Tragic Revolutions: reflection on Les Miserables
Posted by butalidnl on 24 January 2013
I was teary eyed when I watched the Les Miserables movie recently. But it was in the ‘wrong’ parts, i.e. not where most people were teary eyed. My ‘moment’ was in the build-up for the revolution, and when it began. Sure, it was a bit theatrical and dramatic, as movies are bound to be. But when I looked it up, it turns out that it really did happen more or less like that. The republican students did start a revolt during the funeral of General Lamarque in June 1832. They revolted against the newly installed king, Louis-Philippe. It was tragic: all the young lives lost in a futile effort for a very worthy cause.
I was affected perhaps because Les Miserables paralleled my own life (to a point). I was a student activist (starting 1978) and had fought to overthrow the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos was overthrown in 1986, but was replaced by Cory Aquino, who represented what we called the middle forces.
This was similar to the Les Miserables’ revolt. They had deposed the Bourbon king in July 1830, but instead of restoring the republic their leaders installed a new king, who was acceptable to the political middle.
The republicans decided to continue with their struggle. They assumed that the masses – who had supported them in 1830 – were still behind them. The students didn’t understand that the revolutionary moment had passed, and they unwittingly were on a suicide mission. Paraphrasing from Lenin (80 years later) “It is not enough that the masses don not like to live in the old way; the ruling class should also find it impossible to live in the old way.” In 1832, the ruling classes had found a way to live in a new way. And part of this was to play their opponents against each other: Republicans, Bonapartists, Bourbon restorationists and others. This strategy proved successful for 16 more years.
Why did the king order the brutal massacre of the revolting students? Was it not enough to merely isolate the rebels and starve them out? I think not. The king really had no choice: the rebellion had to be ended immediately because otherwise the other opposition forces would take advantage of the situation. Image was everything – he had to show the people that he was in complete control. So, while the rebellion was being suppressed, the king walked the same streets to demonstrate that he was in total control.
In the case of the Philippines, Cory Aquino restored the old rules of the political game after the overthrow of Marcos. This meant that the old ruling classes, instead of fighting the system, fought each other in electoral contests. This made for political stability, in a sense. In response, the revolutionary left declared that the struggle continued, and the new system should be overthrown. Similar to the republican youth of 1832, the Philippine revolutionary movement did not realize that the revolutionary moment had passed. And, instead of preparing for a new fight, it unleased one internal purge after the other, decimating its own ranks. So many revolutionaries died uselessly.
The Les Miserables revolutionaries died for continuing their revolution, even without mass support; many Philipppine revolutionaries died because they were falsely accused as enemy agents, or because they were deemed not revolutionary enough. Either way, many young idealists ended up dead.
This was truly tragic. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.