The answer to this question isn’t universally agreed, and though, by this point in history, there have been many successful Revolutions, of various kinds, and at various stages in the social development of peoples in different parts of the world, only one can really claim to have been a Socialist Event, and that, most certainly, occurred in a largely peasant country – namely Russia.
The majority of successful revolutions were certainly those that finally smashed an entrenched and long-in-the-tooth feudal regime, and won freedom for those who traded and manufactured using borrowed Capital – in other words the nascent capitalist class, including within that term, both lenders and borrowers, but not usually aristocrats and landowners and never the toiling masses.
Yet, any such simple designation of even these revolutions was later greatly complicated by the accelerating rise of Imperialism, by established capitalist power as, in order to guarantee both their cheap resource sources, and their “controlled” (indeed owned) markets, they proceeded to conquer ever larger tracts of as yet undeveloped nations to feed their growing needs and ambitions.
So, a new kind of capitalist revolution arose, that was also to demolish the subjugation of conquered nations to the needs and requirements and demands of the imperialists - of the builders of worldwide Empires, who currently controlled these vassal countries for themselves.
And this, along with other unavoidable complications, meant that none of the revolutions were characterised by being fought for and carried out by a single well-defined class. Indeed, they, literally all, involved alliances of various disenfranchised, but quite different, classes, who all desired the end of the current repressive regime, for their own, often conflicting, reasons. Yet, without such alliances, and in spite of their clashing interests, none were in a position to succeed in overthrowing the incumbent regime without help and cooperation.
The usual pattern was for the more privileged or better-endowed and certainly educated class, in the alliance to take the lead, and deliberately ally themselves with the considerably larger numbers in the lower classes, by extending their demands to cover theirs too. For, with a majority of the population supporting an overthrow, even the combined efforts of the police, the army and even the navy, could not guarantee a victory for the status quo.
But even the final defeat of the old rulers, could still never be the end of the process, for the alliance would soon cease to continue to share a common purpose, and the better equipped with wealth and resources would then tend to become a new ruling class, and establish its own forces of repression to ensure the continued maintenance of their Newly Established Order and the “Rule of Law”.
Even The Russian Revolution involved such an alliance between, in February 1917, the working class, the middle class and the peasantry. But, by July, the break-up of the alliance was already well advanced, and a new one involving the workers and the peasants was forged by the Bolshevik Party with their unifying slogan of “Bread, Peace and Land!”, which enabled them to carry through a new Revolution in October.
The Iranian ousting of the US supported Shah, immediately meant severe constraints were imposed upon it both in trade and in financial transactions of all international kinds, and even the encouragement and funding of Iraq’s Sadaam Hussain to start a war with Iran.
Also the constant interference of the major capitalist powers with enormous support for Israel as a new theocratic and pro-capitalist state in Palestine, and for a dictator-led Egypt to make an accommodation with Israel, made possible by enormous financial grants from the USA. And the history of interference goes back a long way. For following the re-division of the Middle East by France and the U.K. and the continued dominance of “their” Suez Canal, these same powers had invaded that part of Egypt to prevent its control by newly nationalist-revolutionised Egypt after the ejection of the Feudal monarch.
Now, even with an increasing number of the dictators gone, the tasks were nowhere near completed, and no new unifying common purpose could produce the force that could finish the clearly necessary task.
So, like the prior common purpose of removing the dictators, the next obvious one was that of opposing the devilish influence of the USA, and other Western capitalist neo-colonialists powers determining the direction of their countries from without.
Even Al-Qaeda is a symptom of this path, as a unity of the upper layers within these Arab countries and the peasantry, and what better than a common religion to cement new alliances with this anti –US campaign.
“The freedom required can be achieved by a world-wide Jihad!” – it had happened over a thousand years ago as Islam conquered a major slice of North Africa, parts of Asia, and even a part of Europe.
Similar conflicting forces were ever present in these national revolutionary events, which tended to stymie their successful achievement of a revolution for the majority.
It even, historically, had seemed impossible to achieve anywhere.
Except that, in the 19th century, a group of intellectuals in the Universities of Europe began to seriously study the social questions involved. Perhaps surprisingly, the best of these were philosophers, who had been disciples of the great idealist philosopher Frederick Hegel, but who, under the leadership of and the brilliant contributions of Karl Marx, had analysed the social movements involved historically, and materialistically, and shown their economic bases, and both the prior and following stages that had been associated with past revolutions were made clear. All sorts of groups were revealed to be currently ill-equipped to understand what was happening, and hence to formulate the necessary demands to drive the situation onwards, and, therefore, this had generally led those who followed them astray. The Utopian Socialism of many involved “social theorists” was given an historical and economic overhaul by Marx. Hopeful ideals were simply not enough!
Marx realised that many of the contributing classes to the revolutionary action were simply not equipped to carry such a revolution to the next level. The only revolutionary class had become the Working Class, so that only they could possibly see the real possibility of Socialism. And it was this crucial understanding that directed the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, and particularly Lenin, to grasp the torrent of changes and correctly match their actions to the developing situation. The Socialist Revolution was achieved! But, the subsequent revolutionary episodes, since that Revolution, have never attained what was achieved there and then. The question has to be, “Why?”
The leadership of the Russian Revolutionary Party – the Bolsheviks was always avowedly Marxist from the outset, and in the split of the Bolshevik faction within the Russian Social Democratic Party was because that standpoint was being significantly diluted by an increasing Menshevik alternative. The Bolsheviks went their own way. For, though Russia was still a feudal state, with a still subjugated, aspiring capitalist class, not only had the capitalist revolution not occurred, but also it simply couldn’t now happen, as it had done in Holland, Britain, the USA and France.
The Russian capitalists could not do it. The gulf between what they wanted and the increasing crises in both the peasantry and the working class, meant that ONLY a revolution under the leadership of the Working Class could achieve anything, and make possible a meaningful alliance with the peasantry. For within all the other parties, the domination of the Middle Class was already fully achieved, and the main struggle within those parties was to “cleanse“ them of the dreaded “marxist” influences and supplant it with the “realism” of a “Capitalism First” strategy, which would deliver exactly what they had in mind.
But, to achieve their objective they had to have the leadership of the masses, and they didn’t. They failed to subvert the revolution, mostly due to Vladimir Iliych Ulanov (Lenin), who was the leader of the Bolsheviks and a theorist in the Marx-mould: He knew what to do! The crucial leadership of that party were not mere activists, as were (and still are) those of the rest of the “left” parties, for the real marxists are constantly deepening and extending the theories, originally developed by Marx, in line with the inexorable march of real historical events.
Lenin had written on Imperialism, and also what has become the dominant philosophic position of Modern Physics – Positivism, in his book Materialism and Empirio Criticism. He had also gone right back to Marx’s own philosophical source – Hegel, and re-read his works materialistically.
Theory, he knew very well was not, and never could be, already complete and fully available in books, but had to be both re-realised and even re-forged day-by-day, and even sometimes hour-by-hour in the crucible that was a popular revolution.
Power to the masses of the Arab Revolution under the Socialist Banner!