Four Lessons That the Arab Spring Could Have Learned From the Russian Revolution

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Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov , better known as Lenin, delivers a speech in Moscow in 1919. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

The Russian Revolution started 100 years ago today and its impact is still being felt around the world. Here are four things about the 2011 uprisings we could have learned from the Russian Revolution.

  1. Getting Rid of the Old Regime Is Only Stage One
    Completely replacing an autocratic infrastructure with a new and free society is extremely difficult. The early stages of a revolution are always tumultuous and emotional. But ousting the old dictator is only a small part of the battle.After the initial revolution began on March 8, disruption, maneuvering, strikes and riots continued. The provisional government was overthrown by Bolsheviks in November, kicking off the Russian Civil War which lasted until 1923. A plethora of factions, different shades of communists, anarchists, army officers and old-regime militias fought a savage and brutal war against each other.Many of those involved in the early Arab Spring protests were focused on getting rid of the old regime, but became unstuck beyond that point.
  2. The Most Extreme Factions Are Often the Best Organized
    In the Russian Revolution one of the main reasons the Bolsheviks were able to seize control of the state is not because they were the most numerous nor did they have the widest support base. It was because they were the best organized.The reason they were so well organized is that they had a clear vision of what they wanted and a dedicated cadre of activists, militia men and others willing to lay down their lives to achieve the goals of the movement.Islamists in the contemporary Middle East have that vision, that hunger and that willingness to die for the cause. Liberal movements on the whole do not.This puts Islamists at a great advantage because this unity of purpose translates to a strict organizational structure.
  3. Ideology Matters a Lot
    Revolution is won in the hearts of the people. To secure broader support for a new system, it’s necessary to have a cohesive ideological platform to justify the positions which will be taken by the new regime. Communism was founded by ideologues and although the practical effort of the revolution was carried out by thousands of men and women, without the underlying ideological platform there would have been no cohesive movement.Liberals have not been able to put across a cohesive ideological platform for how they want the future of the Middle East to look in the same way that Islamists have.
  4. Don’t Expect Positive Change Just Because It Fits with “The Arc of History”
    This is more directed at western observers of the upheavals in the Middle East.The hope of the Russian Revolution gave way swiftly to a brutal and oppressive communist regime that killed millions. Getting rid of one tyrant in the end only opened the door for another.In the contemporary Middle East, replacing Bashar al-Assad with ISIS or Mubarak with Morsi (and later, Sisi) has not proven to be much better.
    Actions can lead a state towards democracy and liberalism. It doesn’t happen organically on its own by some magical process of modernization.

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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