Keith Hart on Tue, 16 Apr 2002 21:47:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> like a thief

C.L.R.James was fond of quoting Marx's remark that, when the revolution
comes, it comes "like a thief in the night", when no-one is expecting it.
He used this to point up the contrast between political activists and the
rest of us. The number of the former at any time, he said, never exceeded a
few scores of thousands even in the largest countries. These people, of
whom he was one for most of his life, dream of radical political change and
imagine that they are working towards it. It is not so for normal people.
They would do anything to avoid having their lives turned upside down, to
retain what they can of what they have built up. And it is good that human
beings are made that way, otherwise society would be impossibly chaotic.
But, when the revolution comes, when it is obvious that the past has
irreversibly gone and much else has already been lost, many people change
dramatically. The man you saw standing at the bus stop every day, minding
his own business, becomes an organiser of the street committee. Those who
study the history of revolutions know this phenomenon well. The same
applies to the onset of war. Visitors to the United States in the 1840s and
50s often remarked on the absence of a public discourse about political
conflict. Similar ostrich-like behaviour or repression is not unknown in
our day. But, when the balloon went up in 1861, many once-conservative
Americans fought heroically in what is still the most far-reaching and
humanly expensive revolution of the modern era. In the exchange concerning
Vanezuela on this list, I hear the authentic voice of resistance to
life-threatening upheaval and some voices advocating revolution from a
distance. I guess C.L.R. James would have had sympathy for both sides, but
his humanism would have placed him with the former.

Keith Hart

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