Sunday, October 5, 2014

On pseudo-revolutionists and the truths they hide

Revolutionists all too often value emotion over reason, especially those born-again revolutionists who bring themselves to worship what they preach (without practising them of course). It is a fad nowadays to "celebrate" those revolutionists caught and victimised in the line of fire, just as we as a nation honour the memory of those soldiers killed in the war. Doubtless there are passionate individuals among this crowd of revolution-worshippers who sincerely believe in what they fight for. But for every A and B, there must (needs) be the pseudo-Xs and pseudo-Ys. That's inevitable, but what's not is this: these pretenders ending up leading the ideals proclaimed by those others who sincerely fought for them. The Left movement in Sri Lanka (is there such a thing anymore, one is compelled to ask) is one example of this.

I have come to believe that revolution isn't the answer to everything. Forget the impracticality of it, it's anyway not going to attract a large crowd. This is something the Left movement has itself come to identify (except of course for the "workers of the world, unite!" slogan-bearing JVPers). Maybe this is why the LSSP (and other socialist parties here) have decided to fight almost exclusively for minority rights and devolution, the latter representing the main (but not only) point of ideological disagreement between them and the government-led alliance they have chosen to lean on. That's bankruptcy of the worst sort, even when discounting the historic fact that Sri Lanka once boasted of the world's strongest Trotskyite movement. But then again, what can expect from the likes of Tissa Vitharana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara?

I don't know what political affiliation I belong to. Perhaps none. I'm not sure. Besides, I think I still have to read up on ideology and political position before deciding to ally myself with it. From what little I have read, though, I know that Leftism in Sri Lanka was a missed opportunity, not because reactionary politics (as represented by the UNP and to a lesser degree the SLFP) detracted them, but because their biggest weakness, which was an inability at conjoining the twin peaks of socialism and nationalism, proved their undoing when they went ahead to the compromise-table. I also know that, as virulently anti-nationalistic Leon Trotsky was (he represented Marxism's most cosmopolitan brand), his ideology would have spelt an entirely different (and welcome) path for our country. I am no clairvoyant, mind you.

Personal position aside, I now come to the subject of this little piece. Rebels. The world is full of them. We see them hollering and denouncing those from the opposing camp, only to practise expediency by joining them at the (politically) right moment. Party crossovers are common in Sri Lanka, so much so that it has become increasingly difficult to divide the hypocrite from the honest. But that's not the only thing that concerns me here. I wish to write about those one or two pseudo-revolutionists who still speak and write about utopias. I wish to write about those who celebrate rebellion. I wish to write about how these acts of celebration conveniently leave out some truths.

Let's start with the JVP. The whole world knows about the "බීෂණය" they began and the counter-revolution the UNP, out of political necessity but hardly less unjustifiable for that reason, unleashed. Do they have a mandate over the calls made for regime-change, democracy, and rights-protection they indulge in today? Probably not. The same thing (although to a lesser extent) can be said of the UNP. The SLFP doesn't win on this count, either, but one can safely say that they didn't get involved in the sort of blood-shedding those two other parties relished in. There were those leaders who came close to unleashing a "බීෂණය" of sorts, especially when they kowtowed to Eelamism and "ceasefire peace". I know there will always be those who will never vote for them, though I also know that they will, for the lack of a better alternative, back them up should an unavoidable situation arise.

What about the "icons" we celebrate? What about Rohana Wijeweera, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and all the revolutionaries raised to the skies by our local rebels? What about the blood they shed, the lives they maimed, the places of worship they looted and vandalised? What about all those women they raped, those children they killed? These acts may well dwarf the acts of commission and omission committed by those back-bending reactionaries they overthrew.

Not that this absolves them. Fulgencio Batista was as much in need of being ousted as the Shah of Iran and Anastasio Somoza. But does this angel-title what those who ousted them did? I cannot be sure of atrocities unless and until solid proof exists. This is part of the "ඒහි පස්සිකෝ" doctrine in my religion which I follow in relation to truth and rumour. But when you hear of reports of mass murder, genocide, and extermination, backed by video reports (even though they can be doctored, as Channel Four is very well aware of), you tend to regard them as being accurate.

Che Guevara is of course the classic example for this. The man had grit. He was both an intellectual and a revolutionary, and wisely knew that being the one didn't necessarily exclude being the other, unlike the anti-intellectual stance extreme Left parties in Sri Lanka have taken to. I have come to regard literature as being a precursor to revolution. A necessary precursor. This is where the Far Left in Sri Lanka failed. They continue with the same brand of anti-youth, anti-intellectual ranting they have unfortunately come to be associated with. The Richard de Zoysa-factor was at best minimal and failed to generate an alternative path for them. Guevara-worshippers in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere of course) would do well to take stock of this fact.

Laying all this aside, there is of course another inconvenient truth which many hero-worshippers of "rebel-icons" refuse to see: the many crimes and atrocities perpetrated by those for whom they sing hosannas. Che is one classic example. He masterminded revolution. But revolution (at least on the scale he and his ideological ally, Fidel Castro) presupposes opposition, not necessarily by the majority but essentially by the status quo. Cuba needed revolution. This necessitated a snuffing out of opposition. This in turn "lent" legal legitimacy to the murders, executions, and kangaroo courts conducted to whitewash those atrocities the Castro-Guevara troupe committed.

Today, though, we "celebrate" Guevara. On T-shirts, on caps, on trishaws, and even in cafes (I kid you not). There is a reason for this. We have reduced the entire Guevara saga to one thing: his execution in Bolivia. For better or for worse (I can never be sure which) that raised him to the iconic and legendary status he has attained today. We forget that he was not innocent. For that matter, no-one is. There are one or two exceptions, of course. Che Guevara was not among them. This is something else our self-labelled "Guevarists" should take to heart. He killed and he sanctioned killing. That his troupe were conducting an "experiment" of sorts across Latin America congruent with the geopolitical and cultural realities of that part of the world is another matter altogether. But I'm dithering a little here.

Bottom line: revolution necessitates overthrow. If the opposition is too "hot" to handle with negotiation, like in pre-1917 Russia and pre-1959 Cuba, blood is (or must be) shed. That's inevitable. Thing is, we (decide to) forget this. We concentrate on the outcome, i.e. achievement of revolution. There are ends and there are means to reach those ends. Both Guevara and Castro realised that revolution as such was not the feel-good tag most Far Left "rebels" here have cut it out to be. Whitewashing revolution without paying due regard to the many crimes committed in the name of revolution will not get us anywhere.

Che Guevara remains an icon. Teenagers who dote on his legacy show him off on the shirts they wear and the wallpapers they adorn their rooms with. It would do well for them to look back, read up, and take stock of what the man really stood for: revolution with a maimed face called "bloody". That's an ideal starting point for "reconciliation" and "acknowledgement", two of the most misused labels we have today, both second only to another tag called "revolution".