VIEW: Winds of change or revolution —Mohammad Jamil - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

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At the time of their respective revolutions, Russia and China were at different stages of development — the former relatively industrialised and the latter an agricultural economy — yet communist parties were able to bring about successful revolutions in their societies by formulating strategies based on the ground realities

The formidable people’s power in the Middle East and North Africa has forced the despots in Tunisia and Egypt to step down, and the ripple effect is also being felt in Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere. The royalty of Bahrain, the US fifth fleet’s base, is also threatened by people’s power. Except Libya, the citadels that have fallen to people’s power or are at great risk of a fall are mostly the ones that western powers had meticulously fortified. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia was a long-time favourite of its erstwhile colonial ruler, France. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was admittedly a US sidekick. When he was visibly wobbling precariously, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came on camera to pronounce that his government was secure and stable. Anyhow, the region is not what it was a few months ago, and in the driving seat are now the region’s youth, mostly educated. Though secularist in their outlook and views predominantly, they are religious-minded and practicing Muslims; they are moderates who do not wear their faith on their sleeves. Of course, religious groups have jumped into the fray to draw political mileage from the popular movements.

However, to call these movements as revolutions is a misnomer, as the term revolution generally refers to a fundamental change in the character of a country’s system of governance and economy, which may or may not be violent. The expulsion of James II from the British throne in 1688 was considered as a revolutionary step, as it had a great bearing on the future course of action in England. The Reformation marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Earlier, the Renaissance had paved the way for the Reformation. Nevertheless, it was the French Revolution that overthrew monarchy and broke the chains of feudalism and absolutism. Since there was no organised party that could have led the revolution, the country faced anarchy and civil war. Before the French Revolution in 1789, France practiced feudalism; the nobles, feudal lords and the ruling elite enjoyed special privileges and were not obliged to pay taxes. France’s economy was in dire straits, and it was difficult for the majority of the people to keep body and soul together. The common people hated the privileged classes and were revengeful.

The hungry Parisians, who had suffered from a bad harvest, attacked the Bastille prison for political prisoners. And this was the beginning of the French Revolution that spread out to other parts of France, overthrowing the monarchy and absolutism. It was indeed a step forward, as Napoleon had learned a lot from the revolution. The Napoleonic Code was established under Napoleon I in 1804, which did not allow privileges based on birth, ensured social welfare of the people, allowed freedom of religion, and stood for giving government jobs on merit. In 1917, the world witnessed the October Revolution under the leadership of the Communist Party, which replaced the monarchy and the economic system in Soviet Russia. Fredrick Engels, co-author of many works with his friend Karl Marx, said: “Three great battles mark decisive stages in the prolonged struggle against feudalism: the Protestant Reformation in Germany, the English Revolution (1640, 1688) and the French Revolution of 1789.” There were conformities in the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions — class antagonism, inefficient government, an inept and corrupt ruling class — and last but not the least, financial failure of the government.

At the time of their respective revolutions, Russia and China were at different stages of development — the former relatively industrialised and the latter an agricultural economy — yet communist parties were able to bring about successful revolutions in their societies by formulating strategies based on the ground realities. However, after 74 years of its existence, Soviet Russia disintegrated and 30 years after its revolution, China took the capitalist road. In the late 1980s, when the Soviet forces were defeated in Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, Francis Fukuyama in his treatise, The End of History, declared: “The dark forces, epitomised by fascism and communism, have lost, whereas liberal democracy has won.” He believed that there will be no resistance to ruthless exploitation, but there have been turmoil, unrest, violent uprisings and upheavals emblematic of the failure of the capitalist system. In fact, throughout recorded history, there has always been resistance against exploitation, and communism or no communism, the struggle continued and would continue in future in one form or another.

Capitalism has indeed evolved new strategies to counter uprisings and revolutions, but those on the ‘receiving end’ have also been thinking of new methods to resist the onslaught of imperialism, neo-colonialism and globalisation. Though a revolution in any single country looks like an impossibility, yet the possibility of revolution in the global village cannot be ruled out, as globalisation has hit the workers of developing and developed countries alike. It has caused unemployment in the US and the west, as multinational corporations dismantle factories in European countries or Japan to shift to the regions where they find cheap labour. And they continue with their exploitation. Marx and Engels had most succinctly presented their theory of revolution and exhorted the proletariat of all nations to unite in revolution, because they had nothing to lose but their chains. They reckoned that the progressive degradation of the working class could finally reach the point of despair and inevitable revolt. But there is consensus among revolutionaries that an ideological party with dedicated leaders and cadres is a pre-requisite to bring about a successful revolution, otherwise there would be anarchy, bloodshed and destruction.

Nobody can fairly accurately predict revolutions. In January 1917, when Russia was ready for revolution, Lenin had made a statement: “Whether we, the old will live to see the decisive battles of the coming revolution.” In Russia, there were frequent strikes since 1905, but in February 1917 there was a general strike, and seeing the situation favourable for revolution, Lenin came back to Moscow in April 1917 to complete the revolution in October 1917. After the end of the Cold War, globalisation is the buzzword and the world is said to have become a global village. Now the question is whether in the event of another world recession or great depression, it would be possible for the US and the west to ensure full employment and the present living standards for their people or a time will come when the proletariat of the world would unite to bring about revolution in the global village or at least wage a struggle to replace the New World Order with a just world economic order.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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