eli5: Reactionary Idealism


I’ve just started reading The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Xu and while I’m familiar with the cultural revolution in China, there are deeper, political things I don’t want to overlook.

The problem is that I want to understand the concept without going down a rabbit hole of politics and idealism. What I understand thusfar is reactionary idealism was a Capitalist concept that Marxism rejected and wanted to criticize because of their socioeconomic agenda.

Is there a way to sum this up simply?

In: 2

From my understanding, what’s happening here is not a “Marxist vs Reactionary” situation, but instead a “Left wing of the Communist party accusing the right wing of being Reactionaries, as part of a intra-party power struggle” situation. They are all hardened communists that want to implement Socialism in China, but they disagreed on how to do it.

In Marx’s writings(warning: lots of generalizations here), societies advance from Feudalism —> Capitalism —> Socialism. The workers are supposed to rise up at the end of Capitalism, to take over the means of production, to form Socialist societies. However, in China (and every other place, really) the Socialist revolution succeeded in a backwards agrarian country that was very far away from late stage Capitalism. So the successful revolutionaries faced a quandary: do I stick to the playbook, guide my county towards a Capitalist society first and then implement Socialism later? Or do I go ahead and implement Socialism now?

In the years prior to the Cultural Revolution, Mao had pushed for radical collectivization with disastrous consequences. As result, his policies were being rolled back, and his influence in the party was waning. This is the context from which Mao launched the Culture Revolution. He labeled his political adversaries as Reactionaries for rolling back the socialist progress. And with his influence within the party waning, he weaponized his cult of personality to enact a bottom-up power grab.

Now, as you may already know, the Culture Revolution is by far more wide-ranging, having way more causes than what I outlined above. I’m not a historian or a political scientist, so please takes this as just an amateur’s attempt to contextualize some Communist name calling back in an era that was filled with such things.