Wednesday, May 7, 2014

You say you want a revolution?

Sure, the language is more elevated, but someone will have to tell me how this kind of talk is any different from what we hear from the Cliven Bundys of the world.
We know and understand and see in plain sight that our government is in the hands of the banks. That the war of the rich against the poor, the class conflict that’s going on . . . this is in the newspapers every day. The biggest growth industry in the United States is surveillance, and NSA, and everybody’s cell phone is a tracking device. These are means of crowd control.

The American government, which I would call the American oligarchy, is afraid of the American people. And God forbid, they should have too many dangerous ideas wandering around loose in the streets...That’s only going to get worse in my view, because as we get more and more people...reduced to food stamps and poverty...the divisions between rich and poor are going to become more and more well-defined and heavily patrolled.

I suspect that if any genuinely revolutionary change takes place it will be forced upon us by a collapse of some kind in the system. That’s another form of revolution that you find across time where the civilization or the ancien regime falls apart of its own dead weight. And in the ruins, the phoenix of a new idea or a new thought or a new system of value takes its place. But that’s not something that can be organized by a committee or preached from a column in the New York Times, or even by a four-day conference about American values sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.

There’s an old axiom of Trotsky’s: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” And you could say the same thing about revolution. So I don’t think we have to be concerned that we’re not parading around in the streets. It will come of its own accord sooner rather than later.
That is part of a lengthy conversation between Thomas Frank and Lewis Lapham on "revolution" that was published in Salon.  Why any liberal would be interested in Lapham's views is beyond me.  But apparently the emo left's latest hero - Digby - is pretty impressed.

I disagree. This kind of talk is just as dangerous as the stuff coming from the far right. Notice the rather passive voice of that last paragraph. It reminds me of what Clay Claiborne said of the left's brand of cynicism.
Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!
Well...nothing except sit around and wait for the revolution.

What often rises from the revolution Lapham is describing is not a "phoenix," but fascism. And of course the collapse - whether it involves war or not - ALWAYS affects those on the bottom of the economic ladder way more than those at the top. As liberals, our goal should be about doing the long, hard work of creating change in a way that avoids revolution - not extolling its virtues. Only in the minds of privileged impatient narcissists would that be an option.

Interestingly enough, one of the liberal icons who knew that was John Lennon.

Beatles - Revolution by harrison73
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out

Don't you know it's gonna be alright
Alright, alright

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're all doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You'd better free your mind instead
That last line is the real kicker. It reminds me of the Audre Lorde quote: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Fanning the flames of cynicism and fear to extol the virtues of revolution are definitely the tools of the master. We can do much better than that if we free our minds instead!


  1. Don't get me started. I expect anti-government rants from tea-partiers and libertarians. But when I start hearing liberals using similar arguments about how government can't be trusted I have to restrain myself from lashing out.

  2. Franks+Digby writing for Salon+Greenwald building his emo base there is why I stopped reading Salon years ago.

    1. I quit reading Salon several months ago and Digby years before that. She is very overrated and quite insular in her writing and analysis.

  3. Sorry. I meant Frank, not Franks. Wrong spelling, same asshole.

  4. You would think that someone with the historical awareness of Lewis Lapham and Thomas Frank would know better than to bandy about words like "revolution." Evidence from revolutions in large countries like France, Russia and China shows us that well meaning, but unarmed parlor revolutionaries (or maybe we should call them "Keyboard Mensheviks") like these two are the first to go when small groups of ruthless and armed professional revolutionaries take advantage of breakdowns in social and political order. Mao said that revolution is not a tea party, but Frank and Lapham seem to be salivating about how good their crumpets will taste.

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  6. "What often rises from the revolution Lapham is describing is not a "phoenix," but fascism." Bingo.

    And the Koch-sponsored fascists are ready to step up while the left runs around like chickens with their heads cut off.

    Though I wonder why these "brilliant minds" of the emo-left never thought about "revolution" while Dubya had the wrecking ball out. These people make me ill. The little Robespierres might like to contemplate their own heads on a pike before making proclamations from their keyboards.


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