Why Revolutions Stumble and Fall

Written By: - Date published: 12:28 pm, February 15th, 2011 - 25 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, class war, community democracy, Deep stuff, democratic participation, equality, International, political alternatives, political education, Politics, socialism, unemployment, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

When the regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled, it wasn’t surprising that no democratic alternatives to Soviet ‘one man’ management systems had been developed by the people prior to the collapse of the regimes. So there were no examples of democratic management or instances of democratically run organisations that could be expanded,developed and applied over society in general. Consequently, the peoples of Eastern Europe were powerless in the face of predatory western corporations and financial institutions.

Unlike the former dungeon states of the USSR that were ‘transitioned’ to capitalism via external influences, the Arab world has nowhere to transition to. They have been under the yoke of western interests for a long, long time.

That aside, as the regimes of the Arab world are subjected to pressure from below, the same problem exists there as did in Eastern Europe. The people have no readily available and substantive democratic options.

Some people in Tahrir Square may well be speculating how to run and maintain public transport systems democratically; or what a democratic medical system might look like and how it might be administered and run; or how to organise democratic workplaces; or how to develop communities democratically; or how democratic principles might interact with the building and maintenance of necessary infrastructure; or how policing could embody democratic principles; or how the army might be democratically structured. But since they have no experience of organising and acting democratically, any actions they might take will be overwhelmingly  informed by old ways of thinking and old habits.

So, in line with Eastern Europeans, Arabs may well achieve multi-party elections for parliamentary rule, but the foundations and framework of the old regime (financial, political and institutional) will remain in place.

Meaning that hunger will remain. And unemployment will remain. And former arrangements with foreign governments will be honoured by any incoming administration. For an example of crushed dreams or thwarted aspirations, one need only look at the so-called revolution in South Africa where the ANC’s political ambitions (and those of the people) were neutered by an old guard who secured themselves the real seats of power in the financial sector. It’s a case of “He who holds the purse strings…” and the Arab world, like South Africa or Eastern Europe is financially and firmly locked down and in place.

This is very different to the prospects for peoples in Latin and South America where experiments in substantive forms of democracy are well under way. These experiments involve developing institutions that will amass their own distinct institutional memories and allow the people of the region to gain knowledge and habits of democracy. And every step in the development of this new, substantively democratic culture is accompanied by a back step on the part of the old model of organising; a weakening in the hand of corporate and financial elites.

And so, if for some reason or other, the peoples of Latin and South America find themselves gathering in their own ‘Tahrir Squares’, they will have applicable and practical democratic alternatives in their armoury. And crucially, they will have the ‘hands on’ experience of behaving or acting democratically – experience that people across Eastern Europe lacked and that people across the Arab world lack.

In terms of our own situation, we might want to reflect on our own democratic experience and ask how we would or could move forward from our own Tahrir Square moment. There is no spontaneous ‘raising of consciousness’ that will allow us to suddenly act as fully functioning and empowered citizens in a democracy. It takes time. It takes practice. And in that space, if it is during times of crisis, traditional forms of power, informed by established thought processes and habits, will simply be reconstituted and re-asserted.

The fact of that matter is there for all the world to see at the moment in North Africa and the Middle East.

25 comments on “Why Revolutions Stumble and Fall”

    • Bill 1.1

      Jeez. An unsubstantiated statement and a link. If you think my analytical framework is stuffed, explain why rather than indulging in troll like behaviour.

      I did read the link. And by and large, the conclusions are the same there as in the post.

      • dave brown 1.1.1

        There is nothing in common between yours above and the Communist Workers League of Argentina’s article.

        First, the restoration of capitalism in SU, EE etc were counter-revolutions because the gains of the 1917 revolution were wiped out. Workers did have a democratic option which was to kick out the Stalinist bureaucracy that had usurped power and recover political control of state property. Unfortunately the uprisings against the Stalinists were steered towards ‘bourgeois democracy’ with the tragic consequences you note. But it is false to take the view that Tahrir Square can be put in the same category as the fall of the Berlin Wall. One is a revolution in process, the other was a counter-revolution.

        Second, the national revolutions in Africa that broke out immediately after WW2 went so far but as Fanon said, they succumbed to Western neo-colonialism and the assasination of socialist leaders such as Lumumba. There is a revolutionary history that can be uncovered in the current uprisings. So what we see in North Africa today are the continuation of these revolutions as the successor crony regimes are under attack by the masses. Will these revolutions again lead to a dead end of new dictatorships still serving imperialism, possibly, but not necessarily. Certainly not because there is no ‘democratic model’ to draw on. Revolutions produce a profound workers democracy as we saw in Tahrir square. The power of the working class which is only now being mobilised in Egypt can split the base of the army from the officer caste and take power. So the goal of the national revolution can be realised as a popular socialist revolution with its own workers democracy. The halting of the national revolution is not due lack of democracy but its suppression by the counter-revolution.

        Why is Latin America so different from Africa? The populist regimes that threw up nationalist leaders like Peron are no different in kind from say Nasser’s or Ben Bella’s regime. Latin America has yet to complete its national revolutions too. You could argue that the Bolivarian movement is an advance on anything that Africa can offer today but it still has to go a long way to go before the masses take control break the ties with imperialism and go all the way to socialist revolution.

        In each of the examples you use there are revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces interacting. How far the revolution goes is not decided by a lack of democracy, but by counter-revolutionary suppression of the unity and democracy of the working class and other oppressed classes. A closer look at what is still happening in Egypt and still building from Algeria to Yemen will show this to be true.

  1. joe90 2

    A NY Times article about the use of social media to organise and rouse the youth of Egypt and Tunisia.

    They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.

    • Bored 2.1

      Read that this morning: I was left with the feeling that the NY Times would say anything to give credit for events to the Americans…..cynical of me but…..

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        Although to be fair, the local Google exec who helped them (and who was put in solitary for 12 days by the authorities) made sure that they utilised all the latest branding approaches and viral marketing.

      • joe90 2.1.2

        Cynical…perhaps..yet impossible without the ideas and technology..

        • Carol

          Others give some credit to Al Jazeera for broadcasting, and posting online, images,videos and reports about the protests daily. AJ, though focuses on the role of social networking in the uprisings. I think there’s a bit of both.

    • Bill 2.2

      Getting people to gather on the streets using electronic means is…well, I don’t see what everyone gets so excited about. Putting up posters used to work just the same but was admittedly limited by cost and time constraints.

      It’s what happens once people have gathered, or after people have gathered, that matters. No amount of texting or twittering or whatever facilitates a roiling flow or exchange of ideas and/or experiences that can aid a better understanding or lead to better informed or democratically inspired actions.

      • joe90 2.2.1

        Sure Bill, perhaps social media is the new poster but this time they’ve been pasted up during daylight hours and won’t be torn down or painted over before anyone sees them.

        • Colonial Viper

          Plus harder to detain someone from over the interwebs 🙂

          And when you search them they aren’t carrying pails of glue and stacks of seditious posters 😀

  2. Bored 3

    Perceptive comments Bill, there are as you mention realities that transcend the euphoria of changing a regime. Looking at the French and Russian revolutions both, like Egypt’s were based upon the masses of the people suffering whilst an elite sat like fat cats untouched above. Common to all three was as you mention was a bread crisis, and behind that a financial crisis.

    Like you I noted that the reality the morning after you have celebrated the downfall of the regime (that you held responsible for your hunger) is that you are still hungry. It is this demand to alleviate conditions that warped the French and Russian revolutions into their respective terrors and tyrannies. Resolving the issues takes time and reorganization, and the demand is immediate.

    If the West and the US in particular wish (for reasons of empire etc) for the Egyptian revolution to avoid a fall into anarchy and terror they would be well advised to ensure that the masses are fed.

  3. Colonial Viper 4

    Our own Tahrir Square moment

    Funny, that’s what Trotter just wrote about


  4. just saying 5

    In terms of our own situation, we might want to reflect on our own democratic experience and ask how we would or could move forward from our own Tahrir Square moment..

    If we are able to respond to the shocks of the various crises we face with far more trusting and interdependent involvement within our local communities, we might have a show. I know that’s my attitude and there are a number of like-minded people and groups moving in roughly the same direction. Hopefully momentum will continue to grow.

    Equally, we could become more belligerent, hostile, and suspicious, and we could live out a kind of Hobbesian nightmare. Or pockets of both.

    I fear we may lose you to Central or Latin America sometime soon Bill.

    I hope you find a way to keep on blogging, if you do.

    • Bill 5.1

      I fear we may lose you to Central or Latin America sometime soon Bill.

      Nope. Far too damned hot! Far more interested in developing and applying variations on the Bolivarian Revolution and from my own past experiences to build a ‘good example’ that fits a New Zealand context.

      There’s an embrionic post dealing with such a proposal gestating somewhere in my computer. It’ll get up to ‘the standard’ by and by.

  5. Draco T Bastard 6

    Some people in Tahrir Square may well be speculating how to run and maintain necessary public systems democratically;

    Yeah, I’ve been doing the same thing. The different levels from individual to local to national cause problems. There are a couple problems; 1) ensuring that people have access to the information they need and 2) ensuring that decisions are then made upon that information rather than them being made upon opinion as happens now.

    We don’t have a democracy ATM but a dictatorship with a veneer of democracy.

  6. rjs131 7

    “the Arab world has nowhere to transition to. They have been under the yoke of western interests for a long, long time.”

    As an example, can you outline what Western interests have been dominating Syria?

    • Bill 7.1

      1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria.

      And today, the US regards Syria as a pariah state and is generally antagonistic towards it.

      So although economic sanctions and banning any aid etc might not amount to ‘dominating Syria’, it certainly amounts to bullying….curtailing or setting parameters within which Syria can act.

      Remember 2007 when the Israelis (and I’d suggest they got ‘clearance’ from the US) bombed, what the west claimed was a nuclear facility in Syrian territory? An act of war that drew no military response because….?

      And without US meddling…advancing massive amounts of military ‘aid’ to a belligerent Israel, the US’s ‘cop on the beat’… do you not think that the Golan Heights would have been returned to or succesfully reclaimed by Syria by now?

    • Bill 8.1

      Thanks for that link. The following snippet offers what might seem a rather obvious insight.

      In Egypt, the military chose not to confront the demonstrators, not because the military itself was split, but because it agreed with the demonstrators’ core demand: getting rid of Mubarak. And since the military was the essence of the Egyptian regime, it is odd to consider this a revolution. (…)

      The crowd in Cairo, as telegenic as it was, was the backdrop to the drama, not the main feature. The main drama began months ago when it became apparent that Mubarak intended to make his reform-minded 47-year-old son, Gamal, lacking in military service, president of Egypt. This represented a direct challenge to the regime. In a way, Mubarak was the one trying to overthrow the regime.

      (my emphasis)

      • prism 8.1.1

        The idea of Mubarak’s son taking over was referred to in news reports – it immediately made me think of North Korea. But it sounds a very different situation. Yet if he reduced the power base of the Army that would have been a major change. But where was the son’s power base to come from? His father must have had devious ways of maintaining his position. He would not have underestimated the Army’s liking for control.

    • joe90 8.2

      Thanks kaarearea.

  7. randal 9

    in the history of revolutions none has succeeded unless it has had either the backing of the army or the police.
    skip the romantic bushwa.
    the above is the truth.

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