Questions on the Philosophy of Revolution

Weekly GULAN Magazine (September 2011)

Hall Gardner, Interviewed by Ferhad Mohammed


Questions on the Philosophy of Revolution

Hall Gardner


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Q: As we talk about philosophy of revolution, we see that every revolution has a philosophy which can change the feelings of the nation into reality. So, we would like to ask you if; how is it possible for the philosophy of revolution to organize and manage the feelings and demands of the people in a healthy situation?


The revolutionary process is always complex and uncertain. No one really knows when (or even where) revolutions might take place. And no one knows the ultimate outcome. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia is the best example of a recent revolution which was largely unexpected--- despite the clear and evident oppression of the Tunisian people. But even Lenin was not initially expecting the Russian Revolution to take place as early as 1917.


The dynamics of a revolution, once it begins, are also very complex and very difficult to manage. There are essentially three interacting forces. The first is the often conflicting demands of the general population and its differing social classes and strata. The second is the generally conflicting demands of political elites and political parties which can try to find common programs and policies, but which do not always succeed in unifying those positions. The third factor is the external states and groups which seek to interfere in the process of the revolution and which try to influence the differing revolutionary movements within the country.


These three forces likewise interact with the cycles of the domestic and global political economy in which financial crises often make it hard for revolutionaries to keep their promises of a better life for the general population.


It takes effective leadership with clear philosophical or ideological goals-- and which possesses significant poplar support-  to try to “balance” these interacting and conflicting forces. The dilemma is that “mind limps after reality” in the words of Trotsky. Despite clear goals and philosophical principles, it is very difficult to implement those goals and principles in a dynamic and changing socio-political-economic reality.  



Q: Many times French revolution is mentioned as an example of the living revolutions of the world. In your view; what kind of changes French revolution made in the human perspective?


The French Revolution is still ongoing in that the goals of liberté, égalité, fraternité represent philosophical ideals that have yet not been fully achieved. At the same time, the interpretation of those ideals themselves has been in the process of change since 1789. This is particularly true in recent years given the impact of post-World War II immigration from former French colonies or from non-French, non-Christian backgrounds. These immigrants, now in the third or fourth generation, generally believe in the ideals of the French Revolution, but are having difficulty integrating into French society. In addition, the financial crisis is undermining many of the social achievements made by French society itself in post-World War II period. While the French Revolution brought with it ideals of justice and rule of law, and while much has been accomplished, there is a still long way to go to achieve those ideals for all members of French society.



Q: Some revolutions like Mahatma Gandhi revolution are considered as peaceful revolutions far from violence. So, how Gandhi could success in his revolution without using force and violence?


Gandhi’s revolution was successful in that it achieved independence by essentially non-violent means. At the same time, however, that revolution led to the violent break up of India and Pakistan by 1947. The break-up of India and Pakistan was opposed by Gandhi himself who believed that Hindus and Moslems should live in peace and harmony side-by-side.  From this perspective, Gandhi’s revolution was not completely successful in that Gandhi was unable to keep Hindus and Moslems united. The issue raised here is that even non-violent movements may have violent consequences, even if that violence is unintentional.


Q: For the oppressed nations, living or dying has no difference in the revolutions for freedom. In other words, people reach the point to believe that dying is more precious than living without freedom. So, we would like to ask you; how do you interpret dying for freedom?


 The motto of the State of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die” and was based on a statement written in a letter by a famous American Revolutionary war hero, John Stark, near the end of his life. The complete statement was:  “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” To risk one’s life for a cause or ideal is a matter of personal conscience and personal conviction and courage. In some cases, to risk death may be the only option. This appears to be the case of the Tunisian vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in humiliating circumstances started a spontaneous revolution---- even though Mr Bouazizi probably did not know where his actions might lead. His was a symbolic act of desperation that unintentionally sparked a whole people into revolutionary action. But here I emphasize that the decision to risk one’s life should be made on the basis of personal choice and personal conviction and it should not be pressured by other political groups and interests.


Q: The revolutions of 20th century were all for freedom. But still there are some oppressed nations that don’t have a country, for example Kurdish nation. So, in your opinion; why the nations without own countries do not feel their identification?


I do not agree that “all” the revolutions of the 20th century were for freedom as the question first says. The Russian and Chinese revolutions did not result in greater freedoms. Those revolutions led to different, and more repressive, dictatorships, because the political leaderships of those revolutions, Lenin and Mao, were primarily interested in political control and personal power, not freedom. 


 The Kurds have been struggling for freedom in different circumstances in Turkey, Iran and Syria, and have gained significant autonomy in Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1990. This latter fact can provide leverage for achieving greater freedoms for Kurds in the surrounding countries--- if it does not provoke war with those neighbors. But I do not believe in the formula that an independent nation-state and national identity automatically means Liberty. Even political factions of a unified nation of the same ethnic group and culture can oppress their own people. The problem then is how to establish democratic forms of governance within the same ethnic community or identity group while also engaging in power sharing arrangements with other minority groups and with neighboring countries. Rather than seeking national independence, a loose confederation of autonomous regions can be the goal.



Q: In the revolutions, the will of the whole people appear united. And we see that there is no any force that can resist the will of the people. So, I would like to ask you; what are the factors that combine and unite the will of the whole nation at a certain time?


Once again, it is never clear when or where a revolution will take place. What is certain, however, is that the majority of people must be ready to act in a true revolution.  Sometimes a few political elites and political parties may attempt to spark a revolution, but if the majority of the people do not follow those elites willingly, then that is not a true revolution; it is a mere political manipulation.  A true revolution can take place when there is significant elite and popular opposition to a government that is characterized by unfair governance and arbitrary rule. Such a governance is generally characterized by a strong centralization of power in which only a small elite benefits from economic power and profits.



Many revolutions are furthered from its main aim, that means; the revolution was for freedom, but sometimes the authority that has been established by the revolution violates the freedom also. So, how is it possible to preserve the aim of the revolution?



The preservation of Liberty requires permanent vigilance and daily struggle to prevent individuals or political parties from seizing total control and to prevent a small group of individuals from ruling in their personal interests.  Power must be shared.



Q: In the third world countries, after the success of the revolutions, the biggest obstacle facing the nation is in the democracy development process. So, why successful revolutions do not usually succeed in democracy development process?


In the aftermath of a revolution, it is often difficult for the leaderships of that revolution to share power as they often do not trust the other political parties; they may not even trust their own allies in that revolution. The leaderships who gain power often do not want to give up that power, in part as they believe that they know what is the best route for the country, or claim to know it. There may also be demands for revenge as individuals want retribution for the injustices that they experienced, which can lead to new forms of repression. These factors make it difficult to implement democratic governance which respects both majority and minority rights.


One of the few revolutions that has succeeded in establishing a democratic form of governance is that of South Africa. Although not all is perfect, South Africa is one the best models of a successful multi-racial democratic revolution in that the government is based on power sharing and reconciliation among the different ethnic/linguistic groups and political parties (including former opponents of the African National Congress).  Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, but then stepped down as president once he had served his mandate from 1994 to 1999, thus Mandela did not become a dictator as did some other revolutionaries in Africa and elsewhere. In addition to taking steps to reconcile with its neighbors, so as to prevent conflicts on its borders, South Africa’s “truth and reconciliation” process helped to prevent a domestic bloodbath in the aftermath of its democratic revolution.

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