Revealing Truths Through Self-Criticism Speech
The objective of self-criticism is to lead the subject to observe, analyse, decode and recognize himself as a domain of possible knowledge (Horujy 2015: 67). As noted above, this self-reflection is a practice of turning the self’s gaze towards the self. It is a practice of the self for the transformation of the subject (Horujy 2015: 6). In this practice, a dividing practice can be observed between “the small self,” which focused on personal interest (the private self) and “the great self” based on the interest of the Party and the nation (the public self) with the expectation that the small self should always be secondary and submissive to the great self (cited in Yan 2010: 494). This reveals the hierarchical relationship between the truth of the Party and the truth of the self. The paradigm of knowledge of the Party in this case is treated as a constituent part of the actualization of the process of conversion to the self (Horujy 2015: 38).
Thus, the telos prescribed by the Party plays a special defining role in the practices: every phase of the practice, every state of being attained in the course of the practice, is characterized and verified by its relation to the telos, and by the “distance” that separates it from the telos (9). As an official from a finance department explains to us:
One’s lifestyle can reflect his work style and also reflects his way of thinking. Lifestyle is a kind of form of expression. When he presents what he has had done wrong in the past, it might reveal some ideological problems within himself.
Thus, the divided self and the inner hierarchy between the small and great self are the keys to understanding the notion of being a communist (Yan 2010: 494). It is a relationship between the individual and the group, instead of an autonomous and indivisible entity (505). President Xi has publically denounced the individualism of Party members who seek special attention, for example:
Some Party members and cadres are outspoken and reckless, they want to show their so-called “ability” and to criticize the already defined political principles. When the hostile forces flatter their deeds, they feel proud instead of shame. These problems have had an adverse impact on the Party and society, and damaged the Party’s cause. The Party does not allow any special member who is not bound by law or even above Party Constitution and Organization within the Party. (22 January 2013)
Within the self, there is a paradigm of self-knowledge (as self-recollection), a paradigm of conversion to the self (as ethical self-cultivation) and a paradigm of “self-exegesis and self-renunciation” (as political self-cultivation) (Horujy 2015: 69). The concentration on the self requires that all knowledge be subordinate to the “art of living,” and this in turn means that knowledge in its totality must necessarily be transformed and ordered to conform to this art (38). The contemporary communists’ art of living is summed up by President Xi’s requirements for leading officials:
To be a good leader, we must have the following characteristics: loyalty to the Party and it is political character, personal cleanness is the official line, professional qualification is political criteria. These enable officials to do right politics, stand firm and be clear-cut. Officials must learn to keep pace with the Party and improve their quality; dare to be qualified despite the difficulties, safeguard the overall situation, provide mutual support; have strict self-discipline, be honest and upright, be a good cadre of conviction, serve the public, and be diligent and pragmatic.
In reflective processes, such as in President Xi’s speech, the self’s essential characteristic is reflexiveness: the self becomes an object to itself, capable of entering its own experience, at first indirectly by becoming an object to itself, in which it gradually becomes conscious of the attitudes and roles of others within a social environment in which both the self and other are implicated (McCarthy 2005: 68). In other words, the self first appears as a third person, principally in speech acts, but also in the gestures and attitudes of others; the self appears as an object brought into consciousness with other objects and other selves (68). That is to say, if one wants to read and understand a text, one must put themselves into the words. This is also the relationship between the act of interpretation of a text and the act of verbalization of the self (Foucault 2014: 167). In this case, there are two truths, the truth of the text and truth of the self. There is the obligation to believe and obligation to discover oneself between which there is an act of faith (166).
In Mead’s terms, the self as a social object is inseparable from the forms of speech within which it is communicated (McCarthy 2005: 68). Thus, speech in criticism and self-criticism sessions is a kind of language of social agency, through which Party members are resocialized. In other words, language—understood in its larger context of social cooperation, which takes place through the mutual exchange and interpretation of signs and gestures—is the activity in which selves are constituted (68). The “I” is the active voice of the individual and the “me” the self-as-object. Each of these is an element in the self’s developing self-concept and self-consciousness (69). As a high-level official from a provincial government reflects:
I do not only make comparison with myself, I also compare the Party’s past and present. Why was it that Chairman Mao, the leader of the ruling Party could also become like a member of the ordinary people’s family and was popular among the masses? The Mass Line Education Program that President Xi has introduced also aims to make our Party truly representative of the interests of the masses, for the interests of the masses. This is exactly what Chairman Mao aimed for. Our Party has not gone deep enough among the masses, does not mobilize the masses, or lead the masses, or organize the masses, for the interests of the masses, and is not closely linked enough with the masses. So we need to improve this situation.
In this discourse, the knowledge obtained by officials during the programme is to establish a system of truth among them as a code of conduct, which is “dedicated to engaging with and listening to the masses in order to better serve the masses.” Meanwhile, they are also induced to reflect on what the Party has got right and wrong in the past and consequently be armed to critique their fellow Party members. These are two types of practices and two modes of experiences (Foucault 2014: 168). This is also the relationship between care of the self and the care of others—the one concerned with access to “divine truth” and the one concerned with discovering the truth inside oneself (De 2013: 24). In other words, techniques of the self are “frequently linked to the techniques for the direction of others,” such as education and its institutions.