Theories about How to Change the System

Uprisings like Egypt’s Tahrir Square inspired other protesters around the planet. The Arab Spring developed a new post-Islamist and post-ideological struggle with techniques such as protest art and social media passed on to other activists. Syrians used flash mobs to gather for ten minutes and then leave before security forces, learned from previous struggles. The Spanish indignados’ slogan “They don’t represent us” echoed the Argentina cry in 2001 “All of them must go,” referring to politicians. Arditi concluded, “So even in failure, if we measure failure by the absence of a plan for a future society, insurgencies will have had a measure of success.” As Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos observed, “The struggle is like a circle; you can start anywhere, but it never ends.” The Internet era of Web 2.0 created a template for youth of interactive horizontal organizing as modeled by the Zapatistas. John Holloway (Irish professor in Mexico) and others believe that revolution happens in local cracks in the system as the Zapatistas demonstrate.

However, others believe that more organization is needed on a national level. European leftist thinkers like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek worry that the fetishism of horizontality condemns recent uprisings to the brief influence of a flash mob in contrast to the more lasting impact of a progressive political party like SYRIZA in Greece or in Podemos in Spain. Slavoj Zizek follows Marx in believing that revolution requires a strong central state like the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. No revolution is possible without a vanguard that devotes their lives to revolution, agrees US writer Chris Hedges. He observes that all uprisings, even supposedly leaderless ones, in fact have visionary leaders whose ideals continue past particular revolts. He gives examples of US revolutionist groups, listed in the endnote.[i] Hedges maintains that “a viable socialism” must be develop to counter “corporate tyranny.” He believes corporate power is so entrenched, “Revolt is the only option left. . . . If we on the left do not regain the militancy of the old anarchists and socialists,” a right-wing backlash like Christian fascism could occur instead.[ii] He advocates sustained civil disobedience to overthrow the plutocracy.

A middle ground between the anarchists and vanguardists is explained by American Murray Bookchin’s essays collected in The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy (2015).[iii] He evolved from being a communist to anarchist to “communalist” who advocates “libertarian municipalism.” In The Third Revolution (1996) he concluded that revolutionary change couldn’t happen in the cracks with co-ops and free schools as Simon Critchley and John Holloway advocated. Nor would it happen if progressive parties like the German Greens assume power because they have to compromise their values to stay in power. He referred to the global justice and other movements as “festivals of the oppressed” that didn’t provide a plan to change inequality. His review of the history of revolutions led Bookchin to focus on the impactful examples of municipal neighborhood assemblies such as the Paris commune of 1871 or Spanish collectives in 1936. He envisioned institutionalized local assemblies linking with others in confederations that would end state power. In the 1970s he suggested that the assemblies use affinity groups, spokes-councils and prefigurative politics, later adopted in the Occupy movements. His ideas are currently being applied in Kurdish villages in Northern Syria called Rojova discussed in Chapter 5. He talked with Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan several years before Bookchin’s death in 2006. Öcalan switched from a Marxist ideology to the non-statist libertarian approach that he named Democratic Confederalism being applied today.

[i] Chris Hedges, “Why We Need Professional Revolutionists,” TruthDig, November 24, 2014.

Popular Resistance,

Fight for the Future,

Backbone Campaign,

Rising Tide North America,

United Workers,

Vermont Workers’ Center,

Veterans for Peace,

[ii] Chris Hedges, “Sacrificing the Vulnerable, From Gaza to America,” Truth Dig, September 19, 2014.

A video:

[iii] Federico Venturini, “Bookchin: Living legacy of an American Revolutionary,” ROAR Magazine, February 28, 2015.

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