«Sabah Alnasseri Revolutionaries Seldom Harvest the Fruit: On the Current Revolutionary Situation in the Arab Middle East. The 17th Bouazizi 2010 1 ...»
Thesis To understand the present situation it is necessary to comprehend the conditions of existence of state power i.e.: neoliberal restructuring, the restructuring of classes, the reorganization of the ruling state party, the imperialist embedding of the state, the brutal disorganization (of the popular classes) and shifts in weight among state apparatuses. These developments created new contradictions and conflicts of interests which erupted due to increased resistance on the one hand, and as a result of the international and regional shifts (geostrategic weakening of the USA and its allies in the region, economic crisis, political mistakes of the state parties, alienation of parts of the ruling classes and state actors) on the other.
In times of global and national crises, and in the face of a barely existing socialist organization of the popular classes in the Arab world, fractions of the ruling classes and certain forces in the state apparatuses, back initiatives for political change. In doing so, they strive for support of the popular classes, who have tried multiple forms of resistance without success, in the conflict over hegemony of these fractions against other dominant fractions in the power bloc.
The most probable result will be a model that displays similar features to the current development model in Turkey.
All the above listed variables are necessary, yet not individually sufficient, to explain the explosive moments. Only by taking into account the contradictions and conflicts among the fractions of the ruling classes, the cracks inside the governing party and the state apparatus, the initiatives of the popular classes, the global economic crisis and the weakening of the geostrategic position of the USA, and with it the dominant position of the regional powers, moves us into the position to explain the events. Only thus can we discern the condensation of the contradictions in this historical period.
The classical bourgeois revolutions, as well as, the anti-colonial and antiimperialist revolutions, aspired to create national states and national bourgeoisies. It is problematic to compare the current events with the classic revolutionary model or to take their measures from them. The Gramscian concept of passive revolution, referring to the initiatives of the ruling class and its political representatives with the help of the state, is also problematic.
What distinguishes the protests in Tunisia and Egypt from the democratic movements in Latin American in the 1980s, in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, and from the latest movements for democracy in Georgia and the Ukraine, is that they were neither supported by the West nor did they feature a leading party or a charismatic personality, who then reproduced the old corrupt constellation in new forms. Moreover, the current protest movements differentiate themselves from the old anti-colonial and national movements, in that the latter brought an avantgarde clique to power that ended up just as authoritarian and corrupt as the colonial regimes. Yet what these new protests against the chauvinistic attitudes of rulers, and against imperialism show, is that the rationality of the popular classes is far more democratic than the nationalist and imperialist rationality of order and stability. The protesters revealed themselves as being not only peaceful, democratic, and united in their demands and actions, but they have also discredited as absurd, all the prejudices regarding popular classes as not being capable of self-organization, and as always being in need of an elite leadership.
How then, should we characterize the current situation? In light of the imperialist crisis, the conflicts between fractions of the ruling classes, the initiatives of the popular classes, and the support from certain state apparatuses and actors, the chain reaction in the entire region, and the posing of social and political questions, I suggest the concept revolutionary situation as being the most apt.
A revolutionary situation is“(1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.” (Lenin, The collapse of the second international)
The Crisis: Revolutionary Situation
Poverty, unemployment, marginalization, the economic crisis, rising food and energy prices, the struggles by workers and the middle classes, are necessary but insufficient variables, in accounting for the revolutionary situation.
The addition of various precarious elements to the list explains neither the events nor is it in itself an argument why these revolutionary events occurred at this specific moment.
The crisis situation, that was accelerated (but was not caused) by economic crises and political-military as well as geostrategic developments, includes a schism within the state apparatuses and conflicts among the fractions of the ruling classes in the power bloc, which terminated in a crisis of the state.
The crisis permitted the emergence of a dual power structure and the possibility for a seizure of state power. The crisis arose because the state long ago destroyed the very same forces and institutions that were the basis of its (class and non-class condensed) power.
Three crucial, mutually determining moments, explain the escalation of the conflicts and reveal what was brewing beneath the surface: fissures in the governing parties, splits within the security apparatuses and discord among the fractions of the ruling classes. If the conflicts in the first case of Tunisia, unfolded at a rapid pace due to the lack of defensive trenches around the state, which were destroyed by the state itself, the flight of Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia after the failed attempt at violently containing the protests, placed tremendous pressure on Mubarak’s regime to not act as usual, namely, pre-emptively and violently, in order precisely to avert collapse. This turned out to be a fatal mistake which deprived the regime control over the protests and which opened up the space for a free unfolding of the latent contradictions. Otherwise, it cannot be explained why the state did not act punctually despite having sufficient time and foreknowledge of plans for the day of protest on January 25, 2011. In contrast, on April 6, 2008, proposed factory strikes as well as Facebook initiatives were left stranded in their planning phases after the state proceeded with all its might against the organizers. In other words, crucial structural as well as institutional moments were not sufficient in themselves to cause a political breakthrough. It was only when the state committed political mistakes that the potential became a reality.
Introducing complexity Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it (Lenin) We must, in general, differentiate between the forms of organization and leadership, the nature of the demands, the geostrategic and geopolitical positioning and relevance and not least between the means of protest and of resistance.
In terms of organization and leadership, obvious weaknesses included the lack of leadership and rudimentary forms of organization. Apart from social networks and sections of the trade unions, any effective organizational structure of the popular classes did not exist. However, it is only in comparison with the old forms of organization and leadership that the current movements are unorganized and leaderless. Yet, since the old model is of little help to the present conditions, such a comparison is anachronistic. The question of organization and leadership should only be posed in the context of the present situation. It is not the lack of organization and leadership in the general or in the classical sense, which constitutes the problematic situation, but rather, the lack of new forms (although some embryonic attempts, corresponding to the current situation do exist). These shortcomings include, among other things, the lack of a new party-type, new types of trade unions and new forms of popular committees. In contrast, the ruling classes and state forces are more effectively organized, have disciplined troops and a coherent leadership, and thus are better equipped to seize future initiatives.
With regard to the nature of the demands put forward, although the social question has never been so volatile, it was scarcely articulated. The demands were of a strictly moral-political nature i.e., liberal democracy, bourgeois freedoms, rule-of-law and the end to corruption. In the absence of politically effective forms of organization of the popular classes, this represented the limits of what was socially and politically achievable. In this sense, the historical contingency of the struggles is underscored. Liberal-democratic demands are possible because they are historically necessary, and hence, in comparison (but only in comparison) against the status quo ante, they represent an achievement.
With regard to geostrategic and geopolitical positioning and relevance, the feasibility and possibility of the Tunisian case resulted from, among other things, the marginal status of the country in geostrategic and geopolitical respects.
Tunisia was less relevant in the context of imperialist intervention in the region.
Tunisia does not have any important raw materials and hardly plays a role in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the imperialist war against the so-called war on terror, Tunisia played only a secondary role. Tunisia was the weakest link in a fragile chain. All the subsequent revolts took place in more relevant contexts. Hence, they unfolded in a less "free" manner.
When looking at forms and means of protest and resistance, it is apparent that the new protests were characterized less by non-violence and the classical forms of protest such as strikes, blockades, sit-ins, demonstrations and sabotage etc. In recent years activists learned how to develop new forms of criticism and how to use the techniques and methods of the non-monopolized new media.
Above all, it was the political-ideological shifts occasioned by regional and international events and contexts that proved to be decisive for the mobilizations against the national regimes: The displacement of the question of military intervention regarding the Gaza war and blockade, the occupation of Iraq, and the security and political cooperation by these same regimes with NATO states under the aegis of the USA, was decisive. Since the Intifada of September 2000 in the occupied territories the protest movements have transformed all these questions into a question of internal regime change.
Next I would like to challenge some commonly propagated assumptions.
First, the assumption the events represent a youth revolt. This is not especially insightful since youth represent the absolute majority of the population in the region and because historically all revolts and revolutions were mainly carried out by youth. Secondly, there is the assumption regarding a facebook-revolution, and a social network revolution. This does not reveal much since all major historical events were accompanied by the use of specific means of communications. It would be absurd to characterize the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 as a cassette-tape revolution because the mullahs made use of this medium to disseminate their messages. All means of communication have their use-value and their own subversive potential. 14 Third, we have the claim the revolts are the direct consequence of the latest economic crisis. Despite the connections that do exist between the global crisis and the uprisings, it is shortsighted to claim the global economic crisis is the direct cause of the revolutionary events. This simply negates and ignores all the possible mediations, the uneven and non-simultaneous developments and delays, as well as the role of the people who made their own history. Finally, with regard to the conspiracy theory that sees the USA hiding behind all these events, I can only say, in case it is still not clear, that there exists history that is beyond the reach of empire.
The Arab neoliberal state: state-of-emergency and authoritarian corporatism The Arab state, whether republican or monarchical, functions through the use of emergency laws. The state-of-emergency has become the normal mode of operation for the state; the exception has thus become the rule. What are its weaknesses that in an explosive moment, lead to its collapse and breakdown?
The presidents undertake constitutional changes in an almost monarchical manner. The emergency laws curtail all liberties and social rights. In all states (monarchical or republican) the legislatures play an advisory, subordinate, or, no role at all. Opposition parties are not tolerated or perform a legitimating function.