Ending the Struggle Session: Author Beverly Eakman on How to Overcome Group Manipulation Tactics.

On the radical left, group manipulation tactics are a time-honored means of reaching a desired political outcome by marginalizing the opposition. They are also a means of maintaining power once it is achieved and of marginalizing dissidents. The tactics of group manipulation have been used to great effect by the totalitarian socialist regimes of the 20th century.

Beverly K. Eakman, How to Counter Group Manipulation Tactics. Midnight Whistler Publishers, 2011; 194 pages.

On the radical left, group manipulation tactics are a time-honored means of reaching a desired political outcome by marginalizing the opposition. They are also a means of maintaining power once it is achieved and of marginalizing dissidents. The tactics of group manipulation have been used to great effect by the totalitarian socialist regimes of the 20th century. Heavily used and developed by the Soviets, they spread to other communist nations where they were used extensively, including Vietnam and in China, where they have seen their broadest use.

As author Beverly K. Eakman warns, group manipulation tactics are also used in the United States, albeit in more subtle, and perhaps more insidious forms. And for that, Eakman offers both a useful guide to the tactics employed as well as a training course for those hoping to counter them in the form of her book How to Counter Group Manipulation Tactics, available now in a new edition for 2011.

To understand just how dangerous group manipulation tactics can be, it’s useful to consider some of the historic background that relates particularly to their widespread application in the Communist world.

“Without a correct political standpoint, one has no soul.” So pronounced Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong. Mao was giving voice to an idea central to the Communist world, that those who did not voluntarily give themselves fully in mind and body to the Communist Party and its program were not quite human. To the true believer this mindset could be used to justify all kinds of human rights violations, from the major genocides (Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, for instance, didn’t think those who were to be murdered in the killing fields were worth the value of a single bullet, and so most were beaten to death) to violations of basic rights of all kinds.

But the Communists were “merciful,” of course, and believed that some of those who were without a soul could perhaps be rehabilitated. This led to several possible state actions, including “forensic psychiatry” and various other methods of brainwashing including reform through labor, such as that carried out in the infamous Chinese Laogai prison camps.

In the Communist world, forensic psychiatry was (and sometimes still is) the practice of incarcerating political dissidents in mental asylums where they would be given “treatment” for their “mental illnesses.” Robin Munro, a Senior Research Fellow at the Law Department and Center of Chinese Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies described in an article for the Columbia Journal of Asian Law the treatments meted out to those “suffering” from political mental illnesses in China.

“According to reports from former victims of political psychiatric abuse in China,” Munro wrote in 2000, “…both insulin coma treatment and ECT [electroconvulsive shock therapy] (without concomitant use of sedatives or muscle relaxants) were often used by psychiatric staff from the 1960s onwards as methods of punishment rather than of treatment. Both therapies remain in widespread use in Chinese mental hospitals today.” [PDF Download]

Both insulin coma therapy and ECT are vicious, horrible procedures. Dr. Max Fink who lead the insulin coma unit at Hillside Hospital in Queens, New York from 1952 to 1958 described them collectively as “unpleasant and dangerous” noting that “They were given without anesthesia” and that the “ICT mortality rate varied from 1% to 10% of patients treated.” 

The purpose of both ECT and ICT was to control minds. In short, the procedures were intended to make people pliable and controllable. According to Dr. Fink, after an ICT procedure, “Recollections of thoughts and anxieties were reduced. People became calm and less concerned about delusions and hallucinations….” Just the ticket for psychiatric punishment programs aimed at controlling dissidents, one would think.

In addition to such psychiatric means of handling political dissidents, the more common method was (and according to some still is) re-education. In China, this often took place in the Laogai forced labor camps.

In the Laogai, dissidents who questioned the regime, called for human rights, or otherwise engaged in activities of which the Communist regime disapproved could be administratively jailed (as opposed to judicially, meaning the Laogai system operated outside “normal” law) for up to 3 years with the possibility of having that term extended to a fourth year. In the Laogai there was (or is) no opportunity for appeal.

In addition to extracting valuable slave labor from those imprisoned, the Laogai’s function is to break the prisoner’s will, reform their thoughts, and cause the former dissident to embrace the Communist ideology (and therefore, in Mao’s terminology, gain a soul).

The methods to accomplish this in the Laogai involved three steps: separation from family, friends and peers; impart depression and hopelessness through starvation and exhaustion brought on by malnutrition, by intense on-going physical labor and by torture; and group manipulation tactics.


The latter were described by Jean Pasqualini who recounted his experience in the Chinese reform-through-labor system in his book Prisoner of Mao published in 1973. According to the New York Times, Pasqualini, who died in 1997 at the age of 71, “described how in China’s ‘reform-through-labor’ system, the authorities relentlessly manipulated each prisoner to use daily criticism of others and confessions of their own wrongdoing until each one genuinely believed whatever the authorities told them, including their own guilt.” 

In China today, this abuse of the administratively detained continues as detailed in a 2009 report by the human rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). The report contains testimony from a number of people who suffered through the system, including Zhang Cuiping, a woman who served two multi-year terms in the reform-through-labor camps. She described the brutal group manipulation abuse she endured. Following 12 days in solitary confinement, her work unit leader took her,

… to a room on the third floor and called twenty-some drug addicts to surround me, forcing me to sit in the middle. They all began shouting at the same  time, insulting and reprimanding me. In the afternoon I was taken to the second floor workshop, where I was forced to stand against the wall and had my face pressed into the wall. I resisted, so Wang called more than ten “drug addicts” to hold me on the ground and pinch my nose, while forcing me to take 2 hypertension pills before lifting me up and carrying me to the 5th floor. I was thrown into the solitary cell and they humiliated me, acting as if they were fascists. On the 19th, I was allowed to bathe. Altogether I was in solitary confinement for 33 days. [PDF Download]

All of the foregoing is a means of introducing the unsavory fact that brutal torture and group manipulation tactics used as a means of controlling political dissent have been and remain a fact of life for millions and millions of people living under repressive regimes either in the not too distant past or today. As suggested by the examples above, most of the current forms of this type of political repression, in their extreme form, are from China. But, to a lesser extent, and perhaps a more insidious extent, they happen every day in the USA.


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March 22nd, 2011

Staff Reporter EducationNews.org

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