I sense no soul in this rabble
just fearful alchemy
a hum of devilish trouble
’tis no people’s celebration
this fascist akelarre
just a rueful abnegation
of what we’re fighting for
a ghastly chill is in the air—
We can not jeopardize our only charge
We resolve to fly the peasants banner
Damned for our belief and strident manner
We partisans prevail beyond the marge
The land inspires the onyx and litarge
Which will forever be the People’s streamer
Aragon shall be its own redeemer
With fate as its commitment to discharge
We warriors whose hearts beat in harmony
Unfurl the flag and watch the colors soar
Caballeros of truth and anarchy
Avenge the lamentations of the poor
Strive onward contra fascist tyranny
And banish their deceit forevermore
When news that Tunisian vendor and entrepreneur Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze reached the West the Capitalist Democracies felt a collective shudder go up their spines. The Third World, a concept which is mainly a Western Construction in itself, was now in open revolt against the institutionalized systems of oppression and violence that have plagued their societies for generations. The fact that these systems had been supported or even put in place by Western capitalist states and corporations was not lost on these nations. In fact this realization led to a hyperbolic and hypocritical conflation of Revolution with religious fanaticism and “dysfunction”. The West has always had a difficult time recognizing and appreciating the essential nature of societal revolution in nations whose structures do not fit the traditional Western, Post-Christian Secular, and capitalist paradigms. It has also often failed to remember the chaos, inhumanity, confusion, contradiction and failures of their own political and cultural revolutions. In this sense yesterday’s revolutions are today’s standard institutional reforms and today’s revolutions are nothing but immature third-world growing pains.
Of course this is a failure of imagination on the part of the Capitalist West and not an accurate representation of facts on the ground. It also a clear demonstration of how much the racially superior imperial has impacted the intellectual development of Western Capitalist nations. The trails, travails, and thoughts of the “3rd world” (read the world outside of the comfortable access of the western economic experience and cultural imagination) are seen as unique to a subset of humanity that is prone to childish explosions of rage and indignation. Revolutionary violence in this context is “brutal” and arguments for greater openness and control by the working classes and the poor are “naïve” or threats to security. Whose security at stake is never quite stated but it is quite explicit who the West believes is in imminent danger from 3rd World freedom.
The West tends to sanitize and fetishize the violence that begat its own beginning on the world stage. The American Revolution is turned into an all but sterile profile of bourgeois courage in the face of overreaching paternalism. The British were foolish to see themselves as superior to the Americans, but not because of the intrinsic equality of man. No, they were simply misguided in their attempt to subjugate a fellow “civilized” nation of rational minds and productive citizens. The revolution was not fought for “freedom” some much as pride and expedience in the execution of the imperial prerogative on the terms of those Westerners most closely associated with immediate circumstances of the American landscape. The Revolutionaries, as we are told to call this motley collective of land owners, bourgeois businessmen, slave farmers and Enlightenment philosophes, were devoted to the idea that the tyranny from across the sea interfered with the projection of order upon a population of slaves, workers, Indians, and women at home. What did these British Tories think the Revolutionaries were, peasants?
When we see demonstrations in Tahrir Square we do not associate these scenes with Valley Forge or Lexington and Concord largely because we do not associate working class and poor individuals with positive revolutionary exercises. A “revolution”, as we are made to understand it in the West, is not a collection of human beings striving for dignity or attempting to forge a society that best represents the needs of a stifled population. No, a “revolution” is an orderly march from structure to structure with mythologized figureheads committing the gross but sadly necessary bouts of violence needed to discourage the oppressive opponent from retaking the levers of power. A “third world” revolution is invalid and dangerous because it veers more towards the Revolutionary model of the dictatorship of the people established during the French Republican Terror; a bout of violence that is “unacceptable” because its violence is directed against the stabilizing institutions and figures that form the core of the Western Capitalist understanding of foundational order. They see the hands of men and women who are understood to be inferior and unworthy because of their station and their aspirations, because order is based upon their subjugation and exploitation covered in the blood of their “betters”, of those who should be that agents of change. The worker, the people, and the “native” are one and the same; they are all the misfits of a society that is based upon the precept that you only succeed if you are worthy of succeeding. You are only equal if you have purchased equality upon the backs of the unequal. To put it bluntly, and to paraphrase Richard Nixon, if poor and working people do it, it is not a revolution.
Shoshana Bryen of The National Review sums up this Revolutionary Chauvinism with her statement that “The violence in Egypt and Libya — now spreading to Morocco and Kuwait — is an indication that the U.S. is unable to buy leverage”1 , as though the revolutionary impulse of entire peoples, cultures, and nations were a commodity to be bought and sold like wheat futures or stock in Intel. This prejudice is also on display in most neo-con and neo-liberal platitudes about “hearts and minds” and “wars of liberation”. The 3rd world does not engage in “civilized” revolution; it is civilized through top down revolution brought prepackaged from a Western “Democracy”. “All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.” Rudyard Kipling gives voice to the instinctual understanding of Western Capitalist nations that if a nation were meant to have liberty and dignity they would already look, act, and believe like a Western Capitalist nation. America, England, Capitalist Russia, all underwent revolutions that in the end led to the establishment free market economies within a classical liberal framework. Because this frame work, and the imperialism that gave it birth and then sustained it, led to the plight the 3rd World is now revolting against, the West cannot bring itself to legitimize or understand what is clearly a struggle their own ancestors once fought against the powers that be.
The Arab Spring revolutions, the struggle for self-determination in West Papua, the revolutionary democracy being attempted in Venezuela and countless other struggles are examples of a new form of Revolution that is attempting to reimagine and restructure society upon a framework of social equality, economic egalitarianism, and radical democratic action. We are told that when violence occurs or institutions the West has depended upon for their own illusion of security are threatened or overthrown that the revolution is “spiraling out of control”, but actually this is the sign that the revolution is proceeding as it should, how successful revolutions in the West have in the past. The fact is the West has not seen this sort of revolutionary intensity since at least 1783. It will take some getting used to, and the capitalist, sensationalized entertainment media we must largely depend upon for information in the west will be slow to represent this reality, if it ever will at all. The internet has opened the eyes of many individuals in the west and has piqued the interest of the working class in seemingly comfortable Western Capitalist Nations. Time will tell if this awakening will be enough to challenge the assumption that the only real revolution is a Western one.
As yet another Independence Day rolls around I’d like to propose a thought experiment:
It’s April 19th, 1774 and Edmund Burke gives a speech denouncing the Crown’s treatment of the American colonies:
Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it…. Do not burthen them with taxes…. But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question…. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face.
It’s April 19th, 1775 CE. The government of his Majesty King George III of the house of Hanover has decided to grant the Colonies representation in the Houses of Parliament. John Adams of Massachusetts (whose relation Samuel Adams has been imprisoned along with the leaders of the terrorist group “The Sons of Liberty”) along with Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania and James Madison of Virginia, with other representatives from the various colonies, are on a ship bound for England. A detatchment of British regulars led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith patrols near the towns of Lexington and Concord in Middlesex County Massachusetts Bay Colony looking for hidden “patriot” insurrectionist weapons and supply caches. The night before a group of rabble-rousers, including a silversmith named Paul Revere, were caught and imprisoned for attempting to promote rebellion against the British crown.
As the sun rises over Lexington a ragged group of colonists gather to meet the British Regulars. They carrying arms and military supplies. There is a stand-off. And then…The colonists drop their arms and supplies in a pile in front of the regulars, salute, and go about their business. They “patriots” have been betrayed, and the loyalists to the British crown have unilaterally decided to turn in the caches without a fight. The words of Edmund Burke ring true, and peace reigns throughout the American colonies.
But it gets even WEIRDER from there
In 1800 the Parliament votes on a bill introduced by newly elected delegate from Virginia Thomas Jefferson. The measure passes and the slave trade is abolished throughout the British Empire. The following year slavery itself is outlawed by another act of parliament, and all of the colonies, save for South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, comply. In response to this gross display of disunity and disloyalty, the British Army is dispatched to the southern colonies, backed by large numbers of colonial regulars from the North-East colonies. After a brief series of battles (in which the combined British and Colonial forces easily prevail against the rag-tag militia of slave owners and their paid mercenaries) the Imperial forces capture Charleston. Savannah falls a week later under threat of bombardment by the British Navy warships docked just offshore in the bay. British military governors are installed in the rebellious states and they implement the destruction of the slave economy of the southern states. It takes another years for the tensions to cool, but by 1820 the economy of the south has stabilized and the last remnants of the slave based aristocracy has been swept away forever.
But wait, there’s MORE
It is 1812 and the American Colonial army led by Andrew Jackson invades French held Louisiana and takes the city of New Orleans. In Europe Napoleon hears of this disaster just as he is preparing to invade Russia. He is forced to rethink his plans, and instead sends half the force back to France and other half he sends to relieve Louisiana. The British Navy surprise the French flotilla at Trafalgar and hem in the ships as they dock to resupply before the trek across the Atlantic to America. Napoleon is overthrown by his officers and a republic is declared. This new government sues for peace with Great Britain. In exchange for peace, the French Navy and army are reduced in size, and the Americans take over administration of the Orleans territory along with the Mississippi territory. This area later becomes the colony of Orleans. The British cement their grip on the continent by signing an agreement with the Western Indian Tribes united Under the great native leader Tecumseh. The lands West of the Mississippi and 3oo miles south of the Canadian territory are given over to Indian Administration under the protection of the Crown. Spain and her colonies are left to deal with the “Indian Problem”.
Need a moment to take this all in…
UH UH! We ain’t done yet!
It is 1860 and the American colonies are officially granted status as an autonomous but loyal Commonwealth of the British Empire. The CWA (Commonwealth of America) grants voting rights to poor whites, women, and blacks aged 21 and older. America elects its first Prime Minister and its first Independent Parliament. Queen Victoria is proclaimed head of State and the official anthem of the new Democratic Republic is “God Save the Queen”. War rages to the West between the faltering Spanish Empire and the vibrant and growing “Confederation of Native Tribes”. Within the decade the Spanish are expelled from America and the independent republics of Mexico, Texas, California and the Confederation vote to join the Commonwealth of the British Empire as well. There is a major movement towards greater freedom and representation throughout the Empire, and the parliament of Great Britain votes to withdraw all troops from the Indian Subcontinent after a brief transition period of 5 years. The various nations of the subcontinent gain various forms of autonomy and independence, and all choose not to join the Commonwealth. The last Indian state, Kashmir, declares Independence in 1901, as Queen Victoria dies in her bed.
PLEASE! Need a deep breath
But one final thing!
It is 2012. The past century has been a trying, but successful one. Germany, Imperial Japan and France were defeated by the British Empire and the Commonwealth of America in the “Great War”, and a general Pax Britannia reigns over most of the world. The Soviet Union rises in the east, but under the leadership of Premier Leon Trotsky it slowly but surely moves towards an enlightened Democratic Socialism. This political philosophy spreads across Europe and Asia, eventually reaching the shores of America. By 1970 the British Empire is dissolved in favor of a great Commonwealth of Independent Nations. Germany, France, and the Scandinavian nations eventually join, as does Italy, much of Africa and the territories of the former Ottoman Empire. Peace reigns across most of the world, and a pact of Mutual non-aggression is signed between the Commonwealth of Independent Nations, the nations of Hindustan and Persia, the Republic of China, The Empire of Japan, and the Soviet Union. This unified world of friends begins to push forward together to combat global climate change and deforestation, and in 2025 fossil fuels are banned as destructive to the world shared by all human beings.
THERE. All speculation of course, and not nearly a fully comprehensive, or entirely accurate, view of the world had the USA never gained independence, but a view nonetheless. It can be fun to think about what could have been, or what could still be. Happy Fourth of July.