What is a Revolution?

Tariq Ali has some pertinent comments on the problem of reaching too eagerly for the label of ‘revolution’ in the context of events in the arc from Libya to Syria. But he is clearly operating with a schema of revolution – “a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change” – that raises as many questions as it answers. Is state power actually held by a ‘social class’ in the sundry life-presidencies and dictatorships of the world – the Portuguese Estado novo in the 1970s, the Marcos regime in the Philippines in the 1980s, Mubarak in Egypt? Were the Soviet-bloc regimes overthrown so dramatically in 1989 a ‘layer’? Did the indisputably fundamental change that came over Iran in 1979 emerge from social conflict, or change the social basis of state power? It is not obvious that any of these questions can be answered positively, yet for most of these situations, the term ‘revolution’ is absolutely established to describe their transformations.

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