Thursday, March 10, 2005


The Despairate Duo have an interesting post up:
The first is from Mark Steel. In his brief history of the French Revolution, where he sets out to destroy the myth that the revolution was an inexplicable bloodbath organised by middle-class students from outside the area, he shows, against silly caricatures, the reality of what was at stake and what was being fought for, and the revolutionary heroism and courage of the men and women who decided to fight for it. After a typically inspiring and amusing account of the storming of the Bastille, Steel jokes that, throughout the upheaval, there was probably "a revolutionary group with a national membership of nine handing out leaflets entitled Why We Aren't Supporting This Demonstration". We laughed at the joke... and cringed at the partial truth it revealed. Because that's all our practical political activity had ever amounted to.
Steel wasn't the first with that sort of Joke. I recall reading a review of a Bernard Shaw story/novel (I can't place the title, I'll get back to you on that) in which a Fabianite goes to meet an old Chartist hero of his.

As they sit and converse, the Fabian learns to his horror how the CHartist had opposed the Reform Acts (partial extensions of the franchise in ninteenth century Britain), Education Acts, Factory Acts etc. on the grounds that none of them went far enough.

The point being, that opposing them on an all-or nothing basis had meant opposing the stepping stones by which the all was (by this time) more or less achieved. Of course, Shaw was pleading for his special form of elitist gradualism. At the worst though, such a position is harmless - it does not more active wrong than to let the status quo off the hook. It can have a positive side, since it provides a yardstick against which the partial measures can be, er, measured. Indeed, some have argued for impossiblism on the (to my mind spurious) grounds that it assists reformism by providing a pressure of expectations.

It's a worthwhile debate. On my part, I think it is about deciding what your ends are, and how to clearly get them across. The only solution on offer seems to be bide our time and wait for the day. That being unpalatable, find a form of activity that won't land you in jail or shot...

So, tehre's an election coming, see...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Death of an Old Revolutionary Hero", first published 1905, later collected as one of the "Lesser Tales" in The Black Girl in Search of God. It seems not to be on the internet, which is a pity, as it's entertaining whatever kind of socialist you happen to be.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Thanks Anon.

7:59 AM  

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