Recently the media has been talking about revolution and we have seen scenes of mass street protests and violence on our TV screens. In Kyrgyzstan, armed workers in the street kicked out the government. In Thailand, massive political protests by ‘Red Shirts' have been continuing for more than a month now. For communists it is important to ask what the nature of these movements is.
Firstly the movement in Kyrgyzstan, in April, certainly included large numbers of workers on the streets. In the months preceding the events there had been massive prices increases; gas for heating had risen 400% and electricity by 170%. All this in a country where the average monthly wage is only around $30-50. Events came to a head on April 6th with a massive protest in Tals, caused by another round of price increases in fuel and transport costs. These rises were directly caused by Russia's decision to impose new duties on energy exports to Kyrgyzstan on April 1st. Demonstrators stormed the government buildings, but they were later retaken by riot police.
The following day protests in the capital, Bishek, were attacked by police who disarmed them taking control of police vehicles and automatic weapons. The demonstrations grew, and the police responded with more violence. Protestors then drove two trucks at the gates of the Presidential White House, and the police responded by firing live ammunition, killing at least 41 protestors. Later in the day protestors stormed the palace, and the government was forced to flee.
A paper of the English ruling class, The Financial Times, quoted exiled opposition leader, Edil Baisalov as saying "What we are seeing is a classic popular uprising. This is a revolution, and it is bloody. ...This is what happens when you hold the lid on the cooking pot too tightly - it explodes".
It is clear that the government was overthrown. The question that communists have to answer is whether this was a revolution, or whether it was a struggle in which workers were used between different ruling class groups struggling to control the state.
For us, it is very clear that what has happened here is merely a change of bosses. Interestingly enough the recently ousted President Bakayev came to power just 5 years ago in the so-called "Tulip revolution", another ‘popular' movement. Although workers were the ones who actually overthrew the government, they weren't fighting for their own interests. There were no workers' councils, no workers organs' prepared to seize power. The workers were being used as foot soldiers by different factions of the bosses. Roza Otunbayeva, the acting head of the provisional government, was previously foreign minister of the government after the "Tulip revolution" It would be fair to say that nothing has changed but the faces of the leaders, and not even all of them.
Added to this is the international dimension. Russia and the US, who have been in dispute for some time about US bases in Kyrgyzstan and the region as a whole, were quick to deny Russian involvement. Michael McFaul, a senior United States White House adviser on Russian affairs, was quick to state that the seizure of power by the Kyrgyz opposition was not anti-American in nature, and was not a Russian backed coup. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself denied any Russian involvement and said that the incident had personally caught him "off guard" and that "Neither Russia nor your humble servant nor Russian officials have anything to do with these events". Unfortunately for them, the new rulers of Kyrgyzstan don't have the same experience of playing political games. Omurbek Tekebayev, a leading figure in the new government gave the game away: "Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev. You've seen the level of Russia's joy when they saw Bakiyev gone". Russia immediately recognized the new government, and Putin quickly rang Otunbayeva to ‘congratulate' her. On the 9th April, Almazbek Atambayev, deputy head of the new government, was in Moscow for ‘consultation' with unspecified Russian government officials, according to the official Russian state news agency.
Thailand: not a workers' movement
The events in Thailand also seem to be a struggle between different factions of the ruling class. The ‘Red Shirts', the nickname of the ‘National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship', is mostly a movement in support of the multi-billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Prime Minister of Thailand in exile from Thailand due to corruption charges. The ‘Red Shirt' movement is basically one of the urban and rural poor, mobilised behind the new bourgeoisie, who are opposed to the ‘old' military and monarchist factions. It is not a movement of, or controlled by, the working class. The only workers' action during this period, a strike of 8,000 workers at the Camera maker Nikon, emerged completely independently of the ‘Red Shirt' movement.
And here lies the central point of our argument. These so-called ‘revolutions', like the ‘Green movement' in Iran recently, are not movements of the working class. Yes, there are many workers involved in them, and probably in the case of Kyrgyzstan a majority of the participants were workers, but they take part in these actions as individuals not as workers. The movement of the working class is one that can only be based upon class struggle of workers for their own interests, not cross-class alliances and populist movements. It is only within a massive movement of strikes that the working class can develop its own organs, mass meetings, strike committees and ultimately workers' councils, that can assert working class control over the movement, and develop a struggle for working class interests. Outside of this perspective is only the possibility of workers being used as cannon-fodder for different political factions. In Greece, perhaps, we can see the very start of the long slow development towards this process. In Kyrgyzstan, and Thailand, we only see workers getting shot down in the streets on behalf of those who want to be the new bosses.