SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Face of Revolution

After Tunisia and Egypt, the World

From the British newspaper the Independent: “Like in many other countries in the region, protesters in Egypt complain about surging prices, unemployment and the authorities’ reliance on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.”

Sound familiar?

Coverage by U.S. state-controlled media of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is too dim by half: they say it’s an Arab thing. So it is. But not for long. The problems that triggered the latest uprisings, rising inequality of income, frozen credit markets, along with totally unresponsive government, span the globe. To be sure, the first past-due regimes to be overthrown may be the most brutal U.S. client states—Arab states such as Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Central Asia’s autocrats, also corrupted by the U.S., can’t be far behind; Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, who likes to boil his dissidents to death, would be my first bet. But this won’t stop in Asia. Persistent unemployment, unresponsive and repressive governments exist in Europe and yes, here in the U.S. They are unstable. The pressure is building.

Global revolution is imminent.

The first great wave of revolutions from 1793 through 1848 was a response to the decline of feudal agrarianism. (Like progressive historians, I don’t consider the 1775-1781 war of American independence to be a true revolution. Because it didn’t result in a radical reshuffling of classes, it was little more than a bunch of rich tax cheats getting theirs.)

During the 19th century European elites saw the rise of industrial capitalism as a chance to stack the cards in their favor, paying slave wages for backbreaking work. Workers organized and formed a proletariat that rejected this lopsided arrangement. They rose up. They formed unions. By the middle of the 20th century, a rough equilibrium had been established between labor and management in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Three generations of autoworkers earned enough to send their children to college.

Now Detroit is a ghost town.

The uprisings we are witnessing today have their roots in the decline of industrial production that began 60 years ago. As in the early 1800s the economic order has been reshuffled. Ports, factories and the stores that serviced them have shut down. Thanks to globalization, industrial production has been deprofessionalized, shrunken, and outsourced to the impoverished Third World. The result, in Western countries, is a hollowed-out middle class—undermining the foundation of political stability in post-feudal societies.

In the former First World industry was supplanted by the knowledge economy. Rather than bring the global economy in for a soft landing after the collapse of industrial capitalism by using the rising information sector to spread wealth, the ruling classes chose to do what they always do: they exploited the situation for short-term gain, grabbing whatever they could for themselves. During the ’70s and ’80s they broke the unions. (Which is one reason average family income has steadily declined since 1968.) They gouged consumers in the ’90s and ’00s. (Now their credit cards are maxed out.) Now the banks are looting the government.

Now that the bill is due, they want us to pay. But we can’t. We won’t.

It’s bad enough during a cyclical recession, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs and getting evicted from their homes. When the government’s response to an economic holocaust is not to help these poor people, but instead to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to the giant banks and insurance companies causing the firings and carrying out the foreclosures, it’s crazy.

And when the media tells the one in four adults who is “structurally” (i.e. permanently) unemployed that he and she doesn’t exist—the recession is over! recovery is underway!—it’s obvious that the U.S. is cruising for revolution. Not the Tea Party kind, with corny flags and silly hats.

American Revolution, Tunisian/Egyptian style.

Late last year I wrote a book, The Anti-American Manifesto, which calls for Americans to revolt against our out-of-control plutocracy and the corrupt political biarchy that props it up. I expected the Right to react with outrage. To the contrary. While the desire for revolution is hardly universal among Americans, it is widespread and distributed across the political spectrum. Revolution, when it occurs here, will be surprisingly popular.

Criticism of my Manifesto centers not on its thesis that the status quo is unsustainable and ought to go, but on my departure from traditional Marxist doctrine. Old-school lefties say you can’t (or shouldn’t) have revolution without first building a broad-based popular revolutionary movement.

“We are still in a time and place where we can and should be doing more to build popular movements that can liberate people’s consciousnesses and win reforms necessary to lay the foundation for a transformed society without it being soaked in blood,” Michael McGehee wrote in Z magazine. “All this talk about throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails is extremely premature and reckless…”

Maybe that used to be true. I think things have changed. Given the demoralized state of dissent in the United States since the 1960s and the co-opting of radical activists by the cult of militant pacifism, it would be impossible to create such an organization.

As I argue in the book, anyone who participates in the Official Left as it exists today—the MoveOns, Michael Moores, Green Party, etc.—is inherently discredited in the current, rapidly radicalizing political environment. Old-fashioned liberals can’t really help, they can’t really fight, not if they want to maintain their pathetic positions—so they don’t really try. America’s future revolutionaries—the newly homeless, the illegally dispossessed, people bankrupted by the healthcare industry—can only view the impotent Official Left with contempt.

Revolution will come. When it does, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt, it will follow a spontaneous explosion of long pent-up social and economic forces. We will not need the old parties and progressive groups to lead us. Which is good, because they aren’t psychologically conditioned to create revolution or midwife it when it occurs. New formations will emerge from the chaos. They will create the new order.

In my Manifesto I argue that old-fashioned ideologies are obsolete. Left, Right, Whoever must and will form alliances of convenience to overthrow the existing regime. The leftist critic Ernesto Aguilar is typical of those who take issue with me, complaining that “merging groups with different political goals around an agenda that does not speak openly to those goals, or worse no politics at all, is bound for failure.”

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may well be destined for failure—but it doesn’t look that way now. So far those popular insurrections have played out exactly the way I predict it will, and must, here in the United States: set off by unpredictable events, formed by the people themselves, as the result of spontaneous passion rather than organized mobilization.

In Egypt, an ad hoc coalition composed of ideologically disparate groups (the Muslim Brotherhood, secular parties, independent intellectuals), has coalesced around Mohamed ElBaradei. “Here you will see extremists, moderates, Christians, Muslims, all kinds of people. It is the first time that we are all together since the revolution of Saad Zaghloul,” a rebel named Naguib, referring to the leader of the 1919 revolution against the British, told Agence France-Press. ElBaradei’s popularity, said Tewfik Aclimandos of the College de France, is due to the fact that “he is not compromised by the regime; he has integrity.”

This is how it will go in Greece, Portugal, England, and—someday—here. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won’t make any difference. Just get ready to recognize revolution when it occurs, then drop what you’re doing and then organize.

What will set off the next American Revolution? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the liberation of the long-oppressed peoples of the United States, and the citizens of nations victimized by its foreign policy, is inevitable.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

14 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Face of Revolution

  1. I need to get around to buying the book, I hope it’s at Barnes and Nobles.

    What the liberal establishment needs is a kick in the ass to get it jump started. I don’t know where that kick will come from, but it needs to come soon. It might even come from me, I don’t know. I was hoping this decade will become another repeat of the 60’s where people wake up and rebel against the establishment. One of the kicks in the ass has to be the revelation that the conservative right adds absolutely nothing good to the debate and we need to start to pick them apart the same way they’ve been picking us apart since Reagan.

  2. Quoth Lee: Why is it that the demonstrations in Egypt make that government stand up and listen, but the (larger) demonstrations that we have in the US are almost completely ignored by our government?

    I don’t know what you’re talking about when you refer to “larger” demonstrations. If it has anything to do with the “anti-war” demonstrations of the Bush II era, maybe, just maybe, it has to do with having your guy in office now, peace be damned.

  3. The notion of a successful revolution in a free market democracy is absurd.

    There are many things people can do without risking life and limb, or even significant inconvenience, to break the power structure in the United States. The banks could be cut to size if people stopped buying shit they don’t need on credit they can’t afford. Wall Streeters wold have to get honest jobs if people stopped gambling away their retirement savings. Honest jobs would return if people stopped buying shit made in China.

    If we stopped listening to the corporate media, its propaganda would be irrelevant. Almost everyone has the internet and access to almost limitless information from every point of view. This wouldn’t be hard. If we stopped viewing elections as s symbolic choice between a letter d and a letter r, parties could only win by running qualified and engaging candidates with genuine differences in platform from each other.

    If we stopped lowering our expectations of people and organizations out of respect for the supposed righteousness of their missions, we’d solve many problems. People would not be bankruped by the health care industry. A hospital that charges $10 for a gauze sponge would punished for price gouging, not lauded for being full of Florence Nightingales in the “helping professions”. If we stopped pretending that everyone in a military uniform is a hero, we wouldn’t be hoodwinked by generals selling war in situations which have no military solution. We would see them as they are, seeking another medal to pin on their empty suits. We would also maintain a connection of reality that would allow us to feel anger when their troops kill innocents, and sadness when they get killed.

    In America, we are free to be free if we choose. No one has control of our minds and bodies. I avoid participating in the system as much as possible, but I’m not ready to stand in front of a tank. What good would it do? The majority has chosen debt slavery, war, and oligarchy. They’ve been manipulated, and there may well br angry when circumstances rub their faces in that fact. But sadly, they have chosen convenience over freedom and now have neither. If there ever is a housecleaning in the United States, the same people would prop up the next establishment. The revolution would give way to Napoleon. Lenin would be seceded by Stalin.

    We could be free tomorrow without a shot fired. All it takes is people living like citizens and not consumers. If enough of us do not make this choice, no revolution can help us.

  4. Albert,
    Not to be an ass. I am sure you have been too busy to keep up with Ted’s argument until right now.
    one of the books main points is that revolution probably will not work for exactly the reasons you are saying. The truly scathing aspect of the book is that it calls attention to the fact that there is no other alternative that has any chance whatsoever.Perhaps Ted needs to include that point in every column about this topic since it is proving to be the most stubborn dead-point in the popular discussion.

    What I find troubling are your apparent vestiges of faith in the liberal establishment.

  5. «Three generations of autoworkers earned enough to send their children to college.» This wasn’t merely the result of reasonable wages maintained by the counter-vailing powers of industrial unions, but also the result of public policy accepted over the political spectrum in the USA at that time. What were tuition fees at state universities fifty years ago ? What are they today ? In the United States, the rich are no longer being taxed to maintain public facilities of which the poor and so-called middle class might possibly avail themselves – and despite the decline of US prestige, these policies are spreading abroad, because they serve the interests of an elite who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, felt that they no longer need fear a revolution from the left. And they seem to be correct – the revolution which seems to be approaching in the United States looks rather to come from the right, and the Republican Party is filled with von Papens who believe they will be able to control it, just as the so-called Tea Party movement is filled with would be Adolf Hitlers. Given the military power available to the US Government, it’s difficult to be sanguine about humanity’s chance to make it through the decade….

    Henri

  6. Why is it that the demonstrations in Egypt make that government stand up and listen, but the (larger) demonstrations that we have in the US are almost completely ignored by our government?

  7. olegna78:

    No I’m just trying to point out that a violent mob might not be the best hope for change if you really think about it. I’m especially skeptical of this statement:

    “This is how it will go in Greece, Portugal, England, and—someday—here. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won’t make any difference. Just get ready to recognize revolution when it occurs, then drop what you’re doing and then organize.”

    It will just spontaneously occur? No scheming what-so-ever? That sounds like disaster. Like I was saying, how do you know they won’t come after liberals? Remember, there are a lot of poor people, especially white Christians who think liberals are the cause of their problems due to Fox News and other conservative news outlets telling them so. And again, they are better armed than us. Imagine all those people who were dumb enough to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, imagine them trying to make an educated decision about who is really oppressing them, I wouldn’t trust my eggs in their basket.

  8. “What will set off the next American Revolution? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the liberation of the long-oppressed peoples of the United States, and the citizens of nations victimized by its foreign policy, is inevitable.”

    Inevitable? Yeah. Sure. I’m certain we’ll soon be seeing Americans revolting against their masters. Just as soon as the Super Bowl is over, and American Idol finishes up it’s current run. Then the masses will put down their beers, click off their HD TVs, get in their SUVs and drive to the nearest demonstration! I can hear them chanting now: “One-Two-Three-Four!! We want 5% APR!!”

    Or maybe they’ll just blog.

  9. “And trust me, THEY are better armed than us. They would come after people like you and me Ted, that’s why I am skeptical about this scenario of a violent revolution. “

    Albert, are you trying to give Ted an aneurysm?

  10. An angry mob comprised of the comfortably middle class has failed to materialize. A revolution by those academically frustrated with US foreign policy is also proving mythical.

    Even the ancient states of Egypt could keep it together better than the current lot. And that is without being able to participate in the global market place.

    Either scarcity is increasing, or exploitation is.

  11. One of the things that I fear is that if there was to be a violent revolution in the US, it would not result in a better government. It could go the other way and the revolution would not be to overthrow the corporate/conservative status quo, but to support the status quo. And trust me, THEY are better armed than us. They would come after people like you and me Ted, that’s why I am skeptical about this scenario of a violent revolution. This is why the “Official Left” that you criticize IMHO is the only solution to the problems at hand.

  12. 1. The US revolution was about liberty being threatened by the British tyrant. Particularly, the liberty to own slaves, a liberty the tyrant was having debates about curtailing, but didn’t actually pass a law against for another 20 years. But proactive is better than reactive. And de new Souf is gonna rise agin’. Only the slaves won’t be just African Americans, but all the proles. So it won’t be (legally) racist (but illegal racism will continue as before).

    2. It’s not clear what’s happening in Tunisia, and less clear what’s happening in Egypt. Is this Gdansk, ’89, or Tiananmen? No one knows, yet. What started in Gdansk spread all the way to Tiananmen, where it stopped abruptly. Kristoff, he NYT reporter now in Cairo, was at Tiananmen, and says Egypt could go either way. And he speaks Chinese and Arabic, and he’s actually in Cairo at Liberty Square. So when he says he doesn’t know, I say I don’t, either. So, a fortiori, it’s not clear if Egypt will end up back under Mubarak’s rule, or will ignite, and if Mubarak falls, it’s not at all clear which dominoes will fall, if any.

  13. If I were a cynic I would think you’re just trying to plug in your book. More likely, you’re just so taken with your futurology powers that you see things where they aren’t. Let’s see:

    The problems that triggered the latest uprisings, […] frozen credit markets (emphasis mine)

    Somehow, I don’t think the Arab street is boiling because the average Egyptian wants to see their version of “quantitative easing augmenting liquidity in credit markets.” Anyways, silly me, I thought excess credit was what got the whole mess kick-started, otherwise people’s “credit cards wouldn’t be maxed out.”

    This isn’t about a socialist revolution against “global capitalism” at all. Left out of your self-congratulatory praise of your political prediction powers is the role that the internet and social media, and the “forest fire” effect this is having in the Arab world. Not having read your book, I honestly don’t know what role you see for new media in your dreamed revolution – seeing how you still don’t get the internet, I doubt it.
    People are rising against brutal satraps, subservient to the US Dept. of State (a wholly owned subsidiary of Likud). People are rising against brutal police repression, torture, “extraordinary renditions”, especially the outsourced ones. This is more about your country’s foreign policy, than about your socialist wet dream.
    That said, I also don’t share in your optimism about the outcome of these uprisings: already in Tunisia, the PTB are seeing that the new bosses remain loyal to the real boss. The Egyptian case may be more complicated, but with Suleiman overseeing a transition (what’s that like? Beria overseeing the perestroika?), you can rest assured that another asset of the company will be in power there, a year from now, no matter what party gets elected.
    Mind you, it’s not that I wouldn’t like a real revolution to succeed there (or in the US!). It’s just that the kind of revolution I’d like to see is a tad different from the one you dream about. It strikes me as odd also that you malign the left-right paradigm in this column (at last!), at least when it comes to the result of your future revolution, when all your political writing seethes with this old-fashioned view of politics.

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