Thursday, January 27, 2011
Mohamed Bouazizi: Political Suicide as a Revolutionary Act
The self-immolation of Mahomed Bouazizi in Tunisia that sparked off the uprising in that country last week ousting the dictator, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been followed by others in North Africa, such as Algeria and Egypt, posing the question of the significance of political suicide as a revolutionary act in opening up revolutionary uprisings.
While these acts of self-immolation are ones in which individuals act in relative isolation it should not be overlooked that political suicide can mean any revolutionary act that is met with state violence. The Jihardist suicide bombers against US invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or those in Pakistan and India, are no different from the many acts of heroism of militants confronting state forces in revolutionary uprisings. These were not new as all revolutions are heralded by the actions of martyrs who are killed by counter-revolutionary forces.
We can also see the suicides of those in the imperialist occupying armies as politically motivated.The US military has lost more soldiers to suicide in its invasions of Iraq and Afganistan in 2009 and 2010 than it lost in combat. These suicides are just as much the result of political oppression and repression as those of the freedom fighters of the resistance movements they are sent to fight.
The question we need to ask is: if revolution is about the struggle for freedom, is it necessary that the revolution has its martyrs? Is death the price of freedom?
Yes, it is a necessary price in such a struggle because revolutions begin with the acts of heroism of its most committed militants before the mass support sufficient to overthrow the reactionary regimes has developed. This means that such militants are isolated and face death since the ruling classes see political assassination of militant leaders as necessary to stop revolutions from gaining momentum. But their martyrdom often becomes a catalyst in mobilising that mass revolutionary support.This is also true of suicides in invading armies since the demoralisation and rejection of war, suffering fatique, PTSD and other health problems that motivates such acts, are also the inevitable product of weakness of individual soldiers trapped in an imperialist army, yet can serve as a spur to more widespread resistance.
Currently Bradley Manning, accused by the US military of being a whistle blower who released US secrets to wikileaks, is on suicide watch in solidary confinement in the Marine jail of Quantico. The authorities are using solitary confinement to torture Manning into confessing and implicating Julian Assange of wikileaks as a war criminal. If Manning is driven to suicide in jail this would be a clear case of political assassination and again prove the point that suicide for political reasons is a revolutionary act.
Suicides are therefore political acts used in situations where resistance is weak and there is no organisation to turn individual self-destruction into a collective armed struggle to defeat and destroying the oppressor.
This is especially true when we are talking about states in which the mass movement has been repressed for a long period and when the revolutionary forces are weak or where their leaderships betrayed them. In the colonial revolutions that won independence after WW2 each revolution had its martyrs. Gandhi, Lumumba, Fanon, Biko to name a few. But these revolutions only began the process of decolonisation as national bourgeosies came to power in the service of imperialism. The national revolutions remain trapped, or frozen by neo-colonialism.
When popular movements rose up against neo-colonialism, as in Latin America, Asia and Africa, imperialism adapted to maintain control. They resorted to popular fronts or patriotic fronts of all classes (Peron, Allende, Chavez) and when these fail to contain the masses, dictatorships follow. Where national leaders went against imperialism, coups or invasions were imposed to restore compliant national leaders (e.g. Vietnam 1955, Iran 1956, Indonesia 1965, Nicaragua 1979 etc). Sometimes these coups and invasions failed or were reversed (China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq). At every revolutionary or reactionary turn, thousands of militants are martyred.
Today, facing the global crisis of capitalism, the masses are once again moving against imperialism and its national neo-colonial lackeys, and again a wave of uprisings sparked by martyrdom is evident. At the same time the suicide rate in the imperialist armed forces is on the rise. What we see here is the initial imbalance of forces where the oppressed do not yet have organised mass support to express their opposition to oppression as mass action. Such individual acts, even when copycatted, will continue until such time as collectively the international proletariat takes on its shoulders the task of socialist revolution.
The task today then is to recognise the heroism of martyrs but at the same time to use their heroism as inspiration to build a mass revolutionary movement and revolutionary program that is able to complete the socialist revolution and make it no longer necessary for the best fighters to die for freedom, but rather to create the conditions that will allow death to take its natural course within the realm of freedom.