Maoists for democracy

Don’t miss the reports this morning – Fairfax’s version (from AFP) is here; the Guardian’s (from AP) is here – on the attempt by supporters of disgraced hard-liner Bo Xilai to set up a new political party in China.

Not that I think the story is particularly important in its own right. No doubt the “party” (and quite possibly its promoter, Wang Zheng) will disappear without trace; it doesn’t even seem likely that it has the support of Bo himself. But it’s illustrative of a rather interesting political mindset.

Here’s how the Age puts it:

Bo won admirers among China’s so-called “New Left” for revival of “red” culture, sending officials to work in the countryside and pushing workers to sing revolutionary songs, hearkening back to the country’s rule under leader Mao Zedong.

Associate Professor Wang said Bo’s trial was not carried out according to the law. …

“The tenet of our party is to protect the authority of the constitution,” Associate Professor Wang said.

Bo and his supporters are unreconstructed Maoists, preferring revolutionary enthusiasm to such bourgeois notions as freedom, legality and economic progress. Yet here they are appealing to the constitution and the rule of law.

For a Maoist, it shouldn’t matter whether Bo’s trial followed the law or not, since the very essence of Maoism is its lawlessness. But of course that only applies when it’s on your side.

We’re used to a version of this in western democracies, when self-proclaimed revolutionaries nonetheless rely on good old-fashioned liberal rights and legal processes to defend themselves. But that’s not really inconsistent; finding themselves in (by their lights) a bourgeois state, it’s legitimate for them to use its forms against it.

China’s Maoists, however, are living in a one-party state. On the one hand, they want to preserve and strengthen its totalitarian character; on the other hand, they’re willing to appeal for their own advantage to liberal or democratic notions that are deeply subversive of it.

But I guess few people get into politics in the first place unless they’re able to simultaneously hold on to contradictory ideas.


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