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From the Haitian revolution to the spectre of Tahrir: is a global revolution possible?

The point here is not to deny, of course, the crony character of national politicians. Nor is it my intention to ignore the importance and specificity of local situations. Rather, I argue that those explanations often remain trapped in methodological nationalism and therefore neglect, first of all, the deeply relational geography of global capitalism, and secondly, a more radical process of political change currently in the making.

Meanwhile, the protesters in the streets are quickly outpacing political analysts in new and radical ways. More and more people around the globe are becoming increasingly aware of the global scale of the crisis and the imperative for global solidarity. The immense global resonance of the protests guarantee that the legacies of these revolts cannot simply be undone or reversed.

Activists around the world are watching each other, learning from each other and expressing solidarity with each other. In an interview for Historical Materialism, three Sudanese activists explained how revolutions are learning processes and push people to think global. As one of them, Sara Abbas, stated:

“The first wave of Arab uprisings taught us some cautionary lessons (…), for example about how fast and deep the counter-revolutionary attacks come, and that we should not dismantle our street movements too soon because they are all we’ve got. Looking to the future now, on a very strategic level, we need to support each other (not just in the Arab world but in the Middle East and Africa more broadly) because every victory makes the ground beneath our own revolutionary currents more firm. And every dictator and repressive regime that remains standing works to undermine our movements across the region. Most importantly, we need to move from nationalism to internationalism. This is a tall order for this region, I know. But we must.”

Towards a new (and global) political praxis?

In this revolutionary process, ‘the streets are the classroom’. There gets decided who may speak and what new truth is produced, while traditional centres of power and knowledge production are being defied and/or removed. Old truths of sectarian divide are being contested and challenged by new ones of (inter)national unity and solidarity in countries like Lebanon and Iraq. Iranian protesters are emboldened by the popular protests of the Lebanese and the Iraqis who were in their turn encouraged by the examples of the Algerians and the Sudanese.

Protesters rising up in Bogota, capital of Columbia, are waving Chilean and Ecuadorian flags. In the wake of the Chilean uprising, a protest song denouncing rape culture and sexual violence went viral and became an international feminist phenomenon. The spectre of Tahrir moved from Cairo to Tahrir Square in Baghdad where protesters display an exceptional level of solidarity, unity and self-organization in very difficult and violent circumstances. After years of pessimism, talks about Arab winters and counter-revolutionary violence, Tahrir once again forms a centre stage.

Also in the so-called established liberal democracies, the spectre of Tahrir set in motion a radical process redefining the very meaning of politics – and by no means do I want to suggest that this would be the first time in history. A new meaning that, as it were, freed democracy from its representative and parliamentary straitjacket (again).

Despite their substantial differences in tactics, modes of expression and demands, movements such as the Gilets Jaunes, Extinction Rebellion and before them the indignados literally moved politics back where it belongs: on the streets, in the square, in public space. According to Yves Sintomer, a political scientist at Paris 8 University, the Gilets Jaunes have reinvigorated democratic politics in France: “There’s a danger in France of reducing democracy to a small political game, where only those who want to be elected are playing, and the people are watching”, he told BBC correspondent Lucy Williamson. “The gilets jaunes have again put this huge majority of people at the front of the stage.”


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