4 March, 2024

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Is It 1848 Again? Unrest This Time Is Global

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Consider the countries overtaken by demonstrations, strikes and social instability in recent times; France, Israel, many African nations, Ukraine and Burma, to limit the size of my list. This time unlike 1765-90 (the American Revolution is conventionally dated to 1765-1781 and the French to 1789-99) or the 1848 Revolution that swept Europe (Sicily, France, Germany, Italy, Austria), trouble is rolling out all over the world. Is there reason to believe that another age of revolution is unfolding? Is it possible that the belief, or hope, among some Sri Lankan leftists that instead of crafting home grown programmes for the economic crisis we should put our faith in revanchist post WW-2 ultra-Trotskyism? That is a world revolution that will transform the globe? 

What is interesting is that in some instances, the French Revolution for example it was economic demands that drove revolution, political ideals (liberté, égalité, fraternité) were significant but perhaps less so. Am I likely to lynched by enlightenment devotees? In other cases, America for example, revolution was political, a war of national liberation. 

There are several instigators of global instability that are too many for me to touch on. For example, US-China confrontation in the Taiwan straits and the South China Sea is the sharpest it has ever been and this time China is militarily a worthy adversary. Iran and Saudi Arabia have formed de-dollarization linkages in defiance of American pressure. America is determined to isolate China technologically (nano-chips, AI, business software, quantum computing and 5G technology) to a degree never seen before. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) share of the global economy on a PPP basis has risen to one-third while G7’s share on the same basis is only 30%; Russia’s share of Indian oil exports has risen to about 30% from a mere 1% at the start of the Ukraine War; China and India will account for about half of the world’s growth in PPP terms in the coming years. The planet is changing dramatically and at no time in the last 70 years have we seen such a conjuncture.  

Though the gloves are off and the confrontation is unprecedented, I have to limit my canvass. If I were I to grade global disturbances by causation, I would argue that the “Earthrise” climate change movement and events in Israel, are driven by political demands, while the Ukraine war, and conflict in Africa and Burma have both economic and political imperatives. Anger in France and Germany arise almost entirely from economic concerns. Let me try my hand case by case.

“Earthrise” 

Earthrise is a powerful force driven largely by young people in all parts of the of the world. The aim is to stop climate change and ecological disaster. This is palpably a political movement. The Island of Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Marshal Islands, Seychelles and Tavalu, to mention just five, will disappear under the sea within four decades whatever we do now. Dozens more will vanish if continued carbon dioxide emission is not reversed at once. Now is this a political or an economic imperative? Thanha in polluting countries for more-and-more is clearly economic and so is capitalism’s need for ever expanding markets. The islander’s fears are existential. 

Australia is to force its largest 215 polluters to limit carbon emission to 5% per year and make the country carbon neutral by 2050. The economy is fuelled by emission intensive mines and industries and is one of the largest per capita (oh well) carbon emitters in the world. I am not sure if Australia will adopt ‘cap-and-trade’, a dangerous escape route which gives the worst polluters (capitalist companies) a loop-hole through which to pollute and hold on to profits. 

“EU negotiators” have agreed to double renewable energy production by 2030. To do so EU countries will have to produce 42.5% of energy from renewable sources. Individual countries will now have to enact their own legislation. France is putting up a life and death struggle to get nuclear power accepted as a renewable source. ‘Earthrise’ is pressurising the world and will gain in strength year by year. Hooray!

Israel 

Israel is not a democracy because of the status of the Palestinian people. One could say that it is, paradoxically, a fascist Jewish state where the Palestinian people have a rank like what Hitler permitted the Jews in Nazi Germany. However, among the Jews themselves political democracy is the norm, similar to the status that Sinhala-Buddhists have long enjoyed in Ceylon/Lanka to the exclusion of the minorities. This is not a strange phenomenon and goes way back to Athenian democracy founded on a slave society. Nevertheless, Israel is a democracy for Jews and that’s better than the worst option, Netanyahu’s attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship even for Jews. The political uprising which has drawn about 100,000 people of all ages on to the streets is unprecedented in the history of the Jewish state. 

Yes, Israel is a democracy for Jews, not for oppressed Palestinians who have been left in the lurch. No demand for Palestinian rights has emerged so far but could happen at some stage? A scuffle for democracy among the Sinhala-Buddhists against a repressive government which refrains from granting minority rights is still useful notwithstanding this inadequacy. Palestinians have therefore cautiously refrained from opposing the Jewish uprising. The government is split between Itamar Ben-Gvir’s ultra-nationalists and Netanyahu opportunists who only seek power. Ben-Gvir can truthfully be called a neo-fascist bent on forming a National Guard which can intervene on the streets like Ernst Röhm’s storm troopers (Sturmabteilung, or Assault Division) and plain opportunists. As Minister of National Security Ben-Gvir is well placed for this task. He is gathering his forces for a counterrevolution. The dialectic of sudden change is ever present in intense political confrontations, class struggle and mass politics. 

Ukraine

The Ukraine war is palpably political, though economic concerns do underly everything to a degree. The Ukrainians are united in a solid flank whose sole objective is to inflict a shattering defeat on Putin who made a monumental blunder when he imagined that his forces could crush Ukraine with a snap of the fingers. The political dimension is magnified by American military, financial and political support in its determination to crush Russia and more importantly the emerging China – China is elder-brother and Russia younger-brother in their relationship. The Ukraine confrontation is therefore doubly political. 

I will now move on to two transitional examples where both political and economic considerations both matter; Burma and the African continent.

Burma

The current state of affairs in Burma is the outcome of strategic blunders by Aung San Suu Kyi which were driven more by naivety and political stupidity than miscalculation. What naivety not to see that the Gorillas of the military junta will lockup the lady, ban her party and drive freedom fighters underground or to peripheral relationships with ethnic minorities on the geographic edge of mainstream society? I have said over and over again in this column that the most heinous, oppressive and repressive form of rule is a military-police state. Burma is living proof. 

Nevertheless, there is an economic dimension. Economic aid from the West is drying and how long China will bank roll its corrupt and evil agent is likely to be brief’ There is no moral dimension to Chinese foreign policy, like America, you will add. I think Burma is in some way responsible for meeting a part of the costs of repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh to Burma and also a part of the costs of refugee maintenance in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Which person in his right mind will trust these Gorillas? The refugees have no Burmese citizenship and no IDs; if ever they return, they will be abused and kicked by the regime. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Poor Kamala, why on earth did President Biden send Vice-president Kamala Harris to visit Africa (Ghana, Zambia and Tanzania), but the American Administration’s political machinations are beside my point. On the scale of whether unrest and uprisings are driven by political or economic demands I put Africa very high on the scale of unrest driven by poverty rather than by demands for democracy etc. Stolen elections and entrenched rule by single despot are ever so common but the masses rise up when they are hungry. Not when liberty is lost but when hunger bites. Food riots broke out in Nairobi, for example, last week.

France

Surprisingly the largest demonstrations at this time and driven exclusively by economic demands is in the heart of the rich world. Up to a million people are on the streets of Paris against Emmanuel Macron’s uncompromising determination to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 years. French workers are determined to relax early and joy their wine and baguettes. Transport is paralysed, airports are close and the Louvre and Notre Dame shuttered. Macron however insists that without raising the retirement age the economy will grind to a halt within a few years. As is always the case within such huge mass movements a few anarchist and violent groups have surfaced; ignore them, they are of no significance, unlike their counterparts of 1848. Germany is marching to the same tune; airports are paralysed and the unions are building up for a general strike. The demands are similar, inflation of prices all round – food, clothing, education, fuel for winter. Napoleon, however, plundered works of art across Europe (the Mona Lisa and about 600 other pieces) while French colonial governments ripped out cultural treasures and heritage from the colonies. Hard core materialism eh?

Sri Lanka

Compared to the turmoil described so far, unrest in Lanka has mostly been limited to anger at rising prices. If instead of limiting himself to dumping white elephants like SriLankan Airlines, President Ranil Wickremesinghe (like Thatcher) attempts to privatise profitable institutions like the Insurance Corporation, he will be inviting 1848 to our shores. He has barred his fangs and sent out his military thugs to beat up peaceful political protesters. He will provoke bigger conflicts may surface he fails to contain his excesses. The JVP/NPP, trade unions, student movements and public unrest will erupt.

England & Scotland

Finally, let me finish on a lighter note. There is the curious case of England and Scotland to smile upon. Will there be Hindu-Muslim riots in the Kingdom that James I of England (James VI of Scotland) unified in 1603 when he ascended the throne and united England and Scotland? Today England is led by Rishi Sunak of Panjabi descent, fervent in his loyalty to a united Britain. A devout Hindu, he took his oath of office on the Bhagavat Geetha. But Scotland’s biggest party, the Scottish Nationalists, a fortnight ago elected Humza Yousaf, duly circumcised and Al Haj, as its leader. Yousaf, upon election swore an oath to the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Will deadly Hindu-Muslim riots shatter the plush green leather-covered pews of the House of Commons? What larks!

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    The primary instrument of repression of dissent is the new proposed anti-terrorism bill if enacted into law. It is specifically formulated to make any uprising or protest against injustice, illegal, and is a tool of state terrorism against its people. One cannot compare other developed countries with basic necessities intact, to an impoverished, starving country like Sri Lanka when their citizens protest or revolt.

  • 5
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    liberté, égalité, fraternité WERE indeed the rallying cries imperative for economic recovery and stability. French were not stupid like our Lankans just wanting food on their plates, and then awing at the Colombo social scene and garish fashion parades (although our young IUSF boys have a far higher mental functioning ….our people always had it, but were suppressed by the funny-looking Lankan aristocrats) .

    No, the French always had elevated conceptual thoughts to achieve it. Likewise, them calling for the correct retirement age will ensure their liberté, égalité, fraternité devoid of gross unhealthy capitalism that even the Americans are trying to dismantle, and such that the likes of Ranil are amazingly/unbelievably trying to force onto a starving nation.

    • 4
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      Ramona,

      How come all of a sudden you are saying all the right things? Your comments are now logical and comprehensible. …….. Did you fall on your head or something? ……. Or is your “association” with you-know-who bearing fruit? :))

      • 4
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        nimal,

        But I was always saying this sort of things, even during the Rajapaksa time. You were so busy clowning around, but the words liberté, égalité, fraternité suddenly focused your mind isn’t it! Never mind, never mind…….just chant these three French words and you will be able to comprehend better in future.

        • 1
          0

          Great rebuff, Ramona; you have won for yourself the right to chastise the clown! Yet, I’m sure that you’re not capable of being cruel to your great admirer. nimal is a talented clown, and his humour is an asset, but during the last three months or so, after Ranil crossed the line by baring his fangs, nimal’s criticisms of him have become increasingly trenchant, compensating for old codger’s woeful lack of principle.
          .
          And nimal, I have always found that Ramona has great seriousness of purpose, although in my early days on CT, I, too, joined in teasing dear RTF. Her being a good sport must also recommend her to us. And she got it right about Biden during the American Presidential Election; she refused to endorse either candidate.
          .
          Together with Lasantha Pethiyagoda, Simon and yourself she forms a quartet of good commenters. Raj-UK is also sincere – shall add something about him tomorrow.
          .
          Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V) of Bandarawela

          • 0
            0

            Ramona,
            Since you already operate under your own name, and we know you live in Pittsburgh, where the time is not the same as Bandarawela, shouldn’t you reveal your ID number to fit in with the Dead Serious Commenters Club?

  • 2
    1

    Prof. Kumar David – Re: Ukraine
    You say, “……when he imagined that his forces could crush Ukraine with a snap of the fingers.” Where did you find that information? Maybe, if Mr. Putin had followed the US led Coalition’s “shock and awe” mass bombing of Baghdad, he would have captured Kiev. Fortunately for Ukrainians, he was, and is still not a fan of America’s “backward military strategies” such as the use of cluster munitions, and decapitation and targeted killings.
    Before launching his special military operation, Mr. Putin offered Ukraine a negotiated settlement. Mr. Zelensky rejected it as “surrender” and declared that Ukraine would fight Russia. Sun Tzu said “whoever wishes to fight must first count the cost”. Ukraine didn’t. That is why surrender is not an option for Ukrainian soldiers. How many Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Ukraine?
    Those who mock Russia’s President for not capturing Ukraine within a few days, should be aware that Russia was more humane than the US when fighting against a militarily inferior country. I used the past tense. It may or may not be the same with Ukraine’s much hyped “spring counteroffensive” against Russia where US led NATO is directly involved.
    Contd’…….

    • 2
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      The non-Western countries will have an opportunity to witness how the insanely heavy US Abram tanks that were designed for desert battlefields work in Ukraine terrain. I don’t know what strategies were placed by Russia against them. Will they use anti-tank mines, anti-tank missiles, drones, gunships or trap and capture as many Abram tanks as possible?
      I have an intense dislike for researching wars. I wish Ukraine would be the United States’ “last proxy war” and these senseless killings will stop.
      Joining NATO is a risky sovereign decision taken by Eastern European countries. Take Finland for example. The “World’s Happiest Nation” now has to “sleep with one eye open”. Ironically, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who was an ardent supporter of Ukraine and NATO, was defeated at the election that was held just three days after Turkeye approved Finland’s NATO membership (on March 30, 2023). What does that mean? It means, although European leaders support war, their voters do not. The Finnish election result could be a warning to world leaders who use Ukraine as a distraction to ignore critical issues at home and also global climate change issues.

  • 2
    0

    “attempts to privatize profitable institutions like the Insurance Corporation, he will be inviting 1848 to our shores”

    Who cares if they are profit-making. if they were privatized they would make more profits. Government had no business in business. Given our situation I dont believe the Government should dabble in business. They should only regulate and enforce. ( even this they can’t do effectively if you look at the grandstanding done by the PUSCL guy Ratnayake) using peoples tax money to pay ssalaries of these organizations is a mistake. Other than Education and Health everything else should be market driven in my opinion.

  • 2
    1

    Prof.Kumar David is correct in comparing with the 1848 Revolution in Europe. However, it is turning towards a global trend. Recently an Ukrainian authorities has faced strong backlash after the Defense of Ukraine shared a ‘work of art’ which showed the Hindu Goddess Durga/Kali Mata in a rather awkward pose, resembling Marilyn Monroe’s favourite pose. This had angered India and other Hindu countries as it had hurt their sentiments, which in turn means, Russia is likely to receive the support from Hindu countries. Mention should be made of Ukraine’s unwanted constant push against India at the UN and is likely to divide the world. As it is, one ponders whether Ranil will stand by the West against India especially after the unpleasant religious developments taking place in the Northern Province. It is time for the Tamil politicians and the opposition to stand together with India.

    • 0
      0

      Marilyn Monroe’s favourite pose?
      From the Seven year Itch? On a couch? or the swimming pool?
      What ate the ‘other Hindu countries’ that are angered?
      *
      “Ranil will stand by the West against India”
      What for?
      *
      “It is time for the Tamil politicians and the opposition to stand together with India”
      *
      Looks like someone has spent a lot of time meditating seated in a watery room.

  • 0
    2

    More about Ukraine. Military experts are of the view that the “dragon’s teeth rows” built by Russia in Southern Ukraine are barriers to stop tanks. Are they, really? No offense, but those pyramidal concrete blocks which are not attached to the ground look like boundary lines to me. The two rows of dragon’s teeth are too far from each other and without a supporting concrete base under them, they can easily be overturned. Also, they were built late last year, not recently. The most effective dragon’s teeth should be at least one meter high in multiple rows very close to each other. Those movable concrete blocks don’t look like proper barriers to stop Western tanks and their fuel trucks. On second thought, maybe Russia believes 230 tanks to be inadequate for Ukraine’s much hyped counteroffensive and therefore, they didn’t want to build permanent barriers which would eventually slow down the movement of their own tanks. Hmmmmm, that makes sense. Who knows, they may attack Western fuel trucks first, before attacking tanks.
    On a separate matter, I think the Secretary General/NATO’s visit to Kiev was to formally convey the group’s opposition to Ukraine-China peace talks. We have seen it before, haven’t we?

  • 0
    0

    The author should give facts a chance to change his hastily formed opinions on Myanmar and Ukraine, among other things.

  • 0
    1

    Re: Ukraine
    There is a Sky News report titled “Deeply concerned Russian leaders have built some of the most extensive defences in the world” including a satellite image of a defensive network built across Russian annexed territories. To me, they are lame and not relevant to the current situation. Besides, trenches are not new. After all, this is called trench warefre by experts.
    What I see is the typical concept of battle tiers that are used in tactical penetration into enemy territories being converted into three defence lines starting from an anti-tank diitch and dragon’s teeth. It could be a misleading tactic or otherwise it seems that Russia is waiting for Ukrainian forces to come in the direction of their defense lines. I bet the attack will come from somewhere else, in a different form. There is no sign of Russia’s combat aviation. Then, there are no tactics to create a gap, division and isolation of incoming tanks (provided that they come first) or shock them.
    Ukrainian forces who know nothing about military tactis brag about an upcoming counteroffensive. Why? It is possible that their much hyped counteroffensive is planned by the US+NATO experts. They are not experts in warfare, but they excell in planning and this may be their last attempt.
    Contd’……

    • 0
      1

      Russia has attacked Ukrainian military infrastructure again. One can argue that Ukraine has a right to repel Russian misslies. But, why the debris from destroyed Russian missiles always, always, fall on residential buildings, children’s parks, hospitals and schools killing Ukraine’s own children, women and seniors?
      China has appointed a Special Peace Envoy to Ukraine. Spanish, French and Brazilian Presidents have met with China’s President to discuss peace in Ukraine. The Pope also said that the Vatican is involved in a secret peace mission. Every individual attempt to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine is welcome. As the Brazilian President suggested, it will be more orderly if an attempt is made to combine all stakeholders who strive to achieve a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis into one single group. It may not be possible right now. But, at some point they will have to do that.
      The Ukraine crisis is extremely complex. For example, withdrawal of Russian troops from the annexed territories is not even an option as the crisis has gone too far. Ultimately, Ukraine may have to agree to cede territories in exchange for rebuilding Western Ukraine. I think I have suggested this last March. Russia may have their own demands.

  • 0
    1

    There was another cowardly attempt to assassinate the President of Russia.
    Russia claimed that the US was behind the Ukraine drone attack on the Kremlin. Both Ukraine and the US denied the allegation.
    When John Kirby said that there were 100,000 Russian casualties for the past 5 months, the US expects people to believe it. When Russia accuses Ukraine of attempting to assassinate their President, Antony Blinken says anything coming from the Kremlin should be taken with a “very large shaker of salt” and Ukraine says it was a “false flag attack”. Debates, denials and double standards – haven’t we heard them before?
    Contd’……

    • 0
      2

      I can list several reasons for the drone attack on the Kremlin at a glance.
      1. Clearly, one country seems to be “very upset” on the development of finding a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine crisis. China has appointed a Special Peace Envoy to Ukraine, and I believe, the Pope is trying to get Mr. Putin agreed to a ceasefire, with the help of the Head of Russian Orthodox Church.
      2. Several recent drone attacks inside Russia implies that Ukraine is determined to discourage Russia from having this year’s Victory Day celebrations. It is one of the main celebrations in Russia. Many people look forward to seeing the grand celebrations on May 9, including myself.
      3. A warning to Mr. Putin if he decides to attend the BRICS summit in South Africa in August.
      4. To soothe Ukraine on the loss of Bakhmut. I believe that 95% of Bakhut is under Russia now.
      5. To conciliate Ukraine’s President after his interview with The Washington Post on Pentagon leaks.
      Should my list be bottom up? Only the Pentagon knows. We are yet to see the consequences of the drone attack on the Kremlin. Will the US receive a rude shock from the unpredictable Russia? Not today, but maybe one day.

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