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Woke world revives Maoist struggle sessions, complete with mandatory self-abasement, after Floyd death

Michael Rectenwald
Michael Rectenwald

is an author of ten books, including the most recent, Beyond Woke. He was Professor of Liberal Arts at NYU from 2008 through 2019. Follow him on Twitter @TheAntiPCProf

is an author of ten books, including the most recent, Beyond Woke. He was Professor of Liberal Arts at NYU from 2008 through 2019. Follow him on Twitter @TheAntiPCProf

Woke world revives Maoist struggle sessions, complete with mandatory self-abasement, after Floyd death
In response to the killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and accomplices, woke culture has intensified cringy prostration and humiliation rituals that can be traced to the Maoist Cultural Revolution.

In social media and physical encounters across the US and beyond, the Black Lives Matter movement, left-leaning political groups, and mainstream organizations have engaged in soft forms of struggle sessions and forced self-criticism routines, eerily resembling those the Red Guards oversaw at Mao’s behest during the Communist Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.  

During the Maoist Cultural Revolution, in struggle sessions, the guilty party – accused of selfishness, ignorance, and the embrace of bourgeois ideology – was pilloried with verbal and sometimes physical assaults by her comrades–until she broke down and confessed her characterological and ideological flaws. ‘Autocritique’ or self-criticism often began with voluntary submission of the guilty party, who subjected herself to a brutal verbal self-inspection and denigration before the jury of her comrades. Autocritique and struggle sessions could lead to imprisonment or death as the comrade was often found to be insufficiently pure. Today, they lead to diminished social standing, public humiliation, and the loss of jobs.

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In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we see these personalized, Maoist-derived rituals in full force. The examples are legion and include New York Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet’s forced resignation amid a staff revolt after Bennet published an op-ed by US Senator Tom Cotton (R - Arkansas) entitled“Send in the Troops” (in response to widespread rioting in US cities). After backlash from fellow professional athletes, New Orleans Saints NFL star quarterback Drew Brees issued two apologies for suggesting that kneeling during the national anthem amounted to “disrespecting the flag.” White parishioners in Houston genuflected before their black compeers, apologizing for centuries-long racism. ‘Hamilton’ playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda and ‘Hamilton’ producer Jeffery Seller apologized for not speaking up soon enough about the Floyd killing. “We spoke out on the day of the Pulse shooting. We spoke out when Vice President Mike Pence came to our show ten days after the election,” Miranda said, evincing the requisite disgust when uttering the name “Mike Pence.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a video statement on Friday saying “we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” when they protested police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem. Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, announced his resignation days after discontent among the newspaper’s staff erupted over a headline on a column about the impact of the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Perhaps most cringeworthy is a video in which a troll pretends to be a Black Lives Matter activist and demands that a young white woman kneel before him and confess her white privilege, and apologize for her transgressions, while he films the act of self-abnegation. As it turns out, the troll succeeded in having several whites kneel and perform the same self-deprecation ritual.

It would appear that Woke World has succeeded in having its brand of enlightenment accepted by the entire US society.

Politics of personal destruction

None of this is new. Over the past several years, as I noted in March 2017 and again in 2018, these Maoist rituals re-emerged in social justice circles under the name of “privilege-checking” and social media piling-on routines. With the hashtag phenomenon, Twitter’s mobs have regularly attacked members of “dominant” social groups for their “white supremacist,” “patriarchal,” “heterosexist,” and “transphobic” attitudes and expressions. Zealous hordes on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram routinely demand apologies, renunciations, and self-abasement from the thought criminal.

Woke struggle sessions and self-criticism reduce politics to the individual level and work to destroy the individuals in question under an arithmetic logic: take out the racists and sexists etc., make an example of them. Thus, as if by the subtraction of “evil people,” racism, sexism, etc. will eventually be defeated. All of this is necessary, the New Left maintains, to overcome systemic racism, sexism, heterosexism, and transphobia, one offender at a time.

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But with social justice or woke cultural politics, politics is made narrowly personal, while the individual person becomes nothing more than an emblem of political meaning. Politics becomes an individual morality play scripted by sanctimonious social justice arbiters. Personal life, meanwhile, is reduced to political scorekeeping and enforced virtue-signaling. Both politics and personal life are thereby severely distorted and disfigured under“the politics of personal destruction.” And the cynicism resulting from such politics impedes whatever institutional and political measures might be necessary to overcome what the new Red Guards of zombie collectivism so deplore.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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