People love comparing contemporary politics to history. People compare certain presidents to certain historical tyrants; contemporary policies to historical acts. As a student of history, I am both fascinated and weary of these comparisons.
We need to be careful equating the present with the past; but sometimes political movements are so similar that we must take a lesson from the past events. Such resemblance between the modern social justice movement in general, as well as Antifa in particular, and the Chinese red guards during the Cultural Revolution is extremely alarming.
After Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward claimed the lives of millions of people, China found itself in great distress. It was at that point that Mao called for a second revolution, one that would be led by the youth.
The youth answered the call and the Cultural Revolution began. Chinese students rushed to action to fight against those who, according to Mao, had lost their way. These students hung posters, looted private property, rioted, shamed and humiliated whoever did not agree with them. By the time the revolution was over, millions had lost their lives.
The revolution spread like wildfire across campuses. Students were told that China fell under the control of reactionaries and must be saved. One student recollects, “I was astonished to learn that our country was in such bad shape. Until then I hadn’t suspected that the songs I sang, the movies I watched, and the books I read were unhealthy.” With good intentions at heart, the students answered the revolutionary call and charged forward to save China.
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, or commonly referred to as Mao’s Little Red Book, became the revolutionaries’ bible and said the most imperative issue of the revolution is distinguish between friend and foe. For these students, you were either with them or against them. For those determined to be against them, the students maimed and murdered those they found guilty. Public gatherings were held in which the students shamed and tortured teachers, some to the point of suicide out of shame and fear of more torture.
Do not mistake the Red Guards’ victims for conservatives; the victims of the Cultural Revolution were leftists. They were leftist students, professors, friends, neighbors, and relatives – everybody who was deemed an enemy of the revolution. These radical movements are never content. When the Cultural Revolution started, China was already a communist nation. Not Social-Democratic, not Socialist, but fully communist.
The resemblance to Antifa is uncanny. We are very lucky that the American government does not support Antifa as Mao supported the Red Guards, otherwise I am certain that we would have seen plenty more horrific acts committed by Antifa members hell-bent on “saving America.”
The lesson from the Cultural Revolution must not just be how dangerous such movements are, but also how careful all must be. Not just conservatives, but liberals too. Fanatics are never satisfied, they do not stop at the “evil conservative in Wall Street.” They will always move onward to find a new “enemy of the people”.
It should be said loudly and clearly – Antifa is dangerous! The lessons of history show how deadly the masses of people are who reject individualism in order to save society from itself, especially when these masses believe that violence is a justifiable tool against their enemies.
The Cultural Revolution must not be forgotten. People often refer to the horrors governments committed; the Holocaust, genocides in Africa, Apartheid. Not often enough we are reminded of the horror the masses can commit when they renounce individualism and place the “revolution” over basic human decency.
Li Hua, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution recounts: ”I won’t be happy till I die. I’ve never lived a good day in my life. My mother was beaten to death, my father was left senseless and I still have to beg for everything. … My scars will never heal.”
It’s said those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We would do well to learn from this. The students in the Red Guards wished to save China, but they sent it into darkness at the price of millions innocents souls.