Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 in revolutions

As we entered 2011, the most promising radicalism of the moment was the student movement, which had re-ignited the spark of class struggle in Britain. It looked as if there might be a fight in the working class after all, but the most we could hope for was to stem or slow down the tide of cuts being imposed by the government. Then a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire.

If there is one person who can be held responsible for making the idea of revolution tangible once more, it is Mohamed Bouazizi. With that one last act, inspired by sheer despair and desperation, he inspired an uprising which would spread beyond Tunisia and light up the world. By 14 January, Tunisian President Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia. On January 25, the Egyptians held their "day of rage," which was followed by the occupation of Tahrir Square and a wave of strikes. By February 11, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was also gone.

The Arab Spring, as it soon became known, soon spread. There were uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria - all still ongoing. There were protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the Western Sahara.

In Libya, protests and riots soon turned into armed civil war. Ultimately, this led the west to ditch their support for Gaddafi and side with the rebels, a UN resolution allowing for military intervention in the war. By August the rebels were making incursions into Tripoli, Gaddafi himself was killed on October 20, and the country declared liberated three days later.

The Arab Spring provoked a wave of uprisings elsewhere around the world, from the Spanish and Greek "indignants" to the Occupy movement. Not to mention the truly inspirational, yet roundly under-reported demonstrations in Israel, where thousands chanted that "Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies." The people of Wukan, in China, similarly managed to deny expectations and achieve something astounding by driving officials from their village and winning concessions from the state. But it is fair to say that, though each situation varies in revolutionary potential, only the Arab world has genuinely seen revolution at this point.

Nor have the Arab revolutions been as neat as the media portrayed them and the world expected early on. Taking Egypt as a prime example, the quick ousting of Mubarak wasn't the revolution done - a prolongued struggle against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces followed.

Nevertheless, much came from these revolutionary events that we mightn't have dared hope for before - a breaking down of sectarian barriers, from the aforementioned chants in the Israeli protests and Egyptian Christians forming a barrier to protect praying Muslims during demonstrations to the international solidarity shown by Israelis to Egyptian protesters and by Egyptians to protesters in Wisconsin. If you ever needed proof that revolutionary struggle builds solidarity and class consciousness, then there it stands.

We would also do well to remember that revolution isn't a singular event, it's a process. If this year teaches us nothing else, then that has to stand out clearly. Victories will be won and mistakes made, perhaps in equal measure. But ultimately, the working class must maintain control of their struggle and in doing so learn to build a world geared in their interests. To concede control of the revolution is to concede the revolution itself.