11 June 2014

On matters (somewhat more vaguely) relating to the fourth of June

With a hearty and thankful tip of the hat to Kaiser Kuo for the link, Molly Crabapple has an interesting article in Vanity Fair concerning the fetishisation of (foreign) dissent by the American establishment, of the sort which comes to prominent display each year on the fourth of June. Though she occasionally displays a similar sort of fetishism and in so doing falls victim to her own critique – particularly where the silly ‘music’ group with a yet-sillier name is concerned (which call themselves ‘anti-capitalist’, yet openly support the political ambitions of one of the biggest right-wing capitalist kleptocrats ever to face a criminal court) – the author makes a truly valid point that the proper focus of dissent is on the home front.

And her point is well-made that ‘cooing over foreign dissidents allows establishment hacks to pose like sexy rebels—while simultaneously affirming that their own system is the best’.

When support for dissent is removed from its native context, not only does it open itself to charges of hypocrisy (as is clearly and blatantly the case in the disgusting clownery of James Kirchick), but it also runs the risk of distorting itself into its opposite – the silencing of the very same dissent it worships. In the case of the Minyun activists so brutally dispersed and killed in the wake of 4 June 1989, the Western media have all but silenced those voices who are active in pointing out the economic disparities the CCP’s rule after Deng Xiaoping has brought.

For example, though Tea Leaf Nation sheds great fat crocodile tears on the anniversary of the event over how Tian’anmen protesters are discredited and silenced at home, they have a history of publishing articles like this one dismissing those same activists (in this case, Wang Hui) as ‘conspiracy theorists’ when they point out the ongoing inequities in treatment of domestic dissent. Dissenters meet with praise when their message coincides with the ideological goals of empire. Otherwise, the agents of that empire can be every bit as ruthless against dissent as the governments they critique. It gave no mainstream media outlet pause that Occupy Wall Street had managed to garner the support of Shen Tong and Chai Ling. The subsequent crackdown against Occupy and the imprisonment of activists like McMillan has there evoked no sense of irony or introspection.

Therefore it cannot be overstressed how valuable and needed Wang Hui’s analysis is, in part because he is in such a good position to tease apart the threads of distortion and usage of the Minyun protests, and in part because he is still willing to discuss them and provide context for them to a broader English-speaking audience (which needs that context). And his dissent comes from the solid basis of an altruistic advocacy for rural farmers and labourers, and sympathy with their struggles.

This phenomenon of Americans dismissing dissent when it ceases to be ideologically and geopolitically convenient is not confined solely to the political left, either. Indeed, the treatment meted out to Wang Hui in that corner of the Western press to which his opinion is relevant, was well-foreshadowed by that meted out to the arch-conservative Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the wake of his 1978 Harvard commencement address. Ever the consistent anti-Soviet, Solzhenistyn pulled no punches against the American media and the American political class for their cowardice and their amoral calculations, for their flattering of the wealthy and their bullying of the weak. And as a result, the intellectual elites of the American educational, cultural and policy establishments, to a man, turned their well-bred backs on him.

But it was the most natural thing of all for the dissident in his later years to oppose the American-led wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And it was the most natural thing of all – perhaps mistaken, perhaps not, but certainly natural – for a man who loved Russia and longed, after the rapine of the Soviets and of Yeltsin, to see her loving Orthodox soul restored to her, to embrace Putin. His dissent came from a religious vision which neither the Soviet nor the American empire could co-opt with any lasting success.

I share Ms Crabapple’s utter disgust for faux-dissidents like Kirchick and Wahl who fawn with such nauseating servility over the ideological-cultural-military establishment which protects them, and show such vicious contempt for its victims. But, ‘safety or pragmatism’ notwithstanding, it is necessary, always necessary – and this applies no less to the dissidents Ms Crabapple celebrates – to understand in concrete and substantive terms what the dissidents dissent against, and thereby understand what they stand for, and work from there. This is because empires will always readily make use of those dissidents who themselves don’t know what they stand for – whether they come from our side or from theirs.

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