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How not to make a revolution

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Three essential elements must come together to make revolutionary change: A program, a party, and leaders. Movements without leaders are doomed to fail.

   For a while, we had the fantasy that the digital world was making leadership obsolete. Ordinary people, connected without mediation by the power elites, now held power in their hands. A new age was dawning. Glory hallelujah.

   The romance that in this era of Facebook and Tweets we don't need leadership to change the world would not survive the catastrophic cascade of failed revolutions that began, so hopefully, with social media.

   Exhibit one is the Arab Spring. The Arab spring sprang when spunky kids rose up in flash mobs throughout the authoritarian Middle East and sent the bad old dictators packing. It was glorious, joyful anarchy. For about six months.

   Then the people with a program, party and leaders showed up. Say goodbye to the block party, say hello to the Muslim Brotherhood. They didn't last long either. Inside of two years, Egypt was right back where it started: military dictatorship.

   There was no Arab Summer. Not in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria. The harvest of the leaderless Arab Spring was sectarian strife and death. In most of those places, they'd take a decent dictator now. In some of them, they have.

   Such is the result of a leaderless revolution. Power abhors a vacuum and abhorrent people are always ready to fill it.

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   Sometimes a leaderless revolution does not end in disaster. Sometimes fortune smiles on the leaderless revolution and it ends in abject failure.

   Take Occupy Wall Street. (Okay, first find Occupy Wall Street.) Here was another children's crusade, leaderless, party-less and paradigm-free. Here at last was the future. The implacable power of money overcome by the anarchistic joy of connected kids.

   Occupy Wall Street had everything going for it. The timing was impeccable; Wall Street had sucked the blood out of the nation, and when we ran dry, they had the nerve to ask for a transfusion. The country was ready, the bankers were scared, the symbolism resonated strongly with millions of Americans. Here was the fighting spirit we'd all been waiting for.

   We're still waiting. Occupy Wall Street vanished as quickly as it came. You have look it up on YouTube to convince yourself it ever happened. Occupy Wall Street blew itself out like a dust devil. But it could have been a tornado.

   To make a revolution, or even significant change, you need a program to provide the message, a party to provide the discipline, and a leader to provide the indispensable requirement for any revolution: Followers.

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   The Founding Fathers understood that. So did the Bolsheviks. A democratic revolution and a communist revolution are worlds apart in purpose, morality and results. But they followed the same road to success. Program, party and leadership.

   A revolution with those essential items can fail. But a revolution without them won't even get the chance to fail. It will fizzle out before it can catch fire. It will be stillborn.

   Now, let's look at a revolution that did work. One that contained nothing but bad ideas and repulsive rhetoric: The Tea Party.

   The Tea Party also started out as a leaderless explosion of mass emotion, mostly hatred. For a while, it wasn't clear which way the Tea Party was heading: to the Brown Shirt right or the populist left.

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San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, "The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie" is the best memoir ever written by a cat. Available on, or wherever fine literature is sold with no sales tax collected. For (more...)

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Had one thing in common, besides tragic ineffecti... by Allan Goldstein on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 8:21:45 AM
The analysis is interesting but faulty in ways th... by George Flower on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 8:41:14 PM
(cont'd) The lesson to be drawn is not necessa... by George Flower on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 8:55:50 PM
Strong, convincing, as always lucid piece.  ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 12:38:18 PM
Thanks for the kind words, Robert. As for how we f... by Allan Goldstein on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 4:33:52 AM
"Market socialism" is not a strategy to recover d... by George Flower on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 9:02:10 PM
You are exactly right, George. Market Socialism do... by Allan Goldstein on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 9:16:22 AM
Good article and excellent points. Leaders are har... by Adam Smith on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 8:12:36 PM
The military mind is an authoritarian mind by def... by Arthur M. Howard-(Scotoni) on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 5:18:00 AM
"The military mind is an authoritarian mind by def... by Charles Roll on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 11:53:26 PM
We need a Charles de Gaulle! ... by Charles Roll on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 11:49:10 PM
Bravo! I've been arguing this point for awhile now... by Faith Carr on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 8:51:40 PM
I agree. Bottom-up energy is necessary but not suf... by Don Smith on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 9:30:19 PM
I've read those Tea Party articles too, Don. But i... by Allan Goldstein on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 4:21:28 AM
I don't think calling Obama a sellout reflects on ... by Allan Goldstein on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 4:40:12 AM
Why only a couplet when you can have rhyme, too? ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 3:31:18 PM
Thank you for this cogent post.   Following... by George Flower on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 9:25:56 PM
The image for this article shows a sign "Leaderles... by Don Smith on Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 at 9:37:06 PM
I used the image deliberately, Don. History has de... by Allan Goldstein on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 4:29:17 AM
I am amazed that anyone would equate Open Source w... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 12:10:49 AM
This article is brilliant! It offers a much-needed... by John Rachel on Friday, Feb 14, 2014 at 5:01:52 AM
"There will be three horsemen, riding together: A... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 1:17:02 AM
There are various comments that may be made, such ... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 1:28:12 AM
Just realized the missing ingredient. OWS was sexy... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 1:50:10 AM
Your generous words make me blush and your apt exa... by Allan Goldstein on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 9:22:38 AM
If not the "sucking sound" Ross, then at least ta... by George Flower on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 2:33:48 PM
Just looking that over, at the webpage, and it loo... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Feb 18, 2014 at 2:59:59 AM