I had a hard time properly verbalising this until I saw the following in Peking (This Beautiful World) by the Japanese author Hikotaro Ando. Produced in the immediate wake of the Cultural Revolution and under obvious supervision of the Chinese Communist Party, in a section on education he said the following:
Not only university students, but high school students, Pioneers, and even children in nurseries, are all being trained as successors of the revolution, a policy that is being constantly carried out in China today. This task of training successors of the revolution–known in Chinese as chieh-pan jen— so there will be no reversion to capitalism is considered one of the most important undertakings in their society.
To train these children and young people means to hand over to them the traditions of the revolution. In order to pass on the revolutionary traditions of the previous generation, the successors listen to the personal experiences of their predecessors, consider them, and learn from them. It is the business of the predecessors to “pass on” the traditions,and this must be done well if youth is to learn well. The combination of “teaching” and “learning” is the work of “fixing” the revolution as a common experience in the minds of the people. Here, it is believed, lies the key to creating the future.
To this end, a constant emphasis in instruction in the schools, in the training of the Pioneers, and in movies and plays in general is to ensure that easier times will never make people forget the hardships of the past which, alone, have made today possible. A characteristic feature of Chinese politics is that the demand for motive power for progress is not sought in a vision of the good life of the future, but in the “memory of the difficulties.” This is obvious wherever one goes in Peking.
In one sense, this has been the plan of the “flower children” of the 1960’s who emerged out of their drug-induced stupor long enough to pursue their agenda. It’s not entirely accidental that the Chinese Cultural Revolution and our own were contemporaneous. For radical Americans the “memory of the difficulties” is largely social; American life before that time is routinely characterised as bigoted, sexist, homophobic, etc., and this is drilled into people on a routine basis.
The difficulties the Chinese were trying to drill into people were economic, as befits a Marxist regime. And that’s the key difference between American liberals and Barack Obama on the one hand and the Chinese Communists on the other. The baseline for misery the Communists had in mind was 1949, the year they took power. China, not a generally wealthy country to start with, had endured thirty-five years of civil war and Japanese invasion. They literally had nowhere to go but up, even with the erratic management of Mao Tse-Tung and his party. (The Nationalists/Kuomintang on Taiwan trumpeted their own successes from the same low baseline, ignoring the fact that they were in charge on the mainland until that time and the fact that Taiwan was a relatively prosperous Japanese colony until they showed up).
Barack Obama and his fellow leftists, on the other hand, have to start with a very prosperous United States and convince the electorate that they would be better off with some kind of state socialism/corporatism, which would conceal the lowering of living standards to achieve environmental and other objectives. In that respect the Crash of 2008 is the gift that keeps on giving, but Americans are Americans and still a) desire prosperity b) remember to varying degrees that it happened in the past. So, instead of falling back on the “memory of the difficulties” like the social liberals do, they look forward to hard times. Obama’s election strategy is thus very simple:
- If you vote for me, you will have a little.
- If you vote for them, you will have nothing.
The amazing thing is that this strategy, retrograde as it is, has worked up to now.
It’s also interesting to note that the attempt to indoctrinate the Chinese so that there would be “no reversion to capitalism” did not achieve its objectives, as China’s saga since Mao gloriously attests to. Knowing both peoples, I’m not sure we will bounce back so well; we’re too credulous of the propaganda being spread around for our own good.