Many political trademarks, from “democracy” to “socialism”, lost much of their appeal, as their different implementations in the real world disappointed many times the high hopes of the people that fought for them. By contrast, the notion of “revolution” kept much of its positive connotations for many and highly diversified publics. So what is the special thing about the revolution that kept its appeal over so many years and political experiences?
At some level the notion of revolution was vulgarized to “drastic change” – in this sense every new washing powder is marketed as a “revolutionary solution”. And as change is the source of all life, hope and much more, we are naturally doomed to ever seek more of it…
Speaking of revolution more specifically as a form of social change, we should be clearer about what a revolution is and what a revolution isn’t, in order to get the secret of its magic appeal.
Some people claim that a revolution is a change from one social order to another, for example from “capitalism” to “socialism”. But such a change can be a result of different political events, like occupation or a military coup – which most of us will reject calling a revolution. On the other hand many democratic revolutions aim to change the way of government and don’t claim a profound change of the social order. So we find that different type of changes, in the political regime or in the economic and social foundations, can come either through revolution or through other means… So what is the specific type of social change that we call “revolution”?
As we can see from so many experiences, and now from the “Arab Spring”, a revolution is the special situation when the political system is unable to evolve gradually and the wide masses of people are organizing and struggling together to force the wanted change. This process of mass participation in defining political events and reshaping society is in sharp contrast to the usual situation in most societies where the masses are excluded or marginalized from the political process and their destiny is decided by small elites behind closed doors.
In this sense the revolution is the highest level of democratic participation… While in democratic elections the participation of the masses is reduced to the lowest level of selecting one of pre-cooked choices between parties of personalities or positions, in the revolution the masses are in the streets, many times putting their lives in danger, taking many vital decisions every day through mass consultation and action.
The revolution also typically represents the highest level of mass consciousness. While at most times most people are not really involved in public affairs, their knowledge is superficial and easily induced by interested parties and their decisions are taken based on external advice and not direct experience, in the revolutionary situation many people change their life’s priorities and put their desire and commitment to changing the public order as their main interest for the revolutionary period. They devote a lot of time to critical political thinking and experiment constantly with the different proposed solutions.
The revolution is like a “super conductivity” state of the human matter from which society is composed. It is like “Sabet Beton” in the village, – this special day where the entire village is mobilized to build the roof of a new house. In this day you will get the best food (and plenty of it for everybody), the best professional work for every need and all the mass power to bring everything, lift everything and fix everything in place. In this day you will also find that people are at their best, all friends and helpful and full of positive forces. No wonder that societies that went through a revolution will remember it as their constituting event for generations to come.
For forty years there were strong forces that prevented any real change in the Arab world. The first was imperialism’s hegemony that regarded control of the Arab oil wealth as its most lucrative post-colonial asset. The second impediment to any change was the Zionist colonization of Palestine, which made the imperialist control system more hostile to any modernization and democratization of the Arab world, least it will put in danger Zionist superiority and ethnic cleansing. But external forces couldn’t hold back the whole region without local Arab regimes that became all part of the control system – each holding its peace of the puzzle in place to ensure the interests of the local elite. While Arab society changed profoundly, influenced by economic development, education, communication, globalization and many other related trends, the Arab political system was in deep freeze. As the political system came more and more out of step with reality, the more it resisted any gradual change.
The accumulation of contradictions was finally breached with the eruption of the revolution. It didn’t start with a program or a plan. It was not initiated by a party or an organization or some known leaders. It started with the determination of the masses of the people that the situation just can’t continue the way it is. It went on and won victories with the readiness of those masses to pay with their blood for their freedom. It continues to pave the way for a better future as long as the masses of the people remain as the major and the decisive force on the region’s political stage.