Saturday, October 15, 2011

Political Protests: Imports & Exports

The sociopolitical turmoil that became widespread in the U.S. in the late ‘60’s -- what we youth thought of as the Youth Movement -- had for its centerpiece  the Vietnam War.  Accordingly, it had the feel of an essentially American movement.  And in its cultural specificities, it was.  Yet it was part of an amorphous global phenomenon, that began in Europe.  Mai-soixante-huit was a bigger deal than anything that had happened in the U.S. at the time;  De Gaulle had Paris ringed with tanks.  And the Rote Armee Fraktion (personalized for public consumption as the “Baader-Meinhof Gang” -- sounds like a sitcom) were a much more deadly and tenacious group than the Weathermen (whose lethal violence was mostly self-inflicted or accidental).

There is a somewhat similar situation now, with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The US media is portraying these protestors as the spark that lights a relatively passive Europe and beyond:
And, given the power of the global media (both traditional and social), there is now a second wave that reflects just that.  But, chronologically,  what is recognizably the same general movement, with the same slogan of “the 99%”, began several months earlier in Spain:

[Though both I and the Figaro potentially stand corrected by the following reader’s-remark:
     Contrairement à ce qui est dit  le mouvement des indignés est parti du Portugal et non d'Espagne ]

There is, of course, a longer ancestry, under the name of "altermondialisme";  but here too the center of mass has been in Europe, not the United States.

[A quick overview of the day's events around the world  here.]

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There were sound reasons to oppose the Vietnam War, which subsequent history has if anything only magnified.   And the young people who went out to the streets to oppose it, were by and large sincere.   Sincere, but perhaps not authentic, in Trilling’s distinction.    For lurking in the back of our brains was anxiety about the draft.  That was an added source of largely unacknowledged fuel.

The ruling stratum came to understand this, and brought us the All-Volunteer Army.  This is potentially somewhat like the Standing Army which the Founders feared, lest it be used against the populace;  we’ll see.  But it certainly drew the sting of any focussed protest against two wars in which we have been now  for a bloody decade  so entrenchedly engaged.
Still, an All-Volunteer Army needs volunteers;  where you gonna get them?  During peacetime, you might get sufficient recruits from those who apply out of patriotism, or family tradition, or sheer masculine martial ardor.   But as the wars swell, and drag on -- these, now longer-running than their predecessors -- you need to buy beef in bulk.   You need lots of young people for whom serving in the military, abroad and in wartime, is the least worst option they have.  Hence -- logically, arithmetically -- it doesn’t make sense to let the domestic economic picture for young folks be too rosy.  -- This statement should not be assessed as political or controversial:  it is sheer economics, virtually a law of physics.

And here we -- lo! -- are brought around full-circle to the present protests,  from Puerta del Sol to Zuccotti Park.
For today’s young protestors -- though many of them were raised in historically pampered conditions -- are a generation that, ecologically, economically, has been handed the bag.   Late capitalism, having spread throughout most of the industrializable globe,  yet faced with the same secular pressures first documented by Messieurs Engels & Marx, has begun to eat its own entrails.   From the good-bad old days of entrepreneurial invention and expansion, days of brio and brutality, of “Someday son this will all be yours” (a key, key phrase to bear in mind:  patriarchal, true, but crucially anti-entropic), we have devolved to consciously unsustainable Enron-style shellgames of “Take the money and run”.  Enterprises are being hollowed out.  The perps abscond with the perks, leaving ruin and rubble for the rest of us.

And so we have a situation of widespread underemployment,  harder to measure than out&out unemployment, but more characteristic of the present period, with young people being partially supported and subsidized by their parents, long after they should have flown the nest.   And if they do find a full-time job, now increasingly they are on the bottom of two tiers, with lower salaries and fewer benefits than older workers doing the same job.  (Note:  This is an absolute scandal for the labor movement, a poisoned chalice for the relatively privileged.   There need sto be some intense intergenerational discussions as the union guys join the young folks in Zuccotti.)
This state of affairs is if anything more acute in Europe -- especially in Spain.  There as well, the situation for the  younger generation, while essentially caused by that same capitalist autophagy,  has been aggravated by the I-got-mine complacency of certain labor aristocrats. Thus, it stands to reason that the ninety-nine-percent-ers first got a leg up  over there.   

(For an acute commentary on the intergenerational frictions in Italy, the phenomenon of the bambochone -- the denizens of Mom’s basement-- listen to this:

Similarly, in America, though on a lesser scale:  Boomerang kids.

As for the day's events in Rome:
"The Rome event drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city center for mile.
Hundreds of hooded, masked demonstrators rampaged in some of the worst violence seen in the Italian capital in years, setting cars ablaze, breaking bank and shop windows.")
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Piece of advice for the protestors, from a grizzled old guy who’s been through this in places like Berkeley and Flint:

(1) Don’t let touchy-feely political correctness blind you to the fact that some of the weirdos who always gravitate to such movements  are paid provocateurs, of the sort that brought down Acorn.   These are the faces and costumes that attract the paparazzi and make the front pages;  these are the images that are fed to all consumers of news who aren’t there, and which trivialize even when they do not repel.  Don’t fall for it.  Elbow them off.   Organized labor discipline front and center.

(Reasoned commentary along similar lines, from an unusual source: )

(2)  Pleeease let’s not go through that “the Third World is our savior” shtick again.

I once (ca. 1970, Cambridge Massachusetts) attended a meeting of the Weathermen, in which everybody (and everyone there was white) sang heartwarming kumbaya-type songs.  One of them went:

We lo-hove Ho Chi Mi-hi-hi-hin
We lo-hove Ho Chi Mi-hi-hi-hin
I say deep down in my heart (Oh yeh!)
I say deep down in my heart (Raht-ohn!)
I say  Deep (DEEP !)
I say  Down (DOWN !)
I say:  deep down in my heart.

And so on, through the approved list of developing-country dictators.

So now the inhouse journal of academia,, is peddling some academic anarchist who, it claims, is the fons et origo of the current Euro-American protests.   The Shangri-La this time:  Betafo, if you please:  paragon (so this anarchist would have it) of juche (‘self-determination’ -- the official philosphy of North Korea, which 60’s radical lapped up like water from a commode).  For a more even-handed look at Betafo, check out this.  For the Third World as Edenic paradise, check out that. Or this. Or this here, or.... open any newspaper.

[Update 18 October 2011]  Evidently the Far Right as well  is subject to Third World tailism.  See Michael Gerson’s op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post.  (The strange WaPo Web site buried the item -- you probably wouldn’t find it if you didn’t know it was there.  They also utterly bury today’s print-edition front-page above-the-fold lavishly illustrated (including this choice photo) top story.)  Gerson is a firm conservative, but he has seen the Lord’s Resistance Army up close and ugly, and thus could not resist countering the gaseous piffle from Bachmann and Limbaugh.

(3)  Though you might at times feel like David vs. Goliath, the odd thing is, your enemy has rotted from within.   The rawest days of primary-accumulation capitalism were progressive compared with today’s Wall Street, which no longer functions to nurture productivity and innovation with well-placed investment, but has become a giant gambling den.  (Appropriate, that one of the Republican would-be-Presidential-candidates was openly a gambling mogul.)   In real estate, the post-WWII era saw the rise of Levittowns, derided as “ticky-tacky” by the aesthetically sensitive  but a big step forward for the working class (our family lived in one).    This later devolved into the subprime shenanigans, both borrowers and lenders being no better than gamblers, the whole thing an obvious scam (“Liar loans”), but those involved  got to snuffle around in the trough while it lasted.
[Note:  The apt illustration, courtesy of Dr. Massey, depicts the Newsies strike of 1899.
Words fail me, looking at those faces ...]

A large part of this stratum have learned nothing from the Bush Collapse, still whining for their tax cuts and warding off the sort of regulation that might prevent a recurrence.  But it is not just greed.  A lot of it is plain cluelessness, even fear:  from the  titans of finance to the small-time hucksters, they really don’t know a way out of this.   They look at the sorry gaggle of Republican Presidential  candidates, and -- well, some people snicker, but they’re scared.  So what you need to do is to not simply Rail Against the Machine, but to show:  We Can Lead.   And for this you will need organized Labor, which now needs seriously, seriously to rebuild.  There is also a huge pool of valuable potential allies among veteran and active warfighters, who were drawn into the military out of the (in the classical phrasing) Reserve Army of the Unemployed, and who got Cheneyed into a couple of cock-eyed wars (and if he’d had his way, it would have been three -- Iran).   These are alert and honed men and women who may well have benefitted from military discipline, while seeing through the bogosity of the officers who administer it, and who  along the way  picked up some skills that might come in handy. 

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For further examples of liaisons protestataires between France and the US, click here:

For the whole of our posts on labor, click here:
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As is so often the case, the readers’ commentaries in Le Figaro (to the article referenced above)  are quite funny, or intelligent, or linguistically interesting, or all three.
Once again, here is a selection,  emphasis on the delightful use of language, with some of the difficult idioms explained.  Interesting turns of phrase are highlighted in boldface (not in the originals).
This will all be on the test.

ils n'ont pas de direction centrale... c'est bien la preuve que c'est un VRAI mouvement qui anime le peuple.
ça fout les chocottes n'est ce pas?   [‘gives you the heebie-jeebies’]
Ce sont les premiers soubresauts de tous ceux qui ont été laissés sur la touche par cette mondialisation sans lois.  [“touch” in the soccer sense -- or, as the French say, le football.]
Le plus amusant est ce nombrilisme français qui consiste à englober sous la dénomination "indignés" ces mouvements mondiaux qui n'ont bien sur pas lu la brochure de Hessel … [‘navel-gazing’. -- NDLR:  the reference is explained here:]
Nous le voyons désormais, il coexiste deux mondes aux parois étanches, un monde du pouvoir avec son fonctionnement qui obéit à ses propres lois qui côtoie le monde des citoyens. Sarkozy ( droite ) a embauché Bernard Kouchner ( gauche ) et Fréderic Mitterrand ( gauche ) pour adoucir son discours sécuritaire. Nous voyons aussi qu'en France le pouvoir doit composer avec de puissants lobbys qui empêchent les réformes des collectivités territoriales et de puissants lobbys qui empêchent l'élimination des niches fiscales ... Le discours politique lors des élections n'est plus qu'un message publicitaire dévoyé pour vendre un produit marketing à coup de slogans chaque fois de plus démagogique.
[It is an interesting grammatical question, whether démagogique should here have been démagogiques, to accord with the plural slogans, or whether, the perspective being that of observing the slogans one by one (as in some double-slit experiment), the singular is actually right on point.]
Bien sûr ce sont des fêtards, des alcoolos, et des teufeurs qui font une grande rave-party. [A ‘teuf’ is a ‘free party’:]
Un regroupement de glandeurs, quoi, pendant que le reste du monde s'active à la besogne....   [‘layabouts’.  -- I have heard this same criticism from employees far from the world of Goldman-Sachs:  “Why don’t they just get a job?”  This is another reason for allying strongly with organized labor.]
[Responding to the dismissive posts immediately above]
Comme vous semblez incapables d'avoir des opinions qui ne soient pas réductrices, je vous résume: "Aaah… vivement l'abattoir. Cela devient trop fatigant de ne pas se servir de notre système nerveux central; et que vivent aussi le système pyramidal et la déresponsabilisation institutionnalisée."
Vos enfants vous demanderons: "Et vous, vous avez fait quoi pour empêcher que l'intérêt général ne soit qu'une arlésienne dans les actes de nos représentants?"
[I actually don’t get the reference in “vivement l'abattoir”, and would appreciation any elucidation.]
Pardonnez l'intrusion : Je suis Italienne et Je tiens à signaler un sérieux problème que afflige l'Italie. Ce grave problème s'appelè Berlusconi ! Il contrôle l'information à travers toutes les chaînes de télévision nationales où il a mis tous ses hommes.
[A note to our American readers:  For those unfamiliar with “Berlusconi”, he is the product of an unnatural union between Rupert Murdoch and Rick Perry.]
Bof, un échec, un bide, du brassage d'air, rien de très menaçant mais si un jour ils provoquent des incidents, des émeutes, on les réprimera.
[This from a reader whose icon shows Berlusconi  adjusting his f*cking necktie.  A reader quickly responds: “Commentaire mussolinien...”  Spot-on.]
Regardez-les comme les obscurantistes font marcher « les indignés » ! Les multimilliardaires enrichis par des escroqueries farineuses de la monnaie de singe des obligations subprimes et autres titres dites « toxiques », font épuiser sans vergogne les victimes éternellement dupées de la désinformation médiatique, leurs forces dans des démonstrations des slogans primitifs, ne tirant pas à conséquences. Les nababs pleins aux asses, ayant « escroqués » le montant de la production de l’industrie mondiale, disposent des moyens de leur occulter que d’abord, des opérations spéculatives complexes combinées par des diverses manœuvres frauduleuses, mises en scènes, artifices coupables, interventions des tiers complaisants pour accréditer de telles mensonges et tromperies, sont qualifiées par le droit pénal avec précisions « escroqueries ». La « complicité » de l’aide et de l’assistance, la fourniture des moyens, la couverture judiciaire, épouse totalement la responsabilité pénale et civile des auteurs principaux comme les « receleurs ».
Un tel cataclysme financier ayant ruiné les finances nationales et mondiales, cela ne s’appelle pas « CRISE » ; cela s’appelle net et clairement « BANQUEROUTE » en droit pénal, entrainant la responsabilité totale et indivisible des auteurs. De faire payer aux victimes de cette criminalité de haut vol les dégâts, cela manifeste la plus haute caricature politique des gouvernants mystificateurs arrosée avec leur Justice vendue. En effet, cette catastrophe mondiale n’a pu se produire que par la paralysie de la justice pénale  à l’aide la corruption et du trafic d’influence des procureurs et des juges : pots-de-vin sur leurs comptes numérotés dans des paradis fiscaux (Couve de Murville), leurs décorations et honneurs au rabais, leurs avancements immérités au détriment de leurs collègue compétents et incorruptibles...
Il y a toujours eu des allumés je ne comprends même pas que l'on en parle

Les indignés voudrait remplacer le suffrage universel par "le buzz perpétuel". Les rapports de force en démocratie sont uniquement constitués par la confrontation des propositions des élus pour mettre en place leur programme. Les "sursauts" communautaires qui voudraient se substituer aux aspirations exprimées par les urnes de façon républicaine ne sont qu'un constat d'échec dans la constitution de force majoritaire et la volonté de passer en force. En France, le mouvement se double de l'inflexible exhibition théâtralisée des "pétitionnaires patentés parisiens de la gauche caviar de contrebande (pour ne pas se déjuger sur l'effroyable mondialisation)"!

La troisième Croisade des Pastoureaux ?

[A comparison to the Arab Spring:]
Pour l'instant, il ne s'agit que "d'indignation",ce qui,en soi, n'est pas très grave mais il faut tout de même prendre ce mouvement comme un avertissement . Que se passera-t-il si quelques "indignés",un peu partout, passent à la vitesse supérieure ? Considérons ce qui s'est passé dans les pays arabes,pendant un temps, ils étaient indignés de leurs conditions de vie, puis ils sont devenus "désespérés";  puis ils sont allés au devant de la mort, soit en s'immolant,soit en se faisant "canarder".  Et , que je sache, leur mouvement n'était pas structuré .

Vu la lettre que Montebourg n'a pas eu honte d'écrire aux impétrants, faute de trouver des propos cohérents ou du moins discriminants dans leurs programmes (ben voyons!).
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[Update 16 October 2011]
Great reader’s-comment in the Chicago Tribune this morning, about the demo and arrests in Grant Park:

~ Qu'ils mangent de la brioche ~

[Update 15 January 2012]


  1. What's all this advice and cross-cultural perspective that grizzled old Dr Justice is dishing toward youthful protestors? They need it less than you think. I was with them yesterday here in London. What struck me most (and in contrast) was utter competence. Maybe this was just a good day on the ramparts, but there was no (well, very little) yippie-type clowning, booze, drugs, drivel, or play to the cameras. They were skillfully nonviolent, democratic in process, legally informed, and respectful to both church and cops. There was much acknowledgement of shared experience (as well as personnel) from Spain and Greece, as well as New York. Other than reporters, no one seemed confused that economic unfairness was their mutual enemy and target. I was delighted when one young woman told a reporter from the Morning Star, "Please go away. We don't need you to explain our message to the world. We are our own media.". I was also delighted that her fellow organizers had thoughtfully anticipated the demands of older protestors prostates.

  2. Sheldon -- The self-discipline of protesters, from Taghyir Square to Puerta del Sol to Zuccotti Park and beyond, has indeed been largely exemplary. My cautionary observation was rather that the paparazzi have their own agenda -- they gravitate to the bizarre. Thus, articles about the early Tea Party typically front-paged a photo of some guy prominently wearing a large gun. This is not necessarily intended to smear, it’s just the way the sensationalist media works. And if, in addition, they are gunning for you -- Katie bar the door.