Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"In Praise of Revolutions"

Excellent essay from Serge Halimi of CounterPunch.org: "In Praise of Revolutions"

Even so, a charge levelled against major revolutions is they were violent. Exception is taken to the massacre of the Swiss Guard during the storming of the Tuileries in August 1792, to that of the Russian royal family in July 1918 in Ekaterinburg and to the liquidation of Chiang Kai-Shek’s officers when the Communists took power in China in 1949. But if you object to those, then you shouldn’t ignore the famines of the Ancien Régime, which happened against a background of balls at Versailles and of tithes demanded by priests; or the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators massacred by Nicholas II’s troops in St Petersburg on Bloody Sunday in 1905; or the revolutionaries in Canton and Shanghai thrown alive into the boilers of locomotives in 1927. Not to mention the everyday acts of violence which were part of the social order the revolutionaries sought to overthrow.

The story of the revolutionaries who were burned alive hasn’t just affected those with an interest in China; it’s also known to the millions who have read André Malraux’s novel, La Condition humaine. For decades the greatest writers and artists made common cause with the workers’ movement to celebrate revolutions and the glorious future. In doing so, it is true, they underestimated the downside, the tragedies and the chilly dawns (with their political police, personality cults, labour camps and executions).

For 30 years, by contrast, those are the only consequences of revolution which have been spoken about; in fact it’s the recommended course of action for those who want to succeed at university, in the press – or the Académie Française. “Revolution inevitably means an irruption of violence,” explains Academic Max Gallo. “Our societies are extremely fragile. The major responsibility of those who have a public platform is to guard against this irruption”. For his part, Furet reckoned that any attempt at radical transformation was totalitarian or terrorist, that “the idea of another society has become almost inconceivable”. His conclusion is that “we are condemned to live in the world that we live in”. It’s not hard to imagine that such a destiny fits in with the expectations of his readers, who are generally protected from life’s storms by a pleasant existence of dinners and debates.

I've been looking to read something like that for a long time.

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