As they did in the 1950s, once again, the winds of revolution are sweeping the former colonial world. This time, however, these winds are mixed with those of counter-revolution also, and this complication is partly a result of the failure of the previous period to resolve the problems in that part of the world.
During the 10-15 years after World War II, tens of millions of people in the former colonial world rose up against their former invaders. In Vietnam, millions fought against first the French colonial rulers and then, when the French were forced out, they fought against the US occupiers. Throughout Africa, in one region after another, similar struggles were carried out, and in India the British were expelled in 1947.
In almost all of these struggles, however, capitalism was left in place. As a result, while these people’s won formal political independence, they were unable to free themselves from the dictates of the world market and world capitalism. Massive poverty remained, and to this day some 15 million children die every year from simple hunger.
Unable to resolve the most elementary of issues – feeding a population – the regimes that developed were corrupt and repressive. This has resulted in new turbulence in these regions. In some areas, it has resulted in counter-revolutionary movements – in particular Islamic fundamentalism. In other areas – particularly northern Africa and the Mid East presently – new revolutionary waves are sweeping society. These waves arose to fight the repression, corruption and poverty that were part and parcel of the previous regimes.
For them to succeed, however, they must answer the question of why the previous regimes degenerated so. Take Egypt, for instance: Just this week a strike ended of teachers, dock workers and health care workers. It was just a few months ago that thousands felt forced to re-occupy Tahrir Square. These were actions in opposition to the regime that developed after Mubarak fell. But what were the roots of the Mubarak regime?
These roots lie in the rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser, who seized power in 1952, during the epoch of colonial revolution. At that time, capitalism was massively discredited throughout the ex-colonial world, and Nasser reflected this fact. He carried out broad nationalization, although he left capitalism itself to dominate Egypt. This was the outcome (at best) during this general period.
While the repression, exploitation and naked racism of the imperialist powers may have been the most clear aspect of the problem that the peoples in this part of the world felt, the actual problem lay much deeper. In the ex-colonial world the imperialist powers went in and established links with the then existing ruling class. This would have been the feudal-like landlord class. Thus, the capitalist class there arose as part and parcel of this feudal-like class and was, therefore, unable to carry out the tasks that the capitalist class had carried out in Western Europe in centuries past. There and then, they broke up the power of the feudal aristocracy, in part by redistributing the land to the peasants.
However, they could not do this in the underdeveloped world after World War II because in addition to being capitalists, they were the feudal, landed aristocracy. Cory Aquino, former president of the Philippines, for instance, was both a capitalist as well as a major land-owner in that nation. In Pakistan, we have the example of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, former prime minister and once a leader of the PPP leader from Sindh. He was the biggest feudal lord of the country but also owned sugar mills. In fact, one of the best examples is the present military establishment in Pakistan today, which is both a major land owner as well as owner of capitalist enterprises.
Role of Peasantry and Working Class
They also face another problem. In earlier centuries, the capitalist class could afford to call upon the working class to fight the power of the aristocracy as well as that of foreign domination. In the United States’ Revolutionary War, for instance, the capitalist class called upon the then small working class to fight this war. They could do this because the working class was too small and too immature to play an independent role; they were no real threat to the capitalist class. Today, there is not a single country in the world where this is true any more. Even where the working class is relatively small, it is “infected” with the traditions of the centuries’ old class struggle and can never be trusted by the capitalists. The capitalist class lives in perpetual dread of its own working class and can never call upon them to oppose foreign domination either.
Therefore, what the capitalist class of Western Europe accomplished cannot be accomplished by that class in the former colonial world; those tasks fall upon another class. It is not a matter of ending the feudal remnants under capitalism in countries like Pakistan; it is a matter of ending both the feudal remnants and capitalism together.
Despite the fact that they are the majority in some countries to this day, the peasantry cannot carry out this role. They tend to be too scattered and too linked to their own land to be able to accomplish this. Take the example of the great Mexican Revolution, led by the great peasant military leaders Emiliano Zapata (in Southern Mexico) and Pancho Villa in the north. At one point these two peasant armies controlled some 85-90% of Mexico. Yet in the end they were vanquished by the army led by Obregon. And why? Because for all their genius, Zapata and Villa were unable to develop a national military strategy, due to their base in the peasantry, whose first concern was with his own plot of land.
So it is that the task falls to the modern day working class – the “proletariat” – to carry out. It is only the working class that can unite the disparate regions into one united whole. It is only the working class that can sweep away the feudal remains of society. It is only the working class that can truly modernize the country. And it can only do this by taking power.
But once it seizes political power, it cannot stop there. This was seen, for instance, in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas first seized power in the 1979. The capitalist class lost state power, but private ownership over the commanding heights of the economy were not taken over; the capitalist class retained their capital. And what did they do with it? They either went on “strike”, refusing to invest it, or they sent it out of the country. The economy collapsed as a result.
Therefore, once it seizes state power, the working class must also seize economic power and put under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy.
But there is yet another necessary step: As has been proven in the old Soviet Union, it is impossible to build a healthy socialist state in just one country alone. This is doubly so in an underdeveloped, formerly colonial nation. The world economy has long transcended national borders. It is impossible to efficiently produce goods for just one nation, no matter how large. Therefore, while the working class may seize power initially in one country, this revolution must spread throughout the region, for a start, and ultimately around the globe.
This is the Theory of Permanent (or Uninterrupted) Revolution. It is called that because it proposes that the revolution in the ex-colonial world cannot just stop for an extended time at one stage or another; it must be carried through without interruption in one entire process.
The degeneration of the Russian Revolution, and the rise of a monstrous bureaucracy there, had many disastrous consequences. Not the least of these was the perversion of the ideas upon which that revolution was based. The bureaucracy that seized power in the Soviet Union was able to use the revolution itself (as well as its state power) to influence the colonial revolution of the 1950s and ‘60s. Frightened that a real socialist revolution in the colonial world would lead to an uprising of workers at home, wherever they had an influence the Soviet bureaucracy helped ensure that this colonial revolution never transcended the boundaries of capitalism. The result can be seen today: While colonial rule has been overthrown, the dominant capitalist states remain dominant. Meanwhile, the ex-colonial world stagnates under rotten capitalist regimes that, often as not, are extremely repressive.
Today, however, the influence of the Soviet bureaucracy has been swept away. As well, any previous illusions in the “free” market are being shattered. From China to Greece to Egypt, the workers’ movement is starting to find its feet. Inevitably, it will be forced down the road towards a challenge for full power. In that challenge, it will be forced to deal with the fact that the previous revolutionary wave did not resolve the problems. It will be forced to deal with the fact that this wave, by and large, resulted in degenerate and repressive regimes and mass poverty. In order to avoid a similar fate, this new wave will have to link up the elimination of repression with the elimination of capitalism itself.
There will be no breaking the power of the “feudals” in Pakistan, no equality for women in Afghanistan, no establishment of stable democracy in Egypt, no resolving the tribal conflicts in Africa, and no salvation for the 15 million children who die of hunger every year on the basis of capitalism.
It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but socialism and workers’ democracy is the only alternative.