Volatility

March 15, 2011

Arcs of Revolution and Reaction (Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia)

 

At the moment it’s looking bad in Bahrain and Libya. Although the force of freedom is undeniably on the rise, as demonstrated by this great wave of rebellions, this may be a long, ponderous curve. In the meantime, the forces of reaction are retrenching.
 
In Libya, Gaddafi’s counteroffensive is gradually engulfing the country, crawling eastward toward the rebel stronghold at Benghazi. Yesterday loyalist jets bombed the transportation hub at Ajdabiya, which the rebels call the last line of defense. From there the roads to Benghazi and Tobruk are wide open. “We will defend it”, vowed a rebel commander.
 
Meanwhile there are dueling reports over the disposition of the oil town of Brega. The rebels had held it, regimists retook it, then the rebels claimed they captured it back. As of now (Tuesday morning EST) both sides are claiming to hold it.
 
It seems like in the initial confusion and exhilaration of the uprising, it was difficult for Gaddafi to know which forces were reliable, and it simply took time for generals loyal to him to muster the forces they could vouch for and then launch a coordinated counteroffensive. Unfortunately, it now looks like the initial rebel surge was illusory. It didn’t reflect the balance of real forces. Right now the best we might be able to hope for is if the rebels can hold in the East, providing the basis for a future resumption of the drive to overthrow the regime. If they’re driven out of Benghazi, a bloodbath is likely to follow, and it’s hard to see where the fugitives can go from there.
 
(The notion of a no-fly zone seems pointless by now. Gaddafi will win or lose on the ground. It’s long been clear that his use of aircraft is more for harassment and terror value than any real military effect it may have. He doesn’t seem to have enough jets to use them for more than this. Although I suppose it’s also possible that he’s been restrained by the threat of a no-fly.
 
So the whole debate over whether or not getting help from the neoliberal system was worth the risk to the political integrity of a successful rebellion looks moot in this case. A no fly zone by itself couldn’t make the difference in whether the rebellion succeeds or fails, and I think we all agree that ground troops would merely replicate the tyrannical experience of Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
But through all this I’ve basically held the same position, that if a rebellion:
 
1. Can possibly get limited help from the West, and
 
2. Such help looks like it would be necessary make the difference between success or failure,
 
then it may be worth the risk of asking for such limited assistance as a no fly zone.
 
As I said, it looks like in this case a no fly zone would fail to meet at least the second condition, so it’s not worth risking.)
 
Libya is the relatively less important front. The revolt in Bahrain (and signs of it in Saudi Arabia itself) hits closer to the heart of the world’s power structure. Bahrain, like the UAE and Kuwait, is a post-modern City of the Plain. It’s a Persian Gulf banking center, a hedonist paradise for the corporate jet set, and home to the US Fifth Fleet, front line enforcers of the Carter Doctine, linchpin of neocon strategy. It’s a primary Saudi proxy.
 
The unrest in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is largely along sectarian lines, with the economically and politically disadvantaged Shiites (large majority in Bahrain, significant minority in Arabia, concentrated in the oil-important eastern provinces) opposing Sunni-dominated regimes. Counter to this US –> Saudi –> Sodom-Bahrain hierarchy, Iran seeks regional hegemony and sees all restive Shiites as clients. They in turn must thread the same needle of using Iranian help without coming under its thumb.
 
I’m not sure to what extent these protestors are dedicated to economic and political demands independent of their sectarian interest. There’s been some labor unrest in Saudi Arabia where the workers made purely economic demands. But such demonstrations have been sporadic and minor. Meanwhile last Friday’s intended Day of Rage fizzled out on account of a proactive Saudi security deployment.
 
But the Bahrain uprising flared up to new heights on Sunday, as protestors defied riot police and Sunni mobs to lay siege to the capital’s financial center. This is a direct assault on at least a symbol of the neoliberal order in the Gulf. The Saudi regime again took action. At the “request” of Bahrain, redolent of Cold War Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Saudi forces crossed the causeway to deploy across the country. UAE troops were also said to be on the way. Regime hardliners are calling for martial law under this “foreign” force.
 
This stick has been raised even as the regime is pretending to negotiate with some of the protestors. There seems to be some division among the Shiites, between a democratic group which wants to overthrow the regime and a conciliationist group willing to “negotiate”, that is beg for some crumbs (and cushy positions for its own leadership, no doubt).
 
If the GCC is determined to impose martial law (de jure or just de facto) in Bahrain and anywhere else among the Gulf Gomorrahs where protest flares up, it’s hard to see what immediate response the people can have which could counteract it. I think the best thing to do would be to directly challenge the foreign thugs just as the Egyptians challenged the riot police. It’s one thing for Gaddafi to open fire in Libya. It’ll be harder for the direct proxies of the US to invade and open fire in the West’s own pleasure cities. Not that I think it’s unlikely they’ll try to do it. But we already saw Bahrain’s own police back down after their initial recourse to savagery was met with defiance. The consistent lesson everywhere seems to be: Stand up and keep fighting back, even in the face of open state violence.
 
I’ll close today where this all began a few months ago. The Tunisian Revolution continues to develop, continues to make gains. The people’s continued bottom up pressure and continual resort to street demonstrations has forced out several generations of would-be Ben Ali successors. In the latest turnover, the provisional government has been forced to move up the timeline and enhance the scope of promised elections. The government had planned to hold only a presidential election in July. It now promises to hold an election on July 24 to elect a constituent assembly which will write a new constitution. Interim president Fouad Mebazza says a “special electoral system” will run the election. Existing dissident or pseudo-dissident parties expect to do well in this new election. There’s no word on the status of the existing parliament, where Ben Ali’s cadres still numerically dominate. It sounds like that body is superannuated and should be bypassed completely. (Much like my view of how a new constitutional convention here in the US should try to bypass the articles of the main body of the document.)
 
So there’s the state of things around the revolutionary rim, as I see them. It’s a perilous moment, and there’s an excellent chance we’ll be seeing temporary, perhaps ugly setbacks. But these setbacks are ephemeral in the great movement of history. There’s no doubt that the rising, vibrant force is one which liberates. This is the force of democracy, rising from the heart of the people. No matter what temporary forms it takes, and whatever temporary detours it may have to make, there’s no doubt about the reality of the people’s sovereignty. The modern revolution in all its economic and political aspects finally awoke this human latency and nurtured it to maturity. All of history was an evolution toward this awakening.
 
Many mistook the economic forces and forms as the real genius of the age, and in my lowest moods I too still lapse into such fears. But in fact these forms were just epiphenomenal. The true genius of the age is democracy. I often mention how all of today’s trend lines point toward feudalism. But these are only the shortest, most proximate lines, a mere fleck of turbulence amid the far vaster current. The real arc of history leans toward democracy, as all the long-term historical evidence demonstrates. That means it also leans toward justice, as MLK said, quoting abolitionist Theodore Parker.
 
It’s one of history’s great ironies that this newest green shoot of the democratic imperative is sprouting in the heart of the great classical source of oil. Oil has been the driver of all the modern economic forms, the forms so hyped or feared as having been the End of History. From that point of view, Peak Oil has also often been depicted as the end of history.
 
But Peak Oil is really just the logical exhaustion of what was always a temporary, epiphenomenal form. It isn’t the end of anything affirmative, but the clearing away of an obstacle to democracy’s further development. Democracy shall now reach maturity, and we the people shall take adult responsibility for ourselves. It’s time to remove the training wheels, which are completely rusted anyway.

February 28, 2011

Revolutionary Tour

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: , , , — Russell Bangs @ 12:48 pm

 

It looks like the Qaddaffi regime is down to just his capital in Tripoli. Although I’ve been reading for days about an imminent counter-attack of his supporters, it doesn’t come, the people keep advancing, and I figure if they were really able to attack they would’ve done it. We’ve already seen Qaddaffi’s big attack, and even bombing and strafing his own cities with aircraft wasn’t able to save him.
 
This is a milestone in the liberation wave. It’s not complete proof that a resolute people can defeat even disciplined instruments of government violence, since many army units refused to obey orders and in many cases actively turned against the regime. But the fact remains that disciplined units did exist, did carry out orders, did launch their full fury against civilian protestors, and the people kept coming.
 
I’ve read that by now it’s the troops and thugs who are loyal to Qaddaffi who are reduced to wearing masks and scarves, while the rebels enjoy the sun and wind on their proud faces.
 
The latest battleground was the town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, where insurgents took the town after pro-Qaddaffi forces shot up a mosque where a sit-in was in progress. This is the town where for days we’ve had a stand-off and these rumors of “counterattack”. Qaddaffi must be reduced to Hitler’s delusional state in the bunker, crazily demanding information about Steiner’s non-existent counterattack.
 
Meanwhile the neoliberal West has more easily let Qaddaffi go then they did Mubarak. Although they refused to impose a no-fly zone, the EU issued a travel ban, a list of sanctions, while others promised ICC investigations against him, his sons, and many regime nabobs. Apparently, according to neoliberalism bombing your own cities is out, at least for someone on probation like Qaddaffi. (He’s also not a personal friend of the Bidens and Hillary Ribbentrop the way Mubarak is, and Obama probably doesn’t consider him one of the Cool Crowd.)
 
Back in Tunisia, the place that started it all, the situation continues to evolve. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s equivalent of Suleiman, who took over from him and has tried to preserve the regime intact, was forced to resign after a new wave of protests and violence. The Tunisians understand that this is far from over.
 
Progress in Egypt has been fitful. The army wishes to curb the ongoing wave of strikes, but so far has not tested the situation by actually banning them, although it keeps threatening to. The army leadership remains stuck with the same problem it’s had since day one – how far could it trust the rank and file conscripts to obey orders? To remain disciplined at all? What misstep might trigger a confrontation which forces a test the generals don’t want to risk? So brinksmanship continues, albeit at a lower level of intensity for now. The Egyptians understand that this is far from over.
 
Bahrain is perhaps the most advanced example. There too the demonstrators have braved open violence from police and military. But unlike Libya, only lately being integrated into neoliberalism, Bahrain is a postmodern City of the Plain, fully financialized, a state of the art coordination center much like the UAE itself. Revolution in Sodom Bahrain conjures the image of the slaves of Dubai itself rising up and burning that Gomorrah to the sand.
 
And does it offer a possible precedent for democratic revolt in the ultimate bastion, Saudi Arabia itself? The government is treading very carefully, dealing gently with the first signs of worker protests.
 
Back in America, we have the Wisconsin protest, where in spite of the hostile Democratic establishment (but with some decent discipline from state-level Dems) and feckless, conciliatory union leadership, the rank and file have maintained their vigil for an impressively long time. They keep this up and they’re going to have to think about organizing their own street democracy. But they’d better be ready to continue the protest indefinitely, and find ways to escalate it, if they want to win. If I understand the Wisconsin Mubaraks correctly, and I think I do, they’re not going to give in. Why would they?
 
So there’s a short tour of our state of self-liberation. Nowhere has there yet been a complete breakthrough, but everywhere (except the standoff in Wisconsin) we’ve seen steady progress. The situation today seems vastly brighter than I ever would have dreamt at the down time following the moral collapse in France, and the continuing abject submission in Ireland and elsewhere, and of course in America.
 
More than ever before, I think the system is rotten to the core, physically strong but morally and intellectually weak, and with its physical strength ready to collapse at any time as well. More even than before, I think things are in our hands, that we the people are masters of our fate, free to dictate our future by making our choices.
 
What an exhilarating ride this is becoming. The path before us is coming into focus. The ideas are being collected and arranged. The spirit is regrouping. Like Naomi Klein writes in Shock Doctrine, at some point the people become numb to the shocks, and find ways to withstand them, and then realize that they no longer fear them, and then develop contempt for them.
 
This world process is now coming to light, after years in the incubation of our souls. It’s a new sun rising, the dawn of humanity’s new day. It wasn’t capitalism and oil which embodied the genius of the age, but democracy. This rising spirit of a new, fully responsible humanity was only temporarily obscured by the noise and flash of fossil-fueled corporatism. But it was that shallow clamor and smoke which was ephemeral. It shall be our democratic heritage which is lasting, which shall be co-eternal with history itself. We need only choose it. 

January 31, 2011

Popular Committees in Egypt?

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Disaster Capitalism, Freedom, Globalization — Tags: , , — Russell Bangs @ 5:10 am

 

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 28, 2011

In To Egypt

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Corporatism, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 3:46 am

 

Three momentous days of courageous protest. Escalating brutality and provocations by the police. Ever more confused and embarrassed lies and platitudes from neoliberal governments, with the US junta leading the way. And today (Friday) promises to reach a new level of decision. (Meanwhile the protests are spreading to Yemen.)
 
Tuesday was the proclaimed Day of Rage or Day of Wrath, according to various translations. In an unprecedented show of spontaneous democratic force, over 50,000 protestors challenged the 30 year dictatorship of US stooge Hosni Mubarak. The protests continued over the next two days, defying increasing police aggression, growing rumors of a military crackdown (but so far no accounts of military action have been confirmed), and the regime’s bans and curfews.
 
The protestors have called for national demonstrations on Friday. Since this is the day of prayer, the mosques will be natural rallying points. Meanwhile the appropriately named riot police are planning to use provocateurs and hired thugs to launch their own riot, which is intended to smear the protest as violent and provide the pretext for a murderous assault on the crowds. There are reports that the security police have vacated the streets while paramilitary “anti-terrorist” units take up positions. They may be planning a bloodbath.
 
The US continues its days of confusion over what to say about democracy. (We could infer what they think, and can only speculate about what they’re covertly doing.) First Hillary Ribbentrop reprised her pro-regime “not taking sides” principle from Tunisia. Then some flunkeys uttered some platitudes about how the regime needs to respect freedom of speech and assembly (the NYT was similarly gracious), while others said Egypt isn’t ready for democracy. Joe Biden didn’t really clear up this rhetorical confusion, but he did provide confirmation of the Washington mindset:
 
1. If someone’s “an ally” of the US elites and works with Israel, then by definition he’s not a dictator.
 
2. The demands of the people may not be “legitimate”.
 
We can add how Israeli elites are referring to the Mubarak regime’s need to defend itself against an “existential threat”.
 
That sums up the class war perspective. From their point of view, the power elites are the only real human beings. Within that microscopic perspective, they may even view their neoliberal cabal as a “democracy”. So a compliant member of the club can’t be a dictator, while any claim from outside this cabal must be looked upon as illegitimate. By definition the non-elite people cannot embody democracy. Only someone asserting such an outside claim could be acting “dictatorially”.
 
So we have the spectacle of a handful of gangsters claiming to be the only true citizens, while the people are vilified as an alien dictatorial mob. And any level of violence the state uses to repress this mob is legitimate self-defense against an illegitimate “existential threat”. This is exactly how the neoliberal elite, organized for class war, views the world. They’ve long implied they want to turn democracy and sovereignty upside down so that these would reside with the criminal gangs and not with the people. This is also their principle. We’ve seen Obama’s experiment in using the Gulf Oil Eruption as a pretext to abdicate sovereignty over a vast geographical area to an anti-sovereign corporation. (The fact that is wasn’t even a nominally “US” corporation must have been an added ideological attraction.) That’s just one example of the all-out assault to gut all democracy, constitutional government, and civil society itself. This is the secession of the elites from all these things, even as they still intend to monopolize the physical ground and everything that’s on it.
 
From this point of view, the people, although still needed as slaves, must otherwise cease to exist. Politically, legally, as the repository of sovereignty – in all these ways the people must cease to exist and become unpersons. Only the rich and corporate persons are to be “citizens” of this “democracy”. (How the impoverished unpersons are supposed to continue to be “consumers” is a mystery, though. But then, that’s the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.)
 
This basic idea isn’t new. The notion of the indelible rich as constituting one (superior) kind of citizen and the productive people being something alien, debased, a secondary kind of citizen at best, goes back to the so-called “federalist” hijackers of the American Revolution in 1788. In Federalist numbers Ten and Fifty-One, Madison gave a refreshingly frank explanation of the mindset and how the system was to use divide-and-conquer to atomize the democratic (from his view undemocratic) mob. Although even he didn’t figure out how to justify the existence of parasitic elites in the first place. He was more “innocent” and took that on faith. Only later did ideologues of parasitism, from Ayn Rand to her proclaimed nemesis John Rawls, come up with the trickle-down scam.  
 
I think if you look anywhere, you’ll see that this is the trend. We’ve long been able to infer this as the intentional systematic campaign. And now it’s becoming more and more explicit.
 
This is the most vile and subhuman ideology of all times. Everything they call “democratic” is anti-democratic, they are anti-citizens, they and the corporations embody an anti-constitution and anti-sovereignty, and every aspect of their being, thought, and action is anti-human. They have turned every single thing, with total consistency, exactly upside down, and therefore depict a precise counter-indication. If Biden says Mubarak’s not a dictator, that means he is a dictator. Biden’s own metric – being the ally of US elites – proves it. In every thing we think, plan, and do, we must simply seek to turn this right side up. Democracy, legitimacy, sovereignty – these self-evidently lie only with the people, while elite gangs are self-evidently never anything but appendages, whose very existence is rightfully at the people’s pleasure. This is our entire heritage of political thought and action. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution open with such hails of recognition. However much today’s kleptocrats try to overthrow this absolute truth, it remains self-evident. But since they insist, we shall have to take action to turn the current practice right side up, to restore the rightful balance.
 
That’s what the people of Egypt are attempting, just as their brethren in Tunisia have taken a big step toward it.
 
Just as in Tunisia, the people’s protest has been spontaneous yet sustained and systematic. Yesterday some pre-existing leadership offered itself. Mubarak’s political challenger Mohammed Elbaradei returned to Egypt and offered his leadership to the movement, while the Muslim Brotherhood issued an ambivalent statement of support: “We are not pushing this movement, but we are moving with it. We don’t wish to lead it, but we want to be part of it.”
 
It’s up to them, but if this really is a democratic and workers’ movement, the people should be suspicious of both Islamism and of “reformers” within neoliberalism. Elbaradei certainly doesn’t plan any changes beyond some political cosmetics.
 
The people don’t need this kind of “leadership”, although having a famous speaker here and there may help rally morale at critical moments. All we really need is the will to act, a sound, basic plan, and the resolve to see it through to the end. At the moment the end should be to drive out the existing criminals, followed by a new, far more economically democratic constitution. It’s probably too early to go immediately to full direct council democracy, which could dispense with written constitutions completely. But if a movement decided to do so, that could in itself force the ripening of the moment.
 
Whatever’s going to happen, today seems destined to be one of the pivotal days.

January 26, 2011

One Fruit Cart – Tunisia

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Food and Farms, Freedom — Tags: , , — Russell Bangs @ 4:18 am

 

Things are just getting started in Tunisia. That’s what we want the history books to someday write. Things are off to a promising start there. Over a month of sustained spontaneous protest has toppled a despot of decades and forced some political reforms. While this isn’t freedom’s sufficient goal, it’s a great start.
 
The Ben Ali regime was a typical despotism. It was a calcified crony state integrated into the neoliberal global finance system, its real rulers Western banks and corporations. Like other corporatized colonial despotisms, it was an ally of the US government. Ben Ali himself, who has fled the country taking over a ton of gold with him, was a typically worthless piece of filth. The regime was worthless and decrepit in every way. Tunisia’s economic situation is bleak although not exceptionally so. The stagflation pattern – permanent mass unemployment along with escalating prices for necessities – is rampant here as in other North African and Mideastern countries. (And as will become more and more familiar in the West including America. Stagflation is the only future possible, if we allow the future to go according to corporate plan.)
 
One difference between Tunisia and most Western kleptocracies is that it didn’t have the hang of neoliberal pseudo-democracy. Instead of holding sham elections and allowing a modicum of free speech which is drowned out by the official sound system, it engaged in clumsy old-style political repression. This lack of a safety valve may be part of the reason revolt broke out here sooner than elsewhere.
 
The proximate spark was an unemployed college graduate who was assaulted by the police for selling fruits and vegetables without having paid the proper protection money. They confiscated his fruit cart and stock, the one and only thing he had in order to struggle to support his family and try to preserve some shred of human dignity. That’s the exact kind of extortion and confiscation the US government’s recently passed Food Tyranny bill intends to impose on every kind of fruit cart here. In despair, he publicly burned himself alive.
 
This sparked escalating demonstrations. At first the police responded with violence and repression. They shot protestors and carried out mass arrests. As the protests and street fighting escalated, the now frightened thug Ali promised reforms. They say it was “the first sign of weakness he had ever shown”. The trade union federation UGTT called for mass demonstrations in Tunis. People climbed onto the roof of the hated Interior Ministry. Street battles ensued as the police tried to break up the protest. After trying to switch back to threats of greater repression, the despot fled the country. The prime minister announced a provisional government backed by the army with himself at its head. That was a few days ago. Since then the protests have continued, with the demonstrators and police at a standoff, with the army perhaps separating them. It’s difficult to tell day to day exactly what’s happening, as the information coming out is fragmentary. Needless to say, MSM accounts are unreliable at best. Nobody knows how many people have been murdered by the police. As of 1/17 the official death toll was 78, which means the real tally is much higher.
 
Wikileaks may have played a role in bringing anger to a flash point. Tunisians were outraged to read cynical US State Department cables which frankly discussed the Tunisian regime as a vile tinpot despotism the US must nevertheless prop up. (So remember that the next time you see some corporate liberal scoffing at how Wikileaks can’t make any difference anyway.) The Western response to the uprising has been typical. Unlike Iran’s uprising which the US system greeted with ardent embrace, here the party line was, “we take no sides”. The extent of covert support for the regime is unknown, although some British kleptocrats went further to deplore the “violence” of the protestors in getting in the way of police bullets. Since when a bullet hits flesh it becomes too damaged to be reused, they must consider this to be destruction of government property.
 
(We’ve also seen the usual suspects among liberal and social fascist traitors. Most of the same “socialist” and “union” leaders who did all they could to cripple the recent strikes and protests in France rushed to call for restraint on the part of Tunisia’s rebels. The party line among France’s Professional Left has been that the people should seek gradual reform within the existing system, looking toward some electoral Eldorado which may in a hundred years bring the same liberal democracy which has already failed in France itself.
 
France also harbors some exiled Chalabi-style Tunisian “dissidents”. Evidently these were simply losers in previous palace struggles, who now look for an opportunity to slink back and pose as “leaders”.
 
This guy, a self-proclaimed “human rights activist”, deplores the atrocities of the rabid mob:
 

The perspective guiding the union functionaries, “human rights” activists, academics, and student careerists that make up the bulk of France’s “far left” is entirely different. The outlook motivating these layers—drawn from the more privileged sections of the middle class—was articulated in a January 14 interview by Le Monde with Tunisian human rights activist Larbi Chouikha.

As Ben Ali fled Tunis, Chouikha called for a “velvet revolution,” referring to the 1989 restoration of capitalism in Stalinist-ruled Czechoslovakia, a transition in which the new regime aligned itself closely with the demands of international finance.

Chouikha complained: “The question for us now is: ‘How can we stop this explosion of pillage, which is becoming intolerable?’ It’s a breakdown that frightens us. These kids are not only attacking the property of the Trabelsi family, but police stations, and everyone’s property.”

 
The horror. It looks like human rights isn’t his real line of work, but some other kind of “rights”. It’s up to them, but we can only encourage Tunisia’s people to reject such parasites and carpetbaggers as the treacherous posers and scammers they are.
 
We can take it as a rule that a dissident in exile, if he’s spent that time partying in the West, has been corrupted. That’s assuming he was ever any good to begin with. So any such returnee must be regarded with suspicion, and forced to prove himself through new action.
 
As I’ll discuss further below, the best thing the Tunisian movement has going for it is its spontaneity and the absence of prefabricated “leadership”. We just had the latest demonstration in France of what happens when a people’s movement subordinates itself to pre-existing leadership.)
 
So is this Tunisia’s February? Nominally, it’s a similar pattern. Economic hardship triggers mass spontaneous protest which causes the army to withdraw support from a hated despot who must abdicate. Someone forms a provisional government. But there are several major differences. In February 1917 the Tsarist regime collapsed completely, and the provisional government was cobbled together by previously disempowered parties (liberals and various socialists). This new government immediately instituted complete political reform. (It wasn’t so eager to undertake structural economic reform, which eventually led to its downfall.) Today the existing regime is still in place, albeit having shaken off its hated figurehead. But beyond a few political concessions, it intends no changes. If the evolution ends here, it will have accomplished little more than to provide an example of what spontaneous people’s action can do when it erupts, and what happens when it stops short of its goal.
 
Also, in 1917 people everywhere immediately, as part of the spontaneous efflorescence, formed workers’, soldiers’, sailors’, and peasants’ councils, the soviets. Today, although I looked for signs of it in accounts, I haven’t heard yet of council formation, which is a classic metric of a real revolutionary process. The most I read was that some among the protestors are calling for a new constitution, which I hope means they propose to write it themselves.
 
Nevertheless, the most promising precedent which is fully embodied by this admirable movement is its decentralized spontaneity. It had no pre-existing leadership structure, has not followed a preset plan, and has not been coordinated by any hierarchy. Like all true movements, it presents the spontaneous genius of the people. I’m not saying the people can carry out the full social revolution in a purely spontaneous way. But any leadership worthy of the name can arise only indigenously, out of the movement’s own ranks, proving itself in the movement’s own councils and assemblies.
 
If the people of Tunisia maintain this new activist spirit and follows through along its vector, building on itself and evolving out of itself, they can provide a great lesson and beacon to the world. Their spark is already setting off parallel fires in Algeria, Libya, and most importantly of all Egypt. I hope to have much more to write about these evolutions.
 
Today the people of Tunisia stand poised to liberate themselves and serve as a school to the world. Their lessons for their fellow North Africans and Arabs are self-evident. But since neoliberalism plans the same slavery for all peoples, everywhere, so the lesson is the same for all peoples, everywhere.
 
I’ve often said that I think the likely basis for a redemption movement in America will be Food Sovereignty and relocalized food production and distribution. I’ve also written about how the corporations and government are planning to prevent us from doing this. So you can understand why this fruit cart resonated with me. That’s our fruit cart. Indeed, on a personal level that’s my fruit cart. And whatever we dream of doing in this perilous system where the goal everywhere is to prevent us from doing anything but quietly starving to death, whatever plans any of us have, that’s our fruit cart as well. (And in that sense let this piece also be my rebuttal to whatever filth that criminal spewed last night. I didn’t watch the gangster gala and haven’t yet read exactly what he said, but I’m sure I’ll hear all about the gory details today.)
 
So this revolt is our future revolt as well. We the people, wherever we may be, are all citizens. We all face the same enemy. We’re all in the same struggle. So in that spirit I hail the Tunisian spirit as our own and wish it vigor, wisdom, resolve, courage, and the relentless will to follow through to the end, which is the new beginning.