Thursday, February 9, 2012

What About Those Who Don't Want Revolution?

For some time -- quite a few years, in fact -- I have been writing and commenting about the need for Americans to rise up in opposition to the screwage we've been undergoing first as playthings of the neo-cons, then for a change of emphasis, as neo-liberal objects of utility. Or disposal, as the case may be.

"Rising up" is typically characterized as Revolution, and I've written extensively on that topic, too, a good deal of which was written during the Bush Regime.

As far as I know, most of what I wrote about Revolution wound up in Salon's archive dumptster and I have no access to it now, but the point I argued most often at the time -- going back to 2001 -- was that the Busheviks were themselves a Revolutionary force or cadre; they achieved power through a judicial coup and they were using their power to implement a Rightist Revolutionary program, a program that included the institutionalization of an Imperial State, the extinction of the Constitutional Republic once and for all, and the implementation of a corporate-kleptocratic economy.

The Busheviks and their neo-con hangers-on were Revolutionary in part because they could be, in part because they wanted to be, and in part because they were embarked on a transformational crusade from which they could not be dissuaded.

Their opposition, such as it was, in that context was counter-Revolutionary, primarily interested in accommodating the Revolutionaries' demands and preserving what they could salvage of the status quo.

At the time, many people did not see and refused to believe how truly radical and Revolutionary the Busheviks were. Soon enough, especially after the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent clearly domestic Anthrax attacks, the government of the United States was completely overhauled and transformed into that of an Imperial War-State, run out of the White House bunkers, served by an impotent and compliant Congress and an ambivalent court.

The People, to the extent they were considered at all, were at best considered accessories and props to the Pageant of Empire, to be manipulated and controlled by an enthusiastically complicit media into believing anything the Imperial Headquarters wanted them to. And they did, in their multitudes. They didn't rise up against what was being done to them, they embraced it.

Millions of people in the streets, "singing songs and carrying signs," in protest against the Iraq War -- a full-on, up front, balls out, Imperial war of aggression -- were ostentatiously ignored, protest of any kind was corralled, mocked and dismissed. Remember "Free Speech Zone" and directives from the Busheviks and their spokespeople about what sort of protest and protest message was "acceptable?"

The public treasury was promptly and efficiently looted -- these people do know how to plunder -- and taxation on the favored corporate and wealth sectors was virtually eliminated.

The People did not rise up even after they became uneasy about the course of events when some of the horrors being perpetrated in their names in Iraq and elsewhere became known, when their rights as citizens were dispensed with, even when the economy imploded.

The People were passive, nearly mute. There was no rising up, no People's Revolt, nothing.

When you think about American history and especially the history of resistance to tyranny and exploitative authority, this situation was distinctly odd. The whole country, and its entire tradition and systems of governance was being turned on its head, and the People did nothing. They continued to drudge along quietly, performing the rituals of voting as if they still mattered, becoming obsessed with candidates for office while their pockets were being picked by the corporate raiders who were the real powers behind the Throne.

It was so eerie that people abroad were amazed. "What is wrong with Americans that they resist not, neither do they rise up, nor even do they complain except in the most servile fashion?"

During the Bushevik reign, the Revolutionary changes in the Nation's state of being became normalized.

Most people either didn't notice or they didn't care.

But when the economy collapsed like the house of cards it was, the meme of Change took hold, the need for redemption was recognized, and Barack Obama was sent to sit on the Throne.

It was clear to me during his campaign that his principal role, once in office, was to manage the masses, to keep them in line during the forthcoming unpleasantness. He demonstrated many times that he was a master at it. The People who had grown weary of the Busheviks, their casual cruelties, their plundering ways, and their lies, saw salvation was nigh, and so Obama won the election.

It's impossible to imagine that Crabby Old Man and Herself, the candidates who stood against him in the election, performing the role he was assigned and doing it even a fraction as well.

That said, an ersatz "populist revolt" against him was engineered immediately after the 2008 election and was put in operation through numerous radio and some television ads. It was called "Grassfire, We Resist" (I've mentioned it before, no point in going into details here) and that revolt was transformed into the Tea Party shortly after the inauguration, and we know what that led to: an intensification of the neo-liberal economic follies, and even greater institutionalization of the Imperial Security State. That done, the rebels rested.

Except that another, unexpected, populist revolt got under way last September, Occupy Wall Street that almost immediately spread across the entire nation and overseas. This was the first real mass uprising the nation had seen since the Sixties, and it was clear the authorities had no idea what to do about it.

From very early on, Revolution was in the air; nonviolent Revolution to be sure, but Revolution just the same.

Not a counter-Revolution that would try to reverse the Bushevik-Obama Imperial Revolution, and return to some idealized status quo ante. No. This would be a real Revolution, forward thinking, not going back to anything in the past but forging a brand new path into the Future.

"We are unstoppable; another world is possible."

Six months into it, some people are recognizing the beginnings of success, especially in the more militant outposts of the Movement -- like the O-Place, Oakland.

And it is understandably terrifying.

Many people who signed up for Occupy This or That didn't sign on to Revolution; many who thought that Revolution was called for didn't think this would be it. But there's a Revolution going on anyway, no matter what they thought they were signing up for, and in Oakland, it's getting really scary.

"Victory" is nigh. Is Oakland what a successful Revolution will look like? They aren't there yet, so it's hard to say. They've achieved the first-level victory of de-legitimizing civic authority, but where does it go from there? Either nobody knows or nobody's saying.

A first-level victory standing alone, without a sufficiently coordinated and militant follow up is not ultimately a Revolutionary victory at all.

For example, the militant students at UC Davis achieved a spectacular first-level victory by delegitimizing the authority of the campus police and the administration during and immediately after the Pepper Spray Incident.

They thereupon called for the disbanding of the UC Police, the immediate resignation of the chancellor and a cessation of tuition increases. They held a huge campus rally which I attended, at which they heard contrition from the chancellor and her pledge to do better, they vowed to reestablish their encampment and press their demands relentlessly until they were met.

They might have done so except for the winter break that came swiftly, emptying the campus, but not before the students literally ceded power right back to the administration that had abused them. They did it at a town hall that combined both contrition and control by the administrators in one of the slickest events of the kind I've seen.

By appearing to listen and repeatedly expressing contrition for past misdeeds, and by vowing "full investigation of what happened," and promising that nothing like the Pepper Spray Incident would happen again, the students' emotional demands were satisfied, and the power of their anger was defused.

Not to say this was a totally fraudulent show -- I'll let Nathan Brown say that -- but apart from mitigating the overt brutality of the UC Police, and allowing (even enabling) the re-establishment of the encampment, very little change has actually taken place, and few or none of the students' other demands have been met; there are no reports, for example, and conclusions from the 'investigations' are long past due. Tuition increases have not been mitigated or cancelled. The campus is quiet; the rebellion has been tamed. Linda Katehi is hailed far and wide for successful management of the situation. Voila! No Revolution in Davis.

See how this works?

That's how a Revolution is defused, but in city after city, with Oakland as a sort of Revolutionary pivot, authorities have responded to the militancy of the Occupiers, with ever increasing levels of violence, destruction of property, brutality and mass arrest of demonstrators. That is how authority adds fuel to the fire of Revolution.

What happens to the people who didn't sign up for Revolution who are caught in the middle?

We're seeing the tragic results of what can happen play out in places like Libya and Syria, where the People rose up, believed they could achieve real change through non-violent means, were ruthlessly cut down time and again by what I metaphorically refer to as "The Tsar's Cossaks", which led soon enough to an armed insurrection which in Libya turned into a civil war, the conduct of which was very bloody, the outcome of which was determined by the intervention of outside interests through NATO.

In Syria the nonviolent resistance campaign was met with extravagant levels of state violence and bloodshed, which in turn triggered an armed insurrection which is being countered with even more state bloodlust, inspiring more armed resistance as well as outside intervention on behalf of the rebels -- or so the intervention (sanctions for now) is being propagandized.

In both of these tragic examples of what can happen when nonviolent resistance is met with gross state violence and bloodshed, rather than any attempt at listening to and "taking steps" demanded by the rebels, thousands of noncombatants caught in the middle are paying for someone else's Revolution with their homes and their lives.

There is no sign at all that Occupy will in any way turn into an armed insurrection, but nonviolent demonstrations are being met with increasing levels of police violence, in which many hundreds have been wounded and some nearly killed. Many people who did not sign up for this sort of resistance and the violent response of the police have been caught up in it, and many are conflicted about it and are speaking out.

For the most part, they want "the violence" to end; and most don't want a Revolution at all. The question becomes one of how to stop it, or whether those engaged even want to stop it.

Defusing a Revolution is simple enough if it is done early on; the longer the struggle continues, the harder it is to defuse. What if the authorities don't want to defuse the situation, they want to crush the rebels? And what if they are prepared to do it through any means necessary, including jeopardizing the safety of the non-Revolutionary minded?

And what is the responsibility of the Revolutionaries for the safety of those who are caught in the middle of the conflict, a conflict that potentially can't be defused (because it's too late or because the authorities don't want to defuse it)?

While the issues surrounding Violent/Nonviolent action and reaction are being worked on by various elements in the Occupy Movement, there are somewhat bigger issues looming. The question of responsibility for the safety of non-Revolutionaries in a conflict situation is one of them.


  1. File under Hopeful Signs:
    Today I was talking with a new client, and she worked into the conversation her support for and hopes for Occupy. I was a little taken aback; she and her husband seem comfortably situated enough that I uncharacteristically had soft-pedaled my politics with her until now. (Such is the price of the post-boom economy.... I can't automatically turn away all potential righties.)
    This isn't the first time this has happened. Support for change may be only an inch deep, but it's a mile wide, and from the unlikeliest places.

  2. It's hard to explain it, you're right. There is a lot of support sub rosa. The story of your client is mirrored by others that seem to be everywhere. They pop up spontaneously -- as they did in Oakland when the marchers were in the streets, after the police assaulted them on Oak Street.

    The people were cheering, they were cheering the marchers, encouraging them not to give up, to keep on. It was amazing to see. And I only saw it on video; people who were there are still in awe. They never expected it.

    I saw video of a FTP march in Oakland that included really intense confrontations with the police, and people were standing in the windows shops, restaurants and bars, cheering the marchers. The same thing happened at another FTP march in West Oakland I've read. People came out on their stoops and stood in their yards waving and cheering at the marchers.

    But that's Oakland. It's not going to happen everywhere. It's just a sign that even when people say they don't want a Revolution, they don't want the Nightmare they're living in or afraid of falling into to continue, either.

    Yes, courage. It's gonna be quite a year.

    BTW, I hear things got a bit... rough... with the march in Portland the other night. Yikes.

  3. Nice post. It's a nice summary of where we are today. I keep wondering what level of suffering will trigger the tens of millions of people being oppressed in this country to rise up. Of course they first have to wake up to the reality they are being repressed. That is no easy feat given the level of propaganda in this country. They've managed to convince these people it's their fault they are dirt poor with no real prospect of anything better. Absolute genius in my opinion.

  4. Pathman, re: triggers and support.

    "Waking up" is a big issue, and what will cause the awakening is always a subject of dispute and argument. I'm not sure it is material suffering that does it, at least not in all cases; people endure miserable material conditions with dignity and equanimity -- and without rising up -- all the time.

    I was on an Occupy march last year with a few hundred others, and I kept running into people I hadn't seen for years. Mostly objectively well-off or at least economically secure, and I asked them, "What brought you out marching with us today?" One couple said they'd lost "everything" in the crash, and they weren't going to get it back. They were robbed by slick operators and the banks, and it wasn't so much the money they'd lost that they were pissed off about, it was the indignity of what happened to them. They felt violated. And they wanted justice.

    Another old friend said she felt no one was listening to the voice of the People, and this was a way to be heard, by adding her voice to the voice of many others, and making those in power listen for once.

    An old chum from the antiwar struggles was there because here we were embroiled in a seemingly endless series of wars of empire and he said that unless we kept taking our cause to the streets, there would be no possibility of peace; our rulers would think we didn't care or didn't notice.

    Dignity. Justice. Community. Peace.

    These are the four values that seem to be universally sought. People look to Occupy as a means for securing those values. But it is still a really long row to hoe.

  5. Che Pasa
    Good points there. I seem to remember reading that the process of losing things that people once had is a strong motivator. Things more recently gained and lost had a greater effect. So folks that have had very little for a long time don't know anything different. I think the loss of civil rights in this country is a great example of losing something but 95% of the population has no idea they are gone. It's going to be an interesting ride. I just wish I knew how to speed up the process.

  6. Cocktailhag's comment is heartening. We just had a panel discussion at my school, and invited back successful alumna to talk about working in Cleveland. The first speaker's opening salvo was: "The Occupy Movement hates me because I'm a successful banker. I left my mink coat in the back." As I reared back in my seat I studied the audience of high school girls and teachers; the responses ranged from baffled (as one teacher later said, "Regardless of politics, why would a successful woman define herself through others dislike of her?") to being off-put, to being angered. I do not think it was a coincidence that this woman texted throughout the panel discussion,(something even teens expressed being disgusted by) except of course when she was talking, and opened another comment with "Selfishly, I think..." The woman sitting next to be leaned over and whispered: "Surprise. Surprise."

    I teach at an independent school where, frankly, my students overwhelming come from privileged homes, yet it was clear that they found this tone-deaf presentation, and especially the gratuitous slam of OWS off-putting. Something is changing... Morning's Minion

  7. "...this woman texted throughout the panel discussion..."

    Yes. I have watched a number of city's council meetings -- including my own -- when Occupy is presenting testimony or speechifying for the open forums, and one of the consistent things I see is the utter disinterest of elected officials in the voice of the people. They text, they check their Facebook, they chatter among themselves, laughing at their own jokes, or they wander off to take care of "important things" as speaker after speaker takes to the podium to address them. It's quite ostentatious disinterest.

    Occupy speakers are generally the only ones who hold them to account for their obliviousness. As in the video of Elaine Brown and Oakland Elle ripping Oakland's city council to pieces for their disinterest.

    Occupy doesn't, erm, hate them, no. Just shows them up for the corrupt indifferent fools that they are. That's all.

    Not to be too judgemental, but they seem to have high opinions of themselves but no self-awareness...