Rectifications in Yan’an

I never cease to amaze myself when I think of the degree of hubris it takes to begin building a toy world that can mimic the social forces of Chinese culture on the behavior of the government and the individuals (and vice versa) .

Perhaps it helps to see how the actual builders of that culture have arranged their building plans. Perhaps that complexity is not too bad. Lenin also wanted to keep Marxism simple and dealt with one-liners. The old democracy must be replaced by the new one (this resembles what Dutch politicians think today). The new democracy leads to unanimity. The will of the people is indivisible. A difficult task (and not at all acceptable to the liberal west).

Something can be found for this, Mao thought, by having decision-making prepared in groups of party members who may differ mutually and internally, but who express themselves with one voice, and that only at the level in the hierarchical party system where the decisions fall.

This also looks a bit like what the Dutch parliament and government are going through now (23 April 2021) in terms of the unity of government policy decision making.

It seems that Mao’s decision-making process can be summed up in a motto: within a group that is preparing a decision, the debate is confidential, but the outcome is accepted and supported by all. Anyone who does not do this is punishable. I call this Mao’s rectification motto.

Behind the embrace of this motto hides a fierce and well-documented battle that was fought for literature in 1941 and 1942. Mao, Wang Shiwei and Ding Ling were the main protagonists. Its main issue was that communist propaganda showed a unified front. With that, the individual disappeared behind the collective and freedom of expression was reduced to confidential preparatory meetings.

It appears that under certain conditions (war, pandemic control) we need new clarity about when and how, what can, and what cannot be discussed. Our liberal idealists must look for our own rectifications. Existing liberal cultural and legal forms (speech, privacy) no longer suffice (COVID numbers, Capitol storming).

The Chinese supporters of their Mao rectification motto see these insufficiencies as symptoms of old democracy and are amazed that it took them so long to become difficult to stomach.