What revolutionary government?



IN my recent column, I called to task the anti-Duterte people who use the label “tyrant” and “fascist” to describe the President, by reminding them that these are terms that have specific technical meanings in political science, and hence should not be used casually to advance a political agenda.

It is now the turn of some Duterte supporters to be reminded that “what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander”. They cannot just appropriate the term “revolutionary government” without due regard for what it actually means, and implies.

Of course, some people will accuse those of us in the discipline of political science of being too academic and particular about terminologies, and that we should not be too insistent about sticking to technicalities. But like law and medicine, where being confused about terms can lead you to filing the wrong case in the wrong court or misdiagnosing a patient, political scientists have our own hallowed grounds to protect lest we betray the very tenets of our discipline.

I can understand the frustration of Duterte supporters who think that there are just so many structural constraints that impede the reforms which the President would like to undertake. Many are angered by an obstructionist Congress, and of corruption-prone bureaucracies and agencies. There is a strong dislike for the noisy opposition that continues to use every political trick to demonize and attack the President.

Even the President himself said that what is needed is not martial law but a revolutionary government, in the same way that Corazon Aquino had hers, to enable radical structural reforms and to address the problems of drugs and crime. But the President, to his credit, quickly backtracked by saying that this is not an option for him.

Indeed, a revolutionary government can bring about the changes that a leader would like to instigate.

But a revolutionary government is something that cannot be willed, or proclaimed outside the context of an actual revolution. In order for the President to become a leader of a revolutionary government, there must be first a revolution.

And while acts of political violence can be planned, such as one can plan to put up a movement, or wage continuous organized protests, or launch a rebellion against government, no one can exactly predict whether this confluence of planned events would acquire a revolutionary character, and could in fact have revolutionary outcomes.

A revolution is a kind of political violence where political systems collapse.

Samuel Huntington defined a revolution as a rapid, fundamental and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and policies. Theda Skocpol looked at it as a rapid, basic transformation of a society’s state and class structure; and it is accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below. Amir Arjomand, who wrote about the Iranian revolution, defines it as a collapse of the political order and its replacement by a new one. Jeffrey Paige, writing about rural revolutions, argues that a revolution is a rapid and fundamental transformation in the categories of social life and consciousness, the metaphysical assumptions on which these categories are based, and the power relations in which they are expressed as a result of widespread popular acceptance of a utopian alternative to the current social order. Finally, Andargachew Tiruneh, writing about the Ethiopian revolution, considers a revolution as a popular uprising that transforms an existing socioeconomic and political order.

A simple analysis of these scholarly definitions will reveal that a revolution is not something that a President can just declare, or that people can pressure him to proclaim. Revolutions are not made. They just come when the conditions are ripe, and these are not things that can be intentionally willed, or could come from a single trigger that can be artificially crafted.

And if revolutions could not be proclaimed at will, then how can one even launch a campaign for the President to declare a revolutionary government that becomes its consequence.

What any President can do is to launch a coup d’état against his own government, abolish all political institutions, and hold absolute power. But this will not be equivalent to a revolution, which is far more complex, and usually emanates from the people themselves. If the President does this, the result will not be a revolutionary government, but an authoritarian dictatorship. And if there is significant military involvement in the coup, his government will be labeled as a junta.

We have been very busy defending the President from people who label him as a tyrant and a fascist. Asking him to declare a revolutionary government, which for all intents and purposes can be done only if he launches a coup against his own democratically elected government, will turn him into a dictator.

It is easy to get frustrated by the contentious complexities of democracy. But having a dictator, no matter how benevolent, is always a dangerous proposition. It is also a bit naïve to expect that the elites of this country will simply retreat without a fight should the President launch a coup against his own government and close down all democratic institutions and deny the elites their privileges. We cannot predict what a bloody civil war can bring us. But one thing is certain. The elites we want to get rid of can easily flee to safer countries, but the poor will most likely suffer the most.

Before one gets fixated on a revolutionary fetish, it may help to realize how revolutions eat even their own children. One need only go back to the history of the French Revolution and its reign of terror, or the Cambodian Revolution and its genocidal aftermath, to realize that the outcomes of political violence are unpredictable, uncontrollable and often terrifying.


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