06 Words of Power, the Power of Words. The Twentieth-Century Communist Discourse in International Perspective


This volume proposes a collection of nineteen essays on the history of international communism during the twentieth century. The first part is dedicated to the Italian Communist Party, the most important communist party in Western Europe. The book then moves on to an analysis of the parties of Eastern Europe, for example in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Finally, the analysis goes beyond the European boundaries, focusing on communism in Latin America, with Chilean communism and the Ecuadorian Left, and in Eastern Asia, with the Vietnamese and the Chinese Communist parties. The book offers a global and interdisciplinary approach, merging the analysis of political-cultural processes with the study of political discourse and language, textual or iconic, thanks to studies by historians, linguists, philosophers, and historians of language.

Giulia Bassi, with a PhD in Contemporary History from the University of Trieste with a co-tutorship agreement with the University of Reading, is currently a research fellow in Contemporary History at the University of Eastern Piedmont and Adjunct Professor at the University of Parma. Her research focuses on the history of political thought, and particularly on the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Left, and on the history of twentieth-century Marxist historiography.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 21
  • Publication
    From Class to Culture: Reconfigurations of Vietnamese Communism (1925-2015)
    (EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019)
    Pelley, Patricia
    This chapter examines the history of the Vietnamese Communist Party [VCP] from its origins in 1930 until contemporary times. I argue that, for a period of around forty years, the VCP tried to reconcile two antagonistic positions. It stressed the necessity of divisive, even violent, class-based struggles in politics and economic life and, at the same time, continually called for national unity against France and the US. At the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, the VCP resolved this tension by introducing the policy of ‘renovation’ (đổi mới), which is responsible for the shift in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam [SRV] from socialism to ‘market’ socialism (chủ nghĩa xã hội thị trường). No longer focused on the dynamics of class, the VCP now emphasizes morality and culture, even though some socialist structures remain in place. The circulation of two symbols clearly articulates this new path. The hammer and sickle signals reverence for Lenin, an indebtedness to his idea of the vanguard party, and respect for Soviet-style communism more generally. The lotus bloom alludes to more primordial patterns. Both icons are similarly pervasive. This chapter is divided into three parts. Part I clarifies the contexts in which Vietnamese communism emerged and the Party’s formative years. Part II concentrates on the Indochina Wars (1946-1975) and the period after national reunification in 1976 when the SRV tried to ‘protect’ socialism in the North and ‘build’ socialism in the South. Part III centers on the period since the Sixth Party Congress (1986), when the Government and Party systematically dismantled communes, cooperatives, collectives, and many state-owned enterprises as well. When the VCP was established in 1930 it had one principal goal: uproot and eradicate the status quo. Now its overriding aim is to maintain it.
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  • Publication
    Ideology and Discourse: Rhetorical Construction of Mao Zedong’s ‘New Communist Person’ (1949-1976)
    (EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019)
    Lu, Xing
    In his Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Mikhail Bakhtin contends that language does not merely reflect the world, but actually constructs ideology of a society. The ideology of Chinese communism is disseminated through morally charged slogans, political campaigns, and the mass participation of political rituals. This chapter explores the discursive construction of ‘the new communist person’ by examining the speeches and writings of Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China between 1949 to 1976. While vehemently propagating Marxist theory of class struggle and reinforcing class-consciousness into the Chinese mind, Mao’s discursive construction of ‘the New Communist Person’ utilized and appropriated traditional Chinese values and rhetorical resources. Through rhetorical features such as metaphors, analogies, role models, and guilt redemption, Mao successfully persuaded many Chinese people to become selfless, loyal to the Party, and dedicated to the communist cause. I will identify and analyze these rhetorical features. I contend that while Mao’s discourse has its moral appeal, it has also created a radical ideology and unrealistic illusion among the Chinese people. The forced self-criticism political ritual used to construct ‘the new communist person’ has brought humiliation to many Chinese intellectuals. Whereas Mao’s legacy lives on in today’s China, the discourse of ‘the socialist core values’, propagated by the current Chinese government has lost its rhetorical appeal due to ideological crisis.
      229  185
  • Publication
    The Power of Words: Labels and their Consequences in Mao’s China (1949-1976)
    (EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019)
    Ji, Fenguyan
    When Mao and the Chinese Communist Party became supreme in 1949, they used their power to control words. They suppressed words that expressed ‘incorrect’ ways of thinking, they taught everyone a new political vocabulary, and they required people to recite political formulae and scripts that gave correct linguistic form to correct thought. As part of this project of linguistic engineering, they introduced a system of classification and political labelling that located every individual within a ‘good’ class, a ‘bad class’, or an intermediate class. They supplemented this with a system of ‘Red’ (good) and ‘Black’ (bad) categories that enabled even people of good class origins to be stigmatised. This essay will explain how this system of classification and labelling affected people’s life chances, showing that it was especially devastating when the labels were combined with the language of class war during the repeated ‘class struggles’ that Mao instigated to attack alleged class enemies and promote revolutionary consciousness. The damage to people’s lives reached its climax during the Cultural Revolution, when Mao for a time lost control of the process of labelling and the country descended into low grade civil war. After restoring order by the use of force, Mao brought the process of labelling back under centralised control and used it to condemn the young revolutionaries who had pinned invidious labels on their opponents and attacked them in his name. He then ensured that labelling remained a fundamental technology of social control, using it to institutionalise the Cultural Revolution and instigate new class struggles right down to his death in 1976. From beginning to end, the labelling system was a weapon that advanced the interests and objectives of those who controlled it.
      153  159
  • Publication
    'Continuity, Adaptation, and Challenge': The Chinese Communist ideology and policy on minzu (1922-2013)
    (EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019)
    Wu, Guo
    Marxism and Leninism, the theoretical foundation of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), had many ambiguous dimensions in treating the national issue, and the CCP’s national discourse was influenced by Marxist ideology, Confucian tradition of Great Unity, its own revolutionary practices, and the realpolitik concerns over resources and security as the leader of the State after 1949. Its ideology shifted in several stages. Firstly, a liberal-revolutionary national discourse which called for self-determination of all nationalities (minzu) within the Chinese territory, who made up six percent of the Chinese population based on the 1954 census. Secondly, the Long March of 1934-1935 fully exposed the CCP to the non-Han minorities in southwest and northwest Chinese borderlands, and the Party had both tensions and accommodations with local tribes. After arriving at Yan’an, the CCP had more experiences in engaging the Chinese Muslims and started empirical studies. In the third place, after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the CCP put more emphasis on the unity of the “Chinese nation” (zhonghua minzu) which was invented in the early twentieth century and implied presumably a homogeneous Chinese nation in the common resistance of the Japanese. Finally, after 1949, the CCP explicitly terminated any previous call for national self-determination, emphasizing instead the PRC’s nature as a ‘unified multi-nation State’ (tongyi de duo minzu guojia ), and the CCP distinguished itself from the Soviet Union by disavowing the Soviet-style federalism. The CCP in the early 1950s also defined the term minzu (Chinese generic word for nation, nationality, and ethnic group) as historical formations and cultural entities regardless of its presumed relationship with the rise of modern capitalism, and it rejected the labeling of buzu (clan) or buluo (tribe) to achieve internal equality. This semantic practice distanced socialist China from the Western definition of ethnicity and nation, but the Chinese Communist concept minzu, regardless of its uniqueness compared with the Soviet and Chinese Nationalist ideologies, also had some intrinsic weaknesses, one of which was paternalist ‘neo-traditionalism’ which reinforced minority nationalities’ dependency on Han nationality.
      274  388
  • Publication
    The Rise of the Union between Theory and Praxis: Chilean Communism in the Cold War (1934-1990)
    (EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019)
    Fermandois, Joaqìn
    The Communist Party played an outstanding role in Chilean politics during the twentieth century. The party’s history sank its roots in the three decades before World War I, when a nascent left-wing language, shaped by socialism and anarchism, created a sort of anti-systemic persuasion in the country, connected with new social movements and protests. The Russian Revolution introduced a big change in the social and political models of the left, even if, as was the case across the world, the emerging left was divided. From the 1920s to the 1930s the Communist Party developed a tightly knitted organization, standing on the Marxist-Leninist tenets determined by the Comintern, even if there were at the same time recognizable Chilean traces in the party’s ideological history. Under Stalinist influence, and aided by its own dynamic, the ideology became not just a point of reference, but a language that held the party united through several decades, surviving all the swings of the century, including political persecution at the end of the 1940s and the Pinochet dictatorship’s attempts to destroy the party through the murder of many of its leaders and members in the 1970s and 1980s. The common bond, besides the apparatchik and social organizations, remained always the language derived from the ideology approved by the Central Committee, confirmed by quotations of the sacred texts, reproduced in cell life, in the youth branch, the party’s media, and the ‘cadres school’ (education of militants). The ideology and doctrine evolved, as it was a reflection of the evolution of Soviet communism, even if the actual policy of the party was relatively pragmatic. The force of the ideology was shattered only in the late 1980s, with the visible end of the Cold War, both across the world and inside Chile.
      215  139