Guest post by ANIRBAN GUPTA NIGAM
The last book François Furet wrote before his death in 1997 was called The Passing of an Illusion. At the very beginning of the first chapter of that book, Furet spelt out the central question driving his study:
- What is surprising is not that certain intellectuals should share the spirit of the times, but that they should fall prey to it, without making any effort to mark it with their own stamp. […] twentieth century French writers aligned themselves with parties, especially radical ones hostile to democracy. They always played the same (provisional) role as supernumeraries, were manipulated as one man, and were sacrificed when necessary, to the will of the party. So we are bound to wonder what it was that made those ideologies so alluring, that gave them an attraction so general yet so mysterious.
Furet’s book emerged from an autopsy of his own past as a as a Communist “between 1949 and 1956.” He wrote, further, that his years as a Communist bequeathed to him an enduring desire to unlock the mystique of revolutionary ideology. Given this, it’s not difficult to see why he pioneered some of the most brilliant historiographical work on the French Revolution. The question we are concerned with here is the one I have quoted at length above; for it seems that in our own day, this strange romance between (formerly) fiercely independent intellectuals, scholars, activists and the – a – party, continues.
The latest document of this affair is a long essay by Arundhati Roy (once famous for her declaration of herself as an”independent mobile republic”), titled ‘Walking with the Comrades,’ published in the latest issue of Outlook. It makes for exciting reading, as a lot of well-written travel literature does; but it is significant for another reason: in the current debate over ‘Operation Green Hunt,’ with many versions of ‘ground realities’ fighting amongst themselves, this document is Roy’s attempt at producing an (her) authentic truth, so immersed in the charming details of revolutionary existence that everything else becomes secondary. If we were ever to perform an autopsy of our twentieth century’s ‘Communist’ pasts, ‘Walking with the Comrades’ would probably be as good a place to start as any.
In the article Roy speaks of her travels across Dandakaranya as personal guest of the CPI (Maoist.) Armed with her idealism she traverses forests and villages in search of truth. Before she leaves Delhi, her mother calls to announce (“with a mother’s weird instinct”) that what India needs is a revolution. She sets out to find it.
Two tropes underpin Roy’s rhetoric throughout: the constant equation of weaponry with beauty and joy, and the repeated emphasis – if without much insight – on the militarisation of daily life. Both seem to suggest to her, the epitome of revolutionary spirit – the one we have learnt India needs right now. But this affinity of death with beauty harks back to another – perhaps more accurate – tradition that Susan Sontag spoke of in her 1975 essay ‘Fascinating Fascism.’ National Socialism, she wrote, stood for values which at the time she was writing, were deeply cherished by ‘open societies.’ Among these were “the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community.” Roy’s representation of the Maoists is nothing short of similar fetishisation. Chandu, a twenty-year old cadre, meets her with a “lovely smile.” They trek and she wonders about his “bemused village boy air.” Eventually she discovers “he could handle every kind of weapon, ‘except for an LMG’, he informed me cheerfully.” At a Maoist camp she meets hundreds of comrades lined up in two rows, each with “a weapon and a smile.” Roy is at her elegiac best when she speaks of comrade Niti who is “considered to be so dangerous and is being hunted with such desperation not because she has led many ambushes (which she has), but because she is an adivasi woman who is loved by people in the village and is a real inspiration to young people. She speaks with her AK on her shoulder. (It’s a gun with a story. Almost everyone’s gun has a story: who it was snatched from, how, and by whom).”
Is this a commentator on politics, or the PR department of the American National Rifle Association? (“Almost everyone’s gun has a story” – someone should sell this!)
Roy’s wanderings are not the first or only documentation we have of the complete militarisation of everyday life in these regions. But there’s something else at work here, which we might wish to pay attention to: “Comrade Raju is briefing the group. It’s all in Gondi, I don’t understand a thing, but I keep hearing the word RV. Later Raju tells me it stands for Rendezvous! It’s a Gondi word now.” Other words with tribals here understand are: Cordon and Search, Firing, Advance, Retreat, Down, Action. She speaks of a celebratory ritual where armed cadre surround locals and then join in, proving to her that “what Chairman Mao said about the guerrillas being the fish and people being the water they swim in, is, at this moment, literally true.” (Emphasis added.) Then there is this gem:
- BBC says there’s been an attack on a camp of Eastern Frontier Rifles in Lalgarh, West Bengal. Sixty Maoists on motorcycles. Fourteen policemen killed. Ten missing. Weapons snatched. There’s a murmur of pleasure in the ranks. Maoist leader Kishenji is being interviewed. When will you stop this violence and come for talks? When Operation Green Hunt is called off. Any time. Tell Chidambaram we will talk. Next question: it’s dark now, you have laid landmines, reinforcements have been called in, will you attack them too? Kishenji: Yes, of course, otherwise people will beat me. There’s laughter in the ranks. Sukhdev the clarifier says, “They always say landmines. We don’t use landmines. We use IEDs. ” (Emphasis added.)
But perhaps the most revealing instance of this absolute internalisation of violence comes when Roy finds the comrades watching Mother India one night, and asks Kamla if she likes to watch films. Kamla replies: “Nahin didi. Sirf ambush video (No didi. Only ambush videos).” We wonder along with Roy, what these ‘ambush videos’ are. It turns out that one of them
- “starts with shots of Dandakaranya, rivers, waterfalls, the close-up of a bare branch of a tree, a brainfever bird calling. Then suddenly a comrade is wiring up an IED, concealing it with dry leaves. A cavalcade of motorcycles is blown up. There are mutilated bodies and burning bikes. The weapons are being snatched. Three policemen, looking shell-shocked, have been tied up.”
We are, by now, far away from the usual argument of ‘violence-counter-violence’ that frames discussions around the Maoists. The impulse to record, archive and then consume acts of violence, paradoxically, is the quintessential part of the culture of capitalist modernity that the Maoists claim to despise. Of course, none of this makes a difference to Roy. These narratives do not indicate to her anything about the nature of the Communist Party of India (Maoist.) They do not suggest to her, for instance, that a tendency towards destructive (dare we say creative) violence is embedded in the culture of the party. Watching mutilated bodies of people is not a response to state violence. It is a precursor to the cultural fetishisation of death in much the same way that Nazi paraphernalia was eroticised in the aftermath of the war. ‘Revolutionary justice’ is just another name for murder. Scant surprise then, that our travel advisor has a bordering-on-kind word for the “rude justice” of peoples’ courts.
By the time we stumble onto these facts, we have already learnt the Maoist version of Indian tribal history – one which our author endorses – one where unproblematic lines are drawn from the colonial era to Naxalbari and now, ‘Operation Green Hunt.’ By this time we also know what our tour-guide is looking for: not just her mother’s intuitive revolution, but something more modest: a dream. And she finds this in the teachings of Charu Mazumdar. Although the Naxal movement was full of contradictions, although it committed some excesses, we cannot deny she writes, that “Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream. For that alone, we cannot judge him too harshly. Especially not while we swaddle ourselves with Gandhi’s pious humbug about the superiority of “the non-violent way” and his notion of trusteeship.” (Emphasis added.)
(As if the only counterpoint to the Maoist ideology today in India is Gandhian humbug. But then, that’s the easiest effigy to demolish.)
Further: “When the Party is a suitor (as it is now in Dandakaranya), wooing the people, attentive to their every need, then it genuinely is a People’s Party, its army genuinely a People’s Army. But after the Revolution how easily this love affair can turn into a bitter marriage. How easily the People’s Army can turn upon the people. Today in Dandakaranya, the Party wants to keep the bauxite in the mountain. Tomorrow, will it change its mind? But can we, should we let apprehensions about the future immobilise us in the present?”
A fancy way of phrasing a simple question. We know by now that the population being produced as ‘tribal’ by our author is actually either Maoist cadre, or live in the presence of people who laugh while wielding their guns and watching their victims on tape. If this is not reason enough to worry about such an organisation, perhaps the history of twentieth century revolutionary projects could throw a light on the matter. But of course, the actual history of these movements doesn’t count. Only the dreams they were born with. If “big dams are a crime against humanity,” if the Nehruvian dream of modernity is over, perhaps it is time for our author to reflect on the fact that with the twentieth century, that other modernist dream – revolution – has also passed.
62 thoughts on “Moonwalking with the Comrades: Anirban Gupta Nigam”
How come it is the bongs who get hooked to extremist thoughts / violence with such a zeal? whether the azad hind of netaji or the sanyal’s naxalism and now the roy lady!! something in the aamader maati…. and of course the vehement opposer’s also happen to be from the same maati:)
Not so dear Mr. Anirban
If the meta-narrative of revolution has been declared dead by your bourgeoise intellect, how would you develop the distinction between resistance and murder? I think that you really are suffering from “end of imagination” problem. You seem to represent a peculiar species of escapists who preach non-violence which is non-action at its core. We need to have a hundred more theories of resistance. What you are doing is a sheer damage to even available forms of resistance? I could not have read a more impotent piece on ‘Walking with Maoists’.
This is fairly tired meta-critique of the Camus variety, which attacks the character and motivations of those who sympathize with the struggle of lower class people as some kind of pathology. In the case of Camus, he used a twisted, liberal anti-communism to justify his own support of French colonialism and its racist torture state in Algeria. Instead of justifying the obvious, explicit racism and brutality of the French, he wrote book after book condemning as “totalitarian” and “terrorist” any attempt of oppressed people to constitute their own state.
This normalizes the rule of imperialists, of caste and underdevelopment. It treats feces in drinking water as normal, and the corrupt state inherited from the British Raj as a legitimate.
Unless the author of this critique is urging the Indian comprador state disarm, then his real issue isn’t with violence – but the armed power of people to stand up for themselves. The issue is never “violence” – because he only condemns the arming of the people against the violence of the state.
Hundreds of millions starve in India while the elites live in disgusting luxury. That is violence. Modi and the BJP are violence. Corrupt courts that rule for barons over tribals are violence. People’s War is not a cult of violence, it is about developing the agency of people who have been treated as without rights, without politics – mere objects to be exploited or exterminated as capital requires.
Intellectual honesty? Let’s be real about who is honest. Ms. Roy is risking her life to write this article. The terrorists of the RSS and BJP, the murderers associated with the corrupt CPI(marxist) and counter-insurgency troops being trained by the Indian state to murder Indian people are a direct threat to her. And you, claiming integrity and “honesty” are the coward, the manipulator and the thief, truly, who holds that the lot of the poor is to suffer.
Maybe they are tired of the lies. Maybe it’s time for India to have a revolution. Maybe the time for complaint and prayer is over. To preach pacifism to people who have no option is to demand their death.
Intellectuals of justification, as this critic is plainly, are cowards and literary prostitutes.
beloved mr. aggarwal and the good people at kasama (who’s website i quite enjoy,)
thank you for your comments.
i look forward to the revolution with great enthusiasm.
be sure to send me a postcard when the beheadings begin :)
Why do we have to choose between two sets of bandits – do we really think that the people in Dantewada would endorse one bloodthirsty lot over another.
Wish Arundhati a “nice but thrilling war” with a great number of mutiliated bodies for post-war jubiliation! Great going for IML3 (Indian Maoist League Third Edition). Wish Arundhati can do for “Jharkhand Assassins” or “Bihar Behaders” what Suneil Shetty and other Bollywood guys do for Mumbai Indians.
Well. I read Roy’s piece with great interest having ceased to be a fan for many years now. I read it as an activist who is trying to figure out the ropes of the other kinds of resistance around the country to ‘operation green hunt’ and the ‘indian government’s war on its own people’ (borrowed language). The form that this resistance takes is people’s tribunals, the odd newspaper interviews, the cases in court and the endless protests in jantar mantar in delhi and the paralells of the same in other cities. And of course oh-so-many email lists! These movements are in conversation, obviously, with many who work in these areas and are being weeded out by the indian government which declares them to be ‘maoist’. As self-criticism, I have much to say about these forms of resistance, including the fact that there is a need to broaden our strategies given the scale of the issues at hand. This bunch, which is rather small nation-wide, is not seen as an actor in this entire drama involving the ‘maoists’, ‘tribals’ and the ‘indian government’. The issues at hand are manifold. The indian government not being concerned with looking at a multi-pronged longer term approach to the resistance from the ‘maoists’ which is intrinsically related to the complete lack of public services and an unabashed existance of a millitarised scenario in all of these areas for decades if not more. The ‘activist’ crowd (including me) not engaging enough (in my opinion) with the government or sometimes even with each other and least of all with the ‘maoists’. The ones who do seem to engage with the ‘maoist’ are those who work in these areas because they have to and from the little i have heard and read, they have a nuanced perspective on them. Think there might be something to think about there.
Am wondering what Roy was thinking when she knows fully well that this piece of hers could be construed so easily as her propogating ‘violent resistance’ or the ‘imaginary revolution’.
I then agree entirely with Anirban’s critique.
But on the other hand, one cannot deny that the article gives us a clear view of the militarised context in these areas, created by the state and maoists alike, which can then be used to think a bit more creatively about our strategies as ‘not-so-violent’ actors dealing with these very issues and wars. Given the rate at which we are going the space for op-ed pieces and protests will be harder and harder to come by. The number of cases, attacks and arrests of human rights activists across the country (gautam navlakha, himanshu kumar, piyush sethia etc) are all a case in point.
It is clear that we need to find newer ways to engage with all the actors in question. The ‘tribals’, ‘maoists’ and the ‘state’. This engagement requires us to acknowledge the violence on all sides and tease out the differences between the violence of operation green hunt and that of the ‘fluid existence-nameless’ maoists that roy made friends with. Maybe this thought process will lead to more creative methods of addressing this.
I rememebr the Kafila post on asking the indian government to initiaten ‘peace talks’ with the broad based coalition of tribal communities and other groups. We need to tease out such things more. I rememebr thinking (only to myself until now) about designing a media campaign around two letters- one to the maoist leadership and another to the indian government about the proposed talks, where ‘we’ (whoever the we maybe) as concerned people write to the maoists to keep the promise and the indian government to engage with the intention of ending the violence at all costs. This is not a strategy that is easy to sell in many circles.
At the cost of sounding like ‘dooms day is coming’ – the scale of these issues and wars are huge and if we don’t gear up now, i am sure being here would soon be like being in Sri Lanka (where i often am) where there is almost no space for independant activism without the risk of life and limb and no free press and no space for any conversations/ protest anything!
Things are grim. I’d rather use roy’s account to push us to think in different terms than battle out about whether a ‘revolution’ is needed or not.
Maybe a ‘revolution’ is needed but what we need even more is different ways of imagining a revolution? The normative way has taken over all of us and has conditioned us over the years and we keep struggling with that. While that struggle is valid and needs to continue, not sure if that is enough.
Can we imagine revolution with contradictions which strengthen rather than weaken? Can we imagine a revolution that comes out of conversation with all across differences? Alessandra Kollantai suggested bits of this. Stalin censored much of it. Lenin agreed with parts of it. But there is something there. Black and white is done to death. Lets get to the grey areas, the spaces between the lines. Maybe?
Very interesting to read where this Caravan (Kafila) leading to over time from their inception.
Before, we go into Anribhan’s careful analysis of ‘all and sundry theories and politics’ including Marxism / Fascism and logically making all of them equal, I remembered some of the earlier ‘posts’ by other ‘activists’ of the likes of Akhilan Kadirgamar. We used to hear from them earlier about LTTE and their fascism; ‘foretelling of the fate of Tamils’ and all that. Alas! there are no more LTTE (at least for the time being!) and the Ponni and Akhilan are left with ‘studying why Tamil people laugh in Sri Lanka when Tamils in India protest’.
Now this is time for our Bengali Babus like Anirbhan to make everyone and everything equals – of course logically. It is obvious and difficult for the likes of our ‘scholarly activists’ who can decipher all the complex theories under the sun to understand simple things in life. Even their pet cats groomed in their flats may fight back when it is driven to the corner. But then, if ‘The tribals’ do that and someone appreciate it that becomes a big ‘topic of debate’. After all, ‘Gondis’ are historically and genetically older than Anirbhans, Akhilan and Ponnis and their likes and they do remember how to respond at times of need. Irrespective of Arundhathi Roy appreciates it or not they will do it.
One must understand every violence is not the same and also the every ‘sophistry of these posts in Kafila’. I hope this this type of sophistry comes only when there is great things start happening. Akhilan came or made prominent because LTTE became important. along with many traditors likes of Akhilan were needed and may be Anirbhan is getting ready to join the que.
I hope – the readers understand ‘For whom the bell tolls’.
Kanu Sanyal is dead today.
I wonder at what point will it dawn on Roy that Playing Na’vi and Marines is not fun and games but serious business… A myopic and simplistic view of a complex problem is what Roy gives the world… A stunning rebuttal Anirban!!
well anirban what you read as the ‘beauty and joy’ of the guns in arundhati’s account, i read it as the beauty and joy of the people who are carrying it. her enchanting description demolished one media hyped steretype of the maoists to dust. They are beautiful people. people who risk their lives to keep hope alive. and as marx said, let life be dead but death must not be allowed to live..and romanticism you’ll call this and rubbish it?? well a little romanticism is far far coveted than the angst ridden, crisis tormented, self anxiety overwhelming, petty bourgeois llife that you live and die every day..which is devoid of any fight or any hope or any colours. our hope, our fight our romanticism is as red as our blood and that keeps us going. send me a post card when your “kafila kranti” finally fizzles..and you realize that real life and real struggles are afterall real and exist outside the domain of the virtual imagination!
Competition improves efficiency. Same is true for competitive violence. Maximum people can be killed at minimum cost. There should a perfect-competition-supply cureve of murders. I fully endorse Arundhati. I sincerely hope inflation doesn’t touch the arms market.
So here come the contractors of Revolution. Petty bourgeois all. Policing thought in the name of the Revolution. A whole army. And the trumpet blower, a full blown Chanakyapuri-bourgeois! All taking fire at ‘petty bourgeois’ intellectuals. I wonder how many of these bureaucrats have ever given up anything in life that they can sound so self-righteous? We all know the answer: this is the surest way to assuage your bourgeois guilt; do not give up anything (except your daily excrescences) but claim legitimacy by shouting the most radical sounding slogans.
The revolutionaries who swear by the ‘real’ revolution going on ‘there’ – why do they get so disturbed by the rants of worthless petty bourgeois intellectuals, that too in such marginal spaces as blogs? Why this inability to even stomach a few words of criticism from what they are convinced has to ‘fizzle’ out in any case? Because they are the bureaucrats-in-embryo of the Gulag and of Auschwitz. The truth is that however much these civil servants of revolution may want to deny, it is thought that they are afraid of. Thought must be policed and controlled. Today they only have the keyboard. Imagine what they can do when they have power.
Its funny to read Arundhati Roy..
To start with, its enormously amusing to listen to the “left liberalist” righteousness of a person whose relations with the modern “capitalist” media/publishing world are so cosy..
Then it is even funnier to listen to her repeated rants about “oppression” of the disadvantaged by the state-corporate media-pvt sector combine – a bit rich, shall we say, when it comes from a person who had no compunctions in accepting a prize (and its considerable prizemoney) funded by an endowment which owes its riches to among other things, the African slave trade!
But her propensity to use media reports, often from obscure internet blogs, and use those to form sweeping generalisations is losing quite a bit of its “fancifulness” lustre as it gets predictable…
This is not to say that there isnt a problem in the so-called “red corridor” areas…The problems there are to do with lack of a proper policy, specifically on mining..the questions of access, compensation and environment are enmeshed together in the problem..But people like Arundhati Roy are not terribly interested in identifying the “core issues” here..after all, an essay on mining policy is unlikely to get 10 pages in Outlook (or Frontline), and will be to prosaic for most people to read and react to anyways…A polemical piece selling the romanticism of a “needed revolution” (is this a harbinger of A Roy’s Mother? Maxim Gorky must be turning in his grave) is so much more saleable..but “saleable” – is that part of the marxist dialectic? Who knows, but Arundhati Roy is well on her way to becoming the princess of the impending revolution!!
1. The ‘ambush video’: your reading, Anirban, suggests that the recording and viewing of these vides is some kind of a ‘fetishization of death’ at which point you bring in the eroticization of Nazi paraphernalia to problematize the videos.
In contrast, Roy’s account reminded me of the so-called ‘martyrdom videos’ that can be easily found on the streets of Gaza, recorded by Palestinians who are about to go to ‘war’. These are vilified by the Israeli propaganda machine as an illustration of the inherent violent instinct of the Palestinian ‘terrorists’. But I think Achille Mbembe’s words from his essay ‘Necropolitics’ are more presciently capture this imperative to death:
“… terror is a defining feature of both slave and late-modern colonial regimes. Both regimes are also specific instances and experiences of unfreedom. To live under late modern occupation is to experience a permanent condition of “being in pain”: fortified structures, military posts, and roadblocks everywhere; buildings that bring back painful memories of humiliation, interrogations, and beatings…children blinded by rubber bullets; parents shamed and beaten in front of their families… bones broken; shootings and fatalities—a certain kind of madness.
In such circumstances, the discipline of life and the necessities of hardship
(trial by death) are marked by excess. What connects terror, death, and freedom
is an ecstatic notion of temporality and politics….Death in the present is the mediator of redemption. Far from being an encounter with a limit, boundary, or barrier, it is experienced as “a release from terror and bondage.” As [Paul] Gilroy notes, this preference for death over continued servitude is a commentary on the nature of freedom itself (or the lack thereof). ”
In short, the summary equation of death, life and images as itself a fascist impulse is problematic.
2. Your cynicism re. revolution is certainly not surprising. In fact, in a Post-Marxist universe the word itself seems so ‘out-there’, disconnected from reality, and really something that only the obviously delusional would bother seriously discussing.
Maybe that is true. But Arundhati’s article–though a simplistic rendering, even an ’embedded’ one–in my reading emphasized the relations between the broader public and the cadre, and argued that the latter are not this disconnected evil force outside of the concrete social relations dictating to a sheepish majority what’s best for them. On the contrary, there is a more dialectical/organic relationship, and the thing about guns and stories is not to fetishize the objects of murder–and admit it, your insertion of the NRA is a bit disingenuous–but to show how the cadres’ find themselves in the same place through varied trajectories.
3. This critique makes sense only when one views the ‘Maoists’ in isolation, when the everyday and ongoing violence of the state-capital nexus recedes to the background, the way things just are.
Certainly, one needs self-critical and reflexive politics of opposition. This is something that many Maoists do not have a good record of. Yet, it doesn’t mean that an ethnography—ok, this isn’t one, but maybe its a start–of these forces is worthless. On the contrary, it is through interventions like Roy’s, and remember it wasn’t published in a left-journal but a centrist popular newsmagazine, that we can begin to debate oppression and violence beyond the tropes supplied to us by the pliant media.
Spot on Vipalvi.
For those who swear by historical understanding, these cretinous revolutionaries seem astonishingly ignorant of all that transpired in the Twentieth Century.
Guys, you really should read up on the role of communism in the 20th Century. It will blow your mind.
Oh come on. This petty bourgeois name-calling is pretty pointless no? Which one of us writing here, with keyboards, can really escape that charge, of being bourgeois, petty or otherwise? None. Not one of us. Some of us have more credibility, perhaps, since we have a wider range of experiences than universities and textbooks – maybe we were part of the NBA, maybe spent a big amount of our lives in working class organisations, maybe in radical left organisations where we saw the misery of the Indian State up close and personal, many of us I am sure agitated for the NREGA, went on foot for months on their social audits, lived with tribals, saw things we can only barely articulate back in the city. But none of us is in actual fact the real thing – the real subaltern (if there is such a person among Kafila writers and commentators, give us a shout, and be prepared to become a spokesperson and an object of wonderment).
You seem to have missed the point of the comment you are (I assume) replying to – by Viplavi. It is strange in the first place that you see this comment as name calling, whereas the way I read it was that it was responding to a name-calling that has been evident in a large number of comments. Just a sample:
comment by Sunil Aggarwal: “If the meta-narrative of revolution has been declared dead by your bourgeoise intellect…You seem to represent a peculiar species of escapists…”
comment by red flag: “Intellectuals of justification, as this critic is plainly, are cowards and literary prostitutes.”
comment by roshni: “well a little romanticism is far far coveted than the angst ridden, crisis tormented, self anxiety overwhelming, petty bourgeois llife that you live and die every day..which is devoid of any fight or any hope or any colours”
comment by Manash: “I think it is time for certain thinking individuals to stop being smart. It is really painful and exasperating to read all that shit.”
It is strange that you saw name-calling in only one comment. In my understanding, at one level, Viplavi is merely doing what these commentators are doing and may be as uncalled for as the others. But at another level, the point that you seem to have missed is that the ‘sitting behind keyboards’ is not a reference to the commentators’ ‘petty-bourgeoisness’ but to their ‘thought policing’ (that this is the situation when they have no power). I think he asks why radicals get so worked up with the rants of petty bourgeois intellectuals if they think it is worthless activity. At least that is how I read the comment.
‘.. a tendency towards destructive (dare we say creative) violence is embedded in the culture of the party. Watching mutilated bodies of people is not a response to state violence. It is a precursor to the cultural fetishisation of death..’
This paragraph sums it up for me. Loved the article. Enjoyed reading the abuse directed at the writer even more. As always, I marvel at the crisp English of the proletariat’s only defenders.
All those who are attacking Arundhati personally are shameless. But am partly glad of it because it shows how much of a thorn she appears to be in such people’s bottoms. As an erudite student-friend of Sociology told me yesterday, “The remarkable thing about Arundhati is, when everyone else is trying to run away from the truth, she is willing to move towards it”. He also made another pertinent point – Arundhati’s article is not a legal-political document. It is a writer’s document against injustice and her impassioned stance about it. Social Science intellectuals have to know how to interpret this kind of writing. Arundhati isn’t theorizing. She’s a witness, in the sense Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a witness, of crimes committed by the regimes of power against defenseless people. One can question certain conclusions she may make, but to create the impression of an apocalyptic air around her views is utterly dubious and reprehensible. I think it is time for certain thinking individuals to stop being smart. It is really painful and exasperating to read all that shit.
What analytical purpose is served in quoting the messianic voice of an ex-communist historian writing in the European tradition to beat the truth claims of an investigative journalist, who might be claiming to dream about “justice”, perhaps even, pace post-structuralism, about “truth”?
The argument seems to be that Roy’s aestheticization of revolution (please re-read Roy’s article carefully: the adjective “beautiful” is used only in relation to village scenes, people’s faces, the jungle air, never guns) betrays her covert allegiance to “communism.” Roy is careful to point out the ironies of translation and cultural difference in the reception of ideologies like Maoism and Communism, when, for example, she asks a Comrade about Chairman Mao, and she is told that he was some leader. “Communism” (which is not a synonym for Maoism) is not a master-script imported from abroad; thus whatever its trajectories in other societies and histories, it is intellectual charlatanism to pass off these trajectories as messianic truth about radical political action everywhere.
But then the argument is not really about any particular shade of Communist thought (the author has already cleaned up all such differentials via M. Furet). It seems to be about “violence.” How can violence be beautiful? The Nazis used to think that (Nazis and Communists and Maoists are all the same, in this account). Yet it is one thing to make fascism fascinating with crowd-pleasing stunts and another to write about the dream of justice with the beauty-tinted lenses of “travel-writing.” Roy’s critique of the Indian state and its fascistic rhetoric and obscene aesthetics (the SP who wants to put a TV in every adivasi home) is cut from the same cloth as that other “travel-writer,” Jean Genet, who reported the aftermath of the Shatila massacre in the Lebanese Civil War in 1982 in “Four Hours in Shatila”: “You can select a particular community other than that of your birth, whereas you are born into a people; this selection is based on an irrational affinity, which is not to say that justice has no role, but this justice and the entire defense of this community take place because of an emotional — perhaps intuitive, sensual — attraction; I am French, but I defend the Palestinians wholeheartedly and automatically. They are in the right because I love them. But would I love them if injustice had not turned them into a wandering people?”
Mr. Nigam, I choose irrational affinities, like Roy’s, over Furet’s politically constipated intellectual.
Strange how all criticism of Roy is either couched in abstruse ideological terms, or directed at her person. No-one bothers to actually go out, question, familiarise oneself — as she’s doing — and then beg to differ. Oh no, far easier to sit in a library with a comfortable armchair.
i agree with much of what you’re saying… i’d just like to add two points on the question of revolution and resistance. first, when i speak of the passing of ‘revolution’ i am referring to that particularly twentieth century vision of an emancipatory revolutionary project driven by a Vanguard Party, in the name of some amorphous group called – rather conveniently – ‘the People.’ your imagination of a possible “revolution with contradictions” seems to me, to have no place in such a conception of politics because here contradiction is, usually, synonymous with ‘counterrevolution.’ and we all know what happens to counterrevolutionaries, dont we? :)
secondly, rethinking resistance is indeed an uphill task, and in my opinion the attempt should be towards heterogeneity, affinity, and forms of cooperation rather than party structures, hierarchy and secrecy. and i think soumitra ghosh’s response to roy goes a long way in trying to do this…
yes, i can almost see our little-czars in the making leaping at me for caricaturing their movement, but i also know that my elaboration upon its complexities would make no difference to their views… which is why, rohit, i feel no need to emphasise my critique of state violence in a post like this. i have, for instance, said not a word in favour of gandhi – but still been called a “pacifist” here. most critics of the maoists – and definitely all of them writing on this forum – have a strong and public track record of their position vis-a-vis both state and capitalism. neither seems to matter because when confronted with criticism the easiest place to look is in the pocket-dictionary of marxist-leninist theory. i dont believe therefore, that the critique i am making here can only be possible when the maoists are seen in “isolation” from larger structural violence. rather, for me, Both are structures. and both have a tendency towards violence. it is the nuances of this tendency one must tease out.
i might in fact, illustrate just how embedded maoist practices are into capitalist ‘ideology’ by going back to the question of the video. a few quick points here:
1. videos of palestinian martyrs about to Go To War is not nearly the same as Watching mutilated corpses of your victims on tape. what the maoists are doing is closer to the actions of j.g. ballard’s protagonists in Crash than the comparison you hint at. (to follow how the logic of this is embedded in cultural practices of capitalist modernity, one could read that book, or the introduction to the french edition – available in english.)
2. if mbembe says what you quote from him, he also says the following in the same essay:
“In the logic of “martyrdom,” the will to die is fused with the willingness to take the enemy with you, that is, with closing the door on the possibility of life for everyone. This logic seems contrary to another one, which consists in wishing to impose death on others while preserving one’s own life. Canetti describes this moment of survival as a moment of power. In such a case, triumph develops precisely from the possibility of being there when the others (in this case the enemy) are no longer there. Such is the logic of heroism as classically understood: to execute others while holding one’s own death at a distance.”
we can debate the larger implication of these words, but the most immediate one that comes to mind is that the maoists clearly do Not function within a “logic of martyrdom” as mbembe describes it. theirs is the politics that “execute[s] others while holding one’s own death at a distance.”
finally, roshni and company: “petty bourgeois” – try “(reactionary) bourgeoise individualist.” this desire to claim the politics of your purity is most charming. i, on the other hand, am as impure as they come. :)
Arundhati Roy talked a bit more about her opinions, articles, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh on Democracy Now! over the weekend. Read her interview here: http://www.alternet.org/rights/146138/arundhati_roy:_%22we_may_not_need_peace_in_this_unjust_society;_you_need_people_who_are_prepared_to_resist%22?page=entire
I agree about the structures of violence. On the videos, I am unsure if the so-called ‘ambush videos’ are nothing more than videos of mutilated bodies. Besides, they’re not the only videos they have and watch. In any event, I’ll read what you recommend.
Again, three points:
1. The author: At an IPL game yesterday the camera panned to Vijay Mallya and many in the crowd cheered as the robber baron waved. I almost puked in my mouth. My next instinct was to remember people in Bastar and Dantewara where I have travelled extensively, and so if nothing more am able to recollect the faces of those I met and think of what some other robber barons have in store for them. Backed, of course, by the state. It is here that I locate Arundhati’s essay and not as an intervention in the debate about the Maoists’ politics. One can, of course, interpret it differently, but the audience for that debate would not be the readers of Outlook *where she is likely in for a caning from the Mallya-lovers*.
Let us remind ourselves that Roy is not a CPI(Maoist) ideologue. Nor is she uncritical about their politics. This is what she says, “I’m going to get a history lesson. Or, more accurately, a lecture on the history of the last 30 years in the Dandakaranya forest, which has culminated in the war that’s swirling through it today. For sure, it’s a partisan’s version. But then, what history isn’t? In any case, the secret history must be made public if it is to be contested, argued with, instead of merely being lied about, which is what is happening now.” Surely, not an intellectual project a la Furet.
2. Maoist politics after Maoism: I don’t think that a critique of Maoism suffices as an analysis of the concrete political movement in Dantewara. They linger, grow even, despite the critique.
The parallel concept to ‘revolution’ that one can think of here is how even after a thousand critiques, ‘development’–the other metanarrative of the century-past–remains potent, and not only for power, but also for those at the margins: ‘we want development too’.
This is not false consciousness or even hegemony, but after Walter Benjamin, the desire–wish images in his words–for the new, the different, which is at the same time a desire for escape from the ‘drudgery of the present’. Do not the guns, the videos, and even ‘revolution’ represent this desire to escape?
3. ‘Czars-in-the-making’: I don’t claim to speak for the other responses, but I am not wedded to the Party in question here. And call me naive, but i’m trying, as honestly as possible, to understand what’s occuring in places like Dantewara. So in my case, a little ‘elaboration upon [the movement’s] complexities’ is not a lost cause. Maybe you can guide me to another post, if there is one.
in my view its a little difficult to simply read roy’s essay as located in the larger context of robber-baron capitalism and Not as an intervention in the debate on maoist politics. if it were simply a powerful indictment of mallya-type capitalism it could have articulated itself through a Variety of political vocabularies, and not the one it has chosen (maoism/revolution) or necessarily the geographical location it has chosen (dantewada.)
and while, roy does indeed (apparently) leave room open for different readings of history, she seems to then close these possibilities by tracing highly problematic narratives of tribal resistance across time and space. for instance:
“It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. […] The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered. Even after Independence, tribal people were at the heart of the first uprising that could be described as Maoist, in Naxalbari village in West Bengal (where the word Naxalite—now used interchangeably with ‘Maoist’—originates). Since then, Naxalite politics has been inextricably entwined with tribal uprisings, which says as much about the tribals as it does about the Naxalites.”
phrases like “predates mao,” and “inextricably entwined” indicate a temporal continuum between vastly different forms of resistance. only in an imagination that seeks to Explicitly Link tribal and maoist resistances as one and the same is there a need to assert that tribal rebellions “predate mao.” otherwise, the fact that they do so is neither very surprising nor revealing.
finally, i had No intention of referring to you as a czar of any sort! apologies for it coming across that way. :) and as far as the complexities of the movement go, i find the writings of nandini sundar and the late k balagopal to be of great value. i also found jairus banaji’s recent remarks in response to the discussion around his critique to be very illuminating.
Beautiful words, Sunalini.
Aditya, sorry if my comment seemed to be targetting Viplavi. I was in fact referring to not that one merely, but all the previous comments you have posted, saying to Viplavi (as a genuine suggestion) – lets get out of this bourgeois-name calling since it takes us nowhere. Because he/she also refers to the Chanakyapuri bourgeois, and the laundering of bourgeois guilt by ‘keeping excrescences intact and shouting the most radical slogans’. Also, not just does Viplavi continue to use as a self-evident term of abuse, the bourgeois category that he/she critiques, but supplements that with contractors/bureaucrats/bureaucrats-in-embryo/civil servants of the revolution. All pretty pointless, replacing the critique of the market elite category (petty bourgeois) with state elite (bureaucrat). How is this helping the debate? About the keyboards, I misunderstood, so apologies. But
I do hope to God you don’t think I am defending the other abuse heaped around above, including ‘literary prostitutes, Bengali babus, cowards, shit-producers and whatnot’? So to clarify, my point was that all those who are using these categories are producing soporific effects in me, and two, that Viplavi’s critique loses its force if he/she uses the same category of abuse as those that are criticised.
One last thing – I find this thought policing critique indefensible, when posed in such large terms. One, which thought is entirely unpoliced, in a general sense? Two, is the argument that the abusive language deployed by the pro-Roy/Maoist commentators above amounts to policing of thought? I just went through the comments, and it doesn’t seem to have had any such censoring effect.
Another Academic Fraud, thanks (assuming it was a non-sarcastic complement :))
Many Heart of Darkness moments..
Just want to add, that I really liked the way Rohit Negi has laid things out, and I believe him when he says he’s not a Czar-in-the-making :) We seem to be in rich company here, by the way – all the elites of our great nation gathered around us – czars, literary prostitutes, bengali babus, chanakyapuri bourgeois, contractors, bureaucrats, politically constipated/armchair intellectual, even a princess of the impending revolution…have we left somebody out?
Some of the problems mentioned by Roy seem very similar to the problems described by Rahul Banerjee in his book ” Recovering the Lost Tongue: The Saga of Environmental Struggles in Central India”.
Here is an analysis of what is possible, and what people should really be agitating for (implementation)..
Unfortunately this is unlikely to evoke the sort of emotion that a “revolutionary” travelogue does!
A lot of the debate seems to have veered around whether this is a Real revolution, or whether the Sandwich theory betrays its own state-like spectre. I want to point out Roy’s writing device and how it makes the case she case inevitably successful in her writing strategy. Roy’s text recurs in first names – particularising, individuating her protagonist. A girl appears in a photo, with earrings and a rifle. The starkness of the tragedy brims here in all kinds of humanist idioms that reading publics have produced, reproduced and consumed forever. What strikes me as lyrical, seductive and dangerous is Roy’s textualised womanly warmth. In the same way that nationalisms, jingoisms, ideological spectacles in history have time and again urged the reading public to pause with a tear and a sigh, and be conquered by an ‘ideology’ through its aesthetics. Roy shrewdly deploys literary aesthetics of humanism (replete with stuff that evokes bourgeois emotions of solidarity, guilt, shame, empathy), and hardly of politics, to make what she claims is a political argument. The debate here reminds me of Eric Hobsbawm’s Bandits, where Hobsbawm’s classic lyricism too makes the bandit a sexy subaltern hero – caught in vulnerability and machismo – that we grow to domesticate in poetics and aesthetics even as we know that in the real world his machete would be targeted at us.
Many thanks for your guest post on Kafila. I found it very fruitful to read and think with. As also, the debate that has persisted on the list since it has been posted. Which, when it does not stoop to defend or attack Arundhati Roy’s person, does leave us with things to think about.
I have many mixed feelings about Arundhati Roy’s essay on Outlook, as in some ways I have about the Maoists themselves (though not about Maoism). And what I write here is not necessarily thought our systematically or cogently, but more thought out aloud. As a set of first responses. As a clearing of the throat if you like. I hope you will forgive the rambling nature of my response.
On the one hand, I think some of Roy’s account is riveting, and I have no doubt that her essay makes it clear that there is a degree of unprecedented and genuine mass support that the Maoists do command (and for good reason, regardless of whether or not we choose to endorse it) in the forest belt of Central India. I think she also reveals the bitter extent of the state’s assault on the indigenous peoples in India in order to unleash a particularly vile form of crony-capitalism. All that is well taken.
I say this even as I admit that I am disturbed by Roy’s stomach-churning peans to beauty as a substitute for political sense, which in agreement with you, Anirban, I think, can only lead us down a slippery slope to an ‘aestheticization’ of politics that opens a door to something quite dark.
I have personally seen some – ‘beautiful’ – cadre in the RSS, in the travesty that is the CPI(M), and have been moved by their dedication and their transparent sincerity, by the shine in their eyes and the power of their dreams (which remain my nightmares). A state fashioned on Maoist lines in India would be as much of a nightmare as a society that danced to the tune of the hard-right. Both would be authoritarian, militarized, intolerant of dissent. I would want neither. Nor can I tolerate the state that we have at present. But I refuse to be boxed into a situation where the rejection of one option is the automatic endorsement of another. An intellectual’s final responsibility lies in choosing the discomfort of refusing to see solutions when there is none available. Reticence can also be revolutionary at times. I wish sometimes, that Arundhati Roy chose reticence over the hurry to be seen with the camp that made an effective noise. A good writer’s silence can be occasionally more powerful than a good writer’s slips of tongue.
Many amongst those who join the far right do so because they are fed up of the predatory nature of the society they live in at the moment. Their motivations can be as worthy of respect as that of any naxal. It is the ends that both seek that I have reservations about. I do not disrespect Naxals or hold them in contempt. I would, like Roy, defend the genuineness that they might embody anyday. But I have no illusion about the fact that by doing so, I am making any worthwhile political point.
However, I also cannot help thinking that the Maoists do perform the function of sending a token shiver of fear down the spine of our ruling classes (and I am not unhappy to get an occasional glimpse of that shiver in the smooth steel frames of our Minister of Home Affairs and his erstwhile clients in the Mining business ).
On the other hand, I am deeply disturbed by some of the things that Roy writes in this essay. Here i have to say that her up-front honesty in the episode of a Maoist combatant admitting to liking ‘ambush videos’ is not amongst them. It need not necessarily be taken as the writer’s automatic endorsement of the aesthetic pleasure to be had from watching mutilation, it could just be (though I am not necessarily saying it is) an attempt to come to terms with a fractured moral universe, even amongst those one supports, and, consider this, – a lesser writer might simply have airbrushed away such a discomfiting detail.
I have to admit that I have a profound revulsion against Maoism, as I would have against any form of third-worldist nationalism (what else is Maoism?) that aims to seize the state to make it a ‘better’ state, especially through the force of arms.
To the extent that Roy chooses to evade the authoritarian legacies of Maoism (her caveats about Mao and Charu Mazumdar, and her not-insincere gesture in the direction of the horrors of the Gulag, the Khmer Rouge and the genocidial policies of Mao Ze Dong in China, not withstanding)I think she writes a-politically. She has a sharply political critique of capitalism, and its operations in India, (we could quibble over details, but not over the thrust of her argument against the state and capital) but at the same time, she exhibits a profoundly a-political understanding of Maoism. This is the opposition that is never going to be the opposition, because it is wedded to as harsh a vision of state power as that which it claims to combat. Roy either does not know this, or chooses to ignore it, or chooses to underestimate its similarity to the contours of the state we are familiar with, and by doing so, betrays an a-political sense of what this so-called opposition is.
I can understand the rage and the anger that drives people, especially the dispossessed, to Maoism in India. But I mourn the fact that the only thing that it drives them to today is Maoism. And so, I try and make a distinction (albeit not always successfully) between Maoists, and Maoism. While I can appreciate the fact that many, perhaps a majority of those, especially tribals, especially women, who join Maoist, or Maoist affiliated militias and the PLGA do so because they feel a measure of respect and dignity in being part of a resistance against a regime that is truly disgusting and rapacious, I also feel that this alone cannot redeem an authoritarian and statist ideology that acts exactly like a state (with its organs of formal armed power) whenever and wherever it takes power.
My general response to the essay is one of mourning. I mourn the fact that we are in a situation where Maoism, especially of the variety that inhabits the forests of Central India, can appear as a genuinely revolutionary current to some of the best and brightest amongst us, and also, the fact that the strategy of ‘protracted peoples war’ is one of the options that seems valid to some of the most oppressed and marginalized people in our social environment. To me, these two realities (the attraction that Maoism holds out to a very wide spectrum of people) represent the failure, and I underscore, our failure, the failure of all those who locate themselves on the left outside Maoism today to propose, or to be seen as proposing, a cogent revolutionary alternative to global capitalism.
For me, this is the most important point. The fact that we have not yet been able to forge a living politics on the left that while rejecting parliamentrary cretinism, makes the fetishization of guns, the cult of an authoritarian party structure (that cannot but be an inevitable consequence of the militarization of resistance) and the pointlessness of standing armies (the pointlessness being an old Marxist idea) and a protracted war un-necessary. The Maoists are not fighting a revolutionary battle, but they are successful in producing an image, or mirage, of revolutionary practice.
At best, they are fighting to save a dying world (a struggle that I have sympathy for, because to not have sympathy for the resistance of the most oppressed against a predatory captialism would be unthinkable) but they are not fighting to usher in any fundamental transformation of class relations. The Janatana Sarkar’s, no matter how much water harvesting they do, no matter how much organic agricultural production they undertake, are not fundamental organs of revolutionary power. At best, they are defences against a currently predatory state. At worst, they anticipate the production of another predatory structure.
They do not usher in a new language of politics, they just speak an old language of politics, on ‘behalf of the people’. Take them out of the forests, take them into the industrial rust belt, take them into factories and cities, and they will wither like anthills under a bulldozer. They are a holding operation. Maneouvres that keep at bay, for the moment, in some places, in the forests the guns of the state and the power of the corporations. At the same time, they are invitations to the guns of the state to enter, and they are dependent on the same corporations (through a people’s ‘levy’) that they claim to combat. They do not represent an alternative. They never have.
The issue for me, is not violence and non-violence. It is the form that resistance takes. It is about asking whether resistance is condemned to repeat the tragedies of the decadence of the left in the twentieth century, or whether it is possible to another language of politics.
Arundhati Roy asks us to consider whether or not rebels have the time to think about the form that the state can take. Whether the urgencies of the struggle have a greater claim to attention than the messy and boring and unglamourous questions of thinking about what the history of the world working class movement has to offer.
The leadership of the Maoist party claims that all the answers to the world’s problems lie in what they call ‘M-L-M’ or Marxism-Leninism-Mao Ze Dong thought. This is the stock answer to the impatience of rebellion. Rebel now, do not think, the answers are available.
That is enough to make me climb up the wall.
Anyone, who, when sober, can say that Mao, who coolly contemplated, and even welcomed the possibility of a nuclear holocaust (because he had a confidence in numbers, the numbers of the Chinese people) has the answers, cannot be trusted to even repair a small neighbourhood’s sanitation infrastructure, let alone be entrusted with the responsibility of thinking about the world’s problems, or the possible alternatives to Capitalism.
To endorse Mao Ze Dong thought or the genocidial record of Stalin, or the venality of regimes like Cuba or North Korea is to endorse the worst and most pathetic form of state capitalism, one that dresses up in fancy rebel clothes while it builds furnaces on the backs of starving millions. Even if, and especially if, one has a sense of solidarity for the rank and file that joins the Maoist movement, out of rage or desparation, or for the sake of a dream of a better world, then, one cannot but realize the utter delusion or cynicism of a leadership that steers that rank and file as if it continues to take Mao Ze Dong thought seriously. If they really do not take Mao’s wild bourgeouis nationalist fantasies of ‘state building’ and ‘people moulding’ seriously, then one fails to see why they dissimulate, and if they do take them seriously, they are delusional. If they persist with Mao, and Stalin, and their pronouncements, not as actual guides to action and policy, but as fetishes, then I fail to see how they are any different from any authoritarian millenerian religious cullt. Either way, the rank and file are nothing but tools in the hands of the Maoist leadership. The politically astute thing to do would be to engage with the rank and file, and engage with them critically, constantly exposing the hollowness of their leadership’s understanding of the world, and the disastrous consequences of that understanding. Constantly doing what any Marxist should do to any soldier in any war. Ask the soldiers to disobey their commanders. Revolutionary defeatism, even in a so called revolutionary war. By being in the war, the PLGA gives more power to the Indian state’s military machines. The only way, in the long run, to disarm the state is to totally reject the logic of war. Any war.
That Arundhati Roy should even take the people who take Mao seriously, seriously, is cause for alarm. It means that sometimes, even the sharpest of the minds amongst us, is carried away by rage into the arms of a counter-revolution that masquerades (perhaps unbeknownst to most of its cadres) in revolutionary fancy dress.
In this instance, I am with Marx, who wanted revolutionaries to wait so that he had more time to think. And I say this, not facetiously, as a Zizek, on occasion, might, but with a great urgency, because a militancy of thought, the attempt to make ideas walk the good walk, the hard walk, is sometimes more important than the trek with guns in the jungle. Ideas that can withstand the rigour of history, that can make people disobey orders, rather than listen to commands, are sharper weapons than IEDs and AKs. I wish that the women who held the guns that Roy rhapsodizes were part of a movement that sharpened and polished its ideas, its politics, and its arguments more than its ordnance.
I am afraid, Arundhati Roy, despite her intellectual integrity and her courage, and the unquestioning, unwavering commitment that she has to forge a critique of capital and the state, is in this instance, misled, and appears at least, to be willing to be misled. I say this in solidarity and friendship with her, and others like her, because I know that each one of us, regardless of whether or not we have her courage, and the intensity of her anger, walks that wire that hangs over an abyss of illusions and misplaced enthusiasms. Any one of us could fall, any time.
We must be prepared to at least spread a net below that wire. A net made, not of our schaudenfraude at each other’s (or Roy’s descent) but of a long overdue attempt to forge a general practice of revolutionary politics that is open, transparent and not hidden in the forests, not backed by armies, not empowered by summary capital punishment, not dreaming of prison camps even as it sings rousing revolutionary songs. This must mean that we have to reject the ‘peoples war-parliamentary democracy’ binary or even the ‘violence-non-violence’ binary, and think more creatively, more urgently. To forsake the sham of bourgeoise democracy cannot mean that we have to adopt the bourgeoisie’s greatest invention – the standing army and the firing squad.
We want a revolution that can shake our cities, that can disarm the army (all armies) and the apparatus of repression, that can make capital capitulate by the power of the working people’s general refusal of labour and that can make the prison house of the nation state crumble. That kind of politics requires just as much, if not much more, militancy and audacity, than the ‘dadas’ in the forests have put in. It requires the longest of marches, experiments with all forms of political organization, and a willingness to countenance at all times, the demise of the state the criterion of organizing human life
Let us ensure that the one good thing that the Maoists and those who have spoken for them might do – is to force us out of our slumber and our dejection, to re-imagine what a revolutionary left that is out, open, industrial, international, urban and rural and sharp and pleasurable, can be.
I hope Kafila can be a place where some of that can happen. Then, perhaps, Arundhati Roy, (or those who take her stance as passionately, as courageously and as genuinely as she does) will not have to hide away in forests to walk with the comrades. We would welcome her (and anyone like her) beside us, in the streets of our cities.
The article was very good, but in its conclusion it ended up throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
What has passed is a certain *kind* of “revolution” — the “substitutionist” kind (the party’s action substituting for the masses’ action — because the party is “always right”!). And its passing will not be mouned.
But by no means has the idea of revolution as such (when understood as mass mobilization and mass action) passed away. Revolutions of new kinds are taking place/ ongoing in Bolivia and Venezuela…
While I appreciate the clarity in expression (which makes good reading similar to Arundhati’s ) pardon my stating that yourarticle remains at the level of “loud thinking”.At least you had the honesty to announce this at the onset which many others fail to.
The following sentence states it all : “Reticence can also be revolutionary at times. I wish sometimes, that Arundhati Roy chose reticence over the hurry to be seen with the camp that made an effective noise. A good writer’s silence can be occasionally more powerful than a good writer’s slips of tongue.”
How long can one be reticent ? As an Idealist , you wait for Ideas to emerge , forgetting the elementary principles of dialectics that Ideas emerges from concrete practical situations, which in turn influences the latter.
I am not trying to defend the travesties of twentieth century Communism – the excesses of Stalin and Mao. I am also a strong believer in an alternative to “dictatorship of the proletariat” which had created and nurtured for seventy years “Dictatorship of the Party and State”.
We all yearn for a twenty-first century Communism which takes care of the shortcomings.
Yet “The politically astute thing to do would be to engage with the rank and file, and engage with them critically, constantly exposing the hollowness of their leadership’s understanding of the world, and the disastrous consequences of that understanding. Constantly doing what any Marxist should do to any soldier in any war. Ask the soldiers to disobey their commanders. ” sounds hollow and farcical. Hollow because it dictates to cadres who have finally found solace in a form of protest , in a form of solidarity , in a struggle to acquire and defend their rights.
An alternative ideology, Party and organization is the need of the hour . An alternative to the CPM’s parliamentary Statism and defense of neo-liberalism, as well to the form of struggle and ideology employed by Maoists.
The need of the hour is “to be there” rather than indulge in “ramblings” from the safe havens of the air-conditioned precincts of the cyber-world.
Not that I expect you as an intellctual to declass yourself and land up at Dantewada , (that would be too much to expect), but at least show the beacon-light to a politics of positive engagement rather than pure and unalloyed negativism.
This is what the protagonsists in this space pathetically lack.
Nothing can be a more counter productive response than yours. What you find disturbing in Roy is more disturbing. The aesthetization of politics is an important aspect, one very eruditely explored in his very informed book called ‘Aesthetics and Politics’ by F. R. Ankersmith. The vocabulary of politics needs metaphors and counter-metaphors and it is precisely at this level that political battles are deeply fought. Communism, for example, was famously described as a “specter” in the manifesto – and that was/is indeed a haunting matter! So you are simply being ignorant.
But what is truly disturbing is the way you take this fear of aesthticization further. To say you know “beautiful” cadres in the RSS, can be a subjective/sexual aesthetic preference on your part – but it is, at that as well as any objective level – utterly appalling and politically reactionary. It is indeed exasperating to read such a blindness towards ideological praxis that you can abstract people from their concrete, political/ideological being and find them holders of “beauty” – as if beauty lies outside the political – or something worse – EVERYTHING IS/CAN BE BEAUTIFUL. This is a position which Carl Schmitt might accept, because he is an (apparently) unbiased observer of politics – a position I don’t find either aesthetically or ethically acceptable. My point is – one can find either Walter Benjamin or Adolf Hitler beautiful – not both! Your generalization is preposterously defeatist.
In the passage, “We want a revolution…” you show your anxiety for drawing the city into the scheme of things. You speak of wonderful dreams without any basis for them. Those in the forests have a base at least. You in the city are still looking for one. That is already a big difference to begin with. This passage and the ones which follow reveal an incredible degree of patronizing on your part. If this is how the intellectuals in the city want to reach out to their brethren in the forests – I doubt they would care to listen.
Lastly, bringing up old stories about the horrors of Maoism and Stalinism is totally out of context. Such fear syndromes seems to have no capacity for a critical, political dialogue with the Maoists – something I guess any sensitive intellectual even of the liberal kind should be doing in earnest. I think the specificities (including location and the community) of a struggle should be looked at, instead of branding them in the universal jargons of older historical movements. Inspirations indeed come from the past, but the present always shapes it differently. The “mistakes” of the past cannot be also wished away. Like Barthes said of love is true of revolutions too – the first mistake will occur again and again. The nature/technology of the state of our being, and the being of our state makes it continue thus. We are trapped within a modern regime and time – we can think NEWLY once we escape it. No such easy hopes on the horizon.
Arundhati is raising questions more than looking for answers. You are more interested in the answers even before you soberly and critically ponder over the questions. What is the reason for your hurry man – a response in Kafila?!
Lastly, your point :”Anyone, who, when sober, can say that Mao, who coolly contemplated, and even welcomed the possibility of a nuclear holocaust (because he had a confidence in numbers, the numbers of the Chinese people) has the answers, cannot be trusted to even repair a small neighbourhood’s sanitation infrastructure, let alone be entrusted with the responsibility of thinking about the world’s problems, or the possible alternatives to Capitalism. ” betrays an inadequate knowledge of history.
Mao never welcomed nor proapagted the idea of a nuclear war – he created bunkers to defend his people against a possible nuclear war. That the US imperialists were at least twice on the brink of dropping an atomic bomb on China has been documented by ex-CIA operatives.
China , on the other hand, had been consistent in its “No-first-use” policy .
Shruddha’s idea of a revolution :
“We want a revolution that can shake our cities, that can disarm the army (all armies) and the apparatus of repression, that can make capital capitulate by the power of the working people’s general refusal of labour and that can make the prison house of the nation state crumble. That kind of politics requires just as much, if not much more, militancy and audacity, than the ‘dadas’ in the forests have put in. It requires the longest of marches, experiments with all forms of political organization, and a willingness to countenance at all times, the demise of the state the criterion of organizing human life”
And pray what purpose would such a revolution achieve other than making India a bigger version of Somalia or Rwanda , with wide spread poverty, no economy, no business or enterprise , which means no jobs, no laws, no rights, nothing……
….anyway, thanks for giving us a glimpse of what India would be like if leftists come to power.
I like Shuddhabrata’s call for a new left movement. Here is the alternative I have to propose at the cost of sounding flippant and facetious- a new communist party some of us have formed called the CPI (MR).
Before anyone speculates any further let me explain that MR stands for Mohammad Rafi, the greatest of Bollywood singers, in our opinion someone who has given greater pleasure to a greater number of Indian citizens than anyone else in independent India. The over 50,000 songs Com. Rafi has sung have enough wisdom to guide us through all the problems in our society plus our personal lives- from sorrow and anger to joy and love.
An auspicious start to the CPI (MR), I must mention, was its splitting on the eve of its foundation, when the person we invited to become its Chairman announced his preference for Kishore Kumar resulting in the formation of the KK faction.We have since included Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle in our pantheon of leaders to accomadate a very wide variety of opinion and thought. We kept out Mukesh because, for all our non-sectarian inclinations, his reactionary nasal songs on defeatist themes were too much to bear.
We sincerely believe that Coms Rafi, Kishore et al have as much to offer to the amelioration of misery of the Indian public in future as Coms Marx, Lenin, Mao etc., had in the past. The motto of our movement is ‘ Let Life truimph over Death’ and our brilliant songs are clearly a preferable alternative to the dead speeches of the most articulate Marxist ideologues anywhere.
Our candidate for the new national anthem of the Indian Repubic ‘Aane se uske, aayee bahar, jaane se uske jaaye bahar, badi mastani hei meri mehbooba…..”. Surely much better than ‘ Jana Gana Mana….” of course but even better than that offered by our Maoist brethren ‘Jalaa do, mita do, yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye tho kya hei…”
To Anirban: I m not sure about the quote you have put at the head of article . As far as my limited knowledge goes, most of the French intellectuals ( in the time period mentioned and after) left the PCS or were forced to leave and i do not quite get how one was actually becoming dummies in a circus controlled by the ‘ Party’ by actually dissociating themselves form it. The circus and your article have enigmatic logic schemes that lesser mortals find difficult to comprehend. If its just about the entertainment i think you have done quite a decent job here.
Contradictions and fractures are the new meta narrative. One absorbs these ‘fracture’ tales like sponge. Inanimate. Mindless. A certain academia leading a very nourished and wholesome life out of fractures and contradictions. That is how the ball rolls. Tough luck you might just say and i will agree. One needs to revisit the discourse of fractures and contradictions and spell out the stakes, clear out the meanings, drop the sontags, and perhaps try to be a little less fashionable. One does not need to do this to advocate Maoism. But to avoid the facile trap of taking multiplicity for the sake of multiplicity. No one is being asked to wish away contradictions. It would indeed be a stupid wish.
Roy’s article is specific description of a specific region. A region so ravaged that no forms of ‘civil’ or ‘other forms of protest can actually be imaginable. There are other tribal regions in India where the Maoist movement hasn”t had this kind of success. This then is a question of specifity. Which would , perhaps make you think about your theorization about the fetishization of violence in the article. Capital is a fluid thing changing contours according to the terrain it encounters or creates. Any theorization of fetishization like the one you have made reeks of meta stories of capital. The only fetishization that one sees or understand in your article is the fetishization of contradictions.
You are spot on Anandaroop. You have pointed out Anirban’s glaring and blaring flaws with nail on the head.
It is amusing to read Anirban’s ignorance when he describes Arundhati’s article sarcastically as good travel literature. Maybe he doesn’t know that brilliant political writings have happened in travel literature. Some of the 20th century instances of brilliant, political travel writings are: Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey’, Robert Kaplan’s ‘Balkan Ghosts’, Yaroslav Trofimov’s ‘Faith at War’, to name a few.
But the point is: Arundhati’s piece isn’t a travelogue. It is utterly irresponsible and stupid to understand a genre so wrongly. It is a witness account. There have been such witness accounts throughout history. Anirban should learn about them before categorizing writings in such an adolescent manner.
The inanity of this author can be judged in many ways but let me give only one example to save my time:
Anirban ends by comparing the demise of Nehruvian modernity with the necessary demise of the idea of revolution. This is farcical. Both phenomena have nothing to do with each other. Revolution is not the ‘other’ of Nehruvian modernity. It is its contradiction.
And the Nehruvian dream isn’t dead – it has merely taken new refuge in Manmohan Singh. The dreams of big dams and of big industry has become more ruthless. In fact Nehru’s dream is finally becoming the enlarged monster it was always capable of turning into. If Nehruvian secularism has failed, it is only because it has in fact succeeded in its failing. The word secular is a word up for grabs today, and it no longer merely wears a Gandhian cap. What is dead, in Gujarat, in India, is a Gandhian dream for sure. But precisely why it is still taken seriously. Because only monstrous dreams succeed in monstrous times. Ah, so what about Maoist dreams?! Well, it does mirror the ruthlessness of our times. Like a necessary evil maybe. To critique Maoism or revolution is to in fact justify its existence – and un-justify one’s own left-liberal concerns, happy to be the marginal critic. I have respect for marginal critics and I am not sure what I think of Maoist guerrillas. But their existence raises an uncomfortable question mark in my life and in my thought process – I know I have to answer that discomfort.
If Arundhati moonwalked with the comrades, Anirban is moonwalking through ideas. Michel Jackson-ing in other forms.
A Rejoinder to the Critique of Arundhati Roy’s ‘Walking with the Comrades’
That Roy’s essay endorses armed violence: The essay provides an empathetic ground to understand the context and reasons for the tribals’ and villagers’ attraction to the Maoists specifically in Dandakaranya; it does not endorse the means of the resistance that are violent, but the need for resistance itself. The forest dwellers’ sustained disempowerment and protracted violence against them means that they feel empowered and safe against the criminal state when they are equipped with arms. Their dignity is restored and their communal solidarity and inalienation strengethened. There is no aestheticisation of arms as Anirban Nigam alleges.
That the aestheticising style of Roy’s text is dangerous because it is reminiscent of the use of rhetoric by fascist nationalist ideologies: Of course the essay aestheticises the adivasis; the aestheticised style is a conscious political strategy. If the state uses rhetoric to win certain sections of the people’s support of (or at least indifference to) the annihilation of the tribals by continuously using phrases such as ‘Maoist menace’, ‘security threat’ and equating the resisting rebels with pests that deserve extermination, Roy will use a certain narrative style to do the opposite – to win empathy and understanding, and to restore humanity and dignity to the tribals. Hence her aestheticisation of the jungle and the jungle dwellers, and the very conscious use of names for the tribals. They are identifiable people for her and must be for us too.
The aestheticisation of the forest landscape is
also a committed political strategy for representing the Commons as not only desirable, but vital. Roy’s sustained commitment to the commons cannot be questioned, whether it is rivers or forests. When the state acts as a representative of corporates and not of the affected and dispossessed people, a democratic struggle for the Commons (both environmental and cultural commons) may have to be multi-pronged. When the state is the rapacious offender, can one truly believe that a non-violent struggle to make the instruments of the very same state provide justice will work? Unless we can really arrive at an alternative strategy as well as a real movement for justice to the forest-dwellers and for protecting the Commons, we cannot critique sympathisers of the only struggle that is available.
This not to say that I endorse Maoism at all. An ideological model that ultimately aims to replace one repressive system of state with another (where historically its respect for human rights has been abysmal), needs to be treated with extreme caution indeed. Therefore there is a need to come back to the context of this particular struggle and not get lost in universalisms.
The way I react to Roy’s perceived naive endorsement of Maoism is to think laterally and treat her text as a committed writer’s witness account of a particular context in which armed struggle now seems the only means for self-defense and not universalise this as an endorsement of Maoism per se.
The significance of the intervention of Arundhati Roy’s article in a mainstream publication cannot be overstated. The very fact that we are all debating it hotly here as well as in other fora itself is perhaps evidence of its vitality as almost the return of a repressed discourse. If some of us are discomfited by the subtexual endorsement of armed resistance while still being concerned about justice to the tribals and welfare of our Commons, articles like hers may well be a catalyst for creative thinking towards viable alternatives. At the moment though, I for one would rather be with Arundhati Roy than with her detractors. Some of you may say that this amounts to playing into the ‘with us or against us’ sort of dangerous ideological binary, but being apolitical or ambivalent about genocide and the sale of our environmental commons to corporates is just not an option. Let us, however, think of viable alternatives to armed resistance. And until such time as we can come up with an effective workable alternative to armed resistance, we do not really have any position to critique from without being implicated in the silence about the protracted genocide of the tribals for corporate interests which have become dangerously synonymous with the interests of the state.
“… In his classic Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Ranajit Guha’s conclusion therefore was that the presence of rebel consciousness could be read in the body of evidence produced by the discourse of counter-insurgency itself…”, states Aditya Nigam in his posting ‘The Rumour of Maoism’ in Kafila. Just like that Ms Roy’s article also gives us a clear view of the militarized milieu in these areas, created by the state and Maoists alike.
It is a bit sickening, but also understandable, to see critiques of violence and “Maoists” from comfortable bourgeois positions. I call them “pacified imaginations”. They are incapable of fighting even in their dreams. Kanu Sanyal, who surprised everyone by proving that an 81-year-old can hang himself, told VS Naipaul that years of living in the jungles had ruined his digestion. In short, he had no stomach for the fight. Pacified imaginations and delicate stomachs are trying to show a political alternative to armed struggle. Nincompoops of the world unite!
Only the blind will fail to see that the peace given us by the bourgeois-democratic system is not the peace we longed for. It is a peace that dehumanises. In it, insaan til til kar ke marta hai. It leads to nihilism. What better example is than the peace brought by the US to Iraq and Afghanistan, turning people into suicide bombers, torturers, murderers without a motive. And yet, this seeming nihilism is a resistance to the far hollower nihilism of the consumers of peace, those who live only to eat, watch TV, have sex. Violence is not just self-defence against a predatory system. It is the rage of the indignant, the revenge of the humiliated, who prefer death over life, war over peace. The whole absurdity of modernity is being fought here.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan exposed the futility of non-violent resistance once and for all. No greater people’s movement has been waged in the world. The wretched of the earth now know that they have no one but themselves. Elections, Democratic Communists, intellectuals, activists are one big farce. The rebels will learn from the defeat of the Kashmiri insurgency, they will morph into a million mutinies. They do not care about a political vision, of creating a better world. They have lost their world, its joys and sorrows all, and they want revenge.
It is foolish in the extreme to think that the state and the people are not at war here, that things can be saved by dialogue. The Maoists are fighting as much against the discourse of peace that the state and civil society have fabricated. It is a clash of worldviews, and there will be no quarters given on either side. It is a fight to the death, but only the rebels are unafraid of dying. They know that martyrdom will take them to paradise, not a bourgeois paradise of houries and debauchery, but a paradise in which they will have dignity and freedom. If this sounds romantic, it is because it is romantic. Only the romantic can fight. When Che asked Fidel why he was building alliances with non-violent groups, Fidel said that those groups had accepted Fidel’s leadership, accepted the primacy of armed struggle for achieving revolution. Sooner or later, the pacifists will have to accept too.
Only thing missing in the post is an invocation to the Kali:
“The stars are blotted out,
The clouds are covering clouds
It is darkness vibrant, sonant.
In the roaring, whirling wind
Are the souls of a million lunatics
Just loosed from the prison-house,
Wrenching trees by the roots,
Sweeping all from the path.
The sea has joined the fray,
And swirls up mountain-waves,
To reach the pitchy sky.
The flash of lurid light
Reveals on every side
A thousand, thousand shades
Of Death begrimed and black —
Scattering plagues and sorrows,
Dancing mad with joy,
Come, Mother, come!
For Terror is Thy name,
Death is in Thy breath.
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for e’er.
Thou ‘Time’, the All-destroyer!
Come, O Mother, come!
Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of Death,
Dance in Destruction’s dance,
To him the Mother comes.”
Miao has quoted a Vivekananda poem to add to my post. Let me respond with an original poem written by my friend at a time the Lankan government massacred the Tigers last year.
हा हा लंकेश !
नाश करो तुम नाश करो,
सब प्रीत का,
तुम मानव-मान का,
नाश करो तुम नाश करो,
हा हा लंकेश !
बूंद बूंद क्या?
तुम धारा बहावो,
हिंद महासागर तुम लाल करो,
समुन्द्र जल कुछ और खारा हो,
भीषण तुम चीत्कार करो,
हा हा लंकेश !
नन्हों को तुम बिख्लाने दो,
करो तरुणों का तुम कोप भक्षण,
हा हा लंकेश !
करो तुम भीषण हल-चल,
देखो यह चीता फिर न दहाड़ सके,
उसकी आत्मा भी न चिंघाड़ सके,
गोलिओं की तुम झडी लगाओ,
नभ से भी आग बरसावो,
हा हा लंकेश !
आज न तुम्हे कोई राम रोकेगा,
न ही तुम्हे बुद्ध का ज्ञान रोकेगा,
नहीं रुद्ध करेगा कोई महादानव की गति,
तुम मानवता का काल करो,
हा हा लंकेश !
masala,but pointless nevertheless.typifies attitudes within the left, the post-whatever-ists included
I would say it typifies the attitude of what is now called the Right, of the pre-whatever-ists, the attitude of the Mahabharata, where the fight is not for Hastinapur but for five villages, instigated by Draupadi, rationalised by Krishna, where brother will kill brother by means fair and foul.
Colors of the Wind [Pocahontas]
You think I’m an ignorant savage
And you’ve been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
Now can there be so much that you don’t know?
You don’t know …
You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew
Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth
The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends
How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
if only some of the astute observers of literary genres present among us, had been as astute in their readings of the politics of the critiques on this forum, we might have gotten a little further than we have.
still, the word ‘witness’ seems to be popping up periodically, and while we might agree this is a ‘witness’ narrative, that hardly resolves any of the substantial issues around the essay itself. the fact that this is a ‘witness’ essay doesnt change in any considerable way, the critiques made by me and others here or elsewhere. unless of course, we are arguing that witnessing is somehow apolitical or devoid totally of politics. or, alternatively, that a witness’s account cannot be theorised by unimaginative “social scientists” – who are not witnesses themselves. such claims seem to treat the act of seeing as neutral, as beyond politics in some sense; or, alternatively produce ‘the authentic experience’ of ‘ground reality’ as some unshakable foundational truth. all of which is deeply problematic to my “adolescent” mind.
shuddha’s response actually opened up a space to think beyond the narrow confines of the debate around this one essay by roy. however, the anxious attacks on his extremely nuanced position not only fabulously miss the point altogether, but are also symptomatic of the desire of a certain section of the ‘left’ to hold onto its fixed, unchanging identity.
i might add here, anandaroop, that what you think ‘fashionable’ is your burden to bear, not mine. one is tempted to say that the only difference between you and me is that i have cited my fashions whereas your theorisation of the ‘fluidity of capital’ and ‘the terrain it encounters’ goes uncited.
and: i suppose, SB, that i Have thrown away the baby with the bathwater. mainly because the bathwater is stagnant and the baby has reached a point well beyond middle-age. it might we worthwhile though, to point out that what is happening in bolivia is revolutionary only if one is willing to concede the revolutionary potential of electoral politics. and the happenings in venezuela are probably more an occasion for caution than cheer.
By the way, I find the proposal for a CPI(MR) very laudable, however, my personal predeliction would be for a CPI(GD) GD being Geeta Dutt.
This is a brilliant article. The beautification of violence is always a lie. What will be the destiny of these children who were offered a straight passage from the jungle to the Kalashnikov? The intellectuals with a degree can join the Maoists and yet have, somehow, a “future”. Even if arrested, even if tortured, they will always have the internal resource to, for example, write a book in jail about their life. Roy quotes the example of the boy attracted to violence, now lost for ever to his community after he perpetrated crimes and murder as a member of the Salwa Judum. Is the destiny of those who joined the Maoists any different? I can’t imagine a more bleak destiny.
I found a little quote from Hannah Arendt’s On Violence, where she speaks of Fanon ( that might speak to the various discussions on armed resistance that we have recently seen on Kafila):
Fanon concludes his praise of the practice of violence by remarking that in this kind of struggle the people realize “that life is an unending contest”, that violence is an element of life. And does that not sound plausible? Have not men equated death with ‘eternal rest’, and does it not follow that we have life we have struggle and unrest? Is not violent action a prerogative of the young – those who presumably are fully alive? Therefore are not praise of life and praise of violence the same?
Arendt, Hannah. 1969. On Violence. 69.
That is an excellent quote you have there, Atreyee. War and violence have always been seen as something glorious, noble and heroic, until now, that is, when the pacifist compradors are panicking over their sickly sheltered lives. When Obama invokes the just war he is given the Nobel, when Krishna urges Arjun on to the Mahabharata his explanation is made into the Gita, but when ordinary people talk of violence, they are dubbed lumpens or loonies. Really, to not fight in the face of tyranny is worse than cowardice. To decry Maoist violence is to decry everything that is worth fighting for.
“The strong Marxist flavor in the rhetoric of the New Left coincides with the steady growth of the entirely non-Marxian conviction, proclaimed by Mao Tse-tung, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” To be sure, Marx was aware of the role of violence in history, but this role was to him secondary; not violence but the contradictions inherent in the old society brought about its end. The emergence of a new society was preceded, but not caused, by violent outbreaks, which he likened to the labor pangs that precede, but of course do not cause, the event of organic birth.
In the same vein, Marx regarded the state as an instrument of violence at the command of the ruling class; but the actual power of the ruling class did not consist of nor rely on violence. It was defined by the role the ruling class played in society, or more exactly, by its role in the process of production. “- Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Violence
And a bit more from Arendt..
“To be sure, the recent emphasis on violence is still mostly a matter of theory and rhetoric, but it is precisely this rhetoric, shot through with all kinds of Marxist leftovers, that is so baffling. Who could possibly call an ideology Marxist that has put its faith, to quote Fanon, in “the classless idlers,” believes that “in the lumpenproletariat the rebellion will find its urban spearhead,” and trusts that the “gangsters light the way for the people”? Sartre in his great felicity with words has given expression to the new faith. “Violence,” he now believes, on the strength of Fanon’s book, “like Achilles’ lance, can heal the wounds that it has inflicted.” If this were true, revenge would be the cure-all for most of our ills. This myth is more abstract, further removed from reality than Sorel’s myth of a general strike ever was. It is on a par with Fanon’s worst rhetorical excesses, such as, “Hunger with dignity is preferable to bread eaten in slavery.” No history and no theory are needed to refute this statement; the most superficial observer of the processes in the human body knows its untruth. But had he said that bread eaten with dignity is preferable to cake eaten in slavery, the rhetorical point would have been lost.”
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