The Path to Public Service at SEAS
Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum
Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President
Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study
Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum
To the Editors of the Crimson:
O Mr. Jago, the pity of it Mr. Iago--and what a name, at once insidious and insinuating--is that you judge too impetuously and are too quick to rush to judgment (Crimson 2-2-72). Since you gratuitously advertise yourself as a scholar, you might have waited for my piece--which was promised at the end of the Crimson interview--to appear before your headlong rush into obscurantist, peremptory certitudes. Not, I notice from your rigid cold war stance, that it would have made much difference to your ossified dogmatism on the matter. Only it might have made your tenuous pretension to scholarship a bit less suspect.
In any case you read rather poorly. One would have imagined that the reference to an "extraordinary ten-day visit" was clearly specified in the interview. The reporter mentioned the access which I was given to Chinese society when I was there in being permitted into areas that were usually closed to visitors, and also in being allowed to ask questions on all aspects of the Chinese Revolution, domestic as well as external. He followed this with speculation on why I was allowed this degree of freedom. He might even have added, as I also pointed out in the interview, that when an official dinner was given in my honor the occasion was reported in the major Peking newspaper Renmin Ribso (People's Daily). When one remembers that I was on a private visit arising out of an intellectual curiosity about China and the Chinese Revolution, that I represented no one and that I was not invited by any group or organization in China, it surely does not seem hyperbolic to designate this circumstance as extraordinary.
Again some reflection might have saved Mr. Jago from the inanity he wrote on the expression 'being present at the creation.' A reader endowed with some intelligence would have been saved the embarrassing illiteracy he exhibited. The reference was, of course, to Dean Acheson's book: Present at the Creation. As I explicitly stated to the interviewer, one felt in China that one was literally present at the creation of a new society and more presently than Acheson had in mind when that "Commissar of the Cold War"--in Ronald Steel's happy phrase--described, under that title, his role in launching the Cold War. And on any reckoning, whether one likes it or not, China is today creating a new society remarkably different from its pre-Liberation days as also from the other underdeveloped countries such as one encountered in the course of the last five weeks in Africa and Asia. It is sterile as well as grossly unhistorical to speculate on whether China could have made it any other way than by carrying through the process of a social revolution.
Finally, contrary to Mr. Jago's asseverations, I do hold certain reservations about China. In making a definitive break with its past as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country the Chinese have made spectacular achievements, but given the very low level at which they started, one travelling in China is all too well aware of the shortcomings that still plague Chinese society. One made no secret of one's observations on that matter. One also observed the dedication and enormous energy with which the Chinese are grappling with these lingering problems. I think something of this comes across in the interview. The Lin Piso episode, which in my discussions with Chinese officials I still found to be a very sensitive issue, is a case in point. In China today one hears a great deal about the veritable revolutionary transformation which the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has brought about in the life and consciousness of the people. Yet the man who presided over it is today in disgrace. This is a contradiction which poses major challenges for the revolution. But one's reservation in fact goes beyond the facile tendency of Mr. Jago to explain these difficulties in personal terms: Mao vs. Liu Shao Chi or Mao vs. Lin Piso. It is not that I believe with Tolstoy that individuals are mere epiphenomena of historical events: if Napole on did not exist he would have had to be invented, much as Nietzsche said of God that if he did not exist, someone would have invented him. It is rather that on this superficial level one could not hope to understand the dynamics of Chinese society, and would have to be reduced to incomprehensible mummery about the mystical and irrational Oriental mind. On this level of analysis the objective conditions of contemporary Chinese society will remain elusive, as will the troubling question which I courageously raised with the Chinese officials about the prospects for socialism generally, given the low-level of productive forces as still exist today in China. It must be admitted, though, that on this matter the Chinese have accomplished more than anyone would have thought likely in the present international conjuncture.
Incidentally, Mr. Jago invokes, in support of his prejudices, the name of Mr. Eric Gordon, a disillusioned Communist. As Mr. Jago well knows, the roster of famous names who have fulminated against the gods that betrayed them is far more impressive than is suggested by conjuring the aid of poor Mr. Gordon: Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Louis Fischer, Richard Wright, Ruth Fischer, and Stephen Spender are some of the illustrious precursors. The point which Mr. Jago characteristically misses is that it is not necessary to have been a Communist to write critically and with understanding on these matters. A Sartre, for instance, can write incisively on the problems without having joined any Communist Party. Indeed the ex-communist is least likely to be dispassionate on questions of revolution. For otherwise one still needs to explain--not merely invoke names, as Mr. Jago seems unaware--the underiying reasons, personal and historical which are never one-sided, behind the disillusionment or expulsion.
I fear I run before my horse to market.
But yet the pity of it, Iago! O Iago, the pity of it, Iago! Azinna Nwafor Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.