February 7, 2011

Egypt’s Example, and the Future of the Relocalization Movement


On Sunday I wrote about how it looks like an impasse in Freedom Square. The democracy may have to settle in for a long vigil, if this has become an attrition struggle. They’ll have to find a way to maintain themselves. Food, water, shelter, sanitation, security, but just as important, morale, spirit, interest, the sense and reality of worthwhile activity. I suggested they could hold their own Constitutional Assembly right there in the Square. I saw some other suggestions, like Lambert’s for holding a school.
This vigil would be in the spirit of the original ideals of the American Revolution, where their heritage of thought had taught them that freedom is always under assault by power, that to assault freedom is power’s objective nature, and that the only real solution is not to allow power to concentrate in the first place. If a people does decide it must allow some level of concentration, it must strictly limit this to what is necessary, and an essential duty of every citizen is then to remain vigilant against the inevitable attempts of this power to exceed its bounds and assault liberty. As we’ve learned to our sorrow, we did not keep power limited to what was necessary in the first place. As the Federalist and other writings explicitly say, the goal in 1788 was not a free, humanly prosperous society, but to forge the machine of empire. And then we weren’t vigilant against the assaults of this already bloated concentration.
So Egypt leads us back to the project I already mentioned, the possible use of mock Constitutional Conventions. This can help us clarify what exactly needs to be done, as we write it out in the form of amendments. And like I said yesterday regarding the potential for a “mock” Convention in Tahrir Square, if enough people infuse such an activity with their sovereign will, a mock Constitution (which, coming from the people, by definition has more legitimacy than the corrupted system’s Constitutional husk) can evolve into the real Convention, as it takes over legitimacy through merit and acclaim. That’s the same thing as can happen where democratic councils, working on the ground, in the community, taking over responsibilities the government has abdicated, can actually become the legitimate government. It must happen in tandem with it, and in fact the work on the ground is the decisive deed. This requires taking the responsibility, exercising it meritoriously, evolving the consciousness that “we the people are the government”, being acclaimed by a critical mass of democratic people as such, assuming responsibility as such, defending this rightful act of sovereignty against revanchism on the part of those who abdicated.
It looks like all that’s pretty far off for now, even in Egypt where the responsibility and the merit have already been proven, while the abdication is clear. Here in America the abdication is equally clear, but the people’s minds remain more beclouded. But there’s a wondrous evolution going on, as people all over America are spontaneously taking on these responsibilities, for themselves, for their families, for their communities. We’re once again growing our own food, learning to craft our own manufactures, organize these activities among ourselves. This is the relocalization movement. So far there’s not much of an explicit political consciousness infusing it, and the tendency is to omit general political discussion in favor of practical discussion. (Members of my sustainability group don’t even know I write a blog. Subjects like these simply haven’t come up, and I haven’t brought them up either.)
This seems natural. When people are first embarking upon these actions, it’s best to avoid what are bound to be extraneous political squabbles. This is especially true where everyone must realize deep down that today’s system politics are an absolute farce, and where the very fact that one becomes involved in relocalization action is a symptom of losing faith in reformism.
Besides, the actions are so fun, so life-affirming, so worthwhile.
So that’s a stage of the movement’s evolution. But if it’s to be more than a temporary escapism; if it’s to grow, coordinate, survive the already-apparent assaults of the corporate-government system, it will need to develop the political consciousness I discussed above.
We’re starting to take our own responsibility and show our merit. As more and more states and localities go into figurative or literal bankruptcy, we’ll start to take on quasi-governmental responsibilities. Whether or not we can sustain this movement, whether or not we can achieve democratic acclaim and survive the assaults of tyranny, will depend in the end on how well-developed and intrepid our political consciousness becomes.

February 6, 2011

Impasse in Egypt?

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 3:27 am


Things have reached a critical stage in Egypt. If things stay the way they are right now, the democracy will fail to achieve its immediate, hitherto non-negotiable demand that Mubarak leave. This in turn will bode ill for the integrity of the constitutional reform process that’s supposed to follow. If the regime can hold out and defeat this demand, there’s no reason to think it won’t try to roll back all its concessions, as well as undertake reprisals against those who protested.
Mubarak is still intransigent, even going so far as to rescind a pledge that he was quitting his political party. The army leadership also seems to have decided it won’t force him out. And today it’s even more clear than before that there will be no real US pressure on him to go anytime soon.
So the protestors remain where they always knew they were – on their own.
As we suspected, the pre-existing “leaders” who have managed to claim some level of authority to “represent” the demonstrators are starting to sell out. We already saw the collaborationist proposal of the self-appointed “Wise Men”. Today we learn that the Muslim Brotherhood has explicitly sold out on the key proximate demand: That Mubarak’s resignation is a precondition for entering into negotiations. Now they say they’re willing negotiate without this precondition being met. This doesn’t directly compromise the integrity of the protestors, for whom the MB was never a legitimate representative, but only at best a fellow participant. But if the recognizable figures all cave in, that’s bound to create division among the democrats in the Square, who are already under increasing pressure from the army to end the demonstration.
There are also reports that “normal” Egyptians, whatever that means, are sick of the disruption, think the protest has already won, and that it’s time for things to get back to “normal” while the reform process plays out. This is obviously the same propaganda we heard from the thugs many days ago. Nevertheless, it’s plausible that there are people who feel that way. To whatever extent it’s true, that’s more pressure on the protestors.
So what can they do now?
If they’re going to stay in the Square, they’ll need a more formalized organizational structure. This will be necessary to ensure food, water, shelter, and sanitation. Other responsibilities are maintaining the barricades, fraternizing with the troops and discussions with the officers, vigilance against threats (whether it be army gambits to push them out, or new thug attacks), articulating the democracy’s political philosophy and demands to the world. For that matter, they’ll need to articulate the philosophy for themselves.
To do all this, they need a Council of the Square. Maybe they could even constitute a political assembly right there in the Square. This could even commence the work of constitutional reform, inviting other participants to join them in the Square. Maybe that could be a way to try to reverse the dynamic of attrition of leaders – since Mubarak is definitely not president of the Square, a negotiation could be held there which is not under his auspices.
That’s just political symbolism for starters and wouldn’t yet be reality. Many would scoff at it. But if we’re ever going to make headway with the ideal that only the people can exercise sovereignty, and that they must start to do it democratically, then we must use whatever means are available to defy the existing illegitimate structures. We need to do it even in the face of ridicule and complaints, which I agree can sometimes be harder to face than police truncheons.
The demonstrators have set in motion a tremendous event, but as always it’s up to their affirmative ingenuity and activity to keep moving forward. Today the threat looks to be not violent repression but attrition (but as the citizens are well aware, as they’ve said over and over, if they succumb to attrition, the repression is likely to then round them up afterward). They need to take another big risk. This risk is to keep holding the Square, as the one indisputably democratic stronghold of Egypt. Everyplace else is in the state of flux. The government is in flux. Public opinion is in flux. It’s hard to tell whether or not the army leadership is in flux, or if it ever was. But for over a week the Square has not been in flux. Democracy has, however fleetingly or permanently, found a home. We all see it with our own eyes, eyes which may sometimes have become weary in the past, but which today must sparkle with the fire of this reflected image. For once the image has left our minds’ eye and hails us from reality. Nothing can change this new inspiration to our work.
Now we see if democracy can build upon its victory by finding a way out of this impasse. 

February 5, 2011

Standoff At the Square

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom, Marx — Tags: — Russ @ 3:18 am


Friday was another glorious day in Tahrir Square, as hundreds of thousands gathered to make the same demand of Mubarak and his entire regime: Get Out.
Mubarak is still dug in, and although it’s probable that his fellow oligarchs as well as the US government want him out (for the sake of conserving intact what they can of the regime), it looks like if he’s really stubborn, there’s no easy way for anyone to make him leave.
It looks like a march on the tyrant’s palace isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Although over the course of the day some protestors called for it, there was no real will to leave the Square.
Also, for a few days now the army has had crowd control systems and barriers obstructing at least some of the entry/exit points. I don’t know if they control all the points that way, but that too would make it more difficult for the crowd to march. They’d have to take the risk and time of dismantling the barriers while the rest of the crowd had to mill behind them.
The thugs were more subdued yesterday, although there will reportedly be more pro-government riots today. I don’t know if the reason for the diminished attacks is because the regime is discouraged about what those can accomplish, or whether the thugs were merely regrouping after the army took steps to interpose itself. Although that’s not an unmitigated good for the protestors since it also restrains their freedom of action, it’s still on the whole a pro-demonstrator act.
The thugs and secret police mostly focused on assaulting journalists and whatever identifiable activists they could get their hands on. The democracy seems fully aware that if they let themselves be dispersed by the phony concessions the regime is offering, they’re likely to end up rounded up later, one by one. That pattern’s as old as the oldest peasant rebellion or slave revolt.
At the moment it looks like an impasse. Mubarak is bitterly seeking the dead end, while the protestors are holding strong to their demand that he and his regime must go.
The minimum acceptable demand, for example as articulated here:

• the removal of Hosni Mubarak and the whole apparatus of the Mubarak regime;

• a committee which will appoint a transitional government, the committee to be made up of 6 named senior judges, six representatives from their youth movement and two members of the military

• a council to draw up a new constitution, which would then be put to the people in a referendum

• elections at national and local level in accordance with the constitution.

The full departure of the regime, the formation of a provisional government including heavy representation for the democracy and none for the regime or police, toward a constitutional convention. This isn’t the enshrinement of democracy, but depending on the form of the constitution, it can be a significant step toward it. (As marvelous as the achievements of the protestors have been, it looks like even they aren’t quite anarchists yet and still want representative government, just a better one. So that’s what they have to have. Besides, any solution will have to be acceptable to the army.) 
By contrast, here’s a sham elitist set of alleged “demands”, which may have been suborned by the government. This wants elites to sequester themselves in a conclave to discuss what crumbs of reform they may deign to toss to the people. This reform has to be a compromise between the regime and the self-appointed new elites, of course. It’s even vague about whether Mubarak himself stays on or not.
When we compare these two prescriptions, we see the difference between significant progress toward democracy and the typical sellout. While I haven’t been inclined to apply Marxist analysis to all this, the situation at the moment, and these contrasting possibilities for the next step, remind me of the line Lenin finally settled on during the 1905 revolution. Marxists were uncertain in 1905, because according to their own theory the most progressive result possible of the uprising against the quasi-feudal tsarist regime would be a 1789 style bourgeois revolution. This would then have to take many years to fully rationalize capitalism before the conditions would be ripe for a true proletarian revolution. (They mostly discounted the spontaneous formation of the soviets, the ground-level councils.)
After months of uncertainty, Lenin decided on a perspective: The socialists and workers should assist the reformers in overthrowing the tsar and establishing liberal democracy. But these erstwhile reformers would be inclined by both temperament and greed to instead strike a deal, resulting in a hybrid which would still preserve many of the feudal vestiges. In other words, the “revolution” would end up having been a mere episode in tsarism’s agonizingly slow evolution out of feudalism. Therefore, the task of the proletariat was to do whatever it could to force the reformers to push through a full bourgeois revolution and wipe out tsarism completely.
If we transpose this prescription to the prototype plans described above (which do seem typical of the two likely possible outcomes), we can see how it’s a conflict between one plan which would end the regime and write a new, more democratic constitution, vs. some kind of filthy deal between aspiring new gangsters and the same old ones which would basically conserve the old regime while bringing in some new “partners”, trying to shabbily legitimize it with some sham “reforms”.
So you don’t have to be a Marxist to see that Lenin’s warning applies here. Also, according to this (linked from Lambert’s excellent live blogging at Corrente), Egypt’s existing system is set up so that only the president, i.e. Mubarak himself, can legally engage in constitutional reform. So there’s another good example of why trying to compromise with the regime to merely reform the existing constitution is a fool’s errand. You deliver yourself right back into the hands of Mubarak’s own intentions for the future. No, if you really want to change the constitution, you have to start by purging the regime completely.

February 4, 2011

Day of Departure

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 1:33 am


That’s the name Egypt’s democratic protestors have given Friday’s demonstrations in anticipation of the decisions expected today. As with last Friday’s Day of Wrath, the people will be going to prayer at the mosques, and then will face their own decision, finding themselves in communion with God and already assembled on the street. 
It’s an ambiguous term. It refers to the citizens’ main demand, that Mubarak resign immediately. The Chief Thug himself yesterday whined that he’d like to resign but feared “chaos” if he did. In that case, he shouldn’t worry but just go ahead and quit. After all, he and his regime are completely responsible for the upheaval and especially for all the violence. Mubarak’s responsible for both the proximate disturbance of the uprising as well as the true chaos of Egypt’s economy, grossly unequal, unjust, and crushed by crony looting and global capitalism. The economic chaos of the regime, just like the chaos of neoliberalism everywhere, is the true chaos of our time. It is the true violence.
As I’ve said before in other contexts, today to be a revolutionary is truly to be a champion of order, while the real rioter is the advocate of the status quo. Mubarak has given us abundant new proof, both figuratively and literally.
The term also refers to the call for the democracy to march on the presidential palace. A plan to do this several days ago fell through. It would be a tremendous risk for tremendous stakes. It’s two kilometers through the streets, presumably harassed the whole way by thugs and obstructed by army barriers. And that leaves out of account possible uniformed police ambush. I don’t know the layout of the streets, whether they’d be surging on a wide front down several streets at once, whether the boulevards converge toward their goal or dangerously diverge, setting up potential bottlenecks.
If they try to do it, it would mean shifting the focus and presumably all their forces away from their base in the Square and into an uncertain transitional state. But how long can they stay in the Square? While there may be increasing pressure from the US on Mubarak to resign now, he’s still defiant, and it seems clear that his plan is to wait out the protests in the square, wearing them down by attrition. If that’s true, the people have gotten all they’re going to get by holding the Square.
I don’t know enough about the geography or the forces available to offer a judgement on what the people should do, but so far their instincts and tactics have justified all our confidence in their courage and resolve.

February 3, 2011

The People Hold the Square

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 4:23 am


On Wednesday the Egyptian government launched a coordinated, professionally organized assault on the people at Tahrir Square. Through an afternoon and night of street fighting, the people again rose to the moment and won the day. They beat back the thugs in several places, forced a stand-off at others, and held the Square.
The police in thug clothing were reduced to taking potshots from a highway overpass, since they were unable to take of hold a position in the Square. Pre-dawn, this gunfire often became severe, and at least five protestors have been killed. Protestors tried to fight their way to these high points, and may have driven the police mob off the 6th of October Bridge. There were reports that some army vehicles may be engaging in non-violent interference on behalf of the protestors, for example a tank blowing a smoke screen to obscure the line of sight for the murderous shooters.
Kicking off Thursday, and looking ahead to the next big call to protest on Friday (recall how the mosques served as post-prayer rallying points last Friday), I think there’s good reasons for optimism.
1. Most importantly, the people continue to overcome all obstacles. They continue to rise to every challenge. Faced with this thug assault, after initial confusion their response was not despair and panic but anger and vigorous response. Although when the thugs started throwing rocks and threatening further violence the demonstrators at first didn’t respond in kind, once it became clear their revolution was under existential assault the people fought back with ferocity and discipline. By classical military measure they won the battle since they hold the field. This in itself is a significant victory, since the mob must have expected to quickly panic them and drive them out.
The police thugs also took much of the high ground, namely the overpass and the roofs of buildings. They used firebombs as a terror weapon and arson tool. (The army has taken action to put out fires.) They’re on the roof of the Cairo Museum, and clearly hope to instigate its destruction. I don’t know if or when they’ll intentionally torch it, but this clumsy attempt to put blame on the demonstrators is obvious enough that even the Museum director (a government employee) has called for Mubarak to just Get Out to avert further destruction.
The people have responded here as well, surging to available rooftops themselves, from which they’re exchanged rocks and Molotov cocktails with neighboring roofs. The police have been setting up barricades on some side streets, while the protestors have set up barricades of their own as well as procuring portable shields.
Out of dozens of tactical skirmishes on this day of violent government escalation, the people have come out victorious. They hold the square and are on the attack at other points.
Once again, democracy shows its spirit, resolve, discipline, and unflagging ability to improvise a solution for every crisis. Far beyond the tactical victories in the fighting, this is yet another triumphant demonstration of the democratic idea in action under extreme pressure.
2. Meanwhile, there’s no doubt at all about the origin of the thugs. The same out-of-uniform police who spent several days vandalizing, looting, mugging, invading homes, and trying to spread terror, have now organized these mobs of paid thugs, organized their transportation (in buses), gave them standardized signs and posters, taught them standardized chants, and coordinated the exact moment (2:15 PM) for the mob to lurch from chanting slogans to a violent assault.
They bray the party line that the protestors are foreigners and/or foreign-inspired. They singled out reporters for assault. Mob members have admitted that they were paid a paltry sum for their depraved actions. Some said the equivalent of less than $10, others as much a $17.
Many thugs who were apprehended by the citizenry were found to be carrying police IDs, just like the looting scum of days past.
The fact that the mob is simply a gaggle of paid thugs means it’ll be hard for the regime to keep it continually in action. Accounts say it seemed to be diminishing overnight. No doubt the police will have to make another payout on Thursday to keep the hooligans in action. Maybe the price will have to go up.
I don’t know exactly what the plan was, but if we can assume Shock and Awe tactics, then we must think yesterday’s assault was as savage as they were capable of making it. They hoped to sow such sudden confusion and dismay as to generate panic, and from there stampede the democracy out of the square.
If that was the plan, it looks to have backfired. The people took the mob’s best shot and stood up to it. This can only increase their confidence. Meanwhile the police are forced to try again, but with greater forces and better organization. Can they do this? Such incremental, ad hoc escalation doesn’t favor the forces of professional thuggery. That’s democracy’s home turf. I’m not saying it’s impossible that the police can do this, only that it’s unlikely they preferred to try to do it this way. I think Wednesday was meant to do the trick, and it failed. Now the people ought to be stronger in their minds, and better prepared in their tactics and weaponry.
And yet another day has gone by for the rank and file soldiers to watch their fellow citizens under assault by the scum of the earth.
3. Lots of commentators have expressed confusion about the position of the army, but it’s clear enough. The generals want the protestors to disperse but don’t want to take responsibility for doing it themselves. That’s because they don’t want the domestic political opprobrium, and because they can’t be sure the troops would obey orders to fire on the citizens or otherwise deal harshly with them.
That’s why they’ve passively allowed Mubarak’s armed thugs to assault the people after having ensured that the people hadn’t brought their own weapons into the square. If all goes well, it’s win-win: The democracy disperses, while Mubarak and the police take the blame. The army gets only some residual criticism for standing by and doing nothing.
But this increases the danger arising from the troops themselves. Their orders are evidently to not interfere. But this must be hard on many of them, witnessing thugs attacking their fellow Egyptians often just yards away, possessing the firepower to easily stop them, yet being forbidden to do it. This must be profoundly demoralizing.
If so, it’s not surprising that there are reports of what sounds like individual initiative on the part of some soldiers. They can’t formally “interfere”, but they have plenty of less formal means of interference. I mentioned the tank’s smoke screen. Other tanks and APCs tried to interpose themselves between the thugs and the citizens, de facto setting up the barriers the people hadn’t had time or preparation to set up for themselves. Other reports claim that troops have fired into the air in such a manner that it was the Mubarak thugs who felt threatened and were frightened off.
I don’t know how true such accounts are or how widespread these phenomena are, but they evince a disgruntlement among the troops at their passively pro-Mubarak role. As I’ve mentioned several times, it was also a mistake to send in the troops among the people and then have them just sit there to witness this joyous democratic efflorescence, being invited constantly to join it. Most of them must want to join it.
So now the brinksmanship has to be, if the police are even able to escalate the fascist mob attacks (let alone reappear in uniform, the way other reports rumor they might), how far can they go with the violence and still enjoy the troops’ passive witness? I don’t know the answer, but I’m optimistic that there is a limit.
(Many people who have been celebrating the self-driven democracy for days had a regressive knee-jerk reaction yesterday. They were demanding: Why doesn’t the army act to protect the people?
I agree that this would be good, but the fact is the army isn’t going to do that so long as the generals maintain control of the rank and file. While they may eventually lose that control, for now the democracy is on its own just as it’s been from the start. So for the time being if the people are to be protected, they’ll need to protect themselves. In other words, they’ll have to continue doing exactly the same thing they’ve been doing from the start.
So it’s great to celebrate the democracy when it’s issuing political demands, organizing neighborhood watches, and cleaning the streets. But we also have to retain faith in it when it’s under violent attack.
Don’t lose faith now, just because the going’s getting tougher.) 
4. I’ve mentioned the intrepid political and psychological dynamic, that every escalation and show of arrogance on the part of the government has been met by escalation on the part of the people. (So antithetical to that of America’s cowardly and corrupted “progressives”, who start out meekly and then cave in the second there’s even a discouraging word, let alone escalation. What absolute shame they must be feeling these days.) This has been a vigorous feature of the democratic uprising from the start.
So how encouraging that this was the response yesterday as well. It’s a measure of how the thugs failed to cow the people that everywhere people were saying, “Before today we wanted Mubarak to just Get Out. Now we want to put him on trial.” Even Elbaradei said that.
So I regard that as a healthy sign.
So there’s my initial impressions from Wednesday. No doubt we’ll learn more today, just as we’ve been learning every day.

February 2, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: , — Russ @ 2:55 am


Answering their own call, over two million people demonstrated yesterday in Cairo, Alexandria, and a long list of other cities. This great movement is not only sustaining itself, it’s growing. How long has it been since we’ve seen anything like it?
The people have set the pace every step of the way. Every act has shown their self-respect, self-discipline, resolve, and will to power. They’re reacted to every show of weakness, and every display of disdain, arrogance, and obstinacy on the part of the enemy by fortifying their absolute will to drive out the tyrants. So far the only thing they said they would do but which they postponed when the army frowned was to march on the presidential palace. The crowd has otherwise engaged in a masterful negotiation with the army which has won them everything they demanded. This has been a combination of optimism and friendly greeting, fraternization, and carefully chosen probings and challenges which eventually induced the army to openly declare it would not open fire.
That has been a significant negative political achievement, neutralizing a possible confrontation with the military, leaving the police isolated, bereft of support, and forced to switch from openly fighting for the streets to changing to civilian dress to become thugs, subversives, spies, professional looters, terrorists. If we were calling this a war, then these are enemy soldiers wearing the wrong uniform. Their actions are certainly worthy of such a designation. As we read of more and more such thug violence, it becomes clear that the people may need to escalate their actions to whatever level the thugs force them to, if they’re to preserve their revolution.
As I said a few days ago, if we’re in the “they fight you” stage of Gandhi’s described evolution of the conflict, then here we’ve been seeing the evolution of this stage in real time, as the criminals first sicced the police on the people, then had to call in the army, and when the army leadership decided it was too risky to try to fight, they were reduced to having the police fight, not even as uniformed thugs but as gutter vandals and muggers. No one can ever emphasize it enough, this really is what happens if you stand up to bullies and refuse to back down. They quickly become helpless, unless they’re willing to go all the way. If the people stand as one great leaderless mass (so the system can’t target specific activists) and refuse to back down, the handful of hacks and gangsters becomes helpless. 
Then there’s the marvelous affirmative activity of the people, who have been organizing themselves to perform security (against the police looters), transportation (like organizing bus transport for yesterday’s March of the Millions), sanitation and street cleaning, food distribution, and medical and emergency care. The level of organization for these actions ranges from spontaneously formed groups to semi-permanent Popular Committees operating in a quasi-governmental way. I still haven’t seen any political consciousness among these councils, though.
For a complete contrast, Mubarak and his patron Obama have been behind the curve of events the whole way through. Mubarak’s performance has been pathetic: First he blustered, then tried the carrot-and-stick, then scapegoated his government, then brought in a putative strongman successor (I’m not sure if Mubarak thought Suleiman could or would rescue him personally, or whether that was already starting to bow to the will of Washington to ease him out), then made a ridiculous speech which said nothing, then pretended to offer social democratic style reforms, and all the while grudgingly hinting that he might “step down” at the end of his “term”. All this was pathetic most of all because the people rendered it pathetic with their unflagging hostility and ridicule. (I read that the demonstrators added contempt to hatred after Mubarak’s inept and obnoxious speech.)
Obama has been even more lame. His notions of hanging onto his stooge and/or having Serious People conduct an Orderly Transition reached the level of farce yesterday. On Day Of Wrath Eight, Obama thinks a promise from Mubarak to step down at the end of his term can be acceptable to the crowd. I bet in his mind that’s a truly magnanimous gesture. And then there’s Obama’s own flunkeys in a race to the bottom over who can be most incompetent in trying to mouth pro-democratic words while letting their indelible hatred for democracy to glare through in spite of itself. Hillary Ribbentrop has been leading the way, although it was tough overcoming the VP’s early lead after he chirped that Mubarak’s “not a dictator” and would only grudgingly entertain the notion that some of the people’s demands might be “legitimate”. But of course only duly designated nabobs are to be judges of such “legitimacy”. Since then they’ve kept Joey in a bunker with a lollipop to suck on. It looks like, while we didn’t get Sarah Palin for VP, we got the equivalent Sarah Biden.
Then there’s everyone else’s obsession with finding Leadership upon which to fixate. All government types, all elites, the MSM, liberals and other authoritarian “leftists” – they all need to glom onto a Leader. That’s the only way they can organize their perceptions and thoughts. But it’s been slim pickings indeed. I saw one Leninist-wannabe reduced to meekly inquiring, “Is there any reason to think Elbaradei’s leadership should be rejected? Can’t we be cautiously optimistic about him?” So there’s been some comedy in all this as well.
Why is this going so well after the demonstrations failed in France after such a great beginning? Here’s some differences.
* This has been basically leaderless and spontaneous. The French efforts were the opposite – mostly under the direction of existing hierarchies.
* In France, even though there was rank and file support for a General Strike, the leadership was content to schedule designated Days of Action but otherwise leave it up to individual groups of workers to decide if they wanted to strike on any given day (and the leaders only grudgingly consented to even this). The implicit message was, if you treat things as business as usual except on the designated strike day, that’s fine.
In Egypt, there’s no sign that anyone is flagging from the will to permanently go to the streets until the job is completely done.
And if they also realize that their street councils have all the makings of a new government and society, it’s possible this will become the job itself. The negative shall have evolved into the affirmative. 
* The protestors’ demand has been simple and all-encompassing: Get Out. No promises, no “reforms”, and not just one figurehead but the whole regime. Get Out. They’ve stuck to this with exemplary tenacity, refusing to be distracted by the endless diversions and ploys Mubarak and Obama have tried.
In France they were trying to “negotiate” with criminals. They weren’t even demanding reform, but asking the regime to refrain from an austerity assault. In other words, they started out begging for far less than what Mubarak has offered the Egyptian demonstrators, and which the people of Egypt have flung contemptuously back in his face. Given such a vast difference in political self-confidence and self-respect, is it any wonder the Egyptians are on the verge of winning a victory far beyond the conceptual horizons of the French protests?
(Of course, where it comes to self-respect the gulf between Egypt and France is as nothing compared to the abyss which separates Egypt and America.)
Maybe it was too much to expect a decadent old society like France, domesticated* in the worst sense, to say anything like Get Out, instead of specifying a tame demand within the context of a circumscribed tactic. [*We consider having become members of the temporary middle class to have been a great achievement of civilization. Yet the middle class existence in itself evidently enervates and cows people to the point that they then fail to resist their eventual liquidation. It creates the preconditions for its own destruction, even independently of the premeditated class war plan to destroy it. The middle class turns out to have been one big veal pen.]
But however true that is (and I think it’s not irretrievably so, but there’s lots of cobwebs to clear before we become fully awake), we see how following Leaders always dooms us. The basic conceptual issue with, for example, business unions (any union which accepts capitalism as the way things are) is that they’re automatically corrupt in principle even before we get to the question of conventionally corrupt personnel. The union sees itself (at best) as “bargaining” to sell the workers’ labor. It signs a contract, and then sees itself as that contract’s co-enforcer, along with the capitalist. Its ability to enforce the contract against its own members is the basis of its “authority”.
Given such a pre-corrupted position, it’s no wonder that when unions organize strikes and protests the most important thing to them is to impose limits on the strikers. That’s what they did in France. The unions decided ahead of time that they were going to cave in on every demand. They only wanted to pretend to put up a fight to justify the existence of their own hierarchy in the face of increasing pressure from below. But their main preoccupation throughout was to keep the protests within the bounds they had decided upon ahead of time. They succeeded in this treason. They succeeded in diffusing the upsurging will to fight. Therefore the strikes failed.
So that’s where Leadership gets you.
A true leadership would at most take responsibility for making some basic plans for an uprising, but would be clear that once the people are in the streets, the momentum of the streets will decide all.
That seems to be what happened in Egypt. As the dissemination of well-designed training manuals evinces, there was careful preparation ahead of time. But all that did and all it was meant to do was to get the people off to a good start. Once everyone’s out in the streets, it’s all up to them. There are no limits, no boundaries, no horizons, but those of the people’s ability to imagine things and the will to fight for them.

February 1, 2011

Egypt Will March

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 4:39 am


As today’s Egyptian Million gets ready to March, the US government has decided to become broad-minded and grant that if they behave themselves and give all the requisite assurances, it may deign to consent to the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in a new government.
I’m sure the protestors are aglow with joy and gratitude over this gracious dispensation from their betters. Or they will be once they recover from their laughter.
Meanwhile the NYT’s all over the administration’s other pressing question – Is Elbaradei someone they can “work with”? The article makes a good implicit argument that US neoliberalism can indeed work with him. His whole record is some political clashes with Bush, but never any fundamental economic critique. He warmly greeted the Obama presidency, applauded the sick joke of his nobble pries (thus retroactively tarnishing his own), and only criticized him over Gaza. So there’s no evidence that Elbaradei is anything but a sometime dissenter but fully within the system. The people mustn’t trust him to do anything but publicly call for the regime to go. Give him no authority.
We must hope the people of Egypt remain a force the system cannot work with.
According to this (an MSM piece, no less), the people have the means at hand to dispense with not only the Mubaraks and Elbaradeis but all centralized government. The article describes the Popular Committees of Alexandria.

From this small gesture, Mr. Mardini, 37, and several other men who stepped in to help discussed the fact that citizens would have to work together if the protests against the Egyptian government were going to proceed without tearing their city apart.

Out of these humble beginnings, the Popular Committee for the Protection of Properties and Organization of Traffic was born. “What we tried to do first was protect the electricity, water, gas — even the state-owned ones,” Mr. Mardini said, his voice a hoarse whisper after starting on the street at 8 in the morning on Sunday and finishing at 6:30 a.m. Monday, with a two-hour nap before hitting the road again. His stubble is gaining on his soul patch, and if he does not shave soon he will have a full beard…..

“We want to show the world that we can take care of our country, and we are doing it without the government or police,” said Khalid Toufik, 40, a dentist. He said that he also took shifts in his neighborhood watch, along with students and workers. “It doesn’t matter if one is a Muslim or a Christian,” he said, “we all have the same goal.” ….

Soon after Mr. Mardini’s first tentative steps, committee members were recognizable by the simple white armbands they wore, often just strips of fabric. They created logos and distributed fliers asking for more help from the public. Some wear photocopied pieces of paper on their chests like marathon runners’ numbers. Mr. Mardini wore a badge that read simply People’s Committee in red Arabic. But the way people walked up to him and began talking, it appeared he needed no introduction.

The civic enterprise is now divided into four branches: traffic, cleanup, protection and emergency response.

Though others refer to him as the head of the committee, Mr. Mardini said: “We don’t have a leader. This is our country, and we all have to protect it.”

This is how it naturally begins, and the next step is for these committees to realize that since they’re exercising the responsibilities of government, they should also assume the authority and exercise the power. They should use their existence as the platform upon which to call together democratic assemblies to discuss and vote upon their community affairs. These assemblies then confederate to achieve broader “governmental” coordination. We really don’t need more than that.
But it’s hard to expunge the faith in representative government.

Mr. Mardini said he was doing it for free elections. Asked what kind of government he wanted, he said he did not care, even if he disagreed with it, as long as it represented the people’s will….

“Candidate? No, I don’t want that,” he said. “I’m a normal guy.”

It’s easy to see why the NYT is fixated on that, but I hope people like Mardini soon realize that they’re already functioning as the government, and they ought to trust themselves to do so permanently. People are bound to think first about elections. But as history has proven, elections lead nowhere good if the people do nothing but exercise their sovereignty on election day and then relapse to private life. Which is exactly what the representation scam wants them to do. A democratic people must scrutinize its elected “representatives” and, when they realize these representatives are nothing but usurpers running a scam, take the final democratic step and assume direct responsibility for their own government. That not only leads to a far better society than the kind imposed from the top down by the Mubaraks, but it’s the only way to keep from having to revolt endlessly against the Mubaraks for the rest of history.
(I trust people don’t think council government would be some exotic idea to advocate for non-Western countries. I think that’s a typically patronizing attitude. As we see once again, it comes naturally to people everywhere as soon as they have democratic aspirations, regardless of regional cultural variations.)

January 31, 2011

Popular Committees in Egypt?


Today will be the seventh day of massive protests demanding the end of the Mubarak regime. The army continues to watch and wait, although it seems to me that having brought the troops in to sit there and mingle with the protestors all these days can only erode the generals’ ability to order them to take any harsh action. Although “elite”, specially-disciplined units are always a different story, if I had to bet I’d say the possibility of the troops firing on the crowds is a moot point. The generals would never risk it.
I’ve been interested in how so far most of the commentary has depicted the protestors as being united mostly in demanding political freedom, without as much expression of economic grievance. This is a common feature of the early stage of a revolution. Although the main driver that started it is always economic, in the first heady rush of democracy the people demand the enshrinement of that new democracy they just won for themselves.
But the economic grievances remain, if latent at first. Egypt suffers stagflation and class war. There’s no doubt at all that the “looting” being described in the MSM was started by police thugs, and it has mostly been perpetrated by them, especially all assaults on public property. But this MSM article also has some discussions about class attitudes that ring true. The parasite class exists in Egypt just as it does in the US, and that class no doubt fears that the protests may engulf their stolen privilege as well. Although Mubarak’s thugs have done all they can to stoke this fear, the fear should be real as well, as the people should indeed turn their attention to these criminals once the initial political goal is achieved. Whether or not a “revolutionary” government does so is always a metric of whether it’s carrying out the will of the people, or betraying that will.
I had my first council sighting this morning. The police looting and the people’s spontaneous organization of patrols and defenses is, according to the tweets of the blogger 3arabway (whose Egyptian-based site is among those blocked), providing the practical ground for the organization of “Popular Committees”. No matter what’s the proximate cause for the formation of such councils, once they exist they become the basic building block of revolutionary democracy. The people should form thousands of such Committees and confederate them. That would give them a working organizational framework for the whole movement. 
Meanwhile Elbaradei continues to try to position himself as focal point if not leader of the protests. He gave a speech in Tahrir Square which received a mixed reaction, with many among the crowd calling out, “Don’t Steal Our Revolution!” History proves they’re right to be vigilant.
Elbaradei and others are calling for a million people to turn out on Tuesday, the one week anniversary of the first Day of Wrath. I don’t know if there’s a special reason to say Tuesday, or if that’s the shortest period would-be organizers need to start taking a more assertive role in coordinating things “from above”.
I don’t want to sound like I disparage organization as such. This revolution will need far more of it if it’s to accomplish more than just driving out Mubarak. Such a negative goal is always far easier than the affirmative goal of building something better. In the absence of organization toward building a truly democratic new society, it’s all too likely that something just as bad or worse will ensue. In this scenario, it’s possible that the US would like to use a Suleiman regime to further rationalize neoliberal domination. Mubarak had some messy residual nationalist traits, and his new pledges of greater social democracy can only remind the globalizers of that.
This is a good example of how the job in Tunisia is nowhere near finished and barely begun. Driving out one figurehead but leaving the regime otherwise intact will often bring an even worse outcome, since the new leaders won’t even have the clout as entrenched puppets they’d built up over the years to ever assert themselves against direct corporate policy dictation.
Not that we should assume that’s a foregone conclusion in Egypt. The scenario I just described is obviously being bruited as wish fulfillment in the MSM and among think tankers. It also reeks of the conspiracy theories it seems we’ll never be done with even in moments where as human beings we should for once just simply enjoy the view and the fresh air.
But at the same time, history proves it’s possible, and this shock doctrine outcome is always the US intent. So the people of Egypt are right to demand the ouster of the whole regime, not just one guy.
Council democracy is the right answer to all this. It can subsume or work in tandem with conventional figures like Elbaradei while remaining separate from them. I don’t know enough about the Muslim Brotherhood to know whether it would be likely to help or try to hijack such councils (as a rule, the entry of parties into the councils is a bad thing; parties try to subvert them to their own ends).
There are so many perils here that it’s impossible to chart an exact course for even days let alone years. Everything from whether or not riot police will regroup today and try to retake the streets, to the future war to purge the country of neoliberalism (or conversely be destroyed by it completely), is up in the air.
The only rule is that political democracy has gotten them this far, and trying to enshrine it is the one value and action which is always spiritually and practically sound, if the people will only sustain their will to fight for it. It’s part of the reason we live in the first place. It’s at the core of what makes us human. 

January 30, 2011

Democratic Days in Egypt

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom, Mainstream Media — Tags: — Russ @ 6:34 am


The protestors are gathering for another day on the democratic offensive.
Yesterday was marked by the people’s continued defiance and command of the streets, continued military forbearance, and in many cases their amity and even cooperation with the protestors. The police have set up perimeters at places like the Interior Ministry where they’ve used murderous force against the people trying to enter their own property. Dozens have been killed so far at the MOI, and hundreds overall. I was wrong in thinking Mubarak couldn’t hang on for another day, although that was based on the idea that the military won’t want to sit there in suspense forever. Everyone still thinks the generals are managing his ouster, but he’s probably being intransigent.
Instead, Mubarak’s new gambit has been to unleash a horde of plain-clothes police criminals. These are “thugs” in a precise Egyptian parlance: police cadres who vandalize, loot, and mug, pretending to be protestors. They’re trying to trick the army into attacking the people.
Instead the troops have acting in an aggressively Gandhiesque way in some places. Where the police were firing on the crowd at the Interior Ministry, some soldiers drove their APCs in front of the crowd as moving shields, though they refused the people’s plea to open fire on the killers.
The army also called upon the people to defend their own and public property. So, in the same way they’ve so masterfully self-organized everything else, the people have organized their own checkpoints and armed patrols. They’ve thwarted and apprehended many of the police thugs.
So the confrontation is still at a climax, and the people vow that they’ll keep fighting at least until Mubarak and his goons (including the cronies he just installed as his “new” government) are gone.
Meanwhile the governments of the world seem helpless to do anything but mouth platitudes. It’s especially gratifying to see how tongue-tied this has left the MSM. Everything I read from them sounds dazed. It’s obvious that faced with this surge of democracy, they’re unable to tell any of their standard lies, nor do they feel free to express their normal contempt for the people. Just like Obama and Clinton, they can only spout words about “democracy” and the “right to protest” and claim to hope there’s minimal government violence. But they sure sound lame saying such things, as their heart isn’t in it. 
We know that none of them believe any of this, and they sure hate having to say it, but what else can they do? As we knew, these media hacks and government nabobs are just cowardly bullies deep down. Faced with the vibrant defiance, resistance, and self-assertion of a self-confident people, these “elites” are at a complete loss. This is a lesson all peoples everywhere must take to heart. We have the strength, while they have nothing but their bullying posture and their inner cowardice and meanness. They’re nothing.
As Egypt is proving, the autonomous people are everything, and have the potential to become anything they wish. 

January 29, 2011

The Exhilaration of Egypt

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 4:15 am


The exhilaration of Egypt was clear even from across the ocean, as Friday’s Day of Wrath surged over the streets and structures of party and police. It was a heady day for hundreds of thousands of protestors in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and other cities. They clashed head on with the vaunted security police and routed them, to the point that the beleaguered government had to call in the army. The people faced the army with courage and the expectation that their soldiers would reject the criminals and join their ranks.
In the Saturday dawn things were relatively quiet. Cairo looks like “a war zone”, the streets littered with glass, the burnt husks of police vehicles, and the smoldering debris of fires and tear gas fusillades. The plumes of smoke dangle upward into the sky like fishing lines to entice the heavens. Military vehicles patrol the streets. Internet and cell phone connections remain sparse and intermittent. It’s unclear if there’s any plan for Saturday’s protests, or if the crowds will just try to reform in the streets and see what comes next. Yesterday they had the mosques as their launching pad, today I don’t know. Nor is it clear what the military plans to do today.
Yesterday was a spectacular success, with the people dominating the streets. The riot police tried but failed to go to the offensive, and couldn’t even hold all their chosen defensive positions as the people drove them off Nile bridges and away from targets like the headquarters of the hated National Democratic Party, which was burned down. In a marvelous demonstration of the good will and discipline of the protestors, even as they destroyed the NDP headquarters the people protected the cherished Egyptian Museum right across the street. Compare that to how Bush’s barbarians cheered on the looting of the Baghdad museum (and probably organized the destruction of the seed bank) and how Rumsfeld laughed about it afterward. Remember these two radically opposite examples the next time you see some hack or idiot claiming that the people can’t manage themselves so we need “elites” to run things for us.
Reports of the number of protestors killed by the police range in the dozens. Most of these were in Alexandria and Suez. Hospitals report over a thousand wounded badly enough to seek medical care.
That Mubarak had to send in the military with such uncertain consequences is both a victory and a radical raising of the stakes for the people. On the Gandhi spectrum, this is a segmenting of the stage “then they fight you”; Mubarak tried to fight the people with the police and failed, so now he’s trying to fight them with the army. But this ups the stakes for everyone, since for the moment it puts the future completely in the hands of the generals. (For the generals too, this is a perilous moment, as they no doubt are aware.)
When he finally emerged from his rathole to say something, Mubarak was defiant and stupid. He pulled the old trick of blaming everything on his cabinet and promising to replace them. He vaguely lied about “reforms”, but mostly lectured the people about their responsibilities to him. (There was also Obama’s lame statement, which only showed how out of words these criminals become once the people finally stand up to them and make it clear they’ll no longer listen to the lies.)
This only reinvigorated the people’s opposition, now with added scorn and contempt. They’ve seen it all with Mubarak, been through this blame-the-minister trick, and this time they’ll have none of it. They want Mubarak gone, they demand he be gone, they’ll fight at least until he’s gone. (And then what?)
Right now everything depends upon what the army leadership decides to try to do. I don’t know much about Egypt’s army, but since it’s a citizen army the generals have to decide whether Mubarak is worth running the risk of disaffection and even mutiny if they order the troops to fire on the people. In Russia in February 1917 and Germany in November 1918 they decided the tsar and kaiser respectively weren’t worth it. There’s lots of other examples. And even if they were confident the troops would obey, they might not want the blood on their hands, for the sake of nothing but propping up this pig. (Not because I think their consciences would bother them so much, but just because generals of modern armies tend not to want their armies being degraded to the level of death squads, and themselves to flunkey butchers, for the sake of compromised civilian thugs. If I’m a general who’s either apolitical or ambitious, I see little upside in obeying an order from the likes of Mubarak to fire on the people.)
Yesterday in most places the people greeted the soldiers and rushed to fraternize with them. Although there were scattered, unconfirmed reports of troops firing on protestors, or conversely clashing with police, the main phenomenon was for the soldiers to mostly mill about, “patrolling” but not really doing anything. No doubt overnight Mubarak and hard-liners have lobbied the army to come up with an aggressive plan to secure the streets today before the crowds can again coalesce. We’ll probably get the answer early enough, as people start piling back into the streets. Will troops attack to break up these congregations before they can achieve critical mass? (If they try, how aggressive will they be willing to be?) Or will they maintain yesterday’s stance, which we might as well call “neutral”?
If nothing else, this will decide Mubarak’s short-term fate. It’s hard to imagine that he can stay nominally in power through another day like yesterday.
As of 4AM EST the crowds are gathering again, so far in the hundreds.
So I congratulate the intrepid people of Egypt! You’re winning. All you need to do is keep fighting. I wish I could be there with you. 
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