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. Continue reading Moonwalking with the Comrades: Anirban Gupta Nigam