Chapter 5

Global revolution, counterrevolution and genocidal war

It is widely recognized at the beginning of the twenty-first century that world politics are undergoing fundamental change. However, neither in the analytical nor in the historical accounts of 'post-Cold War' transformation has a successful synthesis been achieved between structural change and the role of agency conceived as purposeful social action. As we saw in Chapter 3, attention has focussed either on transformed socio-economic relations, or on relations between national state and other entities conceived within the loose categories of 'regime', 'community' and 'governance'.

In the expanded discussions of civil society and social movements, their contributions to the transformation of state relations has hardly been considered. Correspondingly, the connections between structural change and revolutionary social movements in the historical upheaval remain largely unexplored. Even prominent analysts of earlier radical waves have explicitly denied the revolutionary character of our own times. Thus for Eric Hobsbawm, ‘the world at the end of the Short Twentieth Century is in a state of social breakdown rather than revolutionary crisis … .' For Fred Halliday, there is a ‘permanence of unrest’, but the agenda of change that the classic revolutions inaugurated may now be achieved through reform: the revolutions of 1989 (and, for that matter, 1956 and 1968) don’t really count. For these analysts, schooled in earlier Marxist traditions, this is not a change in the character of revolution, but a transformation of revolution into something else.

The role of an increasingly global democratic revolution in the messy, uneven transformation of the bloc-state system of the Cold War era into an incipient global state system, has thus been little explored. In this chapter I examine how the crisis of the bloc-state system and the transformation of the democratic revolution have combined to produce a new set of historic conditions. In contrast to those accounts of globality which plot the extending worldwide web of economic and cultural linkages, I focus on the traumatic political upheavals at the centre of global political transformations.

The final crisis of the bloc-system

Although the structure of Cold War state relations constrained the democratic revolution, the Cold War was also a highly dynamic system. The original period of high Cold War tension gave way in the mid-1950s to the beginnings of cooperative management of bloc rivalry. By the mid-1960s, after the Cuba missile crisis, some limited arms control was in place. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the danger of linkage between the Vietnam War and the overarching Cold War rivalries was contained. Paradoxically the 1970s, the final decade of war in South East Asia, became the era of détente between the superpowers.

However the results of war were profoundly significant for the Cold War system. The US's first-ever major military defeat, at the hands of a small, poor nation and amidst great social unrest, deeply affected the American state, the crisis of which was magnified by the disintegration of the Nixon presidency. At the same time the entire Western world, which had suffered unprecedented economic and social unrest since the late 1960s, was convulsed by the first serious economic recessions of the postwar period. As the oil-producing states garnered unprecedented economic and political leverage, there was a deepening sense of instability in the economy, society and politics of the West, and above all of the United States.

In these circumstances, both inter- and intra-bloc politics underwent great upheavals. Modest strategic advances by the Soviet Union came to be seen in some American quarters as fundamental threats. The USSR was moving towards something like nuclear parity with the US – albeit at the cost of a crippling burden on its much more backward economy. It also achieved a modest expansion of international political leverage, in countries like Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. The idea that the Soviet bloc had seized a ‘window of opportunity’ due to American weakness, and that this needed by redressed by strong new American leadership, became a cornerstone of the ‘new right’ in American and later British politics. At the same time, the expanding European and Japanese economies gave new confidence to non-American Western elites, leading to extravagant predictions of a new contest of 'Europe versus America' or 'the disintegrating West'.

A new phase of intense inter-bloc conflict, the ‘Second Cold War’, was the product of these contradictions. The December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in support of its client regime, coincided almost exactly with a NATO decision to introduce new ‘intermediate-range’ nuclear missiles into Western Europe, including Pershing II missiles which could be delivered from Germany to Moscow in ten minutes. The new right-wing US president, Ronald Reagan, supported by his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, launched a rapid drive to raise military spending, introducing new weapons and strategic defence systems that would restore clear Western superiority. The threatened Soviet leadership responded in kind, so far as it could afford, and the nuclear arms race accelerated. Within the blocs, discipline was reasserted: the Solidarity movement was crushed in Poland, and nuclear disarmament movements were defeated politically by concerted right-wing leadership in Western Europe.

From this heightening of Cold War tension to the recognizable end of the Cold War order was a matter of a few years. Just as the contradictions of the inter-imperial order led to the war of 1939-45 which ended that order, so the contradictions of the Cold War gave rise to the rather different crisis of 1989-91 and the subsequent transition. These were not, however, the contradictions of the Cold War simply as an interstate system, but those of Cold War state relations as a whole. Casper Weinberger, Reagan’s cold-warrior Secretary of State, was not wrong to suggest that their escalation of the arms race helped to crack the economic foundations of the Soviet regime. But this was only a part of the story. The democratic revolution also played a key role in the crisis of the 1980s. The decade began with hundreds of thousands on the streets of west European capitals; it ended with similar numbers on the streets across Eastern Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall, on 9 November 1989, was a supreme moment of people power, a great symbolic linking of Germans and Europeans that ended Cold War division.

This was much more than a piece of street theatre accompanying inevitable structural change. To understand this revolutionary upheaval we need to chart, briefly, the transformations of state relations through the Cold War decades. I have noted how the extreme bloc-discipline of the early Cold War gave way through the 1950s and 1960s to more moderate forms. In the Soviet bloc, there were 'normalized' bureaucratic politics, greater national autonomy, modest market reforms, improved living standards, and some expansion of cultural and intellectual (but not political) freedom. The infrastructure of statism, militarization and the command economy remained largely intact, however, from the high-Stalinist era of total-war.

In the West, on the other hand, from the 1950s onwards there were more radical changes from the period of total war. While wartime statism was extended into general economic management and social welfare reform, direct controls over the economy increasingly gave way to more liberalized markets. Eventually state ownership, expanded in the immediate post-war years, began to be ‘rolled back’. The mass armies of the early Cold War period gave way to smaller, more professional armed forces, and conscription was abandoned by the states of the Western bloc ‘offshore’ from continental Europe. There was a great expansion of consumption, mass culture and new lifestyles, liberated from the statism of the total war period.

While Western economies and society were more dynamic and Western institutions more able to accommodate change, social change generated new forms of protest and oppositional politics. Conflict in pre-Second World War Western societies was based largely on classes, and especially working class movements, and most opposition to dominant elites had been led by social-democratic and Communist parties. In the post-war West, two major structural changes led to new political outcomes. First, the main working-class movements were increasingly embedded in the Cold War international divide and developed opposed bloc allegiances. While social democracy became Atlanticist, tied into the Western bloc, Communist parties were linked to the West’s Soviet opponents. Second, economic changes led to a great expansion of professional and white-collar occupations, seen by many as the growth of a ‘new middle class’. In these conditions, a new ‘middle class radicalism’ erupted, largely focussed around ‘international’ contradictions of the Cold War bloc-order. This new radicalism first manifested itself in the anti-nuclear weapons movements of the 1950s and early 1960s, but then spread to movements against the Vietnam war and the associated student movements of the later 1960s and early 1970s. Later in the 1970s, movements against nuclear power developed, from which grew widely focussed environmental movements. From the late 1960s onwards, too, the new radicalism generated very broadly based women’s movements, and other movements concerned with sexual politics.


Oppositional politics developed very unevenly, of course, between the two blocs. Western (especially European) new lefts overlapped with mainstream liberal and social-democratic parties, and connected with successive mass movements. Soviet-bloc oppositionists were confined to small groups, without the possibility of party or movement bases except in rare moments of uprising. Where Western critics were mainly anti-Cold War in general, seeing their own state-bloc as representative of the Cold War order, Eastern critics, conscious of their more immediate oppression, tended to be more anti-Soviet than anti-Cold War. Because of these radical differences in situation, relations between the two groups were often difficult. Soviet-bloc oppositionists tended to appeal to Western democracy as a whole, and were often suspicious of the Western opposition – not least because it contained within its ranks a pro-Soviet element.

Despite these differences, social movements in both West and East played critical roles in the 1980s dissolution of the Cold War world order. In the Western bloc, a new wave of nuclear disarmament movements was anticipated in the 1970s by campaigns against the so-called ‘neutron bomb’ – ‘theatre’ nuclear weapons designed to halt tank advances through radiation without causing large-scale physical destruction. After the dual crisis of late 1979 – the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and NATO’s decision to introduce new intermediate-range missile systems – a rapid growth of mass movements took place across the Western half of the continent during 1980-82. Unlike the more nationally based movements of two decades earlier, the new nuclear disarmament movements were not merely international in outlook, but pan-European and trans-bloc in their aims and organizing intentions. Significant groups in the new movement saw its aim as to unite Europeans across the Iron Curtain, to undermine the bloc-system, and to create a nuclear-free Europe ‘from Poland to Portugal’. E.P. Thompson argued that combined citizens’ movements could take Europe (and hence the world) ‘beyond the Cold War’.

In practice, of course, ‘peace movements’, as they became known, were far more directly influential in Western Europe than in the Soviet-bloc countries. Coordinated mass demonstrations created a huge momentum, and churches and opposition parties rejected new missile systems, while opinion polls showed majorities everywhere for these aims (but not for dismantling existing systems or NATO itself, both of which retained strong support). In the Netherlands where the movement was strongest, even members of the ruling coalition opposed new missile systems, and deployment was long delayed. In Germany and Britain, the two most important states in which the largest deployments were planned, strong campaigns by conservative governments led to both winning their 1983 elections, thus defeating the disarmament movements. In the United States, a parallel ‘nuclear freeze’ movement gained widespread support, but had little effect on the rearmament policy of the first Reagan administration (1980-84). However, although defeated, these movements had demonstrated that large-scale support for disarmament and rapprochement existed, especially in Western Europe, and it had forced Western governments to devote great political energies to deflecting this.

In the Soviet Union during the 1980s, the depth of the regime’s stagnation was manifested in the succession of partly incapable elderly leaders – Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko – at more-or-less yearly intervals. Although the regime responded to new Western missile deployments with new systems of its own, it simultaneously participated in the Helsinki process for political cooperation in Europe, while encouraging the pressure of the Western peace movements on NATO. At the same time as the Soviet government repressed dissidents, including a few independent peace activists – and the Czechoslovak regime suppressed the Charter 77 movement – it tolerated the unprecedented Polish Solidarity movement for well over a year before the Polish military suppressed it.

Much more than in the original Cold War of the 1950s, in the Second Cold War there were therefore complex trans-bloc political processes, involving relations between states and social movements. Western peace movements elicited responses both from Western governments, which sought to contain them, and Soviet-bloc regimes, which sought to exploit them while limiting their influence within eastern European society. They also had some limited success in stimulating independent peace activism in the East, as well as in dialogue with Charter 77, Solidarity and other democratic oppositionists. Although Soviet-bloc independent peace movements were counted in dozens or at best hundreds of participants – rather than the hundreds of thousands of the West – they had an importance beyond their numbers. Like other democratic movements in the bloc, they pointed the way to an alternative future. Unlike some of the other movements, they underlined the inescapable conclusion that future involved the end not only of the Soviet system, but of the Cold War with which it was intimately bound up.

The importance of these developments became clear in the dynamics that led to the end of the Cold War. These were rooted, above all, in the manifold crisis of the Soviet system – economic stagnation, political decay, cultural atrophy – and the inter-bloc conflict and arms race of the early 1980s was only one component of that crisis. The Soviet crisis in the 1980s was at the same time a crisis of state relations within the USSR, a crisis of 'international' structure of the state-bloc, and a crisis of relations between the Soviet and Western blocs. In this sense the crisis can only be explained by understanding the links between all these levels. It cannot be explained by one of them in isolation.

By the 1980s, the Soviet state and bloc were manifest anachronisms. The Soviet state retained the total-war command-economy model of relations between state and society. The Soviet order still had many characteristics of the classic European empires, all other examples of which had fallen apart after the First and Second World Wars. In both its internal and bloc forms it remained quasi-imperial, as close to the old model of empire as to the new model of the contemporary Western state-bloc. The social relations of state power in the bloc were extreme, ossified forms of relations which had long since been transformed in the more dynamic West. The Soviet state blocked any self-organization by society, and any democratic accountability. In many ways, therefore, the Soviet state and bloc were survivals from the eras of empires and total war, and contained only limited mechanisms for internal renewal. Hence its crisis would inevitably mean a dramatic upheaval; but given the centrality of the Soviet bloc to the whole Cold War system, this upheaval would be a change in world order, not merely a change in one sector.

Revolution and counterrevolution, 1989-91

The global revolution was anticipated by the crisis of the Cold War system in the 1980s. A few thinkers in that crisis anticipated the unravelling of the system in something like the way in which it occurred. However it is fair to say that virtually no one, in any sector of the world, or in either state elites or oppositional movements, anticipated the process as a whole in all its main respects, least of all in its timing or the apparent completeness of its outcome. However much, in the early 1980s, some people could see beyond the Cold War, few if any had more than a sketchy idea of how it could happen or what it would mean. The actual process of change took virtually everyone by surprise, and its implications have continued to disorient people since. In particular, very few understood the depth of the crisis in the Soviet bloc-state. 'In effect,' as Cox has pointed out, 'most of us assumed continuity in world reconcilable opposition between well-established social systems. The idea that either of them would actually fail seemed beyond the bounds of possibility, a mere fantasy indulged in by utopians but not to be taken seriously by mature commentators. Yet the USSR did implode, and as a result the Cold War came to an end, suddenly and without much warning. But who anticipated this? Hardly anybody.'

Further, the relations between revolution and counterrevolution in the changes of 1989-91, or later in the 1990s, are hardly grasped. The relations between elite processes and social movements are generally obscure. The links between upheavals in the Soviet bloc and transformations of world order, including the role of the Western bloc, are confused. Not surprisingly, therefore, the global revolution as a whole, of which the transformation of the Soviet bloc is the key element, is barely recognized.

It is important to recall that the upheavals in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s were anticipated by the democratic revolution throughout the Soviet bloc over the previous three decades. In 1953, 1956, 1968 and 1980-81 there had been great national movements in one or more of the bloc's member-states in central Europe. There were revolts, too, within the Soviet Union – in the Vorkuta slave-labour camp complex in 1956, in Novocherkassk in 1963 – but never on a national scale even within a republic, let alone a pan-Union scale. Change within the Soviet state had been led from the top, responding mainly to passive dissatisfaction in the population, to anticipations of revolt after the central European examples, to the criticisms of courageous ‘dissidents’, to external pressures and demands, and to the problems of the ruling elite itself.

The changes of the mid- and late 1980s were initiated, once again, from above. Mikhail Gorbachev, when he became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, clearly understood the crisis of his regime as complex. If he sought economic restructuring (perestroika), political openness (glasnost) and international détente for their own sakes, he also saw their close interlinkage – in particular, he recognized the burden of military competition on the Soviet economy as a crucial impediment to economic reform. Gorbachev came to power, however, at the point when Reagan and his allies had largely accomplished the US’s massive rearmament, restored unchallenged Western supremacy in the arms race and apparently defeated the peace movements. Within the Soviet bloc, too, opponents such as Solidarity had been put down. In all these senses, pressure for change in the Cold War order was blocked, and Gorbachev’s initiatives were crucial.

Nevetheless, this was hardly a pure elite process. Gorbachev was aware that movements like Solidarity testified to the instability and unsustainability of the quasi-imperial bloc order. He was aware that the peace movements demonstrated deep Western support for rapprochement which he could mobilize with proposals for East-West reform. In developing his disarmament proposals, Gorbachev even picked up Reagan’s ‘zero option’ of no intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe – proposed originally as a propaganda bid to undermine the peace movement, at a time when it was assumed that the USSR would not accept it.

In these senses, the impact of democratic, anti-Cold War social movements was evident, however indirectly, in Gorbachev’s reforms. But he himself saw them initially as ways of modernizing the Soviet system. Like reformist leaders in eastern Europe before him, he saw openness as a means of mobilizing support against the entrenched dominance of the conservatives, as much as an end in itself. Gorbachev’s equivocal attitude towards democratic principles was manifest in the limited nature of his reforms of Soviet institutions. His failure to seek electoral support for his own position as Soviet president proved a critical mistake, once Boris Yeltsin used his position as elected president of the Russian Federation to challenge Gorbachev’s legitimacy.

Similarly, Gorbachev undoubtedly sought reform of the Soviet bloc and the Cold War world order, rather than their collapse. He encouraged reformers in the East German leadership to seek democratic change, but he hardly envisaged that this would dissolve the Communist state into the Federal Republic. He encouraged reformers across east-central Europe, but hardly expected that this would lead to the repudiation of the Warsaw Pact and the embrace of NATO by eastern European states. Likewise Gorbachev encouraged reformers in the republics to seek new constitutional relationships within the Soviet Union: he hardly anticipated that they would seize power and dissolve the Union altogether.

Gorbachev’s importance was that he gave a clear indication to all those who sought change of any kind, that the Soviet state and bloc and the Cold War order could not continue in the old way. His partial reforms opened up the Soviet system to all kinds of forces, from within the party-state bureaucracy, from society across the bloc, and indeed from the Western world. Gorbachev’s failure to develop a radical democratic project, and to embed that in the kinds of economic and social reforms that would have given it popular support, was a large part of his downfall. His contribution was decisive, and while it is difficult to imagine that anyone could easily have ridden the processes of change that he unleashed, the limitations of his project were central to his undoing. As Cox suggests, the 'temporary cult of Gorbachev' in Soviet studies (which made 'a number of well-known Western scholars virtual cheerleaders for perestroika abroad') obscured from view what was actually taking place in the USSR. 'The common wisdom was that Gorbachev was renovating the Soviet Union: in reality, the combination of changes he was implementing accelerated its decline and fragmentation.'

Nevertheless Gorbachev did define – and symbolize – some of the themes of the global-democratic revolution which ended the Cold War. However uncertainly in practice, in theory he embraced democratic change in the fundamentally authoritarian structures of all the Communist regimes. He still identified with the interests of a Soviet state, but his programme for change within that state was accompanied by a wider agenda of change. It included transformed relations within the wider Soviet bloc, across Europe (‘our common European home’), the ending of the arms race and Cold War division of the world. However poorly implemented, and whatever the limitations of his concepts, the linkages of democracy and global change were Gorbachev’s themes.

The radical exposition of these themes belonged, however, elsewhere, to those who took Gorbachev’s reforms into their own hands. By 1988, the Hungarian Communists had agreed democratic reforms which would lead to their own surrender of power. In 1989, following Gorbachev’s visit to East Berlin for (ironically) the 40th anniversary of the Communist state, mass movements developed on the streets of Leipzig, Berlin and other cities, as well as among refugees trying to reach West Germany via Hungary. By early November, the East German dictator Erich Honecker had been purged by his Politburo and as the new leadership accepted the reality of the refugee flows, the Berlin Wall – the prime symbol of the Cold War division – was breached. It did not ‘fall’ or ‘collapse’, however: it was opened through popular protest and, in powerful symbolic action, partially dismantled by people on the streets.

The revolution spread rapidly from Germany to Czechoslovakia and then Romania by the end of 1989. In Czechoslovakia as in East Germany, the regime capitulated and the revolution was again peaceful – the famous ‘Velvet Revolution’. Only in Romania, where the national regime of Nicolae Caucescu was an extreme relic of Stalinist totalitarianism, did the old order resist. Here the revolution took a more violent form – the Caucescus were summarily shot – but the fighting was short-lived. In Poland and Bulgaria as in Hungary, the Communist one-party state gave way to democratic elections without uprisings, although in all of these social movements played important parts.

The peaceful – even evolutionary – character of the revolution was evenly balanced: in both Germany and Czechoslovakia, elements of the regime prepared the use of force that actually occurred in Romania. That in the end this movement was unprecedentedly peaceful reflected not only the democratic goals of the opposition movements but the recognition by Communist elites that their time was up. This in turn reflected the origins of the movement in Gorbachev’s reform process in the USSR, and the international character of the revolution. While historic revolutions had led to war, civil and international, because they challenged the dominant world powers, this revolution involved an accommodation with the dominant Western bloc. The revolution was partly about the end of Cold War division: about peace, not war.

The leaderships of these revolutions were varied. In East Germany a radical democratic citizens’ movement, New Forum, played a leading role: this was emulated by Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia. In Romania – where in contrast to the other countries no independent action at all had been possible in previous years – relatively unreconstructed but anti-Caucescu Communists initially seized control. In Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, reform processes were initiated by reformist or opportunist elements in the Communist parties, but rapidly slipped from their grasp as other parties and movements emerged.

In no country did the groups who were most closely involved in making the revolution actually run the state in the aftermath. In part this was because there were no revolutionary parties, only loose intellectual groups and coalitions of activists, in the leadership of the revolts and reform movements. The Czechoslovak case provided the closest example: here parties spawned by Civic Forum dominated the first elections, and the best known dissident, Vaclav Havel, became first President of the new Czechoslovakia. The more radical activists were marginalized, however, as the more right-wing of the post-Civic Forum parties won power, leading within a few years to the (fortunately peaceful) separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic. In East Germany, radical activists lost out to the established West German parties and their state was reunited with the Federal Republic. In other countries liberal and conservative parties, based partly on the dissident opposition and partly on the remnants of pre-Communist era parties, succeeded to power. In most cases, the reconstituted Communist parties and their allies were forced initially into opposition, although in Hungary and Poland they resurfaced as social democrats and did not have to wait long to regain at least a share of power. Here the post-Communists adapted relatively quickly to a new liberal, democratic, pro-NATO market European order.

In central Europe, therefore, the democratic revolution, which had been prepared in the embryonic civil society which oppositionists had nourished, was relatively smooth and also relatively successful. Although many lost through market reforms, there was no catastrophic impoverishment. Despite rapid disillusionment with aspects of parliamentary democracy, the change as a whole had high legitimacy. In central Europe, moreover, the transition was clearly part of a major international reorientation. In reclaiming independent nationhood, the new democracies were also reintegrating themselves into Europe and the West.

In the Soviet Union itself, the quasi-imperial centre of the bloc-state, the democratic revolution was much more poorly prepared, weakly executed and faltered early. Both the democratic and the pro-Western, European impulses were weaker, except in the Baltic republics. Gorbachev and his fellow-reformers in the party elites substituted for the civil society movements that were important in central Europe. Their economic reforms led to widespread misery without real improvements. They failed to follow through on democratic reform and allowed the process of change to be taken over by those within the ex-party elites who were better able to ride the nationalist element in popular feeling. Gorbachev tried to manage the process of change from within the remnants of the party machine, and lost out to more opportunistic, demagogic, nationalist forces. Yeltsin, with a stronger instinct for the exploitation of democratic forms, outflanked both Gorbachev and the unreconstructed Communists to seize power in Russia. He achieved this, however, at great costs for the democratic revolution in the Soviet area and the direction of worldwide change.

The revolutionary momentum that began with Gorbachev and reached its peak in autumn 1989 in central Europe quickly gave way to counterrevolution. Even before the East German and Czechoslovak upheavals, of course, it had received a decisive check to its worldwide momentum in China. Here Gorbachev played a role superficially similar to that which he had played in East Germany. Visiting, he signalled the desirability of change simply by his presence and what he generally represented. But whereas the German Communist state was a dependency of Soviet power, so that Gorbachev’s signals had a direct meaning for a regime as well as people engulfed by a sense of impending change, the Chinese Communists had their own power base, and the reform movement was not so strong. The People’s Liberation Army gave the democratic movement a lesson in repressive power that the central Europeans mostly escaped.

In the Soviet Union itself the outcome was not such a simple victory of counterrevolution. The successful Yeltsin-led resistance to the anti-Gorbachev coup of 1991 was, in one sense, the decisive victory of change, which dealt a death-blow to the old regime. But in the same fateful moment, the form of this triumph accelerated the fragmentation of state power across Soviet territory, and its consolidation in the hands of often corrupt, authoritarian and nationalist elites in the newly-independent republics, at the expense of fuller democratic transformation. In Russia itself, Yeltsin’s rule took the form of a ruthlessly opportunist, authoritarian and semi-monarchical regime, balancing elements of democratic and market reform and the strong militarist, nationalist elements of the state machine, especially in the armed forces. Within two years of his victory, Yeltsin’s tanks were bombarding the duma building, crudely bringing an unruly parliament to heel. Not long afterwards and equally fatefully, Yeltsin indulged his military in their disastrous attempt to crush the independent government of Chechnya, a republic within the Russian Federation. (The Chechen regime was also corrupt and militarized, like many of the post-Soviet elites.)

The Chechen war of 1994-96, renewed in 1999-2000, was the sole conflict in which the Russian state was a principal, direct protagonist. However it was only one of many wars that resulted from the break-up of the Soviet Union. During the Gorbachev years, the opening up of the state had already produced the first tensions between national elites in the Soviet republics, spreading into society. In 1988, there were already pogroms of Armenians in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. By the early 1990s, the newly autonomous Armenian and Azerbaijani state machines were at war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Similar patterns were reproduced across the post-Soviet region. There was a major civil war in Tdjazikistan. South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists fought the new Georgian state, within which there was also fighting between supporters and opponents of its authoritarian first president. Russian-speaking separatists fought the Moldovan state. In all these wars – before Chechnya – the armies of Yeltsin’s Russia were involved to some degree.

Minorities within republics often had genuine grievances, as of course did minority republics and their (majority) peoples against the Soviet state. However the rapid, widespread resort to war can be seen as a profoundly counterrevolutionary tendency, opposed to genuine democratic change. Everywhere, militarization was a means by which elites (old ex-Soviet and new nationalist) stifled nascent democratic and pluralist tendencies. In the regions affected, war led to even greater economic problems and social misery than elsewhere in the ex-USSR. While combatants often looked to states and diasporas beyond the former Union for support (Azeris and Tadziks to the Islamic world, Armenians and Georgians to the West), war slowed real integration of affected states and peoples into the world economy and global institutions.

From counterrevolution to genocide

The link between war and counterrevolution was even more apparent, and mostly clearly exposed its genocidal content, in Yugoslavia. Independent from Moscow, with a more liberal economy and more prosperous than other Balkan Communist states, Yugoslavia had stood between East and West in Europe. It is salutary to recall that in the 1980s it was seen as more likely than any other to eventually gain membership of the European Community. However as Communism fell across Europe, the Yugoslav party, already fractured into competing national elites in the Federation’s seven republics, metamorphosed into a variety of post-Communist parties seeking electoral legitimacy through inter-republican confrontation. In Slovenia, the party managed to develop democratic national forms similar to those of the West. In Serbia and Croatia, however, elites mobilized national support by arousing hostility towards ethnic minorities. In 1988-89 Slobodan Milosevic sought to consolidate his rule in Serbia by campaigning against the majority Albanian population of the autonomous southern province of Kosovo. Milosevic scrapped Kosovan autonomy, dismantling institutions which were legitimate in the eyes of the majority of the local population, and instituted repressive Serbian direct rule. This was a directly counterrevolutionary move, pre-empting democratization that would have led inevitably to an Albanian-majority administration in Kosova. In response, Albanians established parallel unofficial systems of administration, education, etc., creating a prime example of the unstable situation known to earlier Marxist analysts of revolution as 'dual power'.

Following this, the Croatian nationalist regime of Franjo Tudjman sought to create an ethnic Croat state and discriminated against the Serb minority. In 1991, the Slovenian and Croatian governments reacted to Serbia’s crude dominance of the Yugoslav federation by moving towards secession. Milosevic unleashed wars against these states, and against Bosnia that followed in 1992. Internally, Milosevic’s Serbia was the most extreme example of the way in which nationalism and militarism opposed democracy. The regime used censorship, intimidation and war propaganda to defeat the opposition and ensure that – despite impoverishment and the misery of war – it maintained control in successive elections. In Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova, Milosevic used the Yugoslav National Army together with police, paramilitary gangs and political clients to brutally ‘cleanse’ non-Serb populations from areas Serbian nationalists aimed to control. The wars in Croatia and Bosnia were campaigns against the populations, as much as against opposed armed forces or states, to seize substantial parts of these republics from non-Serbian populations.

In Bosnia, Muslims were killed, raped and expelled from towns and villages, their mosques razed. Plural urban communities like Sarajevo and Tuzla, which defied the ethnic ideal, were systematically attacked. In Bosnia, these processes culminated in the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995, in which thousands of Muslim men were executed. Later, they were renewed in Kosova, culminating in the war of 1998-99. Similar policies were pursued by the Croatian state, both in Bosnia, in its war with Bosnian forces and the Bosnian Muslim population in 1993-94, and in re-taking the partly Serb-populated ‘Krajina’ region of Croatia in 1995.

By the early 1990s, therefore, 'new wars' were the main strand of counterrevolutionary opposition by authoritarian nationalism to democratic transformation, especially where the latter involved issues of relations between different ethnic communities and secession. In these wars, as in the Nazis' war against the Jews, the expulsion and killing of civilians were not brutal accompaniments to orthodox interstate war, but prime modes of violence. In terms of the international convention, according to which genocide is the deliberate destruction of a national, racial, ethnic or religious group ‘in whole or in part', these wars were clearly genocidal.

Worldwide scope of revolutionary change

The most intense and critical phases of the global-democratic revolution and counterrevolution so far have been centred in the formerly Communist regions of Europe and Asia. Because the world bloc-order itself was based in the North, especially in Europe, this order could only be overthrown within these regions. The revolutionary events in the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe should not be seen, however, as purely or even mainly regional events, let alone a simple wave of national movements. These were global revolutions in a number of senses. First, although the global revolution has been centred on the ex-Soviet bloc, it has had genuinely worldwide scope. Second, they helped to break down the bloc system, the final form of national-international relations, and helped to create the conditions for globality. Third, these changes were not merely unintended consequences of national or anti-Soviet revolt. Of course the participants in the revolutions did not foresee the way the larger history would develop; but in many ways they intended the global unification which occurred, and willed their absorption into a unified Western-led world order based on democracy.

The worldwide global-democratic revolution has had a sharp but not yet decisive impact on the remaining Communist and left-wing regimes. As we have already noted, it received an early – and still its most serious – setback in China, where the example of Gorbachev’s Russia inspired the democratic movement which was crushed in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The regimes in China, Vietnam and Cuba have survived, however, through different sorts of economic and political accommodation with the West. They have allowed chinks for controlled democratic forms – the continued liberal system in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover, greater intellectual and cultural freedom in China’s cities, a new tolerance for religion in Havana. However there is a clear sense that further democratic change is inevitable, even if its timing and mechanisms are far from certain.

Other old-style revolutionary states allied with the Soviet bloc have also faced rapid change. In Afghanistan and Ethiopia, Soviet-backed regimes fell to the muhejaddin and to Eritrean and Tigrean nationalist guerrillas, respectively. In Angola and Mozambique, the end of the Cold War meant that the regimes lost Soviet and Cuban backing, but their South African- and US-supported guerrilla opponents also lost much of their support and legitimacy. (The Unita movement in Angola, however, exploiting mineral wealth, continued as a powerful military force.) In Nicaragua, the Sandanistas, who made the last revolution of the bloc era, gave up power electorally to a centre-right government, while the US ended its support for contra guerrillas. In Cambodia, the Vietnamese-installed regime of Hun Sen survived a UN peace process through which it had to share power with Royalists, and saw off the Khmer Rouge, who finally lost their Chinese backing. In most of these states, electoral processes played a part in the changes, although democratic reform could not be said to have advanced far.

The worldwide influence of the global-democratic revolution has not been confined, however, to the former Soviet sphere of influence. On the contrary, US- and Western-backed authoritarian regimes have been toppled on a wide scale. In Latin America, the change pre-dated the end of the Cold War in Europe. The 1980s were the decade of democratic transition, as military regimes almost everywhere handed over power to elected governments. In Argentina, where at the beginning of the 1980s a junta had invaded the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), in Brazil, even in Chile where the brutal Pinochet dictatorship seized power with American support in 1973, elected governments had taken over by the early 1990s. In Mexico, the long-standing one-party state finally opened up to genuine electoral competition. While democratic rights often remained problematic, social inequalities vast and many regimes authoritarian-inclined, this amounted to a substantial shift.

In Africa, trends have been more mixed, and dramatic changes more clearly synchronized with the Cold War transformations in Europe. The most significant democratization has been that of South Africa, where the Nationalist FW de Klerk’s attempt to reform apartheid bore some resemblance to Gorbachev’s reform programme. Despite centrifugal tendencies and extensive and continuing violence, it was a more successful transition: South Africa remained a unitary state, and parliamentary institutions were democratically transformed. Since the African National Congress had overwhelming majority backing, and an exemplary conciliatory leader in Nelson Mandela, legitimacy was high. Serious localized war between Inkatha, backed by counterrevolutionary elements of the old state machine, and the ANC was contained.

Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, democratization has also been a trend, with the transition from military to electoral government in Ghana and the ending of post-independence one-party rule in states like Zambia, Malawi and Kenya. Many electoral processes remain less than fully open, however, and authoritarian tendencies have often quickly appeared in the new regimes. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous state, a repressive military regime clung to power throughout the 1990s, but reform processes were developing at the end of the decade. Elsewhere, moreover, far from democratization, authoritarian governments held sway or states have fragmented amidst violence. In Sudan, a repressive regime continued to fight a long-running war with Southern secessionists, causing extensive misery. In Ethiopia, the new regime renewed the war with Eritrea at the end of the 1990s. In Somalia, a central state has still not been reconstituted after almost a decade of war. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, warlords and gangsters remain powerful, any form of central government precarious.

In Rwanda in 1994, an ethnic-particularist regime met the prospect of reform with the worst recent programme of mass killings anywhere in the world. The genocide has left a deeply traumatized and divided society. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the new Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government, which defeated the génocidaires, has not created a mature democracy. As in Uganda, where the murderous Idi Amin dictatorship was overthrown in the 1980s, the existence of a moderately stable regime with an approximation to the rule of law is widely seen as an achievement. The 1996-97 overthrow of the Mobutu regime in Zaire (Congo), instigated by an alliance of the Rwandan and Ugandan governments with internal opposition, appeared to spread this phenomenon. However, the new regime of Laurent Kabila degenerated quickly into corrupt authoritarianism, spawning a new civil war, into which other central African states were drawn, and in turn sharpening the tensions between authoritarian and democratic trends within some of these, notably in Zimbabwe.

The removal of manifestly brutal, parasitic dictatorships, and their replacement by regimes which are at least partially responsive to popular needs and human rights, is a limited sign of advance in the global-democratic revolution. But the circumstances of society and the instabilities of states in much of central, western and north-eastern Africa, mean that reform is problematic. Democracy can hardly be embedded in societies where even subsistence production is threatened by violence.

In much of Asia, the situation in the 1980s and into the 1990s appeared to be the opposite. Civil society and democratic culture were weak even in Japan, where parliamentary institutions are well embedded. Other parliamentary democracies were virtual one-party states. Authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes delivered considerable economic advance. The Asian ‘tiger economies’ – Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand – were paradigms of this kind of progress, and China itself was increasingly seen as an example. The idea of ‘Asian values’, in which relatively authoritarian traditions are upheld, was widely promoted in the early 1990s as a counterpoint to Western liberal and democratic ideas. However, parliamentary-democratic institutions have progressed in many Asian countries and elsewhere, and remain embedded, despite many contradictions, in India. Openly authoritarian regimes, such as the military regime in Myanmar (Burma), were under obvious pressure at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Although a military coup overthrew the elected government in Pakistan in 1999, the new rulers faced immediate pressure to restore a parliamentary regime.

Moreover, as in Europe democratization was not a purely elite concern. Despite many uncertainties, the democratic revolution was also spreading in Asia. We can trace a pattern of major revolts, from the Philippines in 1986 (the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship), to the uprising in Korea in 1995 and the student-led movement in Indonesia in 1998 (that overthrew Suharto). In Malaysia, a democracy movement challenged the autocratic parliamentary government of Mahathir. Revolts often lead – as in the former Soviet bloc – to the replacement of open dictatorship by corrupt elite rule within democratic forms. Thus democratic change remains generally very incomplete, but it moved forward dramatically in the 1990s. Bruce Cumings has argued that the Korean movement of 1995 'ultimately went beyond anything in the global transition from authoritarianism that the world has witnessed in the last decade' and that 'the contribution of protest to Korean democracy cannot be overstated'. The extended Indonesian transition has had comparable scope. Student-led movements in the capital and other big cities have combined with secessionist movements – not only in East Timor but in Aceh, Ambon and elsewhere – to force fundamental changes, although at the price of major bouts of bloodletting.

The Middle East remained the world-region in which democratic and globalist forces is most obviously limited. Ironically given the cultural unity of the Arab world, in which many states are products of early twentieth-century colonial mapping and manipulation, ‘national’ power structures were more isolated and sharply constraining of any kind of democratic reform, here compared to any other world-region. Powerful states, hugely armed and towering over nascent civil society, have been long buoyed by massive oil revenues which have fuelled regional rivalries, which in turn have confined the space for political change.

In the Middle East in the 1980s, there were moreover revolutionary developments of older kinds. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a mass uprising, the democratic potential of which was quickly destroyed in the creation of a theocratic state. Nationalist movements, from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Kurdish parties in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, sustained the model of guerrilla struggle. Islamic states also sponsored guerrilla, or terrorist, movements – especially in Lebanon. In the 1990s, however, there were limited democratic developments, raising the prospect of a wider transformation. Reforms in Iran created genuine electoral processes in which more secular forces have gained ground, if still highly threatened by religious reaction strongly embedded in state and society. The Palestine National Authority, likewise, has been constructed on partially democratic foundations. Israel itself, of course, remains internally democratic, and there has been a sharp conflict between political tendencies which has largely determined the progress of the ‘peace process’ with neighbouring Arab states and peoples.

In the wider region, many authoritarian regimes appeared increasingly stagnant, and their leaders aged, at the end of the 1990s. Oil no longer supplied unlimited resources to sustain military power. This declining resource base could be a source of tensions – such as those which precipitated Iraq’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent wars. But it was also a factor that might constrain elites' military ambitions and lead to accommodations with both regional rivals and world powers. At the end of the twentieth century, the global revolution had hardly progressed very far in the Middle East, but there were reasons to identify a potential.

The echoes of democratic revolution could be found even in the more stable, formally democratic, Western countries. The drastic upheaval of Italy's corrupt Cold War party system was one manifestation; the removal of Thatcher and the triumph of the centre-left across Western Europe others. In the West, democratic movements often took more subtle forms, from the diversion of parliamentary fora at European and regional levels, on the one hand, to social movements for the democratization of everyday life, on the other. The depth of the latter trend should not be underestimated: Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to restore ‘Victorian values’ was an ignominious failure, in contrast to her success in promoting the deregulation of markets.

Global-democratic revolution and state-formation

The worldwide scope of democratic transformation does not, by itself, render it global. The paradox of (in Robertson's phrase) 'a universalistic entitlement to particularism' has been noted, as a phenomenon of the earlier part of the twentieth century. As Clark points out, the idea of national democracy as a normal political form can be traced back to the establishment of the League of Nations after the First World War. However, 'The profound and longer-term effect of the League was not to diminish the role of the separate state but, on the contrary, lay' (as Giddens put it) 'in "consolidating conceptions of national sovereignty as the 'natural' political condition of humankind, via a particular interpretation of the sovereignty-citizenship relation. In short, it stimulated "the primacy of the nation-state as the universal political form of the current era".'

It cannot be denied that there was a dramatic shift towards the realization of these norms in the second half of the twentieth century. The number of distinct 'national' state entities dramatically increased, to around 200, and in the final decades of the century far more of them were to some degree democratic. 'In 1975 at least 68 per cent of countries throughout the world were authoritarian', Potter et al. claim, but 'by the end of 1995 only about 26 per cent were authoritarian, all the rest having held some sort of competitive elections and adopted at least formal guarantees of political and civil rights.'

The number of states in an in-between state, with some elements of democracy but not others, had increased. In many, there might be 'low-intensity democracy', 'functioning as a cosmetic cover for continued foreign domination or domestic authoritarianism, generalized corruption or social anarchy'. Nevertheless, by any standards, 'The 1980s and early 1990s saw a dramatic wave of democratization sweep across the developing world, recalling the similar wave following decolonization in the late I950s and 1960s. It surged over the three continents and affected both developmentally successful and unsuccessful countries across the political spectmm. Though the wave met resistance at times … authoritarian regimes toppled in profusion, to be replaced by regimes organized along liberal democratic lines.' According to Luckham and White, 'The wave had already begun to recede by the mid-1990s as entrenched regimes either resisted the trend or merely went through the democratic motions, or as newly democratic regimes succumbed to various forms of authoritarian reversion.'

Nevertheless democratic norms have become commonly established as more serious standards for national political entities. By the end of the twentieth century, virtually all states, even the most authoritarian, paid some sort of lip-service to them. In genuflection to the democratic spirit of the age, authoritarian nationalists often organized elections in the aftermath of genocide. Indeed by expelling – if not killing – other groups, and intimidating and manipulating their own ethnic populations, nationalists created more or less homogenous and obedient electorates, which legitimated their power. The homage which these most abusive forms of political power often paid to the idea of democracy showed how entrenched it had become – but also how malleable.

The global character of the contemporary democratic revolution is rooted in the extent to which (as we saw in the last chapter) democracy and human rights have become universal values to which individuals and groups can appeal, if need be over and against national state institutions. During the Cold War, when the 'democratic' West tolerated authoritarian state entities in its ranks and encouraged anti-Communist repression worldwide, such universal norms were widely limited in practical significance. In the worldwide democratic revolution of our times, however, these norms have a new role. Oppressed groups widely appeal, not only to the founding documents of universal human rights, but to the international institutions of a Western-led world order as guarantors of those rights. In this sense the revolutions of 1989, with their explicit aspirations for integration in an internationalized, democratic world, have set the benchmarks for subsequent movements - not just in Europe, but worldwide. Everywhere, the oppressed and those who champion them appeal to common, global democratic values. The more extreme the plight of oppressed groups, the more explicit, in general, the global appeal. In this sense the democratic revolution is now becoming global. People fight for accountability and freedoms at a national level, but they increasingly locate these ends within a global context.

The character of the revolutionary wave has been transformed by the new conditions in which it now operates. This movement always showed the potential to spill over into each and every state, invoking universal principles. Before 1989, however, its actions were framed within the Cold War division of the world. There was no way in which democratic movements within the Soviet bloc could receive large-scale, practical assistance from the West, or in which the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be implemented in the Third World client states of either bloc. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this is beginning to change: democratic movements are not only worldwide in scope and international in their repercussions, but also global in consciousness.

Of course, some reject the idea of common global values because their expressions are mostly Western in origin. However, all world religions contain recognitions of the human commonality on which globality builds. The attempt to assert that there is a ‘clash of civilizations’, stronger than those things pulling world society together, is not supported by the evidence. Whether in Teheran, first centre of the Islamic revolution, or in Beijing, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Rangoon, where rulers have proclaimed ‘Asian values’, campaigners work for democracy and human rights according to universalistic, global conceptions. Of course, people interpret common values in the contexts of specific nationalities and religions, and they often have justified suspicions of Western leaders and world institutions. But none of this negates the strong drive towards commonality in what is now a global-democratic transformation.

The specifically global phase of democratic revolution began in the Soviet bloc, and was part of the process by which the bloc system was dissolved. The continuing impact of global-democratic upheaval is felt, however, everywhere that state power remains authoritarian, or where democracy has not been clearly consolidated. There are four reasons for insisting on the revolutionary character of contemporary democratic movements. First, they involve challenges to the national structures of authoritarian state power quite as fundamental as those made by classic revolutions. Second, they are rooted in widespread popular agency and deep-rooted aspirations in a similar way to previous historic upheavals. Third, they are connected to fundamental changes not only in national structures but also in international relations, and in the ways these two are connected. And last but not least, the changes that they produce show every sign of durable impact on the forms and character of power. These are not fundamental socio-economic revolutions, but they represent historic political transformations.

How this global-democratic revolution relates to statehood is also essential, in theory and practice. In the national-international era, revolution was understood as a question of political sociology, relations between states as the subject of international relations. Of course as we saw in Chapter 2, theorists have recognized how the two affect each other: revolutions had repercussions for relations between states, and international relations, especially wars, were part of the conditions for revolution. Today, because of structural changes that are partly products of the new democratic movements, the basic compartmentalization underlying these analyses no longer works. Global-democratic revolution is not just about the form of government within individual states, but about the shape of world order.

Similarly, wars, traditionally thought about as being fought between centres of state power, are now mostly between states and peoples. And yet they are not simply ‘civil wars’, in the old sense of conflicts within a single state. 'New wars’ are about the shape of civil society as well as the state. They mobilize cross-border alliances of ethnic nationalists, on the one hand, and of civic nationalists with global humanitarians, on the other. In reality, most wars of the twenty-first century (and some are not so new) are wars of the anti-democratic, anti-globalist counterrevolution. War is the tool of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes threatened by democratic movements – and particular by secessionist demands from oppressed minorities that inevitably accompany democratization. In the hands of this kind of state machine, war is almost invariably genocidal to some degree.

The global-democratic revolution and the wars that surround it are about the future shape of states. Most obviously, they concern the transformation of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian state power. However, they also have critical importance for the development of state power in general, on a world scale. Local episodes of both democratic revolution and genocidal war are transformed, especially through their mediation in Western civil society, into 'global political crises'. They have manifest significance for the development of state institutions at a global level, for example in the development of new forms of 'international intervention' or 'international law'. But they also have a deep significance for the development of the major centres of state power.

Looked at sociologically, what we have here is state formation on a global scale. One of Marx’s most interesting ideas was that all previous revolutions had always 'perfected this [state] machine instead of smashing it.' He thought that the proletarian revolution would be the exception, but historical experience has hardly been kind to this idea. The tendency of revolutions to encourage the growth of the state may be a general law. In the next part of this book, I examine its significance for the global-democratic revolution.