EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


The everyday life of revolutionary movements

Location Chem LT3
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Judith Pettigrew (University of Limerick ) email
Alpa Shah (LSE) email
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Short Abstract

What is the everyday experience of people's involvement in revolutionary movements? This panel will examine the relationship between ideology, political economy and the politics of social experience and relations within movements.

Long Abstract

This panel is concerned with the everyday life of revolutionary movements. Such movements can involve radically transformed organisation of social relationships, having fundamental implications for ideas of mobility, home, love, marriage, gender, sexuality, family and kinship. They are the sites where European-inspired ideology often intersects with different, and sometimes contradictory, ideas of cultural and social relationships of people both prior to their involvement in the movement and in their lived experience of the movement. While ideology, resistance, politics, violence and the state are themes on which there is a burgeoning literature, the everyday politics of social experience and relations within movements has received little attention in the study of revolution. The papers in this panel will critically examine the relationship between ideology, political economy and the everyday life of revolutionary movements, an agenda that anthropology should be well placed to contribute to. Papers, whether exploring revolutionary instances in separatist movements in Central Europe, Maoist insurgencies in South Asia or guerrilla movements in Latin America will consider a range of issues. One example is revolutionary ideologies of consensual marriage and the potentially contentious relationship between pre-existing ideas and experience of gender, patriarchy and sexuality within the movement. Another example is revolutionary encounters of mobility, place and comradeship with people's often contradictory pre-existing contexts of movement, home and family. And a last example is people's experience of class, inequality and hierarchy and their relationship with perhaps paradoxical revolutionary egalitarian ideologies. A central question guiding these explorations is hence: what is the everyday lived experience of people involved in revolutionary movements?

Discussant: Alpa Shah, David Gellner, Paul Richards


'Endogenous development' and socialism in the Bolivarian Revolution (Venezuela)

Author: Lucia Michelutti (University College London)  email
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Long Abstract

Through the ethnography of the everyday life of how people experience the socialist Bolivarian revolution in a Venezuelan village, this paper looks at how the economic model of 'desarrollo endogeno' (development from within) is getting incorporated in the traditional economy of a rural village. The Bolivarian Revolution is an ongoing mass social movement and political process which has been active in Venezuela since the late 1990s. This socialist revolution led by the charismatic president Hugo Chavez is, among other things, promoting a change in the productive system of the country by reviving vernacular products and resources at the very local level. This vernacular economic model is rhetorically opposed to neoliberalism and it promotes a social economy based on values such as cooperativism, solidarity and shared property. The local economic units of the 'desarollo endogeno' are the cooperatives. This paper looks in particular at how local people react to the creation of cooperatives in their village and how they understand and experience the Bolivarian economic model in their day-to-day lives.

Contradictions and paradoxes of revolutionary life in rural Nepal

Author: Judith Pettigrew (University of Limerick )  email
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Long Abstract

Many villagers in rural Nepal live a 'revolutionary life'. For most this is not by choice but due to external circumstances as the area in which they live is, to a greater or lesser extent, under the control of Maoist insurgents.

In an attempt to pre-empt conflicting loyalties, Maoist activists are often posted outside their own areas. Party members with local knowledge, however, remain essential to the further development of the movement. Thus an important but sometimes inadequately discussed dimension of the revolutionary movement is the challenge of managing the complications and contradictions that arise when politics intersect with long standing personal, ethnic and cultural interrelationships, loyalties and animosities.

By focusing on a group of villages in west central Nepal this paper chronicles the everyday life of locals in these areas including Maoist party activists and the non-aligned majority. Through an examination of institutions such as the rituals of death, the mediation of conflict and the production of alcohol this presentation highlights the potentially contentious relationship between local and Maoist practices. By focusing on a series of case histories it highlights some paradoxes and contradictions inherent in the everyday life of Nepal's Maoist movement and the mediatory, and often desperate, strategies used by both the insurgents and non aligned villagers to negotiate their shared social experience. Through these case studies we gain added insight into the everyday politics and policies of revolutionary movements as well as a greater understanding of the nature and extent of agency and resistance exercised by non aligned civilians.

Becoming a Naxalite in rural Bihar: class struggle and its contradictions

Author: George Kunnath (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

The Naxalite movement is a Marxist - Leninist - Maoist movement working among the poor and the landless peasants in rural India. Ever since its inception during the 1960s, this movement has been the focus of scholarly interest and political analysis. In spite of internal splits and external repression by the state, this agrarian mobilization continues to gain ground in different states of India. In this paper, both achievements and contradictions of such Maoist-inspired agency and ideology are examined via the life story of a Naxalite - an organic intellectual - from the Dalit community ('Untouchables' in the caste hierarchy). Particularly, this paper explores the development of class consciousness (shift from caste to class) of this Dalit Naxalite leader, his involvement in class struggle, and his family life in the context of armed struggle. The paper also examines the contradictions of class struggle, especially at the level of political consciousness (the persistence of caste customs, religious beliefs, receipt of pro-poor funding from the state) in the everyday life of this rural revolutionary.

The ordinary revolutionaries' universe in Nepal as described in their written production

Author: Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (CNRS)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores the Maoist poetry, diaries and homage to the dead soldiers in order to grasp the motivations to engage in the People Liberation Army, the daily occupations of the revolutionaries and the way they describe their actions, both of construction and of destruction. The contents of the weekly Maoist journals Janadesh and Janaawaj document these fields, without «governmental» or «reactionary» misinformation. Within it, I chose to deal more specifically on the theme of the Cultural Revolution, for it is badly documented.

In the base region, the CPN (M) undertakes activities of creation, and not of destruction as in the rest of the country. The simultaneity of these two types of action is repeatedly presented as the sign of the advanced form of the Nepal People's War compared to the Russian or Chinese revolutions where collective structures were implemented only after the revolution had been achieved. It is through its actions in the base region that the CPN (M) shows that it is not a mere party, or a guerrilla, but a kind of alternative government, equipped with structures capable of not only managing the population in a proper way, but even of bringing them development Thus, it is reported that elections were organised in June 2005 in all the localities of 10 districts of the base region, whereas the old government does not have the means to do so. In the same way, the construction of the 100 km-long road of the martyrs in the Magarant is the pride of the revolutionaries. The Maoist journalist retells their wonderful feeling when travelling to this region full of heroes, and of peasants who are now detached from themselves. This achievement was made possible through cultural programs, which were the first form of propaganda undertaken by the CPN (M). It included songs and dances, but rapidly, vast literature, poetry and more recently, some novels, were produced. It is based on the idea that «Art cannot be for all. » (Janadesh.01.2006) and therefore includes the creation of a new culture and the destruction of the «indecent culture». The initially cultural movement evolved to include the ban of some religious practices, the creation of People's tribunals, of working camps, of public self-criticism and criticism of the party, of collectivisation, communes and cooperatives, of new education and training centres. The perception of the Cultural Revolution by the revolutionaries is exclusive, as it is compared to a newborn baby, which is «disgusting» to his father and close relations (up until the age of five months) but loved by his mother, though he was born bloody, because she made sacrifices for him (Janadesh June 2005).

Shozoloza: ambiguous revolution and disparate ideologies on the South African frontier

Author: Steffen Jensen (Aalborg University)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper explores the fraught relations between revolutionary, nationalist ideologies of ANC aligned comrades and localized witchcraft cleansings operations called the Shozoloza in the rural uprisings of 1985 and 1986 in Nkomazi South Africa. In nationalist discourse the latter had failed to understand the revolutionary ideologies, which subsequently led to the witchcraft accusations. However this paper argues firstly that the relationship was quite ambiguous, as the ANC aligned comrades drew strength from the witch hunts. Secondly, the witch hunts drew their strength from an alternative, popular nationalism at odds with the ANC. This division continues to inform rural politics in Nkomazi, and the paper ends by bringing the conflict between popular and liberal nationalism into contemporary South African history.

The catharsis of going out into the street: experiencing the 1989 Romanian Revolution

Author: Sidonia Grama (Romanian Academy, Cluj)  email
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Long Abstract

Bloody violence of the 1989 founding event of the Romanian post communist democracy was experienced both as transforming and traumatic. There was a sacrificial dimension of the violent death until the dictators' fall, which was subsequently used as politically legitimating of the new leaders who came to power.

This paper develops an ethnographic analysis based on interviews with some people who went out then into the streets. It attempts on the one hand, to capture the dramatic atmosphere of the street movement during those days and, on the other hand, to reveal recurrent themes and patterns in the narratives on revolution, since the revolution as lived and as told are inextricably intertwined. It stresses the highly liminal character of the revolution as experienced, and its symbolic dimensions, spreading lights on the existential dilemmas and the harsh reflexivity triggered then by the momentous of December 1989.

Beyond conventional historical or political science analyses of the 1989 Romanian revolution, which has been seen as a rather atypical part of the Central and Eastern European collapse of communism, an ethnographic account on those events would shed light on quite different specific aspects. It would focus thus on the symbolic strategies which people spontaneously developed in order to face violent death, hopes, great fears, on peculiar experiences of a new sense of time and space, on new types of gender and generational relationships, as well as a genuine sense of community. The essentially new experiences were instinctively expressed through rituals and symbols. The time of deep crisis, revolution instantly revived old recurrent historical myths, which were subsequently manipulated for political use. That was a time when people dramatically revaluated their whole lives, a moment which turned into a crucial autobiographical reference point of before and after.

At that time, in Romania, after almost half a century of totalitarianism, going out into the street meant far more than an ordinary act of protest. It became a crucial, existential choice, and a catharsis. It was a radical, irreversible decision to take the risk of facing death, by confronting the repressive forces, until the Ceauşescus' fall, and afterwards the unknown 'terrorists'' threat. Testimonies speak about a strong, irrepressible sense of either/or, of the end and the simultaneous beginning of something hoped for, even if indefinitely. As the tense alternative to go out or to stay home was ultimately a crucial existential choice, many people made it, either instinctively or after a long, painful deliberation. The city space was, therefore, symbolically reconfigured by the mental boundaries between the street - as an open space, dangerously exposed, a space of risk-taking and contestation of political regime- versus the home- as a closed space of fear, of escaping reality. That opposition admitted a third possibility: the pavement as a limbo, a transitory space of insecurity, anxiety, and indecision. Apparently safer, the state of being in between proved to be actually the most unbearable for many of the middle age generation. Moreover all these options bore generational and gender aspects.

Testimonies of those days, especially those recorded immediately after the events, are filled with such vivid, almost synaesthesic descriptions of the atmosphere in the streets, of collective gestures, patterns of interactions, as well as precious insights into very personal experiences and inner conflicts. Nonetheless, beyond the analytic description of the revolution-as-lived, the paper aims at critically examining the discursive practices of revolution-as-told, by situating these narratives within a broader context of the work of collective memory of the Romanian revolution during the 16 years elapsed since then.

The 'little' violences of revolutionary life: women and Naxalbari

Author: Srila Roy (University of Nottingham)  email
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Long Abstract

The late 1960s Naxalbari andolan of Bengal, a revolutionary movement engaged in a politics of righteous violence, is the point of departure of this paper. Drawing upon the narratives of middle-class female activists in the movement, this paper focuses on the category of 'everyday violence' in the context of an armed guerilla struggle. By 'everyday violence' I refer to those forms of interpersonal violence and aggression experienced at the micro-level in normatively 'safe' spaces like the political shelter and the 'underground', characterized by their 'banal', routinised nature and 'everyday-ness'. I will be particularly concerned first with the gendered nature of such forms of violence. Secondly, I will examine the politics of remembering and alternatively of 'forgetting' these forms of violence that seem to exceed the dichotomous division between state and anti-state violence; a division that is central to the logic of revolutionary political discourse. While women's memories of everyday life in the shelter and the underground overturn normative conceptions of these spaces as 'safe' and 'free' from terror, these memories are, at the same time, somewhat 'risky'. A collective mythicisation of the 'underground' together with the idealisation of the 'shelter' as repositories of a shared revolutionary world-view make it difficult, for women in particular, to bear testimony to these forms of sexual and gender-based violence that existed within the movement. In this paper, I will also raise questions about the relationship between the category of 'everyday violence' and 'political violence' - to what extent can the everyday, interpersonal forms of 'normalised' violence that women's narratives speak of be placed on a continuum with the violence of armed struggle and political repression?

Ties we choose: activism, friendship and masculinity within a revolutionary movement and beyond

Author: Henrike Donner (Goldsmiths)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper explores changing ideals and norms of masculinity among middle-class activists, who were involved in the Naxalite movement in urban Bengal during the 1970s. Existing interpretations of the relationship between gendered identities and the Maoist movement privilege a women-centred perspective and come to the conclusion that although women's involvement into the movement challenged stereotypical notions of femininity, through the activists' commitment to egalitarian and 'free' gender relations, cohabitation without marriage and progressive sexual relations between activists did often only thinly disguise the one-sidedness of such a liberation. While there can be no doubt that women have encountered many obstacles in their emancipatory efforts in this as well as other revolutionary movements, I argue that though a patriarchal ideology did persist critics overlook subtle processes of gender transformation at play, in particular how men renegotiated existing gender roles through their experience of the movement. I suggest that the new forms of relationships, which were fostered among members of Maoist groups in Calcutta in the 1970s, challenged the moral norms governing personal relations and redefined chosen bonds as the most valued personal relationships. Friendships, sexual freedom and egalitarian values - often represented in contrast to biological, blood and filial bonds - made male comrades question gender roles though the movement very often left the desires and expectations of female activists unfulfilled. The paper traces these challenges of the personal through the political in the life histories of former activists and charts how their experiences have created shifts in their understanding of patriarchal norms as well as challenges to hegemonic models of masculinity. The paper suggests that in many instances close relationships with other comrades - male and female - represent individually celebrated and developed breaks with tradition which may enable a questioning of such norms. Far from being simply hierarchical the ties that bind the former comrades together are a mixture of shared experiences and shared values as well as networks that are successful where they "create kinship out of ties of relationship that are originally ties of friendship...." (Schneider and Williams).

Everyday life in the bush: abducted women experiencing war with the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone

Author: Chris Coulter (Uppsala University)  email
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Long Abstract

During the Sierra Leone war (1991-2002), thousands of young women were abducted by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Some escaped after days or months while others stayed up to ten years. Most experienced rape and forced marriage, but quite a few became fighters with the very movement that had abducted them. This paper will deal with some experiences of everyday rebel life during the war for "bush wives" and female fighters, but will also discuss their ambiguous position in postwar society. For in a society where the rebels were seen as "animals" and their domain had been "the bush," rebel women were often met with fear and suspicion.

The appearance of radical identity politics in rural south India

Author: David Mosse (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

In 2004 I returned to a village in which I had undertaken fieldwork more than 20 years earlier (1982-84) to try to find out about the social meaning of what I understood to be an increasingly radicalised politics around religious and caste identity in Tamil Nadu. In particular, new articulations of Christian and dalit identity in the shadow of Hindutva appeared to bring unprecedented social conflict, along with new activism, emerging dalit social movements and political parties, and innovative expressions of dalit theology and militant cultural protest. How would such religious and political processes look when placed within the social relations of a village that I knew? This paper attempts an answer as it reviews key socio-economic changes over 20 years and offers a view on local social and religious change, the meaning of a local eruption of caste associations, dalit militancy, Hindu activist and Christian social fronts, violent Hindu-Christian conflicts, and the appearance of fissiparous Pentecostalism ― in short a social world apparently transformed by new modes of agency, collective action and public contest. I try to make sense of new intricacies in the experience of caste among Christians ― the simultaneous erasure of caste as a discourse of inequality and privilege and its public appearance as a discourse of exclusion and injustice ― and to document distinctive shifts in the symbolic resources through which caste finds political expression (e.g., from religious shrines to schools and technical colleges). But perhaps most importantly, what I try to show is the existence of a significant disjuncture between a public discourse of radical 'communalised' religious and caste identity that sets Hindus and Christians, Dalits and non-Dalits against each other, and the pragmatic interests (around land or water or matrimony) that constantly erode these bounded identities. Specifically the paper offers detailed cases of the inter-translation of local conflicts and the categories of Tamil identity politics, and of the work of local political actors that diffuse religious or caste disputes while reproducing a public discourse of religious and caste communalism.

The horror of the mob: from revolutionary 'Young Lions' to ambivalent protectors of democracy

Author: Lars Buur (Roskilde University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper traces and analyses the various dilemmas that the advent of South Africa's democracy brought with it for the 'Young Lions' of the 1980s internal township uprisings. Few of that period's great hopes for change in class inequalities and generational hierarchies have been fulfilled. Instead, the sweeping 'mob' of 'toyi-toyiing' youth has become a pariah of the new democracy, as has the 1980s''revolutionary' egalitarian ideology. In the mid-2000s, the South African media is once again awash with reports of uncontrolled mob violence, be it black students who contest entrance barriers to higher education or black township residents who take the law into their own hands against what is perceived as an escalating crime wave - an apparent revival of the modus operandi of 'struggle' agency, with angry and destructive black youth 'toyi-toyiing' in front of burning tires and attacking state officials. These actions are usually portrayed as the manoeuvres of youth with a lost cause who are now destroying the fruits of democracy and unintentionally undermining their own 'black' government. The paper will explore how - today as in the apartheid past - the images and horrors of uncontrolled mob violence haunt the imagination of ruling-party officials. The paper will be based partly on historical material and partly on ethnographic field material produced in the townships of Port Elizabeth and Soweto from 2001 to 2004.

The gender of the goat, and other insurgent events in Nepal

Author: Ben Campbell (Durham University)  email
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Long Abstract

"The Gender of the Goat, and Other Insurgent Events in Nepal"

Ben Campbell

The People's War in Nepal has had variable levels of intensity across the country. This paper discusses perceptions from a mountain district that the insurgency has been an event going on elsewhere, at the same as public knowledge and personal experiences do not concur over this. The management of perceptions about the insurgency as having emanated from, and been connected to inequalities about other places, can be partly explained by reference to a set of discourses concerning modernity-driven development and social change, with which village subjectivities have difficulty in finding easy points of identification. Everyday village life belongs discursively at a remove from processes and concerns of power, reflecting the sense of locatedness in conditions of underdevelopment. Certain elements of Maoist class perspectives are even adopted to explain why the insurgency should not affect people of a certain place. The reality is that at other less discursively accessible levels, such as the familial, dramatic events have indeed thrown people into uncontrollable confrontations with security forces, and demands for financial contributions to the rebels. This paper looks at points where the everyday weaves in and out of insurgent scrutiny, and how the masking and unmasking of revolutionary intent is checked for in people's (and animals') movements across perceived insurgent geographies. That the insurgency has occurred in parallel with, and has exacerbated greater labour migration, presents new opportunities for thinking about the politics (gendered, and ethnically regionalised) of locatedness and movement.