Thursday, April 2, 2009

Notes on the nature of Revolutions

- Arjun Rajkhowa & Sachida Bista


This is not a revolution. This is only a list, it need not be treated like a complete essay. So when you say that you want a revolution, you probably mean you want something to drastically change. Some kind of mass-transformation. That is the definitive understanding of what a revolution is. And it is something remarkable. Every time you think of something massive, involving masses of people, you think of something so immense, so big that it can be really terrifying to even consider pushing it further. I would not want that to afflict me. I would not want to be scared by the massive size that a revolution demands. I want not to be encumbered by the arithmetic of numbers. By the size of it all.

You say, to be the pioneer of a movement, you need to be the very fulcrum on which it rests. This is again something I want you to think about. Or rather, I want to think about myself. At a time like this, I want to think about the kind of impact people like us could have. Who are the people we know? What kind of impact would we have on them? What are the avenues open to us? It’s a preliminary step to going beyond these – contending them in the first place. You say that these questions are relevant only after we commit ourselves to a decision. This is true. But the question persists. It is not as an afterthought that a question like this arises. Even if you think of them as details, they are essentially details of your existence. You cannot bracket them as subsidiaries of what you do, they are the minutae of who you are.

To me, a revolution is a revolution. It means nothing until people change in the sphere that we are in constant contact with. If the people around you continue to impact you in negative ways, the point of a ‘massive’ change is made redundant. The only thing that really affects you, or rather, will affect you in the future is that transformed sphere that you inhabit. This cannot be ensured until you consult the details of your life first. It might sound slightly exaggerated, given the fact that you are probably most unaware of such ‘details’ yourself, or at the very least dismissive of them, but there you are – this is a practical precondition to the problem.


To start a revolution, you must come together will all those who share your plight. And then slowly, perhaps even painfully work together demanding changes by cajoling, force, whatever it takes to assert the cause. But even before that, the revolutionary, or the one who vouches of becoming one, must fundamentally understand that his path is to be one of indifference. By indifference, what I mean is that the revolutionary must turn blind to hostile elements that may decide to cause damage to the movement or even set it off astray. The revolutionary must also turn indifferent to his own emotional shortcomings. A revolution is no trivial commitment but, the undertaking of an entire lifetime.


There is, though, something that follows from the former need – the need to meet people thinking of the same things, experiencing the same things. There is a feeling of camaraderie that this will bring in. You might even begin to understand one another better. You may even want to spend more time together. This is appealing; but, ultimately, we cannot discount the veracity of real-life incidents and stories. People say, more than vaguely, that they get disenchanted with those they ‘share their plight with’. They begin to resent the very same people, begin to attribute the worse features of their journey together to them. They begin to see them as hurdles, as obstacles getting in the way of their work. It’s probably not very convincing an argument. But it only requires a little bit of getting-out-there to see it occur daily, relentlessly, everywhere.  It’s not specifically the ‘kind’ of people that they are that pushes it to this extent, it’s not even the things they do, or the mindsets they have, even though all of these are contributory things. It is, after all, in the end, about the very fact that they are other people. Other people with different motives and different interests, getting in the way of your own stated and unstated motives and interests, inimical to the road you want to inhabit.


It is true that for the very development and assertion of any ‘cause’ these people are indispensable. But after the formation of the idea, what one must comprehend is that the cause must precede its propagators. In bearing the cause, the people who are associated with the revolution, need to overlook their personal differences. A revolution needs a leader, in the way any intelligent organism needs a head. It is the task of the leader to bring together the functions of the other organs, in spite of their differences. A revolution does not promise personal benefits to anyone, not even to the one who pioneers it. By definition, it is a collective endeavour, and thus, a revolution benefits the people at a larger, social level. To seek immediate individual profit in such a movement is mere selfishness. One must uphold the ideology first. A revolution begins BECAUSE of the ideology, and overlooking it is a grave error, which might lead the movement to meander aimlessly.


Another point of view, separate from the previous, is one that thinks of the revolution as a result of minute-changes. The use of the word ‘ideology’ is a very contentious one. It might be erroneous to suppose that ideologies are concrete objects that can be realized in more concrete terms. They cannot. They are the by-products of several years of transition, the aftermath of occurrences, the benefit of afterthought. They cannot always precede a revolution. It’s wrong to assume that people start out by thinking of what they ‘want theoretically’ in a movement. To them, it’s always a matter of exigencies. It’s about their requirements at home, in their own lives, in their work. It’s about the things they have to deal with on a regular basis, the lives they have to lead. Therefore, these needs, these pertinent concerns push them into doing something. Anything concrete. Take, for example, the underlying thought of the sexual revolution that prompted this. It is not something that coalesced into being simply of and by itself. It is not a theoretical concern. It is majorly a practical concern. It stems from the need to identify yourself and to demarcate your space, to compete with those crowding your space at the moment, to question the need of the antagonists of this space to feel threatened and be figures of threat. That is what spurs the thought forward, not a detached, unrelated theoretical need somewhere in the recesses of your mind.

The kind of person the ‘revolutionary’ is is something that can be contended. It is not merely his vision that matters. It is the vision itself that matters. To distinguish between the two, it is necessary to look at the difference between the political manifesto that a party publishes in the time of elections and the party itself. They are two very different things, know to us through experience. The earlier mentioned need for indifference is a very potent one. But that indifference needs to be defined, conscripted in its own rank and circle of influence. Perhaps, it is self-sufficiency that really matters in the end, because indifference is something that comes naturally to most people. They need not remind themselves to be indifferent to things that they are intolerant of. This is not to say that people are instinctively indifferent to such things, but they eventually tend to become that over time. It is that need that would come equally naturally to someone in a movement. That person, however, cannot be deluded into misrepresenting that indifference. To those who matter to him, and to those to whom he matters, it is necessary for him to withstand the slow attrition of his self of compassion. He needs to tell them about himself, and he needs to introduce them to his way of life. So that they know they are definitely involved and certainly of some import in the movement.


Any movement that plunges itself forward without an ideological map in hand, is most probably to find itself lost in the sea of confusion that the world is. I am aware that all ideas, ideologies, philosophical doctrines are the result of historical occurrences. However they also function as effective hinges, which determine the course of the future. An ideology is a profound understanding of both the past and the present, and the conscious assimilation of the ways and agencies required for future changes. To say that it is merely the result of past upheavals alone, is to diminish the potential the formulated idea bears. To say that, would mean, by extension, that everything is the by-product of the past, and then we are suddenly in a world of determinism where the individual has no way out.

An ideology is a conceptualisation of the varied needs of a social group. Without condensing these practical concerns in paper, it would be incomprehensive. It would be difficult to even recognise the root of the problem. Besides, without a framework, everything would eventually fall into chaos. A theoretical doctrine determining the nature and course of a revolution is indispensable. And if the people who participate are firstly preoccupied by their practical concerns alone, then what would really be the future of the movement would be mere complacency. What they need firstly is a concrete idea of what they are/will be doing; they need an ideology to motivate and direct them. A revolution is not the same as evolution, where life shapes itself according to the conditions favourable and otherwise. It is an upright, conscious commitment with no room for passive elements. I am not unmindful of the practical aspects of life; but I understand these practical aspects are the way they are because of a certain prevalent mindset. It is the thought, the mind that must be the first to change.

There is a risk involved in all enterprises. There is one in this too. However, to already suppose that the corruption and incompetence of political parties would be necessarily inherent in the concerned revolution is baseless and furthermore demoralising. It is a wrong foot to start off with. These problems are there after the movement begins. To dwell on them, before the movement’s birth, is futile and even damaging.

Asking for a ‘definition’ of indifference – now isn’t that to be a ‘theoretical’ indulgence? Anyway, what I mean by indifference is not the same as the above understanding of it. It is not the indifference one allows oneself due to petty occurrences that exist to wreck characters and their relationships.  I meant that the people, involved with the movement, must turn blind eyes to any hostile and demoralising elements that might want to thwart the movement. It is the movement that is of the primary concern. The individual is secondary. A revolution is not a love-affair; where the personal is the means and the end. It is a sacrifice for a cause that is greater than even the revolutionary himself.

( be contd.)

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