Bringing the North African Revolution Home
March 02, 2011 | 01:42 PMFrom 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."
Coverage by U.S. state-controlled media of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the rest of the region 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 and 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—places like 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 and repressive governments exist in Europe and, yes, here in the U.S. They are unstable. The pressure is building.
Is global revolution 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 reorganized. 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—and 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 or 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, but something real and long overdue.
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 hierarchy that props it up. I expected the right wing 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 health care industry—can only view the impotent "progressive" movement 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 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.
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 North Africa 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 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 a political cartoonist and columnist whose latest book is 'Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back From the Right' (Soft Skull Press); article courtesy of featurewell.com
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