Marxist Theory

Revolution and Terror



.Murzban Jal




Generally, it is the pursuers of equality who rise in rebellion.




To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity.





The terrorist organization of the Communist youth is fostered not by the Left Opposition but by the bureaucracy, by its internal decomposition. Individual terrorism in its very essence is bureaucratism turned inside out. For Marxists this law was not discovered yesterday. Bureaucratism has no confidence in the masses, and endeavors to substitute itself for the masses. Terrorism behaves in the same manner; it wants to make the masses happy without asking their participation….Communist-terrorists, as an ideological grouping, are of the same flesh and blood as the Stalinist bureaucracy.


Leon Trotsky.







This essay is on the reading of the ideas of revolution and terror from the Marxist perspective. Since there is a type of what one may call a “revolutionary terrorist” movement heralded by the Indian Maoists, Indian Maoism would remain at the background of this essay.  At the forefront are the ideas of revolution and terror. Thus the 1789 French Revolution followed by the Bonaparte coup and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution followed by the Stalinist counterrevolution would remain at the forefront of the philosophical reading of revolution and terror. And since the mantle of the “Great Terror” from Robespierre onwards is said to have been bequeathed to the Indian Maoists, a reflection on both this movement and the psychology of the alleged “revolutionary terrorist” would also be necessary



The “Terrible Signifier”


Strictly speaking we do not intend to speak of the Maoist movement in India and the so-called movement of revolutionary violence. We intend to speak of revolution and the multi-determined question of terror and whether “revolutionary terrorism” has any role to play. One will reflect on not only the classical Marxist idea of the “force theory”, but also on Walter Benjamin and his theory of “divine violence”, as also on Slavoj Žižek who reflects on reinventing a radical left keeping the perspectives of Robespierre and Benjamin. Benjamin’s theme of the intertwining of culture and barbarism in his statement: “there is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1979: 359), along with Rosa Luxemburg’s question: “socialism or barbarism?” will engage our discussion. And as live in the age of late imperialism in permanent crises, we also live in the age of permanent barbarism. The questions that one poses are: “how is post-barbarian society possible, a society that is free from both terror and terrorism?”, and “how can permanent revolution displace permanent barbarism?”

If terror is the main part of our analysis, terrorism also becomes another part.  In this sense though they seem to follow the same genre, they are not altogether the same. On the other hand when one reads Marxism as a historicism and humanism, the idea of terror and terrorism are seen as being exactly the same. Both terrorism and terror emanate from class histories, in actuality from private property, and is realized by the violent state apparatus in defending private property. And because we are relating the private property-state combine with the problem of human alienation, we are also saying that they are said to emanate from what we know following Lukács as the “reification of consciousness”. And if we insist that communism is humanism (Marx 1982: 90), and if we claim that the realization of this communism as humanism is possible when we understand how insurrection becomes an art, actualized not by a party or by few heroic people, but by the most advanced class as the “union of free people”, then terror, terrorism and the whole apparatus of violence are said to be absolutely condemnable. Revolutionary Marxism has to be understood as a form of aesthetics, the aesthetics of freedom, where we understand the radical “time of the Now” (Benjamin 1979: 265; see also Jal b: 51), the time for seizing power.

In this site of the politics of the aesthetics of freedom, we shall talk of the emergence of the Red Specter and also say that it is to be understood as a form of a dramaturgy. The Red Specter is related to the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also to that of the sublime and the beautiful that emerged in the period of the French Revolution (especially in German Classical Philosophy). It is also related to the need for a radical praxis that Fredric Jameson and Žižek talk of.  The Red Specter cannot be confused with the drama following 1789, and most certainly not with the Stalinist counterrevolution. Marxism, then, cannot take the same apparatus of terror (army, police, etc.) and wield it for communist purposes. The communist cannot playact Robespierre. Or can they?

            We do not intend to operate in the liberal repertoire at all. Our critique is a Marxist Leninist one. By Marxism Leninism we by no means imply the Indian so-called ‘radical left’ who read the worst literature of Stalin’s pamphlets on Lenin and rebelled against the parliamentary leftists. By Marxist Leninism we mean understanding insurrection as art. Not only would the political repertoire of Marx and Lenin be important, but also the recent debates by Tony Cliff, Lars Lih and Žižek.

We initiate this understanding of revolution and terror with three of Marx’s terms: (1) “openly declare” (erklären es offen): where the communists “disdain to conceal their views and aims, they openly declare” their aims, (2) the “forcible overthrow (gewaltsamen Umststurz) of existing conditions”, and (3) “tremble” (zittern), where the communists make the bourgeoisie led by the popes and the czars tremble in front of the world revolution (Marx d: 63). It must be noted that class struggle involves two forms of trembling: one where the bourgeoisie makes the masses tremble before its rule (recalling Kierkegaard’s phrase from Fear and Trembling “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”—this is the bourgeoisie form of trembling—and the second the Marxist one where the proletariat breaks the hegemony of this trembling and in the Promethean overthrowing of the bourgeoisie gets a “world to win” (Ibid).

Since the critics of Marxism have claimed that Marx himself propounded a form of revolutionary nihilism where the “Great End” could be achieved through any means, and since these same critics have claimed that Marx himself did not have a theory of means, it is best to recall Marx himself who once said that: “an end which requires unjustifiable means is no justifiable end” (1975a: 175). We will keep this idea in mind besides recalling that for Marx communism is to be understood as the appropriation of humanity as humanity (Marx calls it “the appropriation of the human essence” in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) besides also recalling that in On the Jewish Question Marx privileged human emancipation over political emancipation. In this form of reasoning, violence would emanate from the inhuman condition, and communism had to search for other means than those used by the Jacobins, Stalinists and Maoists. More than the figure of Lenin (the alleged creator of “Bolshevik Terror”) it is that of Robespierre that would grip the imagination of the discourse of “Revolutionary Terror”. Besides Robespierre as the theoretician of violence, theories of Žižek would also be important since he is in the last few years been undertaking a philosophical interrogation of terror. Whether he is indeed a celebrator of violence, as critics have said, remains to be seen.  

Lenin’s much talked of “violent revolution” and his claim that Engels wrote a “panegyric on violent revolution” (1977: 275-77) will also be taken into consideration. One will also reflect on Marx’s celebrated reading of force, a reading that clearly does not fit into the genre of liberal politics: “Force (die Gewalt) is the midwife of every society pregnant with a new one. It itself is an economic power (ökonomischePotenz) (1986: 703)”. The reading of this passage from Marx—as I have noted earlier (2012 a: 242-3)—does not collapse Marx as an advocate of violence. I have said there that Marx reads this passage in the text of the primitive accumulation of capital with special reference to the transition of European feudalism to capitalism (Ibid).  In the very same essay (“Reflections on Violence”) I have said that the leitmotiv of Revolutionary Marxism is to learn the art of insurrection—insurrection is the realization of the union of free people. I therefore insist that insurrection is totally different from the politics of terrorism and violence, that violence is a necessary form of bondage, unlike insurrection which involves freedom. Instead one learns to identify violence with business, especially business carried out by the Corporate Neo-liberal State (CNS). One thus learns to identify violence and political terror as a form of what Clausewitz once called “business competition on a great scale” (1909, 1942). In this case it is not only the “war on terror” (the war where the CNS is waging against the tribals by naming their political representatives “single biggest security threat”), but also the counter-war by the Maoists as types of Clausewitz’s “business competition on a great scale”. From the humanist perspective one also has to note Erich Fromm who had said that: “Freud’s formulation that health implies the capacity for love and work is somewhat general, but it clearly implies that a person filled with hate and destructiveness and incapable of loving is not healthy” (1978: 40).

It must be noted that for Marx the paradigm of operation is neither the state nor civil society, but what he calls “human society” or “socialized humanity” (1975c: 30). The chief actor of revolutionary history is this socialized humanity, this grand international multitude that storms the citadels of global capitalism from Tehran to Madrid. It is this space of socialized humanity devoid of the state apparatus that we rethink the problems of Old Revolution, especially that of Robespierre. Remember that for Robespierre, “terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue” (See Žižek 2006), as also the Jacobin claim that without terror virtue would become impotent, just as without virtue terror would become fatal (Ibid). So what does one do with the tradition of what one may call “virtuous terror”?  Let us keep the Indian Maoists in the background and go back to Žižek: “the terrorist past has to be accepted as OURS, even—or precisely because—it is critically rejected” (Ibid). But for that one must “not allow our opponents to determine the field and topic of struggle” (Ibid).

One the other hand, it must also be noted that for Marx the revolution is the self-activity of the working class, and no substitute would be able to able to duplicate this form of emancipatory praxis. So if we are viewing the Jacobin and following it the Maoist theory from the perspective of the dialectics of suspicion, at no way would be propounded a theory of non-violence. Non-violence is not the absence of violence. It is only the other half of violence. One will have to recall Žižek calling Gandhi a “social fascist”. We would not be enthralled with liberal democracy and parliamentary fetishism. We do not say that non-violence is the opposite of violence, or Gandhi the opposite of Stalin. Nor is liberalism the opposite of fascism. Liberalism and fascism are not opposed to one another. Nor is Stalinism opposed to either liberalism or fascism.  

Keeping these themes in mind we will begin with revolutionary terrorism. One knows that the history of revolutionary terrorism is both complex and long. Whilst Robespierre plays the chief character of the revolutionary terrorist avant la lettre, the 19th century Narodniki peasant movement against czarism and the Indian anarchists against British colonialism are mere two examples that one is immediately acquainted with. We will begin with three prominent articulations of revolution and terrorism the first by Walter Benjamin who claimed that the task of the critique of violence is related to the questions of law and justice (1976a: 236), second by Merleay-Ponty who said that: “the Terror of History culminates in Revolution and History is Terror because there is contingency” (1990), and last Žižek who says now that: “Radicals are, on the contrary, possessed by what Alain Badiou called the “passion of the Real”: if you say A—equality, human rights and freedoms—you should not shrink from its consequences and gather the courage to say B—the terror needed to really defend and assert A” (2006). It is keeping this philosophical reflection that we are able to articulate the ideas of revolution and terrorism, as also reflect if there is anything called the “Red Terror”, if indeed prior to the Revolution, terror tactics are permissible, and if after taking power Žižek’s terror needed to really defend and assert equality, human rights and freedoms are necessary. Generalissimo Stalin as the born-again Monsieur Guillotine would be perpetually haunting this essay.

Let us for a moment pause here and reflect on what Žižek says since his thesis would be the reference for articulation:


The Benjaminian “divine violence” should not be conceived as divine in the precise sense of the old Latin motto vox pouli, vox dei: NOT in the perverse sense of “we are doing it as mere instruments of the people’s Will”, but as the heroic assumption of the solitude of sovereign decision. It is a decision (to kill, to risk or lose one’s own life) made in the absolute solitude, with no cover in the big Other. If it is extra-moral, it is not “immoral”, it does not give the agent the license to just kill with some kind of angelic innocence. The motto of divine violence is fiat justia, pereat mundus: it is JUSTICE, the point of non-distinction between justice and vengeance, in which “people” (the anonymous parts of no-part) imposes its terror and makes other parts pay the price—the Judgment day for the long history of oppression, exploitation and suffering (2006).



At the outset it must be noted that despite the brutality of the Indian state against the Maoists—we are referring to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) movement after the unity of the Pople’s war Group and the Maoist Communist Centre—one must stress that the Maoist response, at surface level, seems akin to the old Russian Narodniki movement rather than any sort of Marxist movement. Instead of class struggle, it is the figures of Petr Tkachev and Sergei Nechayev (the advocates of revolutionary terrorism, the latter would be heralded by none other than Bakunin himself) along with Georges Sorel that will haunt this understanding of revolution and terror. Despite this form of “hauntology” (a term made famous by Derrida’s Specters of Marx), where a specter is conjured as haunting India, the specter of revolutionary terrorism, it must be noted that the Maoist movement cannot be written off as a mere infantile disorder. Instead this essay poses the question: “Should one understand the Maoist movement as something to be out rightly written off, or should one read this as a historical materialist understanding that locates the classical questions of revolution, terror and terrorism in a Marxist perspective?”  In this sense would not Robespierre and Nechayev along with Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky be seen again playing out their historical roles? But then would Stalin have a role to play in this re-written text of revolution in the 21st century?  

But if Robespierre, Nechayev and Stalin haunt only parts of India, it is the visual media as the born-again culture industry and the Ideological State Apparatus that accompanies the repressive Indian state in not haunting, but terrorizing people. And with the Indian media, especially the visual one, now being involved in this spectacle of the production of what one may call the “terrible signifier”, involved with their idiosyncrasies and their absolutely meaningless debates, one gets what one can call being plagued by fantasies. We are in this sense plagued by the fantasy of terrorism. If the Yankee Media Industry based on the war-economy had since the apocalyptic 9/11 created this terrible terrorizing signifier and if this fantasy of terror had become staple diet that the Yankees fed the hungry world, we have now the fantasy of terrorism superseding the fantasy of terror. This supplementing of the fantasy of terror by the fantasy of terrorism is because images are always hard to grasp. People need something concrete, not mere terror, but terrorists. Earlier it were the images of the Muslims conjured by the fascist RSS and their liberal friends, where these conjured images of Muslims marching with Babur, razing imaginary “holy temples” and building in their places even more imaginary “terrible mosques” were constructed, now it is the image of the terrifying Naxals who supplement the image of the conjured Muslims. Earlier in the times of the governance of the “party with a difference” the Muslims were seen as the single biggest threat, now in the times of the liberals the single biggest threat to internal security are the Naxals. Naxals, terrible and terrifying Naxals. Gandhians in the times of neo-liberalism, Gandhians with guns! Terrible and terrifying!

It is keeping this theme of the production of the discourse of terror and terrorism that we turn to the discussion on revolution and terrorism. Now it ought to be well known that serious Marxism had and has nothing to do with Stalinism despite the official Indian left keeping the portraits of Stalin and despite serious left historians writing of the proletariat movement as the march-past of the transcendental saints: Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao. That Stalin means the state capitalist counterrevolution against Bolshevism we have already said before (Jal 2011, 2012 b). But where stands Mao and Maoism, especially Indian Maoism? Can one put Charles Bettelheim and Alain Badiou in the same boat as Charu Mazumdar? Would Mazumdar’s theory of the annihilation of class enemies make any sense in the Marxist repertoire or would it be nothing but the tragic replay of the 19 century anarchist movement? Further: should one take Mao as a continuity of the Stalinist counterrevolution or read his Critique of Soviet Economics as a revolutionary text departing from Stalin? Or is it a watered-downed version of Stalinism where bureaucratic substitutionism not only replaced the working class movement, but actively effaced it?  If Stalin was a duplicate and fraudulent Marxism (or an anti-Marxism that spoke in the name of Marx, a counterrevolution that spoke in the name of the revolution), then where stands Mao and the Maoist movement?

Remember that earlier in our essay “On Understanding the Decline of the Established Indian Left” we have said that whilst for Marx the communist revolution implies the immediate abolition of commodity production and with it classes and the state where the union of free people replaces free market system and the state, post-Lenin Marxism saw the preservation of commodity production and with it classes and the state. Stalinism and Maoism would be the best representatives of this complete distortion of Marxism. And even if the Indian Maoists would agree that Stalinism is a partial if not complete distortion of Marxism, that the biggest counterrevolution against Marxism was carried out by Stalin, then where stands Mao, Maoism and the Indian Maoist movement? How would this “terrible signifier” planted onto the tribal resistance movement by the Indian corporates and the state—the rebellion against neo-liberalism as the single largest security threat—be erased?





On Understanding Historicism and Humanism in Gadchiroli.


Seems blasphemous does it not? If the established Indian left (from the CPM to the Maoists) does not seem to have read Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks in Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi (the two texts from where the idea of communism as historicism and humanism along with the idea of the philosophy of praxis emerge), and tried to articulate on what the practical and political meaning of these texts are, then how would it be possible to read these texts in tribal lands that Multi National Capital wants to occupy with brutal force?  There is, as we insist, absolutely no evidence that any of the established left parties (from the CPM to the Maoists) have tried articulating Marx’s theory of reification and dehumanization as a text of international revolution for the complete overthrow of the state apparatus—i.e. the state as state and the immediate abolishing of commodity production and along with it money, classes, caste, patriarchy and nationalism.

            Marx’s humanism (that deals with the species character of humanity) is in the political sense internationalism (which deals with international class struggle). It is not about a rebellion in one district, or the bombing of a convoy of paramilitary vehicles. It is not the transformation of “socialism in one country” into “socialism in one district”. It is also not about the writ of democratic centralists and other substitutes that is enforced onto the masses “from the outside”. And that is why we say that instead of internationalism and mass struggle the following aporia plagues the left movement in India: of mechanical materialist movement of fatalism (the CPM waits like Samuel Beckett’s Godot for the “ripe” movement that never occurs) and the Maoist rage against this mechanics of fatalism in the form of messianic acts, where they want to, “blast open”, to borrow Benjamin’s phrase, “the continuum of history” (1970: 263, 264). In contrast to both the parliamentary contemplationists (the CPM) and the messianic Maoists, Revolutionary Marxism seeks a completely new paradigm of operation. The reinvention of the radical left is found on this new site of operation.

            Thus in order to de-mystify the myths of liberal democracy and to claim that liberal democracy necessarily involves the formation of political blocs where Pranab Mukherjee can coexists with both the CPM and the Shiv Sena, Revolutionary Marxism does not respond with messianic ideologies. The betrayal by the Stalinists of the left movement cannot be overcome with the Maoist barrel of the gun. A psychoanalytic reading of this messianic act claims that this power that flows from the barrel of the gun is in actuality not the site of radical praxis, but its exact opposite: the site of the “lack”. The messianic barrel then is realized as the Lacanian signifier. And it is in this Freudian-Lacanian “lack”, that the Indian Maoist transforms the parliamentary politics of talking and voting, and voting and talking; into the Maoist spectacle of fire bombs and the battle with the police and paramilitary forces.  

            Since we are articulating Marx’s communism as not only historicism and humanism (the phrase as we know it belongs to Gramsci) but also as humanism and naturalism (from Marx’s 1844 manuscripts), we will be taking the theme of “theoretical anti-humanism) that Althusser first raised in For Marx, and then practiced by both the Stalinists and the Indian Maoists. However since we are articulating the psychology of the revolutionary terrorist who risks his or her life, one has to understand how this is possible. For Žižek one has to make the passage from theoretical to practical anti-humanism and comprehend an “ethics that goes beyond the dimension of what Nietzsche called “human, all too human,” and confronts the inhuman core of humanity” (2006). But then one may ask: “does not Marxism completely collapse with this practical anti-humanism, an anti-humanism that seeks almost in a messianic way to comprehend the “inhuman core of humanity”?” Can this “inhuman dimension”, as Žižek calls it, be “at the same time the ultimate support of ethics” (Ibid)?

In order to understand this inhumanity, let us reflect firstly how a certain form of anarchism echoed this form of anti-humanism. It was Charles Baudelaire who said in his famous Lettres  à sa mere: “I will vent my anger in terrifying books. I want to raise the whole world against me. The delight this would give me would console me for everything”. Take Trotsky, in contrast to anarchism, who insisted on the meaninglessness of this form of politics:


The chemistry of high explosives cannot take the place of mass action, we said. Individuals may be destroyed in a heroic struggle, but they will not rouse the working class into action. Our task is not the assassination of the czar’s ministers, but the revolutionary overthrow of czarism.


(Leon Trotsky, 1971).


On pointing these two contrasting points of view: the first one anarchist (and highly child-like) the second as emerging from the understanding of Marxism, we shall come thus to the core of this philosophical and scientific debate. Marx’s humanism involves the articulating the political logic of masses in ferment. In a form of jest we say that Marx’s politics of mass struggle (the philosophy of praxis as historicism and humanism) is “to rap the anarchists”, as Marx once said, “on the knuckles” (1974: 46). And because Marx’s humanism deals with humanity at large and with the direct problems of humanity, one must insist that Marxist Humanism is not is not to be confused with any sort of normative discourse. It is not an “ought’ that imposes itself on the “is”. It is not to be confused with the awful charity that the nuns of the missions of Mother Theresa carry out. It is of course not to be confused with M.N. Roy’s retreat from Revolutionary Marxism, nor to be confused with the humanitarianism that one so oft hears of when the American empire invades and utterly destroys Iraq and Afghanistan.

Humanism does not mean “feeling and doing good”. Humanism is thus not humanitarianism in any possible sense of the word. Instead Marx’s humanism as dialectical and historical-humanist materialism, as a form of revolutionary materialism, is involved in a different practice of philosophy, a practice that locates the central problem of capitalist society as human alienation and the central problem of capitalist psychology as the problem of the estranged mind. Remember this term the “estranged mind’ (entfremdete Geist) is not only central to these 1844 philosophical manuscripts but also involves the studies of the possibilities of a different practice of philosophy.  In this sense Marxist Humanism is a critique of the politics of estrangement (especially a critique of the alienation of the left parties from the masses) of both mechanical materialism (of the CPM variety) and adventurism (the Indian Maoist line).

Marxist Humanism deals with the masses (with their desires, feelings and aspirations), in the regime of class struggle, thus deals with humanity’s species-life. Remember Marx’s humanism is about the human essence (das menschliche Wesen), and thus is about this Wesen, this essence of humanity as humanity as the union of free people. Thus we insist that that by keeping freedom and the species character of humanity as the essence of revolutionary politics, we are at the same time defining the character of Marxist politics. Marxist politics is not about getting into fits of rage, where sadomasochistic violence is made to look like ‘people’s war’.

            So by humanism (as revolutionary humanism that grasps the character of alienation in the world of commodity production), one means the opposition of people to what is called “thinghood”. By “thinghood” one means the transfiguration of people into devouring things, almost types of monstrous killing machines. When we say that humanity is opposed to “thinghood”, we mean that people are opposed to this nonsense of profits as well as opposed to these monstrous killing machines. So by “thinghood” one means the genealogy of commodity production: from the commodity and its dual forms: use value and value to money, capital, classes, world market and the political state; to the state of perpetual imperialist wars. “Thinghood” as the logic of capital accumulation is thus the direct opposite of humanity. “Thinghood” is opposed to the human core of reality. The state as the liberal democratic state is the classical representative of this “thinghood”. Recall the very first pages of Capital: the commodity as the dreaded and monstrous thing (Marx uses the terms Gegenstand, Ding and Sache) firstly detaches itself from people, then loses its material form to take on a spectral one which then not only haunts humanity, but terrorizes the entire world.  Marx’s humanism thus implies the construction of the oppositions: human / thing, socialism / market, people / profits. It is not the opposition: violence / non-violence, Maoism / liberalism, terrorism / parliamentary democracy, that matters. We do not say that non-violence is not a part of violence, nor do we say that terrorism is not a part of parliamentary politics. Instead we say that violence is a necessary part of violence and terrorism a necessary part of parliamentary democracy. To oppose terrorism, even the so-called “revolutionary terrorism”, one does not relapse into the other half of the binary: non-violence, liberalism, parliamentary democracy.

But then, so the critical reader may say: “we understand this philosophy, though we need to read a little more (besides Marx, which we confess we have barely read) of Gramsci, Freud, Fromm and Lacan. But then”, so the critical reader will ask: “if the CIA is active in South Asia that the Mossad are present in India, that the Hindutvawadis in the tradition of Godse are busy reigning terror, and if, so the critical reader may continue, if they are not classified as “the single biggest security threat”, would not the response from those who chose to resist global capitalism have equal right to take up arms?” Further so this critical reader will ask: “what does one do with the revolutionary tradition of Che Guevara, not to forget the Vietnamese movement against American imperialism?” 

            But then so those who chose to read the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 will say that the history of Marxism has always been opposed to individual terrorism, even heroic terrorism against brutal despots. They will call this “adventurist terrorism”. They will say that one bourgeois despot would be supplemented by many more and that “individual acts of terror is an infallible token of the political backwardness of a country and the feebleness of the progressive forces there” (Trotsky). In this sense one cannot, as Žižek seems to try, “to reinvent emancipatory terror” (2006). For the Marxist Humanist will say that besides the continent of alienation discovered by Marx, he also discovers the continent of history and that historical materialism is the new paradigm of operation, a paradigm which sees the tragic play of the Robespierres, Nechayevs and Stalins, where these tragi-comedians pretend to be history (or should we say “HISTORY”) itself.  For a better understanding of this tragi-comedy one needs to understand that:


It is impossible to fool or outwit history. In the long run, history puts everybody in his place. The basic property of terror as a system is to destroy that organization which by means of chemical compounds seeks to compensate for its own lack of political strength. There are, of course, historical conditions where terror can introduce confusion among the governing ranks. But in that case who is that can reap the fruits? At all events, not the terrorist organization itself, and not the masses behind whose backs the duel is taking place (Trotsky 1964: 293).


And since more often than naught, the image of Robespierre and the “Great Terror” in defence of the Revolution appears as the conspirator and since Revolution is transfigured by these romantic “poets of rebellion” where class struggle is collapsed into the struggle between the “Rebel” as the creator of what Badiou calls the “Event” and the state as the destroyers of this “Event”, one needs to point out that in actuality political struggle exists in a vacuum that the Indian state itself has created. In this sense there is an internal dialectic where the Stalinist bureaucratic parties of parliamentary democracy led by the CPM in tandem with the liberal bourgeois state apparatus have both consciously and unwittingly created both the “poets of rebellion” and the political vacuum. It is in this vacuum that this 21st century Robespierre-turned-Nechayev, this Blanqui inspired “Gandhian with a gun”, would turn out to be quite something quite different than the rebel that he or she wanted it to be. This rebel, this postmodern Gandhian not only devoid of traditional ahimsa, but this Gandhian with surplus ahimsa is a master of what Badiou calls (in another context) “disinterested subjectivity” (2005: 55): the Gandhian  disinterested in the objective logic of capital. This postmodern Gandhian—the Gandhian who has mastered Gandhism and gone beyond it—however unlike the parliamentary left does not want to forego of praxis despite being unaware of what the dimension of radical praxis is. The postmodern Gandhian form of unconscious radical praxis is basically in the form of an ethical coup d’état, that both traps liberal democracy as well as enhances it.


Understanding the Ethical Coup


In a way, the Indian Maoist is (despite the brutality in trying to attempt to militarize socialism) a pacifist, what Benjamin called an “ethical anarchist” (1996b: 232-3). Ethics, it must be noted, is part of the Indian Maoist repertoire. In order to understand this form of morality one must note that the ethics of pacifism in the last resort involves a form of brutality, even a form of sadomasochistic pleasure, just as ethics implies a resort to a form of “necessary evil”. After all, even the most exemplar pacifist—Christ—and the most exemplary act of pacifism—the crucifixion—is an act of brutality, if not a form of sadomasochism. So if the Indian state (the “brutal non-pacifist”) claims that it alone has the right to use force, then the Indian Maoist (the “brutal pacifist”) inverses this right and “recognizes the individual’s sole right to use force” (Benjamin, Ibid: 232).

            The ethics of the Indian Maoist is constituted thus: pacifism (in bringing down the violent Corporate Neo-liberal State) is violent, and revolutionary violence is pacifism. But this ethics is the ethics of not only Benjamin’s “ethical anarchist”, but the ethics of the Maoist coup d’état. This coup is not only a political coup; it is also a moral one. For the Indian Maoist, in replaying Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, involves the ultimate risk—the risking of one’s own life to achieve this “Great End”.  The “Great End” can only be achieved through this “Great Coup” (the moral and the political one). In this Grand Ethical Coup, the Indian Maoist frees himself or herself from all restraints imposed by the brutality of the bourgeois reality principle of liberal democracy. For the Indian Maoist (the maxim borrowed from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karmazov): everything is permissible and anything is possible. Neither can liberal democracy, nor the parliamentary left create this “Great Coup” of letting everything be permissible and anything be possible. For both, one has necessarily to live in the shadow of what Žižek calls the “big Other” (2006). Here this big Other is the neo-liberal state. For the Indian Maoists there is no big Other.  The big Other is dead, assassinated in the Maoist coup. Lacan’s phrase “there is no big Other” is realized by the Indian Maoists.

Yet one must insist that Indian Maoism has become irretrievably nihilistic. For the Indian Maoists, unlike authentic Marxism Leninism, it is Blanquism, with its spectacle of coups that drives its political desire. However if Robespierre and Blanqui have their places in history, if Nechayev could inspire Dostoevsky there is a void that one gets caught up in, a void where conspiracy replaces revolutionary practice and where the conspirators’ battle with the police replaces proletariat action. Let us grasp this internal dialectic where the rebel (with Marx’s estranged mind) fighting the police becomes part of the police-state:


The chief characteristic of the conspirators’ way of life is their battle with the police, to whom they have precisely the same relationship as thieves and prostitutes. The police tolerate the conspiracies, and not just as a necessary evil: they tolerate them as centers which they can keep under easy observation and where the most violent revolutionary elements in society meet, as the forges of revolt, which in France has become a tool of government quite as the police themselves, and finally as a recruiting place for their own political informers……. The conspirators are constantly in touch with the police, they come into conflict with them all the time; they hunt the informers, just as the informers hunt them. Spying is one of their main occupations. It is no wonder therefore that the short step from being a conspirator by trade to being a paid police spy is so frequently made facilitated as it is by poverty and prison, by threats and promises (Marx 1978: 319).


What happens after one understands this spurious dialectic is that one also understands that the violent police-state that battles the poets of rebellion (as Marx’s night-police battle thieves and prostitutes) needs this opposition. Recall Marx once again: “the police tolerate the conspiracies, and not just as a necessary evil: they tolerate them as centers which they can keep under easy observation…. (Here they become the) tool of government quite as the police themselves, and finally as a recruiting place for their own political informers” (Ibid). It is keeping this spurious dialectic in mind where the end in scripted by the Indian state that one goes back to this rather strange question: “how does one read Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in Gadchiroli?”

            To this rather strange question we will keep a number of assertions: “Cease being in thrall of Mao’s On Contradiction and On War (and yes these are extremely serious texts, and yes unlike Stalinism which is dead, Maoism is serious, alive and kicking, despite the global bourgeoisie’s hymn to the death of Marxism), cease reading pamphlets, cease being recruited by the tools of government, instead go the basics: read Marx, and yes read Marx in Gadchiroli!

            And what do we find so profound that the rebels who risk their lives against the predator police-state need to know? What one finds is the world of authentic humanity—Marx’s term is “the real, corporeal human being” with its “real objective essentialpowers” (wirklichen gegenständlichen Wesenkräfte)—at the center of revolutionary politics. Instead of violence, we have “human essential powers” (menschlichenWesenkrafte) of the fighting peasants and proletariat on this new scene of revolution. The theme of violence is now transcended for a theory of human essential powers.

So let us go back to the question of how to read the young Marx in tribal lands, lands occupied by Multi National Capital and the police-state. Now those who are acquainted with the Maoist movement in India is that at least since the last two decades there has been no theoretical basis for their movement, unlike the movement in the 1960s and 70s where (despite Charu Mazumdar and Chandrapulla Reddy’s almost embarrassing pamphlets) there was an element of theory, where one discussed the mode of production, where one argued for Amit Bhaduri against Utsa Patnaik) where one had to know that semi-feudalism was an issue that had to be seriously debated. But with the battle with the police, with this battle leading them totally underground (this is what the police-state indeed wants) and with Washington and Tel Aviv inspired not only the Home Ministry but the PMO, then brutal “war on terror” had to be unleashed against the tribal population. Marx’s celebrated “history of all hitherto existing class histories is a history of class struggles” has now become “Indian history is a history of the struggle between the conspirator and the police-state”. And this is exactly what the Washington and Tel Aviv inspired police-state wants. So how does one go beyond this spurious opposition that is determined by the global war economy that is itself determined by late imperialism in permanent crises? And how would Marx’s concept of alienation help in real politics? In order to understand this let us go to Marx’s idea of what is roughly translated as “force” and “violence”. The word that Marx himself uses is Gewalt.



Gewalt as Insurrection.


We said that Marx discovers a new continent of knowledge, literally a “New Physics” (Jal, 2012: 51-2), where Marx’s “different practice of philosophy” takes a radically differently meaning. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 initiates this different practice, though in the doctoral dissertation Marx first alludes to it. We link this different practice with Marx’s readings of what is roughly translated as “force” and “violence”. The word that Marx uses is Gewalt. This term if not literally untranslatable has a polysemy of meanings from power, authority and force to violence.

Somewhere else I had said that Gewaltin the German besides the above ideas also has idealist connotations almost recalling a biblical reading of the “act of God” (Jal a: 242). In actuality, the revolutionary terrorist (despite imagining being an atheist) enacts this biblical “act of God”. Thus it would not be incorrect that those who are evoking the politics of revolutionary violence precisely invoke a sort of Robespierre inspired theology. Marx’s Gewaltis in contrast to this Jacobin ideal. It is the exact inversion of the idealizing messianic meaning common to salvation ideologies. In contrast to Jacobinism I insist that it is the humanist motif in Marx that spells the contours of Gewalt and how this Gewaltis intrinsic to the question of humanity as humanity. Note also how Marx talks of weapons (Waffen) in his philosophical discourse, a conception that is clearly against the Jacobin idea:


Clearly the weapon of critique (die Waffen der Kritik) cannot replace the critique of weapons (die Kritik der Waffen), and material force (die materielle Gewalt) must be replaced by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses when it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp things by the root. But for humanity the root is humanity itself (1975b: 251).


To illustrate now how the philosophy, or should one say ideology of emancipatory terror, now loses its steam when Marx discovers the domain of class struggle and the proletariat as the “universal class”, let us go to another illuminating reading of this delusory emancipatory terror. In My Life Trotsky mentions an anarchist (a village school teacher), a certain Luzin, who derived pleasure from being with hardened criminals when they were in czarist prison. “In prison”, so Trotsky mentioned, “he always preferred to be with criminals and would listen intently to their tales of robbery and murder” (1971: 134). Later Luzin stabbed a police-chief with a knife. “Luzin declared that he had nothing against the man personally, but that he wanted, through him, to strike at the tyranny of the state” (Ibid). Now this analogy with Luzin the school-teacher anarchist combine is important for understanding the Indian Maoists. For one, many of the initial leaders of the Indian Maoist movement had been school-teachers. But what is important with this school-teacher fantasy is of the alchemical act that the anarchist creates by attacking the state. The teacher-anarchist-Maoist stabs a policeman and thus the state has been overthrown, according to the imagination of the anarchist.


The Metaphysics of the Provocateur


The ground from which the once upon a time, what is called the “Marxist Leninist” (the present Maoist movement) movement, sprang has to be investigated. Let us turn to the roots of this debate in order to understand the psychology of the Sergei Nechayev inspired ultra. Now it is well known that the parliamentary left in India has totally and irretrievably betrayed the communist movement. It is also well known that though they pretend to playact Lenin they are only invoking Bernstein –the father of the international revisionist misinterpretation of Marxism. Here one will recall what Žižek—and here rightly—calls the “revisionist fear of seizing power “too soon”, “prematurely”, before the so-called objective conditions had ripened” (1989: 59-60). Bernstein, as we all know, said that revolutionaries are too impatient. Luxemburg answered that the first seizures of power are always premature. One needs, as Lenin had rightly pointed out, dress rehearsals for the revolution. A successful revolution takes place only after a series of premature revolutions fail.

            In India we have the Bernsteins in the forms of the CPI and CPM. They fear the seizure of power. Their talk of alternative politics—an alternative to the Congress and the BJP—is in actuality a fear complex emerging from the dread of taking power. They want (to borrow the Robespierre-Žižekean phrase) a “revolution without a revolution” (Ibid: 59). But then, alas, neither Luxemburg, nor Lenin or Trotsky is present in India. Those who claim that they are “professionals”, even claiming to be “professional revolutionaries” born right out from Lenin’s What is to be Done?, seem more to be the professional conspirators that the young Marx critiqued in the Rheinische Zeitung.  We must have a good look at these “professionals”, and see what happens to these rebels keeping in mind the theoretical crisis that lead to domination of Stalinism, the New Deal and the fascists in world history. It is in this domination of the reactionary forces that the freezing of history suddenly seems to thaw. The ice breaks not with a little crack, but with a big bang. And in this blasting of history, we see what the first glimmer of the critiques of not only neo-liberalism and their brazen messianic capitalism, but also the critique of revisionism looks like. In this critique of neo-liberalism, in this critique of revisionism we see also the repetition of history. The PMO appears as Louis Bonaparte, the Home Ministry and the Salwa Judum as the return of the White Guards. In this site we haven’t yet seen Lenin and Trotsky. Instead it is the 19th century anarchists who have appeared in the jungles of India.

What was the chief function of the 19th century anarchists? It was the abstaining from politics. What is the chief function of the 21st century Indian Maoists? It is the abstaining from politics. Abstaining from politics=anarchist revolution. But then since they do not believe in revolutions ‘automatically’ happening, they turn to conspiracies. There chief weapons are secret societies, secret poetry and fire bombs. They are not revolutionaries. They are the alchemists of the revolution. Some of them have even read Althusser. Most of them have not read anything. Those who have not read anything write a lot. And what they write of? They write of how good Stalin was and how bad Khrushchev was. They say that the latter became a “social imperialist” and how social imperialism is worse than real (i.e. Yankee) imperialism. They also say that anyone who raises weapons against the state is good. And that is why they also supported the Khalistani movement. They once said that the Afghan mujahedeen was good, and how they drove the social imperialists from their country. Fire bombs have replaced even common sense.

            Its propaganda machine talks of how they strike at the enemies of the revolution, mainly directed at the Communist Part of India (Marxist) which once ruled the state of West Bengal for over three decades continuously. The style of the Maoists is like that which Marx critiques in 1849. Let us see what the Maoist in the People’s March. Voice of the Indian Revolution says:


The Naxalite guerrillas have struck again in West Bengal. This time they have struck with clinical precision, proud defiance and of course with vengeance. In the evening of 9 July 2005, the Maoist rebels gunned down three CPI(M) leaders and activists….While walking away, the people’s guerrillas shouted slogans describing the victims as police spies: “All police informers would meet the same fate”……Let us firstly refer to the drama that is being enacted in the course of this action. How is that the Maoist guerrillas, even after the arrest of their leaders, could strike with such ease and carefree manner….? (2005).


One must firstly note that the forces which recently aided and fuelled the Maoists (against the then ruling Left Front government) were the right-wing breakaway faction of the neo-liberal Congress party, namely the Trinamool Congress. It is in this rather strange space that one understands why Marx called this sort of “rebel” claiming to be a “professional conspirator”, the alchemist of the revolution (1978: 318). And who are the professional conspirators? They are, so Marx claims, “democratic bohemians of bourgeois origin, democratic loafers and public house regulars and have as a consequence become dissolute , or characters who have emerged from the lumpenproletariat and bring all the dissolute habits of that class with them into their new way of life” (Ibid: 317). The conspirator thrives on danger, in fact derives aesthetic pleasure from these forces of danger:


Such dangers constitute the real spice of the trade; the greater the insecurity, the more the conspirator hastens to seize the pleasures of the moment (Ibid: 318).


And one must recognize that these alchemists are not interested in organizing the proletariat. Instead (like the true alchemists that they are) they want to bring the process of revolution “to crisis-point, to launch a revolution at the spur of the moment, without the conditions of the revolution. For them”, so Marx continues, “the only condition for revolution is the adequate preparation of their conspiracy” (Ibid).


They are the alchemists of the revolution and are characterized by exactly the same chaotic thinking and blinkered obsessions as the alchemists of old. They leap at inventions that are supposed to work revolutionary miracles: incendiary bombs, destructive devices of magic effect, revolts which are expected to be all the more miraculous and astonishing in effect as their basis is less rational. Occupied with such scheming, they have no other purpose than the most immediate one of overthrowing the existing government and have the profoundest contempt for the more enlightenment of the proletariat about their class interests (Ibid).


What the Maoists, like the alchemists of the 1850s, have done is to sensationalize politics by creating the spectacle of an alchemical revolution. The organization of the Maoists is necessarily secretive, i.e. known to no one but the police. This secretive character brings a certain sort of aura to the organization. Modernity, as one knows following Walter Benjamin, has robbed the aura from the work of art.  The alchemists of the revolution want to retrieve from modernity and go back to the days of the aura. Modernity has created the public space. The alchemists hate the public sphere. Like the Gnostics and theosophists, their doctrine is a secretive one. One here recalls Benjamin’s “metaphysics of the provocateur” (1992: 14), the provocateur who cries for equality, but only constructs a metaphysics of this aborted equality. In contrast to these metaphysicians of provocation one needs a new rebellion and new pursuers of equality.

And yes, “it is the pursuers of equality who rise in rebellion”, and yes: “to punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity”. But then one also has to say that neither is the Robespierreean answer correct, nor the Sorel, or the Nechayev types correct. For they are only bureaucrats turned inside out and they “want to make the masses happy”, as Trotsky said, “without asking their participation….Communist-terrorists, as an ideological grouping, are of the same flesh and blood as the Stalinist bureaucracy.” One has to understand that the crimes of neo-liberalism cannot be solved by their illegitimate children.


The Red Specter


From this understanding of the imaginary terrorist with imaginary terror unleashed on the real terrorist (the state), we make a point: terror is not the same as terrorism.  The state is not terrorized by left-wing terrorism, or by the cult of violence. After all, when liberal democracy is governed by the fetishism of commodities, both the cult of violence and violence themselves, become commodities to be sold in the global market. For the state needs violence, just as the night-police need thieves. The state needs violence just as capital needs labour power to reproduce itself. Violence is a necessary commodity in the bourgeois stock exchange. And, as we said before, “the police tolerate the conspiracies, and not just as necessary evil, they tolerate them as centres which they can keep  under easy observation” (Marx, 1978: 319).

Terror is on the one hand the feeling of dread when confronted by the phantom commodity and the authoritarian state, a feeling of helplessness in not able to do anything before this terrible duo. Terror is also the feeling that the general good cannot be realized. In this sense terror is the same as alienation that the young Marx so profusely wrote of, a project that he never abandoned. This terror—we called it the “terrible sublime” (Jal: 64)—this alienation is the reign of the White Terror, a terror represented by Marx’s celebrated popes and the czars, French radicals and German police spies; the popes and czars who appear in the 21st century as liberals and conservatives, Stalinists and fascists who create their Nandigrams and Gujarats. In order to understand this terrible sublime, it is necessary to go to Jameson’s rendering of the “hysterical sublime” where he talks of “the experience bordering on terror, the fitful glimpse, in astonishment, stupor, and awe of what was so enormous as to crush life altogether… (Here one has) the limits of figuration and the incapacity of the human mind to give representation to such enormous forces” (1991: 341).

And with Marx’s humanism locating the continent of commodity production as the continent which sees the march-past of the ghosts of the dreaded and monstrous things (from the commodity governed by the popes and czars to the state of perpetual wars), we are thus onto the theme of terroristic hauntology. Marx’s radical ontology: where social being is said to determine consciousness, is transfigured in to a hauntology: where this monstrous social machine of capital accumulation de-termines consciousness. Consciousness is not merely determined. It is de-termined or simply terminated. And in this termination of consciousness, we are plagued by these monstrous ghosts of the fetish commodity, and with it the popes and the czars of perpetual wars.

One needs to philosophically put this White Terror in proper perspective. We recall here E.T.A. Hoffmann’s famous short story The Sandman. In this little tale, Nathaniel (the tragic hero of this story) is terrorized by the imaginary sounds that he hears every night, sounds that have been fuelled by the ghostly and ghastly tales made up by his nanny. According to the tales of this nanny, a bird would come from the moon and pluck out Nathaniel’s eyes if he does not go to sleep, and then feed these eyes to her chicks on the moon. This nanny is like the adviser in Machiavelli’s Prince who whispers secret advices to the sovereign. In Hoffmann’s tale, Nathaniel is this sovereign-prince and the nanny is the political advisor. In reality, society is this small lad fed by imaginary and terrorizing happenings, and the state is the nanny-cum-advisor. To come to the point directly, it is the Home Ministry who is the nanny that literally fools us that terrible bird-like terrorists (the postmodern communist-terrorists who refuse to believe in parliamentary democracy and the tales of liberal democracy) would attack civil society, just as ‘evil’ Al Qaeda attacked the ‘good’ Yanks.  

            To demystify this White Terror, to bring this terror from the heavens of alienation and helplessness to the earth of class struggle, Marx christens this form of terror as a “nursery tale” (1975d: 35). The White Terror, in this sense, despite the Hiroshimas, Auschwitzs and Guantanamo Bays cannot be realized without these nursery tales concocted by the modern day popes and czars. If one borrows from Althusser’s repertoire: the Hiroshimas, Auschwitzs and Guantanamo Bays are products of the Repressive State Apparatus, whilst the Ideological State Apparatus constructs these tales that both make possible the Hiroshimas, Auschwitzs and Guantanamo Bays, as well as post-festum, justify them.

            Confronting this White Terror is what Marx calls the Red Specter (1975e: 115), the specter that haunts the popes and the czars, the Home Ministers and the Prime Ministers. Marx’s celebrated “A Specter is haunting Europe, the specter of communism” is precisely this Red Specter. Whilst the White Terror terrorizes, send chills to the world, the Red Specter haunts. It transforms the terroristic haunting of the White Specter into a humanist and revolutionary haunting. It must be noted that the Red Specter is not accompanied by the police and the army but by the union of free people. In this truly Marxist sense, the parliament—the so-called inclusive temple of the democracy of private property and egotism—is attacked by the Red Specter. The Red Specter with its haunting shows to the world that parliamentary democracy, like idealist prattle-talking, is a game for nothing. If nothing comes from nothing, then nothing comes from this parliament.  

In a certain way we come back to the problem of the importance of Marxist theory and the necessity of understanding of dialectics as the algebra of the revolution. We saw before in our critique of the established Indian left (Jal b 2012), that old socialism was haunted by Stalinism and the entire apparatus of state capitalism because the method that they operated on was a formal one borrowed from Aristotle with almost no knowledge of Hegelian dialectics. Old socialism with its old logic operated with the old (class based) apparatus of “empty negation”. It had no idea of the spirit of the “negation of negation” where the proletariat learns the art of expropriating the expropriators.  The Red Specter as terrorizing the terrorists is this negation of negation. It is the act of radical historicizing.

Instead of Nathaniel (society) being terrorized by the nanny (the state), it is now Nathaniel who terrorizes the nanny by simply refusing to believe her nursery tales. The revolutionary proletariat (the un-terrorized Nathaniel) thus learns the art of the aufgehoben in which it transforms reality at a higher level of existence whereby people as the celebrated “union of free people” learn to live without the state (with its terrible nannies) and its repressive apparatus.

            In learning this dramaturgy, the proletariat learns the art of ceasing being fascinated by the fetish of the parliament. They learn that it is this fetish-parliament that pacifies rebellious desire. They know that despite all the jargons of human rights and the blah blahs of charity, celibacy and humanitarian idiocy, it is the dictate of the White Terror and the preservation of private property that is found in this fetish. Instead the communists seek another world, a world different from the state and civil society, a truly public space (Gemeinwesen)—a radical open space—where the revolutionaries “disdain”, to borrow Marx’s phrase, “to conceal their views and aims (1975d: 63).

Marx thus writes the script of unconcealment. The parliament conceals, Marxism un-conceals. It looks into the rational kernel of reality by throwing off the mystical shell. The communists thus celebrate the “forcible overthrow” of bourgeois society (Ibid). This forcible overthrow is unlike the crucifixion performed by the pacifist-anarchist, or the coup of the anarchist-terrorist. Instead it emerges from the realization of the sublime moment of international solidarity, the moment where people feel no need for classes and the state. It is this “New Sublime” that transforms the “hysterical and terrible sublime” into the “humanist sublime” that characterizes world revolutions of the 21st century. And in this sublime moment, the Red Specter finds it has become completely human.

Yes, human, Marx’s human, all too human.







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