[ot][spam] Partial Book Experience: Robert Lifton, Losing R / Cults, Cultism, Zealotry

Undescribed Horrific Abuse, One Victim & Survivor of Many gmkarl at gmail.com
Mon Aug 28 08:05:30 PDT 2023

Part One

Thought Reform and Cultism

Part One Chapter 1
Chinese Communist Thought Reform

_ Chinese thought reform was the subject of my first research study,
in a sense my initiation into the realm of psychological history. I
was fascinated by the process on two levels. The first was the
individual experience of each Chinese or Western person I interviewed,
which raised questions about the ways minds could be manipulated and
altered and about distinctions between coercive and therapeutic
approaches to individual change. These were questions at the heart of
my profession. _

_ But I was equally impressed by the larger historical spectacle of
hundreds of millions of Chinese people subjected to a vast compulsory
movement of "re-education" -- universities, schools, special
"revolutionary colleges," prisons, business and government offices,
labor and peasant organizations, and neighborhood groups. What was the
historical significance of such intense political "psychotherapy"
applied to citizens of the largest society on earth? I came to
recognize thought reform as a project of political purification on a
scale never previously attempted anywhere. _

_ Indeed, I have come to view the thought reform process as a form of
psychological apocalypticism, of bringing about the "death" of all
ideas and ideologies prior to those of Mao Zedong and providing a
"reformed" remnant (in this case a very large one) to preside over
further Maoist purification -- of China, and perhaps of the world. I
was studying not only individual change in worldview and identity but
a grandiose and coercive effort at a historical "new beginning." _

_ In that way, thought reform had a cultist element of Chinese society
turning inward on itself. From 1948 through the 1950s, several thought
reform-driven national campaigns took place, such as the Suppression
of Counterrevolutionaries, Three-Anti, Five-Anti, and Anti-Rightist
campaigns. Of particular interest was the "Hundred Flowers Movement"
("Let the hundred flowers bloom[13], let the hundred schools of
thought contend"), which encouraged intellectuals to speak frankly
about their criticisms of the regime. But authorities were surprised
by what they had let loose, and turned the event into a trap. Those
who had spoken out critically were subjected to fierce condemnation,
with their position in society newly imperiled. Those initial
criticisms were significant: one professor, in his response, said, "I
find the term _thought reform_ rather repulsive.... I am not aware
that there is anything wrong with my thought." And another put it into
language I use in this book: "I think a Party leading the nation is
not the same as a Party owning the nation." Such critics made it clear
that difficulties can occur for those who seek to "own" human minds or
reality itself. _

_ Yet, in the mid-1950s, at the same time I was probing these matters
in my Hong Kong research, American travelers to Hong Kong told me
about McCarthyism back home and its own assault on minds and on
reality. Senator Joseph McCarthy and those who followed or were
influenced by him were making wild accusations of Communist
association against public figures, teachers, and writers. Subscribing
to the wrong magazine might result in being fired from one's job. _

_ That message, when combined with my everyday experience of thought
reform's punitive distortions, gave me the sense that the whole world
had gone mad, that there was a pandemic of assault on mind and
reality. _

_ Thought reform, then, is an extreme version of ever-present human
tendencies to contrast one's own purity with the impurity of all else;
and on that basis to justify one's claim to the ownership of reality.

Chinese Communist Thought Reform
_First published in 1961_

When confronted with the endless discussion on the general subject of
"brainwashing," I am sometimes reminded of the Zen Buddhist maxim:
"The more we talk about it, the less we understand it."

Behind this web of semantic (and more than semantic) confusion lies an
image of "brainwashing" as an all-powerful, irresistible,
unfathomable, and magical method of achieving total control over the
human mind. It is of course none of these things, and this loose usage
makes the word a rallying point for fear, resentment, urges toward
submission, justification for failure, irresponsible accusation, and
for a wide gamut of emotional extremism. One may justly conclude that
the term has a far from precise and a questionable usefulness; one may
even be tempted to forget about the whole subject.

Yet to do so would be to overlook one of the major problems of our era
-- the psychology and the ethics of directed attempts at changing
human beings. For despite the vicissitudes of brainwashing, the
process that gave rise to the name is very much a reality: the
official Chinese Communist program of _sixiang gaizao_ (variously
translated as "ideological remolding," "ideological reform," or as we
shall refer to it here, "thought reform") has in fact emerged as one
of the most powerful efforts at human manipulation ever undertaken. To
be sure, such a program is by no means completely new: imposed dogmas,
inquisitions, and mass conversion movements have existed in every
country and during every historical epoch. But the Chinese Communists
brought to theirs a more organized, comprehensive, and deliberate -- a
more total -- character, as well as a unique blend of energetic and
ingenious psychological techniques.

When I began my study of Chinese Communist thought reform in the
1950s, the Western world had heard mostly about "thought reform" as
applied in a military setting: the coerced bacteriological warfare
confessions[14] and the collaboration obtained from American (and
other United Nations) prisoners during the Korean War. However, these
were merely export versions of a thought reform program aimed not
primarily at Westerners, but at the Chinese people themselves, and
vigorously applied in universities, schools, special "revolutionary
collages," prisons, business and government offices, and labor and
peasant organizations. Thought reform combined this impressively
widespread distribution with a focused emotional power. Not only did
it reach one-fourth of the people in the world, but it sought to bring
about in everyone it touched a significant personal upheaval.

Whatever its setting, thought reform consists of two basic elements:
_confession_, the exposure and renunciation of past and present
"evil"; and _re-education_, the remaking of a man in the Communist
image. These elements are closely related and overlapping, since they
both bring into play a series of pressures and appeals --
intellectual, emotional, and physical -- aimed at social control and
individual change.

When I arrived in Hong Kong in late January 1954, I soon found out
that those who had undergone this experience fell into two broad
groups: Western civilians reformed in prisons, and Chinese
intellectuals who had undergone their reform in universities or in
"revolutionary colleges." As I immersed myself in interviews with both
groups, I was fascinated on two levels. The first was the nitty-gritty
experience I studied with each Chinese or Western person I talked to,
which led immediately to fundamental psychological questions about
ways in which minds can be manipulated and changed, and about
capacities to resist such manipulation. Also involved were important
distinctions between coercive and therapeutic approaches to bringing
about change. These questions are at the heart of my profession and
have significance for the way we live in general.

But there was another level to thought reform: its visionary or
transcendent characteristic, the specter of hundreds of millions of
Chinese people -- in their neighborhoods, schools, and places of work
-- caught up in a compulsory movement of purification and renewal.
What did it mean for such an extreme ethos to dominate an entire vast

As I proceeded with the work, I realized that one of the main causes
for confusion about thought reform lay in the complexity of the
process itself. Some people considered it a relentless means of
undermining the human personality; others saw it as a profoundly
"moral" -- even religious -- attempt to instill new ethics into the
Chinese people. Both of these views were partially correct, and yet
each, insofar as it ignored the other, was greatly misleading. For it
was the combination of external force or coercion with an appeal to
the inner enthusiasm through evangelistic exhortation which gave
thought reform its emotional scope and power.

Coercion and breakdown were, of course, more prominent in the prisons,
where brutal treatment that constituted torture was frequent, while
exhortation and ethical appeal were especially stressed with the rest
of the Chinese population; and it becomes extremely difficulty to
determine just where exhortation ends and coercion begins. I could
observe that thought reform was by no means a casual undertaking but
rather a systematic and widespread program that penetrated deeply into
people's psyches.

I found it very important to consider what was behind thought reform,
what impelled the Chinese Communists to carry out such extreme
measures on such an extensive scale. The complexities of their
motivations will be discussed later on; but it is necessary for us now
-- before getting to the prison experiences of Westerners -- to know
something about the Chinese Communist philosophy or rationale for
their program.

The leading Chinese political theorists, although reticent about
technical details, have written extensively on general principles. Mao
Zedong himself, in a well-known speech originally delivered to party
members in 1942, laid down the basic principles of punishment and cure
that are always quoted by later writers. To overcome undesirable and
"unorthodox" trends, he specified that

> two principles must be observed. The first is, "punish the past to warn the future"
> and the second, "save men by curing their diseases." Past errors must be exposed
> with no thought of personal feelings or face. We must use a scientific attitude to
> analyze and criticize what has been undesirable in the past ... this is the meaning
> of "punish the past to warn the future." But our object in exposing errors and
> criticizing shortcomings is like that of a doctor in curing a disease.

The argument continues as follows: the "old society" in China (or any
non-Communist society anywhere) was (and is) evil and corrupt; this is
true because of the domination of the "exploiting classes" -- the
landowners and capitalists and bourgeoisie; everyone has been exposed
to this type of society and therefore retains from it "evil remnants"
or "ideological poisons"; only thought reform can rid him of these and
make him a "new man" in a "new society." And long philosophical
treatises emphasize the need to bring the "ideology of all classes"
into harmony with "objective material conditions" -- or in other
words, to blend personal beliefs with Communist-implemented social

In prison environments, Western civilians (and their Chinese
cellmates) encountered a special penal version of these principles:

> All crimes have definite sociological roots. The evil ideology and evil habits left
> behind by the old society ... still remain in the minds of some people to a marked
> degree. Thus if we are to wipe all crimes from their roots, in addition to inflicting
> on the criminal the punishment due, we must also carry out various effective
> measures to transform the various evil ideological conceptions in the minds of the
> people so that they may be educated and reformed into new people.

Penal institutions were referred to as "re-education centers,"
"meditation houses," or even "hospitals for ideological reform."
Westerners spent most of their time -- one to five years of
imprisonment -- essentially devoted to "solving their cases"; and they
were not tried or sentenced until just before their release. The
large-scale policy of "reform through labor" -- the use of prisoners
in labor battalions -- was mostly reserved for the Chinese themselves.

In the penal institutions it was made clear that the "reactionary spy"
who entered the prison must perish, and that in his place must arise a
"new man," resurrected in the Communist mold. The environment did not
permit any sidestepping: the prisoners were forced to participate,
drawn into the forces around them until they themselves began to feel
the need to confess and to reform. In all of this it is most important
to realize that what might be seen as a set of coercive maneuvers, the
Chinese Communists viewed as a morally uplifting, harmonizing, and
scientifically therapeutic experience.

This penetration by the psychological forces of the environment into
the inner emotions of the individual person is perhaps the outstanding
psychiatric fact of thought reform. The milieu brings to bear upon the
prisoner a series of overwhelming pressures, at the same time allowing
only a very limited set of alternatives for adapting to them. In the
interplay between person and environment, a sequence of steps or
operations -- of combinations of manipulation and response -- takes
place. All of these steps revolved around two policies and two
demands: the fluctuation between assault and leniency, and the
requirements of confession and re-education.

[left off page 29] [this is as far as i got before the next book
started, which is “opening our minds” by jon atack. 2023-08-28]

13: "Let the hundred flowers bloom": See the pamphlets "Contradiction"
and "The Storm" (China Viewpoints: Hong Kong, 1958); Benjamin
Schwartz, "New Trends in Maoism," _Problems of Communism_ 6

14: the coerced bacteriological warfare confessions: A later study
argued that America actually engaged in experimental biological
warfare. Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, _The United States and
Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea_
(Bloomington and Indianapolis Indiana University Press, 1998).

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