28 August 2011

America's Red (state) Guards: is the Tea Party a Cultural Revolution?

During a Borders liquidation sale this month I picked up the essay collection The Idea of Communism at a 60% discount. Edited by Slavoj Zizek and Costas Douzinas, it's a collection of papers given at a 2009 London conference inspired by Alain Badiou's Communist Hypothesis. A wide range of viewpoints were represented, but most were the sort of abstract intellectuals Karl Marx outgrew and came to despise. That's okay, though, since Badiou's idea of "communism" seems to have little specifically to do with Marx, since he traces it rhetorically to the French Revolution and intellectually to Plato. In any event, there's a lot of jargon about "events" and "inscription," but there was also this observation about the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China by Judith Balso that got me thinking about a non-communist context, far from China.

The extreme importance of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and and Maoism was to reopen the question if the socialist State, of its identification, in terms quite other than those of the Stalinist party/State. On Mao's initiative, two things are made starkly evident: the emergence of the proletariat once organized as a dominant class will not signify the disappearance of classes, and will not coincide with the rapid extinction of the State. Or again, in Mao's words, 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' does not signify an 'integral dictatorship relative to the bourgeoisie.' On the contrary, in a country like socialist China, one experiences a very difficult struggle 'between two orientations and two classes,' 'between the capitalist orientation and the socialist orientation,' even inside the Communist Party itself....In a situation like
this, which Mao describes with a political acuteness and clarity that resemble Lenin's, the effort to follow the road to communism is aimed at the party. The Cultural Revolution is an attempt to transform the Communist Party in opening up
a large debate about the fact that the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is going on within socialism, and that the Communist Party itself is exposed to the possibility of becoming a bourgeois space dominated by the will to restore capitalism. Transforming the political party by placing it under the political control of the masses -- students, workers, peasants -- was the means by which Mao sought to resist this.

Change the terminology and Balso could well be describing the relationship within the Republican party between the party establishment and the Tea Parties. In an American context, the Tea Party is founded on the assumption that, to paraphrase, the emergence of conservatives as a dominant party will not signify the disappearance of politics, and will not coincide with the rapid extinction of the political class. Our American Maoists, who'd never consciously emulate a bloodstained bolshevik like Mao, seem to share his intuition that a revolutionary struggle must continue within the revolutionary party, that a conservative party or movement experiences a very difficult struggle between two orientations and two classes, the statist and the anti-statist orientation. The Tea Party arguably seeks to open up a debate about the struggle between bourgeoisie and politics within conservatism, as well as the possibility of conservatism becoming a statist space, and seeks to transform the political party by bringing it under the control of the masses -- the bourgeoisie being the only masses the TPs recognize. It all makes sense -- or at least more sense -- when you recall that the stated objective of Marxist and even Leninist parties is the withering away of the state, a goal with which no Tea-drinker would quarrel.

The analogy is perhaps more precise than Balso herself would admit. She takes Mao seriously as a thinker concerned with the bourgeois potential of bureaucracy, and seems to regard the Cultural Revolution as a grass-roots mass uprising. But like the Tea Parties in America, the Red Guards can be described as "astroturf," having been planted by Mao himself to give himself an edge on his Communist peers who'd been trying to marginalize him since the debacle of the "Great Leap Forward." An uncharitable account of the Cultural Revolution would trace its motivation to Mao's desire for unconditional obedience, all resistance being "bourgeois" or "capitalist" by definition. The Tea Parties are perhaps more sincerely concerned about the menace of a political class, but may also have been astroturfed into position, not necessarily by a faction or leader of the same political class, but by those movement leaders above electoral politics -- the donors -- who might find a governing party unlikely to be sufficiently responsive to their needs. To the extent that politics blocks the bourgeoisie's direct rule of society, the donor class has every reason to keep up a political agitation against politics itself. The Tea Parties share with Marxists a concern that the state's inherent self-interest compromises its potential as a tool for social transformation, and a desire to control the state all the same. They share an invective strategy toward "bureaucratic" elements, the TP's "RINOs" matching the Red Guards' "capitalist roaders." The Americans should invite comparisons with the Chinese, because they could then note that they, at least, don't make people wear dunce caps, or beat them, or eat them.


Anonymous said...

yet. . .

TiradeFaction said...

Very interesting comparison. Every more humorous that the color of the Republican party is red. I always found that a tad bit amusing.