When news that Tunisian vendor and entrepreneur Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze reached the West the Capitalist Democracies felt a collective shudder go up their spines. The Third World, a concept which is mainly a Western Construction in itself, was now in open revolt against the institutionalized systems of oppression and violence that have plagued their societies for generations. The fact that these systems had been supported or even put in place by Western capitalist states and corporations was not lost on these nations. In fact this realization led to a hyperbolic and hypocritical conflation of Revolution with religious fanaticism and “dysfunction”. The West has always had a difficult time recognizing and appreciating the essential nature of societal revolution in nations whose structures do not fit the traditional Western, Post-Christian Secular, and capitalist paradigms. It has also often failed to remember the chaos, inhumanity, confusion, contradiction and failures of their own political and cultural revolutions. In this sense yesterday’s revolutions are today’s standard institutional reforms and today’s revolutions are nothing but immature third-world growing pains.
Of course this is a failure of imagination on the part of the Capitalist West and not an accurate representation of facts on the ground. It also a clear demonstration of how much the racially superior imperial has impacted the intellectual development of Western Capitalist nations. The trails, travails, and thoughts of the “3rd world” (read the world outside of the comfortable access of the western economic experience and cultural imagination) are seen as unique to a subset of humanity that is prone to childish explosions of rage and indignation. Revolutionary violence in this context is “brutal” and arguments for greater openness and control by the working classes and the poor are “naïve” or threats to security. Whose security at stake is never quite stated but it is quite explicit who the West believes is in imminent danger from 3rd World freedom.
The West tends to sanitize and fetishize the violence that begat its own beginning on the world stage. The American Revolution is turned into an all but sterile profile of bourgeois courage in the face of overreaching paternalism. The British were foolish to see themselves as superior to the Americans, but not because of the intrinsic equality of man. No, they were simply misguided in their attempt to subjugate a fellow “civilized” nation of rational minds and productive citizens. The revolution was not fought for “freedom” some much as pride and expedience in the execution of the imperial prerogative on the terms of those Westerners most closely associated with immediate circumstances of the American landscape. The Revolutionaries, as we are told to call this motley collective of land owners, bourgeois businessmen, slave farmers and Enlightenment philosophes, were devoted to the idea that the tyranny from across the sea interfered with the projection of order upon a population of slaves, workers, Indians, and women at home. What did these British Tories think the Revolutionaries were, peasants?
When we see demonstrations in Tahrir Square we do not associate these scenes with Valley Forge or Lexington and Concord largely because we do not associate working class and poor individuals with positive revolutionary exercises. A “revolution”, as we are made to understand it in the West, is not a collection of human beings striving for dignity or attempting to forge a society that best represents the needs of a stifled population. No, a “revolution” is an orderly march from structure to structure with mythologized figureheads committing the gross but sadly necessary bouts of violence needed to discourage the oppressive opponent from retaking the levers of power. A “third world” revolution is invalid and dangerous because it veers more towards the Revolutionary model of the dictatorship of the people established during the French Republican Terror; a bout of violence that is “unacceptable” because its violence is directed against the stabilizing institutions and figures that form the core of the Western Capitalist understanding of foundational order. They see the hands of men and women who are understood to be inferior and unworthy because of their station and their aspirations, because order is based upon their subjugation and exploitation covered in the blood of their “betters”, of those who should be that agents of change. The worker, the people, and the “native” are one and the same; they are all the misfits of a society that is based upon the precept that you only succeed if you are worthy of succeeding. You are only equal if you have purchased equality upon the backs of the unequal. To put it bluntly, and to paraphrase Richard Nixon, if poor and working people do it, it is not a revolution.
Shoshana Bryen of The National Review sums up this Revolutionary Chauvinism with her statement that “The violence in Egypt and Libya — now spreading to Morocco and Kuwait — is an indication that the U.S. is unable to buy leverage”1 , as though the revolutionary impulse of entire peoples, cultures, and nations were a commodity to be bought and sold like wheat futures or stock in Intel. This prejudice is also on display in most neo-con and neo-liberal platitudes about “hearts and minds” and “wars of liberation”. The 3rd world does not engage in “civilized” revolution; it is civilized through top down revolution brought prepackaged from a Western “Democracy”. “All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.” Rudyard Kipling gives voice to the instinctual understanding of Western Capitalist nations that if a nation were meant to have liberty and dignity they would already look, act, and believe like a Western Capitalist nation. America, England, Capitalist Russia, all underwent revolutions that in the end led to the establishment free market economies within a classical liberal framework. Because this frame work, and the imperialism that gave it birth and then sustained it, led to the plight the 3rd World is now revolting against, the West cannot bring itself to legitimize or understand what is clearly a struggle their own ancestors once fought against the powers that be.
The Arab Spring revolutions, the struggle for self-determination in West Papua, the revolutionary democracy being attempted in Venezuela and countless other struggles are examples of a new form of Revolution that is attempting to reimagine and restructure society upon a framework of social equality, economic egalitarianism, and radical democratic action. We are told that when violence occurs or institutions the West has depended upon for their own illusion of security are threatened or overthrown that the revolution is “spiraling out of control”, but actually this is the sign that the revolution is proceeding as it should, how successful revolutions in the West have in the past. The fact is the West has not seen this sort of revolutionary intensity since at least 1783. It will take some getting used to, and the capitalist, sensationalized entertainment media we must largely depend upon for information in the west will be slow to represent this reality, if it ever will at all. The internet has opened the eyes of many individuals in the west and has piqued the interest of the working class in seemingly comfortable Western Capitalist Nations. Time will tell if this awakening will be enough to challenge the assumption that the only real revolution is a Western one.