The revolutionaries of the past – Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh – were successful in driving out entrenched regimes or colonial powers in large part because of effective use of guerilla warfare tactics. Hit and run attacks, the support of peasant cadres, and the determination to fight the “long war” against a well equipped and trained adversary.
Today, however, the revolutionary movements, most recently in Tunisia and Egypt, but also in countries like the Ukraine, Iran and for a time in the late 1980s in China, are relying more and more on the new weapons of guerrilla warfare – cell phones, fax machines, the Internet and social networking sites, particularly Facebook.
Where Mao, Fidel and Ho labored for years to rouse the people and advance their revolution, the new technology of today can galvanize millions into protests or demonstrations in a matter of hours. Cell phones now are the clandestine radio stations of the past, fax machines can disseminate information to the world in a matter of seconds, not days or weeks as in former revolutions, and the power of the Internet, whether blogs, textings, twittering or Facebook posts are now the instruments of popular mobilization that don’t require a visible and well known leader with his ideological handbook guiding the masses.
The new weapons of revolution do not in any way guarantee that popular uprisings will be successful, as is witnessed by the failures in Tiananmen Square and the streets of Tehran. In both cases the modern technology got the message out to the people and the world, but the authoritarian regime was able to crush the rebellion and ride out the new age threat.
Nevertheless, there is new hope among the proponents of mass uprisings against hated regimes as the power of information and human connection has become a new force in countries repressed by hated dictators. Certainly governments can shut down cell towers and block the Internet, but today’s generation of youthful rebels are increasingly proficient in finding ways to get their message out and more importantly mobilize their compatriots.
The mass rebellion in Egypt is certain to serve as a model of 21st century warfare against hated regimes. Opponents of these regimes will still have to pay the price in lost comrades as they storm the barricades, but the new technology offers them weapons capable of rousing millions and focusing the world on their revolution.