An unpopular coup is hardly ever the most effective way to overthrow an oppressive regime. It is a either a sign of laziness on the part of the revolutionary vanguard, or a sign of desperation. But, at times it is the only means available. the revolutionary vanguard is sometimes forced in to act of sabotage, or ‘terrorism’, but these are not always well received by the masses. In fact they drive a wedge between the masses and the revolutionary vanguard, and legitimise the oppressive regime in the eyes of the masses. The success of an unpopular coup attempt is in most cases the sharpening of contradictions between the masses and the oppressive regime. The failure of the unpopular coup attempt does not necessarily mean an end to the revolution, as we have seen in the Cuban, Burkinabe & Venezuela experience. The revolution can still be carried on and succeed at a later stage owing to the lessons learnt during the failed unpopular coup attempt.
After the failed coup attempt, the revolutionary vanguard finds itself isolated from the masses. Either exiled or jailed. Concurrently the repressive regime solidifies its hold over the country. The security is upped, the spies are on overdrive, a state of emergency is declared. The masses either agree and support this state of affairs or are tolerant of it, understanding of the repressive regime’s reign of terror given what the ‘terrorists’ almost done. It can even be said that the masses feel some guilt for allowing the ‘terrorists’ try bring the country into disarray. The repressive regime never fails to drive this point home: how it saved the country from anarchy.
It is at this stage that the weaknesses of the revolutionary vanguard are accentuated. When it was popular with the masses, it failed to establish a network independent of itself but loyal or sympathetic to the revolution that is part and parcel of, that is indistinguishable from, the masses. It is the lack of this network that renders the isolated revolutionary vanguard clueless of what is going on in the country at this specific point in time. It is in the dark as to whether the failed attempt has sharpened contradictions and/or revolutionary consciousness amongst the masses or it has driven them into the open but dangerous arms of the repressive regime. It does not know as to whether its act of bravery, the risk it has taken, has endeared or alienated them to/from the masses. All the news that filters to them from the country are either sponsored by the repressive regime or from those who are sympathetic to the regime or antagonistic to the revolutionary vanguard. It must be said that in this sad and soiled state of affairs even the views of the masses, if they are ever heard over the noise of officials, experts and analysts, cannot be regarded as necessarily genuine – given the power of the repressive regime’s hegemony; this is to say that the masses begin to internalise the repressive regime’s propaganda and believe the repressive regime to be the ‘good guy’ and the revolutionary vanguard the ‘bad guy’.
This lack of vital intelligence leaves the revolutionary vanguard in a state of limbo, it does not know how to proceed: whether to act, to have more blows directed at the system either through propaganda or other means, whether to be overt or covert in its operations (if any) or whether to sit back and wait and see if there will be an opening, another revolutionary opportunity, in the future.
Sometimes it is good tact to let the repressive regime be, to even acknowledge it and compromise one’s position. This is done to let the regime grow confident and revert back to its oppressive nature, and wait for that situation where the masses will come to realise, on their own, the inherent repressive nature of the regime. And when the masses revolt, the revolutionary vanguard must be ready to give the revolt a revolutionary impetus. Sometimes the best way to destroy a system is to take it seriously. But this tact is fraught with weaknesses and could backfire greatly. Especially given the ability of the repressive regime to be a benevolent oppressor. Also it might be that the masses see this move as the revolutionary vanguard’s capitulation to the power of the repressive regime, a point the repressive regime will not fail to propagate, and thereby increase the power of the regime. This will leave the masses either despondent or in awe of the power of the repressive regime. The effect being that the masses accept the repressive regime as a permanent state of affairs – seeing that there’s no longer hope of breaking down its power.
The revolutionary vanguard thus finds itself not only in a situation where there is very little room to manoeuvre, but more tragically a situation where it doesn’t know if and how it should manoeuvre.