Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pebbles ... a world of difference

It's been a long time since I have been posting here. I'm not a compulsory blogger, in fact, I even don't qualify as a real blogger when compared to a lot of others. But neither did I say I was quitting this little hobby of mine. Let's just say I took an extended break and now I'm back. That's all there is to it.

I was inspired for this post by all the China and US bashing by the usual suspects that has been going on in the comment sections over at The Peking Duck. It seems to even have managed in driving good old Richard up the curtains. Still, I started to wonder for myself where I would situate the divide between the so-called democratic system and the so-called communist system (or should I say: "socialism with Chinese characteristics" ?)

What they have in common is that they're both "just" frameworks in which societies operate. There's no such body of laws labeled "democracy", as neither there is one tagged "communism". Societies, as they evolve over time, will tweak their laws and customs to make them fit in one of the frameworks they choose, like the aforementioned two. I explicitly say "choose", as I believe neither system at the outset is something imposed from above. It just comes into existence, partly by virtue of a theoretical basis, partly through the words and acts of some very charismatic persons who identify themselves with a set of values that could loosely be described as "democratic" or "communist". Some have come into existence very early ("democracy" has a trail as far back as Ancient Greece), others relatively late. So far I find the divide to be nearly not existing.

It is however not the frameworks that matter, it is the people. And neither is it the frameworks that rule. The ruling is done by people. People worldwide tend to differ on a set of culturally defined characteristics, but I find them very similar on the basics: the ego is prime and whether that ego is inherently good or bad, is debatable.

Now here is something that struck me: where democratic constitutions like to refer to the idea of "All men are created equal", I think democracies are firmly rooted in the belief that some ego's will always find themselves if not above, then at least apart from the rest. I believe the strength of democracy is that it got rid of the utopian belief in an equalitarian society, thus giving breathing room to those that wanted to stand out to take the reins and lead, to those ego's that want to spread their wings and fly, while at the same time empowering the others to take back the reins should they abuse their mandate. Democracy's strength is that it brings to the forefront the people that have the desire (and hopefully the ability) to rule, while at the same time trying to accommodate in the system a vaccine against the inevitable truth that power corrupts. Democracy is not unfamiliar with the ailing and depressions of normal life, but it carries the cure in it's pockets. Therefore, after a slump, it may thrive again.

So what about communism then ?

Castro was not corrupted when he steered the "Granma" to the shores of Cuba in 1956. Mao was not corrupted when he founded the Communist Party in 1921. They both had lofty ideals about liberating a people that was being oppressed. They both claimed victory and what they then did could have been taken from a handbook on democratic constitutions: they tried to create an "all men equal" society. However, they failed to understand that their enormous ego's were not the only ones out there, that a country or society is not to be molded into a uniform mass but is the total of it's ego's and that's where I think communism went wrong, for once you claim equality, the voice that speaks out differently must by consequence be a dissident voice, which can not be tolerated lest it should harm the perceived unity of the rest of the society.

Communism, as I see it, didn't set out to be corrupt, autocratic, even tyrannic and neither did their leaders. I still believe that all the great "red" revolutions, be it China, be it Cuba or be it Russia, were started with the best interest of the people at heart. Whether the ideas embraced by those revolutionary leaders were the right ones for the specific situations of the countries where they fought, is a different matter. Ideas will just be ideas, until they get the opportunity to prove themselves right or wrong in the field. And it seemed like a safe bet: if you treat everybody equal, the "harmonious society" is just around the corner, right ? The moment it went wrong is when that farmer threw a little pebble in the river, by way of evidence that he had existed. And the day after someone else threw another pebble, and the next day yet another one ..., till the river, swollen with pebbles, left the riverbed and shifted direction. That's when communism became a form of disaster management. Still, from our corporate experience in the West, we know that disaster management actually may work ... as long as it doesn't continue for too long.

So if you ask me where is the divide between democracy and communism, the answer is fairly simple: it's on you and me.



Anonymous said...

What kind of drugs are you on?

Communism hasn't worked anywhere at any time in recorded history. Oh BTW, Mao did not start Communism or the Communist Party in China. He hijacked it by removing all his rivals. His ego and paranoia killed millions of Chinese. He had no lofty ideas about liberating anyone. He saw power, wanted it, and was smart enough to get it. Then he worked to never lose it, no matter what it cost.

The divide between democracy and communism is wider than the Grand Canyon and longer than the Great Wall. Democracy is about people having a voice; all previous and past communist governments have been about denying people any voice whatsoever. How can you not understand this?

Are you ready for another hiatus?

Lao Lu said...

Ok, Anonymous, thanks for checking in but can we cool down the tune here ?

I wonder if you actually read what I wrote. Nowhere I have stated that any communist state has left a fabulous track record, but nothing is entirely white or entirely black, as Michael Moore will no doubt be very willing to tell you when you ask him about health systems in a "democratic" country and a "communist" one.

What I did say is that ALL systems, be they democratic or communist or whatever, are subject to the common law of corrupting power. The very concept of "power" implies that there is differentiation between individuals, which a democratic system has learned to accommodate but posing a major hurdle on the way to real communism. I hope you didn't fail to notice me mentioning "...for once you claim equality, the voice that speaks out differently must by consequence be a dissident voice, which can not be tolerated lest it should harm the perceived unity of the rest of the society."

As for your comments on Mao, may I point out that had he gotten rid of all his rivals in 1921, there just wouldn't have been communism in China. He did eventually get rid of them and he got millions killed, but I don't remember ever denying that point. What I was talking about was the coming into existence of communism, taking Cuba and China as examples, where that relatively new concept of communism was presented as a challenger to the existing situation, which, as I don't need to point out, I hope, was far from being ideal for the common folks either. Those revolutions would not have succeeded without the support of a broad part of society.

As for the rest, yes, the divide between democracy and communism is big and if I have the choice, I know which one to choose, but your attacks haven't made me change my mind on any of the points I wrote.

Anonymous said...

OK Lao Lu, I'll calm down now that I've had a chance to vent.

I did read your column--twice before I posted and again after your response. I stand by what I wrote. Mao did not start the Communist Party in China.

Wikipedia: The Communist Party of China was initially founded by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao in Shanghai in 1921 as a study society and an informal network. There were informal groups in China in 1920, and also overseas, but the official beginning was the 1st Congress attended by 13 men in July 1921, when the formal and unified name Communist Party of China was adopted and all other names of communist groups were dropped. Mao Zedong was present as one of two delegates from a Hunan communist group, which had maybe 10 members out of 53 for all China.

Wikipedia is not a perfect source, but it backs up what I have read in other places. Mao did not get rid of his rivals in 1921. He couldn't do it then, but over time he successfully killed off, defeated, and outmaneuvered all of them until his death in 1976.

I love your point about nothing being entirely white nor black. Great insight. I suppose you can find some good thing Mao and his Communist lap dogs did for China, but you would have to look a long time and you still couldn't balance out all the injury he caused the people and the country.

The revoltuion that overthrew Pu Yi was not based upon Communism. 孫中山 was the popular hero and he was elected President by the representatives of the Revolution.

Again Wikipedia: Sun is highly regarded as the National Father of modern China. His political philosophy, known as the Three Principles of the People, was proclaimed in August 1905. In his Methods and Strategies of Establishing the Country completed in 1919, he suggested using his Principles to establish ultimate peace, freedom, and equality in the country. He devoted all efforts throughout his whole lifetime until his death for a strong and prosperous China and the well being of its people.

Referencing known propagandist Michael Moore really bolsters your argument. The difference in health care systems has nothing to do with whether a country is "democratic" or "communist." China is no more a communist country than America is a democracy. China is a one-party ruled socialist state with extreme capitalist leanings. America is a republic based on but not dominated by democratic leanings. Both states have socialist systems in place.

Your article makes it sound like Communism is a nice idea that just hasn't been properly implemented yet. Guess what? It won't ever be implemented on this planet unless we have a major species change. Human nature won't allow it. We could debate this subject forever, so i won't waste any more of your time. I stand with Sir Winston:

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
Winston Churchill

Lao Lu said...


Let's face it: on the basics you and I agree. We're both pro-democracy.

In fact you just have reinforced the point that I was making in my post, i.e. that communism is unsuitable to accommodate the human ego (Ref: "It won't ever be implemented on this planet unless we have a major species change. Human nature won't allow it". There you go, my point exactly). Still, it HAS been implemented and it even still exists. I wouldn't underestimate it's tenacity. You can argue that where it still exists it has turned into a full autocratic system, but then what to think of those fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe that voted the communists back into some powerpositions ?

And as I said also in my post, societies evolve, and it is clear that the current remaining communist societies are starting to head in different directions, away from what their founders had in mind, while democracy in certain countries is now also sometimes being turned into a mockery. And that is mainly what my reference about Michael Moore was about: in a world where every issue seems to be reduced to a duality (democracy vs. communism, Islam vs. Christianity, conservatives vs liberals etc...), this guy, propagandist or not, is pointing out the gray zone. I bet Confucius (and no doubt Sam from "The Useless Tree" could elaborate on this much more) would have a hell of a time with his insistence on 正名 (zheng ming), the "correct naming", lack of which turns the world into chaos. I bet he would have given up all hope on the world reading something like the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" and comparing it to reality. But he would have seriously turned his eyeballs just as well holding some of the modern so-called democracies under the looking glass.

As for your point on Mao not being THE founder of the Communist Party: point taken and acknowledged.

Btw, thanks for engaging in this discussion. First time on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Lao Lu,

As I continue to re-read your original post and all of our comments back & forth I must admit that you & I are closer together on more points than I had originally thought. I am frustrated with "democracy" in America. How could such a promising system continue to offer us the poor choices we get stuck with for political leaders? However, I still don't see a better way.

My China experience is very limited, but even during a short vacation I was able to appreicate the differences in our systems. The political graft I witnessed in China at the local level far outstripped anything the West could muster. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not China bashing. If anything I seem to cast myself as a China apologist. I marvel at how much a nation could accomplish over 5000 years under pretty consistently poor leadership.

Keep up your good work. I don't usually comment on the blogs I read, so if your intent is to stimulate others to discussion, consider yourself on track.