To revolt is righteous. And, if we look closely, there’s hardly any place in the world nowadays where there is no revolt underway: a certain “stable instability” is the condition everywhere. While this seems to be a positive development in many ways, behind the facade lies an absence of meaning and direction.
One might strike a provocative note and, paraphrasing Peter Handke, point out that we might be witnessing the rise of “revolts without demands.” It’s not that there’s no “meaning” or “direction” for each of them in particular. But when looking from one hemisphere to the other, the forms of rebellion against the present state of things seem to have conflicting, if not outright contradictory connotations.
Latin America is clearly rebelling against neoliberalism, whether in Chile—fighting against Piñera’s violent repression—or in Ecuador, Argentina or Brazil. This is where the right-wing governments, brought to power by the protest of the working classes who felt abandoned by the promises of left-wing governments, are showing their true colors by sending in the armored tanks, which have reappeared on Chilean streets like specters from the past, two generations after Pinochet’s 1973 coup. The protagonists of these rebellions are often indigenous peoples, the first who have fallen victims to “extractivist progress,” which is devastating entire countries (and is also undermining the positive turn in Venezuela).
However, it’s not so easy to draw a common thread between the protests across Asia: from the anti-racist revolts in Indonesia, where the youth of Papua are attacking the Islamist-classist society of Jakarta from the gold mines, the very heart of the world’s wealth, to the protests in Hong Kong, which have gathered an inordinate amount of attention from the media, ostensibly aimed at reaffirming Western values and waving the star-spangled banner and the Union Jack at a time of disaster for British democracy (Boris Johnson has even fraudulently suspended Parliament). But it nonetheless highlights the open wound which is the authoritarian decision-making in Xi Jinping’s neoliberal—no matter how “communist”—China.
In Africa, social protests against corrupt regimes have been ongoing for years, but their energies remain channeled towards internal issues, if not downright ethnic, remnants of the late-colonialism that continues to dominate. In South Africa, no longer Mandela’s nation, conflicts have even taken on xenophobic connotations.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the protests in Algeria against the historical political ruling class, as well as those in Lebanon, which united people beyond the traditional division between Christians, Shiites and Sunnis against the high cost of living, seem to offer themselves as an alternative to the desperate protest of the Palestinians, abandoned by all, and the latent civil wars in all countries that are the heirs of the recent “humanitarian” Western wars.
This is true for Libya, the supposed “safe harbor”; for Iraq ,where every day sees a new massacre of protesters; but especially for Syria, reduced to rubble by failed destabilization plans, while the bloody international betrayal of the Syrian Kurds is still in progress—the only ones who, during the war against ISIS, have put into practice something other than a model of national self-determination: a higher democratic process, establishing a grassroots multi-ethnic system of self-government.
Europe and the West also find themselves at a time of generalized upheaval. First of all, there is the power of the international women’s protest against male domination and gender violence. Then, the protest of the newest generation of young people who have risen up against the commodification of the planet which is pushing us over the precipice of climate change—a crisis which is not denied by those in power, but is considered a mere added element to government programs, not a fundamental principle for transformation. It must be pointed out that so far, no union has taken up this banner, although it is clear that the workers, those who reproduce the conditions of material life, must be the social subjects who can make an environment-conscious alternative possible.
Meanwhile, in London they are protesting against Brexit, which will fulfil the nefarious plan of a Great Britain which will once again be exclusively transatlantic, carrying with it the open wound of Northern Ireland. In France, the social unrest of the gilets jaunes is still smoldering underneath, although Macron has gone back to playing the part of European and world leader. Spain is facing the irresolvable conflict that opposes the centrality of Madrid to the local “Generalitat” of the Catalan nation. And we shouldn’t forget Eastern Europe, chipping away at the EU’s remaining credibility from the far right, and where, just as in Ukraine, the fascist right is resurgent across deeply torn nations; or Russia, wracked by protests from both the right and the left against Putin’s authoritarianism. In Italy, meanwhile, the unified right—from Berlusconi to the Lega, all the way to fascists pure and simple—is soaring like an eagle in regions that used to be loyal to the left, milking its “anti-system” stance for all it’s worth.
Are all these revolts against everything and nothing, with no discernible pattern to be found? Not quite. The “politics of politicians,” globalized as it has become, is under attack everywhere. All the revolts see themselves as fighting an enemy power, the governing class, who are often light years away from the living conditions of the governed. All these revolts are not being heard, they have no political outlet; all are condemning as useless and corrupt the much-abused device of parliamentary democracy, either “gifted” by late-colonialist instrumentality or exported by the force of arms. No one believes that the existing governing class might be able to solve the world’s economic, financial, political and social crisis, which are currently without remedy and being deepened more and more by the globalized processes themselves.
On the contrary: we can no longer rely on the functioning of the supranational organizations par excellence (the UN is left without authority and funds, the IMF’s recipes are only producing new misery, the WTO is broken by sovereignist strategies such as Trump’s regarding tariffs, the EU is hardly much of a “union,” while NATO is restocking on weapons amidst the rubble of its latest wars).
The crisis presents us with the mirage of “national visions,” of separate independentisms and small countries—a distorted and counterproductive vision, if we take into account the clear need for greater supra-national democracy over large territories, while neoliberalism keeps pushing the lives of human beings to the periphery and rendering the condition of the exploited even more precarious. Meanwhile, the centrality—even merely formal—of the notion of human rights is vanishing, as is apparent every day in the face of global migrations: the exodus of women, children and men who are claiming new rights born from the despair of their escape from poverty and wars for which the West often bears responsibility.
We are facing an international transition. However, the urgent issue that remains unaddressed is that of transforming social protests into a program for systemic change, recovering the category of “revolution” as a constitutive element of politics and of democracy (without which, it must be pointed out, even our Italian Constitution is little more than a beautifully worded literary document).
Isn’t this the problem with the “left that is no longer left” of nowadays—that they have abandoned this revolutionary core, reducing everything to a supposedly inescapable “governism”?
Obviously, governments are actually necessary at some point—but it is more necessary now to dive deep into the perspective of the movements in revolt during this new international transition. Because to revolt is a good thing. It’s something we should do more of.
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