t lynching a mechanism in the Deep South to keep the Black population docile and fearful? Of course it was. But it wasn’t used only against Blacks, as the ghost of Leo Frank would agree: and I raise this only because no one seems to object to the term when applied to him. Nor is mobbing to death as a tool of racial oppression unknown in other countries. And why the blazes should the name of Colten Boushie not be memorially invoked by a plain English phrase, simply because he was First Nations and not Black?

There I go. I’m arguing again. I shall cease.

But there are lessons aplenty to be learned from all this. When a member of an oppressed minority speaks, white folks better listen—but not uncritically. We should not accept every word uttered as gospel before which we must meekly abandon all discussion and submit. Oppressed people are not monoliths: in fact, it’s a common racist device to pretend the opposite. If we want to change the world, or even a small corner of it, we desperately need discussion, questioning, debate, active listening, and openness among all of us. That can mean disagreement, even rancorous disagreement sometimes, but with an end in view: deeper understanding, closer comradeship, eyes on the prize.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was neither great, nor proletarian, nor cultural, nor even a revolution. It tore apart a nation and deeply traumatized its people. But its methods do seem eerily familiar these days. Let’s find some new ones and get on with the job.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 17, 2016 2:00 PM.

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