10 shades of non-revolution
There has been no shade of bourgeois opinion that has hesitated to use the term 'Arab Revolution' to describe what's currently going on in the Middle East. Subtle commentators can make out an 'Arab spring', but 'revolution' is the word of the moment.
All sorts of social forces are involved, as well as a range of contradictory ideas, but this use of 'revolution' to describe very disparate phenomena is not new. Modelled on examples such as the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989 in Czechoslovakia, here are ten from the 21st century.
2000 Serbia, Bulldozer Revolution.
Post-election protests that started with miners led to the removal of Slobodan Milošević. He was replaced by Vojislav Koštunica, a firm nationalist chosen to lead the parties of the opposition. A leader of this coalition said "We could make a revolution but it wouldn't be good. It would create too much instability." The vehicle that was used to charge Serbian state TV station was not a bulldozer, or an excavator, but a wheel loader.
2003 Georgia, Rose Revolution.
Protests following elections led to the replacement of Eduard Shevardnadze by Mikheil Saakashvili (who had once been Shevardnadze's Minister of Justice). Under Saakashvili troops were sent to Iraq, only the US and Britain having more there than Georgia, and Georgian troops were maintained in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Protests against Saakashvili in 2007 were met with the declaration of a state or emergency and police violence against protesters.
2004-5 Ukraine, Orange Revolution.
Demonstrations and other protests after presidential elections resulted in the victory of Viktor Yushchenko over Viktor Yanukovych. Yuschenko was just as concerned to get the crowds off the streets as his rival.Yanukovych served as Prime Minister for 18 months under Yuschenko in 2006-7, before becoming president of Ukraine in 2010.
2005 Lebanon, Cedar Revolution.
After the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister in February there were massive demonstrations about the Syrian military presence in the country. Syria ultimately yielded to international pressure and withdrew its final troops in April. Life in Lebanon continues to be marked by violence and conflict.
2005 Kyrgyzstan, Tulip Revolution.
President Askar Akayev fled the country after post-election demonstrations. Under his successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, there have been murders of political opponents, corruption and economic decline. In 2010 protests over unemployment, electricity blackouts and other shortages, which were met with police repression and dozens of deaths, led to Bakiyev fleeing the country. Capitalism,corruption and a US military base continue.
2007 Burma, Saffron Revolution.
Protests over fuel price rises, including a significant role for thousands of Buddhist monks. Met with violent repression. Regime supported by China, opposition by the West. The majority of monks in Burma wear maroon not saffron robes. So, neither saffron nor a revolution.
2009-10 Thailand, Red Shirt Revolution.
Against the backdrop of protests by the poor and dispossessed the demands of the Red Shirts are for improved democracy, fresh elections and the reinstatement of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A social movement has become entangled in a battle between different factions of the ruling class.
2009-10 Iran, Green Revolution.
Following the 2009 presidential elections there were maybe 2 million on the streets in protests at some moments. Workers have been involved as individuals but not as a class. There are enormous illusions in democracy. In the past the working class in Iran has shown itself a force to be reckoned with.
2011 Tunisian Revolution.
Non-Tunisian media have tried to christen recent events as the Jasmine Revolution, but this has not caught on. A wave of protest on basic questions of living conditions led to the departure of President Ben Ali. Protests continue and have inspired others in the Middle East.
2011 Egyptian Revolution.
Known by a number of names, including the Lotus Revolution. People from all parts of society were involved in the events that led to the removal of Mubarak. Two essential elements were the strikes of workers and the behind the scenes manoeuvrings of the US. Mubarak has gone but the capitalist state retains its dominant position in society.
None of these situations warrant being described as revolutions: capitalism, the exploitation of the working class and the oppression of non-exploiting social strata continue. But they do have things in common. For example, genuine material suffering has affected people in all the countries touched. The conditions in which we live continue to worsen, sometimes with rapid lurches. At the same time a focus on elections, nationalism, or the particular personnel in the ruling capitalist team has detracted from the importance of the struggle against material deprivation. Also, these focuses take away from an understanding of what are the real forces in capitalist society. The bourgeoisie can only defend the decaying status quo, and the working class is the only force with the potential to challenge and overthrow capitalism. While there has yet to be a revolution in the twenty first century, the proliferation of workers' struggles, expressions of self-organisation and the development of class consciousness mean that a revolutionary perspective is still realistic.