Has this previous year of global uprising been the opening skirmish of the “final conflict?” At this point, who can say? Who could have answered with any confidence at the start of the successful revolutions of the past? We can only examine events to date in light of revolutionary processes in the past, and compare the “Revolution 2.0” of the past two years to its unsuccessful predecessors in recent decades.
Chris Hedges recently evaluated Occupy in terms of Crane Brinton’s typology of revolutions (“This is What Revolution Looks Like,” Truthdig, November 15). The relevant steps in his list include a public loss of faith in the possibility of achieving change within the system, the inability of states to provide basic services, the undermining of the state’s aura of legitimacy and inevitability when its attempts to suppress dissent by force fail, and the internal fracturing and loss of morale inside the ruling class as its armed enforcers start to defect.
The trajectory from Wikileaks to Arab Spring to the Occupy movement already dwarfs the Seattle movement, and may be surpassing the global movement of 1968 (including not only the American civil rights, antiwar and student movements, but the French general strike and the Prague Spring). And unlike those previous movements, Occupy 1) has a generally favorable rating among a majority of the general public, and 2) coincides with the largest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.
In its post-campout phase, Occupy is in the process of emerging from its cocoon, with new innovations like “Occupy Our Homes” and other distributed, stigmergic efforts independent of the original movement. Thanks to the helpful intervention of people like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, it’s been dispersed like dandelion seeds, or (from the ruling class point of view) a metastasizing cancer.
Let’s start with the perceived impossibility of change within the system. Compare US President Barack Obama’s 2008 rhetoric, his near record electoral mandate and Congressional super-majority, with his cozy relationship to Wall Street and the national security state. Part of the fuel for Occupy is that people are finally learning how worthless their votes are.
John Robb recently argued that if the periphery of the Eurozone defaults, the waves from the financial collapse will transform the global Great Recession into Depression 2.0. Imagine if there’d been a networked movement on the scale of Occupy already on the ground when the Depression hit bottom in the early ’30s. Now imagine the gasoline-on-fire effect if a new Depression coincides with Occupy’s takeoff trajectory.
As for the the ability to provide basic services: The fiscally strapped, hollowed-out state has already retrenched on social safety net functions — and Occupy Our Homes, meanwhile, is in the news for filling that void through self-organized efforts to put roofs over homeless and evicted people. Every single time armed goons show up to evict them, the event becomes another morality play, distributed virally via YouTube. It’s the moral equivalent of the house-to-house fighting in Stalingrad, with each separate house the site of a new defensive stand. Neighborhood assembly offshoots of Occupy, on the Argentinian model, will likely soon start taking up the slack for things like reduced trash pickups and organizing mutual aid among neighbors, further undermining the state’s aura of legitimacy.
How about demoralization and defection? There’s a persistent rumor that some 200 NYPD officers — mostly the blue-shirted ones going all wobbly while the white-shirts were really gettin’ into it — called in sick on the day of Bloomberg’s eviction. The viral video of John Pike, I’m sure, was a wakeup call for cops all over the country that they’re living in a different era now, with forms of accountability bigger than Police Commission investigations to worry about.
Could it be that the global networked resistance movement is about to enter a positive feedback loop that will escalate out of sight?