“Is it a Revolt? No Sire, It’s a Revolution”
A press clipping freshly received from your French correspondent NKN shows the dramatic picture of a former Greek right wing minister in shock after a rocky encounter with the crowd during a protest (see below). Angry constituents went after him while shouting “thief! thief!”. (He ended-up being evacuated by his bodyguards, and is ok)
Whilst Greek riots are not making international headlines anymore, popular anger is not going away. Moreover, popular exasperation against the established order of things seems to be spreading across all sorts of channels and means of expression. Seemingly unrelated events such as the Greek riots, the protests against pension reform in France or the rebellion of anonymous hackers trying to bring institutional sites down in the wikileaks saga, all contribute to reinforce the palpable climate of rebellion against ‘a system’.
Are we just witnessing a revolt or a true revolution?
Le serment du jeu de paume (The Tennis Court Oath): a pledge signed by the members from the Third Estate who declared themselves as ‘the National Assembly’ – The Oath signified the first time that French citizens formally stood in opposition to Louis XVI
Outbreaks of unrest are not new: 1776, 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968… you know the music.
However in a recent past, global neoliberal victories were supposed to have made social class struggle irrelevant. When an economic crisis struck, the IMF & Associates would intervene with “structural adjustment programs” achieving the double outcome of ‘fixing’ the crisis at hand, but also implementing long term neoliberal pro-market reforms.
This is the core of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: distress and the urgency of crises are used by pro neoliberal reformists to push their programs. The theory is that people being so stunned would accept the financial sacrifices required to put their country back on track.
Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Asia, are all dominos that transitioned from the old world to the global economy in that manner.
When Greece’s sovereign debt crisis was at its peak, we posted on the Greek double whammy: Lehman-ization + Shock Doctrine observing that a similar dynamics what at play.
The trouble is that countries have become increasingly weary of those imposed reforms.
In Argentina for example, President Néstor Kirchner did not agree with the IMF structural adjustment programs. His criticisms were supported in part by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who opposes the IMF’s measures as recessionary. In 2005, following Brazil’s initiative, Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina’s debt to the IMF. In other words, he kicked them out.
In the last year, this resistance has been starting to turn into open rebellion.
The cliché of The Perfect Storm really comes to mind if you add up the headlines gleaned from around the world. @Dr_Tad wrote about this in a recent post on the ‘left flank’:
“There is a confluence of moments:
- Mass movements against austerity rapidly emerging in Europe
- The collapse of the American Empire’s legitimacy through quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq”
- We now also have unrest online with the WikiLeaks saga and the attempts of anonymous hackers to bring corporate and institutional websites down.
“Despite a prolonged period of defeats and quiescence for the subaltern classes, there is a palpable sense of systemic crisis, the very crisis that neoliberal victories were supposed to reverse.”
“While developments are uneven globally, it is hard to miss the fact that each of these symptoms is being expressed in a more acute fashion than we could have imagined even 12 months ago, when commentators were making much of how the GFC had produced merely a more pliant population, rather than any significant social disturbance.”
For @Dr_Tad “The point is not to suggest we are one the verge of social revolution — we are most definitely not. Rather, it is to make clear the significance of the destabilisation we are living through”.
On the other hand other commentators argue that we are actually witnessing significant shifts that will have a lasting legacy; one of the most extreme cases of enthusiasm being the “Everything is different now” published on The Drum.
Indeed the next few months will tell us whether the unrest currently happening URL and IRL is just a blip on the radar – and things will get back to ‘normal’ -, or whether it is the sign that more systemic changes are happening.
In the meantime, we are really re-enacting the exchange that Louis XVI, King of France, and the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt had in July 1789 as the unrest was growing across Paris: “Mais, c’est une révolte ?” (it’s a revolt?) said the King, to which de la Rochefoucauld responded: “Non Sire, c’est une révolution !” (no, Sire, it’s a revolution!).