The Russian revolutionary Lenin said there were “decades where nothing happens; and there were weeks when decades happen”. If there was a time that saw decades of political conservatism, stagnancy, and immobility swept away in mere weeks, it was 2011. Last year began with the resignation of the Tunisian despot Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in January, in response to protests by Tunisian youth SSY covered here. Few people could have imagined the tidal wave of the protest that would follow as Egyptian youth inspired by the overthrow of Ben Ali organised a Day of Rage for the 25th of January in Egypt (which coincided with the “police day” public holiday).
What might have been small and manageable in the past decade proved to be very different in the first major recession of the 21st century. After decades of police brutality, corruption, dictatorship and political repression the call to action struck with popular consciousness not just in Egypt but all around the world. Millions watched glued to their screens, the first major revolution of the 21st century. After decades of rule and with no previously obvious signs of collapse the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in the space of two weeks and now faces the death penalty for his crimes against the Egyptian people.
Egypt’s revolution took the rulers of that region completely unaware – Israel today is absolutely terrified they will no longer have a partner to keep Gaza under siege and whose new Parliament may put it’s peace treaty with Israel to a popular referendum, and the US tried hopelessly to maintain Mubarak’s rule in Egypt even as it looked impossible to most observers.
This wave of popular protest wasn’t limited to Egypt either – it has now spread to every Arab country, both pro and anti-US but with the common goal of overthrowing dictatorship and corruption.
This meant the West took very different attitudes to different parts of the Arab Spring. In Bahrain, the USA turned a blind eye as one of it’s most important allies, Saudi Arabia sent hundreds of troops to crush a popular uprising in Bahrain and to preserve the sectarian monarchy that hosts a large US military base on the Island. However when it came to Libya, a bizarre dictatorship which shared many characteristics with other Arab regimes – with the exception that it wasn’t completely in the pockets of the West – a different attitude was taken, with military action conducted by NATO to overthrow the regime.
Not a good year for these guys
This made Libya the third Muslim country in 10 years bombed by the West, after Afghanistan and Iraq. While the campaign in Libya was, from the viewpoint of London, Paris and Washington, a quite easy affair there was one war that finally seems to have drawn to a close – at least for Washington. The 8 year nightmare of Iraq for the USA ended with a formal troop withdrawal from Iraq earlier last year, as Obama redeployed US soldiers from Iraq to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Iraq war, so critical in radicalizing millions of people across the world ended not with a bang but a whimper as the USA has been forced to leave with many of it’s desires – permanent military bases, proxy for strikes on Iran and Syria, dirt cheap oil – unfulfilled. If Iraq has been a disaster, Afghanistan hasn’t turned out much better as it’s Taliban guerillas continue to make the ISAF occupation of the country as pointless, ineffective and bloody as all the previous occupations of Afghanistan have been. The Vice President of the USA, Joe Biden even went as far as to say “The Taliban are not our enemy” – an admission that the USA will negotiate and involve the Taliban in Afghan politics at some point.
The solid decade of occupation and war in Afghanistan and Iraq has proved so costly for the USA that US President Barack Obama has carried out the biggest reform of the US military “since WW2″. Moving it’s forces away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific (hello China) it’s a massive climbdown from the previously almost invincible US military power in the 90′s. But what other choice does Obama have, particularly when in 2011 the US faced a historic first time downgrading of it’s credit rating. When the most powerful nation in human history hasn’t got the best possible record at debt management, it’s a damning indictment of the cost of occupation and war – and may fortunately dissuade the USA from any attack on Iran, at least for the time being.
Many of the historic events we saw in 2011 – such as the resignation of Mubarak – weren’t from our sofas or bedrooms, but with other activists in comrades in the longest running student occupation in UK history. From February to September, Hetherington House a former postgraduate club, was occupied by anti-cuts students at Glasgow University. For 6 months we were able to hold a non-commercial space on Glasgow Uni campus, open to a variety of campaigns – from the protests to stop cuts to nursing, modern languages and adult education at Glasgow University, to the campaign to save the Accord Centre in the East End of Glasgow. This occupation succeeded in acting as a focal point for the anti-cuts movement across the whole of the city, as well as attracting a variety of speakers like Ken O’Keefe and Owen Jones.
- Good year for student protests though!
- 2011 – the year this man couldn’t stop laughing
While the occupation of the Hetherington House ended, the networks and connections built up between different activists and groups hasn’t disappeared. There’s now a vibrant anti-cuts group for the whole of Glasgow that many of the former occupiers are involved in – the Coalition of Resistance. COR’s been in existence since May and has already become the largest and most active anti-cuts group in Glasgow, organising strike buses for J3O and N30, building the October 1st demonstration, the march to save the accord and providing a space for anyone from any political background who wants to fight the cuts to come to. COR will be an important part of anti-cuts activism in the next year, and a vital space for Socialists to operate in.
Another front that will be opening in the next few years is the Independence campaign in Scotland. After 4 years of SNP minority rule, alongside a Tory Government in Westminster many Labour Party members must have thought they were a shoe in for the Holyrood elections held in May of last year. What they actually faced was the biggest defeat for Labour and Unionism imaginable – central belt seats where the Labour party had majorities you’d normally find in one party states were seized by the SNP for the first time in it’s history, producing a revolutionary result in Scottish politics – a pro-independence majority in Holyrood for the first time ever.
This means after 300 years of unionist misrule, the Scottish population will finally have a choice over our constitutional future. And for Unionism, it couldn’t come at a worse time, where a Tory party that has less MP’s in Scotland than Pandas is trying to force through a brutal package of austerity. This is Scotland’s gain from the revolutionary year that was 2011 – the chance to take our nation out of the world’s oldest empire, and a possibility for the Radical Left to shape that debate and the Scotland that emerges. 2011 will be remembered as the year that saw arrogant, embedded and reactionary power crumble fall – from Cairo to Tunis to Pollok – lets organise to make sure 2012 continues in the same vein.