Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You say you want a revolution

Joseph Skvorecky, a survivor of both Nazi and Communist regimes, is quoted:
In 1981, long before the Iron Curtain fell, Mr. Skvorecky shared a stage in Toronto with Margaret Atwood, Allen Ginsberg and others who were discussing “The Writer and Human Rights.” He said that an artist must be a reactionary, to stand out from his culture by offering “some little opposition.”
“Frankly, I feel frustrated whenever I have to talk about revolution for the benefit of people who have never been through one,” he said. “They are — if you’ll excuse the platitude — like a child who doesn’t believe that fire hurts, until he burns himself. I, my generation, my nation, have been involuntarily through two revolutions, both of them socialist: one of the right variety, one of the left. Together they destroyed my peripheral vision.”

Compare, oh, say Ursula LeGuin, in "The Day Before the Revolution" (1974):
Amai had grown up in Odonion Houses, born to the Revolution, a true daughter of anarchy.  And so quiet and free and beautiful a child, enough to make you cry when you thought: this is what we worked for , this is what we meant, this is it, here she is, alive, the kindly, lovely future.
reprinted in Claeys and Sargent, The Utopia Reader, p. 413

She does try to evade the peripheries via "anarchy", but, as I think we've seen (Spanish Civil War, etc.), this simply makes her revolutionaries  inept, not less burning. And LeGuin is certainly an example of someone who's been chastened to some degree at least by the 20th century:
There would not be slums like this, if the revolution prevailed. But there would be misery. There would always be misery, waste, cruelty. She had never pretended to be changing the human condition,... So long as people were free to choose [!], if they chose to drink flybane and live in sewers, it was their business. Just so long as it wasn't the business of Business, the source of profit and the means of power for other people. 
pp. 417-8

But note the old, almost medieval scarecrows of "Business" and "profit". 

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