Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Second Stage of the Revolution and the Problem of Scale
I'm watching the Revolution continue in Egypt as the dissatisfaction with the interim military rulership has increased to the boiling point.
That the People of Egypt have arisen yet again -- after their stunning uprising earlier in the year -- is to my eye the signal that the '2nd Stage of the Revolution' is now under way. The Center of Energy has shifted once again. It's no longer in California or New York. It is now back in Egypt, mostly in Cairo at Tahrir Square and in the streets of Alexandria. The scenes are evocative of the uprising in January and February, but the action is clearly not the same.
Nothing that's happened in this country has yet matched the uprising in Egypt and the sacrifices of the Peoples of North Africa and the Middle East in the current cycle of revolt and revolution. Not even close.
I usually doubt that anything like that will ever happen here because we don't live in a totalitarian dictatorship -- not yet anyway -- and there are still some outlets available to the People of the United States of America that are not available in some of the hot-spots overseas.
As much as we may crab about our own condition, and as much as we may engage in struggle with the Powers That Be, our general situation is still much better than that of those abroad who are struggling so bravely against their oppression.
That being said, however, Revolutions do tend to proceed in two -- or more -- stages, the first of which is rather euphoric, the second deadly serious.
The Egyptians are now in the second stage.
I usually think of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolutions as models for how the stages work. The first is relatively bloodless, the second is often the product of civil war or is the precipitating cause of civil war.
Euphoria is replaced with determination, and sometimes with surpassing violence.
The question has been raised over whether the Occupy Movement is a Revolution or not; I've answered in the affirmative in a certain sense, but my developing view is that the Occupy Movement itself is not The Revolution in the sense that it does not -- and in a way it cannot -- actually "change" things. That phase is yet to come, and what it will look like, I can't say. All I can say is "look to Europe" (and North Africa -- the uprisings in Europe and North Africa are symbiotic).
Europe at the moment is surprisingly quiet, but I doubt it will be that way for much longer. Egyptians are going through the most difficult part of their Revolution. I heard a commentator on Al Jazeera say the other day that Egypt has only had a little over 60 years of domestic rule in the last 3,000 years, and for all 7,000 years of its history, Egypt has been ruled by the military. Now, for the first time in their 7,000 year history, Egyptians are demanding an end to military rule once and for all. If they can win...
In Europe, the United States, North Africa and elsewhere, much of the initial Revolutionary fervor and activism has been carried by anarchists. I've defended anarchists for giving Americans the intellectual space for there to BE an Occupy Movement at all. It would not have happened had it been left to the "left." No way. No how.
And while the anarchist image of an ideal society has a strong appeal, it is impossible for it to be "scaled" beyond a very small community of like minded people who are often ethnically homogenous and sometimes even related. You can't have nation-states on an anarchic model, for example.
The Egyptians are demanding an end to military rule and the establishment of a democracy. The model of democracy they seem to want is the anarchic model of the General Assembly. A nation-state like Egypt cannot operate on a General Assembly model; in fact, no nation-state can operate on that model, and even many Occupations are massaging it to look and feel more like the representative model that was pioneered by... the United States. A model that is itself crumbling from decadence and corruption.
This is the dilemma of the Revolution, and I have no idea right now how it can be resolved. The desire for small-scale and comprehensible community -- which the General Assembly democratic model encapsulates -- is human nature, I think. But the comforts and conveniences of a vigorous nation-state (or dast I say it, empire) are antithetical to that low key, small scale model.
One can't live the way most Americans (still) live through an anarchic system.
The way I was thinking about these things in the summertime with "A People's Constitution" project was to use something like the Swiss model -- which is still too big -- to form a more perfect union, yadda yadda. But what if the Union itself -- which is in effect a Domestic Empire like India, China, Russia, or even Egypt -- isn't desirable?
No matter how it is reconceived, maybe the conception itself is not appropriate, and some other way of organizing community and society is better.
Anarchy can work -- it doesn't necessarily -- on the relatively small scale of a few hundred to a few thousand community members.
But a nation-state of 300,000,000? No.
What are the alternatives? I think we'll be searching for some time to come.
Howard Zinn on Revolution: