The Post-Postmodernism Issue

Socialism Versus Capitalism

Capitalism is very good at creating a void in people's psyches.
Mao Spank
Image by John Ritter - ritterillustration.net

Bai Di grew up in socialist China (before capitalism was brought back after Mao’s death in 1976) and participated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She is a coeditor of the book Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era and is the director of Chinese and Asian Studies at Drew University. Revolution correspondent Li Onesto interviewed Bai Di in February of 2009.

Li Onesto: What did the Cultural Revolution accomplish and what did it mean to grow up in a socialist society?

Bai Di: I always had a purpose. That was what education was about. And we didn’t have to worry about the financial crises that capitalism will always have periodically. We never had that much – two sets of clothes – but we never felt we should have more. You don’t have that kind of crazy desire for everything, like the need to go shopping all the time. I feel that capitalism is very good at creating a void in people’s psyches. It will teach you that the only way to feel okay is to want more. It is so consuming. When I grew up, I did not put much time at all in material stuff. So we had energy to do other things for the greater good. We studied all kinds of subjects, and we thought our presence was very much a part of the future. Yes, we were very future oriented and our focus was also wider than only China. It was about the whole of humankind. It is what inspired us. That’s what I feel education has to be about.

Some people believe in individualism. But if you think that you are the most important, then that really is a boring life because your existence is irrelevant to others; that is how I feel. You can’t survive that long. You have to put yourself into human history. Then your life, your existence, will carry some meaning. That is what Chairman Mao said. In his memorial to Doctor Norman Bethune he said everyone has to die. But the meaning of death is different. Somebody dies a worthy death so that death is as weighty as Mount Tai. Some other’s death is as light as a feather. And because Bethune put his life into this communist cause, we all remember him – his death was weighty. We were all trained this way. You feel that you become part of something. And this makes your life and death more meaningful. Now to think about it, we were pretty profound as teenagers. We were already coping with the existential questions for all humankind: life and death.

I had never lived in a capitalist society then so I didn’t know how to compare it to socialism. But looking at things now both in China and the US, I feel that back then there was an optimism always in the air. We were always optimistic. People didn’t complain. Right now everyone is complaining even though they already have so much. Under capitalism there is desire for all kinds of things. Right now when I go back to China everyone is complaining and it’s just money, money, money. But back under socialism, the purpose in life was not money. As Lei Feng said succinctly: “We cannot live without food, but our lives are not for food. It is for making a better society.” That pretty much sums up the spirit. Lei Feng was an ordinary soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and died manning his post. He spent his short 22 years of life helping other people. And Chairman Mao called on the whole nation to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” in 1964.

The whole interview is available at revcom.us. For more information about the Cultural Revolution in China, go to Revolution newspaper at revcom.us and Set the Record Straight Project at thisiscommunism.org.

66 comments on the article “Socialism Versus Capitalism”

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ken vallario

terror is a good antidote to complaining...in fact, it is being put to good use in our country, however, americans are quite attached to a tradition of complaining, and i'm not sure that is a bad thing...any revolution that seeks to eradicate religion is one out of touch with the existential, and therefore will inevitably lead ironically to a kind of zealotry, the kind that once deflated will rebound toward rampant individualism...the elimination of the mystical, it could be argued, is a prerequisite for the vulgar late adoption of material excess. these kinds of theoretical arguments are out of touch with the complexity of our world....socialism, capitalism, they are meaningless, humans are getting more complex every day, and therefore such systems are a waste of our efforts...we need deeper forms of wisdom, forms of ethical artistry that can make us laugh or unite in the celebration of human diversity...these theories, are themselves materialistic, they lack spirit...imagine watching a football game where every participant from the player to the coach, to the crowd, to the cheerleader lacked all emotion, this is how these systems see human beings...we are part monkey, we all have a sense of humor, and those who don't, well, they ought to be tolerated but not indulged...

ken vallario

terror is a good antidote to complaining...in fact, it is being put to good use in our country, however, americans are quite attached to a tradition of complaining, and i'm not sure that is a bad thing...any revolution that seeks to eradicate religion is one out of touch with the existential, and therefore will inevitably lead ironically to a kind of zealotry, the kind that once deflated will rebound toward rampant individualism...the elimination of the mystical, it could be argued, is a prerequisite for the vulgar late adoption of material excess. these kinds of theoretical arguments are out of touch with the complexity of our world....socialism, capitalism, they are meaningless, humans are getting more complex every day, and therefore such systems are a waste of our efforts...we need deeper forms of wisdom, forms of ethical artistry that can make us laugh or unite in the celebration of human diversity...these theories, are themselves materialistic, they lack spirit...imagine watching a football game where every participant from the player to the coach, to the crowd, to the cheerleader lacked all emotion, this is how these systems see human beings...we are part monkey, we all have a sense of humor, and those who don't, well, they ought to be tolerated but not indulged...

djb

while your post is abstract and idealistic, it represents the type of viewpoints that need to become commonplace for our society to truly be healed. I'm glad you exist, friend.

djb

while your post is abstract and idealistic, it represents the type of viewpoints that need to become commonplace for our society to truly be healed. I'm glad you exist, friend.

WickUdNoreastaH

This is quite honestly the dumbest thing that I've ever read in Adbusters EVER. Chairman Mao was responsible for the killings of millions of people, and he even bragged about it. I consider myself very socialist leaning, but Mao was a dictator. Gosh, it seems that Adbusters just loves dictators. Throughout 10 issues, I've read favorable things about Mao, Lenin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others.

Hey Adbusters! Maybe you should get a culturallly relativistic view from an aryan perspective during Hitler's reign. What we have now (and yes it does suck) is sooooooooooooo much better than what they had in China.

Wanna be a martyr for the "revolution"? build yourself a time machine and go put yourself in a re-educaton camp. Douchebags.

WickUdNoreastaH

This is quite honestly the dumbest thing that I've ever read in Adbusters EVER. Chairman Mao was responsible for the killings of millions of people, and he even bragged about it. I consider myself very socialist leaning, but Mao was a dictator. Gosh, it seems that Adbusters just loves dictators. Throughout 10 issues, I've read favorable things about Mao, Lenin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others.

Hey Adbusters! Maybe you should get a culturallly relativistic view from an aryan perspective during Hitler's reign. What we have now (and yes it does suck) is sooooooooooooo much better than what they had in China.

Wanna be a martyr for the "revolution"? build yourself a time machine and go put yourself in a re-educaton camp. Douchebags.

Red Fox

I think the woman is very on point concerning the differences in capitalism and communism. I suggest reading Deleuze and Guattari's Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which outlines the proliferation of desire under capitalism and the effect it has on individuals psychological state. Many people in the west do not understand what meaning truly is. They never inquire as to why they should buy stuff or get married, they do it because there told to. Real meaning is found in identifying oneself with a transcendent cause, even one that may endlessly fail. False meaning is found within one's own autonomy and self-identification. No one remembers the people who contributed nothing to civilization, to ideas, to the historical body, but there free consent. Also, blaming Mao for millions of deaths is ridiculous. Were the people who actually carried out the orders somehow guiltless, mere pawns, or is the true answer that people are afraid of confronting their own complacency and guilt in the atrocities each country and culture commits. We are all responsible for the atrocities and injustices that occurred in the past, in the present, and ones that have to happen. Only the ethical person admits that his hands are indeed dirty, the coward believes his hands are always clean.

Red Fox

I think the woman is very on point concerning the differences in capitalism and communism. I suggest reading Deleuze and Guattari's Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which outlines the proliferation of desire under capitalism and the effect it has on individuals psychological state. Many people in the west do not understand what meaning truly is. They never inquire as to why they should buy stuff or get married, they do it because there told to. Real meaning is found in identifying oneself with a transcendent cause, even one that may endlessly fail. False meaning is found within one's own autonomy and self-identification. No one remembers the people who contributed nothing to civilization, to ideas, to the historical body, but there free consent. Also, blaming Mao for millions of deaths is ridiculous. Were the people who actually carried out the orders somehow guiltless, mere pawns, or is the true answer that people are afraid of confronting their own complacency and guilt in the atrocities each country and culture commits. We are all responsible for the atrocities and injustices that occurred in the past, in the present, and ones that have to happen. Only the ethical person admits that his hands are indeed dirty, the coward believes his hands are always clean.

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