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Red Guards and Factionalism


This is quite interesting, questioning the argument that factionalism among Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution reflected different class or ideological backgrounds:

The work teams that were sent into Beijing’s elite universities in June 1966 (Peking University, to begin with) were forced to make choices in light of radical students’ denunciation of top university officials; lower officials had to make similar choices; and activist student leaders had to decide whether to support or oppose the activities of the work teams.  And, Walder argues, this choice was fateful and enduring.  It meant that the individual would be shunted into this group or that group, with further decisions cementing the affinity with the group…

Walder argues that the fact of pervasive factionalization in the Cultural Revolution does not reflect fundamental underlying disagreements or contradictions between the factions; it does not reflect prior sociological distinctions among the participants; but rather reflects the emergence of separate networks of political affiliation from which there was no exit.

Seems that there’s some space in this argument to support both a sociological (network) based explanation and a social psychology (minimum group identity) explanation, and that there are probably some interesting interactions between the two phenomena. The latter helps to explain how even minimal differences can result in severe inter-group discrimination, while the former explains how identity factions gain a degree on institutional weight.

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