A Global Revolt

by ROGER BURBACH

Editor’s Note: Occupy Oakland is part of a global movement that is questioning the basic structures of the political and economic system to an extent not seen since 1968. Whether it will succeed in changing these structures is unclear. But it has already created something far more powerful: a global shift in consciousness.

OAKLAND, Calif.

“Shut It Down,” “No More Shipping for the 1 Percent” and “Death to Capitalism” proclaimed some of the banners near me as I joined thousands of demonstrators who converged on the Port of Oakland on a sunny afternoon. This city is part of a global movement that has changed the terms of the political debate, stealing much of the thunder from the Tea Party movement and shaking governments around the world in a way not seen since the 1960s.

It started with Tunisia and the Arab Spring, then spread to Spain and the Indignados movement, to Chile with the massive student mobilization for an end to education for profit, to England with the urban riots, to Athens with the massive demonstrations against the tyranny of the Euro and the financial markets, and then to New York with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Two comparable uprisings have rocked the course of history:

The revolutions of 1848 in Europe—known as the Spring Time of the Peoples—challenged monarchs, aristocrats and autocrats alike as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels penned the Communist Manifesto. Disturbances and revolutions occurred in more than 50 countries and thousands died with untold numbers fleeing abroad.

Then, exactly one century and two decades later, a broad anti-systemic movement roiled the globe on many fronts: the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the global anti-war movement, the student and worker uprising in Paris, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the riots in Chicago at the Democratic convention and the Mexican student protests that led to the massacre at Tlateloco Plaza.

None of these historic revolts was successful in terms of taking power, but they changed the world in profound ways, just as the great revolt of 2011 is doing.

As in 1968, today’s uprising is anti-systemic—calling for fundamental changes in the world’s political and economic order. The youthful demonstrators of Tahrir Square in Cairo and the young people camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York see no future in the current governments that control their countries, be they authoritarian or democratic. As Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz writes, “Social protest has found fertile ground everywhere: a sense that the ‘system’ has failed and the conviction that even in a democracy, the electoral process will not set things right—at least not without strong pressure from the street.”

A strong sense of solidarity and communication exists among these movements. The initial squatters in New York City openly acknowledged that they were inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. When the police crackdown occurred against Occupy Oakland, Egyptians sent communiques of support and marched to the U.S. embassy in Cairo calling for an end to police violence in Oakland. Weeks later a group of media and political activists in Cairo sent out a call for international support against the growing military repression in their country:

“We are still fighting for our revolution. We are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. And you, too, are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. We know from the outpouring of support we received in January that the world was watching us closely and even inspired by our revolution. We felt closer to you than ever before. And now, it’s your turn to inspire us as we watch the struggles of your movements. … If they stifle our resistance, the 1% will win- in Cairo, New York, London, Rome – everywhere. But while the revolution lives our imaginations knows no bounds. We can still create a world worth living.”

Oct. 15 marked an international upsurge in the movement. The headline of the Guardian newspaper of London proclaimed: “Occupy Anti-Capitalism Protests Spread Around the World.” Tens of thousands rallied and marched in London, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rome, Sydney, Hong Kong, Toronto, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro and scores of other cities around the globe. Although the demonstrators were largely peaceful, the police cracked down in many cities and clashes in Rome became particularly violent. A banner in Rome read, “People of Europe Rise Up.” In Berlin banners called for an end to capitalism and in Frankfurt protestors fought with police in front of the European Central Bank.

These were the largest global protests since the international mobilization in February 2003 tried to stop the Bush administration from going to war in Iraq. But the protest movement today—driven by the Great Recession that threw the global economy into crisis—runs deeper and is far more resilient than that of 2003. At the heart of the crisis are international banks that got bailed out as millions of people lose their jobs, their life’s savings, their homes and their daily bread. As Naomi Wolf proclaimed, the “enemy is a global ‘corporatocracy’ that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems.”

Meanwhile, the “corporatocracy” is determined to maintain its power and privileges as it comes under increasing scrutiny. In Europe, draconian austerity policies are being imposed to rescue the Euro, policies that will condemn Europe and much of the world to stagnant economic growth for years to come. In Greece and Italy, democracy is shunted aside as elections are avoided and technocrats beholden to the big banks are put in charge.

For much of the post-World War II period it was believed that the inherent conflict between the “free market” and democracy could be reconciled. The electorate would refrain from interfering in the markets in exchange for steady employment, economic growth and access to an ever-increasing array of consumer commodities. Now this compact is broken. The financial markets ruin any country and its populace if it refuses to accept austerity and a decline in its standard of living. The “sovereign debt” must be paid insist the bankers and the financial markets. In effect democracy is under siege.

In the United States, a country where ideology and the left have a weak legacy, the top 1 percent get more than 20 percent of the national income, up from 9 percent when Ronald Reagan took office. Perhaps the most telling figure is that one-tenth of the top 1 percent earn as much as the bottom 120 million people. This is why the slogans “Occupy Wall Street” and “We are the 99 percent” captured the imagination of people across the United States when the first tents went up in Zuccatti Park in New York City.

The genius of the movement is its refusal to tie itself to a particular set of demands. The grievances are so extensive—a lack of jobs, a unequal distribution of income, a decline in educational opportunities, a lack of affordable housing, the high cost of medical care, corporate funding of elections—that the entire system has to be taken on.

The police assaults against the urban encampments can’t snuff out the movement. It will resurface in other ways and other forms. As a post-eviction statement by Occupy Wall Street, New York read: “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

We are in a volatile and unpredictable era. What we do know is that the great revolt of 2011 marks a turning point in history as a global mass movement takes on the economic and political forces that are plundering our world.

Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He is working on a new book with Michael Fox and Fred Fuentes for Zed Books, “The End  of US Hegemony and Socialism (As We Know It): Social Movements and  Left Leaders in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela.”

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal