‘In a clear case of fetishistic disavowal, everyone knows that Mao made errors and caused immense suffering, yet his image remains magically untainted’


by Slavoj Žižek

From London Review of Books:

True, some Maoist ‘excesses’ and ‘errors’ were denounced (the Great Leap Forward and the widespread famine that followed it; the Cultural Revolution), and Deng’s assessment of Mao’s role (70 per cent positive and 30 per cent negative) is enshrined in official discourse. But Deng’s assessment functions as a formal conclusion that makes any further discussion or elaboration superfluous. Mao may be 30 per cent bad, but he continues to be celebrated as the founding father of the nation, his body in a mausoleum and his image on every banknote. In a clear case of fetishistic disavowal, everyone knows that Mao made errors and caused immense suffering, yet his image remains magically untainted. This way, the Chinese Communists can have their cake and eat it: economic liberalisation is combined with the continuation of Party rule.

How does this work in practice? How is Party hegemony combined with the modern state apparatus needed to regulate an exploding market economy? What institutional reality sustains the official slogan that good stock-market performance (high returns on investments) is the way to fight for socialism? What we have in China isn’t simply a combination of a private capitalist economy and Communist political power. In one way or another, state and Party own the majority of China’s companies, especially the large ones: it is the Party itself which demands that they perform well in the market. To resolve this apparent contradiction, Deng concocted a unique dual system. ‘As an organisation, the Party sits outside, and above the law,’ He Weifang, a law professor from Beijing, tells McGregor: ‘It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organisation. The Party exists outside the legal system altogether.’ ‘It would seem difficult,’ McGregor writes,

to hide an organisation as large as the Chinese Communist Party, but it cultivates its backstage role with care. The big party departments controlling personnel and the media keep a purposely low public profile. The Party committees (known as ‘leading small groups’) which guide and dictate policy to ministries, which in turn have the job of executing it, work out of sight. The make-up of all these committees, and in many cases even their existence, is rarely referred to in the state-controlled media, let alone any discussion of how they arrive at decisions.

An anecdote from Deng Xiaoping’s era illustrates the weirdness of the Party hierarchy. Deng was still alive, though retired from the post of general secretary, when one of the top members of the nomenklatura was purged. The official reason was that, in an interview with a foreign journalist, he had divulged a state secret: namely, that Deng was still the supreme authority and was effectively taking all the decisions. In fact everybody knew that Deng was still pulling the strings; it’s just that it was never allowed to be officially stated. The secret was not simply a secret: it announced itself as a secret. Thus, today, it isn’t that people are supposed not to know that a hidden Party structure shadows the state agencies: they are supposed to be fully aware that there is such a hidden network.

“Can you give my son a job?”, Slavoj Žižek, London Review of Books