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How Financial Crisis, Economic Inequality, Social Media, and More Brought Revolutions in 2011--and Changed Us Forever

Journalist Paul Mason covered the uprisings of 2011 as they occurred. His new book "Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere," explains why they all happened at once.

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I was brought up in the 1970s, among manual workers who popular culture believes to be sexist. I find modern culture pervaded by anti-woman, violent oppressive images that would've shocked these so-called sexist male manual workers. We are living in a world that is glorifying violence against women, in a way that the so-called reactionary middle-20th-century never did. That paradox explains why you've got the seeming respectability of positions on women's rights that we thought we'd sorted out.

Because while people were solving their own problems individually, society created this. We're in a situation where the fight for women's reproductive and general basic rights are going to have to be done, and the intellectual apparatus is gone.

This is why the behavior in the movements has become a problem. A lot of the anarchists and autonomous people I've interviewed talk about the problem of “manarchism.” I remember left organizations and also unions in the 1970s expelling men who could bring factories on strike, leaders, over domestic violence issues, and they did so at the snap of your fingers because they understood something that I think the modern movements have let go to the back burner: that you can judge the character of any social movement by what its attitude is to women's emancipation.

SJ: I've been quite impressed as well by the internal debate within Occupy Wall Street about how to deal with crises like rape, like violence. They were and are working on mechanisms to deal with these problems within the movement.

PM: I think that all movements have to deal with and in the end compromise with society as it is. All mass movements have that issue, it's never black and white. Even in Tahrir Square, I think you've seen the movement evolve a response. At first there was almost no response; a few brave feminist women would call out people who attacked them on Tahrir, but you then have to move into the organizations of people who think it's OK to attack, and who are those? They're Islamist organizations. There the debate is suddenly on a very different terrain, you're in a world of compromise.

The young people who've done the last two years worth of activism, they find compromise hard to negotiate. To get into your head the reason you're making the compromise is not because you like what you're compromising with, but in order to mobilize the resources to do what has to be done you have to have a lot of diversity of people, whether it's street people in Occupy, Islamists in Tahrir Square—life is hard to do all on your own.

The politics of social oppression, of women, oppressed minorities, gays, have a particular plight in modern society in general, that is important and often is a key to understanding where you're going to go—I don't call that identity politics. When it becomes identity politics is when you're on a losing streak. While you're discussing your identity politics, the Right has won the election.

SJ: And so what next?

PM: The amazing possibilities that the situation globally offers arise from the mismatch between the general pissed-off-ness of people about a world in which the rich just get richer and they don't, and the absence of alternatives coming from those in power.

Even though the crisis today isn't as bad as the 1930s, what is worse is the absence of any kind of an answer, other than more of the same but a little bit less. That is what makes it so volatile, and so what is next is quite clear. Greece, social breakdown. Crisis in Italy, Spain.