Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Many people do not realize that we have gone though, and are now going through, a cycle of revolution and counter-revolution. This cycle can be broken down into three waves.

First Wave 1910-1936

Mexico, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Spain, potential revolution in Italy, serious unrest in Argentina, Brazil. General strikes throughout the world.

Second Wave 1958-1980

Cuba, France, Portugal, Nicaragua. Serious revolt in Italy, Argentina, Chile. General strikes in Belgium, Canada.

Third Wave 2000 -

Venezuela, Bolivia, revolt in Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Iceland. Serious unrest in Greece, France.

Each wave, up till the present one, terminated in a period of reaction

1. 1922 – 1957 Fascism and Stalinism, then domination by US imperialism and counter-revolution.
2. 1973 – 1999 US-sponsored military coups in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, terrorism in Central America, neoliberal attacks on workers living standards and rights throughout the world.

Dates are approximate and much overlapping occurs. Furthermore, a revolutionary period can contain reactionary triumphs and a period of reaction can see the occurrence of progressive change or revolution. In spite of these limitations, there is a definite cycle of revolution and counter-revolutionary reaction. The failure to understand the existence of these long waves leads both to pessimism on the part of progressive forces (chatter about the cooptation of working class) and triumphalism on the part of reactionaries. (the "end of history", obsolescence of socialism.)

There are also differences between the revolutionary waves. In the past, revolutionary regimes were installed, or counter-revolution triumphed, in a matter of months. Today, the revolutionary process is much more protracted, as we see in Venezuela and Bolivia where a revolutionary situation has existed for years. In Argentina, though much of the militant working class struggle since 2001 has been recuperated by populism, the class as a whole has not been defeated as it was in 1976. In certain ways there has been a merging of reform and revolution.

The second difference is the weakness of US imperialism. Being tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it suffers from imperial overstretch and the hostility of the population of its supposed allies. It is unable to terrorize Latin America "back into the fold", as it did only 20 years ago. This allows the revolutionary process time and space to develop autonomously.

The third difference is the severity of the economic crisis and the fact that it is in reality a triple crisis – economic-energy and environmental. Capitalism has never faced a crisis of this magnitude before. This limits its ability to intervene and brings unrest into the imperial heartlands.

The chances of success have never been greater. The stakes have never been higher. What will happen?


Blogger Frank Partisan said...

I think what Trotsky called thermidor, is important to understand. It is a natural process, that the gains of revolution, need to be solidified. That is a conservatizing experience. Atleast being aware of it could help.

10:42 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

What I find interesting here is comparing your typology to that of Michael Schmidt's "Five Waves". He concentrates pretty much on "waves of anarchist communist activity" while you concentrate on "general rebellion". The timeline varies depending on what you pay attention to, though there is something of a correlation.
It sort of reminds me of when I attempted to construct an explanation of the more or less "pure" failed managerial societies of the Communist variety when they existed outside of Cuba. I found a periodicity of about 7 years that was associated either with popular rebellion or economic crisis (possible conceiling popular rebellion). The only explnation I could find for this was "demographic" rather than economic ie the "coming of age" of a new cohort of oppositionists- a very "materialist" explanation that Marxists usually ignore in their "idealism". Economics usually followed the crisis rather than preceeding it.
In any case it is interesting to contrast your broader view with that of Schmidt.
Perhaps the typology should be extended to the less pure managerial societies that we live in. I'd suggest dividing the "rebellions" up into national units,and comparing and contrasting across national units. Who knows what one might see. Spain, for instance, cetainly experienced "waves" of rebellion between the victory of Franco and his unlamented death. How would these "national waves" fit into a broader "global wave" idea ? Who knows.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Ren, Thermador is something I need to read more on, although I can easily see it occurring in the Russian, German, Mexican and Spanish Revolutions.

Molly, interesting area for research, but would take a lot of time to pull it together. I may try to sketch it out later though. I am aware of Schmidt's 5 Waves and it and the Ultra Left's periodicization were part of my inspiration.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

I think revolutions come in spurts, the periods when the masses act for themselves, on the stage of history.

This view is different than Maoist "protracted struggle." A revolution is usually a short, relatively nonviolent period.

7:49 PM  
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7:33 AM  

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