Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pondering the Arab Revolution

There are a lot of meditations to make as the Arab Revolution reaches its second month of age. 

First of all, there are no clear boundaries and we cannot even contain it in the frame of the Arab World, as it is interconnected not just withe other Middle Eastern areas like Iran or Djibouti but also throughout the World. While the energy, accumulated for so long, of the Arab Revolution is immense, it is not really different to what has been going on in Europe, Latin America or South Asia, in each place in its own specific parameters and with its own specific rhythm. 

This fact alone, that we are witnessing and maybe taking part according to our means in the first Global Revolution ever, is amazing and hard to comprehend. I was a few days ago mentioning to the Moroccan guy at the nearby kebab restaurant that the revolutionary wave was bound to reach Morocco and he wanted to believe that reforms by Mohamed II were already enough to contain this wave of anger. Reality proved me right, at least to some extent. 

And I do not think this is over at all. Now the focus is on Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Algeria but tomorrow can be anywhere else, including Egypt and Tunisia, where the revolution is anything but over. Not yet. 

I think that there are three main issues to ponder about: 
  • the revolutionary nature of the processes so far most advanced in Tunisia and Egypt (as there at least the main figureheads of the respective regimes have been deposed)
  • the cases of the "anti-imperialist" regimes of the area, namely Iran, Libya and Syria
  • where can this go to

Revolution or uprising?

Some people, including James Petras, argue that these processes are not revolutions but mere popular uprisings. Why? In Petras' words:

It is a popular uprising which just displaces the old dictator but that, with the military intervention becomes a palace coup, a military barracks' coup.

True, very true. But since when is that the measure of the world revolution. There have been many unfinished revolutions which have however acquired and kept that name. For example, if we limit ourselves to the case of early 20th century Europe, there was only one triumphant revolution, the October Revolution in Russia, but the February Revolution, the 1905 Revolution, the German Revolution, the Hungarian Revolution, the Spanish (or Catalan) Revolution of 1936 and even the1968 Revolution in France and Czechoslovakia have all kept that name, even if they were unable to change things radically and in many cases ended up in reactionary regimes. 

This is also the case of the 19th century: the 1832 and 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune of 1871 also ended with limited achievements or even reactionary repression. But that does not make them less revolutionary, and they did have an impact even where they failed. Reaction is ultimately powerless because it is pointlessly utopic in its nostalgia of a long gone past and lacks of a radical criticism of the main engine of change (by means of corruption and decodification): Capitalism. 

So, rather anomalously, I have to disagree with Petras: what happened and is still happening in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere in the region is a Revolution and will be recorded as such in the annals of history. Another thing is how much change and in what direction can the Revolution achieve but there is no doubt of the revolutionary nature of the process, regardless of whether it is immature, headless, disorganized or whatever, and regardless of whether the System tries to canalize the revolutionary wave into a mostly harmless Gattopardian transition. This should be no surprise regardless that we cannot be, of course, satisfied with this limited or even meaningless outcome: it was something predictable considering the objective conditions or relative lack of organization of the People and the interests of the oligarchies.

However Petras is right when he says that the outcome is very bad (so far): much worse than any transition that happened in Latin America.

But for that very reason I understand that the Arab Revolution is still a long way from its end: because the changes are not even remotely what the People wants and therefore the revolutionary wave will be recharged from its feedback of frustration and anger against such despotic and oppressive rulers. 

Let's not forget that waves are not lineal but cyclical: they come and go. And this wave is far from having exhausted its energies. 

The 'anti-imperialist' regimes: Libya, Iran and Syria

Last week I had a quite heated discussion with some Stalinists lost in fantasies of geostrategical balance nonsense who arbitrarily supported the Iranian regime for one single reason: it is formally confronted with the US Empire. It did not matter to them that communists, among many others, are being persecuted under the Islamo-Fascism, for them all revolved only to what is favorable or opposed to the Empire.

They did not seem to realize that even in a centralized empire, some governors and provinces would be most pro and some would be more against whoever rules at the center. It's quite trivial seen that way alone. Anyone who is actually political and revolutionary cannot be blinded by such narrow-mindness pretending to be geostrategy, much less revolutionary geostrategy.

What really matters is how much each political system is able to approach the ideal of Popular Power, which is exactly what the word Democracy means. Specifically, we, as communists, emphasize Popular Power not just in the political aspect, that also, but specially in the economical aspect, which cannot be detached from the rest as happens under the Capitalist system of exploitation. 

Being communist is after all nothing but being radically democratic and demanding Popular Power, democracy, in all aspects, political and economical alike. 

This is the North that a good deal of the Socialist Movement lost with the Russian Revolution and specially with its Stalinist degeneration. As I said in that debate, for me Stalin is as good as Oliver Cromwell can be for a Liberal: he had some reason maybe but really missed the point a lot after all and cannot be considered a valid reference in the end.

To the point: should we therefore defend the regime of the ayatollahs? No way, please: they are totalitarian fanatics who repress communists, atheists, workers, women, homosexuals and everything that is natural and good in us humans. We cannot accept that shit and we, or at least I, hope it falls down soon and is replaced by something at least slightly better, whatever it is. 

Similarly we cannot support the Taliban, who were fed by the USA and Israel to destroy the Afghan way to Socialism, and if we can maybe at times support Hamas is only because they are much more reasonable and intelligent, do not practice widespread repression, and, in any case, are the democratically elected government of Palestine (and not those white-only PM Netanyahu and bantustan's Uncle Tom dictator Abbas).

What about Libya? In truth I was never able to understand the pretense of the Libyan regime. I have even read the Green Book (Gaddafi's theory on socialism, essentially junk) and knew once someone who had been in Libya and found the regime rather ridiculous. I recall that the late USSR declined to accept Libya in the Socialist economic bloc (CAME) because they did not find it serious enough even to be an observer. Considering that South Yemen, Afghanistan or even something so socialdemocratic as Sandinista Nicaragua, were observers, it means that they had already decided, for a reason, that Gaddafi was not trustworthy.

When Gaddafi was among the few rulers in the region openly opposing the ousting of Ben Ali, it became clear that he felt threatened in his role of "benevolent dictator" o maybe not so benevolent after all, considering what we see now, when he is massacring the Libyan People by the hundreds, even apparently sending air force fighters against them. 

The remaining anti-imperialist case is Syria. Syria has some peculiarities that may make it a case worth defending up to a point, unlike the other two:
  • A bit like Morocco, or maybe even more, the current ruler has implemented some reforms. El Assad is quite popular in the country and the guilt of the wrongs are typically thrown, maybe with reason, to his entourage, largely inherited from his father's time.
  • Sirya is the only Pan-Arabist and rather Socialist state remaining in all the region. Unlike in Iraq where Baathism fell in the hands of a right wing militarist faction, in Syria it has been all the time the left wing of this party which has ruler. Yet this difference may be too subtle for most. In any case it is a modernizing and rather socialist, nationalist and secularist system, not the macabre cemetery of the ayatollahs. 
  • Syria is a real balance to Israel. Much like Cuba can justify to some extent its limitations because of the constant aggression of the USA, Syria can do the same because of the systematic confrontation with the apartheid Zionist colony of Israel. 
I would not risk much for the Baathist regime in Syria but at least I am not going to criticize it mercilessly as the other alleged "anti-imperialist" states. Similarly I believe that Syrians themselves are more likely to be comprehensive towards the regime for the very same reasons: it is not a mere corrupt banana republic like Egypt or the rest but is actually delivering to its citizens even if in a paternalistic and authoritarian way. 

Also it is much more critical to balance the main threat to the region: Israel, and to keep so far a secularist Arab nationalist model, which may be rooted in the past century, but is still the best that the region has produced since memory can recall. Maybe if the revolutions in the other countries can outperform Syria in the way of Popular Power and, critically, delivery to the People (by the people but also for the people), then the regime of Damascus will become obsolete and will need replacement but so far it does not seem to be the case. For that reason also I do not expect a revolution in Syria either, nor does any analyst I have read so far. 

Where is this going?

I think that the most important effect is the formation of a Popular consciousness among Arabs (and others) a notion that themselves as People(s) are subjects and not mere objects of their destiny. This alone is critical and worth all our support. 

But of course this self-respect, this dignity, this empowering, will be greater the deeper (and more positive) the changes they do accomplish. So it's not a mere matter of demonstrating power (also) but also a matter of self-organizing into power. 

Probably this is what Petras has in mind when he thinks of a Revolution: self-constitution of a People into a sovereign political entity. But that has already happened, even if so far maybe only to a limited extent, in the dramatic revolutionary pushes we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt and even in Libya now. 

When the Tunisian demonstrators realized that they could overcome the police and they actually did overcome them, they performed a revolutionary constitutive act of great value. Even if just for a moment they were effective Popular Power and learned that they can be that and not just pushovers for the police and their all-powerful boss. 

When the Egyptian demonstrators did the same in Cairo and took over Tahrir Square and retained it for more than a week, they also became, even if briefly, a constituent Popular Power and sowed the current revolutionary continuity in form of strikes and further protests (no, it is not over at all).

They are revolutionary processes, Revolutions, no doubt, even if the results so far are still far from where they should. Even if the transitions in Latin America were maybe more daring (???), there were no such revolutionary pushes in that area, maybe with some exception that I can't recall. The people of Chile did not take the center of Santiago to oust Pinochet and Pinochet managed to stay in Chile until his death by natural causes with just minor judiciary nuisances in spite of his many crimes and most evil aura. Same for the other countries as far as I can tell. At least in Tunisia and Egypt, they have sent their "Pinochets" out of the country - that alone is something that was never done in Chile or neighboring countries, much less via popular uprising. 

So yes, the Revolution is unfinished. And as long as it remains unfinished it will keep going on. I doubt very much that Egyptians, Tunisians, etc. will be satisfied with mere makeup reforms. Hence we can and should expect new episodes of these revolutions, in parallel to an extension in the geography and scope of the demands. 

Also in parallel, we should expect an increase in the self-organization of the peoples involved. These processes forge cadres, which in turn forge socio-political movements, which in turn become the head of the new phases of the Revolution.

There will be ups and downs but Pandora's box has been opened: Arabs are now masters of their own destiny and they know it.


  1. "1st Global Revolution ever"

    It is regional rather than global, IMHO, and has precedents that are very strongly driving it, such as the fall of Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe, the widespread abandonment of European colonies in and around the 1960s that caused these nations to come into being as independent states, the American Civil rights movement, the independence movement in India (which has been expressly adopted as a model by the foregoing), and the wars of independence in Latin America.

    The notion of change brought about by mass gatherings is also older than one might think. Traces of that political concept are found, for example, codified in the provision for papal successions to take place by acclaimation, in lieu of election by Cardinals, should the moment present itself. This, in turn, acknowledges older historic traditions.

  2. While the explosion of anger is very much regional (or rather national, if you consider Arabs as a nation, what makes much sense), we cannot consider these revolutionary processes detached of what is going on almost simultaneously and almost for the same reasons and even in similar forms all around Planet Earth: Latin America, Anglo-America, Europe, South Asia, SE Asia... and possibly East Asia soon as well if we are to judge by the panic in Beijing.

    The parts are not detached from the Whole, even if they are autonomous to some extent.

    If you wish to compare with the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the 90s, I can concede that there is some similitude but we cannot ignore that all those dictators or most of them belong to the Western Bloc: the US Empire, and indeed most of the revolutionary processes are happening by default within the Western Bloc.

    I have more than once argued that this Western Revolution is long overdue and that the huge economic crisis of 2007 and later years (unsolvable in Capitalist terms) is the frame in which it must and will happen. In which it is already happening.

    "... change brought about by mass gatherings"...

    It is not really the case, the Egyptian revolution was and is going on largely outside Tahrir Sq., which was only a manifestation of a much deeper and longer process.

    Your example of positive plebisicitary election is quite different from that or negative revolutionary toppling. I am sure that no Medieval (nor Modern) charter provided for the toppling of any authority by popular uprising, yet it happened and it has become more and more common as society is more effectively coordinated (i.e. since the printing machine and now the Internet).

    But that is called a Revolution and is not something for the mentality of the lawyer because it is the disruption of all laws and specially all executive and judiciary power other than that directly exerted by the masses spontaneously. Revolution is not and cannot be regulated by law, yet it is at the origin of all legal frames because it is the archetypal constitutional process.


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