Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Balakrishnan's Red Guards

The thing about Balakrishnan and his group is that they were completely inspired by the politics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was a bizarre combination of violent radicalism, self-sacrifice, utter egalitarianism and devotion to the leader - Mao or his representative here on earth. They saw themselves as Red Guards, ready to do whatever was required in the name of the Party. There could be no room for doubt, shades of grey or ambiguity. So, to make sense of what happened to Balakrishnan and his group, you have to let go of any preconceptions you might have about conventional left or far left politics.

And the spark of all this madness was the very real glamour of the Red Guards and the zeal of those who wanted to be like them. People forget that radical Maoism had quite a following in many parts of the third world (as it was then called) - and many of those attracted to Balakrishnan came from those countries. What's more, you didn't just wander into their centre and ask to be signed up. To become a member you had to work hard at it. You had to prove you could be trusted, you had to show ideological purity, exhibit devotion to the group no matter what. All this and put up with the world around you actively telling you that you're crazy. It's the ideal recipe for cultish behaviour.

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