The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Revolution Revisited

On Wednesday I posted a video on revolution by Timster.

It turns out Timster is a noted anti-semite.

Mea-culpa.  I was wrong to post it without doing proper due-diligence (aka. about 2 minutes of research) and those who are criticizing me for it are correct to do so.

Let’s discuss, briefly, what I liked about the video.

Education hasn’t worked.  The population is wet wood, they will not light on fire.  The crimes are clear: from Iraq to the financial crisis to austerity to multiple foreign interventions which have made the world worse to an escalating police and surveillance state, the people who run the developed world have proven to be monsters responsible for the death of millions and the impoverishment of hundreds of millions.

This shouldn’t be controversial.  I’m not even sure that it is controversial.  And yet, not only are they still in power in most cases, there is no reasonable prospect of them standing trial for what were, by any reasonable standard of justice and in many cases under the law as it stood at the time, crimes: often crimes of mass murder.

Now I say this as someone who has spent the last 13 years explaining what is wrong, why and often, how to fix it.  But that hasn’t worked.  It simply has not

Given that the crimes of our leadership are well understood, the inertness of the population in doing anything about those crimes is striking.

This leads us to the next question, which is simply this: is revolution ever justified.  The video calls for violent revolution.  Is that ever justified?

When you think on this question ask yourself whether or not, say, the American revolution, was justified.  Or the Haitian slave revolution?  Or whatever you think the hardest case is.  Then ask yourself this, how many people have to die or be impoverished before revolution is justified “here”?

I’m not saying that it is: frankly, I’m not sure it is, because I don’t believe that the non-revolution options have been exhausted, and by exhausted I don’t mean “every corner case hasn’t been tried.”

What I mean goes back to the first point, that citizens can know, now, if they want, about the crimes of their leaders, and still haven’t done much.  (Yes, there are exceptions: right now those exceptions are Greece and Iceland.)

Think back to Occupy.  I’ve got my issues with Occupy, which I won’t go into here, but Occupy got out thousands of people at most.

The left loves Gandhi (and ignores his complete inability to deal with real evil, like Hitler.)  But Gandhian non-violence requires a ton of feet on the ground.  It requires enough people to shut down entire regions of a country.  Hundreds of thousands, minimum.  Millions.  And those people don’t just march, they shut the country down.

Those people do not, in most Western countries, yet exist.  The huge rallies in Spain indicate that may be changing, but that is not yet clear.  What we will see, in Greece and soon in Spain and Italy, is whether peaceful modification of the system thru the ballot box is possible. But the numbers necessary are only beginning to be seen in a few (forgive me, PIIGS) fairly marginal European countries.

I make no predictions on this, I do not know what will come.  We will see.  Syriza is playing a very bad hand, very very well. But Greece is very looted, and even with substantial debt-forgiveness I wonder how well Greece will do, though it will surely do better than under austerity if they do receive that debt-forgiveness.

So, revolution?  Wet wood?  Peaceful change thru the ballot box or non-violent Gandhian protest?

We will see. In the meantime, mea culpa again on posting that video without due diligence.  And when will we be ready to revolt, thru the ballot box, Gandhian resistance, or, indeed violence?


Sneering that there is no runaway inflation misses the point


Russia Creates Its Own Payment System


  1. compound f

    Your work remains excellent, even more so now with self-flag Your voice is great.

  2. V. Arnold

    Your integrity remains intact, IMO.

    We’ll see? The past is the best indicator of the future.
    Since 2003 (my personal marker) the graph line has been steadily going down and to the right (literally and figuratively). Since Snowden’s revelations the line is almost vertical.
    Wet wood is an excellent descriptor.
    Even if the PIIGS are successful, I hold out little to no hope for the west/U.S..
    We lost, no, threw away, our chance…

  3. Paul

    You say that education hasn’t worked. I’d say that it has, quite remarkably! For whom is the question.

  4. Yosemite_Steve

    Thanks for this follow-up post. Personally I never had any problem with the issue of your non-checked sourcing of the video. I took the video text at face value as a not completely insane viewpoint, quite credibly mostly aligned with the super reasonable attitudes of your first paragraphs in this current post and which I agree with 100%. But it’s cool that you responded (at least in part to me, I flatter myself to think).

    The ‘revolution?’ question is worth discussing. We all should be wondering just how cynical and pessimistic we ought to be now. But after seeing the middle class so mutely accept being totally raped by financial services and in the US by medicine/’health’ care, with barely a whimper in protest to such obvious criminal subversion and crashing of the economy, I think the answer is very, very pessimistic and very, very cynical indeed. The modern liberal state is now devoid of any possible means to move back towards more equality. No truly liberal forces even exist any more. Most people don’t even think “the market” needs to be controlled! Spending too much on social benefits is the only systemic issue. As has been noted, even Krugman is no longer even talking about what is actually really needed here, so I don’t see any possible way forward towards more sanity from here.

    It is rather interesting to me that a text like this video sounds half reasonable at first blush (if you don’t catch that “jewtube”). But that in itself seems also quite instructive as noted in some very sensible comments. The right can see some of the basic aspects of the fail as well as we can but they think the solution is just to repress/kill the foreign and colored people a whole lot more. So any rebellion/revolution is almost certainly going to come from the right, pushed by a deeply miscalculating elite dreaming of getting yet more of everything for themselves, with the revolution ending up being taken over by nationalist socialists leading those terrified of Islamists. If there is any serious amount of violence, it’s likely gonna be Moslems who will be killed.

    As I’ve gotten more and more depressed since 2008 one thought I’ve kept having is ‘Could this change? How? From here, what possible model can I imagine for the restoration of economic justice? And I can’t imagine any model, because there is no class consciousness. There will never be another New Deal. There will never be another time of economic distribution to the middle like we Boomers lived through. That’s done. The liberal state is dead. Labor as a political force is long since fvcked and dead, dead, dead. How could labor ever be revived now? How could class consciousness arise to motivate any significant numbers to make the right changes? Any ‘class consciousness’ here will be right wing idiot consciousness, they’d never have a clue who really needs to get strung up.

  5. Yosemite_Steve

    Interesting that you mention Gandhi as I just read a great 2012 LRB piece ( which reminded me of the fact that Gandhi actually was a religious nut case, religious fanatic nationalist who believed it was destiny for the pure Hindus under his own personal religious leadership to kick out the Brits. He hated labor as an impure force which beyond his control. As amazingly fruitful as his non-violence movement was, the fact that it was religious blind-faith based sort of made inevitable the ensuing massive sectarian slaughter brought about by partition, and the Indo/Pak nuclear divide as a long term bonus. Even non-violent revolution seems to lead to possible chaos and pretty huge numbers of casualties.

  6. Now you begin to understand.

  7. V. Arnold

    It is a common fallacy that Gandhi was totally against violence; he wasn’t, according to his own words. But it was his preferred method of dealing with the violent state.

    I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Gandhi

  8. V. Arnold

    Argh! Non-violence (not violence, as implied by my wording) was his preferred method of dealing with the violent state.

  9. JustPlainDave

    Most Internet-mediated commentators seem to think that big problems, be they social, political, economic, etc. can only be addressed by large social movements. If the people aren’t in the streets, the problems cannot be addressed.

    This belief is poppycock. Incremental change based on quite small numbers of people is possible – difficult, slow and not terribly enriching – but possible. It’s also quite a large bit better than the “ideologically correct disaster capitalism-lite” billed as explication that is the current norm.

  10. bob mcmanus

    And when will we be ready to revolt, thru the ballot box, Gandhian resistance, or, indeed violence?

    I have no idea, really, and I am open to anything from the safety of my armchair. That goes from Blanqui and a tiny violent vanguard to the Russian and other turn of 20th anarchists to Sorel and the General Strike. In this sense, I often say what the masses need is permission, the word from intellectual elites etc that hitting the streets and burning shit down is ok. Revolution! as in the video.

    The “feminization” or “housewifization” of the masses can be considered controversial (and has more immediate applicability in precarious labor studies), and I for one believe in roles rather than essences, but it seems to me a lot of non-violent rhetoric and strictures come from women playing traditional passive roles and gaining overt social power. In other news, the Emma Goldman Archive at Berkeley is getting closed down.

    Catastrophism is not a plan or method, but some theory says that as we become more embedded in the networks and supply chains and social media, a small fault or rupture can collapse the system very very quickly, leaving the sociality in place while erasing the control mechanisms. The Japanese people switched almost overnight from fascism to near socialism, and the authorities needed violence to reverse labor activism 2-3 years after the end of war, even though unions had been illegal for two generations.

    The “people” can be amazing, and I think they don’t need much education or leadership. They need an opportunity, and permission.

  11. Vbo

    The left loves Gandhi (and ignores his complete inability to deal with real evil, like Hitler.)

    It’s even harder to accommodate Gandhi’s “principled” opposition to WWII in light of his “principled” support for the British war effort in WWI!

  12. zot23

    The big issue I have with your advocation of violence Ian is that once you start down that path, you have absolutely no idea where you will come out the other end. You seem to assume an outcome of change for the better with the oligarchs overthrown and the population enacting better governance. This is giving the reality of revolution short shrift and you know it.

    Similar to war, a (violent) revolution is a gigantic roll of the dice and even weighted die can come up against you. It is resetting of the rules of society, but what rules get reinstated and which disappear from the cultural landscape? If you or anyone else says they know, they are lying. At no time are a people in greater peril of silver tongued dictator or the military tyrant who arrives riding a white stallion. It is neither rule of law or men but rule of mob, which is a notoriously fickle playmate. People lead with their emotions, it is exceptionally easy to be misled (or flat out hoodwinked) by a charismatic group or leader. Conclusions (and actions) are jumped to without caution or due diligence, with usually catastrophic results. No one was more gung ho or committed as a people to democracy and change than the French, where did they come out the other end? Napolean and an outright criminally run government structure (I know long term it was an improvement, tell that to the peasantry 20 years into the change.) People know this uncertainty in their gut, it’s what is really staying most hands. IMHO, they are wise to exhaust all other paths first as the price of failed revolution is exceptionally high.

    Look at what just happened to you seeing a video about it; you led with your gut and posted a screed by an anti-semite who produced a very well crafted and buttery smooth narrated piece of propaganda. Imagine this had been an actual event and people lost their lives. A Mea Culpa about all the dead jews after the fact just doesn’t cut it man. If you are going to push for such a thing and call people cowards for not embracing such a radical idea, at least admit some of the real reasons people (everyone) should be wary of such a path. History is lousy with examples of good intentions turned grievously foul once the knives come out.

  13. I know zot23 makes some necessary points but every time I hear this speech (which is often) I have to wonder why zot23’s potential future suffering is more important than the current and potential suffering of people under the current system.

    All paths lead to at least the threat of violence because force is the wellspring of power. As we can see, it is the threat of force against us that keeps us from rebelling.

  14. Brian

    ‘zot32’ is saying that with a revolution you will have a power vacuum, and without a promising secondary power to step in then whatever the outcome, it will be messy and takes decades to recover to a stable solution. Look at what happened in Libya. Revolution for the sake of ‘revolution’ and something is better then nothing is a terrible idea.

    Ian, you’re right to want action over talk, but that action should be focused towards creating a viable alternative via disruption of the current. Creation of a shadow well organized ‘government’, perhaps an online ‘government’. You don’t want to fight until the challenger has developed asymmetrical abilities that will give the challenger an edge over the incumbent. Action doesn’t always mean fighting.

  15. I do not believe anyone proposed having a revolution for the sake of revolution, or depose the government without replacing it with something. I do believe we need to go beyond replacing one elite leader with another or one elite party for another.

    One can create new organizations but our problem is not a lack of alternative or “asymmetrical ability,” it is a lack of power.

  16. Brian

    More about the disruption of government by creating a challenger organization.

    Ian previously said, rightly so, that corporations are mini-governments. And large multi-national corporations are supplanted by upstart corporations and how it is done is well documented. A competitor would need to get into the security and organization business, big govs forte. They need to offer a service that government is not – perhaps internet security or some non-profit organization. The competitor needs to work outside the normal channels of government, so the government can not ‘co-opt’ the service. This is so when the government recognizes this service is something it should be doing, it will have a hard time doing it or doing it well.

    If the competitor gets big enough to start organizing the social structures of the poor and misfits better, those that big gov disdains anyways, government will retreat from that area and try to circle the wagons. Once you are more in touch with the masses then the government, it’s game over for the government, and revolution would naturally proceed.

    It’s a lot of work.

  17. Brian

    the above is all just theory, btw.

  18. Ian Welsh

    And I have worked, relatively tirelessly, with the help of friends like Stirling, towards creating the intellectual underpinning necessary for an alternative.

    As for Zot’s points, I have myself written articles noting the horror of anarchy and civil war so his or her criticism stands already refuted and as Susan points out, the suffering and deaths now are real, and they add up incrementally to massive numbers.

    How many deaths now and in the past that we did not change justify that roll of the dice?

    But don’t spew “at least admit” when I have already written those articles.


    (one of the great frustrations of blogging is all the, er, people, who are “you didn’t cover point X”. Yeah, it’s a short article, I also didn’t cover 100 other points I’m aware of that there wasn’t room for. And are you stupid enough not to know that revolution involves violence and can go wrong? Really?)

    Revolution of any succesful sort (not a coup, revolution) will require a minimum of about 30% of the population which agrees to do it. At that point, for all we pinpoint one individual, it is no longer an individual decision.

  19. nihil obstet

    “Revolution” just means war between a state and a non-state organization within its borders. Peace is preferable to war, but unless you’re an absolute pacifist, you’ll sometimes support war, and similarly, sometimes violent revolution.

    My guess is that the U.S. is more likely to collapse from withdrawal of the consent of the governed than from violent revolution. Or put another way, the governments are likely to lose legitimacy. It’s more likely to resemble the change from communism to capitalism in Russia than the change process of the French Revolution. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was the supposed alternative of vital capitalism that would bring more freedom and prosperity, under the guise of which the vultures with global organizations behind them could loot. There is no such supposed alternative now.

    Most people aren’t going to undertake the dangers of violent revolution as long as the necessities of life are being met. But a complex state needs more than absence of violence — it needs cooperation and compliance, and I think those are disappearing.

  20. Brian

    The political right is farther along in revolution and it would most likely appear from there. Again, just theorizing, but a revolutionary minded group would want government to rescind safety nets and remove welfare in order to make the masses more upset, which is political right goals.
    Also: Hicks/Rednecks would lead the american revolution fighting… which are mostly the political right.

  21. Yosemite_Steve

    Susan, it’s also a question of what do you replace ‘the government’ with. What organization could be made which would both overthrown the current state and put what viable organization in its place which can constructively and justly monopolize violence? And by the way, as any one state moves into revolution, the army still has to be able to stop any other .01% groups from thinking they can just move in and take over.

    The American revolution is not a model because it was a middle class rejection of a colonial regime. If we look e.g. to Spain or China, at the beginning there was an exciting new political structure with ‘the people’ participating as never before. But with just a bit of time the revolutionary parties became Stalinist/Maoist. The anarchist commune in Spain was amazing, but the Stalinist Comintern betrayed and murdered them at first chance.

    Really “smashing the state” type revolution? Even if it started from an Occupy looking thing, even from the best possible starting point, at some point, some set(s) of people are going to want to prevail in power struggles and are going to start really enjoying power and it’s prerequisites. And when that happens lots of groups of people tend to be willing to do anything including unleashing obscene amounts of bloodshed to prevail in the arguments, whether they are all about ideology or really about personal aggrandizement it doesn’t really matter.

    We’re not likely to see the same police department employees that have the guns now end up as enlightened supporters of a new style political organization that the people come up with. Revolution and controlled change are total opposites and nothing short of revolution is likely to seriously change the system, but revolution often unleashes the dogs of war too, let’s not kid ourselves, nor trust the new bosses. There is no way to have a revolution with any guarantee on where the violence will stop, imo.

  22. Yosemite_Steve

    “But don’t spew “at least admit” when I have already written those articles.”

    I will gladly read the article you referenced here and any others (if they are indexed in any way that would obviously be helpful). I have not been a reader very long and I’m not at all familiar with your archive but it imagine it might be an interesting read. I am rather interested in what thoughts you have given this.

  23. I agree that obviously we need to replace the current system with something better that we hope will not degenerate in some (or many) ways.

    In our current system we unleash the dogs of war–on others.

    In our current system we have powerful people who enjoy its prerequisites and who compete with other powerful people for control.

    In our current system of capitalism we must constantly fight against encroaching extremism.

    In our current system the police/military control dissent.

    Yet we don’t unleash obscene amounts of bloodshed. The financial/political elite got away with skimming billions and the people’s response was minimal and easily controlled. Where would the violence have stopped? We don’t know because the suppression worked.

    Who has the authority to monopolize violence? The people. Authority is given, not taken. If you do not give someone permission to be your authority he has no control over you. If you would rather die than obey no power or force can control you. You choose to obey the authority.

    The people choose to obey the authority because they want the authority to give them something in return–someone to follow (with all that implies).

    We could work within the system, which has brought us to this unhealthy condition. We could try to take over the system, following our own authority instead of the other authority, which has also brought us to this current state of affairs.

    Or we could reject the authoritarian structure altogether. Whatever replaced it would depend on something other than a bunch of followers obeying a couple of leaders, to their regret. The people would need to assume the dangers, responsibilities, and duties of power. Currently we are getting all of the dangers and few of the prerequisites.

  24. Mairead

    I have to wonder why zot23′s potential future suffering is more important than the current and potential suffering of people under the current system.

    That seems a pretty common position–I hear it often, too. It seems to be a sort of “peace at any price” ideology, a “better to be reduced to even the most meager mere existence than to take any risks”. It’s a legitimate position, I suppose, but it somehow seems selfish to me.

  25. Vbo

    Look at what happened in Libya.

    A local strongman went off his lead in an uncharacteristic fit of scruples, immediately found himself the target of an imperial destabilization campaign, which then rapidly went wobbly due to the lack of a meaningful or coherent local support base, but then got backstopped by a massive imperial bombing campaign that managed to sustain it just long enough to eliminate the empire’s faithless flunky, and having then completed its primary objective ceased to be of any further interest to the empire, which promptly declared the job done, leaving the ungrateful heathens to enjoy the screaming void of anarchy and chaos it had gifted them with?

  26. Matt Stoller

    “The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.” – Dornbusch’s law

  27. JustPlainDave

    A couple of observations:

    1) I’m having difficulty understanding why a detailed intellectual underpinning is necessary for alternatives when it’s also been repeatedly asserted that solutions are simple. Either detailed underpinnings aren’t really so key or viable solutions are more complicated. Personally, I’d lean towards the latter. (That said, I would suggest that intellectual underpinnings are actually less important to the exercise of social change than concrete “how tos” and active mobilization.)

    2) Violence is a bad tool to choose because most people suck at using it. Folks who see the utility of violence have generally never had to manage it. It’s a very poor, uncertain and diffuse tool compared to the alternatives currently available – particularly in the face of the modern state, which is rather good at countering political violence and a actually good deal worse at the alternatives.

    3) I find it interesting that theoretical suffering is laid at the feet of acceptance of the status quo when the foregone alternative measure is that oh so attractive maiden revolution, but not when the foregone alternative is its more boring step sister incrementalism. That seems to me to have things rather ass backwards morality-wise.

  28. ks

    Susan of Texas,

    I know zot23 makes some necessary points but every time I hear this speech (which is often) I have to wonder why zot23′s potential future suffering is more important than the current and potential suffering of people under the current system.

    In my experience with this argument, it’s usually because it’s other people suffering under the current system and not them and they’re afraid if it all really falls apart they will get it too. It’s easy to pontificate about future suffering that will probably affect you when it’s mostly others getting the steady beatdown right now.

    Also, you’re right to mention force and power. This whole implied notion of a “perfect revolution or nothing” is garbage. Whether you take up arms, withdraw consent or go navel gaze and grow vegetables, it’s all a crapshoot. The group that is the best orgainzed and has the most force/power at the end of whatever tactic will usually wind up in charge of the next go around.

  29. Kevin Block-Schwenk

    Great posts by zot23 and JustPlainDave!

    I’ll add that in addition to Ian’s “Is Revulution Justified” the second question to ask is “Can it win?” The African National Congress was IMHO fully justified in its violent struggle which it could not win, but (at least partially) succeeded peacefully.

    Someone point out a violent revolution in a First World country which succeeded since, say, 1900? Resistance movements vs. the Nazis never liberated their countries and got massacred when they tried, but were effective as outside arms of Allied militaries. Palestinians have been in low-level revolution for decades. OK the Russians succeeded in 1917, but only when the pressures of WW1 had gutted the state power. And since that time the state has developed high tech surveillance, oh, and nuclear weapons on top of the whole kit and caboodle.

    So no, I’m not going to grab my shotgun, charge into the street, and watch the pellets bounce off a tank or get blown up by a drone that I can’t even see. I’ll take peaceful change because it has a chance, however remote of succeeding.

  30. Vbo

    Type (a): People who think violent revolution can sometimes be a postive development

    Type (b): People who think violent revolution can never be a positive development

    Type (c): People who think violent revolution can sometimes be a postive development, if it’s happening in some other guy’s country, but can never be a positive development, if it’s happening in their own country.

  31. It’s more complicated than. the forces of the right strike first, the forces of the left need to strike close behind, and crush them in the space of a few years.

  32. zot23

    I want to say first off great discussion, finding something so divisive being actually discussed civilly is a rare treat on the internet. Good points by all in this thread.

    “I know zot23 makes some necessary points but every time I hear this speech (which is often) I have to wonder why zot23′s potential future suffering is more important than the current and potential suffering of people under the current system.”

    Further to my post above, I would ask for the same consolation as Ian. Namely, my post is 500 or so characters long folks and trying to address a single point. Trying to psychoanalyze me and my mindset based on that one post is about as diminutive as you can get. If you don’t want a serious conversation and prefer character assassination or assigning sweeping generalities to disagreements, well I can’t stop you. If I thought that was what you are after, I wouldn’t have posted here in the first place. Unfortunately, you are misrepresenting my position Ian and that was not the point I was trying to make.

    I’ll try to expand the issue just a bit and hopefully it makes more sense. I’m not claiming we’re better staying with the status quo (or that is even possible, I think change is coming one way or the other.) What I’m advocating is what Brian was writing about: directed action is a spectrum, with violent revolution way out on the hairy edge. Why would you start there with any other options available? It’s like sitting down at the poker table and going all in on the first hand before you have even seen your cards. Sure, the game is ultimately based on luck but that’s an endgame movement not a smart starting play. Violent overthrow of a government should be the final act of desperation for a people with no other viable options. Which personally is not where I think we are at yet.

    Was it possible to buy marijuana legally in any place in the USA 10 years ago? To get married (legally) if you were gay or lesbian? Did it seem like such things were even possible when GWB was president and we were knee deep in Iraq adventurism? Yet, here we are in 2015 with both those items closing in on cultural inevitability. Did it require an armed insurrection to achieve these ends? What about shutting down the robber barons or overcoming the inequalities faced in the Great Depression? I don’t remember armed groups burning America to the ground to correct those imbalances (though there was blood for sure. There’s always blood.)

    People look at Occupy and see failure because they didn’t change the system instantly and forever. I see it as a great start, an extremely successful exercise in exposing cultural outrage and learning lessons for future efforts. It’ll be back in the coming years, perhaps more forceful and effective but hopefully without a large ramp up in violence.

    Ultimately, what I’m saying is there is a hell of a lot of space between defending the status quo and a violent revolution. Saying that anyone who doesn’t want armed insurrection is defending the status quo is as bad as Cheney saying anyone that is against the war on terror is “with” the enemy. It just isn’t true and attempts to push a deceitful black or white moral cloak over what is a nuanced spectrum of opinions.

    Why don’t we advocate for some other action first and see where it gets us? Like, anything else that isn’t so extreme and possibly catastrophic to everyone involved?

  33. ks


    You’re blowing a lot of hot air but being disingenuous. Nobody is saying that we should start with a violent revolution or saying that if you’re aren’t for an armed insurrection you’re for the status quo. That’s just your lame attempt to pigeonhole people you disagree with here and prance on the empty moral purity high ground. What part of the following of Ian’s post is a problem?

    “This leads us to the next question, which is simply this: is revolution ever justified. The video calls for violent revolution. Is that ever justified?

    When you think on this question ask yourself whether or not, say, the American revolution, was justified. Or the Haitian slave revolution? Or whatever you think the hardest case is. Then ask yourself this, how many people have to die or be impoverished before revolution is justified “here”?

    I’m not saying that it is: frankly, I’m not sure it is, because I don’t believe that the non-revolution options have been exhausted, and by exhausted I don’t mean “every corner case hasn’t been tried.”

    What’s that you’re saying about advocating for some other action first…..? I thought so…..

  34. ks


    Excellent. I’m a type A but I can respect type B while it’s clear there’s a bunch of type C’s here. Yeah, it’s funny how we cheer the various Arab Springs/color revolutions, etc. “over there” and catch the vapors and head for the fainting couch at the merest mention of violence here. I guess it’s sort of a new version of NIMBY.

  35. V. Arnold

    A dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation:
    Oxford Dictionaries

    Syriza and Podemos “may” be models of a revolution at the polls. It’s too soon to know; we’ll see…

  36. Yosemite_Steve

    What JPD said, except that after seeing how almost everybody now seems to accept getting raped so badly by the banksters and (in the US) by the healthcare industry, without much of a whimper of correctly directed outrage let alone a clue what could be done about it. My timeline for observing the line moving down and to the right begins in the 1968-72 time frame. I cannot see any way for incremental change to happen here.

    Yeah, there are plenty of ways to theoretically take a lot back from the .1% but government regulation is now accepted as being too expensive and not working, the myth of a perfect free market too deeply ingrained, labor too dead, media too dead to offer real analysis. It just seems as if it’s gone too far, that the possibility of activism changing things has gotten ever more unlikely.

    So I’m left to wonder if revolution might be a possibility, but even if I can accept the idea that violence might be able to accomplish something, I can’t imagine any model for a revolution from the left to arise let alone succeed against the modern 1st world state. There is no ideology for labor based political power remaining, let alone revolution. The middle class is more emasculated and less conscious than ever, as far as I can see.

    I’d be very happy to be convinced otherwise on a future for either incrementalist activism and or revolutionary change, but I’m pretty much totally demoralized and thinking that any hope here for significant pushback is grasping at straws.

  37. Formerly T-Bear

    Considering factors that made MLK’s non-violence work it is necessary to recall contemporary forces influencing: Black Panthers, Malcolm X, the black Islamic movement, etc. Had those trends not been present, it is arguable that MLK’s stance would receive the same consideration. The majority accepted the path of least resistance, at least nominally, over less congenial alternatives. Without those alternatives, no non-violent opposition by any minority will prevail against the will of a dominate group. MLK’s movement succeeded because it achieved a greater level of conviviality for his minority that was stable at a low level of continuing confrontation.

    Wisdom provides the only thing that does not change is that change will happen. Once a group achieves some desired condition, that condition becomes a vested interest of that group; power and wealth lead the list of such vested interests of groups (land and property, a distant third place). Many cold dead fingers will have to be prised-off those levers for change to actually happen, change will seldom appear of its own accord; its not in the nature of the beast to self correct. The only ways to effect change in vested interests are by either persuasion (which includes revolt) or allowing the internal contradictions of the group to remove their hold on power or wealth – systemic collapse. What is needed in the later scenario is a working idea to replace once the status quo is gone. Without a definite replacement, chaos is not a conducive condition to start such development and will seldom produce stability.

    OT. FDL has been offline for several days now. Is there cause for concern?

  38. V. Arnold

    @ Formerly T-Bear
    February 14, 2015
    OT. FDL has been offline for several days now. Is there cause for concern?
    FDL is up and running just fine (just checked to be sure).

    “What is needed in the later scenario is a working idea to replace once the status quo is gone. Without a definite replacement, chaos is not a conducive condition to start such development and will seldom produce stability.”

    Yeah, I tend to agree with that. I think history bears that out.
    I’m waiting with baited breath to see how Syriza plays out…

  39. Formerly T-Bear

    @ V. Arnold

    FDL is NOT running here, a snapshot of the site is presented from some cloud and is identified as such:

    This page ( is currently offline. However, because the site uses CloudFlare’s Always Online™ technology you can continue to surf a snapshot of the site. We will keep checking in the background and, as soon as the site comes back, you will automatically be served the live version. Always Online™ is powered by CloudFlare | Hide this Alert

    Go figure. Either Tuesday or Wednesday was the last time it appeared ‘live’.

  40. V. Arnold

    @ T-Bear

    Upon closer scrutiny, you are correct. No idea, not a site I often got to…

  41. markfromireland

    @ ks February 14, 2015

    Nope it’s a very old version of NIMBY.


  42. Formerly T-Bear

    @ markfromireland, 14 February 2015

    Thanks for the link. It reports the site up but am unable to contact the server. Googling the site crashed Safari just now. Sorry to bother. Strange.

  43. I don’t know Ian. This post of yours and all the comments here and my own recalled reaction to the vid seem to justify its posting even if its maker is not one of ‘our’ friends. As I recall my watching of it, it was v convincing on its own merits. Thinking back (I haven’t viewed it again) the imputed anti-semitism is not evident, so … more benefit than harm, overall? It certainly forced me to think about and address the central question directly. And I thank him for that even if I disagree with his politics (and I do).

    This may be unfair or premature, Ian, but it seems to me this is the most balanced and sensible and reasonable and realistic and honest post you have ever done on the violence question. There is simply no doubt from the daily accumulating mounds of scientific evidence that violence brought us as a species, as culture(s) and for many, as individuals. That is indisputable.

    What IS in question is where we go next. And I believe the direct line from Seattle in 2000 to Charlie Hebdo Paris in 2015 via Occupy (we took a decade off to process 9/11), Arab Spring, Idle No More, and Hong Kong [those ‘kids’ have shown the world how to do protest — do your homework, pick up your litter] suggests that ‘we’ are at about 30-ish% of the pop’n on the non-violent minority side… When we reach or even approach 50-ish% on the NV scale the world will flip instantly — just as it is doing this year on climate change [this morning’s news has the 3 major UK leaders agreeing on that issue! Imagine — plus Obama got a deal with China on the same question! Plus Justin announced a totally appropriate Canajun climate tax policy in Calgary recently and the Harps is going down with his single failed industrial policy (tar sands forever!) and taking Alberta with him. Looks good on them all.] This is the year the planet does climate change! Species’ violence will be next…

    As for me, I have my own headline: “Revolution: Can We Resist the Call to Violence? Should We?” … That’s next for me (the accompanying piece to complete the headline) once I’ve finished my Naomi Klein complementary book… whew … busy days,

    Many thanks for the posting of both the vid and this blogpost Ian… You mostly got it right once again!

    Best to all,


  44. markfromireland

    @ Formerly T-Bear February 14, 2015

    Odd, it was reporting it down for me, and continues to do so now (13:22 14/02/2015) however if I try to access it directly: Firedoglake I can do so without problems but the latest posting as I type this is from February 11th. So at the very least some DNS problems.


  45. JustPlainDave

    The big thing that folks have to understand here is that it does not require getting 30% of the people in the street to effect change. The guys that pushed through the changes that have led to the current problems didn’t need that, and you don’t either. What one does need is to be smart, patient, and relentless. And to stop thinking that discussion in fora like this while waiting passively for a mass movement to come along is part of any viable solution.

  46. S Brennan

    From my reading of history; [subject to revision], revolutions that actually overturn, [different, I think, than revolts], have a Right, Wrong and Left wing…meanwhile the “sensible” middle practices the art of being absent and readies three versions of their resume.

    As an aside; “failed” revolts often succeed in their mission, sans their leaders, who are exiled or killed with the “sensible” middle’s wholehearted acquiescence…as the “sensible” middle’s unneeded copies of their resumes are burned and their ashes crumbled.

    The “sensible” middle ALWAYS abhors the threat of violence against an oppressive state, but ALWAYS enjoys the fruits of perpetrated violence of the state…with just a hint of guilt to give it that special zest!

    Now that EZ-rah Klien and Josh of TPM [Toliet Paper Memes] are two very “sensible” young men!

  47. V. Arnold

    @ JustPlainDave
    February 14, 2015

    Hallelujah and bingo.
    Thank you…

  48. Ian Welsh

    Building an intellectual framework is part of the solution. Revolution is /not the only way/, but it is one way, and the guys who made the neo-liberal changes last time had huge advantages in terms of support of what remained of the rich and powerful, especially those who controlled various large corporations. Their constituency, while tiny, still had access to massive resources. They also DID build an intellectual framework which was ready when the time of crisis came and that intellectual framework did undergo iterations, debate and conversations.

    IOW, if you don’t understand what the last set of people who changed America/The World did, perhaps it is important that you do. And perhaps you shouldn’t assume that I don’t because, again, in any given article I don’t write about it. Each article is not a book. (This is a special version of concern trolling, by the way, though perhaps in this case it is not meant that way. It is, however, beyond tiresome.)

  49. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, FDL is down, and for everyone.

  50. MD00

    Anyone know of (what I believe was) an independent movie released last year sometime where the premise is a violent revolution against the current elites? I saw a preview of it in a movie theater before watching Dirty Wars about a year and a half ago. I can’t remember the name or much else about it. It looked pretty interesting from the preview.

  51. Mary McCurnin

    I suspect FDL will be gone soon.

  52. JustPlainDave

    I would be wary of ascribing all of the shifts to a hugely refined intellectual framework and support of the wealthy / corporations. From where I’m sitting, the determinative things have been consistently working at their agenda over a very extended period of time (politically speaking) and building a deep “middle structure” between ideas (much of it is facile enough I’m reluctant to call it an intellectual framework) and the political coal face. The prime mover costs of building all this (as opposed to financial supports that start emerging when movements get established and are seen as viable) are actually plausibly attainable – call it in the mid tens of millions over about a five year period.

    The bottom line on a lot of this for me is that one can spend a lot of time building wonderfully refined intellectual frameworks and it ain’t going to amount to anything in the absence of moves that start to build “middle structures”. Rather than endlessly kicking off sparks and deploring the populace being wet wood, I think folks should be spending their time figuring out how it is that one dries some kindling. The other guys didn’t wait for a mass movement – they started building a small, coherent movement and gradually grew it until it became default consensus, the pervasive unquestioned background set of assumptions (though now, interestingly, less coherent as a movement).

  53. Ian Welsh

    I have never ascribed all of the shifts to either hugely refined intellectual frameworks, or to the support of the rich and corporations. Those are factors amongst many.

  54. Ian Welsh

    I noticed FDL’s traffic absolutely collapse a couple years ago, before they got rid of the public site meter. Down to about 40K hits a day, which for a site like that is terrible. When I left, after the election spike had died down, in 2009, it was running about 110K a day (up for 70K a day when I started as editor, during the 2008 primary season.)

    I have a number of theories (and a number of reasons I know as fact) for that. But despite not leaving on perfect terms (nor terrible–Jane wanted me to stay), I take no joy in it. For all FDL’s flaws (and I know MFI in particular could go on about that), in terms of domestic US politics, they were generally aligned with my views.

  55. FDL will be missed, in a number of ways.

  56. markfromireland

    @ Ian.



  57. Yosemite_Steve

    I’m no historian, but in pre-WWII US there were real socialists in the labor movement. And there had been gun battles against the Pinkerton thugs – think the movie Mattewan. Besides in the establishment, which of course was super necessary for the New Deal to happen, I think even the center must have been miles to the left of where we are now.

    I don’t want to be a concern troll, but let me just say that I read Taiibi’s latest piece on HSBC and Loretta Lynch and it set my blood boiling again. It’s hard for me to keep my mind around how broken both ends of the social justice system is. I always knew it was broken on the lower end, but maybe I was too brainwashed, but I never saw it as being as badly broken on the other end. Maybe neoliberalism was uniquely effective in working for a little while and giving us boomers a very unusual amount of justice.

    My sense is that society actually has changed too much in material and mental ways to get back to a social consciousness whereby neoliberalism could return as an ideology or social movement. At all class levels, where we are now seems to considered the natural state of society. Greed is good and those that can would be remiss if they didn’t steal everything. They legally owe it their shareholders to do exactly that. It still really shocks and angers me sometimes when I read Taiibi, though.

  58. Yosemite_Steve

    WRT to violence, if it’s a purely moral question, the following analogy might be appropriate: We are Kurosawa’s rice farmers in 7 Samurai. The brigands come every year and take our harvest. They leave us enough to not starve, but just barely. Many of the older folks and the sick don’t make it through the winter any more.

    We know that next time they come, we can put tasteless rat poison in all the sake and with very little risk, we can kill all the brigands or disable all to the point where we can slit their throats. Why shouldn’t we do that?

    There are a lot of banksters who are moral scum and pretty much defacto murders as well as thieves. If it would magically change things and get rid of their depredation as easily as the above, wouldn’t a good bunch of them deserve to die? Should we feel squeamish about it if the chance presented itself?

    At some point, radical action might be the only way to put the social justice system back in balance, once it gets this bad. And with the banksters in charge, that’s never going to happen. So I get that this can be a very interesting question for moral speculation, though the morality and practicality need to be separated for me or it’s too complicated even for speculation.

    Anyway, sorry, I guess my recent out-pourings here have been tiresome. I’ll try to shut up. I can’t tell whom the authors comments are addressed to here and maybe I’m dense as well as verbose. In any case you can always email me and be very clear about it if you want me to shut up. I won’t take it badly and better if I can be sure you are talking to me. Thanks.

  59. Sterling is correct. Such revolution as there may be will come from the right. We’ve been in a rightist revolutionary period for at least a decade, some would say since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The video Ian initially hailed is a piece of rightist agit-prop which seems to have a wider appeal — so long as you don’t look too closely, much as some libertarian appeals target the “left” and gain support therein so long as what’s actually being advocated isn’t noticed.

    The fear of revolutionary violence is often so one-sided as to be ludicrous. Power by its nature is violent. It is expressed through violence and the maintenance of fear of violence. The fear of Chaos is often as ludicrous. Chaos comes, revolution or not. There is no perpetual stable state. Revolt and revolution are parts of an evolutionary dynamic, not impositions on an otherwise acceptable state of being.

    Sterling’s insight about letting the right lead a revolution — and then what to do about it — may be beyond the dynamic possibilities currently available, but you never know.

  60. Kurt

    This is my utopian flight of fancy in response to Ian’s post. Lately, I have been wondering whether a different approach might be possible – a non-violent approach that would be effective at social transformation and that would not be stopped by voter complacency or by the tendency of resources to become concentrated under capitalism. I describe the idea in skeletal form below. It’s only a skeleton, so it probably is less interesting to poke additional holes in the idea, and more interesting to see whether it can serve as a scaffold for constructing something useful.

    Imagine (don’t all revolutions begin with that word?) that we could bring about several types of progressive social transformation by creating private institutions that behave in a socialist way, delivering the services and creating the social infrastructure that western governments of the last century have failed to maintain. Imagine that progressives might break away peacefully from the inertia and constraints that anti-socialists have attached to our public institutions, and that we might instead recreate some of the functions of government outside of government. And with regard to the portion of the electorate that is not yet convinced of the progressive vision, imagine co-opting them by offering new institutions that function as inclusive co-ops for services and income security.

    Essentially this means achieving a constructive type of secession by allowing people to buy into a network of institutions that serve some of the functions of government without seeking to displace the existing government.

    If your government offered you the following arrangement, would you think it a fair contract? In exchange for your entering into a life-long agreement to make payments into the system, you and your family would have access to quality education, child care, health care, property insurance, banking services, support in finding employment, a reasonable age of retirement, and a guaranteed pension. You would have access to state-of-the-art libraries and information networks. You would be able to travel, having access to a fleet of shared vehicles. You would shop in markets for products you know to be safe for consumers and for the people who produced them. In addition, if resources allow, the system would fund social, scientific, and medical research that would benefit its contributing members.

    That’s pretty much the social contract that most progressives believe should exist and should be mediated by government, but that is not being realized. Now ask, would that contract be any less attractive if it were offered by a non-governmental institution? If the contract were offered in exchange for a lifetime of payments on a sliding scale, and if all citizens were eligible to sign up voluntarily, would that contract be any less equitable than the original vision for progressive government services?

    Certainly there are some government functions that a private co-op should not try to address, including things related to public safety, public order, national security, and civil infrastructure (roads, dams, etc.). The co-op should focus on the things it can do well, and those things would mainly have to do with supporting people and connecting them in the right ways. If it works, the institution and its members would serve as a model of what a progressive society should look like. Over time its example might persuade citizens (members and non-members of the co-op) to seek ways to rebuild their actual government institutions in the pattern of the private model.

    If we imagine creating something like that, we should also recognize that every governmental and private organization is subject to becoming ossified and falling into the self-perpetuating, self-protective behaviors that organizational scientists have documented over the last 60 years. No government or private organization can preserve its utopia forever without some process of reinvention and replacement. However, the best inoculation against corruption comes from the way the self-governing aspects of the institution are set up at the beginning – the founding documents and principles. I think we currently have greater knowledge about how to shape and channel organizational behavior than we had in previous centuries, so I believe it is possible to set up institutions that are less subject to hijacking and corruption than we have seen in the past.

    (I acknowledge that I have considerably less understanding of macroeconomics than do Ian and many of the commenters here. If they believe there are structural aspects of the economy that make the idea flat-out impossible, I probably would defer to their opinion. For example, I do not know whether a cooperative, semi-socialist system of prosperity-sharing can exist within and alongside a capitalist system that encourages individual players to accumulate ever-greater control of resources. However, saying that an idea is so ill-conceived that it cannot hang together is different from merely poking holes in it.)

  61. JustPlainDave

    Kurt, the institutions you’re describing sound a lot like charities and nonprofits. They currently account for just over 5% of American GDP and around 8% of paid employment – less than in a number of other western economies, but a good deal more than the global average.

  62. Kurt, on the contrary, public safety and public order are precisely the most important functions an alternative government seeking to construct dual power would need to provide. The 99% increasingly doesn’t enjoy them under the corporate-ruled system.

  63. Like Mayor Daley said, “the policeman is there to spread disorder”. That’s even more true today than it was back then.

  64. Michael

    The 1% is superbly prepared for “Collapse”, they have used a series of mini collapses to crush the 99% and install layer upon layer of protection for their interests. 2008 hurt who? 2008 empowered who?

    The Left hasn’t felt nearly enough pain to move it to violence, the Left just isn’t ready to take the terrible chance of revolt. My feeling is that the Left is composed disproportionately of the middle and upper classes, they see the evil but they still have something to lose and are wary of risking it all on the crap shoot of revolt.

    The Right has felt insufferable (FROM THEIR VIEW) injury and is indeed primed to bring down the system so that the great evil of SOCIALISM can be purged. They await the arrival of the Demagogue that will lead the rampage. Risk means nothing to them.

    The Wild card in this is the unpredictable Anarchist. They are small in number and have no real answers, but they have skills sufficient to create chaos. They probably would target the 1% but would not be concerned with collateral damage across the board.

    I’m 66 in no case do I see this country returning to levels of decency I saw in my youth.

  65. Michael

    The 1% is superbly prepared for “Collapse”, they have used a series of mini collapses to crush the 99% and install layer upon layer of protection for their interests. 2008 hurt who? 2008 empowered who?

    The Left hasn’t felt nearly enough pain to move it to violence, the Left just isn’t ready to take the terrible chance of revolt. My feeling is that the Left is composed disproportionately of the middle and upper classes, they see the evil but they still have something to lose and are wary of risking it all on the crap shoot of revolt.

    The Right has felt insufferable (FROM THEIR VIEW) injury and is indeed primed to bring down the system so that the great evil of SOCIALISM can be purged. They await the arrival of the Demagogue that will lead the rampage. Risk means nothing to them.

    The Wild card in this is the unpredictable Anarchist. They are small in number and have no real answers, but they have skills sufficient to create chaos. They probably would target the 1% but would not be concerned with collateral damage across the board.

    I’m 66 in no case do I see this country returning to levels of decency I saw in my youth in my lifetime.

  66. A few months back I wrote, in the context of US politics: “People have decided that ‘society’ is not working for them, and they are trying to leave. But that trick never works. There is no place to go, and there are people are all too ready to promise to take you there, but instead lead you into madness.” Q.E.D.

    What the popular left doesn’t grasp about Gandhi is just how stern the man was. He wasn’t willing to kill for his cause, but he was willing to die for it. We lack that sternness and, really, would hate it if it emerged again.

    The future we are now on-track for, with at least 4°C warming, would be like the biblical wrath of god. Storms! Floods! Plagues! No-one would to do well in that world; humans will be lucky if anything of civilization survives.

    I think…I think violence or non-violence is almost beside the point. We face revolution in some form but do not yet know that form. As you say, our political, economic, and spiritual leaders are out of touch with reality. So we wait the revolution. Perhaps we will see Gandhian sternness again, perhaps something even more radical.

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