Blog Post

Don Quixote or Macbeth—Dilemma for Zviad Gamsakhurdia

Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia wrote his work “Dilemma for Humanity” just before his imprisonment in 1977.  This was in the early days of the Carter administration.  Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava were about to be arrested.  The Soviet Union started a crack-down on dissidents and these gentlemen were some of the first on their list.  This was before Lyotard published ‘Postmodern Condition’ and right after Jimmy Carter took office.  There was a big expectation in the beginning of 1977 that the Carter administration would alter capitalism in a more humane direction.  Certainly you can see this in Gamsakhurdia’s writing.  His article that is called “Humanity’s Dilemma’ is very relevant today—since there is no more Cold War, but we have this freshly revealed writing from one of the heroes of this period, who later became the president of Georgia, then was overthrown by the combination of Russian and American forces and died in solitude, expelled and defeated in a bitter civil war.  The worst thing in the tragedy of Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia is that he is often blamed for things that he never said or did.   When he became president practically whole world went against him—this was the time of East-West Union and this Union turned against Gamsakhurdia largely.

But when, we read “Humanity’s Dilemma’, written in 1977, when Gamsakhurdia, who worked in comparative literature, just like Edward Said and was also very well versed in philosophy, was 38 years old.  When reading this article he certainly does not look like the man who was collectively demonized by George Bush senior and Mikhail Gorbachev collectively.  Rather you would understand how right Chomsky is when he talks about “manufacturing Consent’ from mainstream media and political circles.  In fact, Gamsakhurdia, just like Che Guevara was one of the few politicians who universally challenged the idea of imperialism for which he was made to suffer immensely.

Gamsakhurdia talks about the examples of abolitionist John Brown, leader of Civil Rights Movement in America, Marthin Lither King Junior,  Nobel Prize Winner Albert Schweitzer and martyred Georgian Patriarkh, Ambrosi Khelaia.  If you look at this list, it is clear that you are dealing with a very international and cosmopolitan author, who is far removed from nationalism.  In fact, Gamsakhurdia just like Frantz Fanon, knew about the dangers of nationalism and cautioned against it in his earlier writings.

Vulgar naturalism, vulgar materialism, dirt of psycho analysis, Froydism, Racism and the ‘reign of pathology’ —that is the way Gamsakhurdia talks about the world 36 years ago, which is still true.  The author also mentions ‘material Darwinism’ as one of the basic evils of our society together with genetic engineering, idolizing technological progress, racist ethnography, de-spiritualized cybernetics and uncontrolled development of nuclear technologies.     

Is it possible to have the paradise on earth?  Well, Gamsakhurdia’s answer is not easy to detect – on the one hand he is for fighting for better future of humanity with all its force—here is the example of one of his heroes MLK junior, but on the other hand there is some Albert Schweitzer in him too.  Man, who left for Africa, to dedicate himself completely to the poor and needy and to work for them and with them, but not to struggle.  Here is the contradiction—that is a very interesting one—perhaps in many artists, scientists and social movement leaders.  He goes to the basic question of Hamlet—shall we live a full life, which means struggle for justice or shall we go on working quietly like Schweitzer did.  How does one not abandon struggle without being seen as Don Quixote and continue on?  Here he recalls “Faust”, “Don Juan” and Tolstoy’s renunciation. Obviously this matter was so important to Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia that he struggled to define this until the very end of his life, where active political struggle for liberation was always interrupted by exile—internal or external—going to the world of Tolstoy and Albert Schweitzer.   

Here is where he gives a very good analysis of both Marxist-Leninist Socialism and contemporary Western Capitalism.  He is arguing the case against both of them and is looking for alternatives.  He comes out against imperialistic approach, just like Edward Said, who was his contemporary in many ways.   It is extremely interesting how Gamsakhurdia defines the imperialism of both Soviet Socialism and Western Capitalism.

(Soviet) Socialism crated a false ideal of heroism through physical labor, for the reason to degrade the heroism of those who worked for ‘others’.  Leninist socialism took away human consciousness and tried to create a machine out of a human being.  Machine without consciousness is very reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s very eloquent critique of modern capitalism in his “Modern Times’.  This film was absolutely very applicable in the former Soviet Union as much as it was in the West.  Gamskahurdia here is more of a Bergsonian, taking into account the internal role of consciousness.  His Bergsonism also does not exclude the role of science and technology used for the betterment of humanity.   Soviet materialism tried to turn people into pigs, as Gamskahurdia writes in his work, which is very similar to what Capitalist consumerism does.  But it did not succeed to do this, since there is impossible to completely transform and deform the human race.  There are still those who can resist those temptations—some truly intelligent people, who were not disoriented at all—just like “Red Intelligentsia” or “Liberal Intelligentsia”—both of those classes who served Bolshevik and capitalist systems of dehumanization.  The middle line is with the intuition (again Bergson comes to mind) of Nietzsche or Ilia Chavchavadze or the moral foundation of Tolstoy. 

Here again, there is problem identified by Gamsakhurdia – that is pervasive – by the way for the world of today – that is of materialist corruption—that is the reason of the crisis of secularism in the whole world.  Alain Badiou also talks about this kind of corruption in his recent book The Communist Hypothesis, living for the idea and dying for the idea is the main reason of life.  Materialist vision did not provide an incentive even in socialist countries to live – it did not work.  It is also absurd to blame all the problems of Stalinism, even though Stalin’s evil genius has done many wrongs to the idea of socialism, but whoever is familiar with early years of revolution and then it’s complete decline and dissolution ideology will understand very well that there were number of other reasons and among them materialism – whether dialectical or not – was an extremely important factor for the dissolution of the empire. 

Now, we see the capitalist empire at work—and it is also materialistic—just painted over by very superficial religious, and mostly fundamentalist cosmetics.  Show business is trying to take away a real art, philosophy is eaten by the advance of information and everything is being commoditized by the endless onslaught of information and merchandizing. 

“Capitalism openly encourages cult of wealth and comfort” says Zviad Gamsakhurdia in his writing by which it goes against high ideals of humanity.  Many business owners prefer their own ‘sound business’ to the well being of their neighbors—and appealing to the sense of charity is another form of demagogy.  Charity does not substitute to our obligation of care about ‘the other’. Capital should serve the humankind—not vice versa.  Unfortunately, today Gamsakhurdia’s words are even more truthful than when he wrote them in 1977.  Capital is enslaving more and more people and entire countries and under a billion people are at the edge of starvation.   Several days ago, a child died from malnutrition in Georgia and society was shocked to discover that 77 thousand kids are starving in this small country.  But wealthy capitalists live well beyond highest standards of living.

“People in capitalist countries should overcome snobbism, love of comfort, cult of profit and consumerism and people in socialist countries should overcome their fear, their ego-centric closed mindedness, civic irresponsibility...’—These words talk to all of us today.  Whether we live in the ‘developed’ capitalistic society or in the country like North Korea, where its leader is actually acting as an irresponsible child, who is playing with the war machine like a toddler, or we reside in openly bourgeois culture where consumerism is the only contemporary God. 

Also, here again Gamsakhurdia talks about the ‘intelligentsia’ that is criticizing the system of oppression at home, but wouldn’t say a word in public—whenever there is a risk to lose a job. He recalls George Orwell when he talks about intellectual elite that is being fed by system.  Chomsky’s writings about ‘liberal intelligentsia’ and how they participate in ‘manufacturing consent’.  This class of people forms a clique that is united by their double standard—they criticize the system at home or in the circle of friends, but whenever someone starts openly fighting with this system of oppression they call these kind people “Weird”, “Don Quixote” or other names to degrade the ones who fight the system.  When you really take the side of the oppressed then the time comes for punishment by your own sect—intellectuals.  They are the first ones to defend the system and declare the rebels ‘weird’.   

This situation still continues on.  There is no real challenge to the system.  Excerpt, “Occupy movement’ had a very good beginning two years ago.  But it needs a new starting point again.  Zizek and Badiou come here with their militancy – perhaps we do need militancy today to challenge bourgeois consciousness—the state of mind of total ego-centrism. 

At the end of his life Gamsakhurdia tried to become militant nonviolent figure in politics.  He was even overwhelmingly elected as Georgia’s president.  But in 8 months since his election in May 1991, he was overthrown by military coup led by “liberal intelligentsia’, who asserted that Gamsakhurdia was not fit.  Then he had to leave for an exile—no Western country accepted him and he lived in Caucasian mountains, in Chechnia.  He returned to Georgia to lead his supporters in short civil war and was found dead, completely alone, at the New Year’s eve of 1994.  His story is a tragic story of an idealist, who was punished because he was an idealist.  Conformist majority of ‘liberal intelligentsia’ killed him.  Poet and teacher in comparative literature, who adopted idealist principles, died as Don Quixote abandoned even by his most loyal troops—alone—with his poems and works at his hand.  Perhaps some of his critics are right and politics was not his place—but he could not stand aside—that is also right.  Did he make mistakes when in power?  For sure, he did, just like everyone.  But the fact is revealed today with the publication of this work, that he was not the guy dedicated to ‘identity politics’ as many are trying to portray him, but he was a cosmopolitan thinker, who cared about humanity as a holistic body.

One thing that is very interesting—Gamsakhurdia was writing this work when Delueze and Guattari have already published their Capitalisme et Schizophrénie and he was a good example how the system made a fool out of him.  He was killed as a crazy man, even though he did not commit any crimes as a president.  He was blamed for lots of different expressions or phrases, but in the end most of those accusations proved to be false.   “Crazy militant’ who did not agree with the standard dream of possession and domination and who famously told his surrounding “I was not elected president to kill people, that is not my business”—was killed himself. 

Almost 20 years passed since the moment when Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia died his tragic death.  One thing that he succeeded was that he inspired new type of idealism.  Many of his supporters who were poor and desperate, went to support the idea.  Just like in Alain Badiou’s ‘Communist Hypothesis’, that the philosopher needs to tell people to live for the idea and die for the idea.  Well, Gamsakhurdia lived for the idea and died for the idea.  And he gave an example.  It is viewed differently by different people, but it seems that few are indifferent to his personality.  That makes his work even more interesting.

Irakli Zurab Kakabadze's picture
Born in 1969, Irakli Kakabadze is a Georgian writer, performance artist, peace and human rights activist. His first prize was awarded in 1990 by the TSISTAKRI MAGAZINE for the best creation of 1990 - Allegro or Chronicle of one Year. In 2009, he was awarded the Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Prize. Kakabadze's articles and stories have been published in Georgian, Russian, and English newspapers and magazines. In 2007 he received the Lilian Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch. From 2008 to 2012, Kakabadze was based in Ithaca, NY, where he developed a new method of integrating performing arts and social sciences, called "Rethinking Tragedy" or "Transformative Performance." Kakabadze has also pioneered a multi-lingual and multi-narrative performing style, called Polyphonic Discourse. Irakli Kakabadze's work as an artist-activist is subject of an American verite documentary At the Top of My Voice filmed by Indian American Director Sudhir Venkatesh and Larry Kammerman. In May 2008 Kakabadze shared a stage at PEN World Voices Festival in New York with György Dragomán, Hasan Elahi, Asli Erdogan, Péter Esterházy, Chenjerai Hove, Jenny Marketou, Ivy Meeropol, Francine Prose, and Ingo Schulze, at the Writers and Artists Against the Surveillance State. In November 2008 at the Miami Book Fair Kakabadze shared a stage with Sarah Mkhonza, Russell Banks and Derek Walcott to perform another piece of Polyphonic Blues. Kakabadze has performed his polyphonic style of poetry at the Frankfurt Book Fair (2009) and “Free the Word” in London (2010) (23). At the 2010 “PEN World Voices” Festival in New York Kakabadze performed Polyphonic Discourse at the Cabaret Show that featured the author with Natalie Merchant, Ben Okri and Ariel Dorfman. He has performed at many literary and peace festivals including in Berlin (2014), Palma De Mallorca (2016), Valencia (2016), ext. His book 'Umberto vs Ernesto' or 'Marginal Delirium' was published and has introduced polyphonic discourse in December 2013. In 2017 publishing house 'Intelekti' has published another book of his essays "Love Doctrine" that is highly influenced by the works of Mahatma Gandhi.