Closing the Circle: Article on Revolution in Frontier, August 2012
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps
However, the war of independence and the storming of the Bastille launched a flow of events that overthrew the earlier usages, along with the despotism that was the immediate target. Revolution began its new semantic journey, into the political vocabulary of modern protest and the aspirations of the oppressed. It retains its geometric usage, as in the number of revolutions per minute of mechanical rotors, but in the political realm, it evokes not a circle but a straight line, a pathway to a freedom and a better life.
In the nineteenth century the French Revolution became the archetypal model for an all-round transformation of the social and political order. It became the political embodiment of the Enlightenment ideals of the liberation of the human spirit and the sovereignty of reason. It proclaimed the freedom of the intellect from theological tutelage and the overthrow of the Divine Right of Kings as a principle of state legitimacy. The modernist project was best envisioned in Marquis de Condorcet’s Outlines of an historical view of the progress of the human mind, a veritable manifesto of Reason. (1) Ironically, in 1794, his exercise of the right to free speech in defence of political moderation was to cost him his life. Equally ironic is the habitual citation of
One offshoot of biological evolutionism was Social-Darwinism. The British philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ in the 1860’s to refer to
In their philosophical compulsion to make sense of the turmoil of centuries, both Kant and Hegel attempted to discern reason at work in the passage of time. Ultimately, Time brought about reasonable changes in human behaviour and institutions. History as the unfolding of the Spirit was seen to be the bearer of these already-present positive tendencies. Just as the seed contained the tree in potentio, so did the seed of historical time contain the tree of ultimate reconciliation. Thus Hegel: “nothing else will come out but what was already there.” (This was another way of saying that there is nothing new under the sun). Thus did Hegel develop his grand philosophical system, the attempt at a complete speech, wherein reason gave an account of itself without recourse to an external ground.
Given the fact that real life always tends to fall short of tall claims and utopian ideologies, sooner or later its cadre tends to become conformist or cynical. They raise questions of bureaucratism and dogmatism - most of the time this indicates a preference for a slightly different set of dogmas - and the party splits. A new vanguard is set up with the same broad organizational and doctrinal beliefs as the old one, and with some minor changes in the title of the party. Apart from doctrinal issues, the dominant narrative in such splits is that of betrayal. The old leadership is deemed to have betrayed the revolutionary path, and the new entity represents the apparent recuperation of genuine revolutionary forces for the benefit of the People. Thereafter the pattern is repeated in a new cycle.
A fresh attempt at organizing armed revolution began in 1969. After the first year there was a crisis, as Charu’s line did not seem to be working even where it was faithfully carried out, as in Midnapur. The leadership sent a senior comrade to
After a while some very revolutionary comrades denounced as traitors those taking part in peaceful agitations, and re-started the armed struggle. And so on. Now there are signs that yet again, comrades waging People’s War are having second thoughts. Am I the only person to get the impression that revolutionaries are going around in circles?
Ad hominem methods have become the norm in public debate, which is another way of saying debate has come to an end. The reason is obvious - this is a double-edged sword. Every inconvenient view may now be dismissed on the ground that the person uttering it is a bad person by definition, and/or is incapable of thinking except in stereotypes. The very point of speaking is lost. We may as well remain silent.
Thus, the idea that a socialist movement needs to overthrow or capture something, is one among many fanciful assumptions. It needs to be set aside, along with the expectation of an apocalyptic confrontation. More respect and attention needs to be paid to quotidian activity related to livelihood, human rights and justice. Socialists need to invent modes of organisational practice that allow for autonomy of thought as well as for concerted action across a much broader range of popular and working class movements than has hitherto been attempted.
Naxalites should lay down their arms and challenge the ruling class to abide by the Constitution
The Futility of Common Sense: An Essay on Ahimsa
A Hard Rain Falling: on the death of TP Chandrasekharan and related matters