As I was watching the “people’s revolution” in Egypt and hearing analysts talking about the potential domino effect for the whole North African/Middle East area, I began to wonder about the efficacy of social revolution and whether the goals of a more just, equitable and fair society are ever attained by way of social revolution. Webster’s dictionary defines revolution as, “an overthrow or repudiation and thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed or radical and pervasive change in society and their social structure.” So revolutions always aim to overthrow a government or political system with the primary goal of ushering in a new government or a new political system that will be more just, more equitable and fairer to all members of society. Revolutions always begin with the hope that the majority will get a better deal from the new system or government than what they enjoyed under the old system or government. However when looking at the long term effects of each social revolution that has occurred throughout history, it is difficult to see how the lot of the majority is actually improved via social revolution. Eric Hoffer in his book, The True Believer states that, “every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.” So for example the French Revolution which began with the aim of promoting, “liberty, fraternity and equality” for all citizens ended up degenerating into anarchy and chaos which ended up taking France into Napoleonic dictatorship. So the sum total of the revolution was the replacement of one elite, the traditional nobility by another elite, Napoleon and his military dictatorship which oppressed the French people no less than the old establishment and ended up leaving common people in the same position they were in before. The same result was seen in the infamous Bolshevik Revolution in the early part of the 20th century in Russia, which ended up proving Albert Camus’ statement that, “all modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the state” to be true. A revolution that began with the aim of freeing Russia from Tsarist dictatorship with the promise of creating a more egalitarian society ended up falling prey to the brutal dictatorship of the Communist Party and for all intents and purposes produced a system and leadership which was more brutal and ruthless than that of Tsarist Russia. So the revolution moved Russia from the dominance of one elite, the Tsarist nobility, to a new, more brutal elite, the Communist Party and its senior leadership and state bureaucrats. So the result was that the common people were no better off in the new system than they were under the old system. This is a reality highlighted by the English author George Orwell’s statement that, “no advance in wealth, no softening of manner, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimetre nearer.” So we see that every revolution ends up having the effect of replacing one oligarchic elite that governs with its own interests in mind, with a new oligarchic elite that governs with its own interests in mind under the guise of promoting the interests of the people. The people are simply are a tool that the new elite uses to replace the existing establishment in order to attain power and once that power is attained the new elite builds institutions and structures that safeguard it’s interests often at the expense of the majority. This is the result you find whatever political system is in place, whether it’s a closed political system or an open political system. This is because as Luthando Tofu put it, ‘the nature of human sinfulness corrupts all forms of social contracts.” That is why the Cuban Revolution degenerated into dictatorship, benefitting mostly the Communist elite. That is also why the post-colonial African state, established with the hope and the promise of ensuring the well-being of the African majority, ended up becoming nothing more than the personal fiefdom of the African political elite who governed with impunity and looted state coffers and resources in order to advance and promote their narrow sectional interests. That is what happened to post-Communist Russia where the old Communist elite where replaced by a new, oligarchic business and political elite which gained power in order to access and acquire state resources for personal gain and the same phenomenon has been evidenced in contemporary South African society where the post-Apartheid era has seen the emergence of a ruling-party aligned parasitic political and business elite which is concerned only with using the state and its institutions in order to create personal wealth for themselves. So we have a constant pattern throughout history where revolutionary political movements and their leaders gain access to power through “people’s movements” but once that power has been attained, new institutions and structures are set in place with the primary aim of protecting and promoting the interests of a minority, parasitic elite and the interests of that minority take precedence over the interests of the impoverished majority. This seems to be the way of the world and is seemingly unavoidable no matter what political system you are in. As the old proverb goes, “it is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favour of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different nature.” It is useless to put new governments and political systems in place, expecting change that will benefit the majority when the reality is that human nature has not changed and the natural inclination of most humans, despite their best intentions, is to promote personal interests and personal agendas at the expense of the majority. One could argue that even supposedly very open societies like the United States of America, have political systems and social structures that promote the interests of a wealthy elite, even at the expense of the majority and even when popular movements break out they end up falling prey to these elite interests. The Greek philosopher Plato idealistically stated that, “our object in the construction of the state is the greatest happiness of the whole, and not that of any one class.” A look at history and the world we live in shows that often the state is nothing more than, “a social construct primarily for the benefit of elites” contrary to what Plato and his contemporaries envisaged. This makes one wonder whether the so-called revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and many other Middle Eastern countries will produce the kind of change that we desire to see, with all the different groups in those societies benefiting from the new dispensation that will undoubtedly emerge from all the chaos that those societies are currently experiencing.
- There is still work to be done
- I Still Don’t Give a Crap