Posts Tagged ‘Revolution’

Anarchists, protests and revolution

September 17, 2020

Photo via Berkelyside

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.  [==John F. Kennedy]

The Black Lives Matter movement wants to de-fund the police.  So do anarchists.  There’s nothing surprising or hard to believe about anarchists involving themselves in the George Floyd protests.

By all accounts, these anarchists are very different from the peaceful, naive, idealistic Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.   They are revolutionaries.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with anarchist ideals, as expressed by the late Murray Bookchin and David Graeber.  Like James C. Scott, I am not sure a society based entirely on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid and self-reliance is feasible, but I think present-day society is more authoritarian than it needs to be.

But I don’t think that destroying the existing corrupt and oppressive economic and political structure will automatically produce a better result/

I take the possibility of revolution seriously.  I think the USA is on the verge of a social breakdown in which violent revolution is a real possibility.

I am sure most people who take part in the Black Lives Matter protests are ordinary people who want to correct an obvious injustice and do not advocate or practice violent aggression.

Photo via CGTN.

My guess is that the “Black Bloc” and “Antifa” are relatively few.  But a small, determined, purposeful minority can have a greater impact than a confused majority.

As has been said, revolution is not a dinner party. Few revolutions turned out the way the original revolutionaries expected.  Even revolutions that historians say were beneficial to humanity were not something I would want to live through.

Voter turnout among the young is small.  But the protests draw lots of younger people.  They have good reason to give up on politics as usual.

I’m not sure what I would say to them.  I could argue that violent protests are playing into the hands of the Trump Republicans.  I could say that they are doing what provocateurs  and infiltrators want them to do.

I could say that if there is a break-down in social order, the radical right is more likely to pick up the pieces than the radical left,  The right has more guns and more sympathizers in the police and military than the left does.

But I could not say with a straight face that the protesters can accomplish necessary change by working through the two-party system.  I don’t honestly see hope in a third-party campaign.  I see bad years ahead.

LINKS

Blocs, Black and Otherwise on Crimethinc.  A manual of tactics for anarchist protesters.  Important.

Inside the Antifa Riots by J.D. for Seemorerocks.  A report on these tactics in action. Also important.

Antifa: What is behind the masks at Berkeley? by Natalie Orenstein for Berkeleyside.

Who are the extremist outsiders appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement? by Wang Yan for CGT

Inside a Cop-Free Zone by Wes Enzinna for Harper’s Magazine.

Was the American revolution a real revolution?

July 4, 2020

I just got finished reading Gordon S. Wood’s THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Wood said the American revolution was a real revolution, which brought about profound social changes, but was different from what the Founders had in mind.

As Wood saw it, the revolution proceeded from Monarchy, which the Founders overthrew, through Republicanism, which was their goal, to Democracy, which they did not intend.  For the first time, the expression, “this is a republic, not a democracy,” makes sense to me.

The core principle of the old regime in all Western countries in the 1700s was patriarchy.  The supreme authority was God, imagined as a Heavenly Father.  Next under God were kings and emperors, then various levels of aristocrats down through commoners and servants.

Society was a series of interconnected extended families, each ruled by a father-figure over women, children (Including grown children), servants and other dependents.

Aristocrats were expected to live a life of luxury, display and conspicuous consumption, because that made them job creators.  Their servants plus makers of luxury goods were a big part of the work force.

Master craftsmen also were patriarchs of extended families, ruling wives, grown children, journeymen and apprentices in extended households.

Only people of a certain social rank were entitled to live a life of luxury.  The poor were expected to be humble, frugal and unostentatious, and could literally be punished for getting above themselves.

Most people were born into specific roles, which they normally would be expected to play through life.  It was possible to rise in life, but only through patronage.

Rich and powerful people did favors for the poor and humble; they were expected to give loyalty in return.  You could see a modern example of this principle in the opening scenes of “The Godfather,’ where Don Corleone gives help in return for submission and the promise of a favor someday in return.

It was possible to rise in rank by making yourself useful to some patron.  At the same time, you spread your own influence by patronizing those who needed your power and influence.

 Patronage networks exist in almost all societies in all periods of history, including the contemporary USA, Russia and China, but in those days, patronage was not something below the surface.  It was a principle for organizing society.

Interestingly, riots and violent protests were common in 18th century England and its colonies.  The upper classes took them in stride.  They regarded them as a way that the lower classes could blow off steam.  They didn’t really threaten the social order.

In the 18th century, the British were probably less subordinate to hierarchies of birth than any other European people, and the British colonists in North America were more free than anyone else in the British Empire.

But their freedom, going back to Magna Carta, consisted of rights granted by the British crown to its subjects and enshrined in law.  They stemmed from law and precedent, not any theory of universal human rights.  This was what the British statesman Edmund Burke meant when he said he knew nothing of the “rights of man,” only of the rights of Englishmen.

(more…)

Why did the 1968 French student rebellion fail?

October 15, 2018

Last Friday I saw a remarkable movie, “In the Intense Now,” about the French student uprising in May, 1968, showing why at the time all things seemed possible and what went wrong.  I didn’t go to the movie with the intention of posting a review of it, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

The filmmaker, João Moreira Salles, is a Brazilian who, in 1968, was a small boy living in Paris with his parents.  The movie consists of archival footage mainly from France, but also from Czechoslovakia and Brazil and home movies his mother took on a visit to China in 1966.

He captures the joy the students felt in breaking free of the constraints of a mediocre bureaucratic society and their hope that all things were possible.

He shows their leader, the cocky, smart-alec Daniel Cohn=Bendit and I can share their pleasure is seeing him in a TV panel show, telling off the pompous intellectual authorities.

The student riots were followed by a series of strikes by factory workers all over France.  I always thought that the students and workers in France, unlike in the USA, were comrades in arms.

But Moreira Salles showed a delegation of students marching to a factory occupied by strikers to show their solidarity, only to have the workers mock them as “future bosses.”

The striking workers, he contended, were revolutionary in a way that the students were not.  He contrasted a graffito saying (approximately – I didn’t make an exact mental note at the time) “All power to the workers,” with a graffito (again – I don’t remember exactly) saying something about following the desires of your heart and not advertising slogans.

The first graffito was a revolutionary slogan.  The second was not.

He contrasted political demonstrations that are intended to bring about revolutionary charge with political demonstrations that are merely intended to express emotion.  Holders of power feel threatened by the first, but can tolerate the second.

He showed footage from August, 1968, showing the Soviet occupation of Prague, which shot furtively, mostly from behind curtained windows, and the later footage of the funeral of Jan Palace, a student who committed suicide in 1969 by setting himself on fire in order to protest the re-imposition of dictatorship, which was shot openly.

Moreira Salles said the difference was that, in August, the Soviets were fearful of a real uprising, and, the following January, they were not threatened by allowing the Czechs to vent their grief.

He showed three funerals in France—one of a student killed by police, one of a worker killed by police, and one—never before shown in documentaries of the 1968 uprising, of a police officer murdered by rioters, who was crushed against a wall by an empty truck aimed at him with bricks on the accelerator.

He also showed a funeral of a worker killed while protesting the new Brazilian dictatorship.  The funeral was a political demonstration; burial of the worker was almost an afterthought.

Moreira Salles showed a conciliatory speech by President Charles De Gaulle on TV, which was followed by the largest student riot so ar, and then a radio broadcast a ew days later, taking a hard line against breakdown of law and order.

The second broadcast was followed by a pro-government demonstration, consisting mainly but not entirely of members of the prosperous classes, which drew more people than any of the student demonstrations.

In the age of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, it’s important to think about the difference between a serious politics with a strategy to bring about change, and a psychodrama politics limited to expressing emotion.

Then again, what good is a revolution without spontaneity and joy?  Emma Goldman, who was a true revolutionary if anybody ever was, said she didn’t want to be part of any revolutionary movement in which she couldn’t dance.

And, after all, it wasn’t the students who tamed the French workers’ movement.  It was the Communist-dominated trade unions, whose leaders had long ago compromised with the status quo.

I don’t draw a simple moral from the movie, but I find a lot to chew over in my mind.

(more…)

The passing scene – August 20, 2015

August 20, 2015

Struggle and Progress: Eric Foner on the abolitionists, Reconstruction and winning “freedom” from the Right, a conversation with Jacobin magazine writers.

Eric Foner

Eric Foner

Historian Eric Foner pointed out that the abolition of slavery was truly a second American Revolution.  It involved the confiscation without compensation of the most valuable form of property at the time—enslaved African people.

The Civil War is sometimes interpreted as a triumph of industrial capitalism over a backward agrarian economy.  Foner said that, although this is true in a way, the pre-Civil War capitalists got along very well with the slaveowners.

The abolitionists included moderates, radicals, wealthy philanthropists, lawbreakers, politicians, former black slaves and racists who opposed slavery because it was harmful to white people.  Although sometimes working at cross-purposes, Foner said their diverse approaches created a synergy that made the movement stronger.   This has lessons for our own time.

The Last Refuge of the Incompetent by John Michael Greer for The Archdruid Report.

John Michael Greer wrote that a successful revolutionary movement will (1) discredit the existing order through relentless propaganda, (2) seek alliances with all those with grievances against the existing order, (3) create alternative institutions of its own and (4) offer a vision of hope, not despair.

In the USA, this program is being carried out not by what Greer called the “green Left,” but the “populist Right”.

(more…)

A pre-emptive counter-revolution in the USA?

October 8, 2013

tumblr_luwdnp4plT1qzlfumo1_1280

Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer that people do not revolt because they are poor and miserable.  If that there the case, the world would be in a constant state of revolt.  No, Hoffer wrote, people revolt when something to which they think they have a right is taken away from them, or when hopes are raised that things will get better.  Having a lot of highly educated young people without jobs is a spark that sets off the tinder.

If that is the case, the American people are ripe for revolt right now.   Although we are wealthier and more free than much of the world’s population, our economic security and political rights are being eroded.  The younger generation knows it is worse off than the generations that came before.  And the hope of change generated by Barack Obama has proved to be an illusion.

Historically the powers that be in the United States headed off revolt by responding to the discontented and bringing them into the system.   This happened with the labor movement in the 1930s and the civil rights protests of the 1960s.  But I think this time is different.

The electoral process is being altered to increase the power of money and to shut out minority groups, poor people, young people and others who might upset the status quo.  The legislative process is being altered so as to give veto power to the opponents of progressive reform.  The administration of government is becoming interlocked with corporations and shielded from public view.

Protest and dissent are being criminalized.  The U.S. government has the legal and institutional basis to impose a police state.  And the United States is being locked into NAFTA-like trade agreements which give corporations rights that override national law.

(more…)

Charles Stross on pre-emptive counter-revolution

October 8, 2013

The British SF writer Charles Stross, disturbed by the UK equivalents of the U.S. Homeland Security Administration, thinks his government is acting as if the powers-that-be fear a public uprising.

I have a new speculative hypothesis … . It is this: the over-arching reason for the clamp-down on dissent, migration, and freedom of expression, and the concurrent emphasis on security in the developed world, constitutes the visible expression of a pre-emptive counter-revolution[snip]

Charles Stross

Charles Stross

I believe what we’re seeing is a move towards the global imposition of a police state in the developed world, leveraging the xenophobia that naturally emerges during insecure times, by a ruling elite who are themselves feeling threatened by a specter.  Controls on movement, freedom of association, and speech are all key tools in the classic police state’s arsenal.

What’s new about this cycle is that the police state machinery is imposed locally, within national boundaries, but applies everywhere: the economic system it is intended to protect is transnational and unconstrained.  Which is why even places that were largely exempt during the cold war are having a common police state agenda quietly imposed. There is to be no refuge, other than destabilized “failed states” where the conditions of life make a police state look utopian in comparison.

via Who ordered *that*? – Charlie’s Diary.

Democracy in the UK is ineffective, Stross wrote.  He sees the Conservative, Labor and Liberal Democratic parties as different wings of the same Ruling Party—much as I see the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA.  If there is no hope for progressive change within the political system, then, as a matter of logic, the only possibility for change is a revolt against the system.

My conclusion is that we are now entering a pre-revolutionary state, much as the nations of Europe did in 1849 with the suppression of the wave of revolutions that spurred, among other things, the writing of “The Communist Manifesto”. It took more than a half-century for that pre-revolutionary situation to mature to the point of explosion, but explode it did, giving rise to the messy fallout of the 20th century.

I don’t know how long this pre-revolutionary situation will last — although I would be surprised if it persisted for less than two decades — but the whirlwind we reap will be ugly indeed: if you want to see how ugly, look to the Arab Spring and imagine it fought by … killer drones that know what you wrote on Facebook eighteen years ago when you were younger, foolish, and un-cowed.  And which is armed with dossiers the completeness of which the East German Stasi could only fantasize about.

via A Bad Dream – Charlie’s Diary.

Revolutionary violence does not appeal to Stross, nor to me.  But as President John F. Kennedy said, those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

The risk of revolution

February 5, 2011

The risk for the U.S. government in getting rid of President Mubarak of Egypt is that it sets a bad example.  Egypt not the only country with a ruler who follows the wishes of the U.S. government rather than his own people.

The people of Pakistan have long been unhappy with the United States using their country as a base for our wars in Afghanistan, especially since the war has come back to Afghanistan itself.  I doubt if the people of Yemen are happy with the U.S. troops and agents shooting Predator missiles everywhere they think terrorists may be hiding out.  The odious regimes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are hosts to U.S. bases.

If the United States turns against Hosni Mubarak too abruptly, all the other dictators allied with the United States will wonder whether our government can be trusted to support them when things get tough.

Another problem is that the outcomes of revolutions are unpredictable.  The pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt call to mind Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos yielded power to Corazon Aquino.  But revolutions don’t always end happily from the point of view of us Americans.  Many Americans welcomed the fall of the Tsar of Russia in 1917, the Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1959 and the Shah of Iran in 1979, but the Mensheviks were soon driven out by the Bolsheviks, Fidel Castro turned out to be a Communist, and Iran became a theocracy rather than a democracy.

Another bad possibility is that Hosni Mubarak or his henchmen will manage to stay in power even thought the United States has turned against him, as the former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein did after 1991.   He seemed like a lapdog in serving the interests of American foreign policy.  But he may have sharp teeth where his own power and wealth are concerned.

But if being openly pro-democracy is risky, so is siding with tyrants.  They always fall in the end, and their peoples remember who supported them.  If the Egyptian regime suppresses a peaceful revolt (and so far the demonstrators have been peaceful), the next revolt may be accompanied by assassinations, lynchings, bombings of public places and “death to America” banners.

The middle way, which is what President Obama seems to be taking, is to try to finesse the situation – to quietly ease Mubarak out and persuade his clique to accept a peaceful transition to democracy.  In other words, to help the democrats without breaking with the autocrats.

And that is the riskiest of all.  The risk is that the Obama administration alienates both sides – that U.S. government loses the allegiance of its client dictators without gaining the support of the popular forces.  It is better to be liked and respected than hated and feared, but worst of all is to be despised.

So there is a risk for the United States if the Egyptian people exercise the right of self-determination.  There is a risk for the United States if our government imposes a rule of torturers and kleptocrats.  And there is a risk in a balancing act.  So why not do the right thing?

Click on If the Egyptians want change, then they should have it for comment by Martin Kettle of Great Britain’s The Guardian.

(more…)

Egypt’s democratic revolt

February 1, 2011

President John F. Kennedy once said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.The Egyptian protest demonstrations, which the protesters call the Days of Anger, may not strike the average American TV viewer as especially peaceful, but compared to what they could be, they really are.  What is going on in Egypt is the opposite of terrorism.

The anti-Mubarak forces are not tearing police and soldiers limb from limb.  They are not setting off bombs in government offices or shopping centers.  There aren’t any suicide bombers. Bodies of policemen and government officials are not hanging from lamp posts. Given the history of revolution, these are not things that can be taken for granted.  For their part, the Egyptian army announced late yesterday that it would not use force against nonviolent demonstrators.

Lenin’s Bolsheviks showed how a determined, murderous minority could seize and hold power through use of unrelenting force and propaganda and suppression of internal dissent.  Various Third World “national liberation fronts” that sprung up after World War Two took the Bolsheviks as a model.  They killed as many people among their own constituents to keep them in line as they did of their enemy.  Nothing like this is going on in Egypt.

Che Guevara and Regis Debray in their books on guerrilla warfare said that a revolutionary struggle could be ignited by a tiny group of terrorists (they didn’t call them that), provoking an over-reaction by government and drawing the masses into the struggle. These were the tactics of Osama bin Laden.  They are not the tactics of the current mass protests in Egypt.

Mass protests, especially nonviolent mass protests, are inherently democratic.  Leaders of mass protests have to gain and keep the confidence of the masses.  Their political power does not grow out of the barrel of a gun.  Rather it depends on stripping rulers of their power to make people obey out of respect for their authority and out of fear of their power.  It does not depend on killing police and troops, but on weaning police and troops from their allegiance.

Alex Madrigal of The Atlantic Monthly last Thursday published excerpts from a pamphlet distributed to Egyptian protesters that illustrates their nonlethal tactics.

(more…)