Bye Bye, Revolution!

Manu Kant

Last week, my protégé, a budding Bengali Marxist declared in a voice that brooked no objection that next year he would be sitting for civil services. When asked for the rationale behind his decision, he told me that he & his fiancée had come to an agreement that a secure future takes precedence over revolution. Only a few months back, this same boy had told me with an authority befitting a soothsayer that India would see a revolution in the coming decade.

I was disappointed by his somersault but not surprised. This young Marxist was just following the hallowed tradition traversed by many in the post- independent India. Decades ago, my friend of university years, a fiery Trotskyite had similarly abandoned the ‘dreams of a socialist revolution’ for the ‘American Dream’. As such, both are not lone examples. It is an open secret all over India that most JNUites opt for civil services or lucrative NGO jobs once they graduate. The fact is, for the middle-class intelligentsia, a secure livelihood is a life & death question. For its sake, the revolution can be postponed to an indeterminate future.

Now, the question is: if not the intellectual class who else would lead the revolution? Lenin in his seminal work ‘What is to be done?’ said that revolutionary consciousness in workers could only be brought from without. As per him, the theory of socialism was elaborated by educated sections of the propertied classes – that is, by intellectuals. Accordingly, a revolution could only be led by intelligentsia as was the case in Russia in October 1917.

Another moot point is: Is a revolution really possible in a democracy? I still recall, though I was only a school-going kid in the 1970s, the one thing the ‘America returned’ friends & relatives would say immediately upon setting foot in India that a revolution is an impossibility in a democracy. The US in the 1970s was still an ‘El Dorado’ enjoying the post-2nd WW boom. The idealism engendered by the still existing Soviet Union quickly dissipated in the minds of most Indian immigrants when confronted by the seductive American Dream.  The one joke hugely popular in India those days was - Heaven is: an American salary, an English house, a Chinese cook, and a Japanese wife.

The impossibility of a revolution in a democracy is a weighty argument which can’t be dismissed so lightly. One wonders, therefore, had there been no Tsarist despotism in Russia that oppressed both the peasantry & the intelligentsia would there have been the Red October? Perhaps not.

In democratic countries, the bourgeois intellectual having won civil liberties like ‘freedom of expression’ is materially not interested in taking forward the democratic revolution to its logical end - towards a socialist revolution. A slew of civil liberties gives an intellectual total sway over the intellectual space which it strives for ultimately.

That the fight of the intellectual class is limited only to winning ‘freedom of expression’ is amply illustrated by numerous memes doing the rounds on the Facebook that if Arnab Goswami can get bail, then why not “dissidents” like Sudha Bhardwaj & Varavara Rao. The fact is: ‘freedom of expression’ & a revolution are a contradiction in terms.  The purported goal of Maoists is a forcible overthrow of the State. What this has to do with ‘freedom of expression’?

Let us recall the words of Frederick Engels on this score. Engels wrote in his article On Authority that “a revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon. If the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.” I rest my case.

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Dec 12, 2020

Manu Kant

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