It’s pretty difficult to tell whether or not such protests would be successful or not. For example, back in 1989, there were a lot of successful non-violent and violent revolutions that took place. The Fall of the Berlin War, the Velvet Revolution, and Solidarity were all pretty successful in creating democratic governments in Eastern Europe. Then, there was the Tiananmen Massacre which has led to… well… what we have right now in the PRC. A little later, there were the Color Revolutions that led to the creation of mostly democratic states in Georgia (the country, not the state) and a few others. Of course, there was also that massive failure in Myanmar where the monks didn’t really force that much change.
Protests are sometimes useful, but most of the time, they’re just around long enough for the media to exploit for ratings. If the majority of the people in a country, not just the urban or educated elite, support the revolution, it’ll probably have a higher chance of success. Like in East Germany, I would guess that there was a decent amount of support and knowledge about plans for reunification. In China back in ’89 on the other hand, the peasants in Ningxia had no idea what democracy was, let alone what the students were doing in Beijing.
I don’t know too much about Iran, but it really doesn’t seem like the faction that is supporting reform is large enough yet. At least I haven’t heard much about the peasants and the poor joining in on the protests. Marx was right when he was talking about the prerequisites for communist revolutions, except it can be expanded to revolutions in general. Development increases the chance that a political revolution would be successful. If the people are poor and starving, they can be easily riled up to protest, but at the same time it is easy to buy them off with some food or redistribution of some land. Those who have satisfied their basic needs can be riled up to protest as well, but if they are given economic mobility and consumer goods are available for purchase, they can be distracted from the revolution as they seem to fulfill their consumption needs.
Now once you got that TV and motorbike, the marginal benefit of consuming more decreases. Getting that first TV gives you much more benefit in comparison to having to trek over to a Best Buy to watch on one of those display TVs. On the other hand, a bigger TV might make you happier, but less and less as your TV gets bigger and bigger. The people can no longer be as easily bought off with economic reforms. They’re going to want a cleaner environment, a safer place for their kids, and other public goods. They’re going to demand this from the government. Kaboom. We got a civil society forming. The civil society expands from demanding services from the government and goes into immaterial things. Human rights, democracy, freedom, liberty, and so on and so on.
I’m not saying that the poor won’t want ideas like freedom and equality, but they usually have more important things on their minds. They want freedom so that they can sell their goods on the market at a fair price. They want human rights to protect their land from wealthy men and armed thugs. They want democracy so they can choose a leader that they have connections with so that they can get help. They want these ‘ideas’ to achieve material gains, not just for the sake of having these rights’. That’s why most communists are students or comfortable intellectuals. The poor inner city youth would prefer a sweet ride and a couple hos in the back.
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