Tariq Ali: What Is A Revolution?

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring there has been much talk of revolutions. Not from me. I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant—members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.

Egypt is the clearest example in recent years. No organs of autonomous power ever emerged. The Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative social force, one that belatedly joined the struggle to overthrow Mubarak, emerged as the strongest political player in the conflict and, as such, won the elections that followed. The Brotherhood’s factionalism, stupidity, and a desire to reassure both Washington and the local security apparatuses that it would be business as usual led it to make several strategic and tactical errors from its own point of view. New mass mobilizations erupted, even larger than those that had led to the toppling of Mubarak. Once again they were devoid of politics, seeing the army as their savior and, in many cases, applauding the military’s brutality against the Muslim Brothers. The result was obvious. The ancient régime is back in charge with mass support. If the original was not a revolution, the latter is hardly a counter-revolution. Simply the military reasserting its role in politics. It was they who decided to dump Mubarak and Morsi. Who will dump them? Another mass mobilization? I doubt it very much. Social movements incapable of developing an independent politics are fated to disappear.

In Libya, the old state was destroyed by NATO after a six-month bombing spree. Nearly two years later, armed tribal gangs of one sort or another still roam the country, demanding their share of the loot. Hardly a revolution according to any criteria. Read more

,