Posted tagged ‘revolution’

Revolution day

October 23, 2011

This day – October 23 – has been declared by the new Libyan government to be ‘liberation day’, the day on which the uprising against the now deceased dictator was completed. Although this is probably not much on the minds of Libya’s National Transitional Council, October 23 is a date with all sorts of revolutionary associations, with exactly the kind of mixed results and messages that one might expect. It is the date (at least according to some calculations) on which Russia’s October Revolution began that quickly brought the Bolsheviks into power. Ironically it is also the day on which, in 1956, Hungarians began an uprising against the Soviet occupiers, a revolution that was crushed a couple of weeks later on November 4. However, Hungary actually announced its new post-communist Republic on this day in 1989.

Purely statistically, most revolutions in history were quickly followed by dictatorships or tyrannies. What might however give the Libyans hope is that this longer historical trend may not apply in quite the same way today. The revolutions in Eastern Europe of 1989 have on the whole produced working democracies, and while the jury is still out on the impact of this year’s ‘Arab Spring’, it may well be leading to much greater freedom in the region. While the bloody events of the last few days might give a little cause for concern, it is possible that the relationship between revolution and terror is being broken. Certainly Libya deserves a chance to succeed.


January 2, 2009

For a few years, when I was a teenager, I had a copy of the iconic poster of Che Guevara on my bedroom wall. The original photograph on which it was based was taken by Alberto Korda, but the poster version which became so famous was the work of the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. For a generation of adolescents it was the banner of the ‘revolution’, something of an abstract concept that suggested that the world could be changed for ever and that posters on a bedroom wall were a start. In fact, I am not really dismissive about that particular phase so many of us went through, as it contributed to a heightened sense of political awareness and social justice and a desire for peace.

Che Guevara died, as many people know, in Bolivia in 1967, but Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba survived and even today is stuttering on, having made some compromises and concessions but, apart perhaps from North Korea under the Kim dynasty, having stayed truer to Communist purity than any other country. In fact, January 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the revolution. The socialist system it created can celebrate the occasion, but it is  not in a healthy state. Whether that is because the blockade by the United States over all these years has undermined the economy, or because old-style socialism has run its course, is something that can no doubt be debated.

But what I wonder is whether the bedrooms of students today are still decorated with Che’s poster, or indeed any other symbol of alternative frames of reference or progressive ideologies. I don’t have a rose-tinted view of Castro’s Cuba, which may have tackled educational disadvantage and healthcare better than most, but which is still an authoritarian dictatorship that often silences dissent. But I do believe that in order for society to retain an idealistic streak alongside the necessary pragmatism, young people in particular need to have visions and icons that lift the eyes above the idols of success and wealth, at least for a while. I hope that spirit is still alive.