Using the conceptual frameworks of “revolutionary rupture” and “contradictions”, as analytical tools to understanding the successes and failures of revolutionary movements in the world, the author argues that 2019 could be a year of “revolutionary rupture”.
Introduction: On “revolutionary ruptures” and “contradictions”
Understanding how the present came from the past is not just useful; it is essential. But understanding the past needs equipping one with conceptual categories. Here I use two critical categories to understand the past as a basis for understanding the present. One is Louis Althusser’s concept of “revolutionary ruptures”, and the other is Mao Tse-tung’s concept of “contradictions” – both of which made innovative theoretical contributions to Marxism. Marx, as we know, made a radical epistemological break from all previous modes of thought based on German philosophical idealism and English classical political economy.
Althusser’s concepts of “revolutionary rupture” and “fusing ruptural unity” enable us to understand the evolving struggle of popular democratic forces against imperialism and dictatorship in our own times. The contradiction between capital and labour, Althusser argues,
“... cannot of its own simple, direct power induce a ‘revolutionary rupture’, and the triumph of the revolution.”
“If this contradiction is to become ‘active’ in the strongest sense … there must be an accumulation of ‘circumstances’ and ‘currents’ so that ... they ‘fuse’ into a ruptural unity: when they produce the result of the immense majority of the popular masses grouped in an assault on a regime which its ruling classes are unable to defend.”[[i]]
Mao Tse-tung wrote his famous essay On Contradiction(1937) based on his experience during the 1920s and 1930s ideological battle against dogmatism in the Communist Party of China (CPC). In this essay, Mao makes a distinction between principal and secondary contradiction; principal and secondary aspects of a contradiction; antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradiction; and the law of uneven development of a contradiction. These distinctions sound somewhat prosaic and mechanistic, but they were critical in designing the strategies that led the CPC under Mao’s leadership to make historic decisions in the “long march” and in the Chinese civil war, as well as during and after the Second World War. [[ii]]
I have found the concepts of “revolutionary rupture” and “contradictions” useful analytical tools to understand the successes and failures of revolutionary movements in the world. Here I focus on Asia, Africa, the Arab Middle-East, and Latin America.
I argue that the year 2019 could well be a year of “revolutionary rupture”. How does one know? The answer is one doesn’t. However, this is not a speculative exercise; we need to examine the existential reality on the ground. And this is what I shall do presently. But first let us step back into a bit of history.
1979 – 1991: Aborted revolutions and the era of globalisation
The signs that 2019 could well be the year of “revolutionary rupture” go back at least to 1979. The most significant event of that year was the overthrow of the US-backed regime of the Shah of Iran by the revolutionary forces under the Shia Muslim leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. It was also the year when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and got bogged down in a futile war – an experience repeated by the US-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 with no end to war in sight to this day. It was also the year of the Nicaraguan revolution led by the Sandinistas, and the collapse of the brutal Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
In the 1980s the working classes in Europe raised their banner of revolution, which led to a crushing blow to the unions led by Margaret Thatcher in Britain followed by Ronald Reagan in the USA. 1980s was a period of counter-revolutionary reaction leading to the era of “globalisation” – an unregulated global market economy where the keys of the economy were handed over by governments to private industrial and financial corporations.
Then in 1989 came the collapse of the Soviet Union. On 25 December 1991, the Communist banner of hammer and sickle was lowered down in Moscow, followed by a triumphalist march of the West to the 21st century, full of hubris and celebration of “the End of History” – the title of the book by Francis Fukuyama (1992).
Major signals of emerging revolution in our time
Now we come to the present. I give four tell-tale signs which make me believe – to use a metaphor – that mother earth is pregnant with the possible birth of a new era. Each of the four deserves a full-length chapter. Here I give snapshot pointers that need further reflection to understand the existential reality of our time.
1. Neoliberal capitalism in crisis
Neoliberal capitalism is in deep crisis of functionality and legitimacy. The financial crisis of 2007–08, triggered by the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States, has been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The roots of the crisis go back to the globalisation of the economy in the 1980s, which we analysed earlier. This led in later years to the “financialisation” of the global economy – i.e. the intermediation between increasingly uncontrollable financial leverage over production. This was the fundamental cause of the financial crash of 2007-08.
When Trump says that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a “disaster”[[iii]], he is saying something that has been apparent to many of us for several years. [[iv]] For the West the WTO is a failed institution because, with China-led resistance to Western dominance, the Americans and Europeans are no longer able to manipulate the WTO at will as before. And yet, ironically, it is the developing countries that, despite bearing the brunt of Western dominance of the WTO, are now championing multilateralism against the so-called “plurilateral agreements” now pushed by the West. [[v]]
The above are not just economic-financial indicators. Indeed, the whole edifice of multilateral global, financial and political structure that was laid in place under largely American direction after the end of the Second World War is now in tatters. At the root lies a deepening political crisis in the Western geopolitical reality. I have space here to give only one example. Behind Trump’s attack on the Turkish lira in September 2018, and blocking its access to the mighty US dollar, lies the final stage of a possible settlement in Syria under the Russian-Iranian and Turkish mediation. What irks Trump (indeed, the whole Western world) is the total collapse of US-NATO military-political strategy in the entire Arab Middle-East – not just in Syria. The “End of History” was a prolegomenon, a preamble, to the birth of a new era that we are living through now.
2. The withering away of Western liberal democracy
This is a deep subject. In this brief paper we need go no further than offer a quote from the prestigious mainstream journal –Foreign Affairs– published by the US Council on Foreign Relations. The cover page of the May/June 2018 issue (Volume 97, Number 3) carries the title: “Is Democracy Dying? A Global Report”. This is what it says:
“Centralisation of power in the executive, politicisation of the judiciary, attacks on independent media, the use of public office for private gain—the signs of democratic regression are well known.”
Gideon Rose, the Editor writes in his Introduction: “As a Latin American friend put it ruefully, ‘we’ve seen this movie before, just never in English.’”[[vi]]
Let us turn to Europe. In June 2016 – some two-and-half years ago – I had anticipated the macabre saga of BREXIT. I started with “When things fall apart, they don’t do so by accident. There are underlying deeper historical and civilisational forces. No civilisation has existed forever. European civilisation is ebbing in front of our eyes – for those who have eyes to see.” My piece first appeared in Pambazuka News, and was reproduced in the London Observer. [[vii]]
On 7 May 2017, Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France with 66.1 percent on a wave of popularity. In December 2018 his approval rating fell to 23 percent. [[viii]] Macron wanted to save Europe. Now he cannot save France. In the past several months we have seen the rise of the Yellow Vest Movement that began in Paris and has now spread throughout Europe. We’ll come back to this phenomenon later in this essay.
As for social democracy, which the Nordic countries paraded as a half-way house between capitalism and socialism, it too has lost its shine. [[ix]]
3. Humanitarian crisis
Former Head of the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Stephen O’Brien reported in one of his last reports to the UN Security Council that, “the world faces its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945 with over 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine.” Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease. O’Brien said that, “the largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen where 18.8 million people – two-thirds of the population – need aid…. More than seven million don’t know where their next meal will come from …”[[x]]
I will not dwell into many other manifestations of this crisis. Let me add just one more – the extraordinary phenomenon of the so-called “refugee crisis”. We know the root cause of this crisis – the military “adventures” by the West/NATO in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia – to mention the most prominent cases – have devastated their economies and people’s livelihoods. However, when these people turn in desperation to make the death-daring journey over the Mediterranean Sea, they are branded as “refugees” and “migrants” creating a “crisis” for Europe! Where do you find a worse example of hypocrisy and duplicity? And yet, there is no sober discussion on the cause of this “crisis” in the European parliaments or the media.
4. Western warmongering as a way of “resolving” the multiple crises
In July 2018, the 29 member countries of NATO held their 29th summit in Brussels, Belgium. One of its decisions was to increase military spending by another US$ 266,000 million. Already its members collectively spend more than the remaining 164 countries of the world. Other decisions included reinforcing the presence of NATO troops in Eastern Europe, directed specifically at Russia.
President Trump regularly turned up late for meetings, ignored the agenda, and secured an emergency session where he demanded his European partners to increase their military spending. He threatened to quit NATO if they did not do so. Afterwards, at a hastily convened press conference, Trump claimed that he had emerged victorious, saying European leaders had caved in to his demands.
This was contested, among others, by France and Germany. German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned NATO against “warmongering”, after it conducted military exercises in Eastern Europe. [[xi]] NATO had carried out a ten-day exercise involving some 31,000 troops, as well as fighter jets, ships and 3,000 vehicles.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has become a veritable instrument of military interference in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. In this second cold war, China is challenging the US not only on the trade and finance fronts, but also on the military and espionage fronts. China is pushing its zone of influence out into the Pacific, seizing control of disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea, building military outposts on them and claiming the waters around them. In retaliation, the US has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Islands.
How does this new cold war and sabre-rattling by NATO help the dying Euro-American Empire? It helps in at least three ways:
- It diverts American (and Western) peoples’ attention away from multiple internal and external challenges the Empire faces at the political and economic fronts.
- It boosts the military-industrial- financial complex of the Empire.
- It puts the blame for the global crises on the rest of the world – in particular, Russia and China, but also NATO members like Turkey.
Below the semblance of unity, however, there is increasing disunity within the Empire. Intra-NATO contradictions are part of the deepening structural crisis of capitalism and imperialism.
Looking beyond the curve
The risk of an Armageddon as a result of an accidental mishap or miscalculation cannot be ruled out. Nonetheless, hoping for the best, we need to look beyond the curve and see how the rising tide of revolutions around the world could be harnessed for a better, a more peaceful and just, world order.
This is of course a challenging assignment. I draw from my own experience in the last sixty years’ struggle for emancipation of my country – Uganda – and our continent – Africa. I dare to extend my limited knowledge to try and understand the global challenge. Here, once again only in brief, are some encouraging pointers to a better future.
The analysis made in the section above leads me to the conclusion that various forces point to what Althusser descried as a point of “revolutionary rupture”. In my sixty years of political activism, I have not seen such a qualitative change in the movement of history as we behold today. I have focused mostly on the geopolitical and economic forces. But we are witness to similar kinds of change also in the field of science and technology.
Grassroots resistance is weaving together to fight against the global structure of oppression. Using Mao’s concept of “contradictions” and combining it with Althusser’s “fusing ruptural unity”, I can see that the forces of political revolt will eventually coalesce globally, resulting in people’s resistance movement during the course of the next decade beginning 2019.
Here is a short compendium of some of the more important of these political forces of resistance against an unjust global system.
- Grassroots resistance movements among the First Nations in America, Canada and Australasia. Already, the First Nations in America are fighting against pipeline and oil sands expansion, and fossil fuel extraction. [[xii]] They will also inspire First Nations in the global South.
- Mass movements all over the third world, especially in Africa, that are challenging the neo-colonial imposition of the West on their countries through their comprador agents. These compradors rule with brutal suppression and exploitation of peasants and workers. There are hundreds of movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America that expose this and mobilise the people against it. I am a member of several, but I mention only two: Pan African Federalist Movement [[xiii]], and Rapport Alternatif Sur l’Afrique [[xiv]].
- In India, we have the Adivasi movement among the indigenous peoples, and the Dalit movement among the so-called “untouchables” – people who are at the bottom of the still prevailing caste system in India.
- The grassroots Yellow Vest (gilets jaunes) Movement for social and economic justice, which began in Paris in 2018, is now spreading over many parts of Europe. Paris is the symbol of revolution. This is where the Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution began in 1789.
- Voices for Creative Nonviolence that began in the United States in 2005 with long-standing roots in nonviolent resistance to US militarism. They have protested against wars in the Middle East – including in particular Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Literally thousands of grassroots social movements – including mass street protests, and workers and student movements – all over the world.
- And finally Kim Jong-un’s “Sunshine Diplomacy”. I have deliberately left it to the end as a form of resistance against the great Super-Power. [[xv]]
By way of conclusion
In 1931 two great men – Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi – exchanged letters in which Einstein expressed the hope that Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence “will help to establish an international authority, respected by all, that will take decisions and replace war conflicts.” To this, Gandhi replied: “It is a great consolation to me that the work I am doing finds favour in your sight. I do indeed wish that we could meet face to face and that too in India at my Ashram.”[[xvi]]
An Ashram is a spiritual home for meditation and reflection. There are now several Ashrams in the world. As the world’s people join forces for global peace and justice and struggle using non-violent methods, [[xvii]] they will need to bond together to resolve the principal contradiction in our time and take advantage of the fusing ruptural unity among peoples. This is our challenge.
[ii]I have elaborated this concept in my book, The Common Peoples’ Uganda, 2019
[iv]As the Executive Director of the South Centre in Geneva from 2004 to 2009 I have been engaged in the negotiations in the WTO and I have witnessed the steady cathartic decline of the WTO.
[v]A plurilateral agreement is an agreement between more than two countries. It goes against both the text and the spirit of multilateralism which the basis of the WTO.
[vi]https://www.cfr.org/news-releases/global-report-decline-democracy accessed on 15 January 2019
[vii]See:https://observer.ug/viewpoint/45195-yash-tandon-on-brexit-and-africa accessed on 15 January 2019
[viii]https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-france-protests-poll/macrons-popularit... accessed on 15 January 2019
[ix]See: Asbjørn Wahl. “The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe”, https://www.socialeurope.eu/crisis-social-democracy accessed on 15 January 2019
[xi]https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/german-foreign-minister-... accessed on 15 January 2019
[xii]See, for example: https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/05/02/news/chiefs-133-first-nation... accessed on 15 January 2019
[xiii]https://www.google.Pan+African+Federalist+Movementaccessed on 15 January 2019
[xv]See: Yash Tandon, “Lessons Africa can learn from North Korea” June 2018. https://www.pambazuka.org/global-south/lessons-africa-can-learn-north-korea accessed on 15 January 2019
[xvi]http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/11/when-einstein-wrote-to-gandhi.htmlaccessed on 15 January 2019
[xvii]Resort to violence by a section of the resistant movements is usually by a small minority, a reaction against brutal police and military action by the state. This is true of all the above-mentioned movements – including the more recent rise of the Yellow Vest Movement.