Thursday, October 30, 2008


When seeing those Soviet Union posters, I felt they are very similar to what Chinese did in history. Besides language, there's almost nothing else different. Modern China is basically a Chinese version of Soviet Union’s revolution, thus they were both anti-capitalism, and they had the same kind of propaganda: using red color to represent revolution, leaders at the center surrounded by farmers, workers and students. When looking at these posters now, I feel kind of ridiculous, but most people at that time truly believed it, or nobody dared to doubt it.

Propaganda in English is usually a negative word. If people are aware of propaganda, they know it’s biased or not true. But in Chinese, it’s a neutral word, and most people simply accept it. Hence the most dangerous thing is not to be affected by or agree with propaganda, but to believe in propaganda without knowing it is actually propaganda. Especially many years later, when people find those posters in huge contrast with the real history, they tend to lost in self-negation. For example, between 1958 and 1961, China experienced a land reform “the Great Leap Forward,” in propaganda and statistics, everywhere seemed to harvest, but it actually resulted in famines and thirty million people perished.

Fortunately, propaganda doesn’t work as well as decades before. Thanks to various media, people could receive every kind of information from everywhere, which makes propaganda more dubious than ever before. Comparatively, we live in a much freer and more open time, but as always, there’s still censorship around, looking for things not in accordance with official propaganda.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bernstein vs. Luxemburg

Between Bernstein and Luxemburg, it’s hard to say who’s right or wrong. In history, some modern social democratic countries followed Bernstein’s ideas, while some Communist countries, such as Soviet Union and China, went on to revolution, which resulted in the death of Communism in Russia and dramatic reform within Communism in China. If given another chance, I wish China could adopt Bernstein’s way, not criticizing him as Revisionist. Bernstein himself said that “which concerns me… is, by opposing what is left of the utopian mode of thought in the socialist theory, to strengthen equally the realistic and the idealistic element in the socialist movement.” His balance between extreme ideals and pragmatic approach to society might be a better solution.

Bernstein was not a traditional or stereotyped Marxist; his ideas were rather practical than revolutionary. He argued that “social democracy would flourish far better by lawful than unlawful means and by violent revolution,” which makes him look like a conservatism. Maybe that’s why other Marxist like Luxemburg criticized him as Revisionist. But no matter how we label a thinker, she or he should think how an idea could function in a society first, not only in accordance with certain ideologies. Suppose if Marx and Engels could make a choice: who is more Marxist, Bernstein or Luxemburg?

Just as Luxemburg pointed out, Bernstein thought his ideas “to be in agreement with certain declarations of Marx and Engels.” In his article, he even quoted from Marx and Engels, such as “the working classes cannot simply take possession of the ready-made State machine and set it in motion for their own aims” when analyzing the Paris Commune, and he also used Engels to say “the next task of the party should be ‘to work for an uninterrupted increase of its votes.’”

On the other hand, Bernstein also provided some critique to Marxism, apart from his overall agreement. He wrote “the evolution of modern society was correct as far as it characterized the general tendencies of that evolution. But it was mistaken in several special deductions, above all in the estimate of the time the evolution would take.” The book is written in 1899, but if he waited till the October Revolution in the Soviet Union, he would change it to the time and space the evolution would take, as Soviet Union was by no means an advanced capitalist nation. What’s more, Luxemburg thought “what Bernstein questions is not the rapidity of the development of capitalist society, but the march of the development itself and, consequently, the very possibility of a change to socialism.” This evaluation sounded more severe, like he's attacking socialism.

Then the question focused on what’s the correct march of capitalism and socialism, and whether there would be a catastrophic crisis before capitalism transformed into socialism. According to Bernstein, in capitalist countries, “the more the political organizations of modern nations are democratized the more the needs and opportunities of great political catastrophes are diminished.” This tendency and prediction scared other Marxists, as Luxemburg worried that “capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary.” Ironically, history first favored revolutionaries in some countries yet ended in Communist catastrophes, so history ultimately happened in the way Luxemburg didn’t want to be, in which capitalism “maintain itself by suppressing its own contradictions.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Marx and Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party

As a student coming from a nation ruling by a Communist Party, I read the Manifesto with respect and sincere. It’s by no means saying I agree with most of what the Chinese government did according to their understanding of Marxism, but I’m trying to discover how much the Manifesto impacted modern China, both positively and negatively. I still remember in my Chinese university, there was a philosophy course using the whole semester to talk about the Manifesto, but now I only have one night and one class to focus on it.

The idea of class becomes very complicated today. Everyone might have a class, but she may not be conscious about it, or not willing to identify herself within the class. But in the Manifesto, they believed “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” And in modern Chinese history, the government did categorize everyone into different classes, which could totally determine one’s destiny. Based on class, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and “every class struggle is a political struggle.” That’s what I’ve learned the perspective of history in Chinese history textbook, but now I become more and more doubt it. I would rather put it simply as one of many different explanations of history, not the only one.

When analyzing the development of the bourgeoisie, I found Marx and Engels had some great predictions for today’s world. At first, they thought “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. … The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.” If they still live today, I don’t know what they would say about globalization or the question why everything is made in China. They also assumed that “the necessary consequence of this was political centralization,” which European Union provides an excellent example. What’s more, “the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly.” Who knows whether the economic crisis we’re experiencing now is the most threatening one; it’s not the beginning, nor the end.

Marx and Engels gave all their trust and credit to the proletariat. They praised “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” However in practice, it could be a small group of people arouse the proletarian movement for their own purpose but in the name of for the interest of the immense majority. Comparing to bourgeoisie “has played a most revolutionary part,” they claimed “the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class.” Then who's the more genuine revolutionary class? Just like the French Revolution, only the most revolutionary class could exist till the end, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be ignored that they’re also the most horrible class. And Marx and Engels's most famous prediction or warning is that “what the bourgeoisie therefore produce, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” But the reality is we still haven’t seen the fall of bourgeoisie or the victory of the proletariat, but capitalism and socialism are already kind of mingled into different societies.

I’m not criticizing Marx and Engels was wrong. They were just trying to describe the world they lived in, and how the world should be. They had many insights into the bourgeoisie, and they provided an alternate vision for the proletariat. They couldn’t expect what could happen in the world after their lives, no matter how greatly related to their Manifesto.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Heywood: Socialism

This article couldn’t be more familiar to me. My high school politics textbooks are pretty much the same with it, though in Chinese. Those principles are exactly how I’m educated: always skeptical about industrial capitalism, always believe community and co-operation are better than individuals. But we don’t stress on class conflict or social commitment to egalitarianism as much as before, because these ideas caused horrible chaos in social practice. We are still struggling with the problem of national property privatization today.

Marx is the most important contributor to socialism, who is like a ghost I could never get away from. I wish I wouldn’t need to learn Marx any more when I got out of China, but now I’m still reading and writing about him, as he’s also very influential in Western countries. He warned that “capitalism was unstable, doomed because of conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat.” Though history didn’t follow the way Marx predicted, I believe it’s not because Marx made a mistake, but capitalism changed itself because of Marx. That’s how those modern social democratic countries come from. To the opposite, China has adopted economical capitalism since 30 years ago. Hence, there’s an ironic saying in China today that “if you want to see socialism, go to north Europe; if you want to see capitalism, come to China.”

Marxism is said to be too idealistic and utopia, which is very attempted while “dangerous,” because “he said little about how this goal could be achieved in practice.” That’s where things become very problematic. In both Soviet Union and China’s practices, I wouldn’t say they’re completely failed, but they did cause huge sacrifice and social turmoil.

There’s an interesting observation at the beginning of the article, that socialism established “itself as a major political force in virtually every part of the globe, with the exception of North America.” I remember there’s a German named Wemer Sombart wrote a book about this topic: “why there is no socialism in America?” How could America be an exception? Is that saying liberalism and conservatism here are strong enough to resist any other kind of ideology? I couldn’t really figure it out.

Phyllis Schlafly: The Power of the Positive Woman

Before looking at Schlafly’s critique, we should recognize huge achievements of women liberation movement since the last century. Within a comparatively short period of time, women have earned tremendous rights and equality than ever before. When reading “the good wife’s guide” in 1955 and thinking how ridiculous it sounds today, we should aware that how greatly women have changed since then thanks to feminism.

However, as long as there is difference, there is inequality. In this sense, Schlafly reminded us feminism is fundamentally trying to achieve an unachievable equality between men and women, because they are inherently different. I like the point Schlafly mentioned that “the differences are not a woman’s weakness but her strength.” If women could empower themselves based on their differences, it might produce more strong women than other feminists supposed to.

There are two things in related to feminism I want to note. One is the doubt that I always have: do we need to think in a feminist way all the time, no matter stressing women’s weak position or women’s difference from men? Suppose a male professor discusses an academic issue with a female professor, does she or he always think their different opinions are because of their different genders? In other words, to what extent does gender difference affect people’s thoughts?

The other is a statistic showed that in recent years, female students graduated from Ivy Leagues would rather become housewives taking care of kids than being “powerful” women, and the number is still on the rise. When the first time I saw the news, it’s really shocked. It seems like no matter how well women have been educated, no matter how liberal and open the society is, traditional roles of men and women are still working in everyone’s mind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Russell Kirk: Ten Conservative Principles

After reading Kirk’s article, for the first time, I felt conservatism is not that bad idea. It’s a necessary balance to liberalism, and without either of them, the society is imperfect. Conservatism is mostly based on observation and reflection of human history, just as what they believe that “A people’s historic continuity of experience offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers.” It’s an ironic saying to those liberal thinkers, but a practical perspective in real life.

History is proved to happen in a cycle way. Though people are always trying to get out the cycle and set up a new world, they end up just starting a new cycle. As Kirk said, “that power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.” For this reason, conservative doesn’t abolish but restrain power so as to avoid anarchy or tyranny.

Liberalism has good intention for a better society, but its idealistic ideas always cause terrible human experiments. Kirk used modern history as an example that “the ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.” There’s nothing wrong with the idea, while the problem is how to practice the idea, or whether the idea is practical. The conservative doesn’t want to take risks of human life, so “they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.”

It’s not to say the conservative rejects any kind of change, but Kirk claimed “necessary change ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.” Rome was not built in a day, though people tend to forget it and wish change could happen overnight. But it’s never the case in history. As a more practical approach, “the conservative favors reasoned and temperate progress,” which might take a long time, but it also minimizes harm and chaos to society.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mania for Revolution

Some person’s mania is easily identified as heresy and he is either a real madman or a real genius who is hard to live in harmony with the society. However, the collective mania in the certain historical time is regarded as a natural thing. They all have noble ideals, which they spare no effort to realize and for which they are even willing to do inhuman deeds. As for the tremendous disasters that may come as a result, they do not care and even they do not know. One day mania will die down and by then people will find what they have done is so absurd. But history is made, which can not be rewritten.

The best representation of collective mania is revolution. Revolution is a word that sounds exciting and agitating, to say nothing of the revolution launched by the public. Nevertheless, sometimes revolution is the most deadly killer and the bloodiest conspiracy. In the name of revolution, rational thinking is shackled and just revolt is hanged. Only by the maniacal pursuit of the so-called ideal can people save their lives.

What can arouse collective mania must be those faramita ideals. The slogan of French Revolution is freedom, equality and fraternity, which is still inspiring up to the present. Rousseau’s theory, the General Will is Indestructible, makes the rebel reasonable and the revolution guiltless. However, how can his pure democracy be realized nationwide? No matter whether the ideal can be achieved or not, it can really incite tremendous irrational enthusiasm among the bottom level of the society. “Once released, the irrational enthusiasm will become the crazy wave of deconstructing the civilization which can not subside in a short time.”(Zhu Xueqin)

Nevertheless, once the Pandora Box is opened, “the spiritual atom of the human society” is “ignited” (Mao Zedong) and it will lead to a loss of control in historical development. The society is weirdly characterized by “the coexistence of ferocity and kindness, the concomitance of terror and ideal”. During “the Cultural Revolution” numerous red guards from all over the country came to Beijing just in order to wait for the inspection by Chairman Mao. They made Tian’anmen Square a red ocean, but just by them how many people were wrongly condemned, punish, insulted, and even persecuted to death? Similarly, “the beginning symbol of the French Revolution was attacking and destroying Bastille prison and saving seven prisoners there; three years later with the development of revolution and the foundation of Republic, schools and churches were turned into prisons and thousands of innocent prisons were slaughtered. Those things were done by the same public people of Paris.”(Lin Da)

Innocent sacrifice and ferocity breaching the original intention are the bloody costs caused by mania. However, the cost of revolution is far beyond these. Just before the French Revolution, an example for revolution arose in America on the other shore of the Atlantic Ocean. “For Americans, war is one thing while drawing up a constitution is another thing. Those are two things that can not be messed up.” “Drawing up a constitution is certainly a kind of revolution. But the real revolution is the transformation of internal system, not the external form.” “Those representatives who drastically debated and argued but finally had to compromise and sign in the council house would not launch a new revolution but try their best to explain to the public people the necessity of compromise. They persuaded the people to vote to approve the constitution in order to enact it as soon as possible.” “In the revolution of the United States there are not those romantic revolutionary stories like public people’s occupying Bastille prison, which can be showed off to the offspring. It is boring but logical.” (Lin Da)

“As for Versailles’s constitutional convention, the rebellion of Paris people was rather interference than support. Versailles could not hold a peaceful council board any more. They were put into an awkward position since the beginning.” “It was so difficult to explain to the people who had a grudge against the old system why they could not carry out a revolution to release their anger and why they should compromise to those royals and nobles. No matter how hard you could have tried, you would never escape such an interrogation: what kind of revolution was it, civilians’ or nobles’?” (Lin Da)

Maybe the comparison in numbers is more convictive. “It took three months and twenty-three days for the United States to establish its constitution.” During the two hundred odd years in which the constitution has been adopted, “scores of peaceful turnover of political power was accomplished without one violent coup.” “It took over two years for France to establish its constitution…but not more than one year later, the constitution was overthrown.” After that France also experienced numerous people’s revolutions and monarchy restorations. “Nearly no peaceful turnover of political power took place.” In French history there is always a saying “Revolutionary alarm bell rings again in the sky of Paris and rebellious people from all the districts assemble together.” Not only in history but also at the end of last year, nationwide turbulence originating in the suburb of Paris shocked the world. It is not the feudal times of occupying Bastille prison but the twenty-first century of high modernization! No wonder that French people themselves also admit it as a shame.

Due to the different character of France as a nation, its different understanding towards revolution, and various other historical factors, France paid a higher cost, the cost of time, during the establishment of a new system. The vicious circle again and again exhausted the mania for revolution and turned it into rational establishment of constitution. It’s hard to imagine that the history would have been rewritten if French people had chosen different ways to express their revolutionary ideal.

Fortunately the mania caused by revolution can not last long. “The whole society will suddenly awake on one morning, overthrow the “revolution idol” which was still worshipped yesterday, and send it on the guillotine which was just set by it. “Even though those disciples of Rousseau were so crazy and enthusiastic that they cut the king’s head at one night and pilloried it on the square, they would become ‘sick of revolution’ sooner or later. They would recall and long for the meat pot of Voltaire and return to the kitchen of home from the street assembly.”(Zhu Xueqin) After all, revolution cannot feed the people.

What is terrible is that as soon as the collective mania fades, the people will try to forget all the tragedy caused by it. “It is regarded only as an accidental incident which can absolutely be avoided and does not have any necessary foundation embedded in its civilization construction.” Maybe this is why China does not even have one “Cultural Revolution” museum up to now. It is after several hundred years that France “began to face the reasons and lessons of French Revolution”. On the other hand, the people “strive to pursuit vulgar enjoyment and request to be compensated for the sensatory pleasure deprived by rudeness.” (Zhu Xueqin) As a result of the disparity between the rich and the poor and the lack of belief, the society is waiting for another visit of revolutionary mania.

From the comparison between French Revolution and China’s “Cultural Revolution”, we can see astonishing historical similarity: the same mania for revolution, the same pursuit of their own so-called ideal, and the same brutal dictatorship. Meanwhile, looking at American Revolution, it was very different: rational, orderly, and high efficient. It is true that absolute perfection never exists in the world. But can we avoid the tragedy of guillotine as much as possible in the course of history, so that fascist dictatorship in the name of so-and-so-ism can never come back?

The character of one nation affects its historical road. American people upholding freedom and democracy are proud of the founders of the country, the generation of George Washington forever. However, romantic French people have to swollen the bitter fruit of Jacobin dictatorship. May our nation,which has a new lease of life after the “Cultural Revolution,” have more practical deeds and less fantastic ideals, be more rational and less crazy.

Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France

I’m by no means a conservative person, but I do understand why conservatism emerged in relation to liberal revolutions, especially the French Revolution. Liberty, equality and democracy always ideals people are trying to achieve within society. Then how could the revolution in the name of our pursuing actually lead to huge terror and chaos? More seriously, “the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken.” Because of such worries, people like Burke started to think the society should be stable, in which people “want of a steady education and settled principle.” Learned from lessons of the French Revolution, people would become more practical than idealistic as before. As Burke said, “they will be more careful how they place power in base and incapable hands.”

Though I agree with Burke’s reflection on the French Revolution, conservative thoughts are still not that sound to me. It’s necessary to separate ideas and the practice of ideas. The fault of a wrong practice is not accredited to the idea, and what we need to do is to find a right way to actualize those ideas. Conservatism tends to give up those ideals, as it claims ideals could never be realized, and the most practical thing is to protect what they already had.

I ever did some readings comparing the French Revolution with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and in contrast to the American Revolution. I wrote it in Chinese first in high school, and then someone helped me to translate it. I would like to post it here as a separate blog entry.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Education

I took an “Education and Society” class last semester, in which we touched on the issue of school voucher. As a controversial policy in US, we tended to have more critiques than support for it. We also read Jonathan Kozol’s book “The Shame of the Nation,” which mainly talks about unequal education among different socio-economic students and the trend of re-segregated education in America. Based on the above background knowledge, I obviously have more doubts on school voucher.

The first question is whether education is a commodity and should be under control of free market. Coulson argues that education in a free market pushes schools to be more competitive. But I think education is not only a commodity, at least it’s a special one. Commodity may be good or bad, but each kid has the right of receiving good education. Hence, society and government should ensure the right of children and the quality of school.

However, school voucher is not the right way. Though the intention sounds good, which is “allowing the poor to have the more varied educational choices which are currently enjoyed only by the wealthy,” it causes a lot of problems in practice. If the government has the money for poor kids to good schools, then why not use the money to change those bad schools, so poor kids could also have good education? Are those good schools and those rich kids willing to welcome poor kids and not worry about the quality of education? Do those poor students improve their study after using voucher? If students use the government money to religious school, is it in accordance with the constitution?

I always thought the Chinese education system is very problematic, but when looking into the American education system, it’s not that idealistic as I originally assumed. Each system has its own problem in related to the society. But still, comparatively saying, American kids have more choices for different kinds of schools, and more happiness within their school experiences.

Here’s a link to the topic of voucher and other school choices: