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What does it mean to recognize the memory forces and desires that partially constitute the field of politics—especially in the field of (post)socialist politics where the triggers of historical memory have proven to be so potent? Po-Hsi Chen, Aaron Kappeler, James Meador, Zhou Zhou, and Jinyi Chu contend with the politics of memory in this panel. Chen draws on the Japanese term “tenko” (“ideological re-orientation”) to explore the political, religious, and psychological ramifications of "betrayal" in left-wing movements. In the context of Venezuela, Kappeler tracks how a noxious memory of Stalinist socialism in Latin America was recalibrated through the animation of the 19th century rebel Ezequiel Zamora, generating a useful “syncretic ideological mixture of ‘Bolivarian socialism.’” Meador unpacks the seemingly quixotic impetus behind the religious diplomacy between China and Russia vis-a-vis the Orthodox Church. Zhou explicitly treats “socialism” as a sentiment conjured by “historicizing triggers,” attending to the way the forced dissolution of a Protestant congregation induces in its members an absurd sense of affinity with the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, Chu employs the transnational framework of post-socialism to interrogate Chinese avant-garde poet Bei Dao’s invocations of censored Russian modernist poets—a historical maneuver which troubles a simple concession to Anglophone modernism and neoliberalism.

This is a compilation of excerpts from an audiovisual exhibition "Arabidopsis Thaliana” which was installed at the Museum of Modern Art Bogota for the cycle MAMBO 2021-1/Landscape, Nature, and Territory. The resilient quality of life under extreme circumstances (March 25 – August 1, 2021). Artists: Ilona Jurkonytė and Santiago Reyes Villaveces. Curator: Eugenio Viola.


The Dialectics of Betrayal: Ideological Re-orientation (Tenkō) in Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwanese Fiction
Since Leon Trotsky’sRevolution Betrayed (1936), “betrayal” has been an underlying but less attended motif in left-wing narratives. In his analysis, Trotsky targets how bureaucracy betrayed yet failed to overthrow the October revolution. However, such an analysis of betrayal lacks serious examination of the psychological mechanism of how betrayal works in revolutionary discourse. This chapter draws on the notion of tenkō (or “ideological re-orientation”), a Japanese term referring to the collective public renunciation of communism in the 1920s and 1930s, to analyze the religious, political, and psychological ramifications of “betrayal” in Taiwanese left-wing movement. Based on my analysis tenkō narratives in colonial Taiwan, I will focus specifically on the postwar novelist Chen Yingzhen’s fiction, “The Story of Judas Iscariot” (1961), “Mountain Path” (1983), and “Zhao Nandong” (1987).

Drawing on Takeuchi Yoshimi’s and Tsurumi Shunsuke’s discussions on tenkō, I observe that the colonial jurisprudence interpellated those who committed tenko in court as traitors of their own belief, thereby perpetuating the internalized punishment. I note that while the tenkō narratives in colonial Taiwan were mostly limited to the individual psychic struggle afterwards, in Chen’s postwar fiction about ideological re-orientation, it became a microcosm for generational miscommunic ation and oblivion. In Chen’s fiction, the dialectics of betrayal comes full circle: the ones who betrayed the revolution also find themselves betrayed by the consequences of China’s Cultural Revolution; in response, some former underground communists also found themselves absorbed by the materialistic abundance made possible by the rapid economic growth, thus betraying the revolution in a metaphorical sense. Through cases like these, I argue that in Chen’s short stories, betrayal does not simply mean turning against one’s own erstwhile commitment to revolution. Rather, defectors may also harbor a lingering nostalgia and regret for their previous political and ideological commitment. In conclusion, political and ideological reorientation is not a once-and-for-all act. At times, these feelings enact an even deeper reflection on the ideals of revolution, which helps us rethink the ambivalent relationship between Taiwan, colonial Japan, and socialist China.


‘The Banner of Socialism was Already Raised in Venezuela’: Popular Memory of Ezequiel Zamora in the Bolivarian Revolution
The tenure of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution was widely regarded as a rebirth of socialism in Latin America. After decades of relative obscurity when socialism was castigated as retrograde ideology, Chavez’s project sought to rupture with neoliberal logics and leave behind the political baggage of the twentieth century, including the legacy of Stalinism which had haunted the left for more than fifty years. Aspiring to rewrite Venezuelan history, Bolivarian socialism was strongly oriented toward the future, even as it sought to re-imagine critical junctures of the past. In this paper, I explore the popular memory of Ezequiel Zamora, a 19th century agrarian rebel, and how his life and exploits have been deployed as central pillars of twenty-first century socialist ideology. One of the major influences in Chávez’s “tree of three roots” philosophy, Zamora stands alongside the Liberator Simón Bolívar as an exemplar of endogenous radicalism and a precursor to Venezuela’s current revolutionary leaders. By fusing older 19th century utopian traditions with Marxism, I argue that the syncretic ideological mixture of “Bolivarian socialism” establishes a thread of continuity in Venezuelan history to legitimize claims on the present. The mobilization of popular memory of Ezequiel Zamora grounds twenty-first century socialism in local histories as part of a process of anamnesis that allows the past to prefigure an egalitarian future. The analysis concludes by suggesting that a successful socialism in Venezuela has been compelled to reevaluate and ultimately embrace liberalism’s own discourses and figures as part of its hegemonic project to master history


The Moscow Patriarchate's Russky Mir in East Asia: Imperial Nostalgia in Internationalist Form
In 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il decided he wanted an Orthodox Church in Pyongyang. Metropolitan Kirill at the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations (DECR) was more than happy to help. In 2006 the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity was consecrated and opened for services as the only Orthodox Church in North Korea, and one of only a few official religious institutions in an officially atheist country. Four North Korean men (reputedly members of the North Korean intelligence service) were sent to seminary in Moscow and ordained as priests. The success of this venture appears to have served as the model and inspiration for one of the strangest currents in the last ten years of Sino-Russian diplomacy: relentless Russian advocacy for Chinese Orthodox Christians in the PRC and the ordination of Chinese Orthodox priests.

What is this quixotic religious diplomacy between autocratic states about? My paper attempts to understand at a very basic level what's going on in these two cases, with a focus on the Chinese case where data is more readily available. Based on fieldwork in the former Russian colony of Harbin, now the largest city in Northeast China, I seek to show that the DECR's work attempts to mobilize both Imperial and Soviet Russian historical legacies in Northeast Asia. This kind of cultural diplomacy owes some of its formal structure to techniques and precedents pioneered by socialist internationalism (including the DECR's role as front for intelligence work), but its ostensible current mission appears quite different: to develop and expand russky mir on the Asian front. Russian Orthodox collaboration with autocratic East Asian states thus offers a novel angle for better understanding broader trends of postsocialist necromancy of empire and longings for illiberal internationalism.


History as Irony: How not to be a Dissident in Post-socialist China
Many anthropological works on post-socialism have focused on the continuities and discontinuities in socialist practices and institutions (West & Raman, 2010; Hann, 2002). Yet, three decades after 1989, the word “socialism” has stopped referring to a politicaleconomic system in everyday life in China. Instead, “socialism” has become a sentiment that is conjured by “historicizing triggers” (Palmié & Stewart, 2016) such as specific forms of propaganda (Ji, n.d.). Although these triggers are related to China’s socialist period, they have only loose connections to core ideas and institutions of socialism. With this widening gap between socialism in theory and in social imaginary, how should we analyze its (dis)continuities? Based on one month’s fieldwork in a Protestant congregation in China in 2019, this article explores how the forced dissolution of the congregation acted as a historicizing trigger and conjured a sense of absurdity. The absurdity propelled the congregants to connect their otherwise “normal” religious activities to the socialist past, but without seeing themselves as dissidents. To express this absurdity, the congregants joked about uncanny similarities between underground congregations and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I argue that this feeling of absurdity was post-socialist. The congregants could only detect it by seeing postsocialism as an irony, which showed that there were no essential differences between the activities oppressed and promoted by the state (Steinmüller & Brandtstädter, 2015). This irony led the congregants to perceive an arbitrary relationship among the content, form, and political nature of activities, and thereby find it unnecessary to self-position as dissidents. Yet, this absurdity also intimately tied the present to the socialist past. That is, the reform hasn’t stopped the state from making arbitrary connections among content, form, and political nature. The congregants also acted similarly to the state – they were willing to use CCP’s forms to promote Christianity, and they reflected on this willingness with amusement.