Nathan Schneider in the video (prev) has a good take on the OWS but the movement at this point is distracting us from the larger context of change. As often the macro effect in WHEE suggests a very rough answer: revolutions suddenly cluster in the early modern, climax in the period of the French Revolution (the ‘divide’ point in the model), and then, as the revolutions of 1848 show in gruesome cogency), shift into another gear as movements or chase planes on the trail of the Industrial/capitalist Revolution. And the verdict was ‘communism’. And communism was clearly prophesied in the early modern, before even democracy. And anarchist movements also arose at this time, to be clear on the ancient history of the OWS type movements. But the point was clear, as it is now muddled, that serious change requires a change of social and political culture, almost inevitably by revolution.
The OWS was not in this league as a feel/good group demonstration of radical sentiment. No blame there, the Russian case was at the start, with help from the shock of WWI, similar and simple street demonstrations actually triggered the fall of Tsarism. But now we can see that this overall history is the only only guide, from the sixteenth century to the period of 1848. We forget that revolution was a modern innovation, and a hard learned lesson of passive men, subdued by religion, and the rest of it. Our situation is different: the momentum of the early modern overflowed into revolution, then the impetus wanes and has to be made up by conscious human effort. People get discouraged because replays of the French Revolution don’t just happen. Now they require acts of will, always more difficult. That’s the point made in the obscure distinction of system action and free action. We can see the distinction in 1848: people realized they were no longer in the situation of the earlier democratic revolutions which let capitalism surf on the rolling tide. Now capitalism in the Marx-type factions, at least, is the object of revolutionary intent. The energy was different and required figuring out the dynamics of society and change, which actually proved intractable and noone could quite sure what was going on or what to do. That’s why smart people like Marx and Engels (I think Engels was actually smarter than Marx, but less educated, and not so sharp in a situation of Hegelian nervous breakdown) to try and reason the new situation.
In the end however the Russian revolution which follows this new distinction closely was like the old. People take over a government from the streets and then attempt their versions of ‘democracy’, the communist intended as an upgrade of the democratic revolutions of before, with a new meaning in the reckoning with industrialization and capitalist class warfare. The bolsheviks learned all this but had no solution to the social problem, given the opportunity.
We have to face the fact that all this is analyzed now, and we can see that spontaneous street demonstrations were destroyed very quickly by the new sociology of police force action (which you have never heard of). But this has always thus.
My point is that the failures of bolshevism have made activists shy of revolutionary thunder. And Gandhi has entered the situation. But in the end the early modern shows the right narrow spectrum of what is to be done, the question over which we linger in vain: the failures confuse us. We forget that revolutionary failures of the early modern were usually successes within a generation of their aftermath, perhaps with coopted views. The French Revolution failed but within a generation or two the French Republics were well established, as bourgeois stalls, but still…
So the point is fairly clear: we create change by using government until governments are the problem and thus changing governments by revolution. Those are the only real avenues. We shouldn’t be dogmatic and forbid ‘slow changes within the system’. But we have a hunch they are illusions. We can never quite manage the replication of spontaneity (note how many of the modern revolutions started with spontaneous uprisings, followed by the entry of ‘deliberate aiming via acts of will in history’, usually resulting in miscalculations. We must be wary of such sociological generalizations, and be ready for surprise as it works in our favor.
Let’s make a judgment call. The OWS was our spontaneous phase and while it didn’t quite bring down the government it did set that in motion, believe it or not. Even as the economy rebounds we can see that we are passing a point of no return. So now we are entering the second phase, hopefully with more spontaneous phases) and we need to relearn the lessons of such as Marx/Engels and prepare for the real, the last revolution. That means no marxist boilerplate but genuinely fresh thinking, language and strategies of ‘marxist/postmarxist’ flavor. If it doesn’t come, we’re dead. So the necessary clarity at the point of death is ‘coming soon’.
This kind of situation could trigger a set of compromises to forestall revolution, but that remains to be seen.
In Last and First Men we also consider the obvious variant, in a semi-religious catacomb movement that simply waits on the inner fall of the government via internal corruption, like the Xtians of antiquity. I think however we need to act sooner than that.
We have good reasons to do this:
our founders suggested it: a republic if you can keep it. We failed.
the clear criminality of the whole government in the perpetration of the 9/11 conspiracy
the standard marxist economic critiques, rewritten sans boilerplate or the reference to ‘marx’ by name
matched with the critique of imperialism that began the American revolution
the reality of capitalism is one of grinding millions to death, no moral claim on this system remains
as the postcapitalist left ends with all the cards, and a warning of how easy it is to blow the chance…