Empire, Revolution and Counterrevolution

Reader Terry Coggan commenting on my reply on the European crisis wrote: “Thank you for your series of posts over the last several years—I have found them extremely useful. You wisely avoid overt political comment. Where you do depart from your own guideline, as in note 8 to this post where you label the rebellions in the Arab world as ‘counter-revolutionary’—an opinion that can at best be described as controversial—I feel you risk compromising the value of your blog.”

Politics and economics

I have and will continue to keep this blog focused on basic economic theory, especially crisis theory. But as Marxists, we cannot really separate economics from politics. It is a basic tenant of historical materialism that changes in the economic situation will lead sooner or later to important political developments, including both revolutions and counterrevolutions.

Over the last several years, we have seen increasingly radical shifts in the politics of many quite different countries. For example, we have seen waves of demonstrations and strikes in Greece, Spain, Ireland, France, Ireland and Britain. In the United States, we saw after decades of retreat by the trade unions the struggle of the Wisconsin public workers against the attempt to deny them the basic labor rights of collective bargaining and union representation. Just months later we saw the rise of the Occupy movement, beginning in the United States and then spreading around the world. The Occupy movement itself was inspired by the Egyptian revolution that overthrew the hated long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak last February.

In analyzing the revolutions of 1848, Marx explained that the outbreak of the European revolutions of that year, which stretched from France in the west to Hungary in the east, was triggered by the worldwide crisis of overproduction that came to a head in London in October 1847.

The ebbing of that revolutionary wave, according to Marx, was largely determined by the onset of a historic wave of economic prosperity caused by the discovery of gold in far-off California in 1848 and Australia in 1851. He considered this development to have had even greater importance than the revolutions of 1848.

It is pretty clear that the current upheavals—of which the revolutions in the Arab world are the most important component, so far at least—are rooted in the worldwide crisis of overproduction that came to a head in New York in September 2008 with the collapse of the Lehman Brother’s bank. Although the future evolution of the economic situation is as always uncertain, it seems extremely unlikely that the world political situation will be stabilized by new gold discoveries comparable to the discoveries of 1848 and 1851.

In my footnote to which Terry Coggan refers, I most certainly did not say that “the rebellions in the Arab world” were “counterrevolutionary.” We have seen “rebellions” in Morocco, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain, and even demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, as well as the overthrow of the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. In addition, we saw a movement that succeeded in overthrowing the Muammar Qaddafi government in Libya but only with the help of direct U.S. and NATO military intervention.

There is also a movement in Syria trying to bring down the government of Bashar Assad. Unlike the movement in Yemen against the long-time dictatorial President Abdullah Saleh, or movements against the absolute monarchies in the Arab world, the movement against Assad and his Baath Party enjoys the support of the governments of the U.S., Britain and the European Union.

U.S. President Obama has demanded that President Assad leave office, just like he previously demanded that Qaddafi surrender power in Libya—though Qaddafi held no formal posts in Libya. Such a demand goes counter to the basic principle of bourgeois democracy that the question of who leads the government of a given country is the business of the people of the given country alone—especially if it is a historically oppressed country—and is none of the business of the leaders of a foreign government.

All democrats, as well as socialists if they are to remain consistent with their principles, must demand that the Obama administration and other imperialist governments halt their interference in the internal affairs of Syria and resume normal relations with the Syrian government. This should be done independently of whether or not we like or approve of the Bashar Assad government.

I expressed an opinion in a footnote that the movements in Libya and Syria are out of step with the movements against the U.S.-supported monarchies and dictatorships in other Arab countries. This opinion, I admit, goes counter to the view propagated in the 1 percent-controlled media that there is a common “Arab Spring” that includes the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions but also the overthrow of the government of Libya with the help of NATO’s bombers. The same false amalgam includes the movement attempting to overthrow the Syrian government with the support of the U.S. and Europe as well as the Arab League, which is dominated by reactionary Arab governments, many of them monarchies.

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