Monday, December 09, 2013

Welcome to Pre-Revolutionary America

It's been well over two centuries since the United States underwent revolution but the next one may not be far off.   Chris Hedges this today's America is in a pre-revolutionary state and he's as worried about that as anyone who inhabits a corporate boardroom.  It's not the probability of social upheaval that worries Hedges as much as what it might look like.

you can't make a revolution, you can't decide that next Monday is the revolution. Revolutions are organic. And they take place through this change within the culture whereby the ideas that sustain a particular ruling class are so thoroughly discredited that the ruling class is finally only able to sustain itself through the use of force and violence, that it's kind of--it resorts to the most naked forms of repression to hold on to power, which, as you can see with the rise of the security and surveillance state, we are moving towards.

And so what you have in a pre-revolutionary society, which I think we're in, is a kind of invisible revolution, whereby the state, the ideology of the state, in this case capitalism, the fiction of American democracy, larger and larger numbers of people--and I think we are also seeing this across the political spectrum--wake up and understand the hollowness of the language that's used to describe their own economic, political, and social reality.

What's important is that in this process you need to present an alternative vision, an alternative language, so that people can orient themselves toward something. Otherwise, any kind of eruption is nihilistic. Without that kind of vision, ultimately it doesn't represent any kind of a threat to the ruling elite, because it doesn't drive towards something. And I think that, you know, opinion polls point this out in terms of, like, the approval rating of Congress, which is below 10 percent, the utter disgust at the inability of the centers of power to respond to the most basic concerns and needs of the citizenry. All of that is there.

And I think that it's incorrect to say that nothing's happening, that there is no ferment. I think this is the ferment. And it's extremely dangerous for the ruling elite, because their credibility--and Obama, the current disaster with Obamacare is just adding to that--is being shredded., populist, radical movements have been eviscerated throughout the 20th century and destroyed means that those of us who care about an open, egalitarian society are extremely weakened and disadvantaged. So it may very well be that our backlash is a very disturbing kind of quasi-fascist backlash.

...what happens in moments of breakdown is that people not only turn against an ineffectual liberal elite that is not able--that in essence--that has presided over political and economic paralysis, or certainly political paralysis, but they also jettison the values that elite purports to defend. And that's what's dangerous. And we're certainly barreling towards that kind of a crisis. I worry that we are not only weakened but unprepared.

I seek to articulate a viable kind of socialism, which is going to have to begin at the local level. And I know that, you know, you're in accordance with this that we're probably going to have to start by taking over city after city, town after town. That's where it's going to begin. We can't compete on a national level anyway. We're shut out. Ralph Nader has amply illustrated what happens when you try and compete in that arena. But on the local level, especially in depressed cities, we can.

I think that the recipe for revolt will come from a fusion between what Bakunin called the déclassé intellectuals, these kids who, burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of college debt, coming largely out of the middle class, thrown out into the workforce, where they can't get jobs, they can't pay their debts, coupled with service workers who are in essence the working poor.

It's going to come by articulating a very different vision about how we relate to each other, how we relate to our economic system, and ultimately how we relate to the ecosystem if we're going to make it. And none of those visions are coming out of traditional centers of academia, traditional political parties, traditional forms of the media. These things are all going to have to be created at the margins of society and then implemented at the margins of society. And then, hopefully, there'll be a kind of contagion where they will spread outwards. And frankly, if they don't--I mean, I just speak as somebody who reads climate change reports--we're finished and we are completely finished.

It's refreshing to see a social reformer connect today's building social unrest to climate change impacts just beginning to settle in.   If America, as predicted, faces a migration out of the south and retreat from the coasts, it will be confronted with an internally displaced population crisis of enormous proportions and socially destabilizing effect. 

Gar Alperovitz, in his great book "What Then Must We Do" observes that America's burgeoning post-WWII middle class resulted from a chain of events tracing back to the turn of the century Progressive movement, on into the Great Depression, World War II and the domestic labour shortage which breathed life into the union movement that, in the post-war era led to the rise of a broad-based and vibrant middle class that thrived until it began to be dismantled in the Reagan years.

Will the events in play today also lead to such a fortuitous outcome?   Probably not without an enormous degree of dislocation and turmoil.

In Canada we need to dislodge the Liberals and New Democrats from their lofty perch.  They have moved to a place where it's increasingly difficult to connect with the Canadian public, especially our young people whose votes are vital to restoring progress.  There's no room any longer, no time left for their perpetual cowardice.  They have to speak to what really ails our country and our democracy.  If they don't, they may lose their voice entirely.


Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe there has been no revolution yet, with restaurant workers making $2.13 hour and have not had a raise for 22 years.

This one will be ugly with all those guns in every citizen's closet.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have read of food workers getting $7 an hour but not $2. That wouldn't cover basic food much less a bed in a flop house.

Anonymous said...

$2.13 per hr. refers to actual minimum cash wage employers are allowed to pay after Tip Credit against minimum wage.

Here's a link to the Table of Minimum Hourly Wages for Tipped Employees, by State.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's almost unbelievable. I went and read through the chart. Where did decent people ever get the idea that was even remotely tolerable? That just shakes my faith in humanity.