Just as Mao’s Red Guards were never about themselves, always about Mao, anarchists are about a larger political question: what is the correct political line? Once the Red Guards of China had resolved that in Mao’s favor they were allowed to rampage for a time to bring hatred down upon themselves and subsequently suppressed, hapless tools to the very end.
The leadership in Beijing also simultaneously tried to restrain and encourage the Red Guards, adding confusion to an already chaotic situation. On the one hand, the Cultural Revolution Group reiterated calls for non-violence, but on the other hand the People’s Liberation Army was told to assist the Red Guards with transport and lodging, and there were eight rallies in Tiananmen Square between the 18th August and the 26th November 1966 (in total, twelve million Red Guards traveled to see Mao in these rallies). However, by the end of 1966, most of the Cultural Revolution Group were of the opinion that the Red Guards had become too much of a political liability. The campaign against ‘capitalist-roaders’ had led to anarchy, the Red Guards’ actions had led to conservatism amongst China’s workers, and the lack of discipline and the factionalism in the movement had made the Red Guards politically dangerous. 1967 would see the decision to dispel the student movement….
In the year that followed, the PLA violently put down the national Red Guard movement, with the suppressions often brutal. For example, a radical alliance of Red Guard groups in Hunan province called the Sheng Wu Lien was involved in clashes with local PLA units, and in the first half of 1968 was forcibly suppressed. At the same time, in Guangxi province, the PLA carried out mass executions of Red Guards that were unprecedented in their nature in the Cultural Revolution.
A Permanent Majority
“Reportedly, in an audience of the Red Guard leaders with Mao, the Chairman informed them gently of the end of the movement with a tear in his eye.” That would be par for the course. In them Mao would have seen some aspect of his youthful self — the loser aspect. The coming decade will see the Welfare State fight to save itself, whether by accommodating to the “sordid” reality of capitalism or by idealistically “doubling down” remains to be seen. What will be chosen depends on cold calculation. But in the meantime they have need of straws in the wind. Anarchists will eventually discover, as George Orwell found in Catalonia, that they principally exist in order to prove spontaneity within the Left, to be those wisps of volatile material that flare for a brief moment and fall to the ground as forgotten ash. Their historical role is to signally sacrifice themselves for an impossible dream and be martyred with very much regret. That and nothing more. But we’ve heard it all before. It’s always about the children, but never quite in the way we think, as sacrificial rite.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
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