Social Scientist. v 17, no. 194-95 (July-Aug 1989) p. 59.

Graphics file for this page

The Politics of Perestroika: Comments on Kaviraj's Paper

It is difficult to comment on Kaviraj's paper because it is short, suggestive, polemical and contains many points which, within the acknowledged limits of the paper, remain unsubstantiated. It is addressed to all those who profess to be actors on the Soviet stage, the unfolding drama of which they interpret wholly economistically. The paper urges them not to assume the role of 'vicarious participants' and argues further that perestroika needs to be seen in political rather than in pure economic terms. I do not know how many persons in this audience belong to this group. I suspect many have already forsaken the sentimentalism and orthodoxy of the vision that generates such attitudes. But it is difficult to deny that most of us, at least some time, have assumed this posture and viewed the world in this manner, that these have shaped our political identity and coloured our political judgement. At any rate, even if it is not addressed to any real persons in the audience the addressee of this paper might be treated as an ideal-typical construct to help bring into focus some tendencies and prejudices of real people. Whatever the case, issues raised in the paper are alive and well worth serious consideration; we must ask ourselves if it is proper for us to assume the role of actors on the Soviet stage and to view perestroika in a lopsided, economistic manner.

On the first point Kaviraj's advice is unequivocal. We must refrain from making judgements that flew from the perspective of the actor. In this context, Kaviraj relies in effect on a familiar distinction between actors and observers. As participants in the developing course of events we possess a know-how of what is going on, an understanding of what we are doing. To this we can claim privileged access. Whether or not we have consciously formulated this knowledge, it is available to us only because we are actors on a stage that we have ourselves mounted, performing roles we have chosen or at least are aware of, enacting a script we have partly written ourselves. Alternatively, as observers, we silently witness social events, which we may not even comprehend. In the latter, no interpretative judgement is even possible

* Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Back to Social Scientist | Back to the DSAL Page