The political system in the US is, if not actually broken, on the verge of collapse. We have a system where the oligarchy has taken complete control of the system to ensure that only those candidates who are friendly to its goals of vacuuming up as much wealth as it can from the rest of society get on the ballot as representatives of the major parties, so that whichever candidate wins is practically immaterial to them.
What provides a perception of difference between the parties are social issues and while these are real and important and worth fighting for, we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that they are also being used to give us the illusion of real choice when what we have is limited choice on issues that the oligarchy does not care about and indeed (on women’s and gay rights for example) may even have progressive views. We are not given a chance to voice our opinion on the fundamental economic issues that affect everyone. As a result we have the steady and accelerating increase in the gap between the super-wealthy and everyone else, with the latter slowly but surely sinking into lower and lower standards of living.
Veteran journalist Chris Hedges says that things are so bad that it may tip over into revolution.
Corporations, freed from all laws, government regulations and internal constraints, are stealing as much as they can, as fast as they can, on the way down. The managers of corporations no longer care about the effects of their pillage. Many expect the systems they are looting to fall apart. They are blinded by personal greed and hubris. They believe their obscene wealth can buy them security and protection. They should have spent a little less time studying management in business school and a little more time studying human nature and human history. They are digging their own graves.
Our shift to corporate totalitarianism, like the shift to all forms of totalitarianism, is incremental. Totalitarian systems ebb and flow, sometimes taking one step back before taking two steps forward, as they erode democratic liberalism. This process is now complete.
The corporate state seeks to maintain the fiction of our personal agency in the political and economic process. As long as we believe we are participants, a lie sustained through massive propaganda campaigns, endless and absurd election cycles and the pageantry of empty political theater, our corporate oligarchs rest easy in their private jets, boardrooms, penthouses and mansions. As the bankruptcy of corporate capitalism and globalization is exposed, the ruling elite are increasingly nervous. They know that if the ideas that justify their power die, they are finished. This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement—are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.
He says that going down this road will inevitably lead to social upheaval and that is when things start to get chaotic and unpredictable.
Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself. This, at its core, is why I disagree with some elements of the Black Bloc anarchists. I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including Berkman, Emma Goldman, Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.
By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”
This is where we are headed. I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries.
We have to be careful about casually tossing revolution in as a political option. In the film O Lucky Man there is graffiti on a wall that spoofs the well-known quote by Karl Marx that “religion is the opium of the people” (His full quote is actually “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”) saying instead “Revolution is the opium of the intellectuals”. And there is some truth to that. It is often middle-class intellectuals, those who see themselves as the vanguard of change, who are quickest to call for revolution. But as Mao Zedong said, “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
Revolutions cause great turmoil and upheaval and death and destruction and can often leave people in a situation that was even worse than before for a considerable period of time. Real people get hurt and it is often those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder and have the least resources to fall back upon who get hurt the most. So the call for revolution must never ever be taken lightly, as Hedges is careful to point out. While some intellectuals may glibly call for it, it will only happen if the conditions are so dire that people will be willing to undergo the greater hardship that will inevitably ensue as the oligarchy uses the power at its disposal to crack down harshly. It is the oligarchy that is the real instigator of revolution by squeezing people until they feel they have no choice but to bypass the system.
Actions like the Occupy Wall Street movement are the precursors of greater unrest and give us glimpses of how the authorities will react to them. It is clear that they will try and suppress such protests with force. If those kinds of protests recur and gain momentum, given the strength of the US military and the paramilitarization of its police forces, the crucial question will be on whose side the ordinary soldier and police officer see themselves and whether they will be willing to turn their weapons on ordinary people fighting for their survival.