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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Refining Revolution

Everybody knows that there is something seriously wrong with our country and that we need to change things. Even liberals recognize this. Conservatives think that what is wrong is the choice of personnel in our nation's capital and that what is needed is conservative control of the government. For if conservatives controlled the government, then government would either stop corrupting business by giving it an avenue to power or would quit hindering business from reaching its divine and market-dictated destinies.

Meanwhile, Liberals believe that our problems could be solved if Conservatives would just get out of the way of the President and his agenda. Unfortunately, the President's agenda includes more executive power (see the NDAA of 2012), the prosecution of whistleblowers, more for corporations (see the bailouts, corporate welfare, and lack of criminal prosecution of our Financial Services sector), bloated military budgets, and trade agreements, like the TPP, that increase corporate power, all of which has bipartisan support from both major political parties. 

So both Conservatives and Liberals recognize the need for change but the change desired revolves around personnel choices. Conservatives think that we need Conservatives to be in control while Liberals that there are too many Conservatives are there already. 

What remains unsaid is what the Left wants. And certainly the Left wants a change in personnel. But more than that, the Left wants a new system. The Left wants a more participatory system both in terms of economics as well as politics. This is what makes the Left revolutionary. The Left just doesn't want an overthrow of those running the current system, it wants a new system too. 

Before considering how to conduct this revolution, the Left needs to look in on past revolutions to see what it could learn. The first place from the past we should visit is the French Revolution. This revolution ended badly for all concerned. Why? It ended after much violence and with a similar end as beginning. It ended with an elite-centered government that waged war and brought destruction. And when one looks at the means of the revolution, one shouldn't be surprised at the results. Vengeance, not just change, was a major theme and thus violence was the immoral means relied on.

Compare the means and ends of the French Revolution with that of  Civil Rights activists in this country during the middle of the century. For many Civil Rights Activists, nonviolence was the means and the ends was a partial awakening of the country that won over both the apathetic and some opponents.

The nonviolent means used by many Civil Rights activists from the past outshines the nonviolent approach taken by my fellow Occupy activists. For though, generally speaking, we did not resort to physical violence even when bullied by some of the police, too many of us responded to police tactics with what Martin Luther King Jr. called "internal violence." Here, King was referring to the one's spirit and attitude and how it was expressed with words. Verbally attacking the police was not only wrong, it didn't consider the audience. Outside of watching us, despite the abuses of power, the police have a job many of us could not handle. They have to make quick decisions in what was sometimes life threatening situations. They have to deal with some of the worse in society on a regular basis and we failed to recognize the difficulty of their job. And that context amplifies the internal violence we sometimes exercised on the police. 

For a different approach, we should study how Civil Rights activists from the past caused the public to contrast their dignified response, as exercised by their abstaining from both external and internal violence, with the brute force of their opponents. The difference in behaviors between these activists and their oppressors won over much of the country. In contrast to these activists, whatever dignity our physically nonviolent approach merited was obscured by how we answered the police with our screaming accusations.

Another fault of the French Revolution was that it scapegoated the nobility and clergy. Certainly both were at fault and either oppressed or were complicit in persecuting the rest of the population. But unlike what would occur later in South Africa, there was only the desire to get revenge as opposed to seeking reconciliation and winning over their opponents. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had two objectives. First, the crimes that occurred under apartheid had to be made public. Second, reconciliation was sought including the payment of reparations. And though there were problems with how processes were carried out, the existence of the commission itself stands as a model to be imitated and improved on. For rather than removing those who carried out and benefitted from apartheid from society with punitive actions, it sought to include them in a new South Africa.

The inclusion of the 1%, and here we will use the value 1 symbolically, is what the Occupy Movement did not seek to do when it declared its message through words and actions. In other words, any positive change that the Occupy Movement would achieve would not include the 1%. Such made the 1% harder to win over since they were made to be defensive about their control over the status quo. And it isn't that the Occupy Movement was wrong in specifying what the 1% was doing; rather, it was wrong in ostracizing the 1% rather than trying to win them over. What the 1% has created in our country and around the globe are two economic worlds: a world crafted for the benefit of the 1% and a world for the rest of us who, in most cases, must serve the whims of the 1% to survive. The separation between the 1% and the rest as seen in these two distinct worlds can be called an economic apartheid.

We had, and still have, a choice in describing the remedy for this economic apartheid. We could envision a new world where the 1% get what's coming to them or we could see a new world where the 1% would be included in a single economic world designed to benefit all.

However, implementation of the latter world fell short in South Africa. That is because while the political system was changed, the economic system was not. It still remained a world of investor domination over the economy. And because of that, the political freedom experienced by Blacks in South Africa has not been translated in economic uplift for the vast majority of South Africa's Blacks. We should note that any successful revolution cannot tolerate an elite-centered economy any more than it can tolerate an elite-centered political system. Thus, the problem for South Africa is that it may not be able to maintain its new political and social freedoms if they do not translate into economic betterment. Here, political and social freedoms might, in the future, be judged guilty by association with the maintenance of the old economic system. 

A similar problem to South Africa's political freedom not being followed by a new economic system occurred here. Martin Luther King saw this problem coming when he noticed how spending for the Vietnam War was taking away what was necessary to spend on people to change their economic plight. We should note that wealth disparity between the races in America has not grown smaller.

Finally, the greatest threat to any revolution is that of it being hijacked. This is especially true when the goal of a revolution is to establish and maintain a more participatory system. Somehow, parasitic authoritarians latch on pretending to be believers only to eventually seize control of the revolution so that there is only a change in players, not in the game being played. Thus, revolutions to overthrow tyrants have often produced more tyrants. The Russian and Iranian Revolutions provide examples of hijacked insurgencies. So has the recent Egyptian Revolution though that revolution continues.

One reason why people's revolutions are often taken over by opportunists is that the enthusiasm for displacing the current system is often much greater than the energy it takes to establish a participatory system. Participatory systems ask people to sacrifice some of their own pursuits to establish self-rule. These people are use to laissez-faire relationships with their government so that the only interaction they have with their government comes election time, that is if they have meaningful elections in the first place. Outside of that, they wanted a government that fulfilled their wishes and is non to low maintenance. Participatory political systems require that people invest their time, energy, and emotion into deciding how they will live as a group. The Occupy Movement gave a good, though not perfect, illustration of a participatory system. Certainly, the model of self-rule used by the Occupy Movement would not work with larger and more heterogeneous groups. But the idea that groups could practice self-rule was shown.

Of course, to enable people to be involved in a more participatory political system, our current economic system has to change. People cannot both work in today's full-time jobs and be more involved in local and national politics. It's impossible. 

And so we end up with needing to lead a moral revolution where people become more interested in self-rule than excessive prosperity so that they are willing to spend less time pursuing riches. This is the tradeoff people must accept to enjoy self-rule. It isn't that people must give up prosperity altogether. Rather, people must seek less personal prosperity in order to have enough time to exercise self-rule in a participatory system. Yes, that means that the rich will not be as rich, but it can also mean that the poor will not be as poor.

What we have learned about people's revolutions thus far is that they must be nonviolent and inclusive as well as introduce and get enough support for more participatory economic and political systems. Are there other suggestions to be made to make real people's revolutions more probable? Certainly, but based on what we have seen in history, this is what this blog can come up with.



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