Political Correctness and the Ideological Struggle: From Lenin and Mao to Marcuse and Foucault

By Ellis, Frank | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Political Correctness and the Ideological Struggle: From Lenin and Mao to Marcuse and Foucault


Ellis, Frank, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The first use of the term political correctness can be traced to the period between 1895-1921 when Lenin was trying to achieve two goals: first, to secure ascendancy over his revolutionary peers; and second, after 1917, to consolidate the party's control over the new Soviet state. This article explores the Leninist origins of political correctness and its evolution since 1917. The author analyses the exceptional importance of "correctness" in the Maoist variant and, subsequently, through Maoism, its influence on the New Left and the contemporary manifestation of political correctness which emerged as a public issue in the West at the end of the 1980s.

Key Words: Althusser, BBC, Berger, Chinese Communist Party (CCP), class enemy, Confucius, crimestop, cultural revolution, democratic centralism, Derrida, feminism, Foucault, Galbraith, Gramsci, Great Leap Forward, Grossman, Horst Wessel, ideologically correct, istina, Kautsky, Khrushchev, laogai, Lei-Feng movement, Lenin, Liu Shao-Chi, Mao, Marcuse, Milosz, multiculturalism, New Left, Orwell, pariinost', Pasternak, Pavlik Morozov, perekovka, Platonov, Plekhanov, political correctness, pravda, pravit"host', Rectification, Red Guards, revisionism, shinian haojie, si xiang gai zao, Sino-Soviet schism, socialist realism, Solzhenitsyn, soznanie, struggle session, thought reform, fifa, Tolstaya, unity-criticism-unity, Weaver, Wu, yii-lu

Introduction

The suddenness with which political correctness entered the public domain in the period between 1989-1991, and the ensuing arguments about the legitimacy of Western culture which lasted until well into the mid 1990s, implies that the concept of political correctness is a very recent phenomenon, the origins of which are to be found in certain intellectual trends of the late twentieth-century. Richard Burt, for example, in an essay published in Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, argues that the term political correctness was first introduced by the New Left in the 1960s (Jones, 2001, 1901). Certainly, thinkers of the New Left developed the concept, but long before Marcuse and Derrida, and a host of other New Left and postmodernist writers were required reading on the campus, we find political correctness established as an ideological criterion of Marxism-Leninism. Official Soviet sources clearly show that the term was in use as early as 1921 (Resheniya, 1967, 205). If one takes into account the role of Lenin as the architect of the Soviet Union, and his massive influence in shaping Soviet ideology, then a reasonable assumption is that it is to Lenin to whom we must turn in order to find the conceptual origins of political correctness and the term itself. Soviet sources support this assumption.

A review of a diverse and large body of Soviet and Western literature, written and published throughout the twentieth century, which was conducted in preparation for this article, repeatedly identifies the theme of correctness - ideological, political or theoretical - as a concern of exceptional importance for Marxist-Leninism and Maoism. The range of sources is impressive: Lenin's own writings before and after the start of the twentieth century; some early resolutions of Communist Party congresses; the insights of writers and philosophers, for example, Joseph Berger, George Orwell, Czeslaw Milosz, Stefan Amsterdamski, Leszek Kolakowski, Balint Vazsonyi2, Arthur Koestler and Alain Besangon; the writings of Mao, and other official Chinese sources; victims of Soviet psychiatric abuse; Chinese and Soviet dissidents; scholarly studies, both Soviet and Western, of Soviet propaganda, agitation and media 3; and the works of some of Russia's greatest writers, most notably, Andrey Platonov, Boris Pasternak, Vasiliy Grossman and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Soviet and Chinese manifestations of political correctness are worlds of paranoid suspicion, endless show trials, false confessions and struggle sessions. They are worlds where the workings of the rational mind are viewed with suspicion, even hatred.

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