ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Dissidents by mattsteinglass
October 29, 2008, 1:02 pm
Filed under: United States, Vietnam

The intense infighting that appears to be developing among Republicans over the question of fealty to Sarah Palin reminds me of earlier episodes of factionalism that have had profound long-term political consequences. One thinks, for example, of Deng Xiaoping’s purge during the Cultural Revolution. Had Deng not spent that period in the wilderness, would China’s turn towards capitalism in the late ’70s have unfolded the way it did? What new Dengs are being pushed out by the GOP pro-Palin hardliners, who might perhaps return someday to set a different course for the party?

What fascinates me the most about these kinds of episodes is how ideological convictions turn out to be so contingent on personal affiliations. In Vietnam, a guy named Hoang Minh Chinh was the head of the Marxism-Leninism Institute in the early 1960s, the Party’s chief ideological body. Chinh was forced out in a purge somewhere between 1964 and 1967. The reasons for the purge are variously described as having been involved in a group that argued that Hanoi should lay off the war in the south and seek to consolidate socialism in the North first, or having been associated with some kind of Khrushchevian reform element, or having cast his lot with the wrong side in the developing tension between China and the USSR as North Vietnam’s patron. Chinh wound up going to jail, and the experience of being on the outs seems to have been so infuriating to him that it gradually reversed his ideological polarity. Reform tendencies gained the upper hand in Vietnam in 1986, but Chinh never made it back into polite society; by the early 2000s he was advocating multiparty democracy, testifying against the Vietnamese Communist Party before the US Congress, and trying to found a new political party. He died early this year as the most prominent dissident in Vietnam.

In the US, the process of alienation from the Republican Party’s increasingly rigid apparat has already produced a Democratic Senator — interestingly, one tied to the US’s history in Vietnam, Jim Webb. Webb’s conservative and military credentials have allowed him to partially reimagine class-divide issues as a white working-class concern, which is one potential future direction for the Democratic Party. But the real question is whether someone like Webb, with his Vietnamese-American wife (multiracial family), his unconventional, anti-jingoistic take on the military, and his genuine concern for the economic interests of the working class, could provide a sounder basis for Republican ideology going forward. It seems to me that people like Ross Douthat are closer to Webb’s politics than to Palin’s.

One problem for the GOP might be that while in a one-party system like Vietnam or China the experience of being purged leads to a period of ideological reflection, in a two-party system like the US many of those purged will do what Webb did: defect to the opposition, depriving the Party of an opportunity for rethinking its ideas.

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16 Comments so far
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Your comparison of the Republican Party to totalitarian one-party states is useless. There is nothing in common between the two whatsoever. The fundamental problem with the Republican Party – and it should be fairly obvious to most – is that the foreign policy apparatus has been almost completely taken over by the neocons. Did Douthat mention this? I didn’t read his book, but I doubt he did. Almost nobody challenges the neocons’ fundamental beliefs because doing so would challenge the basis of a deeply, deeply, flawed US Foreign Policy. The Democrats didn’t challenge the neocons either (other than with some superficial rhetorical barbs), but because they weren’t in office, they didn’t get the blame for Iraq, and rightfully so. Democrats’ reluctance to pursue large-scale military interventions will serve them well.

Unless and until the neocons are rooted out of the Republican Party, the GOP will continue its steep slide into irrelevancy.

Comment by Frank

Frank, I don’t think the comparison is between the Republican Party and a totalitarian one-party state. Perhaps you should re-read the post. The comparison is between a two-party state like our own, where a dissident can join the other party, and a one-party state where a dissident has to either to completely reconsider his views, or drop his dissent and conform back to the party.
It would have been wonderful, for example, if Jim Webb could have stayed a Republican and (among other things) taken on the neoconservatives. But he had the option of joining the other party. There is no such option in one-party countries.

Comment by treebeard

Your misrepresentation of both systems are profound, and deeply saddening. Have you not noticed the human costs of totalitarian one party states?

At this late stage when so much information about human rights abuses exist in China and Vietnam, yet such misrepresentation persists; then it could not be due to misunderstanding, but indifference to human suffering.

Comment by Dimon Liu

The problem with the Republicans is they are a coalition of free market deregulators, neocons, and evangelicals now. Two of those groups aren’t even traditionally conservative. While the Democratic party has taken once-conservative ideas as their own, expanding their base to a new generation of conservative Democrats, the Republican base continues to shrink.

Their increasingly anti-intellectual, anti-elitist attitude isn’t winning them any popularity contests either. Divisive politics stops working when you exclude the majority of the country, and they realize they outnumber you. With the sad state of the current Republican Party, Palin is perfect standard bearer.

Comment by Zee

The problem with your comparison is that Deng had always been a pragmatic moderate–the reason he was purged in the first place was because he was rolling back Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward-style policies, thereby threatening Mao’s image as a man who could do no wrong. I don’t think Deng’s views on economic policy substantially changed as a result of his being purged.

Comment by Peter

To paraphrase whatZee Says upthread : “The problem with the Republicans is they are a coalition of supply-side economists, neocons, and evangelicals now.” And the problem with THAT is that both supply-side and neocon foreign policies have been put into action and have proven not to work….. even the faith based have to realise that…

with a palin litmus test being the new thing
to determine party loyality, i’m assuming that the few libertarians and moderates left will soon exit stage left…’cause they know the faithful won’t care to hear any thing they have to say….

Comment by dj spellchecka

For the last 40 years, the US has never had “free market” deregulation. There is a massive amount of regulation up and down the US economy. Furthermore, the implication is that financial regulation in Europe was “better” is nonsense as problems there are just as bad or worse (neither Canada nor Mexico nor the USA is running to the IMF begging for handouts). The area of the world most closely resembling a “free market” is East Asia, an area of the world that attracts millions of liberal Western travelers as we speak.

I repeat: the main problem with the GOP are the neocons not “free market deregulation”.

Comment by Frank

The very core of your writing while sounding agreeable initially, did not work well with me personally after some time. Somewhere within the sentences you managed to make me a believer but only for a very short while. I nevertheless have got a problem with your jumps in logic and one might do nicely to help fill in all those gaps. In the event you can accomplish that, I will undoubtedly end up being fascinated.

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