So, in my previous post, I went over some of what has been happening over the past few weeks in Black Lives Matter Protests in the U.S. It left out a ton. Not the least of which was all the international protests, many in solidarity and many addressing their own local policing issues. Especially heartening for me has been the African protest that clearly show how deep the love is for many continental Africans for their cousins across the sea. The protests only seem to be building around the world too as this massive protest in Germany illustrates.
It is also unfortunate that I have not been able to focus on the solidarity protest in detention centers, prisons and jails. Yet it important to note that they are happening across the country even as those same folks are facing dangerous conditions in facilities.
On June 4, a day before ICE issued its statement, Centro Legal De La Raza announced that dozens of detainees at Mesa Verde launched a hunger strike in honor of Floyd and Breonna Taylor and to express solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” protests.
The hunger strike was also to urge California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to “take concrete action to save lives as the threat of COVID-19 worsens in ICE detention.”
The Center also released statement it said was provided by the detained immigrants:
“We, the detained people of dormitories A, B, and C at Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility, are protesting and on hunger strike in solidarity with the detained people at Otay Mesa Detention Center. We begin our protest in memory of our comrades George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, and Tony McDade. Almost all of us have also suffered through our country’s corrupt and racist criminal justice system before being pushed into the hands of ICE. We are protesting the deaths of our comrades Carlos Mejia, who died in ICE custody at Otay Mesa, and Choung Woong Ahn, our friend who died in ICE custody at this detention center. We are protesting the inadequate medical care in all ICE detention facilities. We are also protesting the lies that ICE has told in court to federal and immigration judges about the conditions of these facilities. What they have done is not nearly enough to prevent the virus from endangering us, and we demand instant relief from these conditions. It is still impossible to practice social distancing within this facility, and ICE and Geo Group’s practices are not protecting us from this virus. We will continue our protest until further attention is brought to these conditions, and until the Governor and the Attorney General of California begin an official investigation into all ICE detention facilities in California.”https://www.borderreport.com/hot-topics/migrant-centers/ice-now-says-detainees-held-hunger-strike-in-honor-of-george-floyd/
Of course, police brutality continues across the world and more and more of it is being reported internationally. The case of Chief Allan Adam of Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta, Canada who was assaulted by the Royal Canadian Police in March is starting to gather more attention as, once again, video was released contradicting the police officers story. I don’t even have the emotional capacity to collect updates about all the cases.
My last post also left out awesome developments that have come to my attention recently, like the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle. Black folks at that encampment also released a dope list of demands that is not only comprehensive but reiterates how local communities are really leading this movement. This essay really dives deep into background of what is happening. I suggest folks check it out.
Its further proof that we are in a drought of local news. These national new outfits can’t really understand the local nuisances and at many local papers veterans reporters have been fired in recent years. This has meant that all of the nuisance of reporting has been washed out. In article on Vice, Victor Pickard, an American media studies scholar at the University of Pennsylvania explains the situation this way:
“Studies show that those lacking access to reliable local news—especially newspapers—are less informed about politics, less civically engaged, and less likely to vote,” Pickard said. “Without local journalists, there is also less accountability and a rise of corruption and mismanagement in local governments. The emergence of vast ‘news deserts’ across the country is an enormous social problem that requires a sustained public policy response.”https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/panqb8/the-death-of-local-news-is-making-us-dumber-and-more-divided
Its important to remember that many of the national counting of police killings rely on local new reports. I say all of this highlight the impossibility of what I am attempting to do in these essays, to get a sense of what is actually happening across the country. Not to mention the intense historical turn this post has taken. The more the I hear people talk about this moment, what it means and what’s possible to more I think people have forgotten our history!
That being said, I think its worth a try even if we fail.
I began to write this piece wanting to do some background on the different perspectives that folks are using to look at these events. People are saying that this is protest, or an uprsing or a riot. These terms and the lenses that support them are loaded with historical force. They are terms that arise from contested histories. I wanted to give folks that history briefly. I failed lol. What ended happening was an extended analysis of the Birth of the Left-Right Divide and an extended overview of the French Revolutionary period.
It has ended up being far too long for me to expect anyone to read it. So, I have had to cut it into two. Which kind of makes the first part really feel not related to the piece I published last week or the events of this month at all. I get that, but believe me, the connections are there.
A lot of energy is being spent trying to correctly categorize the events of the past few weeks. Either justifying the events of the past few weeks–especially the property destruction–as an uprising or condemning them as riots with liberals trying to focus on the “protests.” I find most of accounts uncompelling because they don’t explain the why. Even my own writing on the subject might articulate a justification or talk about the best response but it doesn’t attempt to explain why it happens or even give a compelling overview of the supposed goals of the actions.
In other words, they do one of two things. Either they give moralistic descriptions of the actions, trying to speak to their decontextualized “essence” without actually explaining the why now, or the why here. So if you are sympathetic they are uprisings if not they are riots. Or they skip over the why by propping up a straw-man argument (people are angry or people are bad) and discuss mainly what to do about it.
Yet, they don’t get into the fact that people are often mad, why now? Or, for conservatives, if some people are bad, then weren’t they bad two weeks ago or even 5 years when there was wide spread protests about police not nearly as much property destruction? Why has this spread to so many cities that have never hosted protests? This understanding of context is, to me, crucial of making sense of what happened.
I think this is because we are talking about what is happening through ideologies that are not spoken. The mainstream media just says “this is what happened” and never refers to the political tradition through which they see the world (which is overwhelming liberalism). Explicitly partisan organizations might use buzzwords but their rarely explain their ideology and show how the current moment validates or invalidates it.
Now, I want recognize that it can be really important to focus on what to do, even before we know why this is happening. That why I wrote the piece “Don’t Work to Save the Master’s House.” We may never know why something is happening but we have to act anyway. We may never know why Trump really does what he does but we have to counter his moves anyway. Still, the better we understand the why, the better we ensure our responses will get us the outcomes we want.
The main descriptions of the past week have can be summed up, generally, as:
- This is a protest. People are exercising their constitutional right to air grievances against their government.
- This is an uprising. People are pushing back against oppression. Thus burning down things was an emergent strategy. This piece, written about Ferguson protests succinctly captures that idea.
- This is a riot. People are “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit.” This is basis of the Neo-conservative movement. As this article points out, before Neo-conservativism was anything else, it was a theory about urban unrest.
- This is political theater. People are trying to look woke either to fit in, get votes or gain support of people now that protesting is cool.
I want to dive into each of these narratives and talk about the arguments for and limits of each. I think it is important to illustrate that these different perspective aren’t just differences of opinion. They represent different ideologies and these ideologies will inform what actors do next. Understanding how actors are making sense of this moment is crucial to planning how we need to respond to make sure the worlds we want are the ones that emerge out of this process.
To do this I think it is useful–as I often do–to look at history. Specifically the history of the French Revolution and the left, liberal and right divides in political thinking. The basic way that people in the U.S, and much of the world, think about politics in deeply informed by the French revolution. I know this seems like a huge tangent but, going back to French Revolution is the easiest why to show people in the U.S what liberalism is and what the alternatives are. Without being able to look at the world through a non-liberal lens, none of this will make sense.
As always, I hope to able to use a differential lens. Meaning, to use each ideology not as “true” but a potentially useful lens to better understand the deep context of a particular situation. This is term I found in Third World Feminist Discourse, I think it so crucial.
“The differential mode of social movement and consciousness depends on the practitioner’s ability to read the current situation of power and self consciously choosing and adopting the ideological stand best suited to push against its configurations, a survival skill well known to oppressed people…Within the realm of differential social movement, ideological differences and their oppositional forms of consciousness, unlike their incarnations under hegemonic feminist comprehension, are understood as tactics–not as strategies.”Chela Sandoval, “Methodology of the Oppressed” pg 59
Other Anarchists might say that differential politics is part of making sure your politics aren’t boring as fuck. So, I’m less interested in a academic debate about different theories that talk about far away political potentials. I want to talk about this history in regards to right now. Is the Chaz the next Paris Commune? Are we facing a potential revolutionary moment? And, perhaps most importantly, as all the potentially liberal and revolutionary groups try to channel this spontaneous energy into something, what is likely to happen?
I have been frustrated with much of the conversation and commentary on this moment and this shows in my piece. Expecting BLM to be like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the organization that MLK led) misunderstands both their politics and this current moment. Urban uprisings where the police stations were burned down are much more akin to period of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. Now, I’m sure some are you are saying comparing this moment to the long sixties might be seem a more useful than going all the way back to Europe in the 1700’s. In many ways that is true.
Yet, many of us feel like we own the stories of the 60’s and 70’s that we lived through or heard. We see ourselves in that struggle and so are not really open to reinterpreting what really happened. Also, I fundamentally believe that the Revolution that happened in the long 60’s is unresolved, the blow that those movements gave to the Liberal World order didn’t kill it. I think that there is the potential that this moment could actually see a shift away from global Liberal Hegemony.
We are, in my estimation too close–too fully subsumed by Liberal hegemony–to see clearly outside of it. Going to the beginning of Liberalism and highlighting how it achieved its current ubiquity helps us understand what it actually is. We can also see what alternative, non liberal, worlds were possible. Contrary to what liberals often think, the alternatives to Liberalism are not only fascism, primitivism or some form of Nordic Social Democracy.
So, by understanding its beginning, I think we can understand its potential end. In the context of that end, our own long 60’s experiences may make way more sense.
(Relatively) Brief History of the Origins of the Left-Right Divide
[*disclaimer: I am going to be talking about historical ideologies. I think the history of ideologies is super important to understanding this moment. But the it is also important to note two things. 1. The way we use words liberal, left or conservative is often more muddled than they meant historically. 2. No one has a “pure ideology” or even an internally consistent ideology. Most of us believe bits and pieces of different things. Even the most rabid liberal hold conservative and radical views simultaneously. People are complex like that. Thus I will try to talk about liberal, conservative or radical ideologies and not people*]
An ideology is more than a set of ideas or theories. It is more than a moral commitment or a worldview. It is a coherent strategy in the social arena from which one can draw quite specific conclusions. In this sense, one did not need ideologies in previous world-systems, or indeed even in the modern world-system before the concept of the normality of change, and that of the citizen who was ultimately responsible for such change, were adopted as basic structural principles of political institutions. For ideologies presume that there exists competing groups with competing long-term strategies of how to deal with change and who best should take the lead in dealing with it. The Ideologies we born in the wake of the French Revolution.An Introduction to World-Systems Analysis Immanuel Wallerstein
Now, Immanuel Wallerstein uses ideology is a very particular way. He talks of ideologies in the sense of organized ideologies that are in conflict which each other. In this sense, Wallerstein’s ideologies are weaponized worldviews that are used by political organizations to both interpret events and also describe some “ideal state.” I think Wallerstein is wrong to say that ideologies are created in the French Revolution. In some ways, religions are different ideologies that come into conflict all the time. Cultures contain ideologies as well.
The Warring States Period of China ~475 B.C. to 221 B.C saw the “Hundred Schools of Thought.” Here Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and the school of Yin/Yang to name a few, all fought with each other for general social acceptance. So ideologies are not a European thing or a thing that came out of the French Revolution. Yet, during the French Revolution you got the first widely influential time that secular non-cultural political ideologies–that is ideologies not tied to a specific culture, people or religion but based on ideas of how power should be wielded within a society–knowingly competed with each other as competing secular political ideologies.
The French Revolution started the period in history that frames Western Political Debate and thus Wallerstein’s definition is useful to understand this debate. For a more comprehensive overview of ideology, I would really really recommend this clip from the Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.
The Enlightenment and Reformation
Okay, so I think its actually important to start this off with the enlightenment. Some of us studied this in school but likely in ways that were so abstract that it doesn’t seem anywhere near relevant. But the enlightenment, also known as the “Age of Reason” is important because it was the first time in Europe since the ascent of the Roman Catholic Church that people started making arguments about what is, how things are and how we can know what exists without using religion to explain it.
[So yes, this is mainly a bunch of dead European men discussing the ideas of dead European men. It important because some of those ideas were awesome and many of the non-awesome ideas became the basis for U.S society]
Many of the ideas first introduced in this period, particularly its focus on liberty, social progress and education would become hegemonic through out the world. For those readers new to the idea of hegemony there is a quote from a socialist meme that describes it well. The meme attributes the quote to Antonio Gramsci but I think this is actually a paraphrase of his ideas not a direct quote. Regardless, it is apt:
The important part here is that ideas BECOME HEGEMONIC through conflict. The history of ideas is not the natural progressive of a topic from one layer of complexity and accuracy to another. People fight over ideas and often that fight becomes political–meaning they become about not just what is or isn’t true but about where social power comes from and how it should be viewed and wielded– and those view points change how institutions within a society function.
I believe we are seeing the crest of a hegemonic conflict between the punishment vision of public safety and the community nurturance vision. These conversations around what the hashtag #Defundpolice means is secondary to way this will be implemented in situations like schools and in city budgets. The hegemony of police is clear in suburban white people’s consistent support of it despite being the people who deal with the police the least. Our nation as a whole tends to view the police as if we were a middle aged, middle class white man in the suburbs minding his own business but concerned about his daughter going into the city on the weekends.
The enlightenment was in many ways the result scientific revolution that preceded it becoming hegemonic in Europe. People start to see the world through the lens of scientist and it eventually became the norm. The idea that physics comes from natural laws becomes political when you say “if the natural world is like this, then why shouldn’t the human or social world be like this?” Then instead of divinely ordained kings you might start advocating for rationally elected parliaments.
This is a big part of what the enlightenment was. The enlighten comes after the protestant reformation and the scientific revolution. These two movement influenced each other deeply. The scientific revolution changed which ideas and institutions were the arbiter of truth (shifting from the church to reason and independent investigation) while the protestant revolution changed who had spiritual power (many forms of Protestantism thought individual people should communicate directly to god.) Both movements brought truth or power from something in the hands of a privileged group to something that more people (though few would have said everyone) can decide for themselves.
This is crucial because it is part of how everyday people began to be seen as political forces unto themselves.
Now, the name THE enlightenment is a bit a misnomer. There wasn’t really only one enlightenment. Each culture had its own version of it. Each version was comfortable/compatible with different theologies. Each enlightenment thinker was also concerned with a different part of society and they all kinda disagreed with each other. Adam Smith and the Scottish enlightenment was really interested in economic theory from a design perspective. Rousseau and French Enlightenment with social theory. German enlightenment with the philosophy of science and knowledge, literature, music and social administration. [Really, really big generalizations, this a really sloppy hot take on the enlightenment but the enlightenment is not the even a tertiary focus of this essay.]
Its hard to say what the enlightenment was about in general but some key themes include the idea that society can be improved through human action, that the natural world was governed by laws and the human world should be too. Some “radical” thinkers like John Locke and Spinoza talked about the separation of Church and State and religious tolerance (though Spinoza was far more tolerant than Locke who was pretty bigoted in many ways). The idea of the social contract and governing by the consent of the governed comes from the radical enlightenment too. [Our society is based on a lot of these formerly radical beliefs, including the modern form of racism that we are all currently confronting.]
The enlightenment was also influenced by other cultures. There wasn’t some magical barrier stopping people from interacting with each other. Trade from China, India, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas brought ideas as well as goods. Social theories were fascinated with indigenous cultures and, despite their racism, it was actually quite clear to them that indigenous people we quite industrious and well organized. The social organization of indigenous peoples was especially of interest.
“They were impressed, for example, by the significantly (even statistically) lower incidence of violence within First American societies, and by the limits generally imposed by those cultures upon inter-societal warfare. They responded favorable–or at least thoughtfully and tolerantly–to the more relaxed attitudes about sex, marriage, and divorce, and to the different idioms of personal hygiene (as in daily bathing) and medical treatment. “William Appleman Williams “Empire as a Way of Life.”
So, it is not just that the Enlightenment is of global importance because the societies it influenced went on to conquer much of the rest of the world. But, it is also responding to and influenced by many societies from around the world. Though I think it is important to be critical of the enlightenment and see its European origins clearly, I think we should also view it as part of our human legacy, good and bad, not just a thing for Europeans and their descendants to talk about.
This is particularly true given the way it has shaped our world. I mean, a group of ideologically fringe merchants and slave owners in a backwater colony of the British Empire became awash with some of the most radical elements of these ideas. They started to talk more and more about wrestling political control from the King in they same way they had wrestled spiritual control form the pope. These ideas of “taking power” from conventional sources appealed to many of the workers and enslaved people in that same society.
When the American Revolution (or again, counter revolution) popped off, it was in some ways the first of its kind. It had a lot of the elements that would be present in later movements. A group of radicals agitate for freedom, an ideologically strange group of more privileged people take advantage of that agitation for their own revolution.
The founding fathers, for instance, we far less religious than the U.S population over all, far wealthier and less democratic (many state constitutions at the time of Independence were more democratic than the Constitution with Vermont abolishing slavery and others requiring amendments to ratified by the voters in constitutional conventions.)
There is also a lot of evidence that a lot of the energy for independence was to prolong the slave trade that England had lost control of and thus interest in. Either way, the American Declaration of Independence became the basis of the Declarations of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen that helped galvanize the French revolution.
One more thing. The enlightenment had no central list of demands. No internally coherent platform. Its most ardent followers disagreed about what its basic thrust was. Yet it fundamentally altered the course of human history. Sit with that. As everyone who has never engaged in a principled political struggle comments on how, four weeks in, there is no coherence to these protests. Despite all of the demands from the previous whirlwind after Ferguson still being relevant. Despite the series of new formations that exist including The Rising Majority.
But it is never demands and singular organizations or formations that make ideas hegemonic. It is their inoculation into lasting institutions. The enlightenment was cemented by not by demands or organizations but in public schools, universities, intellectual newspapers, parliaments and independent banks. Each of these institutions started in small failures in parts of the world formerly considered backwaters. They were fought over in violent struggles and maintained because they were of use to enough people enough of the time.
The French Revolution[s] or Revolutionary (and Counter-Revolutionary) Period 1790’s-1871
Whole books are written about the French Revolution. Nothing I say will really capture it here. Please please read more about it. Or, honestly, listen to the Revolutions Podcast by Mike Duncan. IT IS GREAT!
The French Revolution is basically the most sampled song/social event in Western history. Imagine the French Revolution as this thing that maybe wasn’t the greatest but has some aspects that people just kept coming back to over and over again. The French Revolution proper took place mostly in the 1790’s. I am mostly concerned with the nearly hundred years from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune as an example of a revolutionary period. I think it is a useful period to study because it shows that the ideas of change that people had occurred from tons of failed experiments. The U.S generally overlooks history which is why we are so unaware when we are repeating it.
The Early Royalist Argument
The Royalist, who were in many ways the forerunners of the Conservatives, were initially loyal to the Acien Regime of the Three Estates. For a few hundred years the ancient regime had been the basis for French society. It resembled similar constructions through our European Feudalism. Much of history before the French Revolution involved internal conflicts between the 1st and 2nd estate or external conflicts between the 1st and 2nd estates of various countries.
Many Royalist would acknowledge that the Three Estates model was bit outdated. Especially as the Bourgeoisie in the third estate grew in wealth and power. But it was important to them to acknowledge that this general set up was pretty stable for a long time. It was also blessed by the pope himself which mattered for devout Catholics (these so to protestants for obvious reasons.) Perhaps most importantly, the first and second estate spent their entire lives preparing to rule. For most of French history they were generally the only literate members of society and the only ones with a view of the outside world.
The Early Liberal Argument
Liberals tended to come from the Bourgeois, city merchants and artisans who owned small shops, which was growing in size and wealth through out the colonial period. It is so important to note that this group of people owed their abundance in large part to the rape, enslavement and plunder of what is now called the third world. They sold the food that feed the armies, made the cannons, tailored the uniforms of the soldiers etc. Many also built, owned, insured or financed the the ships that brought human beings as property from Africa to the “new world.”
As colonialism expanded and especially once capitalism started entering into French Society this part of the third estate grew larger and larger. They also started to become more educated and take positions in city government. They grew angry when all the higher post were held by the second estate even if they were not as qualified. Being that many of them were not nobles they began to push for enlightenment ideals and that it didn’t take noble blood to have merit.
But we should never forget, like they did, that there capacity to individually study and write was based on fundamentally patriarchal division on labor within their home and colonial situation abroad. They had time to study because they had wives and servants to run their households, feed them, clothed them, nursed them when sick and raised their children. They made larger profits by employing low paid workers to work under them. They had markets to sell to because of colonial expansion.
When they said that individual reason should rule, most of them meant white men who “had made something of themselves” like them. Yet liberals were not pushing for democracy and rarely ever had. Few of their ilk originally considered a Republic that included illiterate peasants on the country side. There society of rational individuals did not include those enslaved to, employed by or wed to them. They were not unlike the college students now who talk about “everyone” but really mean “educated young people with their general sensibilities.”
They idealized the Greek democracies which were slave societies. Many liberals still point to ancient Athens as the model for democracy. They either don’t mention the slavery present in the society or say that it was just an ancient prejudice we could do without. Yet the slave structure of Greek society was what allowed them to study and debate. They didn’t have to work in the fields and they had to have some idea of how to manage people in order to be eligible to vote. Before public education was a thing, boys where trained in running a household which meant managing wives and slaves. So the managing of a household of slaves was a direct parallel to managing a polis.
The idea of governance as managing uneducated slaves is deeply impeded in ideas of liberal democracy. Its why liberals are so smug and so focused on education. They think that the problem of society is caused by ignorance of the uneducated, they cannot fathom the perspective of the workers who actually make society possible.
The Early Radical Argument
In the beginning, there were few actual democrats but their were some radical Republicans. These radical republicans thought that even the poor workers and peasants should be a part of the state as citizens. There were many women in this group who brokered no compromises when it came to their right to vote as well. Some of these radical republicans would be convinced to support the inclusion of enslaved people in Haiti later on, but it would always be a small and tepid group.
These radical republicans understood the more moderate bourgeois liberals only wanted to turn themselves into a fourth estate or at most, replace the second and first estate with themselves. Radical Republicans fought for the ability to enfranchise all the men of France. It would not be until industrialization really caught on in France after the Revolution that the radicals would find leftist socialist in their ranks.
The First French Revolution
In general, its important to understand that, like now, the French Revolution took place as a lot of different disasters were happening. It took place during massive upheavals in the world order that inspired other people. It was radically experimental with some of those experiment crashing a burning never to be tried again but most being rehashed over and over again in different forms.
There was terrible political leadership, economic collapse and social break down. The state was very repressive in part to pay for the taxes from the Seven Years war and the American Revolution. Commoners got fed up and stormed the Bastille which was were political prisoners were kept. Many consider this the start of the Revolution. Freeing political prisoners is a huge part of many many revolutions including playing a big role in the America’s aborted 60’s revolution. Something to keep in mind read about George Jackson please!
Importantly it was a Woman’s March that pressured the King’s court into Paris where much of the Revolution would take place. Women’s marches instigate A LOT of revolutions including the Russian Revolution. There are soo many interesting and politically crucial reasons for this. Please read anything and everything by Silvia Federici.
As is often the case, the initial uprisings surprised the intellectuals and self-appointed leaders of French society. There was a cycle of spontaneous mass action by commoners and people rushing to take advantage of the energy and, in some cases to channel it. Spontaneous action by the masses, opportunistic actions by radicals and attempts channel energy into a “program” ( a strategy for collective social action to get specific social results) were all driving factors in the Revolution.
It is important that it took a hundred years before common people started clamoring for a coherent ideological world change. They mostly revolted over specific things that they wanted rolled back. They wanted cheaper bread and lower taxes. They wanted to be treated with dignity. It took time for larger systemic critiques to be absorbed by the commoners, it also took a lot of failed reforms for them to start really pushing for Revolution.
For three years there was a lot of political agitation and organizing (note that people stormed the prisons and yet it took years of organizing for the next stage to happen…MESSAGE]. Eventually an insurrection happens and people storm the Paris palace and kill the Monarchs ending the monarchy and establishing a Republic (historians are probably rolling their eyes and this is pretty big oversimplification).
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen are published during this time and though they were never officially adopted become super influential in history. The document is heavily influenced by the declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the U.S and influenced the 1948 United Nation Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a foundational document in the rights based order that is at the heart of Liberalism. This ideas are a pretty good outline of what Liberalism is.
Articles of the Rights Based Order
Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.
Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.
Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
Article IV – Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.
Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.
Article VI – The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.
Article VII – No man can be accused, arrested nor detained but in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders, must be punished; but any citizen called or seized under the terms of the law must obey at once; he renders himself culpable by resistance.
Article VIII – The law should establish only penalties that are strictly and evidently necessary, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and legally applied.
Article IX – Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable if it is judged indispensable to arrest him, any rigor which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.
Article X – No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.
Article XI – The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.
Article XII – The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those in whom it is trusted.
Article XIII – For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenditures of administration, a common contribution is indispensable; it must be equally distributed to all the citizens, according to their ability to pay.
Article XIV – Each citizen has the right to ascertain, by himself or through his representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and of determining the proportion, basis, collection, and duration.
Article XV – The society has the right of requesting an account from any public agent of its administration.
Article XVI – Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no Constitution.
Article XVII – Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen
To really understand the impact of these ideas, you have to understand what came before. In absolute Monarchies, the whims of the Monarch was the only justification needed. The Monarch did not have make a case that what they were doing was in the best interests of the Nation. The could kill people arbitrarily and regularly did. Before the advantage of capitalism in France, one of the largest sources of new wealth came from government positions which were often doled out by political connection and not by merit.
Perhaps the most resonate for the D.C folks waking up to the third amendment, armies tended to be loyal to the Crown not the nation and certainly not to a constitution. The idea of a national army whose soldiers were regular people who volunteered for service and pledged to protect the country was not, by and large, a thing. Our basic idea of the military now-a-days is fundamentally different. The idea, espoused by our military, that it should not be used to by an executive authority to solve political problems was a revolutionary liberal idea.
First of all, constitutions were not a thing. For Monarchs at the time, the thought of a constitution was far more ludicrous than talks for abolishing the police are for politicians today. The U.S is a hundred years older than its first police department. It has existed without one. Yet to absolute monarchs, a constitution was just an imaginary idea that that silly little island of Great Britain was experimenting with.
Additionally, you can see that the nation as the origin of rational society, of rights themselves in social contract theory, is pretty baked into these documents. The sovereignty of the Nation-State, as opposed to that of an inbred royal dynasty that traded crown and kingdoms like hot potatoes for instance, is central to liberal thinking. A nation is a–again very roughly–a group of people who share a common history, language and economy. This is much different than a Kingdom which is defined by who rules it.
A state as a polity whose agents are seen as having legitimate coercive authority (the ability to compel the actions of others not just with threats of force but claims of “rightness” or law) over a territory and the people and resources living on it. A polity is an identifiable political entity, or any group of people who have a collective identity, who have a capacity to mobilize resources, and are organized by some form of institutionalized hierarchy. So in a sense, a state is an organization of people who are seen as able to justifiably control the resources and people of given territory.
So a nation-state is a place where people with shared history, culture and economy and land in which they live are ruled by a organization who asserts the right to govern the resources of that territory including the people. This idea is also unique in the primacy it gives to the idea of a domestic market or economy something that really only emerges in Capitalism. The idea of one nation, one state, is the systemic equivalent to one person one vote. Following from this, people have rights because they are in society that grants them these rights. So called natural rights were much more limited under this framework than in say, the idea of human rights that would come later.
With the idea of the nation state comes the idea of citizenship. As a citizen you have rights as well as responsibilities. You become the basic unit of government. Before citizenship you were merely subject, one who was ruled. It transforms a simple relationship (you do what the king tells you to do and hope his decisions don’t fuck you over) to a more dynamic one (it is your responsibility to ensure you are governed well.) If you had a bad king no blamed the subjects, but let some President “win” with less votes and suddenly the citizens are to blame. This is an important conceptual and legal shift.
There was, importantly, a declaration of the rights of women passed at the time. It is important to note that women were not passive in this struggle. Nor did they believe blindly that these men speaking of universal freedom included them in their thinking. They fought and the lead for their rights to be including. Yet, their understanding of this right were similar to the men. They were liberal, actually inclusive but not really that different. Not as revolutionary as Third World and Social Reproductive Feminism would be.
But again, this declaration was never officially passed. There were a ton of Republican assemblies that come quickly after this. National bodies are created and dissolved. There are coups and counter coups. Tons of people are killed. Lots of friends end up enemies and killing each other. It was chaotic and we should remember this. I cannot stress this enough. The Liberal Order was born of this particular chaos.
It is crucial to remember that these liberals where not in favor of democracy. Their entire envision of “individuality” was one of individual white men of mean who were supported by women and colonized people. Their Republicanism was a more honest name for the type of “democracy” that the slave owning ancient Greeks had, it was based in the larger context of genocide of indigenous peoples and slavery.
Like most liberals now who don’t think about how their coffee beans are grown, the teenage girls with arthritis making their clothes or the Bi-POC folks cleaning their office building, they thought of themselves as self-contained members of society. This myth of the individual to me, is the heart of the problem with liberalism. The isolated individual simply cannot exist. It takes so much social labor to keep human society going.
So this is the essence of Liberalism:
- The state achieves its legitimacy from the consent of the governed and its authority through a constitution which represents the collective will of the people
- Justice exists as it is defined in law
- The state has a role in proactively ensuring the liberty of all
- The belief in social progress through rational innovation and government intervention in society when there is a rational and utilitarian reason to do so and evidence based means to achieve it
- The individual is the fundamental political unit, not the family, not a class or an estate.
- All citizens are equal under the law
- Individuals should rise and fall based on their merit not hereditary titles
- Individual liberty is only limited by the needs of the nation and only when the majority of individuals consent to it.
- **a separation of public and private spheres of life**
- National armies sworn to protect the constitution and not used as a political too or in domestic law enforcement
- Liberal Nation-State
- Separation of church and state
- Legislative Bodies that are more powerful than executive bodies
- Independent Judiciary
- Publicly Funded Education
- Free press
- Publicly Funded Health Services
- Publicly Funded Cultural Enrichment
- Art funding etc
If you were to poll people on any of these tenets, you would probably get near ubiquitous approval. That is how strong of a hold liberalism has on our thinking. Most of these things are fine and some of these ideas greatly increased human welfare in European societies when they were introduced. But there are alternatives. There are, for instance, nations without a state like most indigenous tribes in the U.S where people are governed by kinship and relationalities of care rather than laws and the monopoly of violence.
There is an ancient form of democracy in Ethiopia, among the Oromo people. It is called the Gada system. It is, to put it mildly, a very non-liberal system of government. It shares few of the foundational assumptions of the Liberal System. Yet it has legal system, a legislative body and an elected executive body. It is also much more participatory and responsive to people’s needs than our liberal democracy. The point here is not to say that these systems are “better” or to advocate we adopt them. Rather it help people question some foundational assumptions of liberalism.
Why is are our only two choices to be a citizen or a subject? Can the law recognize inherent differences in people (age, gender, occupation) and still be just? Is equal protection the best way to ensure universal protection? Why should how power is wielded be divorced from our wider understands of right and wrong?
End of the Revolution and Rise of the French Empire
It is in this turmoil, with a Hapsburg Empire marching on Paris to restore the French King that Napoleon enters the scene. He comes back from Egypt (see again, in Africa stripping it of its riches so that the French “Republic” could survive) just in time to fight these other Monarchs and is hailed as the savior of the Republic.
Through some interesting but not super super relevant details Napoleon founds the French Empire (the First French Empire). Now, it might not seem like a revolutionary turn because one despot was replaced by another. But despite the rhetoric of its propagandist, no revolution is ever so simple as the “forces of freedom” again the “forces of tyranny.” People have all sorts of interests that shift and conflict and contradict each other. The embrace of Napoleon makes more sense when you recognize that liberals and most of the people on the streets were not democrats. They wanted and end to hereditary elite rule and Napoleon was one of the first great “self-made men.”
Napoleon was a populist and made himself out to be a champion of the little guy. Unlike Trump or Romney who style themselves as “self-made” but always overlook that tiny multi-million dollar donation made by their fathers, Napoleon did have the kind of the story that typified the Republican ideal. He came from nothing and rose to the top because he was one of the finest generals in human history. Again, liberals see individuals like him and think “yes!, this is what we meant we talk about meritocracy.” The do not mean the millions of french individuals who actually made his vision a reality.
The peasants and other members of the third estate who supported him were not necessarily hoodwinked or blinded by authoritarianism. He brought order, security and development to people who had been devastated by the mismanagement of the Bourbons. He did also institute public schools, standard weights and measurements which would become the basis of the metric system and passed a ton of social reforms that made French society much more rule based and rational.
Napoleonic populism is the original third way that is often left out of the left-right discussion but shows up over and over again in history. It is has had as much influence on western political history as the left, right and liberal portions the debate. [This is particularly true in the U.S. as Andrew Jackson is such a Napoleonic figure. A general who seeks to enfranchise portions of the downtrodden while also murdering and killing his way to glory and doubling down on exploitative institutions. We will return to this theme in the next essay when we talk about fascism.]
Napoleon’s rule was viewed as Radical by many monarchs through Europe not the least of which because of how quickly he invaded and overthrew some of their cousins but because he had become a symbol for a quite a few radical Liberal ideas. Napoleon was not a liberator for everyone however. Under his rule slavery was re-instituted in the French Empire. Napoleon was defeated by a coalition of royalist called the “sixth coalition.” This coalition of nations to combat a revolutionary new ideology will happen over and over and over again.
The sixth coalition re-instated Bourbon dynasty (King Louis and Marie Antoinette’s family) that had been kicked out of France in the first Revolution. (Not unlike the U.S re-instating the Shah of Iran after he was ousted by a revolution. History repeats itself.) The U.S often says that it uses military intervention for “freedom” but in reality, just like the Monarchist of old fearing Republicanism, they fear that radical ideas will spread and upset their control of the world systems. Yet the Bourbon Kings were not able push back on many of the reforms that had taken hold in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods.
After the French Revolution, and the fall of Napoleon, the French parliament was often dived into three sections. Those on the right were the Monarchist, they supported the nobility. The would generally be considered the forerunners to conservatives. Those on the left were the radicals. They were mostly radical republicans but over time they would diversify to include mutualist and socialist. Between these two camps came the Liberals. Who wanted more change than the conservatives but far less change than the radicals.
Importantly conservatives were a reaction to early liberals and radical republicans. Conservatives scoffed at the idea that society is infinitely improvable. After the French Revolution devolved into a circular firing squad, Conservatives saw revolutions are inevitably leading to terror and irrational violence. The believed in social hierarchy, they believed that the old social order only needed a few reforms to solve the problems facing society. Initially reformist minded royalist, they would slowly realize that monarchy was untenable and that capitalist markets could better ensure that the smartest and most capable rose to the top.
A Sadly Short Aside about the Haitian Revolution
My favorite part, and if we are honest really the best part, of the French Revolution was the much cooler Revolution it inspired: the Haitian Revolution. Enslaved Africans had been fleeing, rebelling and undermining the institution of slavery and the societies built on it from jump. Yet, with Haitian Revolution you get a glimpse of a much more exciting alternative history that never was.
The articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were read to rebelling enslaved Africans and they took the beliefs enshrined in them to heart. They created assemblies and communes that resembled revolutionary structures in France. They even sent supplies to support the Revolutionary Republics from time to time. That solidarity was rarely requited. I am not going to get into this Revolution in this piece, except to say that I think it is much more influential on European history than we think.
When we talk about Conservative Reaction, and what reactionary conservatives are so afraid of, the Haitian Revolution is a big part of it. The destruction of exploitative wealth that the Haitian Revolution caused is one of the reasons that the French Ruling class was in such disrepair. I think the Haitian Revolution is also why you should trust the people and beware of opportunist leaders. The Haitian Revolution shows the limits of rioting as oppressed people’s revenge. It shows that oppressed people do not go out of their way for revenge and when revenge comes it is targeted and specific. Not mindless.
Rather than devolving into ethno-nationalism, Haiti is an example of a mass of people engaging in a truly humanist vision of freedom. Women played a major role as leaders and fighters and the Haitian state was the first modern state to provide universal citizenship. Even the white polish soldiers who were sent to quell the Rebellion but refused to fire on the self-emancipated Africans were given citizenship. The plight of Haiti now, is not in anyway tied to the failure of their Revolution. It is not a case of a Revolution going to far, rather it is a warning side for all Revolutions to prepare for the reaction.
Revolutionary Haiti was hobbled by European imperialism after its successful revolution. Napoleon tried and failed to capture the island and after over a decade of fighting Haiti was forced to pay back France the cost of “looting” the value of their own lives as slaves. That is right. Haiti paid France the equivalent of $21 Billion Dollars. The loan took 122 years to repay. It made the Haitian state chronically insolvent. After paying its emancipation debt they had to take on more debt to develop, which is the cause of their economic problem now. It was the forces of control who created the more long lasting chaos and this is cautionary tale for all of us.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that the Haitian Revolution was perfect. There were betrayals of opportunistic leaders and it never recovered economically. Yet, the Haitian people displayed a remarkably consistent drive for Freedom and fought on at times when they leaders signed truce. They wanted freedom and were unwilling to accept anything less.
To me, France and subsequent other European Liberal Republics lack of solidarity with Haiti, points to the larger failure of Liberalism. To me, it is less that Liberalism is so flawed that if implemented thoroughly it would lead to a bad society (though I think this is likely true). Its more that Liberalism has proven itself unwilling and unable to combat reactionary conservatism and, I would argue, the most reactionary of conservatives are radicalized by the failure of Liberalism. So Liberalism creates its own problems and is unable to combat them.
Revolutions in France Between 1830-1848
So, the French Revolution failed to achieve the Republic many sought but the fervor of Republican and Radical agitation continued. A new Bourbon Dynasty would be short lived. A bunch of Revolutions would happen in France at the 1830’s.
I will attach brief descriptions of these revolutions below, but it is important to note that France was under going considerable changes in its society at this time. Thousands of peasants were moving into the city for the first time and capitalism began to creep into French Agriculture. The rise of rents on farm land created an incentive to become more and more productive in agricultural work. Before money rent, peasants would pay a portion of their harvest to the noble. If they had a bad harvest, they might go hungry but they wouldn’t be evicted.
With the advent of capitalism in agriculture, land lords charged money rents which also created a market for land tenure. Suddenly farmers had to compete with other farmers to be able to afford higher rents. Eventually plots of land that produce slightly over subsidence farming got bought out by more successful farmers. They peasants that got bought out soon moved to the cities to find work.
As industrialization increased, the work of these workers got to be more and more drudgery. This gave these workers more and more grievances which changed the tenor of their demands. Many would become radical republicans, over time they would also become mutualist and socialist.
The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution (révolution de Juillet), Second French Revolution or Trois Glorieuses in French (“Three Glorious [Days]”), led to the overthrow of King Charles X, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would be overthrown in 1848. It marked the shift from one constitutional monarchy, under the restored House of Bourbon, to another, the July Monarchy; the transition of power from the House of Bourbon to its cadet branch, the House of Orléans; and the replacement of the principle of hereditary right by popular sovereignty.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Revolution
June Revolution (Les Mis!)
The rebellion originated in an attempt by the Republicans to reverse the establishment in 1830 of the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe, shortly after the death of the King’s powerful supporter President of the Council Casimir Pierre Périer on 16 May 1832. On 1 June 1832, Jean Maximilien Lamarque, a popular former Army commander who became a member of the French parliament and was critical of the monarchy, died of cholera. The riots that followed his funeral sparked the rebellion. This was the last outbreak of violence linked with the July Revolution of 1830.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Rebellion
The government portrayed the rebels as an extremist minority. Louis-Philippe had shown more energy and personal courage than his Bourbon predecessor Charles X had during the July Revolution two years before. When the king appeared in public, his supporters greeted him with cheers. General Sébastini, the Foreign Minister, who directed government forces, stated that local citizens caught up in events congratulated him: “they accepted us with cries of Vive le Roi [Long live the King] and Vive la liberté [Long live Liberty], showing their joy at the success we had just obtained”. Subsequent identification of rebels revealed that most (66%) were working-class, a high proportion being construction workers. Most others (34%) were shopkeepers or clerks.:60
A large number of weapons were confiscated in raids, and there were fears that military law would be imposed. The government, which had come to power in a revolution, distanced itself from its own revolutionary past, famously removing from view Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People, which had been commissioned to commemorate the events of 1830. According to Albert Boime, “after the uprising at the funeral of Lamarque in June 1832, it was never again openly displayed for fear of setting a bad example”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Rebellion
Louis-Philippe’s regime was finally overthrown in the French Revolution of 1848, though the subsequent French Second Republic was short-lived. In the 1848 Revolution, Friedrich Engels published a retrospective in which he analyzed the tactical errors which led to the failure of the 1832 uprising, and drew lessons for the 1848 revolt. The main strategic deficit, he argued, was the failure to march immediately on the centre of power, the Hôtel de Ville.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Rebellion
Phew, I know, that was I lot of quoting Wikipedia, again, not pretending this is some of my best scholarly work. What I think is important is that the Revolutions were decided NOT one and done discrete things. People tried and witnessed a whole range of tactics from spontaneous mobs to carefully organized coups based on secret societies.
People were tried and used speeches at their trials politicize the general society as would happen with the Chicago 7 .
The Hungry Forties and the Revolutions of 1848
The 1840’s in Europe were often called the “hungry forties” because of widespread crop failure and famine. Importantly, this famine was in many aspects, a man made one. The Irish Potatoes famine for instance was do to a blight on potatoes. In Peru, where potatoes originated, there were 4-5 thousand potatoes strains grown. In the modern, emerging capitalist agriculture mono-cropping was common. So through out Ireland only one type of potatoes was grown, therefore blight could wipe out a whole seasons crop.
Still, Ireland was a net exporter of food during this whole period. Meaning they sold more food to England than they ate while they were starving. This lead to mass exodus of Irish people to the U.S and they were followed by peasants from throughout Europe that faced similar blights. It was the agitation of peasants during this period that led to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels writing the communist manifesto in February of 1848 though unbelievably timely it was mostly ignored at the time.
In 1848 there are Revolutions all over Europe, particularly in France, various German states and Italy. There were large and obvious class divisions in many of these revolutions. In Eastern Europe, many of the upper class and lower nobility fought for freedom from Imperial overlords of different cultures yet the peasants rose up in counter revolutions because they feared a return to feudalism.
In these Revolutions who say the emergence of radical ideologies that were based in this emerging urban working class. Many of the peasants had spent their entire lives in communal rural structures were self help and mutual aid was the norm. When they came to the city, those experiences undoubtedly influenced the political ideas they formed.
In France you get the rise of a man named
The June Days uprising (French: les journées de Juin) was an uprising staged by French workers from 22 to 26 June 1848. It was in response to plans to close the National Workshops, created by the Second Republic in order to provide work and a source of income for the unemployed, albeit with pay just enough to survive. The National Guard, led by General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, was called out to quell the rebellion. Things did not go peacefully and over 10,000 people were either killed or injured, while 4,000 insurgents were deported to Algeria. This marked the end of the hopes of a “Democratic and Social Republic” (République démocratique et sociale) and the victory of the liberals over the Radical Republicans.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Days_uprising
The Paris Commune
So, basically we get to the culmination of this revolutionary fervor in France: the Paris Commune. Basically, the French elected the Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte (a populist elected with the support of rural peasants who straddled traditional left right divides and was mostly interested in bringing glory…sound….familiar (think Trump mixed with Macron)?) Luis-Napoleon got France into terrible war with a coalition of nations that would later become Germany (yeah, Germany is actually a pretty young country, it has existed as a bunch of loss states for most of European history).
France losses the war and is under occupation by Germany. The Emperor is captured and what is left of the French government retreats from Paris and negotiates a surrender with Germany. Elections are held and the last of the Royalist Conservatives is elected. The people of Paris are far to left of the National government and due to the royalist victory fear that this will be a Republic in name only. Thus they set up their own government in Paris.
The general for the national government tries to sneak into Paris and get the cannons to ensure that these Parisian radicals can’t get to them first. A woman by the name of Louise Michel, an Anarchist and a teacher, stops in him in what must be one of the most badass moments in history. She organizes a spontaneous march and masses of Paris follow her in kicking out the national army. The general calls on the troops to shoot her and they refuse deciding instead to arrest the general.
Once again it is the masses that rise to occasion. Once again it is a woman’s march that starts a revolution. Once again it is an anarchist at the forefront. Women would play a vital role in the commune both organizationally and militarily but would not be able to actually vote in it (again, a familiar trope).
The commune only existed for two months but like Occupy it would be a flash points for movements of all stripes. Conservatives would say that nothing really happened except some dirty hippies held a city that always riots for two months at the end of a war. [Though Conservatives realized that no one wanted a monarchy and they would pretty much stop supporting Monarchies in France and much of Western Europe after this.]
Liberals walked away from the Paris commune realizing that more than rhetoric would be needed and state working about building the liberal institutions that would later develop into the Liberal Nation state. But it is for the leftist that the Paris Commune holds the most weight.
For leftist, the Paris Commune is the first communist revolution. It is the first time in history that a serious attempts to bring a socialist society was made. Anarchist point to level of mutualism inherent in the organization of the commune without a leader (the President voted in was in prison and not able to direct action in any way) and the fact that many business of Paris closed and reopened as co-ops. To Anarchist, it shows that an anarchist revolution is possible and that their economic plan is feasible people got feed, fires were put out and buildings repaired through mutual aid. The fact that the commune was started by a spontaneous riot of commoners angry at the governments attempt to seize the cannons also gives credence to the idea that their doesn’t need to be a small cadre of “professional” revolutionaries to do the people’s thinking for them.
Socialist often point at the commune and say “yes! anarchy can work for society but for the military, eh not so much.” The Paris Commune did fail in large part because it was unable to win the war that followed. The National Guard aligned with the Commune was poorly organized and ill-equipped. Socialist point out that the capitalist and reactionaries will always be in the wings, planning a to stop the revolution by force and thus a state was needed to win that confrontation with the forces of the reaction.
You can see echoes of this conversation as leftist and liberals talk about CHAZ ( the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone) in Seattle. Some are hoping it succeeds and turns into an example for spontaneous liberated spaces. Some are waiting for it to be crushed by the state. We all watch to see how issues of sanitation, race, class, gender, public safety and democracy will play out.
So WTF Did You Just Take Me Through An History of Europe Aaron!
This is the question I imagine my sister asking when she finally has time to read this article. To which I will answer if Washington D.C was Paris in 1871 my sister would be Louise Michel. As M4BL is planning a massive protest in D.C on June 19th so too are group of leftist organizations planning something a bit more disruptive. We have a populist leader who thinks he is a Monarch, potentially being manipulated by foreign interests during a pandemic that was led to shortages. Inequality is higher than its been since the guilded age. This is the perfect moment for shit to pop off. And when it does, we will take whatever ideas are lying around and try to hobble them into some solution for the coming crisis.
I want the history of these revolutions to be in the minds of those people on the streets hobbling together solutions. We should know the lineage of thinking that produces those solutions. We should be aware of the core of conservative thinking and how it likely informs the U.S military. We should be aware of Liberal thinking and how the democrats and their supporters will try to slow down any real progress. We should be aware that our comrades will not agree with us on what to do next in the streets. And perhaps most importantly, we should be aware that in moments where the whole world is watching our actions will determine the shape of the reactionaries. They will response to us and we will need to be ready for their response.
Further, there are many ways we could talk about this moment. We could talk about Wetiko and the mind virus that both caused and was spread by colonization as some indigenous thinkers do. We could talk about this moment through the lens of one of the Hundred Schools of Thought in Chinese philosophy. One of the most foundational books in Chinese thinking is the “book of change” which gives a comprehensive understand of how and why things change. We could follow from Dagara thinking as articulated by Malidoma Patrice Some and talk about how we are all seeking healing but lack the rituals to do find it.
All of these different ideologies could provide ways of making sense of this moment and helping us decide what to do next. But we are instead looking through the lens of Left, Right and Liberal. Because of that, it is important to understand that history. The next essay in this serious will dive into that Left-Right spectrum and asses how those ways of thinking are looking at the past few weeks.