Friday, November 02, 2007

A hundred schools of thought

A lovely paragraph from Clive James.

Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.
Mao Zedong, April 1956, as quoted by Philip Short in Mao, p 455

The pretty rubric looks so harmless even today, now that we have some idea of what it cost. Halfway between a poem and a slogan, it is a small thought that would fit on a big T-shirt. It doesn't even sound wrong. Mao designed it to sound right. For the trick to work, thousands of people had to believe that the words meant what they said, even though the Party, within long memory, had never rewarded a contentious voice with anything except torture and death. Anyway, the suckers fell for it. The flowers bloomed, the schools of thought contended, and Mao's executioners went to work. The slogan had the same function as the Constitution of the Soviet Union, which Aleksandr Zinoviev tellingly defined as a document published in order to find out who agreed with it, so that they could be dealt with.


Hazar Nesimi said...

Thats why sometimes it feels that those who pervert a beatiful idea are much worse monsters than those who openly say so. You are right by saying that Communism took Western liberal ideas too far to the left. Communist Speak was exactly the opposite like in "1984" - We engaged in Peace, when we made war. Soviet constitution guaranteed everything (I remember we all "democratically" and voluntary voted for: right to political life, right to work, even (some) property. Theoretically you could even organize a political party, or union - all free. So you can imagine levels of hypocrisy, it is somethning we still live to this day... So never look at the words, look in the hearts of men

NoolaBeulah said...

I think it must have been exhausting to have lived under that Great Lie for so long. No wonder the collapse happened so quickly and quietly - everyone was just worn out.