02 July 2004

Naipaul on Revolutionary Disillusionment

PAYDAR, GROWING UP in poverty in the poor northwest, was possessed by the idea of revolution From an early age, he was tormented by what he saw every day and every night of the suffering of his widowed mother. She stitched clothes and made socks and stockings for a living. and often sat at her machine until two in the morning.

In time Paydar joined the Tudeh communist party. The Tudeh hoped to ride to power on the back of the religious movement, and in the early days of the revolution it was the policy of the party to adopt an Islamic camouflage. That was easy enough: the themes of justice and punishment and the wickedness of rulers were common to both ideologies. But the Tudeh party destroyed itself. It gave a Soviet-style apparatus to the Islamic revolution. and then it was destroyed by that apparatus.

Ali, in his provincial factory-shed jail in 1980 and 1981, had seen the beginning of the roundup of the left. Though the enraged communists in the political section of Ali's jail were still threatening to hang Ali outside his house when they came to power, their day in Iran was really over. Two years later, in 1983, the Tudeh party was formally outlawed by the government. And two years after that. Paydar, who was in hiding, like the surviving members of the party, was hunted down and taken away to a jail outside Tehran.

Paydar didn't know then in what part of the country the jail was; he didn't know now. For two months, as he calculated, he was kept in something like a hole, without a window, "without a speck of light," and questioned. And it was in that darkness and intense solitude, that disconnectedness from things--at first in the hole, and then in a cell with fourteen others, where he spent a further year--that he began to think dispassionately about the idea of revolution that had driven him for so much of his adult life. And he arrived at an understanding--especially painful in the circumstances--of why he had been wrong, and "why revolutions are doomed to fail."

"I thought that people are much too complicated in their nature to be led in a simple fashion, with a few slogans. Inside ourselves we are full of greed, love, fear, hatred. We all carry our own history and past. So when we come to make a revolution we bring with ourselves all these factors in different proportions. Revolutions have always disregarded all these individual differences."

So, in the jail, he had rejected the idea of revolution. It had been his great support, the equivalent of religion; and no other idea quite so vital had come to him afterwards. He was like a man in whom something had been extinguished. He was a big man from the northwest. It was possible to imagine him full of fire. Now he was strangely pacific; his suffering, old and new, was always there to make him watch his moods, consider his words, and make him take the edge off passion or complaint. He was trying now--exposed as he was, and liable to be picked up again at any time--to make a cause out of his privacy, his family life; though day-to-day life was hard, and in the economic mess of revolutionary Iran, and with the decline of the currency, the value of his earnings as a teacher went down and down.
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 179-180

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