Feature Articles

#1 Were Revolutions in China Necessary?

By Robert Weil

Is socialist revolution necessary? Under what conditions? How far should it go? Is more than one revolution needed, even in the same society? What about the issue of revolutionary “excess”? Is there such a problem, and if so, what causes it and does it lead to counterrevolution? If the revolution is “defeated,” was it still worth undertaking? And finally, who gets to decide these questions, and write the history of revolutionary change? For each country or society, these queries must be broken down more specifically. In the case of China, for example, was a revolution in land control needed? Should it have been carried to the point of the collective socialist organization of rural society? Why was the Great Leap Forward undertaken, and the Cultural Revolution? Did they go “too far”? Did their “excesses” lead China back to the “capitalist road” under Deng Xiaoping?

The answers to such questions may seem self-evident to many, especially on the left. But as two recent and highly contrasting books on the revolution in China make clear, such issues were and remain “contested terrain.” Not only were they the basis for enormous struggles in the course of the Chinese revolution itself, but they continue to be fought over today. Both inside and outside China, the question of whether revolutionary socialism is needed, how far it should be carried through, the nature of “lost” revolutions, and the causes and consequences of counterrevolution continue to be hotly debated. The answers to such questions are not academic. They are vital to the course of the current global movement, and to whether it will again take the path to revolutionary socialism, or succumb to the temptation to turn away from that road and accept the “permanence” of the capitalist system. The two works under review here pose a point/counterpoint in their answers to these questions, with import not only for the past, but for the present and future.

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#2 An African Cultural Modernity: Achebe, Fanon, Cabral, and the Philosophy of Decolonization

By Biodun Jeyifo

Some Recurrent Themes on the Challenges of an African Cultural Modernity

I start with the contention that if we are to derive much-needed illumination from the literature and critical thought of Africa of the last half a century with regard to the profound crises engendered by arrested decolonization in the postindependence period, three recurrent, closely related themes on the problem of modernization and modernity in the continent ought to engage our serious attention. I wish to frame my reflections here around a synoptic review of these three themes.

The first theme involves a deep sense of perplexity with regard to all available cognitive or explanatory models and paradigms, precolonial, colonial and postcolonial. Indeed, this perplexity is so deep, so profound that it amounts to nothing less than an epistemic impasse. Sometimes, this theme is rendered in literary criticism of the conventional kind in the simplistic and distortive framework of a culture clash between Africa and the West, tradition and modernity, the old and the new, the indigenous and the alien. Soyinka, among others, has confronted this critical reductionism with one of its most devastating rebuttals. A much more resonant articulation of this theme of epistemic impasse is suggested by both the title and the narrative of Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, especially in its exploration in depth of the forcible transition of Umuofia, standing metonymically for all of precolonial Africa, into a historical space which seems to make invalid all pre-existing cognitive systems, all paradigms for making confounding or traumatic experiences comprehensible or negotiable.

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#3 Oaxaca: The Path of Radical Democracy

By Gustavo Esteva
Translated by Victor Wallis

From June to October 2006, there was no police in the city of Oaxaca (population 600,000), not even to direct traffic. The governor and his functionaries met secretly in hotels or private homes; none of them dared to show up at their offices. The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) had posted 24-hour guards in all the public buildings and radio and TV stations that it controlled. When the governor began sending out his goons to launch nocturnal guerrilla attacks against these guards, the people responded by putting up barricades. More than a thousand barricades were put up every night at 11 p.m., around the encampments or at critical intersections. They would be taken down every morning at 6 a.m. to restore normal traffic. Despite the attacks, according to a human rights organization, there was less violence in those months (fewer deaths and injuries) than in any similar period in the previous ten years. Unionized workers belonging to the APPO performed basic services like garbage collection.

Some observers began speaking of the Oaxaca Commune, evoking the Paris Commune of 1871. Oaxacans responded, smiling: “Yes, but the Paris Commune lasted only 50 days and we’ve already lasted more than 100.” The analogy is pertinent but exaggerated, except in terms of the reaction that these two popular insurrections elicited in the centers of power. Like the European armies that crushed the communards who had taken over all the functions of government, the Federal Preventive Police of Mexico, backed by the army and the navy, was sent to Oaxaca on October 28, 2006, to try to control the situation. On November 25 federal forces conducted a terrible repression, the worst in many years, with massive violation of human rights and with an approach which can legitimately be described as state terrorism.

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