What tyrants fear the most: revolution

May 19, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

“They thought that Iran is also Georgia! They started a velvet revolution in Georgia. The idiots thought that Iran and this great nation are like that.”

—Ayatollah Khamenei

Intoxicated by the brutal killing of “seditionists,” Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, celebrated the victory of the regime against the “Velvet Revolution” and the brutal repression of the protesters by uttering the above words. This was followed by a huge wave of ideological attacks in the press against the failed “color” revolution, and books were written against the “green movement.”


One of the hundreds of demonstrations in Iran during the green revolution in 2009

What had previously happened with the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004), and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005), all led to at least a revolution. They overthrew the governments of the time and had a significant impact on the direction of domestic and foreign policies of those countries. But the tyrannical regimes of the regions, which had resorted to seemingly dangerous violence, suddenly faced Iran’s “bloody November” in 2019-2020. The November national movement proved that the deprivation of legitimacy from the system this time encompassed all sects within the government—whether fundamentalist or reformist!

Over the past 20 years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has also faced numerous social movements, both inside and outside its borders. After a brief period of space for the free expression of mass protests, public space gradually narrowed, especially after Putin came to power.

Putin outlawed opposition parties and imprisoned or exiled opposition leaders one after another. He enacted harsh laws against “internal traitors” and “foreign agents” to crack down on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and prevent public protests. By concentrating power in his hands, changing the constitution, and transforming the judiciary into a dependent and obedient institution, he created an authoritarian police-security system.

However, protesters inside Russia, aware of the dire consequences of coming out against the status quo, nevertheless repeatedly took to the streets. Thus, Putin felt strongly threatened both internally and externally by the inspiring mass movements of neighboring countries. The military invasion of Georgia after the “Rose Revolution,” and the subsequent military occupation of Crimea and the military support of separatists in eastern Ukraine after the “Square Movement” or “Maidan” (2013-14) were counter-revolutionary reactions against the new social movements.


Khamenei and Putin are both counter-revolutionary to the core, living in constant anxiety against “foreign enemy conspiracies” and the danger of being overthrown. In 2014, Putin held a conference on “international security” in Moscow. In addition to the Russian defense minister, participants in the conference included the Iranian defense minister as well as the Syrian and Burmese defense chiefs.

The immediate result of this conference was a comprehensive Russian military intervention to suppress the Syrian revolution.

For the leftist tendencies that are embroiled in the quagmire of geopolitical conflicts, it should be noted that the current military campaign against Ukraine is, more than anything else, understandable on the basis of fear of revolution and the overthrow of the existing order. The genuine left, whose existence is the main indicator of the revolution, must determine where they stand in the face of revolution and counter-revolution on the world stage!


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