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The Enigma Called Revolution


Revolution is the catchword of Communists, at least, for those who still have it in their agenda and call themselves Revolutionaries. I often come across Communists, who are busy “carrying out” Revolution. People are always seen blaming Communists and their Parties for failing to accomplish revolution. The inordinate delay in the accomplishing of Revolution is disillusioning many serious and well-meaning activists. When the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said “everything changes and nothing stands still”, he would not have dreamt that, centuries ahead, change, in the form of revolution, would be requisitioned with this much force.


To add insult to injury, nowadays, revolutions even tends to spin backward. The idea of Revolution, which was such a rage decades back, now, seems to be an enigma. Yet, a lot of people stick to its aura and are devising ever newer means to accomplish it. Speeding up the revolution is the agenda for many.


While in no way belittling the need for a revolution from the perspective of the working class,  I would not squirm at the  idea that revolution has sufferred much due to its being romantisized out of proportion. While I do recognize a constructive role of communist parties and revolutionaries in a pre-revolutionary period or a revolutionary period, the idea of parties and revolutionaries “carrying out” or “acomplishing” a revolution is what I find skewed. I have always wanted to cry foul when some people start proclaiming the supremacy of their own role in a particular historic action of the people.


The other day, I was embroiled in a heated argument on Facebook with a comrade on the subject of Revolution (Nowadays, some of us are trying to finish off Revolutions on the slick pages of the internet). In discussions revolving around revolution, some were seen blaming everything with a tag “communist party” for the delayed revolution. One comrade felt that the leaders of communist parties were driven by selfish egos and the differences between them is the sole cause for the slowing down of revolution. They prescribe the medicine of adjustments among the communist parties in India, to unite them into one single entity and assure us that the moment that happens; it would be countdown time for the Revolution.


How nice would it be to see the leaders of the umpteen numbers of communist parties and its variants in India on a single file? Keeping intact our colourful dream of such a spectrum, let us proceed to solve the riddle of Revolution. In spite of being a desktop communist on the prowl, the undue presence of Revolution on the particular information web corner kept haunting me. When Marx and Engels were drawn into the fight and revolution ended up as a sword in the hands of revolutionaries, which they could wield at will, I had had enough and I decided to go a little deep into it.


Ok, one morning I decided that keeping the Revolution at bay for long would be an insult to Marx, Engels and even Lenin. So, I just decided to learn some tricks from Marx, Engels or Lenin and then proceed to finish it. My first task was to find what these people said about Revolution. I just hovered over some of Marx’s works and was found the following from the ‘The German Ideology’:

The Necessity of the Communist Revolution


Finally, from the conception of history we have sketched we obtain these further conclusions:


(1) In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class.


(2) The conditions under which definite productive forces can be applied are the conditions of the rule of a definite class of society, whose social power, deriving from its property, has its practical-idealistic expression in each case in the form of the State; and, therefore, every revolutionary struggle is directed against a class, which till then has been in power.


(3) In all revolutions up till now the mode of activity always remained unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour, and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves, because it is carried through by the class which no longer counts as a class in society, is not recognised as a class, and is in itself the expression of the dissolution of all classes, nationalities, etc. within present society; and


(4) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.

So is our beloved Marx’s view on Revolution. He insists that at a particular stage of the development of productive forces, the productive forces ends up as destructive forces, which in turn brings to fore a class, which is forced into a position of antagonism with all other classes and from which emanates the necessity of a revolution. Thus, the precondition prescribed by Marx for a revolution is the development of the productive forces to a stage where it becomes destructive.


According to Marx, the noble intensions or the necessities or the commitment of revolutionaries or the working class is not sufficient for a revolution to materialise. The objective condition prevailing in a society, wherein, productive forces turn destructive is a precondition for a revolution.


On reading Marx’s version of Revolution, I was a little disillusioned. My dream of “carrying out” a revolution immediately and creating history somehow seemed out of my control. Then I thought, maybe Marx’s buddy, Engels might have some tricks to satisfy my unbridled thirst for revolution. Again, I hopped about Marxist literature to locate something convenient for history making, but then, I came upon a text of Engels where he explains the dynamics of making history. In a letter from Engels in London to J. Bloch in Konigsberg, dated September 21, 1890, he explains as below:

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one.

In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For, each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus, history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.


Alas, why do these two Marxists think on the same lines? One says that development of the productive forces to a stage where it becomes destructive is necessary for a revolution and another says that apart from economic ones, political factors and even traditions which haunt human minds also play a part in history making. Worse still, whosoever, takes up the tasks of creating history by “carrying out” a revolution should remember that, as Engels says, they will just be part of “innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event” and that they “will end up only in contributing to the result and will be included in it to that extent”. Ultimately, my earnest dream of being the sole authority of creating history ended in a muddle.


Finally, I pinned my hopes on our great Lenin, who unlike Marx and Engels could claim to have choreographed a live revolution. I thought he would know better about revolutions than the other two who were supposedly playing only mind games. Again, I opened my bag of books. My search ended in one of Lenin’s explanation on revolution or precisely, a revolutionary situation. In chapter II of ‘The Collapse of the Second International’ published by Lenin during 1915 he says;

To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old   way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.


Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation.

After reading this, I felt that the last nail was hit on the coffin of my dream to “carry out” revolution. Our hero Lenin had gone even farther than Marx and Engels to claim that, over and above the necessity of ‘development of the productive forces to a stage where it becomes destructive’ and the role played by ‘political factors and traditions which haunt human minds’ in bringing forth a revolution, revolution requires a crisis wherein, it is not just that ‘the lower class does not want to live in the old way’ but also that the ‘upper classes should be unable to live in the old way’.


Coming to the question of the actual role of Communist Parties and revolutionaries, it is surely a vital question, which has to be dealt with in detail. I think the answer to this question is inbuilt in the above depiction of revolution by Marx, Engles and Lenin. As popularly said, the devil is in the details. Anyhow, there is no doubt that Communist Parties or even the Working Class as a whole don’t usually choreograph revolutions. Of course, without doubt, they play a vital role in revolutions, particularly in deciding the path a revolution treads, in the forceful assertion of the working class in the infinite series of parallelograms of forces operating in a society to tilt the resultant in their favour.

–By Ravindran


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