Vijay Prashad: Marx and Tolstoy Helped Me See the Limits of Liberalism

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Dandelion Salad

TheRealNews on Aug 6, 2013

On the second episode of Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Vijay Prashad talks about growing up in India and coming to the realization that liberalism could never eliminate poverty.


The Real News Network
Aug. 6, 2013


But before Marx really took hold of my imagination, one of the books I bought from Progress Publishers was a book by Tolstoy called Resurrection. And it’s a book that’s very rarely read now. But it really affected me deeply, for a simple reason. The story is about a prince, somebody from an elite background who visits a relative and in the visit rapes or has some sort of sexual encounter with a servant. It’s not clear in the novel whether it’s consensual or–what is consent, after all? But it’s–they have sex. And this woman–then the servant is pregnant. And her life from that minute falls apart.

Now, what’s amazing about the novel Resurrection is that this Prince is the best kind of person, and he tries his best to help her. In fact, at one point she is sent off to the Gulag. You know, the Tsar’s courts condemn her to Siberia. And he rides his horse alongside the Gulag train, you know, as they are walking in their caravan, and he wants to help, and she keeps telling him, get out of my life, because you can’t help me. And what that novel–you know, and of course he can’t help her.

But what that novel demonstrated to me very powerfully, much more powerfully than, you know, English fiction, much more powerfully, was the futility of even the best liberal person. You know, you just–your good intentions just cannot help you get out of the mess that the world is in. That really affected me deeply, that however well-intentioned you are, however many blankets you hand out to people, however nice you are to people of different class backgrounds, your personal good sense, your personal character is not going to help us transform the hideous atrocities that happen in the world, and often the hideous atrocities that happen because of things we do, not knowing that we’re doing something hideous.




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