Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Field Guide To Revolution - IV

Violent Revolution: Uprising, Civil War and Wars of Independence

Violent revolution involves the use of force directly against civilians who are not functionaries of government, and the deployment of force against force in conflict not associated with demonstration. The battle is the demonstration. The dividing line is seldom unclear for long, when the signs are swept away, and there is melee, popular revolution has disintegrated into civil war, or an attempted coup has collapsed in its attempt to deliver a short sharp blow, and has become a war.

There are, however, two distinct families of violent revolution: uprising, and war. An uprising uses violence to grease the wheels of change, and in this resembles a series of micro-coups. In this form of revolution, low level functionaries and front line enforces of the regime are targeted: police officers, judges, tax collectors, customs officials, and all of the other people who stand in the way of the rebels view of what should be their free activity or rightful property.

Within the kinds of wars of revolution, there are three further types: one is the war of independence, when one body of forces are arrayed against another body which is directed from outside of the political unit, the second is the conflict for control of the same government, and the third is a war of liberation, which has elements both of a war of independence, in that the opposition becomes constructed as an occupier and as foreign, and of a civil war, in that it is fought by brother against brother, carrying with it the exacting horror of internecine, as well as intestine, conflict.

There are many demonstrations, but few popular revolutions, there are many coups, but few lead to revolution. But, almost unavoidably civil war brings with it a new order. Unlike the word revolution, which is of Renaissance provenance, the term civil war is from antiquity. While the distinction between a civil war, and all of the other internal conflicts grows murky in many circumstances, it's intrinsic quality, that there are two sources of sovevereignty, allows it to be distinguished from wars of succession.

Violent revolution then is complex, because once invoked, violent forces shape more than they are shaped. This comes from the nature of violence, and especially of extended violence. The new order must come to terms with the reality of logistics even before it has the mandate and power to formally levy taxes, create courts, pass general laws, and in other senses act as a state. It becomes a state in flight, rather than coming to both the burdens and powers of a state only after it has disposed of the old state.


An uprising is a revolution that proceeds by the violent replacement of the front line functionaries of the old order with new ones. The classic example is the 1774-76 period in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where tar and feathering, murder, beatings, and threats, were used to chase out the magistrates of the royal government, and install instead local officials. The uprising resembles, and sometimes begins as, a popular revolution, it also is in constant threat of sliding into more generalized violence, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, and civil war. However, its original aims are generally more limited: to supplant the hierarchy, often without supplanting the actual order, it is a struggle of people.

Where is the dividing line? Again, the question is whether the forces pursuing change are able to invert the flow of power by uprising alone. If they are not, then the revolution was an uprising, even if it must pursue civil war to maintain power. The relatively few revolutions which require more than a coup, but less than a civil war, shows how small the odds of disposing of abusive officials violently, without also having to dipose of those who appoint them, and the means of their appointment. No state can long stand if it allows a consistent pattern of removing its apparatchiks, even if, from time to time, it allows signature individuals to be removed without harsh repercussions.

The other reality of uprising is that it exposes weakening in the ruling order, and hence opportunity for either a coup, or a popular revolution. One thing, as they say, leads to another. Uprising, then, because it is to a great extent a temporary solution, is anarchic. It is difficult to have a society other than a criminal one, where the normal means of succession to a post is by violence, hence, violent uprising is self-limiting, until it proposes an orer to supplant the old one, it's future is limited. Uprisings are frequent features in dictatorial or despotic systems, where there is no other means of removing officers, nobles, or officials, and a frequent pattern before a war of independence has taken on coherent political form.

However, uprisings frequently lead to a de facto state of independence, with areas where the government's writ ceases to function. This is associated with long running guerilla movements, and with failed states, and is a feature of ongoing civil war. Localized uprisings against existing arrangements are seen in American history in the early 19th century, two of the most prominent examples are the Anti-Rent Wars, in upstate New York against old grants of rents, and Bleeding Kansas, including the activities of John Brown.

Uprisings then, are like micro-revolutions, or localized revolutions, where there is an adherence to the protection afforded by the national unit, or the belief that the national unit provides no such protection worthy of mention, but without a larger sense of state formation. This makes it more frequent in places and times where the state is dysfunctional.

One type of uprising in the last half of the 20th century, is exemplified by the Maoist uprising, where the removal of state control over a locality by making it too expensive or difficult to maintain control. This includes the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, the Nepal Civil War, and non-maoist examples of drug based insurrections. The uprising then, often rests on their being a subsistence or single commodity export economy – blood diamonds, drugs, high value minerals such as gold, which would in due course, be taxed or coöpted by the state, or by those with favors from it.

Hence, peasant uprisings, slave rebellions, and other forms of rebellion are common, but their acting as the blow that creates a revolution, is far rarer. Indeed, the record of the last generation has been the reverse: that violent separatist movements must either turn to seeking a more explicit political or military mandate, or be defeated, as the Irish Republican Army, the ETA guerillas from the Basque region, and the end of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka demonstrate.

The war of independence is distinguished by the expression of, or creation of, a national division between those taking up arms and those directing the state order. Often, very often, there are nationals on both sides. What is, in English, called the Sepoy Rebellion, or the Indian Rebellion, was a series of uprisings and wars of independence. Many Anglo-English speakers have come to refer to this 1857-58 conflict as the “First War of Indian Independence.” While neither term is wholly accurate, the term War of Independence is far more accurate, than the diminutive idea of rebellion. In fact, as is often the case, there were two revolutions in collision: the old order had fallen, and even though the armed rebellion did not cast off the yoke of British colonialism, that yoke was only maintained by federalizing the political structure and creating the Raj, converting it into an imperial administration.

Wars of independence have come in waves, including recently the collapse of 19th century imperialism in Asia and Africa. The post-colonial collapse of European empires in the wake of World War II provides a vast array of examples of the variety of violent revolution. Notably, how long the violence can go on. In the Sudan, the co-dominion agreement between Egyp and the United Kingdom was to grant independence to the entire administrative unit of the Sudan, which contained a primarily Islamic northern area, and a Christian and Animist south, tensions over the decision began even before independence on 1 January 1956, and a guerrilla movement took root in the early 1950's in the south and it boiled over into rebellion in the defense forces in 1955. Even with the suppression of overt mutiny this denied the regime in Khartoum control over the south. This continued for years with the “Anyanya” army gradually coalescing out of resistance of former army officers, and new recruits from civilians in Southern Sudan: uprising, had become civil war, as the guerrilla army took the field and began overtly contesting control of the South. This phase continued until what amounted to an armistice in 1972. When fighting began again in the 1980's it metastasized through the entire country, a war of separation, had become a civil war. The entire conflict ended only with a peace agreement in 2005, and a vote on independence for the south in 2011. However, it is unclear whether even this will be enough.

Thus in one country a war of independence spawned an uprising, then a war of separation, then a civil war, and the process continued over the course of over 65 years.

Such long periods of conflict are not abnormal historically. One of the first modern examples of a war of independence is the Eighty Years War between the Dutch and their Spanish Hapsburg overlords, which began in 1568 and was only concluded as part of the larger European peace in 1648.

The view of the war of separation, independence, or revolution of same as a long process, stands in contrast to the image of such wars as short, decisive and heroic. The older view was cast, to no small extent, by the American Revolution, and by the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the New World, as well as by a particular reading of how Europe was reconstructed along nationalist lines in the late 19th century, and in spasms at the end of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.

This heroic narrative de-emphasizes the long periods of armed instability, and emphasizes the rapidity that once a rebellion reaches political and military organization often achieves its ends, while the contemporary view emphasizes the long disruption of ordinary life that is involved.

This leads to an important division between theorist of revolution from the early modern period, and contemporary social organization.

The modern state arose out of the need to create centralized capital, and its ability to wage war was from the ability to rapidly raise and mobilize manpower. This stood in sharp contrast to the highly craft and practiced armies of the late feudal period: the base of their power came from shock cavalry and massed bowyers, both of which took years to produce. The new army that rose out of what is now called a “military revolution” was based on rapid to train, equip and raise forces, first of “pike and shot” which took large squares of men and waddled them across a battlefield, and cavalry that shot and sword, rather than lance, armed. This in turn was dramatically altered by the introduction of faster firing arms, culminating with the flintlock.

This mobilization army then led to a mobilization theory, not just of armies, but of politics. The democratic election is a demonstration of mobilization: to raise an army of voters on a given day, directed to a single purpose. Mobilization theory then can be said to rest in the idea that a mandate is not merely counting of supporters, but the ability to activate them to an end. Hence mobilization equipped theorists, such as Crane Brinton, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Jefferson, and even Edmund Burke, radically disagreed on virtually everything, but agreed on the central point that small armed groups of violence were unable to produce change.

In distinction to this were the theorists of the Vanguardism as revolution. These were almost never democratically inclined, but instead argued that only a minority could produce the necessary change in to propel a state or nation into the future. The premire example of this is Che Guevara. Marx and Lenin had both stated the need for a vanguard party, as had Adolph Hilter. However, the difference between a mobilizationist view, and the vanguard view, is seen in the contrast between Lenin, and Hitler. For Hilter, and for others, the mass will never be conscious or capable of leadership, whether for intellectual, religious, or racial reasons. This idea is not without precedent in antiquity, Plato's Republic is ruled by philosophers who are by their nature different from those that they rule for and over.

The mobilization view in the post-war era has given way to the consumer theory. In the consumer theory it is not the creation of capital that supports a military, in a model made explicit by mercantilism and then as capitalist ideas of Smith, but that the support of capital by demand represents the state itself.

In the mobilization view, previous struggles represent a backdrop, origin, or source to the final flexing of mobilization, in the consumerist view, these disruptions of the ordinary course of life are a continuous deprivation, and represent the failure of both the established order and its counter-orders to create the conditions of stability. This shift in view, from heroic mobilization in the face of crisis, to the belief that stability represents the normative moment, also attends a shift in what is seen as the model of revolution. For the mobilizationist view, armed revolution is revolution. Of the four examples in Brinton's The Anatomy of a Revolution all are armed struggles of the most violent kind: the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution.

The consumerist view in fact has more in common with the “whig” narrative of revolution espoused by Burke: that revolution was an upwelling of propertied and generally privileged people against abuses of the central state, not in the creation of a new kind of order, as he famously declared in the Reflections on the Revolution in France, the wild air is a short phase which should settle out. The consumerist view then makes the popular revolution its central model: it is the expression of the consumers of government against the producers of government, not a mobilization of a popular will.

Thus the mobilizationist took demonstrations, protests, and other expressions of popular discontent as either a warning for reform, or as a prelude to violence, and presented political revolution as the prescription to avoid the disease. The consumerist sees popular revolution as a more democratic moment than an election. The conflict between these two views is on display even today.

As examples have shown failed surgical violence often is the spark for popular action: either because it is the last visible act of the older order failing to resolve itself, or because it is the last act of the old order attempting to prevent a process of revolution. Beyond such narrowly focused ranges lies the long slog of civil war, which often only resolves after decades.

How to distinguish between the long phases of uprising, and the almost always shorter periods of civil war? The answers lies in the difference between guerrilla activity, where opponents of the regime do not take the field, do not tend to wear uniforms, do not answer to a central command or authority on coordination of activities, and do not hold territory. A good example is how the American Revolution's character with the election of George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, followed shortly by the Battle of Bunker Hill, about which it is de rigeur to note that the main part of the battle occurred on Breed's Hill. On 17 April 1775, what had been an uprising, was shown to be a war of independence.

In recent years, as one would expect, civil war as the edge of revolution has been less successful than popular revolutions, the signature examples of such revolution are in Yugoslavia, the Congo and the Lakes Region in Africa, Chechenya, and Eritrea and the Sudan. These examples are often filled with crimes against humanity: massacre of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands - mass atrocities including organized rape of targeted populations. The long disruption leads to warlordism, and progressive failure to develop. In this, the power of a world in the lock of a centralized resource flow, particularly oil, and a centralized capital and capital knowledge flow, the possibilities for local development without access to external capital are far smaller than they were in the early 19th century, when charcoal, iron, and other fundamental resources were in sufficient supply in a far wider range of places, thus allowing for the sinews of the basic industrialized mass mobilization war.

Or to put it another way, there are few places in the world, where one cannot build a musket or breach loading rifle, but few places in the world where one can build an advanced micro-electronic device, to power a modern aircraft or tank, with oil. Hence the long death struggle nature of civil wars in the Post World War II period: the ability to import weapons sufficient to cause disruption is easy: the world is awash in automatic weapons, but it is far harder to lay hands on air power.

The recent civil war in Libya provides an instructive example: infantry to infantry, the rebels were able to master, and defeat, the forces of the regime consistently, however, without outside air support, the regime was able to contain, and then push back the rebels. Tanks and helicopters are the great regime levers that crush dissent, but they have much lesser utility in controlling minds, and hence are able to burn revolt back to the uprising stage, but not below it, while the rebels, armed with modern means of production and dissemination of information, including internal combustion engines, phones, and faxes, have a difficult time overwhelming military weaponry with paramilitary means, even though they are able to produce the presence of a new state in the minds of their adherents.

This is a point that will rise again when reaching the effect of digital inter networking in the second division of this field guide.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Field Guide To Revolution - III

Direct Revolution

This is the classic coup d'etat: a direct attack on those who are said to be in power, and their immediate functionaries. In almost all revolutions, this particular act is threatened, or required for the consolidation of power, but it is less often the moment of transition of power itself. Louis XVI was long out of power before he mounted the scaffold in France, as was Augusto Pinochet long out of power before he was in the hands of the law. The Shah fled before his apparatus was struck at, in January of 1979. And so on.

Conversely there are many coups, there will be many more, but few are revolutionary, and, in fact, the reverse: in most coups the action is by those who have some fraction of access to power, in order to avert popular or economic forces. It is the ultimate vote of no confidence by a party against a leader, in order to avoid one on the streets.

Thus direct and popular revolution are more often side by side than might be supposed. For example, Iran's Islamic Republic took power by removing the Shah's functionaries by force, after popular revolution had forced the government into paralysis.

In the Philippines in February of 1986 Juan Ponce Enrile rallied army troops to attempt to remove President Ferdinand Marcos in a violent coup, they were driven back, however, this began the cascade of defections that would lead to the successful popular revolution, the "People Power Revolution." The course then of the Philippines was an attempt at revolution at the ballot box, then a constitutional counter-coup, namely election fraud to prevent Marcos from losing, which sparked an unsuccessful direct coup, and this exploded in to the popular coup that did, in fact, topple the regime. It was thus a popular revolution, because this is the moment when power was transformed, but it was not the unmixed non-violent revolution which is often presented: instead the leadership of Marcos' inner circle had lost faith in his ability to rule, and saw the depth of discontent. In a state that had assassinated Benny Aquino, the father of the Corazin

However, far more often, a coup is similar to the actions of the August Putsch, that ran from 19-21 August of 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev. In December of 1990, several key KGB leaders under Vladimir Kryuchkov, began demanding that the policies of Gorbachev be rolled back, and the powers of the police state be unleashed against dissident elements. In a story line very similar in its beginnings to the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev, the decision was made to remove the leader if he would not cooperate with a crack down, at a meeting on the 17th of August.

On 18 August Gorabechv was confronted with the demand that he crackdown and withdraw a proposed treaty, and he maintains that he refused the ultimatum, and this is the account that makes the most sense in the wake of what happened next: the conspirators launched a direct coup attempt on 19 August. The tanks were readied on 20 August, but in the end, they could not be ordered to roll over fellow Russians. The break up of the Soviet Union began only days later, as Gorbachev resigned as leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and began planning the transition. Soviet states began declaring independence. It was among the most dramatic three days in world history, and broadcast on television.

This relationship between direct and popular revolution: with one often leading, or attempting to forestall, the other, is repeated many times, and for the same reason. There is a constellation of revolution, a moment when the individual who hold power, as well as the means by which they hold power, are seen as incompatible with remaining in power: there is no acceptable step which both holds and uses the powers available. Others see this weakness, and act, both from within and without. The direct coup, like the constitutional coup attempt, such as the Argentine Congress' attempt to pick a new President in December of 2001, is often to counter what is seen as oncoming popular revolution. The work of popular revolution is done by breaking the morale of the leadership, and hence, the direct coup attempt as counter-revolution is one response to a demoralization: remove the perceived weak link.

On the other hand, as the examples show, direct coup attempts are often the front wave of popular revolution, or the means by which popular revolution is directed away from its original attempt. As with Iran, popular revolution is in favor of those ready to take power, and thus to be successful to its aims, must continue until those who step forward are acceptable.

There is an analogy: as political revolution is to constitutional revolution, so popular revolution is to direct revolution. Direct revolution and constitutional revolution are far more often normal politics, but by abnormal means.

What of direct revolutions? Have their been clear cut cases recently?

One clear cut case is in 1979, when in the Central African Republic, French paratroopers were used to oust the President, General Jean-Bédel Bokassa, in favor of the man he had deposed: David Dacko. However, Dacko had previously been the head of a one party state, with himself as the only candidate for President, in the new Central African order, there were multi-party elections, the first of which was won by Dacko himself. Then Dacko was overthrown a second time, but his successor continued to have to face multi-party elections, and was defeated when running for his third term. While a messy process, it is clearly revolution, and the key moment was clearly the intervention of France in order to first assert their man in power, but also to assert that there would be a new order. The phrase "revolution from above" is often used to describe revolutions which do not fit some preconceived notion of what revolution should be, but this offers a clear example of it, since it was an external power that backed by force the preference for a new order in the Central African Republic, but a new order it was, and essentially remains: with a French veto over the results of elections, and coups being used to remove Presidents who have lost their ability to govern.

Direct revolutions then, like popular revolutions are a varied lot: they range from bloodless palace coups, where the leader is told that he no longer leads, to bloody and messy pogroms where the new regime comes in with the heads of the old spiked on bayonets. Direct revolution is the threat that popular revolution holds within it: no popular revolution prevails without the assertion that the leadership has broken the law, and that if in power, it will lay the hands of the law on that leadership. Direct revolution, however, is far less common than direct counter-revolution, that is, the attempt to shuffle power, in the belief by the elites that popular discontent is a failure of will. In this it shares that feature with constitutional counter-revolution: the use of state apparatus to thwart a change in power, whether political or popular, and daring those who have won an election, or won the streets, to actually enforce that power.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Field Guide to Revolution - II

Popular Revolution

It is 19 Diciembro 2001 and the banging of pots came down in shatters like rain, at any hour of the day or not, their downburst might come, in square, or remote bario. Cacerolada was the lady that called out, screeching a hymn of protest. Buenes Aires December of 2001 was a nation a fire in the southern summer. While America was marching towards its war of choice in Iraq, Argentina was killing the neo-liberal order from the other end, it had given up all choice by instituting a dollar board and other economic policies designed to force export discipline and fiscal sobriety. Inflation, as in hyper-inflation was a fat bloated fear in the dreams of everyone, including the government.

People milled about in the broad avenues, surrounding cars and knifing the tires of those carrying people in suits. Soon, cabs would only take wealthy fares on long round abouts or at odd hours, or charged.

How did this storm start in December of 2001, and loom into January? The immediate cause came on November 29th, there was a day of decision, as all over the country, tens of thousands staged a massive run on the banks. Millions of Pesos, still theoretically pegged to the dollar were demanded, and dollar accounts that were left were emptied. The banks The bank accounts were frozen under the corral rules. No one but the rich could withdraw money, no one but the connected could spirit it out of the country. Because of the peg, the central bank could not simply print enough money to tide everything over.

For months the unemployed had been wandering the streets shouting for jobs and welfare. They were the picketeers, not just in the capital, but in major cities everywhere. In Rosario, the high December summer was broken with looting. They were in the streets now every day, brawling with police, being arrested, and being let back out again, because the jails could not afford even to feed them.

This was Argentina's popular revolution. There were deaths, and there were fights, but there was not the movement of organized military violence, nor was the violence sufficient to do more than announce the resolve of the public.

The hallmark of a popular revolution is the creation of mass action that halts the normal course of business, and presents a real or implied threat against the persons of the leadership, causing them to flee. The popular coup's strike at the center of power, is that power relies on the multiplication of action, and the popular demonstration accomplishes two attacks on power: first, it is intended to be a blow to the morale and time of the leadership: the must deal with nothing else. Second, it cuts the lines by which decisions made by one group are multiplied. Popular revolution then, rests on the disruption of the channels through which power is transmitted, and a disruption of the centers from which power is born.

The birth of popular revolution, as revolution, is quite old, and so, the myth of popular revolution is rooted in deep history. Even Hugo Chavez cites the creation of Magna Carta.

Popular revolution is also mythic, and enhanced, by it's connection with that element called "the people," that polyvalenced noun which is the root of identity.

In truth people are trained to popular revolution: mass gatherings, mass action, economic and physical, is part of the daily life of most societies. People are called to worship, line up for the openings of movies or release of new products, gather for concerts and parades. The muscles remember the requirement of gathering in large groups and submerging one's individuality into a mass. Popular revolution then, relies on the necessity of the mass to any society, and directs it against those who sit at the center of transmission, and seek to displace the message that the center is obeyed by the million limbs of the social squid.

Popular revolutions are elevated because they are also, in a very deep sense, the most conservative: they disrupt temporarily, but do not destroy permanently, the infrastructure of society. They may burn down a few buildings, trample some grass, or leave undelivered a wave of food, but the do not tear apart the relationships of people, nor the objects which they own.

Every demonstration dreams dreams, of being a popular revolution, as much as any team takes the field dreaming of being champions of their league: it is the exhilaration of participation and triumph, of being alpha for a day, that courses through the veins of those who, in jubiliation, take to the streets, in anger take to the streets. The primal blood is raised, and those who participate feel it. This is the opposite of the blow to elite moral at which popular revolution aims: to feel good, about being small.

In our own time popular revolution is also infused with the ideology of bottom up-ism, that leadership is no more self-empowered than is a plumber. This idea, of the bottom up dictation to power, is not so new, Burke excoriates it in his famous remark:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Edmund Burke Speech to the Electors of Bristol 3 November 1774

But this very tendency, to desire to elevate a flattering clown to office, is not so easily destroyed. Indeed, the advent of consumerism, where corporations propose products, while consumers dispose, creates an artificial presumption by those who consume, that they are smarter than those who produce. This ideology is writ in every time an individual dismissively critiques some product, as if the people who made it were stupid. The disproof of the ideology of the "smart mammals" against the large dinosaurs is also vividly on display: if the people at the top are so stupid, why have they gotten virtually all the income gains over the last generation? The whole frame of smart mammals is scientifically inaccurate: mammals spent more millions of years underfoot of the dinosaurs, than they have ruling the world. If you are a mammal under dinosaurs, then your strategy is really to wait for a huge asteroid to hit the world, and then survive it.

The same is true with popular revolution. It is an adage that power is more often lost, than won. Popular revolution strikes an elite which has lost power internally, it has lost its morale, and its ability to translate its vision of society into a working reality. The popular revolution rests on the failure of elites, because successful governments do not tend to generate the number of enemies that causes popular revolution. This failure is either general, or it is specific. The French Revolution contained a period of popular coup. The government of France was not unsuccessful on its own measure, but it concentrated discontent in Paris. The old monarchy had many friends, but unfortunately for it, its enemies were all, in a very real sense, a stones throw away, as the laboring class of Paris. It's friends were scattered, and its enemies were all close. Monarchists would win elections even into the Third Republic, almost a century later, but they were never to win the barricades, only coöpt them.

Thus while publics dream of a "velvet revolution," what they are really talking about is elections by other means, elections that cut through the mechanisms of democracy, through the compromises that elites make with other elites, through the cloud of the electorate and the elect, to the people and the public. They dream of a "people powered" revolution, because it serves the dual interests of a class that identifies itself as working for others, to accumulate goods. It elevates labor, and the products of capital that labor desires to own.

Popular revolution is at its most powerful, when striking against an occupation, or government whose interests lies in the interests abroad, a government that serves other masters than its own population.

The break up of the Soviet Union offered a clear and almost clinical demonstration of the removal of a repressive force, and how popular revolution follows almost logically from it. The states of the Soviet Empire's "near abroad" had long since lost any illusions as to the nature of the Soviet system, and as to the nature of their place in it. While in some countries, particularly Albania, Romania and Yugoslavia, an independent dictatorship had taken root which had either broken from Moscow, or was capable of sustaining itself in power without Moscow, the key states of Poland, the People's Democratic Republic of Germany, Czechoslovakia, as well as the Baltic Republics occupied by Russia, had little internal constituency for Soviet rule.

The lesson of all of these revolutions is that a popular revolution, since it does not have an internal ecology of power, is always a revolution in favor of those ready to take power. Lech Walesa was not a man out of nowhere. He organized boycotts in 1968, strikes in 1970, in 1980, long since out of work from official factories, he scaled the fence of the Gdansk shipyards, and organized the strike. In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Far from being a man out of nowhere, a simple person that the mob elevated, he was a long time campaigner, a long time organizer, a long time politician. He spent years under secret police surveillance, and was constantly pushed out of work. The reality is a far more compelling figure, than the image of a nobody who became somebody in an instant. Thus, when the elections came, his "People's Committee" won all of the lower house seats, and all but one of the upper house seats, one of the most astonishing sweeps in electoral history anywhere.

This then is the iron law of popular revolution: It must continue until those who step forward are acceptable. It took several rounds in Argentina, it took only one in the Czech Republic.

American anti-pathy towards the regime in Tehran is mutual. The Iranian Revolution however, was an example of popular coup on the road to violent revolution, and it continued until the Shah had, in fact fled. The final Islamic regime, however, relied on organized military force to secure its hold on power – popular revolution had given way to a coup d'etat in favor of the most organized political force. Whether it would have won by continued demonstration, is not known, and largely academic, because the removal of the old regime was accomplished by popular action.

This demonstrates the difference between the myth and reality of popular revolution. The myth is that it is "non-violent." If one means strictly that there is no organized military violence, then perhaps this is the case, however, in general only the most decrepit regime will yield to absolutely non-violent demonstrations. Instead, most regimes fight back, and fight back strongly. If they can crackdown, and remove the locus of infection they will. Even if thousands die. The amount of violence in popular revolutions is then airbrushed out, or popular revolutions that are halted are airbrushed out of the mythology: Tiananamen, is not spelt or spoken by the priests of pure non-violence, and yet it was less violent than Tahrir Square was. Far less.

It is not that such popular revolutions do not occur: however, they are almost always predicated on violent struggles to establish leadership and existence. Poland? Consider how many people died in strikes leading up to 1988, 30 in 1970 alone. Czech Republic? Consider the 72 dead in the Prague Spring. The non-violent flank of successful popular revolutions prevails not by policing away violent opposition, but by interposing itself as the least unreasonable alternative.

Consider the overthrow of the Aparthied Regime in the Union of South Africa. Nelson Mandela was hardly non-violent, in fact, the ANC had ready its own police and military apparatus, repeatedly clashed with other groups in the movement, and removed by assassination opposition. In 1990 the New York Times ran an op-ed that asked "Why won't Nelson Mandela renounce violence?"

The answer was, of course, because Mandela was interested first and foremost in securing liberation for his people, for his nation, and in his time. He was not willing to condemn millions of people to suffer for years longer under a repressive and imperial regime, whose tendrils reached out into what is now Namibia and Zimbabwe, and beyond into the Congo, rather than scoring some academic point on how revolution ought to be conducted. He was the least violent alternative who could take power.

And this is part of the nature of successful popular revolution: behind it stands the abyss of violent revolution, of street battles, or military battles, of riots and looting, of burning, lynching, and terror unleashed, of lawlessness in the true sense that there is no orderly conduct of daily life. Popular revolution brings the course of business to a halt, but it is a promised pause before returning to it. The street demonstration, the strike, is then, not merely a wave that crashes against power, but a damn that holds back the rootless and nameless anarchic result of a government that has not merely lost the consent of the governed, but of a social order that people no longer respect.

This distinction is in the mind. The popular revolution asserts that there is an order, but that the leadership have violated that moral order. The violent revolution asserts that there is no moral order, and that a new one must be established by the traumatic baptism of the entire population. Popular revolution prevails precisely because the very adherents of the regime's power, those that must carry out its apparatus, realize they live in a house made of dry wood, and that beyond the banners, lie those with gasoline and matches, and no qualms about using them.

This is why popular revolutions often fail: their members are often as afraid of change, as they are adherents of it. Popular revolutions, as in Iran in 1979, as in France in 1789, are often overtaken by the violent crest behind them, but without that crest, there is no reason for power to concede. The popular revolution is the most delicate of revolutions, because unlike political revolution, violence is present, and often in the same places, as popular discontent. The politician elected on a wave to right a country before violence overtakes it, as FDR promised to do, has months or years. The leaders of popular revolution often have weeks or days, before the forces of organized violence, upon whose presence they rely, overwhelm them in turn.

The same forces that work in favor of popular revolution to evict occupation, work against it as a tool for reforming the established order. Under occupation, a small number use force to hold a larger number. In an established society, however, there is a large constituency for the status quo. It may well have to use excessive or unlawful violence to uphold its power, but it has nowhere to flee to. The occupier merely needs to be convinced to return home, and the popular revolution has to convince the public that they will be in possession of the country afterwards, and hence, unleashing larger that minimal violence will rebound against them. In the case of the status quo within a country, those who would lose a popular revolution, have no place to go.

Hence, popular revolution has to be divided into two kinds of popular coup: that which is a statement to the occupiers that the public will not cooperate, which approaches with minimalization of violence, lest it break the glass that it would drink from, and that which convinces an internal elite to yield, which must bare its teeth. First the students demonstrate, and the leaders ignore, then the unemployed demonstrate, and the leaders sneer. Then the hardened workers come, with their spanners and their trucks, and march, gasoline in hand on the Presidential palace. Then the guards run, and the leaders fly to some safe haven, and revolution is accomplished.

The successful popular revolutionary is the vaccine that arrives days before the plague, the fire truck that arrives minutes before the fire reaches the next house. The failed popular revolution exists in that bubble where the leadership share the consciousness of the public, or in the words of Isiah Berlin, they are sheep rallying for vegetarianism.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Field Guide to Revolution - I

Why add more words to the torrent on revolution? Two reasons.

One is that the works on revolution that are now recognized are getting old, and they look at old revolutions, while we live an an era where revolution is both everywhere, and nowhere at all. There has been little to look at even the revolutions that came with the fall of the Soviet Empire in a larger context, because the people of that moment were busy declaring the “end of history.” Let alone the new wave of revolutions that are here because of the end of the era of cheap oil. If the last third of the 20th century was largely defined by the coming of a “Green Revolution” that applied oil to farm production around the world, and staved off famine and for many, hunger, bringing with it a “Great Complacency,” the ending of these features brings with it a new and different kind of revolutionary spirit, and new revolutions.

Two is that most works on revolution are polemical, that is synthetic, they are for or against revolution, or the are for or against this or that revolution, and thus, construct a definition of revolution which is designed to forgone conclusions. This only has use in repeating history: the next revolution will be different.

This is a brief field guide to the kinds of political revolution, it does not delve deeply into the use of the word to describe a way of being, as in “industrial revolution,” or “green revolution,” because these follow from a very specific, synthetic, reading of the word. They are revolutions we want to have, does anyone call the rise of slavery the “chattel revolution?” One could: the introduction of forced labor into the European economy in the 1750-1870 period, including more broadly serfdom in Russia, dramatically altered the possible means of capital exploitation, and was a key part of their expansion into the new world. But it is not written of that way, because as a way of being in a post-malthusian world, revolutions are supposed to be at least equivocally for the long term. We are supposed to embrace them, because progress requires that we be willing to abandon old notions, rapidly if need be.

However revolution can also be a analytic word. A definition of an event from what is visible at the time, which does not pre-suppose that it will work out for better or for worse. Synthetic definitions are hindsight: they sanctify what we profited from, but they are poor predictors of the future. The noble intentions at the beginning of an uprising, can become pogroms by the end, while successful political revolutions have come from very bastard desires, such as the ability to continue to smuggle tea. So the popular, synthetic, definition of revolution in our age, which elevates it and debases it at the same time – donuts, storage bags, footwear are all called “revolutionary” – is a poor field guide to the messy business of overthrowing a government, whether that government is good, bad, or otherwise, whether the result is good, bad, or as is often the case, both at once.

The analytic definition requires some base or foundation, one cannot have a notion of revolution without its constituent parts: the state, society, change, meaning. Most importantly, one has to be able to separate revolution from other kinds of changes of government, hence the words “coup” and “succession” are used here. Succession is when a new leader comes to power by the means that before that rise are considered ordinary, and makes not significant changes to the scope and meaning of government. Louis XIV of France, came to the throne, and regency, entirely normal, was in put in place. While this lead to a dramatic change in who held the hands of power, it did not change the state. When Louis XIV declared his majority and took to governing on his own, he did not need to change the nature of the French monarchist state. Violence can even be included in this definition, if violence is expected.

The other word, is coup. A coup is a rapid blow to the centers of power, that brings no fundamental change in the constitution or mandate of government as such. It is important to distinguish between succession, coup, and revolution, because the essential analytical quality of revolution is the fundamental change. A synthetic revolution is in the name: “the revolution itself” is the act that creates the change, it is the declaration of it, as much as the act, which makes it a revolution. The “Glorious Revolution” was different from Bosworth Field, in no small part, because the people there wanted not merely a new monarch, but a new relationship to the state, and were willing to say so, and wanted their descendants to say so.

Thus, at the center of every revolution, is at least one coup – one blow to the state as it existed, and often several in succession. But the coups themselves are not the revolution, merely the means by which power is taken and then channelled. So succession is seen as normal, coup is seen as abnormal, and revolution is change, whether by succession or coup, and often both. The practice of a revolution, is to look for moments where succession would occur, or where power would be held, and decide when and how to direct the blow of a coup at it. But to be a revolution, the turn must take: the wheels must spin. A constant series of coups, is a failed state, literally anarchy. The test of a revolution is whether, like the stage magician, it can pull the tablecloth off the table, without disturbing the dishes.

Thus to look at revolution analytically, as first: what was the coup? When did the forces of revolution start to dictate, against which other forces would have to positively act? And second, ask if there was actual change, what was possible before that is not now? What is possible now that was not before?

Consider for example the bumpy road to the throne of Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov, called Peter the Great in English. First he was not the highest in line for the the throne, and so on the death of Alexis in 1682, the Boyer Dumas, a parliament of nobles selected Peter, over his brother Ivan, who was known to be sick, blind, and mentally incapable of even the simplest of tasks, let alone being an autocratic ruler. Sophia, the sister, led a revolt of the palace guard, and installed Ivan as the senior Tsar, with herself as, very literally, the power behind the throne: she would sit behind the throne and tell the two young Tsars what to say. It would be 8 years before Peter would take power, again, in a violent uprising, but power first passed to his mother, though not title, and it was only in 1694 that Peter took control personally, a period of 12 years. There were both moments of succession, and coups, the two key coups being Sophia's revolt in 1682, proving that the Boyer Dumas could not make their decision stick, and then Peter's counter-coup, but these are bracketed by succession, and by the use of ordinary means to dispose of unwanted people: Sophia was sent to a convent.

This is almost exactly contemporary with the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, but it is not called one, because Peter brought no change in the relationship of government to the public or the state, and remember that the government and the state are not one and the same.

The first step to having an analytic definition is accomplished: a political revolution is a rapid change in government, whether accomplished by ordinary or unusual means, that rests on at least one blow to the old order, and which brings a new order after it. Or more precisely: a revolution is rapid change to the meaning of the state, brought about by overt means. This sense is not new, Machiavelli, though he did not use the word revolution, which was centuries in the future, talked quite a great deal about “reform” of a state. Before revolution gained its ascendancy, reform was a far more powerful word, or at least had far more far reaching possible meaning. Now dramatic reform would, synthetically, be called “revolution,” but then, revolution was not the word. However, he talks about establishing a new order, and through violence, and that is what we would now call revolution.

Analytically, revolutions come in a spectrum, one that runs from a constitutional revolution, through political and social revolutions, and ends in the violent revolutions that attend civil war, or invasion. Revolution comes from both within and without: at the very least a revolution must always be able to deter other forces and states from intervening, and often must either defeat or enlist them. Lenin's Russian Revolution, and the French Revolution both had to raise armies to defeat invaders almost as soon as they took shape. The American Revolution of course required French aid.

Thus, while this guide is largely going to be focused on new revolutions, it should not be thought of as discontinuous with what we already know about revolution, because the fundamental problem was stated by Machiavelli almost 500 years ago: that creation of a new order requires sound laws, and the prophet of that new order has the most difficult of enterprises before them, with strong enemies who have profited from the past, and only weak friends who might profit from the future.

In this field guide revolutions will be classified by the nature of the coup that brings them to the position of power, even though, as can be seen from the examples, revolution is never in a single step, but is often undergirded by many others. These precursors are essential, but only when the coup occurs is the new party in the position of proposing and daring other forces to dispose.

Constitutional Revolution

A constitutional coup is the revolution that dares not be named, precisely because either it is so banal as to be almost not worth mentioning, or because it is an unspeakable black hole in a constitutional system which everyone wishes to avoid talking about: it is a failure of design.

The banal kind is the succession of one government or leader to another, where there is some intervening action. In the days of monarchies, many monarchs had to be at least affirmed, if not elected by some other body, such as the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Often these moments were expected to be pro forma, but were used as a means to prevent unacceptable alternatives, such as the Boyer Dumas in Peter the Great's case.

In parliamentary systems, constitutional coups are relatively banal: the opposition party or parties maneuver a vote of confidence at a time when they expect victory in the coming election. It is so much a part of business, that no one remarks on it. This is a feature of Democracy, to have legal, if not always orderly, means to accomplish ends that might otherwise require greater turbulence, or even violence.

However, even in term based Presidential systems, there are doors to constitutional coup. For example, in the United States, the impeachment and removal process is, in effect, a constitutional coup, and has been used as such: the act designed to dislodge a President from power, even if outright removal is not possible. In American history there have been four times when articles of impeachment were readied to for floor: John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and William “Bill” Clinton. In each case, the other party took power afterwards. While none resulted in removal, though Andrew Johnson held on only by one vote away from removal by the Senate, and Nixon resigned before house debate.

The more important kind of constitutional coup, or even counter-coup, is when failures in the election system are exploited to change the outcome of an election. No Democracy likes to advertise the weaknesses in its process, even though they are often there for all to see.

Another reason for the dearth of writing on constitutional coups is that the term is so often used as mere political smearage of ordinary government, taking a census in a way that supprters don't like, or appointing a judge. In fact, it is conservative forces that use the term far more often than liberalizing forces. This makes sense: conservative forces are generally those in place, or those that have the sympathy of those in place, going back to Machiavelli, they have a passionate attachment to what is, because they profit from it. Hence, any disruption to the status quo, particularly one where the interpretation of the details is essential, leads to cries of a constitutional coup. The term is almost in danger of becoming one of those phrases that polite people do not utter, and appears instead only in screeds marked by SUDDEN OUTBREAKS OF CAPITAL LETTERS about the DEFENSE OF OUR FREEDOMS against NEFARIOUS and DAMAGING forces under the control of INVADERS FROM ANOTHER PLANET.

However, this is, again the problem of the synthetic rearing its ugly head. Analytically a constitutional coup is the direction of parts of the established process in a way that is in contradiction with other parts, and daring the opposition to prevent the grinding out of the altered process.

In old American history, there were several outbreaks of this that were generally recognized. One was in 1796, when the poorly designed mechanism of the electoral college, which gave the Presidency to the winner, and the Vice-Presidency to the second place finisher collided with the political reality that winners wanted their duly designated successor to be of the same political stripe. The system had each person cast two votes, therefore, to make sure the right person won, one elector or more, would have to not vote for the Vice-President of their party's choice. However, if too many did this, it opened the door to the other party's Presidential nominee to being Vice-President, and this is what happened: John Adams took 71 votes, but his preferred Vice-President took 59, however, Jefferson received 68, and was Vice-President under his most bitter opponent.

However, this provision was not done making mischief, as in 1800 Jefferson ran with Aaron Burr. Anthony Lispenard, a man who is otherwise obscure, wanted to cast a secret ballot, hoping to vote twice for Burr, however, this attempt at Constitutional coup was stopped but the result, was a tie between Burr and Jefferson. Burr, seeing a chance to grab the brass ring himself, contested the election in the House, and the defeated Federalists continued to vote for him for 35 ballots. Finally, wilting under pressure, enough relented to allow Jefferson to take the Presidency. The 12th Amendment was ratified to prevent this from occurring again.

These examples, and the election of 1824, point to the crucial weakness in the American Presidential system, and that is that if the Electoral College system breaks down or fails to produce a clear winner, then the vote is thrown to the House, and by states. This means that parties that control a majority of state delegations in the House have every reason to allow the system to meltdown, and then win by consent of the governing, what they could not get as the consent of the governed. Hence, the bias towards conservative forces both for accusing the other side of a constitutional coup, and the bias for using it, for example in 1876 in the United States.

Another kind of constitutional revolution is the plebiscite, at first this might look like it is a political revolution, since the key moment would seem to be the holding of a ballot on a new constitution or constitutional change, however, this is illusory. Almost no constitution can be changed by a simple vote, most placing sequential requirements in the path of any would be reformer. Thus it is the ability to call such a plebiscite, and get it enforced, that is the coup itself: the moment when one party is facing a downhill battle to what they want, and the other side must take affirmative actions to stop it.

One classical example is that of the Second French Republic. In 1848 France, as with many countries in Europe in 1847-48 experienced strikes, mass uprisings, and violence. The political change occurred in three waves that year: the February Revolution which drove out the Orleanist monarchy, the bloody “June Days” where the people employed in the National Workshops rebelled against conditions, the army was called out, and over 4500 people were killed. Then in Decemeber Louis-Napoleon won election as the President of the new Republic. So far, a popular, though violent, revolution.

However, what makes it a constitutional revolution is that the preparations for the coup were all, in themselves, legal and within the reach of the Presidency of the Republic, even though aimed at an illegal end. He appointed a minister of War, a chief of Paris police. When insurrection against the dissolution of the National Assembly and arrests broke out, it was a losing effort. Crushed at the barricades, the opponents of the coup were arrested, killed, or driven into exile, including famous novelist Victor Hugo. The army quelled rebellions in the departments of France, and thousands were deported to Algeria, or imprisoned. On 20-21 December 1851, a plebiscite was used to overwhelmingly approve the new result, the new Constitution gave the President power for 10 years, but even this was not enough, and Louis-Napoleon submitted a second plebiscite to the people of France, and on 7 November 1852 they approved his being made emperor. The Second Empire would run until toppled in war in 1871.

The other side of this is that the National Assembly was stacked with monarchists, many of whom were openly plotting the return of the monarchy. Thus, at the same time that Louis-Napoleon was plotting to either gain a second term, or to take power, and pressing for suffrage laws that would aid in this, the National Assembly was passing laws that would restrict voting, and thus allow a future Assembly to have the majorities needed to return the monarchy. This is often the case in revolution: there is not one revolution, but several, and with all sides seeing the status quo as unacceptable, and thus rushing to do by extra-legal, or unusual, means what they cannot accomplish by consensus within the present framework.

A recent example comes from the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Previously Venezuela had had a political arrangement between the main parties called the Punto Fijo Pact of 1958. It shared power among the parties and created a static democracy which was committed to a single program of government. In effect it created something closer to a one party state or election machine, than to a multi-party democracy. The origin of the system was from a period when Venezuela's government was beset with challenges from both the left and the right, including foreign intervention. However, by the early 1990's it's adherence to a closely bound range of policy had brought dissent from both left and right that it deteriorated beyond Democracy.

Chavez won election in 1999, overwhelming the fragile consensus, again, as with Taiwan, dissent from within the status quo led to an opening. In this case the original front runner, Mayor Irene Saez faded, and the two parties of the puntofijismo system, the Copei and the Acción Democrática, rushed to unify behind another candidate. Chavez won handily, campaigning on a platform of changing the Republic. In this sense, it was a political revolution. However, he campaigned, not on change within the system, but in changing the constitution itself. His opening address called the old constitution, “moribund.” The election was not the coup then, but, instead, the the plebiscite. We know this because in his first two years, Chavez, like Louis-Napoleon governed conservatively, though not as a conservative. He remained overtly committed to capitalism, re-appointed the head of the state oil company from the previous regime, and attempted to stay on good terms with the US.

It was only after winning an overwhelming 88% of the vote in the referendum of 25 April 1999, that the opposition was in no position to oppose. In rapid succession, his supporters won the new constitutional assembly elections, taking 125 seats to 6 for the opposition. Thus empowered, he began the process of abolition all old institutions, and setting a new constitution before the voters. While there was greater and greater dissent and opposition, in each case the opposition was in the position of having to take direct action, which they did not do until a coup attempt in 2002, which was put down.

The change part is obvious: Chavez' Venezuela is different in almost every respect from the old order, but in identifying the constitutional use of power, to re-architect the formal laws on the basis of successful referenda, it shows that the center of his power, and the defining act of the Bolivarian Revolution that he led, and leads, was the use of constitutional change, not merely winning elections personally.

The more banal kind of constitutional revolution is not all that old: that of the motion of no confidence. While Lord North tendered his resignation after being defeated in a motion of no confidence, quite likely the first, in 1782, it was not until 1841 when it was understood constitutionally in Britain that the Prime Minister would have to resign after such a vote, and eventually it was understood that this would mean that the there was a choice between appointing a new Prime Minister, and dissolving Parliament. This choice gradually came to reside in the hands of the outgoing PM in effect, though in many nations the nominal head of state has the power to do so.

This kind of coup is more frequent early in a parliamentary system rather than later in most cases, however recent history shows how it can be used. In 1979, racked by high inflation and a seemingly impossible maze of demands from all sides, James Callaghan was not in a good position politically, Labour had won elections, but just barely, and had suffered dozens of defeats on whipped votes – which were not confidence motions, but did weaken the government – and had suffered through the "Winter of Disconent". Finally opposition leader Margaret Thatcher, taking the Liberal Party's offer of supporting a no confidence measure, waited as the minor Scottish National Party motioned for no confidence, then the former partner party Liberals did, and finally her own, debate and voting was on 28 March of 1979. It prevailed by a single vote, with support from socialist and liberal parties, who were then virtually wiped out in the general election of 1979. The vote was the coup, the election its ratification. Thatcher would go on to serve for over a decade, and then her conservative successor for 7 more years. It was called at the time "the last rites of Old Labour," and indeed, that version of the party would never again see power.

It was a coup, but was it a revolution? That is harder to decide, in some senses it changed the political landscape of Great Britain, and it certainly led to the dissolution of the state industrial system that had grown up in Britain over the previous 40 years, in these senses it was, but in the same sense as Andrew Jackson's 1828 victory: it changed politics, and it changed policy, but it did not remake all in its wake.

The elements of a constitutional coup are then: a mechanism for change which elites accept as definitive in deciding the mandate of government, wide discontent among elites with the established order, and a single group of elites who understand that a disruption of the ordinary course of business leaves them in control of the mechanisms of power. This means, in general, that there must be a "backstop," a mechanism which leads to opposition victory in everyone's eyes. The constitutional coup comes, paradoxically, because it keeps the issue in doubt longer, keeps the game alive.

For example, in 1979, when Thatcher's motion passed by a single vote for no confidence, Callaghan called an election, rather than allowing Thatcher to take power without one, this allowed her win a crushing election victory, rather than having to suffer with a minority government. He "took his case to the nation." In an effort to avoid immediate defeat, the losing side in a constitutional coup often suffers a more lasting constitutional defeat, as power slips from its fingers, and into the hands of those who are intent on changing more than name plates and signatures on paper.

Political Revolution

A political revolution is when the ordinary means of succession bring a new order to power, with the mandate to change not merely policy but principles of government as well. In a Democracy Franklin Delano Roosevelt termed his election “a revolution at the ballot box.” Was this hyperbole? Was it merely political rhetoric to forestall the fears of a revolution more of the kind that had occurred in Russia? Still fresh in people's minds, or Germany, where the “Machtergreifung” was happening exactly as FDR was taking office and had to immediately turn his attention to the banking crisis?

To be analytical is to have something to measure. In the case of revolution, there are two simple measures: what was impossible or very difficult in the old regime, which was possible in the new regime? What was possible in the old regime, that is made impossible or very difficult in the new? The more significant these acts are, the more one has evidence of a revolution in fact, over merely slogans.

One example out of many suffices to tell the story of how significant a change FDR's “New Deal” was.

Consider the resolution adopted by the House of Representatives on 26 April 1924:

Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age. Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.

Between then and 1937, 28 states ratified the amendment, while many that would seem to have been logical candidates, including New York state, where FDR was governor for 4 years, did not. Looking at the scope of 1933's National Industrial Recovery Act, which created the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, one can see why. The NRA was created to end “cut throat” and “unfair” competition, and one of the first acts was to call for a voluntary “blanket code” that would end child labor. In 1935 the Supreme Court struck down mandatory codes, including those that prohibited child labor, and this gave impetus to a new round of states ratifying the Child Labor Amendment. However, in the end, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 effectively allowed the Federal Government to regulate labor standards, and the Supreme Court had changed its mind about the reach of Federal Power.

In short, what took a constitutional amendment in the old regime, took only an administrative act in the new, once the new regime was, in fact, established.

This is the reality of revolutions, one can often only say that a revolutionary process is in play, but whether it sticks, is the telling reality. Many politicians have run on the platform of change, but on the reality of same. Some intended change, others did not, always believing they could campaign in poetry, but govern in pose.

Some elections, however, are political revolutions in themselves, when a one party state becomes a two party state, the key question is whether the election, itself, was the coup, or was it merely part of a larger process. The revolution in Poland against the Soviet backed government really began in 1980 at the Gdansk shipyard, and took 8 long years to finally force elections. It would be a mistake to think of the elections of 1988, or of 1990, as political revolutions, because the elections were ratification of a change in power that had been won by other means.

A recent example is the election of 2000 for President in Taiwan, of Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan had been governed for over half a century under virtual martial law by the Koumintang, or KMT, the party that had been founded under the Chinese Empire to bring about Democratic change, had ruled as a one party state. While the democraticizing of Taiwan had been a long process, including the creation of “outside the party” candidates and elections, the KMT did not really believe it would lose power in an election for a long time, and quite possibly would not have, except for a split in its own leadership which lead James Soong to form a more conservative “People First Party,” which also contested the election.

While his rule as President did not change the fundamental character of government or the state, and indeed continued with the comedy of corruption that has marked Taiwan politics since the establishment of the Republic of China there, that it happened at all constituted a “Revolution at the ballot box.”

The features of Chen Shui-ban's rise and fall are a reminder that political revolution has both preconditions and ramifications. In this case, the need to Democratize Taiwan, because the aging leadership of the KMT, many in power since before fleeing mainland China in 1949, could no longer effectively wield power, and the people who wanted to rise behind them did not want to submit to internal politics. In a conflict, people who know they will lose with one body of people making the decision, will often want to force a larger body of people, even if it means they only have a slender chance of winning. By submitting to an outside group, it is easier for all parties in a conflict to accept the result. Thus, in Taiwan, democracy came as the ruling party needed to renew itself, in addition to outside pressure.

As with many revolutions, there is a counter-revolution, as the KMT has won back power, and pursued a more conservative course in politics and economics, however, the operative word is “won.” It no longer has assured control of the levers of power, and must fight for votes, balance interests, and restrain its own members. It may well become an election machine, but the last two decades have been unkind to election machines: revolutions at the ballot box have overturned long running machines in Mexico where the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, was pushed out of power after 70 years of uninterrupted dominance, and in Japan ruled from 1955 with only a brief interruption until 2009. The election of 2012 is in doubt, with many of the charges against the DPP having been shown to be false, or grossly exaggerated, and the new Chair of the DPP is, for the moment, leading in elections.

The distance between Europe and single party electoral rule is not all that distant, in France the centre-right has held the Presidency for all but 8 years under the French Fifth Republic, even though it has more often lost the National Assembly. Indeed the 1965 election in France, between De Gualle and François Mitterrand was a kind of shove in the direction of two party politics in France, which was confirmed with his 1981 election victory, ending the tenure of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. But it is not a revolution at the ballot box in the same way, because while the centre-right has been dominant in French politics for 40 years, it has never had untrammeled power, and the theory of government was always multi-party.

A political revolution of this kind, from single to multi-party, then is led by a ruling party opening the door for power, often because it cannot resolve its internal conflicts internally, as was true of the KMT in Taiwan. Then the opposition movement attracts those candidates who have been pushed out, and takes advantage of the split within the factions to come to power. Since single parties must either suppress or buy off all other interests, they must constantly swerve in policies, and this leads to powerful failures. It must also shock both the theory and the practice of the system, and change the politics from that of a single bloc manipulating power, to multiple competing blocs.

In the United States, one can label the “Jacksonian Revolution,” as it has been called, or “Jacksonian Revolt,” as it is more often called, is an election of this kind. Between Jefferson's victory in 1800, and the election of 1824, the United States descended into being a one party state with the Federalist Party of Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams, withering away, except for the Supreme Court, where John Marshall held sway until his death. Instead of multiple parties, there were multiple factions. While labelled “The Era of Good Feelings” at the time and afterwards, in reality it was anything but, with vicious personal disagreements behind the scenes, and corrupt, raucous “King Caucus” Congress playing kingmaker. It was a time when Speaker of the House of Representatives was considered a launching point for a presidential bid.

At that time, many states appointed their electors to the Presidency by legislature, and many others had various restrictions on voting. Thus in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont there were no popular votes cast, and only 365,833 votes were tallied. This threw the election to the House of Representatives, where, then as now, the provision is that state delegations vote, and then the winner of the delegation of a state gets one vote. Thus large states are at a disadvantage. But interestingly, only three states, Kentucky, New York, and Maryland, had significant splits, and no state would have gone differently had the vote of Jackson, and the crippled William Crawford, been merged.

The result is that Jackson and his supporters careened around the country, campaigning for universal white male suffrage for the Presidency, and in 1828 only Delaware and South Carolina chose electors. Over 1.1 million votes were cast, and John Quincy Adams, the incumbent lost with over 500,000 – more than had been tallied in the 1824 election. It was a revolution at the ballot box, and in a profound manner, in that even though Jackson's Vice-President would win office after him, the anti-Jackson forces would coalesce into the Whig Party, and challenge the Democrats of Jackson for power until the entire apparatus collapse on the road to the Civil War.

The deeper kind of political revolution, however, has been in shorter supply in recent decades. Fundamental shift in policy has occurred, as with the elections of Thatcher, then Reagan, then Helmut Kohl to lead major Western democracies, however, it is difficult to point to a single clear case in the West of an ordinary election decided on fundamental alteration of the social contract, leading to direct change, in the last generation.

Instead elections, as with Poland, have been ratifications of a different kind of revolution, that of the popular revolution. Where the political revolution rests on an election being the coup, the popular revolution rests on a series of mass actions: strikes, demonstrations, non-cooperation, and visible support, to press power to the bargaining table.

Thus confirmation of a political revolution often requires some time to mature, power is taken, but the new powers do not have complete access to the levers of power, and often, do not want to disturb the checks and balances. Hence many political revolutionaries eventually turn to the plebiscite, an appeal to change the constitutional order.

Next Popular Revolution, Popular Uprising and Social Revolution, Violent Revolution, Civil War

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I can tell Jobs is dead

Everything about the new Lion interface is afflicted with catch-22. Catch-22 is when an application wants to violate the rules of the interface to do something, then the interface doesn't let you do it because it violates the rules. Try placing a quick face time call to someone not in your contacts, then find out it isn't easy to add a contact in face time, then find out that the contact syncs over when it has no use.


Lion is terrible, don't downgrade to it unless you have to. Betaware released for pay. Awful.

iPhone has dreaded "you can't do that" cycles. Can't get out of program, such as mail, can't get back to main screen, because there is a modal dialog box, and get Siri rather than the home screen. Siri is unresponsive to getting out.

1. Modal dialog is evil. Modal dialog is always evil. Modal dialog is always evil.
2. Never violate the over-ride. Never violate the over-ride.
3. Never put people in loops where they can't get out.

Someone please, fire the entire UI team that did this. Just fire them now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't run people over with your motorcycle

If you must run over someone with a motorcycle, don't run over a lawyer.

If you must run over a lawyer with a motorcycle, don't park your bike on his leg.

If you must park a motorcycle on a lawyer's leg, don't do so in front of hundreds of cameras and thousands of witnesses.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Please stop calling them "Free Trade" agreements

Comparative advantage only works where there is full employment. More trade volume will not work between countries without full employment. The US does not have full employment, nor is it forced to run a balanced trade account. Nor is capital immobile.

The people pushing for trade wars are wrong, because all of the money gained will go to business owners, not workers. However, the agreements that are about to be signed will not improve living standards in the US, because the reduction in prices will be soaked up by intermediaries and other prices, and the reduction in wages will push even more people underwater.

But then, people need to realize that trade policy is on the margins of other policies. Fix the other policies first, and trade becomes easy to fix, though it requires a great deal of negotiation and talking. Fail to fix other policies first, and there is no way to fix trade policy, because other nations are not going to take a hit to fix America's poor policy regime.

Some notes from #OWS

It was a warm day in October, of the kind that they might once have called Indian Summer, where the sun gave every inch of the pavement a gentle roasting warmth. Walking through the point of Manhattan, one there were thousands of people who placidly went about their business, bustling to shop, or court, or office without a concern. In parks there, old chinese men played Xiàngqí, and old women gossiped. On the sidewalk an actress tried to land an audition talking to her agent on the other side of her cellphone, a loud woman argued about a friend in jail over her phone. Turning the streets, the skeletons of the Victorian, were reflected off the ghosts of the modern.

A turn to City Hall brought no change, no sense of disturbance. In Argentina the pots would beat at all hours, coming in fistfuls, pouring down on the ears of any who would listen like monsoon rain. But here, not a sign, not a sight, showed discontent with the world.

But a few minutes later, down Broadway, brought into view the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, a privately owned, public space, and along its front edge, were people holding signs, a line of buses were filled with people staring at New York's latest tourist attraction. There were a dozen uniformed officers staring in, and a line of food trucks along Cortland Street.

New York goes on, but an area smaller than a football field – any kind – was filled with people. People sleeping, people chanting, people banging drums, people talking, people running the kitchen.

So it is here, amidst the signs and the people, that I set down what people had to say.

I did 40 interviews. My first question was "Why are you here?" Then, in some order "What do you think the problem is?" and "What would you do?" I would ask what they meant by some broad term, such as "Democracy" or "Equality." I did not prompt on Obama or current political leaders.

Here are the notes.

Almost all (38) mentioned corporate greed. The other two were Ron Paul supporters.

Almost all (35) wanted more regulation of financial transactions/tax on transactions.

Most (30) mentioned democracy as being important, and many of these (24) mentioned that they felt democracy was lost, or slipping away in America. Most who mentioned Democracy meant representative (22) not direct (8) democracy.

Most (29) mentioned "99%," which means it is clearly the meme.

Over half (25) mentioned the solidarity/support/community.
Over half (25) mentioned the wars/war machine/military industrial complex or synonym for it.

Over half (24) mentioned progressive taxation/tax the rich.
Over half (24) mentioned non-violence. OWS has brought in and is training non-violence communications people. It is a top down and bottom up value.

Over half (22) mentioned "Campaign Finance Reform."

Over half (21) mentioned "Freedom"/"loss of Freedom"/"Security state" or synonym for government over-reaching its powers. Less than at a similar group of the right, but only just.

Exactly half (20) mentioned fears/expectations of arrests.

Many (19) mentioned oil/energy depletion.

Many (17) mentioned equality as in political equality.
Many (17) mentioned labor/the people as the source of value.
Many (17) said that there was "a long list"/"where to start"/"too long a list" of problems to easily pick a one or a few.

Some (16) mentioned neo-liberalism/free trade/globalization.

Some (15) mentioned American values/founding fathers/the Constitution as the basis for their complaint.

A few (7) were redistributive socialists/levelers/radical egalitarians.

A few (5) were radical localists. There was some overlap with the above. This is much lower than one would find a comparable Tea Party gathering.

Only a handful (4) mentioned revolution as being necessary. That is a much lower percentage than one would find at say, a Tea Party rally.

Only a handful (3) were marxists. None of these were radical localists.

Now for some killer notes:

Not one mentioned amending the constitution.

Not one mentioned Barack Obama/The President. That's 0. None. Zero. Nil. Zip. 0 for 40 on left leaning activists in #OWS. He's invisible.

Only 2 mentioned working within the Democratic Party.

It was not, in real sense, a radical group of the left. In fact, the local folk festival will turn up more marxists and radicals and more revolutionary or localist radical sentiment.

It was moderately racially integrated, but less so than many corporate gatherings. There were no Asians participating while I was there. There were few latinos or people who preferred Spanish, though they did have a Spanish desk with a very helpful person there manning it. There were no South Asians. The African-American presence was under that of America as a whole, and certainly under New York City's demographics. It was about as white as the meetings inside Wall Street buildings around them, from my experience.

One important point I want to stress is that many, on the left and even more on the right, have described this group as "angry." It is not. I met exactly one angry person all day, and he was an Indigenous rights activist. I'm going to say that if you aren't bitter about how the government has treated the first peoples, you aren't an Indigenous rights activist, because it was the first land fraud, from which Wall Street's is only an echo. Other than that, the anger content was entirely on people covering the rally. Many people with microphones wanted these people to be angry.

In fact, on the scale of radicalization, I would say that all four of the legal aid observers/public defenders were more radicalized than almost all of the people I talked to at the rally. They were the only ones to use terms such as "fascism" or "police brutality" unprompted.

It is a disservice to this group to look at them as anything other than a very First Amendment assembly to petition their representatives for redress of grievances.

If you want to help, send donations of items to:

Re: Occupy Wall St
118A Fulton St. #208
NY NY 10038

They have a twitter feed at:


Monday, October 10, 2011

#OWS isn't what you think it is

Bob Reich, former Clinton Labor Secretary and one time candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, has a post up about why the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement are different to their parties. He covers old history well, and makes the essential point that the elitism of the Democratic Party has more problems embracing populism than does the elitism of the Republican Party. Recent history, where he's been a prof, is less well covered.

Tea Party

The Tea Party was a pre-existing movement of anti-Obama racism and anti-communism. The mixture of right wing ethnic bigotry with right wing confederacy ideas, with right wing economic and social ideas is not very hard to imagine or find. It became visible after the election when Republican elites, such as the Koch brothers, dumped money on it, and weeded out its native leadership, which was far too overtly unstable and racist for television, with their own choice of it, and channeled already existing Republican activists through it. One way the weeding was done was by charging entrance fees to Tea Party events, which were then refunded to the people they wanted there.

This was harnessed into pushing the Republican primaries to the right, and then in taking the House of Representatives, which gave the Republicans a bargain chip in the Federal government. The Democrats, for their part, were too busy getting rid of progressives to defend correctly. The cost for the ideological purity was fairly low: they picked up Massachussetts' Scott Brown which they would not have gotten otherwise, and lost the Delaware Senate seat, which they probably would have, plus moved several other seats to the right: Pennsylvania and Utah most prominently. The ideological distance between Brown and Castle is not large, and while Brown is a lightweight, he's still a reliable vote on filibusters, which is what matters. At the end of the day then, the right wing got a great deal, for very little net pain.

The reason that the Republicans could do this is that they have a single mantra which units economic, social, and elite, reactionaries: anti-tax mania. While these groups disagree on almost everything, they agree that taxes and the Federal Government are evil. Not merely bad, but evil. Hence the Tea Party could credibly say that they were part of doing job one, which is kill the Federal Government's ability to tax.

The Tea Party then fits into elite Republicanism enough for its purpose. It is already dying, because it is no longer being funded. Quick, how many people in late American Colonial costumes have you seen bouncing up to television cameras recently? They were plants, and obviously so.

Obama We Sing. Obama Will Shine. Obama We Shout.

The Occupy movement was started, to no small extent, by disappointed Obama activists of the community organizing stripe. The community they are organizing is the unemployed. They are in fact a conservative movement: purging the demonstrating community of anarchists, communists, marxists, and other assorted left wing grinding groups. This is intended to make the protests more mainstreamable and effective. Since it has been observed for sometime that the single issue nanopolitics of "Free mumia" or Palestinian statehood blunt the message of organized leftism, it was an obvious thing to try. The movement has metastized quickly because it moved through the same organizers who are now essentially unwelcome in the Re-elect ecology. Think people like Van Jones, who believed in Obama, and to some extent still do: his advisors are bad, but not the man, he just needs pressure from the left to be cover.

This creates a simple streamlined message: Greed is Bad, Jobs are Good, We've been Screwed. Populism is best when it is monosyllabic.

One one hand it is clear that keeping the movement tweezed is beyond their ability, they want a very, very, very specific protest movement, to a very, very, very specific effect. What they have done, is re-invent the Bonus Army and the Hooverville.

Occupy Wall Street then is an important awakening. First, it is the moment where Americans realize and admit that we are in a depression. Not a recession, a depression, a self-perpetuating cycle of lower economic activity. Second, it is a move on the left away from the "clap louder" orthodoxy of the compromised left, and away from the "rainbow coalition" model of marches past. OWS is about how corporate greed killed your jobs, and little else. Third, it mainstreams protest on the left, displacing "the middle class" as the hero, with Wall Street as the villain.

Already everyone is pleading to turn OWS into whatever movement they want it to be, to be directed at repeating what they want repeated. This is a waste of time. There is nothing on the table politically that will do very much good, and as Reich points out, the most important demand, to humble the banks, isn't going to happen.

The reality is, that being compromised works both ways. Obama supporters are struggling already to push OWS towards demands that Obama wants to give, such as a trade war with China, rather than demands he does not want to give, such as prosecutions of the people who were key to the financial collapse. OWS is struggling within itself. The original core of leaders have lost control over the movement. That isn't to say it is turning towards riots or black bloc tactics, but the hactivists, who created the megaphone that it needs, are not so squeamish as to stay inside the law, and have not. This is because hactivists already are enemies of the state, and the state is willing to destroy their lives. They aren't people who are going back to their own little homes afterwards, because in the copyright wars, there is no afterwards, there are life sentences to be banned from the internet, which is effectively a death sentence economically.

Popular Revolution

What is lost on the people demonstrating is the problem of scale. In effect, the reason there are no prosecutions, is because one would in the end have to lock up virtually the entire banking and real estate systems: from the robosigners, appraisers, loan originators, realtors and agents on the bottom, through the builders who participated in schemes to pump up real estate, through the loan processors and aggregators, through the bank securitizers, through the bond traders, through the shadow bankers, all the way up to the top.

This was, in effect, a revolution: a bottom interested in building and flipping homes, which is a vast share of the American economy, to a top looking for something to securitize and sell as safer than it was. Adding it up, it comes to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people involved. We would have to let go all of the drug crimes, and still not have enough cells for all of them.

Thus for the OWS to prevail, it would need to have a similar scale of people willing to be arrested. Not 700, but 700,000. Enough so that every cell on the East Coast would be filled with an occupant, and not an alleged perpetrator.

However what it has done: create depression consciousness, has already had an effect. Policy this summer, globally, was foot on the brakes austerity. This slowed the economy, pushing some areas of the developed world into recession, and pushed down the price of oil. In economic terms, it was a "landing" and a relatively hard landing. Now the consensus is that the global economy is at the brink, and that something must be done. Nothing that will actually produce recovery, but like a skipping stone, to bounce off the surface of the water, and fly a short time to the next skip.

Another consideration is that the need to have a liberal pressure movement, directed at economic ends, will alter the future. Consider what would have happened had their been an occupation of Washington around Bush v Gore.

Thus, instead of trying to tell the OWSers what they ought to be about, it is more important to realize what they are about. They are the activist groups fooled by Obama, and they are segueing from pleading with him, to telling him that they are ready to move past him. It is a tactic not unfamiliar to the Washington Post, which can be counted on running articles on the need for a radical centrist third party every time Obama does not cut Federal spending fast enough. The message from the money, and from the streets, is now the same: "we made you, and we can unmake you."

However, these two forces are now pulling in opposite directions. Elites want More austerity, even as the banks are running out of free money. OWS, wants jobs and prosecutions, and that means spending.

What has already been done.

Occupy Wall Street has already made America acknowledge that we are in a depression.

Occupy Wall Street has liberated protest both from the day protest model, and from the chain of unmainstreamable marxism. It isn't that there isn't mainstreamable marxism, but that isn't the kind that people had to go through to get involved in demonstrations. The center-left has taken control of the infrastructure of protest.

Occupy Wall Street has crystallized the reality to elites that this wave of austerity is at an end, as the London Riots did in England.

Occupy Wall Street fatally weakens Obama's attempt to re-coöpt the liberals. While people like Krugman, who want to believe, are all happy talk about the promise of a job's program which will not be passed, except the corporate tax cut parts, and thus cannot kick in until after the next November election, more than a year from now, the reality is that after a month of pushing from Obama, he is now at an average of 41% in Gallup's approval poll, at a time in his presidency when even Jimmy Carter was able to get 50% briefly. He is likely to be the first post-Nixonian President not to be at or near 50% approval a year from election, and his team is already narrowing the playing field, admitting there will be no broad second term mandate, and that if re-elected, it will be like Bush on a narrow coalition.

Of course there is the usual detritus of demonstration chasing begosphere types, but that's not important, OWS is putting down roots of direct donations in kind. That's important.

What is important is that Americans have lost hope, and lost the shame of pretense that they are really "temporarily embarrassed billionaires," to update Sinclair Lewis' old frame.

Instead of talking about OWS is the future tense, it is already here, and it has a message that is already clear: utopian populism.

Greed is bad.
Jobs are good.
We've been screwed.