What Will the Revolution Be in 2030? Jamming, 28/10/2015

I remember when the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 happened, and the crackdown came down, I heard a lot of commentary. Chatter. The historical allusions were flying fast. 

Only one of them really made sense. As a Westerner, the hope for these revolutionary movements was that it would be 1776 or 1789 for Arab peoples rising up against their dictators and kings. It turned out to be more like 1848.

The Egyptian Spring was especially disheartening, as
the people ended up stuck between an Islamist
government who won an election but was building
a new autocracy, and the return of an openly
autocratic military dictatorship.
Every basic history class in high school (at least in Canada) covers the American and French Revolutions. But there was nothing about 1848. No one really expects education in high school to be complete, comprehensive, or even adequate.*

* It damn well should be, though.

I can only speak for myself in this post, because I haven’t done any comprehensive research into history curriculums across Canada. But I didn’t really learn much about Europe’s autocratic traditions, or how long they survived past the dates of democracy’s supposed victories.

In 2011, millions of people across the Arab world – first in Tunisia, but then Syria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, Oman, and Yemen – organized popular demonstrations against autocratic rule. 

Their goal was to force a transition from autocracy – military governments, police states, monarchies – to more democratic forms. The goals included civil liberties, social and economic freedom, and a change in governance culture from dictators to public servants. 

Only Tunisia and Morocco are functioning new democracies today. Libya and Syria have been torn apart by war ever since. The Libyans are lucky that their war has only two sides – the heirs of Gaddafi based out of Tripoli and the revolutionary government based in Benghazi. Almost all the other autocrats have succeeded in crushing the democratic movements, Egypt and Saudi Arabia being particularly horrifying.

Syria has devolved into a multi-front war. The Free Syrian Army and other revolutionary groups are at war with the Assad government. ISIS** builds their brutal state on violence and sex slavery across eastern Syria and northern Iraq. The Kurds fight ISIS, but their attacks inside Turkey have forced Erdogan’s hand, even though they should be allies for a democratic Syria. The Russians and Americans support their allies with air strikes and subversive forces, Putin for Assad and the White House against ISIS.

Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. What
philosophy and literature will emerge from the wails
of mourning for Arab democracy?
** I prefer its Arabic derogatory term daesh, but their official name is most widely recognized.

My work with the Syria Film Festival plays a small part in advocating for peace in the region, and a warm reception for people fleeing this violence.

Germans, Hungarians, and many other central European people (and peoples) once fled their homes in the same way. Prussian kings, the Habsburg emperors of Austria, and French reactionaries cracked down on their democratic movements in the years after 1848. 

France had the most ironic result of the crackdown: its new emperor was Louis Napoleon, the nephew of the man who tried to conquer all of Europe a generation before.

Only in Denmark and Holland did the democrats win concessions from their kings. Like Tunisia and Morocco over the last four years, they were the relatively marginal countries where autocrats and reactionaries were overthrown.

Running from the oppression of their home countries, people dedicated to democracy went to more secure democracies away from continental Europe. Many came to the United States, Canada, and Britain. 

One of them was Karl Marx.

He was a democratic revolutionary, one of the radical socialists, but part of the alliance of forces opposed to autocratic governance in Europe. The other night, I read some of Derrida’s speeches about the meaning of Marx’s fire-spitting tribute to Louis Napoleon, 18th Brumaire

French Emperor Louis Napoleon. Military rulers have
more in common with each other than with the people
they rule.
I couldn’t help but imagine some Egyptian or Syrian democrat, in a run-down apartment in Manchester, Chicago, or Mississauga, writing a similar book or blog about Abdel Al-Sisi or Bashar Assad. I can’t wait to read her work.

Marxist literature is enormous – the creative philosophy that continues Marx’s tradition in new political and social contexts, as well as the historical studies of his own works. Its sheer size means I can’t include the picture of the whole thing in the Utopias manuscript. 

I’m only one person, and I work for a living, so I can’t spend all my days reading two centuries of scholarship. A few spectres of Marx is all I can really handle. I just have to make sure that I pick the right ones. 

So imagine young Karl, deported from multiple countries in Europe as an agitator, finally able to settle with his family in Britain where he still couldn’t gain an income. Having lost the revolution to overthrow dictators, his view is hardened. 

There’d be no more compromises with democracy, no alliances with groups that were anything less than radical. No risk of betrayal to the autocrat classes. 

Even in democratic Britain, he was cast out, a radical who gained no public support. If we leave today’s revolutionaries of the Arab world to rot, as we left Marx, we’ll only create more of the destructive, jaded, violent kind of radicals. 

The revolutions of 1848 were democratic in spirit, but the crackdown and abandonment of those revolutionaries made the survivors the forerunners of the 20th century’s totalitarianism.

Democrats must be allies across the world, especially to those that are in exile. The central Europeans had to wait another 60 years and a devastating world war for Austria’s autocrats to fall. Democracy in continental Europe wouldn’t be secure for a century after the failed revolutions, thanks to wars that killed nearly 100 million people.

We mustn't abandon the idealists of the Arab world, whether to geopolitical games or pessimism. We all want to build a better world.

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