As the Country Falls Apart, It's Time for Our Revolution
The following is an excerpt from Ted Rall's book, The Anti-American Manifesto (Seven Stories, 2010).
You can feel it. Or maybe you can't.
It doesn't matter whether you feel it or not. It's happening. The story of the United States of America as we know it -- not merely as the world's dominant superpower, but as a discrete political, economic, and geographic entity -- is drawing to a close due to a convergence of emerging economic, environmental, and political crises.
Nothing lasts forever, empires least of all. And this one, which only began to expand in earnest circa the year 1900, doesn't feel like it has the staying power of ancient Rome.
Not at all.
But we're not here to talk about the vague possibility of collapse at some point in the future. We are here -- in this book and within this historical moment -- because the collapse feels as though it is currently in progress.
We are here because the U.S. is going to end soon. There's going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control. It's going to come down to us versus them. The question is: What are you going to do about it?
Us: Hard-working, underpaid, put upon, thoughtful, freedom-loving, disenfranchised, ordinary people
Them: Reactionary, stupid, overpaid, greedy, shortsighted, exploitative, power-mad, abusive politicians and corporate executives
In 2008, like the people of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, we put our hopes into a young new leader. He is the kind of fresh-faced reformer who just might have been able to do some good had he been put into power decades ago. "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job," read the headline in the satirical weekly newspaper the Onion after Barack Obama won. He has failed. It is by design that internal reformers like Mikhail Gorbachev and
Obama inevitably come too late to actually accomplish anything. Even if a leader like Obama were inclined to push for the sweeping reforms that might save American late-stage capitalism from itself, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and there is no evidence that the thought has crossed Obama's mind -- his fellow powerbrokers, fixated on quarterly profit statements and personal position, would never allow it.
The media talks a lot about reform. But it's too late for nips and tucks. Reform can only fix a system if the system is viable and open to change. Neither is true about the United States of America.
A veneer of normalcy slapped -- sloppily slapped -- on top of a stinking pile of obviously out-of-control unsustainability can no longer disguise the ugly truth: The United States of America is finished. Shopkeepers still take our dollars, foreigners still fear our bombs, but watching the crazy federal deficits, the wildly expanding international military presence, the putrid joke that is our healthcare/education/employment system, and a natural world in free fall (mainly due to the crap pumped into the air and water by the people and corporations of the United States) makes the debate over whether Democrats are better than Republicans feel surreal.
Government exists to serve economic power. In the U.S. and globally, economic power is concentrated in business, namely the large corporations whose profits account for more than ten percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Corporations can't operate without the government. They are codependent, yet independent of and barely responsive to the nation. A nation goes on with or without its government, with or without the big businesses we take for granted.We are not the government that serves those companies. They are parasites, vampires, hideous monsters that underpay and overcharge us and get fat on the spread. Who are we then?
We are their victims. We are weak and pathetic. But only by choice.
We can wait for the system to collapse of its own accord, for the rage of the downtrodden and dispossessed to build, for chaos of some sort to expose and destroy it. But implosion might take a long time. And when it happens, we may find ourselves even more powerless than we are now. They -- the hardcore, racist, undereducated, fundamentalist Christian, anti-civil liberties Right -- are preparing to step into the breach, to seize power. They can't wait to unleash their venomous hatred on the city-dwelling commie hipster fags they despise. They are armed. They recognize that the system is doomed. They've seen this coming. They're organized and willing to merge their disparate brands of conservatism under a common
leadership. Most importantly, they get it. They don't need to be convinced that everything is in play. They're putting it in play.
Christian fundamentalists, the millennial end-of-the-worlders obsessed with the Left Behind series about the End Times, neo-Nazi racists, rural black-helicopter Michigan Militia types cut from the same inbred cloth as Timothy McVeigh, allied with "mainstream" gun nuts and right-wing Republicans, have been planning, preparing, and praying for the destruction of the "Godless," "secular" United States for decades. In the past, they formed groups like the John Birch Society and the Aryan Nations. Now the hard Right has a postmodern, decentralized non-organization organization called the Tea Party.
Right-wing organizational names change, but they amount to the same thing: the reactionary sociopolitical force -- the sole force -- poised to fill the vacuum when collapse occurs. The scenario outlined by Margaret Atwood's prescient novel The Handmaid's Tale -- rednecks in the trenches, hard military men running things, minorities and liberals taken away and massacred, setting the stage for an even more extreme form of laissez-faire corporate capitalism than we're suffering under today -- is a fair guess of how a post-U.S. scenario will play out unless we prepare to turn it in another direction.
Although the U.S. has fascist tendencies, it is unlikely that an ascendant American right would embrace fascism in its classic form. But a post-collapse reactionary government would likely have some attributes of fascism. Robert Paxton, who was my history professor at Columbia and is widely regarded as the nation's leading expert on the field, wrote the book on the subject (The Anatomy of Fascism). As Professor Paxton told me in 1991, the United States is the nation that is the most likely to go fascist, the one that has the most of the necessary ingredients -- including distrust of parliamentary democracy, extreme militarism, and a highly industrialized society -- required for a true fascist state. As things stand, there will be no one to prevent this nightmare.
So this book is a call to arms. And an appeal to self-preservation to those who know we can do better.
If Not Now, When?
A war is coming. At stake: our lives, the planet, freedom, living. The government, the corporations, and the extreme right are prepared to coalesce into an Axis of Evil. Are you going to fight back? Will you do whatever it takes, including taking up arms?
History does not really repeat itself. No two historical moments are ever the same. The circumstances that govern a given street corner in Pittsburgh at 8:00 p.m. on December 9, 2011, will never recur.
Yet the motivations and needs of human beings remain constant. There are always parallels with the past, lessons to be learned, bits and pieces that will apply to present and future circumstances. There are even a few eternal truths.
Thinking about the present situation, the historical analogy that best seems to fit the current crisis is the collapse -- to be exact, the period shortly before the collapse -- of the Soviet Union. The parallels are instructive and scary:
Overextended empire (U.S. forces currently fighting in Yemen, Pakistan, the Philippines, Colombia, Haiti, plus more than five hundred thousand soldiers and U.S.-funded mercenaries stationed in hundreds of bases around the world)
Fiscal crisis (skyrocketing national debt owned by foreigners, insane military budget, soaring trade deficits, crash of credit markets, wildly imbalanced tax structure)
Foreign quagmire (to wit, Afghanistan and Iraq) ! Rising rampant unemployment (unofficial rates over 20 percent)
Lack of confidence of the citizenry in their government
Increasingly out-of-touch rulers (government officials talking about economic recovery, declaring recessions over when they never talk about them starting, focusing on bank bailouts when everyone knows it would be more effective to directly help mortgage holders)
Exceptionalist delusions (the belief that we're too big, different, and good to fail, which stifles any attempt to discuss problems)
Widespread apathy (low voter turnout, disinterest in news and politics, drastically low newspaper readership but growth of hyperlocal media)
Weak or nonexistent opposition
That last item is where you come in.
You must change that. You must become strong. You must organize. You must do whatever it takes to oppose the system.When you get the chance, you must destroy it. If you don't kill it, it will die nonetheless. But it will drag us down along with it. That is what happened to the Russians. Though some Marxist analysts attribute the events of 1991 to counterrevolutionary forces -- the politicians who gathered around Boris Yeltsin certainly fit the bill in some respects -- the Soviet government wasn't actually toppled. It collapsed. Broke and ideologically exhausted, its adherence to revolutionary socialist principles having devolved to mere lip service, the very idea of government as a viable and necessary entity withered and disappeared. Power decentralized. Without an organized group of opposition leaders poised to take the reins, the vacuum was filled by former factory managers and gangsters who backed the men who morphed into Russia's present-day oligarchs.
Today Russia is the world's biggest narcostate, a playground for biznesmeni (businessmen) and brutal men who murder journalists and anyone else who criticizes them. Disparity of wealth has soared. A tiny elite, one or two percent of the population, owns everything. There are slot machines in the Moscow metro.
Revolution, though bloody and terrifying, would have been easier than the slow convulsions of collapse. So it will be here.
If the U.S. government is going to collapse anyway, it behooves us to first replace it with something that can stand in its place. Unless we act, we'll have to deal with a post-collapse scenario, in which we'll have to fend off roving criminal gangs, hoodlums, predatory corporations, oppressive residual government entities, and an emboldened political right.
Mad Max, Not Ecotopia
The enemy is inertia. There are a zillion reasons not to do anything; indeed, we Americans haven't done anything -- hell, we haven't thought about doing anything -- for generations. So, at risk of repeating myself, I must emphasize that our current crisis -- economic and political collapse, a surging right poised to take over, with possible environmental apocalypse looming just around the corner -- is not going to resolve itself in a way that we like if we sit on our asses. The current U.S. government must be prophylactically removed. Our economic and social structure must be radically reinvented. These things can only happen by using force.
Though small in numbers, anarchists and "deepgreen" anti-civilization environmentalists are highly influential in what passes for the American Left, publishing well-regarded books, magazines, and blogs that inspire many people. Deep-green types fantasize about a collapse scenario that will save the world without anyone having to lift a finger. They imagine an involuntarily deindustrializing economy that allows the earth to heal while people gather to form small clans and low-impact villages based on ideals of equality. Here is a quote from Jan Lundberg, a deep-green proponent of "peak oil" theory: "New social norms and tribal law will help break from the past and possibly outlaw incipient reversion to the failed system of exploitation of people and nature. In any case, the 'new' model of sharing and cooperation will outdo in productivity any vestiges of the old models of selfishness and trying to insulate oneself or one's family from the surrounding changed world."
That would be nice, but I don't see how the deep-green idyll could logically follow the disintegration of the United States government. Theoretically, people might form intentional communities (the current term for communes) and/or polyamorous clans of one hundred to one hundred fifty in Ecotopia (the term for a theoretical independent Pacific Northwest), living off the land, all local and sustainable-like. But these utopian societies won't be able to count on being left alone to live peacefully. The millions of partisans who follow Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and right-wing televangelists happen to be the best-armed people around, and they despise just about everyone who doesn't think and pray like them. They will see collapse as affirmation of their beliefs that secular liberalism is destructive. They will also see it as an opportunity to create a new, ordered world atop the ashes. They will act to stop teenage sluts from getting abortions, teach niggers a lesson, and slaughter those spics, dots, and everyone else who doesn't fit into their vision of what and who is right. Anarchists may opt out of revolution, but counterrevolution will come to them.
Collapse of the U.S. government will be a multidimensional disaster. People, infrastructure, and institutions we count on will be destroyed. How will we live without water treatment plants, heating fuel, and industrially-manufactured medicines? What will likely follow will be frightening and even more destructive: post-Soviet-style gangster capitalism, perhaps, warlordism in rural areas, a hard turn to the racist right, even genocide. Doing nothing will seal our doom.
So let's do something. Let's seize power now, before it's too late. Before they (the bad people who are waiting in the wings) do.
If you are old enough to remember the early 1980s, how did you feel when you watched the news and saw Polish workers rise up under the banner of the Solidarity movement?
When Chinese students took over Tiananmen Square?When the citizens ofMoscow took to the streets to put down a coup by Soviet officialsmeant to end perestroika? When you watched Afghan women burn their burqas after the 2001 U.S. invasion that deposed the Taliban? You were probably thrilled. After all, these news stories were presented by U.S. corporate media as officially approved acts of personal and national liberation. And there was some truth to that. These were acts of free will. Of courage. In defense of freedom. You had to have been happy.
I was. I was excited -- even though I knew there was less than met the eye to these news accounts. Afghan women, for example, got paid five hundred bucks each by major network television crews to burn their burqas. After the Broll had been shot, they bought new burqas for a buck and put them on. I was in Afghanistan at the time, so I know the truth. Yet the power of television is such that I am moved when I watch this (phony) footage. Even though it's bullshit. It's like the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in 2003. It is known that the show at Firdos Square was staged3 by a U.S. Army "Psy-Ops" propaganda detachment. The men kicking "Saddam's" head were flown in from exile on U.S.military transports for the occasion; many of them weren't even Iraqi. Nevertheless, images of liberation are always intoxicating.
How do you feel when you hear about a revolution? You feel good. Oppressors have been toppled, justice has been served, and the people have taken control of their own destiny.
So why not you?
Why not us? Why shouldn't we free ourselves? Why shouldn't we seize the mansions and bank accounts of the rich/thieves? Why shouldn't we nationalize corporations? Why can't we take the CEOs who pay themselves millions while firing workers, put them on trial, and throw them in prison? Why shouldn't we bring home the foot soldiers of the military-industrial complex, close the bases overseas, end the wars, and use the resulting peace dividend to build schools and pay teachers decently and heal the sick?
Why let people in other countries have all the fun/take all the risks? Because the U.S. government is mean? Because its police and soldiers and security apparatus will shoot and beat and jail and ruin anyone and anything that opposes it? Cowardice is no excuse.
It isn't even viable. In the not-so-long run, taking no these bastards continue to screw up our country, our nations, and our natural world, we will die horribly anyway. Those in power are tenacious; if only to save ourselves from their now widely apparent excesses, we must be more determined and persistent and ruthless and violent than they are.
Revolution? Here's an App for That
No there isn't.When I showed early drafts of this manifesto to my friends, many asked: What should I do? Should I hide in the mountains? Learn how to shoot? Stockpile guns and canned food? Rob a bank? Or should I just live my life, remain alert, and train myself to recognize the revolutionary moment when it comes, so I can spring into action?
I get it, they told me. We're in trouble. We need a revolution. But there aren't any groups to join. What do you want us to do, Rall?
Well, that's not what this book is about. I don't want to lead a revolution -- not because I'm not willing, but because I wouldn't be good at it. I'm not wired that way. I've never even been a community organizer.
I want to kick people in the ass. To get them thinking. To get you thinking. I want you to understand the situation -- your situation. I want you to see that revolt is a good idea, and that it has never been more necessary. I also want you to size up the opposition (both the government and action is by far the more dangerous prospect. If we let the extreme right): They will never get weaker.We have as good a chance at taking them on as ever.
I want you to lead the revolution -- not by giving orders, but by choosing to revolt. Lead, in other words, by taking possession of yourself.
What should you do?Mao said revolution isn't a dinner party,meaning that it's often ugly, violent, and even unjust. I say revolution isn't like joining MoveOn.org or a Facebook group. You don't just click a link and authorize a PayPal donation. Revolution doesn't happen within the system; revolution is the act of destroying the system. Who are you? That's the first question.What you should do is one thing if you're a taxi driver, something else if you're an accountant who plays in a band on weekends, and something different entirely if you're a kid.
It's not like no one has ever had to figure this stuff out before.When France fell to the Germans in 1940, a significant minority of Frenchmen decided to resist the occupation. But they didn't know what to do,much less who they could trust. There wasn't a Resistance yet. So people went about their business, looking and waiting for a chance to do something. The first step, it turned out, was reaching out to other people.Would neighbors help? Or at least keep quiet? Sometimes the patriots judged incorrectly. Collaborators turned in friends, even members of their own families, to the Gestapo. The stakes were high: torture, death, possibly the murder of their families. Obviously, this isn't Vichy France -- but finding allies you can trust is a logical first step.
After they had formed cells, the next step for would-be French resisters was to decide what form their resistance would take. Some Parisian policemen tipped off Jews that they were about to be arrested. Train workers, many of whom were members of the communist labor union CGT, collected intelligence with a view toward passing it along to the Allies. Some women slept with high-ranking Nazi officers in order to collect pillow talk or allow a comrade to kill the officers during sex. In short, people did what they could.
What can you do? That's up to you. You know yourself. I don't. Figure it out.
It seems likely that at this point in history a decentralized organization -- a "group" that isn't a group at all, an organization without any leadership whatsoever, a group that is really a set of principles and ideas -- stands a better chance of successfully avoiding high-tech government spying and carrying out actions. The Earth Liberation Front, for example, includes among its principles that no humans or animals should be harmed while carrying out an ELF action. There are several other rules. If you follow all of them, congrats! You're "in" ELF. Other contemporary examples of decentralized organizations include the Animal Liberation Front, Al Qaeda, and the Tea Party. Al Qaeda famously allows itself to be "franchised." Though based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda now has spin-off groups such as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia and Yemen). Think of all the Al Qaeda "number two" men who have been killed or arrested since 9/11 -- Al Qaeda has only grown stronger. That's because personalities don't matter in a decentralized movement. Ideas do. The more a government tries to crush a decentralized resistance organization, the more moderates are radicalized by heavy-handedness. Now we even have the newly identified phenomenon of "self-radicalization," in other words, the process of reading and getting pissed off.
Action is preferable to inaction. But there's always a place for "sleepers" -- people who wait until the moment is right to strike. Maybe they want to see the early signs of a mass uprising before committing themselves. Or perhaps they're unwilling to participate directly yet are willing to provide passive assistance -- a safe house, say, or financial help or simply looking the other way when something is going down. Part of the revolution may be fought virtually, by hackers. These individuals are every bit as valuable as people who blow stuff up.
Will the United States ever generate a mass movement? Will thousands or even millions of people be willing to commit to militant action against the state? I don't know.
I don't think it matters. If everyone waits to see who else is willing to take the chance to resist before resisting himself or herself, no one will resist. As we saw in apartheid-era South Africa, the existence of even small, radical, armed cadres could move the national conversation toward action on the part of millions of others.
I can't hold your hand. I don't want you to buy into everything I say. It's not about me. I don't care if you agree with me. I may be wrong about everything.
I want you to THINK dammit! Figure out for yourself what is wrong. Then, once you know what's wrong, don't just grab a beer and veg out, or go to a yoga class, or whatever. Act! Do something about it!
To paraphrase a woman who spent time in prison for her radical activities in the 1960s, once you choose the path of committed citizenship, of true patriotism, of standing up for yourself and your fellow human beings and other living things who can't speak for themselves, your journey can end in only one of three ways: victory, prison, or death.
Then consider the alternative. Once you commit your self to apathy, laziness, and tacit consent to mass murder and rampant injustice, your miserable, wasteful choice can end only with death.
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