The revolution and its distances

Arshile Gorky, Agony, 1947.


Reflections on revolutionary temporality.

The revolution is behind us. It appears diffuse – not because its different names are so, but because it assumes the proportions of a myth before which we are erratic, insignificant consciences. However, if the ephemeris and statues of revolutionaries look at us from a crystal past, we also do not consider the future as the enclosure of what has already happened. We consider it as an unpredictability that includes all modifiable versions of a past tense that plays hide-and-seek with its actuality.

However, the word revolution – contemporaneous with at least the last four centuries, from Cromwell to Cooke – does not have the fame of its etymology (something turning over something), but the prestige of a radical break in history. There is always a search for zero time, the initiatory day, the epiphany. For this reason, many revolutions prescribe from the beginning the cutting of times, what in the usual discourses we call part waters, turned, but, in fact, what breaks is time. Time for water, which, even if you don't believe it, is a complement to time.

It is for this reason that the Paris Commune refers its calendar to that of the French Revolution and this refers to the calendar of nature: time is measured in relation to natural evidence, harvests, heat, mists, etc. One could not say that the revolution is a calendar change, but a different vision of time, a split of linear temporality. Is another, circular one adopted? To a large extent yes, but looking forward to the possibility of giving you “steps” and “overcoming”. This happened with the October Revolution, the month changed to November by the revolutionaries themselves, “westernizing” their calendar conception, the notion of chronology to classify collective events.

But if the revolution is a specific moment in time – at which it halts utopianly – it never ceases to be the object of frustrated preparations and sudden, flourishing opportunities. The professional revolutionary seems to emerge from a previous moment: humanity needs to see itself in another way, a way that it only suspects what it will be. But the constancy of the professional revolutionary makes him see time in a strange way, as a correlation of forces, an objective summation of energies.

Time is a force that cannot be measured, for this reason correlation is a metaphorical gamble. Faced with different moments of these correlations, the imagination acts supposing that today the will of the revolutionary is weak and tomorrow, on the contrary, he will be powerful. For this reason, the documents and speeches of the professional revolutionary can be seen as contradictory, but they are revalidated as he calibrates the different distances he establishes with his material.

If you see the revolution coming, you skip steps. If you look at it from afar, because many mediations intervene, your speeches will speak of conjunctural moments, the sum of different aspects, frenzy full of things and people with which you will never completely agree. Opposite the professional revolutionary stands the revolutionary who does not know of his strength and does not foresee his performance. He is neither a spontaneist nor an intuitionist. There are some certainties about the unraveling of history, the assumption of an emptiness reaches it, not governed by hypotheses according to a linear time or stages that obey with its beginning, the conclusion of what preceded it. He is the son of an unsuspected abyss.

The history of revolutions is the history of the opposition between the professional revolutionary and the revolutionary reconstituted and replaced by the abyss of an unpredictable time. The story of the latter has always been told in the light of the story of the former. Perhaps there will be a time when the equations are inverted, and the “occasionist” revolutionary, the man of the unthought, can narrate what he saw of what could have been his original refuge, that professional revolutionary, who, being always revolutionary, constantly adapted his life to the different walls that, in order to knock down, you always had to measure according to the different distances they offered you. It was the game between the mason with his fixed mortar spoon and the bullfighter who was always calculating, puzzled, a game of always different distances between him and his goal that moves so much, pure animal vibration.

*Horacio Gonzalez (1944-2021) was a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and director of the National Library of Argentina. Author, among other books, of What are intellectuals (Brazilian).

Translation: Silvia Beatriz Adoue.

Originally published in the magazine El Ojo Mocho, year VII, nº 7, Buenos Aires, Spring-Summer 2018-2019.



See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table