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.