Over the course of this semester, we have discussed a number of particular cases in which a disadvantaged, poor, and much less powerful group or class has attempted to overturn the unfair power structures that disadvantage them.
A number of the groups we have studied have attempted to carry out a revolution, to some extent or another, by challenging the existing the power structure that has persistently hindered their upward social mobility.
Some groups resign themselves from even attempting to make positive changes, either out of fear, indifference, or hopelessness. However, unlike any case that we have studied, the Chinese Revolution was remarkably successful in overturning the rigid power structure of Chinese society which had gone nearly unchanged for thousands of years. What historians and political scientists alike can learn from the Dragon’s Village case is that a revolution does not simply involve overturning of the existing power structure, but that it must also change how power function once the power structure is reversed.
I have always been intrigued by the Chinese Revolution, namely its success under the CCP’s organization and careful deliberation. As difficult as it is for a staunch believer in freedom and democracy to give a Communist group any credit, ideological differences should not negate how well coordinated the CCP was in overturning the longstanding power structures of traditional Chinese society.
The CCP was successful in breaking the ancient laws of their culture, and developing their own political platform amongst the uneducated, objectives that few groups have managed to accomplish over history. In Liberty, we saw a merciless peasant uprising and the subsequent barbaric slaughter of the landed gentry which resulted from years of pent up anger and hatred that exploded in an instant. These types of violent peasant uprising involve indiscriminate rage against all individuals who are associated with the group that oppresses the peasant. Rather than attempting to reestablish the power structure, the peasant simply focuses on individual targets. They had neither leadership nor direction and thus their efforts resulted in failure to change how power was controlled in society.
In Rebels in the Name of the Tsar, we saw how the myth of the Tsar as a God-like father figure to the peasant class prevented the masses from even attempting to overturn the power structure. In this instance, there is a leader in place (the Tsar), but he is one who does not represent the interests of the peasant masses. And so, the power structure remains the same as the peasant monarchists accept the infallible word of their leader without question. We’ve likewise encountered city mobs – such as those partaking in the urban riots of the United States in the early 1990s – that tend to be effective in attracting greater public attention to the cause of the lower class, but such movements are generally localized, spontaneous, and in response to a direct abuse or grievance and not the power structure as a whole.
In Dragon’s Village, the CCP encounters a number of difficulties which is a testament to the challenges any leadership group encounters when trying to organize a successful revolution. While the CCP planned symbolic violence to show the peasants that the power structure of traditional Chinese society could be overturned, they had not planned for the peasant rampage as we had witnessed in Liberty.
However, what proves successful for the CCP is the development of their relationship with the Chinese peasantry. It was necessary, in the CCP leadership’s eyes, to form cohesive bonds between Communist cadre officials and the peasants so as to develop the image of a symbiotic relationship instead of an exploitive one. In this way, the CCP would be able to properly utilize the sheer power of the size of the Chinese peasantry in changing the structure of society and overturning the old political leadership.
It’s easy to simply state how the CCP was successful in both overturning the old power structures in China, and furthermore by changing how the new power structure would function. However, it would appear that there are a number of reasons why the CCP was successful in their efforts, whereas other leadership groups in the past have failed to overturn the power structures in southern Italy, pre-industrial Europe or Tsarist Russia. The first and most obvious is the well-organized leadership of the CCP, their forethought and ability to coordinate the mass movement. Without such leadership, the traditional sense of hopelessness and indifference that tends to plague the lower classes of societies would hinder and popular movement from taking hold. The second factor that one must consider is the sheer size of the peasant population.
The CCP – and also, the landed gentry and Chinese Nationalists – understood that the size of the peasant population could possibly overpower any group that it sought to oust. While leadership was vital in directing the population towards overthrowing a particular group, surely the threatening size of the populace was vital. Had a leadership group attempted to carry out similar tactics in overthrowing traditional power structures of southern Italian society, for example, because the peasants lacked a significant size advantage over the national military or police force, it is likely that the uprising would be crushed without much difficulty. Lastly, one might consider how distinct and well defined the lines of social classes were in Chinese society.
In Dragon’s Village, was easy to make a distinction between peasant and landlord. However, in Christ Stopped at Eboli, social boundaries were not as distinct; rather, the lot of the peasantry in southern Italy directed their frustrations against a distant body, Rome, rather than a local land lord. As the Chinese peasants could see the landlord on a daily basis, one whom they exclusively blame for their impoverishment, the CCP had little difficulty in mobilizing the peasants to direct their anger against a familiar foe. Contrarily, any Italian leadership would have had great difficulty in explicitly directly peasant anger against the upper class, as a representative of that class was not always present in the Italian south.
Unlike a number of past attempted revolutions we have studied this far this semester, the Chinese Revolution was successful in overturning the rigid power structure of Chinese society, and also establishing how power function would change once the power structure was overturned. While perhaps the circumstances aided their efforts of revolution (leadership, but also population size and rigid class structure), the CCP’s remarkable foresight and preparation for their revolution proved successful as portrayed in The Dragon’s Village.