On Revolutions and Protests
Human history tells the story of revolution and reform. The human race has witnessed its share of uprisings and unrest under various circumstances and conditions, which in turn have resulted in a change in the social order. For instance, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 eventually led to the Soviet Union. Fast-forward to early 1990s and that very regime ended due to unrest and revolution in the Soviet satellite states. Karl Marx, for example, had projected global revolution as the sole solution to the conditions and problems that prevailed during his time.
However, not all revolutions are black and white. If there are uprisings due to economic conditions, poverty, hunger, unemployment and religion — it is understandable enough. The Catholic-Protestant wars in medieval Europe, the American Civil War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the present-day protests in Greece — all of this is perfectly logical.
However, not all revolutions are borne out of conflict or crisis, and this is where logic seems to falter. States that are often taken to be representatives of the “right model” are currently witnessing revolutionary uprisings and protests. Turkey is a perfect example. Likewise, states indeed are witnessing political and social upheavals as in Egypt.
This is not really a new concept. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a revolution that occurred in an otherwise peaceful and progressive society. Pre-revolutionary Iran had good relations with the West. The 1979 Revolution was not a revolt against poverty, economic conditions or hunger. It was more of defiance against the regime, and an effort to reclaim power.
To put it in perspective, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has not really done a bad job. As a country, Turkey is far from perfect; yet, at the end of the day, Turkey has, so far, served as a model of liberal values and Islam.
Of course, there were and still are hiccups in the Turkish model too: the issue of the Kurds, the unresolved question of the Armenian genocide and the debate between the imposition of Sharia laws or secularism. Yet, the overall picture that Turkey offers seemed to be a promising one — a model that other Islamic states in the Middle East should not hesitate to learn from.
Initially, people claimed that the planned transformation of a nearby park into a shopping structure was the underlying cause behind the protests at Taksim Square. While this may have sparked the protests, it definitely was not the only cause. The media grabbed the opportunity to show how the protests were entirely about secularism versus orthodox extremist Islam and how Turkish society was doomed.
Until recently, very little attention was paid towards the protesters’ anti-capitalist manifestations. Does not the privatization of a public space by the government, and the people’s opposition to this move, show a debate about capitalism in Turkey? In fact, when the protests at Taksim Square target the authoritarian regime, they also hint at the unease that the average Turk is experiencing with capitalism. Furthermore, this is where the Turkish protests become different from the other protests in the region. The protests at Taksim Square are seeking a transformation or alteration in the current model, unlike those at Tahrir Square, which sought to eliminate every aspect of the then model.
What are the goals behind the protests at Taksim Square? Turkish protesters are not standing for or against any particular thing: religious fanaticism, democracy, freedom, and capitalism. Instead, the Taksim Square and other protests across Turkey are just a manifestation of that cumulative feeling of unease, discontent and frustration that the average Turk has been experiencing for the past several years. The question about the true nature and intent of the Turkish protests is an open one; it is certain, however, that the protests are not just epistemological in nature but also truly ontological.
Coming back to global capitalism. It just cannot be denied that all these worldwide protests have an economic message to them. Greeks are upset with the economic situation in their country and their government’s inability to change it; and Turks are upset about the transformation of public space into a privately owned commercial entity.
In Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Iran, Spain and elsewhere, protests have political and ideological issues, even social issues. But the underlying economic problems are what spark the movement in the first place. In fact, even though we can probably never single out one particular cause as the effect of them all, the economic situation and the side effects of global capitalism have a role to play. And when it comes to capitalism, these protests do not hate capitalism as a system per se; instead, the anguish is against the ill effects that have surfaced as an outcome of capitalism. And like it or not, if you can put the local angst to rest, you can solve most of these protests. Greeks who are taking to the streets want a shift in the economic situation of their country — yet, you give them jobs, and majority of them will not care about the national debt.
Present-day protests, irrespective of the country, share certain common features and ideals. They may or may not succeed. Doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, they can serve as the starting point for the rise of a true Global community — one that is not tied down by notions of nationalism. While the revolutionaries are fighting for the present, the future of our society also depends on them!