“S. A. Smith’s book Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis 1890-1928 … sets out to explain how the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, inspired by a radical democratic and egalitarian spirit, degenerated into the Stalinist totalitarian regime.”
“We can only fall back on Lenin’s maxim: ‘Either revolution – I would say, communist politics – will prevent war, or war will provoke revolution.’ Let’s hope for the first alternative, but time is pressing…”
Watching the other day Nicholas Hytner’s promenade staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I heard Cassius say: “Men at some time were masters of their fates./The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars./But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (1.2.140-3).
The reference to fate reminded me of a recently published essay. Since I have been following with special interest the progress during this decade of Simon Critchley’s book on the philosophy of tragedy (read: sophistry) as an alternative to the tragedy of philosophy, I was particularly glad to read “Tragedy’s Philosophy,” a “rough torso” of his project, in Fisher & Katsouraki, eds.: Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy (2017). Regarding the understanding of tragedy as misfortune the philosopher brings up fate: “Tragedy requires some degree of complicity on our part in the disaster that destroys us. It is not simply a question of the malevolent activity of fate … Tragedy requires our collusion with that fate. In other words, it requires no small measure of freedom. … Our moral of tragedy, then, is that we conspire with our fate. That is, fate requires our freedom in order to bring our destiny down upon us” (31). Therefore he suggests that we see “the bloody events of the contemporary world in a tragic light,” and reiterates: “To see political events tragically is always to accept our complicity in the disaster that is unfolding” (36). The question of tragedy today should not be limited to a particular dramatic genre. “A tragic sensibility obliges us to see our implication within the struggles of the present and our responsibility for them. If the present is defined by disaster, then tragedy shows us our complicity with it” (40-1).
This ethical argument reminds me of Critchley’s political point in an interview where he recalls that Raymond Williams in his book Modern Tragedy (1966) “makes a link between tragedy and revolution and it’s a kind of melancholic link. He says, for example, something like: ‘We need to understand revolution tragically’. If we see revolution as a throwing off of repression and the experience of liberation that’s all very nice but we see just half of the picture. Revolution is always a dialectical process where revolution undergoes inversion in counter-revolution. So a tragic understanding of revolution would show the experience of liberation as always risking flipping over into a new experience of oppression and terror and the two things are intrinsically linked. Liberation and terror are intricated, are dialectically interdependent and that’s what a properly tragic understanding would lead us to. If we want to maintain something like revolution or rebellion then we have to see it tragically in terms of the inversions to which it is subject.”
A tragic understanding admits that revolution is subject to counter-revolution, that liberation is risking oppression. Drawing on Williams, Critchley makes the melancholic point that, when terror destroys revolution, instead of blaming destiny, we must accept the complicity of liberation, keeping in mind that freedom conspires with fate.
May 12, 2018
“ETA was not born as an armed resistance group that turned to terrorism, but as a cultural enterprise to save the Basque language and its people’s customs (its name is an acronym of the Basque words for “Basque Homeland and Liberty”). It was founded in 1958 by a group of dangerously idealistic students, many of them connected to the Catholic Church, who were dissatisfied with the inaction of the clandestine Basque Nationalist Party.”
“ETA, the Basque separatist group, is dissolving itself, it stated in a letter published on Wednesday, closing a history that included one of the longest terrorism campaigns in modern Europe, which killed over 800 people in Spain. … The news reflected what has been evident for years, that ETA is a spent force, its ranks decimated by arrests, its popularity minimal in the Basque region along Spain’s north coast. In their long struggle, the government has won.”
Khan-Cullors’s book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, co-written with author and journalist asha bandele, “is about Patrisse Khan-Cullors as much as it is about our current moment, wherein Black people, Muslims, the mentally ill, immigrants, women, trans folks, and others are one fender bender away from being beaten and charged with terrorism. The authors make clear that each of us needs to answer the question: what will I do when they call me a terrorist — because who among us won’t be?”
South Atlantic Quarterly 116: 4 (October 2017), Hardt & Mezzadra, eds.
“Mr. Pérez was an actor, a detective and an insurgent. To the government he was a terrorist. To his followers he was a freedom fighter, a modern folk hero in the ilk of Robin Hood or Che Guevara. Some skeptics said his story was too improbable to be true — they mused that he must have been a double agent of some sort, meant to cast the opposition in a bad light. However people viewed him, his actions resonated across the whole country.”
Yuri Slezkine’s argument in The House of Government: A saga of the Russian Revolution is that ‘the Bolsheviks were not a party but an apocalyptic sect. In an extended essay on comparative religion …, he puts Russia’s victorious revolutionaries in a long line of millenarians extending back to the ancient Israelites; in their “totalitarian” demands on the individual believer, he suggests, the Bolsheviks are cut from the same cloth as the sixteenth-century Münster Anabaptists and the original “radical fundamentalist”, Jesus Christ.’