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East German factory wall newspaper making use of the behavioral control mechanism of "Criticism and Self-Criticism."

Self-criticism (or auto-critique) refers to the pointing out of things critical/important to one's own beliefs, thoughts, actions, behaviour or results; it can form part of private, personal reflection or a group discussion. It is an essential element of critical thought, with many[who?] regarding it as healthy and necessary for learning (with excessive or enforced self-criticism proving unhealthy).

In Communist movements[edit]

Under some systems of communism, party members who had fallen out of favour with the nomenklatura were sometimes forced to undergo "self-criticism" sessions, producing either written or verbal statements detailing their ideological errors and affirming their renewed belief in the Party line. Self-criticism, however, did not guarantee political rehabilitation, and often offenders were still expelled from the Party, or in some cases even executed.

In the Soviet Union, "criticism and self-criticism" were known as kritika i samokritika (Russian: критика и самокритика).

In the People's Republic of China, self-criticism, called ziwo pipan (自我批判) or jiǎntǎo (检讨) in Chinese, is an important part of Maoist practice. (Compare struggle sessions.)

Such sessions could be elaborate, public and frequent, and included denunciations. Under the Khmer Rouge, self-criticism sessions were known as rien sot, meaning "religious education". In his memoir The Gate, François Bizot recalls observing the Khmer Rouge engaging in frequent self-criticism to reinforce group cohesion during his imprisonment in rural Cambodia in 1971. He wrote:

"Several evenings a week - every evening it didn't rain - the guards gathered for a collective confession. Douch (Kang Kek Iew) did not take part. I was a privileged witness to these circles, where they would sit on the ground under the direction of an elder. Military homilies alternated with simple, repetitive songs. "Comrades," began the eldest, "let us appraise the day that has passed, in order to correct our faults. We must cleanse ourselves of the repeated sins that accumulate and slow down our beloved revolution. Do not be surprised at this!"

"I," said the first one, "should have replaced the rattan rod today, the one north of the first shelter, which we use to dry clothes. I have done nothing about it... on account of my laziness." The man presiding over the session nodded with a frown, though not severely, only meaning to show that he knew how hard it was to combat inertia, so natural in man when he is not sustained by revolutionary convictions. He passed wordlessly onto the next man, indicating who this should be by pursing his lips in his direction.

"I," this one uttered, "er... I fell asleep after my meal, forgetting to make sure the bamboo urine containers in the shelters had been emptied properly."

When each had spoken in turn, they moved on to the next stage, which the elder introduced as follows: "The beloved Angkar congratulates you, comrades, for these admissions, which are so essential to the progress of each of us. In order to make our actions shine forth for ever, let us now try fearlessly to help our brother better detect his own faults, those he has not confessed because he was unwilling to see them. Who wishes to speak?" [...]

In the liberated zones, obligatory indoctrination classes began to be introduced for children from the age of eight or nine. [...] They were placed under the authority of an instructor, who imposed a very strict discipline. The master's influence over the minds of these young people was overwhelming. [1]

The Khmer Rouge adopted some of their ideological approach from the Communist Chinese model which they observed on visits in the 1960s. Pol Pot himself visited North Vietnam and China in 1965.


fMRI finds that engaging in self-criticism activates areas in the lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex which are brain areas responsible for processing error detection and correction. In contrast, engaging in self-reassurance activates the left temporal pole and insula areas previously found to be activated in compassion and empathy. Those that as a psychological trait engage in self-criticism tend to show an activated dorsolateral prefrontal activity, while ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity was found in those with the trait of self-reassurance.[2]

See also[edit]

Marxist regimes:


  1. ^ Bizot, Francois (Vintage,2004). The Gate. 52-54.
  2. ^ Longe O, Maratos FA, Gilbert P, Evans G, Volker F, Rockliff H, Rippon G. (2010). Having a word with yourself: Neural correlates of self-criticism and self-reassurance. Neuroimage. 49: 1849–1856 doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.09.019 PMID 19770047