Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Tunisia: When is a Revolution a Revolution?

Are the huge protests that spread from Tunisia to Algeria, Egypt and Yemen part of a revolution, or not?  The short answer is yes, and I'll explain why.

Revolutions must overturn existing social relations to qualify as revolutions. Any change in the personel of the ruling class by force is a coup rather than a revolution because there is no change in the class that rules.

Revolutions strictly mean transfers of power which allow one class to replace another class as the ruling class. These may be protracted and wax and wane as revolutionary advances meet counter-revolutionary reactions, but in the end we have to have a point at which we say a revolution was completed or defeated. What decides this point is the historic weight of the respective contesting classes.

The great revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries were therefore bourgeois revolutions in which that class came to supplant a declining feudal ruling class which was being displaced by the rise of capitalist production. Bourgeoise democracy was the product of that revolution. Individual citizens won rights of representation, legal equality etc etc if they were capitalist property owners. This was extended to workers eventually as sellers of the commodity labour power. Women eventually got the suffrage as they became economically more independent.

However, revolutions often take many years to complete and may may become redundant when ovetaken by other revolutions. For example, the American revolution was a revolution to establish an American bourgeoisie independent of Britain. But it didnt succeed in establishing the complete dominance of capitalist social relations until it eliminated the pre-capitalist social relations of slavery and united the federation after the Civil War, and then defeated the resistance of the indigenous nations as it pushed the frontier to the West Coast.

Once the European powers and the US had united their nations and their economies had outgrown their national territories, they expanded to become imperialist states. That is, they dominated all the other nations in varying degrees, subordinating them to a divison of labour in which their raw materials were exchanged for manufactured commodities. This economic dependence, or backwardness, meant that they were incapable of completing their bourgeois revolutions and achieving national independence without a total break with imperialism.

Thus the bourgeosies of the colonies, or even weak imperialisms such as Tsarist Russia, did not have an economic base to allow them to win wars of national independence. These bourgeoisies remained agents of imperialism while the task of completing the bourgeois revolution passed onto those classes who were superexploited by both imperialism and their national bourgeoisies. By the 20th century the complete the bourgeois national revolution it was necessary for the exploited classes to make socialist revolutions. Those classes when taking power did not hand power to a bourgeoisie to rule society, but pressed on to create workers states and socialist societies.

The proof of this was in the fact that it took socialist revolutions to break from imperialism, in Russia, China and Cuba. The Russian bourgeoisie remained tied to imperialism so it was necessary for the workers and peasants to overthrow them with a socialist revolution in order to break from imperialism. Lead by revolutionary socialists with a program for socialism, the goals of the bourgeois, or national democratic, revolution were achieved by the socialist revolution. Lenin called this the 'uninterrupted' revolution, while Trotsky called it the 'pemanent' revolution. China and Cuba followed a similar course. These examples allow us to understand the logic of the current incomplete colonial revolutions of which Tunisia is one of many.

The current uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen are a re-activation of historically incomplete colonial revolutions. These colonial revolutions are bourgeois revolutions since their purpose is to elminate barriers to the full development of capitalist social relations. They must break from imperialism, unify the nation, replace pre-capitalist relations with bourgeois market relations (or subordinate them) and create a capitalist market for the production of commodities. These revolutions may take take decades to complete and remain incomplete until reactivated to become socialist revolutions as we have already seen.

Tunisia’s national revolution against France was incomplete and the exploited and oppressed classes are now rising up again under the whip of imperialist crisis which imposes terrible austerity on their lives. At the moment their goal is bourgeois ‘democracy’ i.e. removing a 'corrupt' capitalist class. They have yet to see that this will be insufficient. The examples of the USSR, China and Cuba appear to be irrelevant or worse as models for completing their bourgeois revolution. For that we have to thank imperialism that stranged these socialist revolutions over many decades, and Stalinism for putting its boot on the workers necks.

Today the failure of socialist revolutions is blamed on the socialists themselves, and not the success of the capitalist counter-revolutionary by imperialism to isolate, weaken and destroy these revolutions. Bourgeois apologists say that no attempt to win national independence by means of a socialist revolution has succeeded without sacrificing bourgeois democracy. But of course that is exactly what socialist revolution is intended to do, to replace bourgeois democracy with workers democracy. Insofar as this does not happen it is not the fault of the revolution as claimed by bourgeois apologists, but of the bourgeois counter-revolution. 

If we take the Russian revolution as a single case of a socialist revolution that ended up as a Stalinist counter-revolution, we can show that this was not the necessary outcome of the revolution, but of the counter-revolution. The Russian masses were isolated from the global working class and while they made a socialist revolution and were victorious over the invading white armies, they succumbed to the same fate as many colonial revolutions, though in this case the bureaucracy rather than the national bourgeoisie became a Bonapartist caste balancing between imperialism and the Soviet working class.

In other words the bourgeois revolution succeeded as a socialist revolution in Russia in overthrowing an imperialist Tsarist regime and a weak cowardly bourgeoisie, but failed ultimately because did not spread outside Russia and become and international revolution capable of overturning the power of international capital. The same happened in China, Vietnam etc. Cuba is well on the way to restoring capitalism. The DPRK is an stagnant autarky.

So far then, socialist revolutions in the 20th century have failed to survive because the revolutionary class was defeated by overwhelming force of the counter-revolutionary class.  The advances of the socialist revolutions are now forgotten and the counter-revolutionary defeats attributed to the socialist revolution itself. So speaking about 20th century revolutions we can say that revolutions defeated by counter-revolutionary violence destroy in the process not only the socialist revolution, but also the struggle for national democratic goals, proving that the international bourgeoisie can only pretend to advance bourgeois democracy in the imperialist countries by suppressing it in the neo-colonies or semi-colonies.

The question then of future revolutions, specifically those of North Africa at the moment, is a matter of the strength and international unity of the workers and poor farmers as a revolutionary force against the total class strength of the imperialist powers. The more the working class is united and able to exercise its power to halt production (as we see happening in Egypt) the weaker will the capitalist power be and the more it must resort to open reaction to stay in power.

However, the lessons of these socialist revolutions will remerge more clearly when the the barriers to national liberation become obvioius.  The sooner that the new generation of Arab fighters can see through all the imperialist ploys to pretend they can create a bourgeois democratic state, or the Islamics can create a clerical state, and fight for a popular workers and peasants socialist government, the better. They will break from the treacherous national bourgeoisie which keeps the nation tied to imperialism, and break the power of the armed forces by winning the ordinary soldiers who are workers and the peasants in uniform over to the side of the working masses.

We are at another critical point in history like 1917 when the balance of class forces is being put to the test. In these historic crisis situations, it is the socialist revolution that represents the democracy class rule of the vast majority in the future, and the bourgeois counter-revolutionary forces that represent the tiny privileged democracy of the past i.e. the defrence of capitalist property and the right to exploit the producing classes. What is necessary for this to happen is a new revolutionary leadership that understands the lessons of history and guides the exploited classes to the seizure of state power and the creation of Workers and Farmers Governments, and Federations of Socialist Republics everywhere.
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