Turkey*, Brazil, Chile and depending on how you count it, Bulgaria are all going off. While they’re all borderline cases, it’s not difficult to argue that all of these countries are at least on the threshold of a revolutionary situation. The difference between mass riots and an attempted revolution becomes fairly semantic at the extremes. Frankly I’ve got no clue what’s happening, obviously I’m delighted. Here are a few notes towards an understanding, this is as much an open thread as anything. I’m putting these notes out for the purpose of getting perspectives and criticisms and trying to synthesise a working understanding.
Firstly, it’s interesting to note that unlike the Arab spring all of these countries are parliamentary democracies. Clearly parliaments are not some magic panacea against the development of revolutionary situations.
Secondly these countries are in some senses quite middle of the road (with a bent to the upper middle). Bulgaria is ranked 36 in the inequality adjusted Human development index, Chile 41, Turkey 63 and Brazil 70. There is a saying that revolution is for the middle people. is something similar happening with middle countries? Mind you the sample is small enough that this trend may be chance. There are however a lot of plausible theoretical explanations for a result like this, I doubt it’s random. The people of these countries have enough access to education and media to see the scope of global inequality, and are low enough on the totem to care.
Thirdly there’s a question. Are these countries all going off at once A) By sheer chance (less unlikely than it sounds) B) Because of contagition (“copycatting”) or C) because of some unifying economic factor (current high foood prices for example)? My guess is a mix of B & C. The exact balance is an interesting question.
Fourthly, Brazil and Turkey have foregrounded a recurring question. Real revolutions attract both the right and left. How should the real revolutionaries deal with the inevitable interventions by centre rightists and outright fascists? Even non-revolutionary, popular movements founded on very general grievances like Occupy face this problem. The point is particularly stark in Brazil because the leader there is a “leftist”.
Fifthly, and in a certain degree of tension with my previous notes, while the media will no doubt soon come up with some catchy name for the conjunction of these protests, each one is different. The Chilean protestors for example are to a great extent composed by hardened cadres with long experience in protest and street fighting (funnily enough many are high-school students). On the other hand Turkey seems (if only in comparison) fuelled by first-timers and relatively inexperienced protestors; at the risk of sounding cheesy, ordinary folk.
*I’m not quite sure whether to talk about the Turkish protests in the past or present tense. They seem to have quietened a bit, but could very easily reignite. I will err on the side of optimism.