If I could choose a year to go back and not only witness but take part in, I would choose 1968, the very same year Deleuze and Guattari published the Anti-Oedipus and students were writing history in the streets.
Haru Kunzru gives a pretty good idea of what went down in London in 1968, writing a fiction that follows a group of leftist students through out the 70s in East Side London.
What is there left to believe in today remains a haunting question. I believe in people for instance, but people are not to be believed in as they change, sometimes to the very own opposite of they they believe in themselves. And this is the hardest of realities, to witness someone betray its own ideals, changing them for their very opposite. Though this is only part of human nature, the problem remains open. What is there to believe in today?
Revolutions, significantly written in the plural, speaks of Anna, Sean and Chris, and the constellation of other youngsters around them, striving for a believe, a political one. They believe in a better world and devote their life and their actions to something greater than them, willingly sacrificing their own well being, security and desires for a bigger cause.
The book explores several cases of believers in the 70s and what has turned out of them in the 90s.
Through Anna and Sean´s characters, the author shows how sometimes staying coherent to one´s believe can only result in a fundamentalist attitude, where there is only the termination of the other or of oneself by the other, and nothing in between. Both Anna and Sean take Mao´s quote: “We are advocates of the abolition of war. We do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to take up the gun” literally. Their death, the only possible finale, end up splattered all over the newspapers.
Differently, Chris, the leading character, departs with the same believe as Sean and Anna but grows to accept that there may be others believing in something different than himself. From a point onwards when victims start to be named as mere “collateral damages” he searches for a way out, an exit, as he cannot not longer justify the group´s actions politically nor morally, though he hasn´t ceased to believe in the need for a revolutionary politics, he says. Later, as a fifty year old married man, he takes up irony as the only tool to coupe with the disillusion of life in general.
Patt´s character stands for the “political animal” who can cannot refuse to embrace a political challenge even if it means to change side and shirt. Once a left activist, Patt works her way up inside the mainstream party and in the media without remorse, all the way up until she´s in the position to run for prime minister.
Finally, Miles represents the “involuntary believer”, the one that gets involved and manipulated into believing in something without even having a critical mind about it. But, if at first he is trapped inside the system and manipulated by it to serve someone else´s interests, he soon learns to make his own profit out of it.
After reading Revolutions one is totally convinced that no choice is innocent and no action is without consequence, even if one´s doesn´t quite realize it. Furthermore, the reader is led to conclude that one´s believe is influenced/ the result by/of the context and the network of people one happens to be engaged in (though there´s obviously self-responsibility and criticism).
I am not exactly sure of what is worse: to be an involuntary believer or, to change one´s believe to the very point of total contradiction. Anna for instance, was taken, as a child, to demonstrations by her own father, she then becomes a student with left convictions, later an underground activist and finally a full-time terrorist. Anna and Sean´s characters show that no negotiation, no compromise can only result in another form of fundamentalism. For as many “criticism-self-criticism” meetings there might be, they couldn´t see beyond their own believe. As the group´s actions grow more violent, the paranoia and suspicion also escalate.
Throughout the book, Chris repeatedly asks Anna how the future will look like after the revolution. When she finally gives in and answers, she says she doesn´t think about it because it makes her sad, and that anyway, the future is not for them as they are damaged people. “There would be no place for us in the world we’re trying to build”, she says.
Interestingly, when Milles is asked the very same question, already during the 90s, he says to Chris:
You were irrelevant, don´t you get that? History doesn´t care about what you did. Who´s even heard of you? Ideology´s dead now. Everyone pretty much agrees on how to run things. And you know what, Chris? I don´t mind. Let´s all get on with gardening and soaps and having kids and going shopping. You´ve done it. You´ve been able to lead a dull life because there´s no real conflict any more. In a couple of years it´ll be a new millennium and, with luck, nothing will bloody happen anywhere, nothing at all. That´s what a good society looks like, Chris. Not perfect. Not filled with radiant angelic figures loving each other. Just mildly bored people, getting by.
By the end of the book, the question lingers… What is there left to believe in today?
As for me, I am reminded of Barbara Kruger´s words in one of her art pieces: “Your Fictions Become History”. Indeed…