October 2, 2010

NAIVE? THE PILES OF CORPSES ARE THE POINT:

Mao's Little Helpers: a review of (JEREMY JENNINGS, October 2010, Standpoint)

When Mao Tse-Tung launched the Cultural Revolution in May 1966, one of the principal targets of attack were intellectuals. Thousands were silenced, beaten to death, imprisoned, tortured or sent out to the countryside to be re-educated and purified through manual labour. Many of their persecutors were university students and schoolchildren. But theirs was also a death warrant signed by fellow-travelling intellectuals in the West.

Richard Wolin advances no one theory to explain this act of betrayal. The Maoist temptation was part radical chic, part revolutionary tourism, part orientalism. It drew upon a deep-seated discontent with the corruption of Western society as well as the illusion of a radiant utopian future. It was also heavily infused with bourgeois self-hatred. By placing the emphasis on culture — the Great Helmsman was after all a poet as well as a revolutionary — Maoism offered intellectuals in Paris (if not Beijing) the opportunity to act out the role of revolutionary vanguard. So, too, it appealed to those enamoured of the invigorating and moralising qualities of popular violence. Robespierre's ghost was much in evidence. [...]

Wolin is merciless in his exposure of the willing naivety this involved. If the Maoists exploited Jean-Paul Sartre for their own ends, he tells us, by the same token the latter used Maoism to revivify his career. For France's most famous philosopher, the excesses of revolutionary violence amounted to justifiable homicide. Worse still was the shameless behaviour of Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva. In their craving for the intellectual limelight, the editor of Tel Quel and his wife took Sinophilia to new heights, Sollers sporting Maoist dress and Kristeva announcing that the feudal practice of foot- binding testified to the secret power of Chinese women.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2010 7:42 AM
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