Two things are quite noticeable looking back over the past year or so: first, that the global nature of the unrest is beginning to have a powerful impact upon the way resistance develops in individual countries. Secondly, that the crisis has gone through three distinct phases, morphing from a banking crisis into an economic crisis and now into a social and political one.
It is unnecessary to search for very complicated reasons for the wave of unrest. As John Molyneux says in his blog: “The explanation for this global tidal wave of revolt is essentially very simple. The international capitalist system is in profound crisis and the 1%, the ruling class, everywhere is trying to make the rest of us pay for it and in place after place people are fighting back. From Tahrir to Oakland
We are feeding on the inspiration of each other’s resistance. Confidence is rising and for the first time in a generation revolution is back on the agenda.” Now, as in the other revolutionary waves of 1848, 1917 and 1968, waves of revolt are spreading out from the fault lines of capitalism as new generations of workers and the poor learn not only that they can, but that they must resist.
The importance of the international nature of the rebellions lie in the fact that ‘feeding on the inspiration of each other’s resistance’ becomes a global experience. In many ways it is much easier to see a particular society clearly from the outside than from within the webs of mystification and social conditioning that adhere to you when you are born into a particular culture. To see people in other countries fighting oppression in the same way as you are is empowering. The new social media and technologies, while not the cause of the rebellions, clearly assist this process, enabling film, photos, news and information to be sent worldwide at the click of a mouse.
This also legitimises the resistance. Each state’s ruling class portrays resistance to its rule as either criminal or useless. Strikers are constantly told their actions are selfish or ineffective. In London, students are still being dragged through the courts after the fees protests of 2010. The protesting student Alfie Meadows, despite being seriously injured by police and enduring hours of life-saving brain surgery, was charged with ‘serious disorder’ and still awaits sentencing. As I write this, the Spanish government is declaring the camps of the ‘indignatos’ illegal and is preparing a crackdown. This criminisation is easy for the authorities in ‘normal’ times, when protestors are a minority, and can be stereotyped by the media as criminals or weirdos. But when mass protest becomes widespread such views are challenged. The impact of such global waves of protest gives people a quite different perspective on the dialectic of resistance.
The involvement of masses of people in the struggle exposes the dynamics of the system and makes it easier for ordinary people to see the way in which the crisis is used by the ruling class in all countries, further enriching the bankers and the super-rich while enforcing austerity on workers and the poor. The danger for governments is that large numbers of people will now begin to see how the same conditions exist everywhere, and how the reactions of our rulers is the same. Many begin to understand they are not in conflict just with their local regimes, but with a total unjust and violent system. The question of radical change then comes on the agenda.
This is why the divisive ideology of nationalism, with its splitting up of a global workforce into national units pitted in competition one with the other, is so important to our rulers, and why it is constantly reinforced. If people can be persuaded that their real interests can only be served through adherence to a particular national identity, which is threatened by other national identities, then their allegiances can be manipulated. Look at the constant debate about British identity and how immigration, Islam or multiculturalism destroy it. Look at the nationalistic jamboree of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, or at the Olympics, where the flag-waving has turned east London into a militarised zone patrolled by jet fighters and missiles.
While great opportunities are now opening up internationally for the far left, as with Syriza in Greece and the Left Front in France, there are also dangers from the right. Once capitalists feel there is a real danger of an ‘expropriation of the expropriators’, fascism can be brought back into vogue as a bulwark against socialist revolution. During the 1930s the economic crisis created conditions in which German capitalist concerns were prepared to get into bed with the nazis. Under the impact of severe economic crisis such a movement can attract support. People’s anger can make them look for scapegoats: in the past, European Jewry; today, asylum seekers, immigrants, Roma, travellers, Muslims…
In the UK at the moment the fascist British National Party is in terminal decline, with financial problems, splits and declining membership. This is due in large part to the work of Unite Against Fascism and other organisations in opposing them and the English Defence League whenever they attempted to march or organise. However, they are not going to go away. It is worth remembering that although the BNP crashed, hard line anti-immigration parties like the UK Independence Party saw an increase in support in the May elections.
Elsewhere in Europe, however, things are more worrying, with the Golden Dawn in Greece operating very much as open neo-nazis, and in France Marine Le Pen winning a large share of the vote. Nationalism is used constantly by modern capitalism to wrap people in the national flag and tie them into a phoney notion of a unified nation which elides class divisions. Fascism feeds off a virulent notion of this ‘national identity’ which it uses to turn against immigrants and ‘outsiders’. As economic crisis polarises society, so the politics of hate can gain a foothold.
This is why a left politics which can explain things in class terms is so important. Writing for al-Jazeera, the Athenian journalist Matthaios Tsimitakis points out that the success of Syriza is extraordinary, ”..not only because of the historical significance of having a radical left party leading the conversation, but because it managed to bypass attempts to polarise the political agenda around such issues as illegal immigration, national security and social order, instead bringing to the forefront the issues of economic justice and social coherence.”
While ideas can unlock one’s mind, it is the process of active resistance and rebellion which is really key. It is through the ‘self-activity of the masses’ that ordinary people begin to shake off the ‘muck of ages’, the sense of futility and powerlessness which affects so many under capitalism. People change themselves, rediscover and recreate themselves, through the process of rebellion against oppressive conditions. It is through making revolutionary change that people make themselves ‘fit to rule’. This is what we heard from the voices of the Paris Communards of 1871. This is what we heard from the Bolshevik soldiers and sailors of 1917 Petrograd. And this is what we saw on the faces of the masses in Tahrir Square, Cairo, after the toppling of the dictator Mubarak.
We are living in dangerous times. Lenin said there were years in which nothing seemed to happen, and then times in which years seemed to be crammed into hours. The last couple of years have been like that. We have seen a banking crisis become an economic crisis and now a major global political and social crisis. We have seen revolutions in the Middle East and now the growth of European left parties that are beginning to lead a battle against austerity. The old social democratic parties cannot do this because they are for austerity too. British Labourites like Ed Balls talk in terms of ‘growth’ and ‘fixing ‘our’ economy.’ This ignores the fact that crises and recessions are part of the global capitalist system. There is no ‘normal’ growth we can all get back to.
The stakes are very high. We have to build the resistance and organise for a socialist alternative or face disaster. Yet I cannot help feeling we are lucky to be living in times like these.