A Loss of Self-Identity: Blind Loyalty to Party Ideology and the Acceptance of Political Corruption

In “The Ceremony,” Emmanuel Dongala examines the progression of distorted perceptions of a proletariat worker in a post-colonial central African Marxist state. Through this viewpoint, Dongala narrates the day of the ceremony commemorating the new director of the manure factory, a position the worker at first claims to be his goal, after having worked tirelessly and loyally as a guard for ten years. The worker explains his initial confusion with the identity of being a true “Red,” proudly wearing and displaying the color before realizing its ideological meaning. As the worker narrates the progression in his life as a communist, he continuously offers praise to the Party and its leaders, vigorously rejecting any hypocrisy or criticism of the totalitarian state and supporting censorship, even when his own mind has its doubts.

During the ceremony, the protagonist emphasizes that he is one of the first people there, the first to clap for his glorified leader, and even bribes his boss so that he can adjust the microphone between speakers, a task he claims to be significant due to the presence of photographers. His continual praise for the leaders and the new director is a drastic shift from his earlier coveting of the job, and he even goes on to justify the ethnic preferences of the leader in regards to political appointments. His overly enthusiastic loyalty to the president causes him to become a political prisoner of the totalitarian regime; in the direct aftermath of an explosion likely aimed at killing the president, the protagonist jumps on top of the president with the intent of saving him and giving his body to the Revolution, only to end up being considered an accomplice in the act. However, this outcome only causes his loyalty to the Party to become stronger, offering to do anything for it in order to end his body’s torture. After having lost any sense of self-identity, all he knows or feels individually is physical pain.

Dongala’s story highlights the loss of self-identity via blind loyalty to party ideology and the acceptance of corruption among party officials, solely due to their idealized status. While narrating the story, the protagonist appears to be more of a cog in the machine of the regime rather than an individualized character, as his story could be that of any other worker, especially since he is never given a name. The protagonist’s account, unbeknownst to him, conveys the dehumanizing psychological effects on the citizens of a totalitarian regime, such as a loss of personal beliefs and values, a common experience in postcolonial Africa. The degradation of self-identity, as a result of intense loyalty to party ideology, leads to citizens’ casual acceptance of political corruption, further fueling the repressive abilities of the regime.

Through the protagonist’s characterization of himself and his obsession with party ideology, Dongala subtly reveals the loss of self-identity. The unnamed protagonist immediately identifies himself as a “militant” and a “citizen,” displaying the importance of the relationship to party and state, while ignoring personal connections and identities (Dongala and Thomas 67). He justifies his early arrival to the ceremony by characterizing himself as a “sincere militant, fulfilling (his) obligations to the Party,” again displaying his connection to the Party as his foremost commitment (Dongala and Thomas 67). He even admits to learning “so many things in so little time that it all gets a little mixed up in (his) head,” which demonstrates the serious use of propaganda and brainwashing methods. This brainwashing leads to his gradual obsession with “redness,” referring to the Marxist ideology of the ruling party. At one point when discussing his lack of qualifications to be factory manager, the protagonist explains, “redness was all that was missing,” cementing the idea that party ideology possesses a paramount position in the protagonist’s view of value in society (Dongala and Thomas 69). Subsequently, the protagonist explains that he cheated on his wife, not due to “debauchery or immorality” but as “sacrifice” to “advance the revolutionary cause and its redness” (Dongala and Thomas 70). Therefore, it becomes evident that the loyalty to party ideology takes complete precedence in the life of the worker, eroding the value of his personal relationships and his own identity. When explaining his decisions or beliefs, the ideology and loyalty to the party serve as the only justifications, with no considerations given to his own morals or beliefs. At one point, the protagonist somewhat admits his loss of self-identity, explaining “I can see now how one has to start by rendering one’s personality colorless, before one can successfully climb the arduous path to redness” (Dongala and Thomas 74). This psychological repression on the individual level allows the ruling party to maintain immense power since the oppressed are convinced that they are benefitting from the status quo.

Dongala’s demonstration of ideological obsession in the story provides an avenue to understanding the implications of similar instances in postcolonial African politics. In particular, the implications are quite relevant in relation to the ability of single-party states to remain in power for long periods of time. While the eagerness to begin state building somewhat justified continuing personal rule in postcolonial Africa, ruling parties took advantage of the situation and relied on enforcing an intense commitment to political ideology to remain in power. For example, the ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe has been in power since the country’s inception. Taking advantage of its initial popularity for freeing Zimbabweans from the rule of the “Rhodesian white settler regime,” the party “intended to institutionalize (its) control of the political sphere” (Dorman 163). Although opposition parties existed, the “ruling party was very much the controlling force in the political system” (Dorman 165). President Mugabe “incorporated those who had opposed the armed struggle for independence as well as white farmers, businessmen, and workers into the nation-building project” (Dorman 165). This process has parallels to “The Ceremony” in that the ruling party maintained power by attempting to convince and brainwash the people that all citizens were part of a greater ideological cause and that the ruling party must be in power for its goals to come to fruition. Sara Dorman argues, “by creating a wide umbrella party that incorporated not just the diverse factions but also many of their erstwhile opponents, Mugabe made it nearly impossible for anyone to “exit” the system and stand outside this hegemonic process.” This strategy highlights the importance of the perception the ruling party has in regards to the people. In “The Ceremony,” it is evident that the worker adores the Party and believes his nation to be benefitting from its rule. This adoration is a result of the Party using group identity to make personal ramifications irrelevant, just as Mugabe justified his power under the guise of unified patriotism after years of colonial oppression.

In addition to Zimbabwe, Sékou Touré in Guinea emphasized the importance of the party in order to promote and justify his dictatorial status within the country. In his speech, “The Role of the Party,” Touré claims, “no responsible political man whatever the authority he represents… could substitute himself for the Party. If he emanates from it, if he is the speaker, he can but act as a reflecting instrument, not of his own personality, but of the Party, which alone can express the will, the aspirations, the needs and the hopes of our people” (Emerson and Kilson 132). This excerpt precisely mirrors the self-distancing and party preeminence displayed in “the Ceremony.” Although the President of the Republic is revered in the story, it is out of his status as the leader of the party and revolution that he enjoys such reverence, not out of his personal qualities or abilities. Similarly, in his speech, Touré essentially justifies that anything he does is not a result of his decisions or beliefs, but those of the party. This allows him to rule the people without any personal consequence because they believe that he is not personally responsible for the outcomes.

Touré’s public distancing from his dictatorship also devalues the self-identity of the people. Since he states that responsible men should only express the will of the party, the brainwashed citizens believe that they should merely emanate from the party as well, not knowing that Touré is actually controlling the party’s beliefs and actions. The devious crafting of the perception of the party cements Touré’s power; by claiming that he is merely emanating from the party, he effectively establishes a perceived group identity and intense loyalty to ideology. Further deceiving the people into party loyalty, Touré’s party is named the Democratic Party of Guinea, presumably making the people feel as if their collective interests are represented, although the party never holds legitimate elections. By commanding that “the individual… must withdraw himself for the benefit of the political, human social personality of our people”, Touré is able to persuade his citizens to ignore their personal identities or considerations of well-being due to the preeminence of the benefit of the collective people (Emerson and Kilson 132). However, since individual citizens cannot evaluate the degree to which the people are benefitting in a dictatorial state, Touré is able to act as he wishes for the benefit of himself and fellow autocrats as long as the perception of his working for the people is maintained.

This concept is demonstrated from the citizen’s perspective in “the Ceremony.” When explaining why he makes sure to pose for a photograph with the President, the protagonist says, “I didn’t do it for myself, but rather in the interest of the Revolution, so that people could clearly see that our Comrade Secretary General… did not hesitate to mingle, converse, and live with the masses” (Dongala and Thomas 75). In fact, the protagonist is so brainwashed by party ideology that he not only believes the party leader to be doing a good service to him, but also attempts to convince other members of the proletariat to believe the same. Thus, it is evident, as in the case of Guinea, that in the aftermath of decolonization, political leaders took advantage of the people’s eagerness to build the state. They consequently used their initial popularity to promote deep-rooted party ideology to prevent political opposition by eroding self-identity and explaining that only loyalty to the party would benefit their newly founded state. Through this process, political leaders managed to rule unchecked and take advantage of their positions and their people, causing widespread political corruption on the continent.  

Deeply intertwined into the story’s deep progression of ideological obsession is the casual acceptance of political corruption, clearly a result of the aforementioned blind loyalty. These instances of corruption emphasize the obsessive loyalty since corruption is not hidden from the protagonist’s view. When recognizing corruption, he accepts or excuses its existence, even when it seems to harm the majority of the people, clearly a sign that his deep loyalty to the Party and its ideology has infiltrated his personal perception. The protagonist mentions the “convertible two-door Triumph… like the one the Comrade Minister for Propaganda and Ideology drove” (Dongala and Thomas 71). However, instead of allowing this gross inequality to bother him, he strives for that status and glorifies the ones who obtain it. Further, he mentions that all “members of our glorious Party’s Central Committee, had luxury air-conditioned cars… (and) celebrated with champagne” (Dongala and Thomas 73). Again he responds, “of course I wanted to be a part of it too” (Dongala and Thomas 73). The protagonist even goes so far as to create distinctions between two people that have the aforementioned luxuries, with the determining factor for justness being party membership. In turn, partisan and ideological loyalty infuses him so much that he begins justifying gross inequality that results from corruption on the basis of membership in the Party that stripped him of self-identity and practical perception in the first place. In fact, the protagonist fuels the corruption even in attempts to serve the Party. He mentions he “had to slip him a thousand-franc note, not to grease his palm, but quite simply to thank him for having taken up his time” when referring to the means in which he secured the duty to change the microphone height at the ceremony. In the justification itself, he decries the idea of bribery, displaying the utter corruption of his perception at the hands of partisan propaganda.

The analysis of corruption from the individual citizen’s perspective in the story helps explain the continued prevalence of political corruption in postcolonial Africa, even after the fall of single-party autocracies, such as the government demonstrated in the story. According to 2017 Afrobarometer results, only “54% (of survey takers) say ordinary citizens can make a difference in fighting corruption” (Afrobarometer Round 6, 14). These results demonstrate the quite common idea of accepting corruption, just as the protagonist in the story does. This is a dangerous precedent not only because it allows governments to take advantage of citizens, but also because corruption is occurring in democratic states where ordinary citizens have control over who is in power. The casual acceptance of continual corruption in democratic states poses a real threat to active citizenship and the rights of those people who are not in power. In these cases, deep partisan obsession as a result of a totalitarian state is not corrupting the opinions of the people; the citizenry simply feels powerless to change their own government. “55% of Africans say corruption has increased over the previous year,” and thus if citizens continue to accept corrupt governments, democracy may go backward as unaccountable leaders seize more power, ending up with a state similar to that in “The Ceremony” (Afrobarometer Round 6, 14). At that point, powerlessness will translate to blind loyalty, paving the grounds for the return of aristocratic rule in Africa, with dominant parties again infiltrating the minds of its citizens, stripping each one of their self-identity.

While demonstrating the interplay of loyalty to party ideology and the acceptance of corruption in an extreme and almost comical fashion, “The Ceremony” provides an exploration of the themes’ relationship from the perspective of a single citizen. Combining this narrative focus with the overall concepts demonstrated in contemporary African politics allows for a greater understanding of how dominating parties and their ideologies are able to coerce support, even without the use of outward oppression. The psychological oppression alone can help justify the continued victories of dominant political parties even in countries with free and fair multiparty elections. The dominant parties’ abilities to ingrain their ideologies into the fabric of society provides them with the utmost power to continue their rule. Widespread corruption becomes viewed as irrelevant and is accepted because the ruling party has already defeated the opposition from within their own minds.

 

Bibliography:

Afrobarometer Round 6. Report. Afrobarometer, 2017. Afrobarometer.

Dongala, Emmanuel, and Dominic Thomas. “The Ceremony.” Jazz and Palm Wine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

Dorman, Sara Rich. “The End of the Mugabe Era in Zimbabwe.” Current History, May 2018, 163-68. Accessed September 13, 2018.

Emerson, Rupert, and Martin Kilson. “The Role of the Party.” The Political Awakening of Africa. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

Over the Years: A Brief Summary of My Political Journey

My first political memory was of the 2004 presidential election, and from that point on, politics became my obsession. I remember asking my fellow preschoolers whether their parents were supporting Bush or Kerry. By 2008, after reading articles about different issues and how elections worked, I had a slightly better sense of where I leaned politically, but not enough to have legitimate conversations about them.

In 2010, Massachusetts had a US Senate election; I wanted to see what it was like from the grassroots, so I begged my mom to bring me to the Scott Brown’s campaign office in Framingham. When we got there, I was enamored by all the big signs, phones, and optimism that gave the office a unique charisma.

2012 was the first national election that I followed religiously. I remember talking with my friends at school, which taught me firsthand that most kids don’t care about or understand politics. I learned more every day by reading and talking to adults, two activities crucial to my understanding today.

Governor Charlie Baker’s victory in 2014 cemented my desire to understand and be involved in the political world. He embodies collaboration and compromise, and I respect how well and effectively he manages the state government. During his governance, I have become involved in state politics. I’m able to understand why certain Democrats chose him over their own party’s nominee, and why many conservative Republicans didn’t vote for him at all. I know which towns lean one way and which towns swing. I’ve learned how to navigate the vibrant emotions of election season when I interact with voters.

Today, I’m involved with elections, legislation, activism, and engagement. I’ve learned how to address certain crowds of people depending on their beliefs and how to effectively testify for a bipartisan bill I support. I’ve learned how to encourage youth to play more active roles in their communities. Combining all the small “talents” I’ve picked up along the way creates the talent of being a successful political activist. That’s my greatest talent, and I’m still just getting started.

Politics: Misconstrued and Underdiscussed

Sounds of excited students awaiting Christmas vacation rang throughout the lobby as my friends and I were debating the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, health care reform, the role of government in general, and even how young people would affect the presidential election just eleven months away.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “This should be a club that has an actual classroom and set topics.” Not only would founding PolitiX Club provide a better space to engage in political discourse, but it would also educate less politically aware students. The election was always a hot topic, but when it came to discussing actual policy, many students were unexposed to the current facts and proposals from various sides of the political spectrum.

As club president, I was torn between topics week to week. Some easy topics were sure to attract many more students, those that were certainly popular in the halls of a high school: gun control, abortion, and marijuana legalization. But what about the role of the US in a foreign genocide, the ramifications of net neutrality, and the intricate details of the tax code? “That’s too boring,” many would say when I announced one of these topics on a Monday afternoon. I believe what made these topics “boring” was that they were underdiscussed, nuanced, complicated, and required deep exploration of detailed facts to discover where one stands on the particular issue.

While club attendance was lower when we broke down tax rates and deductions, it was this type of underdiscussed topic that created productive and insightful discussion. Coming in with a fresh mind, unable to pick a verbal fight, allowed students to form their own opinions and have meaningful discussions. But, outside the walls of our club’s classroom, these crucial discussions were rare.

It’s always seemed counterproductive to me that at school, a supposed center for academic learning, real world awakening, and productive discussion, politics is suppressed. It’s like an evil spirit that lingers among minds and builds barriers of distrust and separation. It causes fists to clench and mouths to seal shut as verbal opinions stick to the tips of tongues. The unwritten rules and taboos dominate in the spirit’s presence, often overpowering it and keeping it away, creating an ignorant fantasy that the tension doesn’t exist.

Political conversations are not easy. It’s safer to bring up football scores or tell childhood stories over Thanksgiving dinner. But how productive and necessary are those conversations compared to politics? The foundation of our American republic relies on openly discussed political ideas. Our system exists to promote the rights and will of the people, but the people often choose communicative security over freedom and progress. Our own representatives in Congress often choose to only promote bills in line with their own party ideologies in order to pass easy and quick “solutions” because they’re terrified of admitting they’re wrong, and terrified of bipartisan dialogue and compromise.

Progress cannot occur without widespread and productive discussion. Politics has the ability to save and improve lives; it affects every single one of us, and ignoring it only allows others to dictate our lives and futures. It’s my mission to empower my generation to become active citizens and to enlighten young people of the immense capabilities we have to progress if we simply discuss politics openly and collaboratively.

I created PolitiX Club at my school to provide students with a firsthand, positive experience of discussing issues affecting our generation. From creating our own gun-related bills to discussing possible compromises on health care reform, PolitiX Club has boldly lived true to its mission. Empowering the youth and encouraging political activism is my passion because I firmly believe that my generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the world. Bringing this passion to my own school community and eventually college will help inspire my peers to learn, understand, and engage in a way that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.

Article: Students push for education about government

Excited to get behind House Bill 2016! Here is the link to the article.

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While I firmly believe that our generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the political world, students must be aided by civics education and engagement. Without an apt knowledge and understanding regarding how our political system works, it will be very difficult to make the changes needed for progress and cooperation in the years to come.

Written Testimony in Support of Massachusetts House Bill 1582

Proud to have publicly testified in support of this legislation. Below is a transcript of the written testimony.

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Joint Committee on Revenue

Testimony in support of H.1582, An Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction

Chairperson Michael Brady, Chairperson Jay Kaufman, and members of the committee,

The Teenage Republicans of Massachusetts and the Youth Conservatives of Massachusetts strongly encourage the approval of H.1582, an Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction.

House Bill 1582 establishes a college tuition tax deduction that allows the individual (whether it be student or guardian) paying the tuition to deduct 50% of the cost of in-state public college tuition from their income.

As we high school students gear up for college, affordability and possible debt linger on our minds. We all value our education and seek to extend it to the college level, but many students our age across the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to attain that high level of education. We believe that government should strive to make a public college education cheaper through a bipartisan approach of tax deductions, not free tuition.

At the core, House Bill 1582 is a reward for students who choose to invest in their education and future. Students that choose to attend the public institutions in Massachusetts should be rewarded because they are generating more revenue for the state by staying here. While this tax deduction does not dramatically lower the cost of higher education, it still has a positive impact. For example, the current in-state tuition at UMass Amherst is $15,411 per year. As a result of this tax deduction, the individual paying tuition would save $392.98 per academic year, which would total $1571.92 over four years if there are no changes in tuition costs.

This tax deduction can be a deciding factor in choosing a public school versus a private school meaning there is a possibility that it would bring more revenue to the state. This bill incentivizes students to stay in-state for higher education, thus further pushing Massachusetts’ education system higher than it currently is (ie. makes it more competitive and successful).

Another positive effect of this bill is that the money that is saved by the students will either be put in the bank or reinvested in the economy while providing the students or guardians with more monetary flexibility without reducing any funding going toward the school directly.

Ideally we would support the 20% college tuition tax credit (S. 1590) to further enhance economic flexibility and college affordability, but we understand that in the budget’s current situation this credit would result in too much lost revenue for the state.

Ultimately, this bill serves as a bipartisan compromise that can appeal to those who want to provide relief from college costs as well as those who want to lower taxes.

Today more than yesterday, and yesterday more than the day before, students and their families are burdened with student debt. It is often reflected in our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Student debt has become a fundamental component of society, and therefore these struggling families ask you as legislators to aid them in a reasonable manner.

This bill incentivizes use of our public schools, allowing maintenance and growth, keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of education. As our schools continue to collect the unaffected cost of tuition, they will be able to further invest in on-campus developments.

This bill drives achievement, and achievement is bipartisan. We kindly ask for support of this bill regardless of political affiliation so that we can deliver common sense higher education reform to the people of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely, Mike Brodo, Brandon Fontaine and Samuel Leone

Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls Education Program

I have linked my friend Sara’s article at the bottom. The text below includes some of my thoughts.

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As some of you know, I aspire to be a diplomat for the US State Department. Over the past few years, I have become more and more interested in being a diplomat in Africa with my primary focus being empowering women through education and achieving gender equality. Most of the problems in Africa are not as purely economic or material as they seem, but rather consequences of a society where half of the population’s knowledge, talents, and possible contributions are disregarded solely due to their sex. I am disappointed with the Trump administration for ending this more than worthy program. As the leading nation of the free world, we should be a shining example of gender equality, and thus promote female education programs around the world.

Source: Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls’ Education Program

Holliston should allow sale of marijuana

Article first appeared in the MetroWest Daily News

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Last year, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Months into legalization, there is still confusion and uncertainty regarding the future of marijuana retail shops. In Holliston, voters next month will consider prohibiting the sale of marijuana in our town, an option allowed under the law. It would be a mistake. Banning marijuana shops limits the possibility of economic and educational growth, and makes our town less safe.

Lacking a supermarket and many chain stores, Holliston is the epitome of small town America. Permitting marijuana shops allows local small business owners, not illicit dealers and cartels, to thrive. Growth means income for families, not profit for illegal activities.

Some argue that these shops will attract crime here, but that stereotype is misguided. Marijuana users come from all backgrounds and use marijuana for various reasons. Moreover, allowing legal sale of the drug will actually enhance safety. For years, marijuana has been traded under a cloud of uncertainty and danger. Retail shops allow marijuana to be sold in a regulated and safe environment, preventing violence at drug deals. This regulated environment also frees police to focus on violent crime and the opioid epidemic that plagues our state.

As a former Holliston public school student, I am disappointed by cuts that have been imposed on our town’s successful education system. Holliston schools are at the core of our town pride, and we should maintain our level of success. Access to technology has become increasingly crucial, and the need for counselors, mental health services, and special education programs are always vital. Allowing retail sales of marijuana in the town could help avoid those educational cuts in the future because the law allows town the option of levying a two percent local tax on marijuana sales that would be paid by non-resident as well as resident customers.

Growing small business, providing a safe and thriving community for our residents, and funding our exceptional schools are all key Holliston values. Holliston residents will benefit from marijuana retail shops in town; oppose this misguided ban and vote for a thriving and prosperous future for our town.