La revolución ha terminado / Colette Capriles

The Revolution is Over

That’s what Napoleon Bonaparte laconically decreed in November of 1799, during the dissolution of the revolutionary institutions that after ten years had left France divided and impotent in the face of its own contradictions. Like so many things Bonaparte said, the phrase is at once true and false.

The recovery of the monarchical forms that Napoleon undertook proves that the revolutionary parenthesis hadn’t erased the popular nostalgia for centralization and hierarchies, while the bourgeois personality of the Napoleonic regime, along with his obsession for legislating to create a national order, manifests that the old order, definitively suppressed, nevertheless continued to live in the new one. The revolution would be like a parenthesis, a type of time tunnel leading to the place history had already planned, just quicker.

Maybe it turns out that revolutions end as soon as they’re declared clinically dead with a memorable phrase. Or perhaps, in actuality, revolutions are nothing more than “speech acts” (as Searle would say), that is, words that cause practical effects and create or destroy themselves discursively. At the beginning was the word, always lit up and incendiary.

The question would be: How does one know a revolution has ceased to exist? If one supposes a revolution is a leap between two eras, a type of agitated hallway that joins two universes, its death would be marked by the advent of a new order, or better said, of a certain normality. In other words, when it becomes habitual. When it definitively and inevitably encounters the past from which it disengaged and against which it wanted to fight so much. The successful revolution is the one that dies while contributing to the integration of past and future, that is, the one that ends up negating itself by admitting that societies don’t move by means of leaps and ruptures, but rather through complicated syntheses of new and old. But revolutions want to be eternal, within revolutions there’s always an impulse to perpetuate themselves as perennial exceptions, with the suspension of history that in Cuba, for example, transformed streets and bodies into examples of a carefully maintained wax museum. In the Soviet Union and the countries of the “socialist field” even the future was old. The representation of the contemporary and of the future’s technological delights could barely update the contrasted images of Fritz Lang.

Revolutionaries are never the first ones to perceive the pestilence of the revolution’s cadaver, protected as they are, always, by ideological Kleenexes at their noses. And what tends to be more paradoxical is that the announcement of a revolution produces, in and of itself, revolutionary effects that its leaders cannot foresee. The unexpected, unforeseen effects are what matter. That is exactly why, even though there might be family resemblances among revolutionary gestures, there is no definitive recipe that will guarantee for them (as they claim they want to do) an arrival at the sea of happiness. Actually, the repetitions are reduced to Marx’s comment about the 18th Brumaire: what is tragedy the first time reappears as farce.

And after the farce? Who picks up the pieces? How do we recycle what can still be used? One thing is true: revolutions fall apart from within, when the tension between the orthodox forces who’ve lost their sense of smell and the revisionist forces that still have it becomes unsustainable.

And for this to happen the revolution doesn’t need to have changed anything. It can have successes or failures, it doesn’t matter. Revolutions don’t die from inefficiency, from their own cruelty or because of the injustices they inevitable carry alongside them, but from weariness.

Like a plant that’s watered too much and produces nothing. The slogans and phrases are endlessly repeated, but each time they become a purely empty ritual that’s mechanically recited without being able to mask the terrible disenchantment.

{ Colette Capriles, El Nacional, 12 June 2008 }

No comments: