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Han Suyin once quoted Mao as saying "to cut off heads changes nothing… it is what is inside the head which has to be changed."  And so those of us who adhere to maoist notions of revolutionary transformation––who understand that class struggle continues under socialism and bourgeois ideas will always return and thus the socialist stage always contains the danger of capitalist restoration––have often argued for principles of "reeducation" rather than executions.  That is, while we believe that it is necessary during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat to safeguard the revolution against all attempts to restore capitalism, we do not believe that such safeguarding should progress through successive and violent purges.

After all, Stalin misunderstood the problem of capitalist restoration by falsely believing that the problem was always one of negative external influence.  That if and when bourgeois ideas emerged, then the problem was not that bourgeois [and pre-bourgeois] ideology lingered under socialism and possibly obstructed revolutionary progress, but that this was the result of agents in the pay of the capitalist camp.  Hence, the problem became one of treason; everyone who deviated from the "proper" revolutionary line was either an imperialist agent or on the imperialist pay-roll.  In this context, everyone is a possible agent, the leaders of the party only remain leaders out of pure fidelity to socialism, and the socialist state becomes paranoid.

We maoists have generally responded that, while infiltration and bourgeois agents will exist (and have existed) during socialism, this is not the primary reason bourgeois ideology persists.  Having emerged from a moribund order we want to replace with communism, we are still heavily influenced by those ideas we want to overcome: we have been socialized, educated since birth, to think in ways that are anti-socialist and so are covered in the filth of the previous order.  The enemy is primarily ourselves and part of class struggle under socialism is to struggle against ourselves, against the ideological remnants of capitalism and pre-capitalism, and this enemy may become the communist party itself.  Not because of agents directly in the pay of the imperialists, or even because of some cabal of unpurged capitalist conspirators, but because we are only just beginning to crack the hegemony of bourgeois ideology.

Which is why maoists speak a lot about reeducation, criticism and self-criticism, and examining our own liberalism that sometimes we might mistake for revolutionary ideology.  Unfortunately, as one of my good friends and comrades reminded me a few nights ago, the term "reeducation" has become associated with purging and, thanks to cold war propaganda, liberal ideology, and reactionary books about the Soviet and Chinese experiences, it is generally considered frightening and "totalitarian" to promote the concept of revolutionary reeducation.  His suggestion, which I will eventually discuss below, was that the original concept of reeducation should be reclaimed and rearticulated in a manner that fit its original meaning: instead of reeducation, then, we should think of using the term revolutionary pedagogy.

The real reason I'm writing this post is because I wanted to use this graphic for a long time. The original source can be found here.

Indeed, the concept of reeducation has become synonymous with brainwashing, political conditioning, all the terrible things, we are told, that capitalist states have never, ever engaged in because only insane anti-capitalists would ever practice brain-washing!  This is because capitalism and bourgeois ideology is seen as sane, natural, the rational choice for rational individuals.  And, in a way, there is some truth in this claim: if capitalism is accepted as natural, as the end of history, then it is only rational and sane to think according to its logic.  The fact that we have been conditioned since birth to accept this world as natural is a fact that is spirited away, the entire capitalist educational system and methods of discipline reified, and only attempts to organize a rejection of capitalist doctrine are treated as politically suspect.  (I wrote about this, briefly, in my review of David Gilbert's Love and Struggle.)

Honestly, the truth is that any socialist movement must engage in its own form of political conditioning in response to the default conditioning of the system it seeks to overthrow.  Gramsci spoke of how we consent to capitalist hegemony because we are socialized into believing it is "common sense" and that every revolutionary movement must, in response, produce its own revolutionary hegemony from which would emerge another "common sense".  If we are social animals than we are always socialized: even when we want to reject this socialization, and are very aware of its existence, we have still been educated and disciplined since before we were cognitive to reflect its patterns; the aim, then, is to use this awareness of the existence of socialization to resocialize, reeducate, produce a new social being.  We do not make history as we choose, Marx once argued, but we still have the collective capacity to make history.

Even still, attempts at socialist mass resocialization have regarded with revulsion by bourgeois ideologues.  In Battle for China's Past, Mobo Gao noted how attempts at reeducation where people from the cities were sent to work with the peasants in the countryside have been characterized as "enforced labour camps."  He further noted, with great irony, that calling these programs "labour camps" was insulting to the peasants the people being "forced into labour" were expected to help.  It was all fine and good for peasants to labour in their villages, and for the food of their industry to be extorted by privileged people in the cities, but asking the people in the cities to take their skills to the countryside and help the peasants––that was suddenly "forced labour."  And so I would argue, as a socialist, that it is necessary for those who have had the privilege to accumulate certain skills to be made to share these skills with those who haven't and, in the process of sharing, learn from and be reeducated by the masses.  The push behind these experiments was always serve the people, rather than be served by the people, and in this service to realize that one is part of the people s/he is serving.

Which leads me back to my earlier point, based on my friend's suggestion, about rethinking the term reeducation as revolutionary pedagogy.  After all, this is what the term originally implied and there is even precedent: Paulo Freire's radical pedagogical theories in Pedagogy of the Oppressed were in part inspired by the mass education and work programs in Revolutionary China.  And just as Freire argues that part of a radical pedagogy requires a better understanding of the teacher-student dialectic, and so a recognition that the student is also a teacher and the teacher also a student, the maoist proclamations about "going down to the countryside", and the so-called reeducation ventures in Revolutionary China, argued the same thing.

Yes, this is a form of social conditioning but the social is always conditioned.  Producing a revolutionary subject requires conditioning, just as producing a counter-revolutionary subject is contingent on a much more refined, much more dishonest, and much more anti-person form of conditioning.  We are already conditioned and so, upon recognizing this fact, we need to embark on a revolutionary pedagogy of reconditioning.  Thus revolutionary pedagogy is not only about reeducating the supposed bad apples, the people who we think are the bourgeois agents in our ranks, but about reeducating all of ourselves in the process… And the fact that we cannot always accept this, that we would rather see the enemy elsewhere and cling to our own purity, only further proves that this is a fact.


  1. Does this mean I need to stop being a dick to people on the internet?

    1. Is your dickishness employed in the interests of re-education and self-criticism? Hahahaha....

  2. I kind of wanted to use "re-education" as an euphemism for executions. Now I will have to find another euphemism so as to not get in the way of Maoists reappropriating their term.

    1. Lol... Comments like this are not going to help when the staunch liberals, who cannot be bothered to read what I'm actually writing and have no understanding of history, are already complaining about how there's people out there who think re-education is a good thing!


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