Honey Speaks Her Piece On Mao & John Dewey

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January 1, 2012 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

In, “Honey Begins Her Talk on John Dewey,” Boryanabooks, October 1, 2010,  I began my essay on John Dewey’s influence in both American and Chinese utopian city design.


In “Honey Talks About Experiments in Urban Design at Llano del Rio,” Boryanabooks, November 1, 2010, I wrote about connections between Llano del Rio, the Jersey Homesteads created under the New Deal and the Maoist planning design of new towns that conserve energy.   Urban Planning student Tammy Williams described the New Jersey utopia in “Honey Gives a Guest A Chance to Talk About a New Jersey Utopia,” Boryanabooks,  December 30, 2010.)

A Conservative website lists Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916) among the top ten most harmful books in the world – five points more harmful on their scale than Das Kapital.   What’s the most odd thing about right-wing animosity towards John Dewey is that almost no one reads his books anymore.   I was able to get Dewey material out of the CSUN library for two months without anyone asking me to return it.  There was no long list of readers reserving those books.


Dewey’s philosophy underpinned Job Harriman’s design of Llano del Rio.  (Beverly Lewis’s film, American Utopia, a one-hour historical documentary about America’s longest-lived socialist-utopian colony, broadcast on WLPT-TV, November 1994.  Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Baton Rouge.  Lionel Rolfe talks about the community in this film).  Key figures from Llano del Rio joined Upton Sinclair’s EPIC (“End Poverty in California”) program

(Dana Cuff, The Provisional City, footnote 7, page 345).Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2002).   Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins embraced the pragmatic utopian of EPIC and influenced FDR’s New Deal willingness to experiment.  (“Upton Sinclair’s EPIC Campaign,” November 1, 2010, The Nation.)


I find a lot of Mao Zedong’s theoretical writing unmitigated bull crap transparently written to keep Stalin out of Mao’s face and leave him the fuck alone.   The Chinese Communist Party’s early experimentalism in social and economic relations, however, which paralleled but was initially more effective than experimentalism under the New Deal, is quite evidently premised in pragmatism, in learning from what you are doing, and in opening doors closed by tradition.  It was a magnificent time.  See, for instance,  William Hinton, Fred Magdoff, Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in China,   University of California Press, 1966).


Maoism, also called Mao Zedong Thought, is considered a communist theory, and it is applied as the Communist Party’s ideology.   Mainstream scholars take the position that Mao drew on the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin in elaborating his theory.


Before his involvement with Communism, he was a librarian at the University of Peking from 1919 to 1921, when John Dewey lectured on social and political philosophy. Jessica Ching-Sze Wang,  John Dewey in China: To Teach and to Learn  (2007, SUNY)


At Bejing University, also Mao met Li Dazhoa and Chen Duxiu, founders of the Chinese Communist Party, and in 1921 Mao committed himself, so the story goes, to Marixism.  Before that, he once admitted, he was under the influence of anarchism (See, Benjamin Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1975),  a political theory that Marx decried, but which was the basis of much utopian planning, including Llano del Rio, EPIC and the Roosevelt utopia under the New Deal.


John Dewey’s lecture on “Social Philosophy and Political Philosopy” greatly influenced Chen Duxiu’s thinking.  Dewey rejected large all-encompassing visions for humanity and argued that the only scientific approach to human problems should be to  search for concrete methods to meet concrete problems according to the exigencies of time and place.”  (Schwartz, p. 32)


Chen Duxiu, along with Hu Shi, were the best known figures in the May Fourth Movement, which coincided with Dewey’s visit.  According to Jesica Chang-Sze Wang, “In a narrow sense, the May Fourth movement refers to the student demonstration in Beijing on May 4, 1919, in protest of the Versailles Peace Conference.  In a broader sense, it represented a vast modernization movement from 1921, which sought to reform China through intellectual and social means.” ….Had the movement not occurred in May 1919, Dewey might not have lingered in China for two years and two months.” (“We ought,” he said, “To have a very good time.”)  Hu was Chen’s most important colleague at The New Youth Magazine and also a follower and student of John Dewey.   (Jessica Ching-Sze Wang, John Dewey in Chiina: To Teach and to Learn,” 2007 State University of New York).


Hu was responsible for introducing Dewey’s “pragmatic” approach to China and forecefully preached “drop-by-drop” improvement of society through the study of specific and practical problems and arriving at the right solutions.   Tai Wan-chin, “Chen Duxiu’s Conversion from a Liberal Democrat to  Marxist-Leninist: Motivations And Impact,” Tamkang Journal of International Affairs (2007), p. 140)  Mao spoke frankly in 1936 ot how he “admired the articles of Hu Shih” and how for a while Hu Shi had become his model.  Chan Lien, “Chinese Communism versus Pragmatism: The Criticism of Hu Shih’s Philosophy, 1950-1958”,  The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (May 1968, p. 565, citing Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (New York: Grove Press, Inc. 1961), p. 147.


Dewey wrote over 40 short essays concerning Chinese social and political changes during this time.   (Zhixin Su, “A critical Evaluation of John Dewey’s Influence on Chinese Education,” American Journal of Education, (1995) The University of Chicago.)


Dewey’s lecturers in China are available in hardback for $298.40 from Amazon –  Lectures in China, (1919-1920), Robert W. Clopton Editor, John Dewey author, Tsuin-Chen Ou (Translator).   The price is so exhorbitant it may be that there are those willing to read what one of the world’s greatest thinkers wrote.



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