Hedges: “This is what revolution looks like”

I bring this Chris Hedges piece to your attention, not for its passion or exhortation, but for a few of its informative passages.

Frankly, the idea of living through revolution scares the bejesus out of me, and should frighten you as well. Revolution is the worst way to resolve social disputes, and only occurs when one side (in our case, the rentier creditor class) forces everyone else in the country to resort to it.

Here’s Hedges on the necessary precursors to revolution (my emphasis & paragraphing, because I wanted the list to look like a list):

The historian Crane Brinton in his book “Anatomy of a Revolution” laid out the common route to revolution. The preconditions for successful revolution, Brinton argued, are

▪ discontent that affects nearly all social classes,
▪ widespread feelings of entrapment and despair,
▪ unfulfilled expectations,
▪ a unified solidarity in opposition to a tiny power elite,
▪ a refusal by scholars and thinkers to continue to defend the actions of the ruling class,
▪ an inability of government to respond to the basic needs of citizens,
▪ a steady loss of will within the power elite itself and defections from the inner circle,
▪ a crippling isolation that leaves the power elite without any allies or outside support and, finally,
▪ a financial crisis.

Our corporate elite, as far as Brinton was concerned, has amply fulfilled these preconditions. But it is Brinton’s next observation that is most worth remembering.

Revolutions always begin, he wrote, by making impossible demands that if the government met would mean the end of the old configurations of power. The second stage, the one we have entered now, is the unsuccessful attempt by the power elite to quell the unrest and discontent through physical acts of repression.

That whole quote is worth looking at twice.

First, check the list I bulleted. Then check the bolded quote immediately above — “making impossible demands that if the government met would mean the end of the old configurations of power” has a real meaning. It means, asking politely to fix the political order and end the war on the lower social orders.

It’s important that requests for changes of this magnitude be escalated from … well, requests. It’s important that the offending power elite say No at each stage prior to escalation. (Why? One, you may just get lucky, and get a Yes. How good would that be? And two, you always want to make it their fault for refusing; mass support for revolution depends on legitimacy, both real and in appearance.)

Hedges adds this from his personal experience:

I have seen my share of revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, from the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America to the civil wars in Algeria, the Sudan and Yemen, to the Palestinian uprising to the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania as well as the wars in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.

Despotic regimes in the end collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers who are ordered to carry out acts of repression, such as the clearing of parks or arresting or even shooting demonstrators, no longer obey orders, the old regime swiftly crumbles. When the aging East German dictator Erich Honecker was unable to get paratroopers to fire on protesting crowds in Leipzig, the regime was finished. The same refusal to employ violence doomed the communist governments in Prague and Bucharest. I watched in December 1989 as the army general that the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had depended on to crush protests condemned him to death on Christmas Day.

He’s saying what I’ve been saying (and not saying alone) — at some point, those militarized union police will face their own Tahrir Square moment. Will they fire?

One final point: The Occupy Movement must be and remain non-violent. Hedges agrees:

[D]efections [among the ruling class] are advanced through a rigid adherence to nonviolence, a refusal to respond to police provocation and a verbal respect for the blue-uniformed police, no matter how awful they can be while wading into a crowd and using batons as battering rams against human bodies.

Play to win, but keep it clean. Their hubris — and their violence — are the Movement’s best friend.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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