By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org)
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."-- President John F. Kennedy
It may well be time for a kind of revolution. For those too young to remember, or for those who believe history still has much to teach us, here's a primer before we get to our shared 2010 reality.
Back in "The Sixties," as we ratcheted up our protests against the Vietnam War, we activist types saw daily evidence that The System (the financial//political/religious/educational institutions that more or less controlled our lives) was rotten to the core. As we liberals inculcated this evidence and became more radicalized, it was apparent that The System needed to be seriously dealt with.
The "Revolution," we believed, was just around the corner, worldwide. All we young radicals -- be it in Berkeley or Washington or Prague or Paris -- had to do was kick out the traces holding up the corroded System, and the whole thing would come tumbling down. A new, freer, more humane set of institutions and leaders would lead us all to the promised land.
Well, of course, that did not happen. Yes, we were able to do some damage to the destructive institutions and create some counter-institutions of our own, we helped stop the Vietnam War, and we even created an alternative mindset for a number of years. But it turned out that The System had a lot more "give" in it than we'd imagined. And corporations and multi-billionaires, thinking long-term, were willing to spend big to buy up media outlets and to create right-wing think tanks and other agit-prop organizations to help them regain their "divinely-ordained" throne of power. Notably, they also purchased control of the voting-machine industry, and of the proprietary software that these days runs it, thus guaranteeing insecure, easily tampered-with elections that are undetectable.
One way The System had of dealing with our growing revolt in "The Sixties" was to co-opt its language and thrust by incorporating "revolutionary" catchwords and slogans and visuals into the ongoing rush toward consumerism. "Join the revolution" could refer to anything, from buying a particular make of car to a hairstyle or fashion trend. The result was to dilute and ultimately de-brand the political meaning of "revolution," turning that concept into just another accoutrement of the time.
In addition, the responses of local, state and national governments, and private organizations, to the '60s revolts were much more violent and brutal than we'd imagined they'd be willing to go (because we were their children, after all). The System doesn't like to be mocked and suffer challenges to its legitimacy to rule. And so students and other activists were shot, killed, beaten, indicted and tried and thrown in the slammer, organizations deliberately infiltrated and broken up. The message was delivered: "Don't even think of trying this stuff again! " The liberal/radical left thereupon tended to back off from frontal attacks. (Just ask yourself: Where are the academics, the professors, the students when it comes to political activism in the U.S. today?)
The conclusion: Though the outlines for major social transformation were increasingly visible, the "objective conditions" for true revolution simply did not exist in and immediately after The Sixties. In our desire to implement the radical changes that the country needed, we overestimated our strength and resources (and ability to implement many of our programs), and underestimated what the Establishment/System would do to protect its prerogatives and power.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
But now it's 40 years later, and, for a huge and significant portion of the electorate, The System once again has revealed itself, especially so in the past decade, as truly dysfunctional, reckless, corrupt, consumed by greed, even more colonialist/imperialist, and thus more dangerous, than in the Vietnam War days. Then, the Cold War was in full force and the menacing presence of the other major superpower acted as something of a restraining force. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government, especially under CheneyBush and their PNAC cohorts, felt no such restraint and went wild abroad, as well as unleashing the dogs of greed domestically.
As the Great Recession began to unfold around 2007-2008 and on, it seemed clear that capitalism was in imminent danger of collapsing due to its excesses and inherent contradictions; unwinnable wars were taking trillions out of the treasury; President Obama continued mangling the Constitution and civil liberties in the manner of his predecessor; Americans lost maybe a third of the value of their retirement funds and value of their homes, etc. etc.
Frustration and anger are building in the citizenry and neo-fascism is on the rise. The center is not holding.
Can it be that the "objective conditions" for a progressive revolution finally are beginning to emerge into public consciousness?
Recent polls, for example, have revealed a startling statistic. More than 40% of the American population no longer considers "socialism" an economic system to be feared.
TARRING WITH EPITHETS