What is the Meaning of Revolution Today?
Gareth Dale, Mattie Armstrong-Price, Lucí Cavallero, and Adam Hanieh Discuss Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age with Spectre Sustainers
July 30, 2021
The following is a lightly edited transcript of our first exclusive web-event held for Spectre sustainers. Gareth Dale, an editor of Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age, discusses how the volume confronts the problem of socialist revolution in an era in which most mass popular upheavals have not generated forms of working class dual power. Gareth is followed by Spectre Editor, Mattie Armstrong-Price, who writes on labor, gender and social protest in the railway era. After Mattie we hear from Lucí Cavallero, whose work, such as A Feminist Reading of Debt with Verónica Gago, focuses on the link between debt, illegal capital, and different forms of violence. Our last commenter is Adam Hanieh, who works on political economy of the Middle East and is author of Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East and Money, Markets, and Monarchies: The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Political Economy of the Contemporary Middle East. Gareth then responds to their comments, which is where this transcript ends, but the lively conversation with Spectre sustainers continued for another hour.
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Zach Levenson: Welcome to this special event organized by the Spectre editorial board. I’m happy to introduce today’s panelists joining us from three different continents. I’m sure many are familiar with the late Colin Barker’s edited volume Revolutionary Rehearsals, which first came out in 1987. That book included analyses of five times that workers put substantial challenges to capitalism between 1968 and 1980 in Europe, South America and Western Asia. Its contributors examined protest movements that turned into potentially viable challenges to state power in every single case that they discuss in the book. Yet these movements were ultimately contained, absorbed and repressed.
So now, nearly twenty five years later, Colin, whose birthday would have been today, is releasing a sequel along with his co-editors, the late Neil Davidson, and Gareth Dale, who’s with us today. First, we’re going to hear from the book’s editor, Gareth Dale. After Gareth, we’ll hear from another Spectre editor, Mattie Armstrong-Price. Then after Mattie, we’ll hear from Lucí Cavallero, and then finally, we’ll hear from Adam Hanieh.
Gareth Dale: Thanks, Zack, and I should really begin with a thank you to Spectre for this invitation to speak on this, the first launch event for this book, and a thank you to you that the donors, obviously, for keeping Spectre alive and going as such a vital and exciting new journal.
Of course, in a sense, I’m here out of tragic bad fortune. I see the book ultimately as Colin Barker’s and the major theory is presented by Colin and Neil Davidson. Their loss has been a terrible blow and they’re very much in my mind today. Working with them on this volume was a real privilege and the three of us even managed to work together during the Brexit referendum, despite each of us voting a different way on it. It took a while to get the book over the line. Until just a year ago the title was due to begin with the phrase semi-quoting Gramsci, “struggling to be born”.
But eventually the book struggled and struggled and now is about to see the light of day. It’s, in a sense, a successor volume to the book that Colin edited back in the 1980s called Revolutionary Rehearsals. As Zach mentioned, the focus of that book was on recent movements in which it was possible to at least glimpse the possibility of mass workers movements beginning to challenge for state power. It took five uprisings as case studies: France in ‘68, Chile and ‘73, which was by written by Mike Gonzalez, who also has a chapter in this new volume, Portugal in ‘74, Iran in ’79, and Poland in 1980. Colin then wrote a theory chapter drawing together what socialists can learn from these uprisings, these sudden explosions, when the terrain moves suddenly from war of position to war of maneuver.
Colin’s approach to uprisings permeated that book and this one, imparting a distinctive flavor. He was always alive to the experiential aspects of revolutionary uprisings and the festive energy, to borrow Lenin’s term, which he liked to use to name the creative energies on display in the crowds, the rapid political learning curves, and the thirst for political education that so rapidly appear when you see old hierarchies just crumbling and collapsing around you.
And then Colin moved on to look at the question of why a transition to socialism has to center on revolution. He doesn’t solely focus on the usual reason, which is that the ruling class wouldn’t give up that power unless they’re forced to. Alongside that, and drawing very much on Rosa Luxemburg’s argument in the mass strike pamphlet, Colin always highlighted the other major reason why revolution is indispensable for a transition to socialism, and that is that capitalism continually reproduces a working class whose daily experience teaches workers that they cannot rule.
But then in mass movements and uprisings workers show the ability to break from that kind of subaltern consciousness and discover their capacity and their power. These glimpses of the potential for socialist revolution are traced in the case studies of that volume. An example is Poland in ‘80-‘81 where a strike wave fed into the formation of factory councils, which in effect are embryonic soviets because they’re beginning to organize not only the management of workplaces, but of society itself. And if they go on to then fight for political power at the level of the state, that’s the onset of a dual power situation.
Now in Poland and in Chile the workers were beaten back and military dictatorship was imposed. in Portugal the uprising was solved in ruling class interests in a less bloody way through democratic reform.
Now, what’s happened since that book? Since 1987, the world has seen lots and lots of uprisings and revolutions, more than in the previous period. A few of them have centered on powerful mass working class movements, though I don’t want to exaggerate this point. Mainstream accounts of these uprisings always downplay the working class elements involved and middle class individuals and organizations on the ground are the ones with the media contacts. They have the confidence and they push their story to the fore.
So in my own chapter in the new book on East Germany in ‘89, I look, for example, at the role of wildcat strikes in early October of that year, which were a key part in the process of toppling the Berlin Wall, which is something that’s ignored in most of the literature on this, including by quite a few left wing commentators who buy into the elitist argument that these German workers were dupes of the West or they were seduced by the baubles and the trinkets that they see in West German supermarkets.
If we then fast forward to the uprisings of the last few years we see similar things. Whether you look at Sudan or Myanmar or Algeria or Belarus demonstrations grabbed the media limelight, but strikes were very important too. Nonetheless, even if we allow for the fact that there’s always more working class participation than the media accounts or the usual commentators tend to admit, for all that, it’s still clearly the case that since the early 1980s, we haven’t seen revolutionary uprisings that center on militant and independent working class activities of organized workers. And related to that, there have been very few revolutions that point towards a systemic transformation, the transformation of mode of production beyond simply toppling a particular regime. And that needs to be explained.
So all of this is the background to the genesis of this new book, Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age. We set its goals as several: first of all, to look at a recent range of case studies through the last 30 years, looking at movement dynamics, the moments when reformist elements could rein in the movement, the whip of repression sparking radicalization, whether workers movements were able to relate to oppressed groups and bring them into the movement and highlighting wherever possible, wherever we could see it, those glimpses of revolutionary potential.
Secondly, we looked for patterns in the uprisings over the last three decades and related them to broader social and political shifts. We identify the 1970s as a key turning point in several respects. It was then that we saw the dissolution of any final remnants of pre-bourgeois society around the world and the end of colonialism as an “-ism” at least. Obviously, some colonies remain: Palestine, Western Sahara, Northern Ireland, a few others. But the era of anti-colonial revolution really, ended, we would argue.
The ‘70s also saw the end of a particular social movement conjuncture. Two decades had seen rising social movements, struggles that were able to gather force on the world scale, raising anti-systemic questions and pushing the horizon of radical change forward. Since then, the pattern of struggle has been much more depressed with lower levels of industrial action. And this linked to another change in the era, which we also date to the 1970s, which is the decline of certain forms of corporatism, state capitalism, which, by the way, had powerfully shaped ideas about socialism. These were replaced worldwide by neoliberal structures beginning in the 1970s.
All of this meshed with a change in the world’s political structure or the pattern of world politics, namely the rise to dominance of parliamentary government, of liberal democracy. So increasingly, the template that we’ve seen in terms of revolutionary risings is that they’re contained by transitions to democracy, as in Portugal in the mid 1970s or Czechoslovakia in 1989. There are other forms of containment as well, but this has become quite a model.
Now, the later uprisings that we look at in the book are increasingly defined as responses to neoliberalism as neoliberalism entered its years of decay and increasingly became identified as the source of social ills. Think of the case of Egypt, on which we have a chapter in the book by Sameh Naguib. And if we hadn’t finalized the book structure by around 2016, when the feminist movement kicked off, first of all in Poland and then right across the Americas and southern Europe, we should really have included a chapter on women’s strikes and on their relation to the crisis of care and social reproduction, which is another example of neo liberalism entering crisis.
Finally, the third goal of the book is one in where we try to draw out potentials today for a global transformation to a socialist society. That’s largely the topic of Colin’s theory chapter and chapter two. I’ll just highlight one of the arguments that Neil makes which is close to my heart, that is the threat of environmental crisis or climate change escalating to terrifying levels. I often hear the case made that the urgency of climate change makes a social democratic response imperative today.
This argument takes the form of a syllogism with the first premise being that the world economy has to decarbonize very rapidly and radically in the next 10 years or we might have hell to pay. The second premise is that in 10 years, there’s no way we’ll see a worldwide transition to a socialist society. But within 10 years, you could see social democratic parties elected to power, including in some very important states. And then the third, the conclusion from those premises is therefore a social-democratic strategy is essential.
It appears to be a powerful argument to many because the first two premises are absolutely indisputable. But the leap to advocating a social democratic interregnum just doesn’t follow, it’s a non sequitur. You could have said the same about literally any struggle at any scale in any period of modern history. Indeed, partial solutions can always be sought.
But that misses some very obvious points for revolutionaries, which are that revolutionaries involve themselves in the fight for reforms. A revolutionary strategy is crucial to winning, through fighting, even the reforms that we need. Secondly, if capitalism is maintained and in place its logic, its devastating ecological logic is still going to be in place for decades to come, wreaking untold havoc and all sorts of waste. So therefore, this threat of climate change is, Neil Davidson argues in his chapter, one of the several cases of capitalism beginning to show increasingly genocidal signs that emphasize the urgency of revolutionary politics today
Zach Levenson: Thank you, Gareth. Next up, we’ll have some comments from Mattie Armstrong-Price.
Mattie Armstrong Price: I’m very excited to have a chance to discuss this excellent book and more generally, the prospects of social transformation in the present. My remarks are mostly directly responsive to the first chapter of the book. So, Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age opens with a broad historical introduction, followed by an extended conceptual essay on social movements by Colin Barker. We then get a series of case studies focused on recent revolutionary sequences from Poland and South Africa in the late 1980s to Egypt in the early 2010s. Finally, theoretical reflections by Neil Davidson, which we heard some about just now, round out the collection.
I particularly enjoyed Colin Barker’s reflections in chapter one on the dynamics and potentials of social movements. While outlining how movements can be corralled into reformist bounds, Barker nevertheless wants to render plausible the idea that social movements could have and could yet open onto revolutionary sequences. Reading his chapter, it’s impossible not to hear the echoes of Barker’s practical experiences in particular cycles of struggle as he describes how mass movements change their protagonists, how they open up new scenes of collective decision making, or how they pose challenges that would have been hard to imagine in more normal times.
I think many readers will recall their own experiences of movement times or will make associations with historical sequences that they know well. His chapter reminded me, above all, of education and antipolice organizing in California from 2009 to 2014. Barker notes that periods of mass struggle are enabled by the political activation of new layers of the populace at certain moments to a quantitative leap in the scale of participation not only in one-off mobilizations, but also in more enduring organizing projects.
This observation about quantitative jumps brought me back to November 2011 at U.C. Berkeley, when a few hundred people gathered to set up an encampment and were promptly struck by police batons. A few hours later, after videos of police violence had circulated online, the number of people on the quad ballooned into the thousands. That evening an impromptu assembly called for a day of strike, which was attended the following week by tens of thousands.
Those of us who had been active on campus in the months leading up to these events were almost totally unprepared for this jump in participation, which dramatically changed the dynamics of assemblies. In retrospect, at our largest assembly, I think we should have tried to extend the strike, perhaps make it indefinite, rather than focusing on re-establishing the encampment and scheduling a day of action for a few months later. Maybe this would have helped keep possibilities a bit more open in the wider context of Occupy Oakland and the west coast port shutdowns.
But looking back, it’s also apparent how quickly all of this happened to us, how the moment could have been missed even more than it was, and how this sequence had some meaningful longer term effects. While the occupy movement in northern California was not nearly as transformative as the historical cases discussed in the book, the contributors nevertheless tend to evaluate the conjunctures they consider with an ambivalence that feels familiar to me.
Whether the early 2000s gas war in Bolivia, or the fall of apartheid in South Africa, many of the episodes recounted in the book resulted in major political breakthroughs from the collapse of oppressive regimes to the nationalization of industries. These breakthroughs occurred in movement times when organizers effectively put a hitch in the flow of public life and suddenly politics became the active concern of the broad majority. After an effective sequence of left indigenous struggle in 2003, “All of a sudden, gas is on the lips of everyone,” to quote contributor Jeffery Webber, himself quoting Claudia Espinosa. This quote does a really good job of capturing that all of a sudden there is a political situation that the broad majority is responding to, engaging with, or confronted with. The episodes recounted in the book illustrate some of the transformative potentials of mass movements in our time.
But they also highlight the various limits that recent movements have run up against. And in some cases, as in the chapter on the Egyptian revolution, these stories cannot but be told in a tragic key. We read of movement forces being coaxed back into the normal rhythms and rules of political negotiation, of leaders balking on the eve of a general strike, of repressive forces effectively crushing revolts, of exhaustion and fracture, of Western capital entering the breach opened by mass uprisings, and generally of the inability of antagonistic forces to build bridges into and beyond situations of dual power.
What are we to make of all these unsatisfying endings? Are mass movement still plausible incubators of revolutionary change. The book is pitched as a defense of the project of socialism from below at a time when, at least in the North Atlantic, the politics of social democracy appear to many to be the only semi-plausible game in town. Naturally, I don’t count myself among this number. But as the editors of the book admit in their introduction, the prospects for socialism for below appear a bit murkier these days than they might have a few decades ago. There’s a refreshing sense of uncertainty, of groping for the exits in dimly lit rooms that comes through in the book’s framing chapters.
Rather than jumping directly into the question of which way forward for the left then, I want to close with two observations that I hope will add some interesting layers to our discussion of this critical and pressing question. So first, and this picks up on something Gareth said as well, when considering mass movements in our time my mind turns to women’s strikes, such as those in Argentina or Poland in defense of abortion rights and to recent insurgencies against anti-Black police violence in the US.
Neither struggle has been catalyzed or centrally orchestrated by organized labor. Both at least seemingly turn on identity categories other than class. But I don’t think that socialists should have cause for concern about such things, or at least not too much. Those involved in remaking unions into movement organs can, I think, help build rank and file capacities and forge linkages with broader social movement forces, perhaps most effectively through the prioritization of issues of racial and gender justice. These issues tend to transect workplace and non-workplace settings, and they often highlight fundamental questions about surveillance and policing in and around the workplace, questions that inevitably must also be confronted in the context of wildcat or mass strikes.
Finally, in a somewhat more provincial vein, I want to say something about the current conjuncture in the US. In the face of Trumpism and spiraling social crises the Democratic party recently has been leaning on those to its left for activist energies and for social democratic policy proposals. We’ve seen Biden frame such proposals as tools to more effectively engage in imperial rivalry with China. To contest such social imperialism from the left, a mass movement focused on questions of war and imperial power will be required. But traction on these questions has been hard to find since 2007 or so, at least on a mass scale in the US.
In his chapter Colin Barker, quotes Rodrigo Nunez’s account of how particular groupings can perform, “vanguard functions at opportune times”. If we’re wondering who might perform such vanguard functions for a renewed internationalist movement, it’s hard to look past the lines of collaboration and shared analysis being woven between Palestine, solidarity movements, black liberation as projects and indigenous struggles. That’s where I want to end. And thanks again to everyone for putting on the panel and I look forward to the questions.
Zach Levenson: And so next up, we have Lucí Cavallero, live translated by Liz Mason-Deese.
Lucí Cavallero: Thank you everyone for the invitation and congratulations on the book. With this time I want to share a few of the most important interpretive keys that we’ve been able to think about as part of the process of feminist strikes, as part of the movement, the Ni Una Menos movement in Argentina.
This occasion has made me think and ask, why in Argentina have we been asking about or talking about a feminist revolution? So I think it’s important to say that I’m speaking from a region that, decade after decade, continues resisting neoliberalism as the only horizon. Among these struggles that are taking place in the region feminism has been playing a central role. So I’m going to focus on these things that we’ve been able to think about among feminist comrades from across the continent.
So the feminist movement has been able to can contribute to how we think about the spatiality of revolution. In a sense, the movements on the streets are combined with questioning hierarchical relationships within different spaces: within workspaces, university spaces, and in the household. So the feminist movement has been able to contribute to rethinking the relationship between an eruption of protest on the streets and changes in other spaces by challenging how we think about these hierarchies in other spaces.
This also has to do with rethinking how we understand the question of class. The feminist strike has allowed us to reimagine, reinvent how we think about class. In Argentina we see this in how the feminist movement has redefined how the union movement thinks about class and redefined the union agenda.
The eruption of the feminist movement on a mass level happened in 2015 with the emergence of the Ni Una Menos movement at a mass level and through an assembly based process. This feminist movement acted as a vector of radicalization of different movements, and it was able to enact an offensive in a moment when there was a retrenchment of neoliberal politics.
It happened in a moment when there was, again, this retrenchment of neoliberalism with the presidency of Macri in Argentina, but also at a regional level with the retrenchment of neoliberal governments. So as a feminist movement we were able to rethink the agenda of social protest through transversality in terms of the subjects and the organizations that could participate in these assemblies and that would define themselves as being and speaking against capitalism. For example, a domestic worker finds herself in the middle of a conflict with her boss is also a subject who finds herself in conflict with capital and can participate in these assemblies.
This is in the case of Argentina which, since the 1970s with the dictatorship, has gone through a process of labor precaritization, and in which now about half of the population does not have formal work. Many people have informal work or community based work. In these assembly processes to organize the strike, feminism was carrying out a two-part movement. It was creating an autonomous distance from different organizations, including union organizations, but it was also creating a space for women who are part of unions or other organizations to participate. It was, I stress, a two-part movement. It was an autonomous space separate from other organizations, but also allowed for women who are part of those organizations to participate. This is how it had an effect on the union movement.
In that way, the feminist movement has been able to unify different movements and to construct an agenda. And that’s what the feminist strike was able to do. It was able to create an intersection between the union movement and the feminist movement that put the question of labor and the question of recognizing diverse forms of labor on the union agenda. The feminist movement in the region, by centering social reproduction, was able to put the question of the financialization of everyday life on the agenda, as well as the increase for example, in rent prices, as well as questions of land dispossession.
I want to focus on an important point that I think forces us to think about another idea of class and other images of class. I think that this encounter between feminism and unionism has a lot to offer us in working out other types of union forms of struggle or forms of organization. These new transversal forms and effects I’ve mentioned can be carried over to other organizations and other forms of struggle. It already has spilled over into other struggles and other forms of organization that previously were invisible and this spillover allowed for the formation of organic forms of coordination between different struggles. It has allowed for both redefining feminism and unionism and deciding what is important to each of them.
One of the most important achievements of the feminist movement, of course, after many months and really years of mobilizations on the street, was the legalization of abortion. It’s difficult to think about this legalization of abortion only in terms of reformism. We think about it in terms of redefining the coordinates of democracy and allowing other subjects to appear and giving other subjects the ability to speak. So to a certain extent, it’s redefining the importance of democracy. So that’s my contribution to thinking about the topics brought up in the book, and thank you very much for the invitation.
Zach Levenson: Thank you Lucí, that was great, and we have our final speaker Adam Hanieh up next, after which we turn back to Gareth for brief comment, and then we’ll open it up. So, Adam the floor is yours.
Adam Hanieh: Thanks Zach and thanks very much to Spectre for inviting me to be part of this event. I have had the opportunity to read the book over the last couple of weeks, and I must say it’s a really superb, superb account of these different revolutionary uprisings. And the theoretical weave that that runs through the book is really quite impressive. I know it’s very difficult in a book of this kind to make sure there’s a consistency that threads throughout each chapter. One of the striking things about this book is that that is actually achieved.
I want to concentrate my comments on a few points related to the Middle East. Of course, in the book, there is a very excellent chapter by Sameh Naguib on Egypt and the Egyptian revolution of 2011, which really paints a very powerful picture of the different forces involved in that struggle and the counter-revolutionary moments that evolved in 2013 and later on. Also the specter, if you like, of the Egyptian revolution but also the broader struggles in the Middle East run through a lot of the other chapters in the book, and I wanted to focus on some of the themes that are raised by this, and which to my mind have broader implications.
In particular firstly, I want to talk about the way that we understand the nature of ruling classes and their relationship to state power. There is a clear line that runs throughout the chapters in the book about the need to move beyond reformism or parliamentarist conceptions of struggle and reformist approaches to the state. It stresses the importance of expanding forms of popular democratic power and workers’ control – not just to reduce the struggle for socialism, as Gareth put it, to a kind of social democratic horizon or simply a change in the face of government. And this is clearly one of the lessons of the Egyptian revolution, which I’ll come to in a second. In this line of thinking the state is seen as the class state which maintains and extends the interests of the ruling class and creates the conditions for capital accumulation. I think this is true generally, and I think this is really echoed in all the chapters throughout the book.
However, on the left and I think even on the revolutionary left, there is a tendency to view composition of class or to understand class within national borders or circumscribed within the borders of the nation, state and citizenship. One of the things that I reflected on throughout reading this book, which wasn’t explicitly drawn out, but which really struck me at numerous points throughout the chapters is the importance of looking at cross-border processes in the way that class forms.
For example, if we look at the experience of neoliberal change in the Middle East through the 1980s until today, we can see that the processes of structural adjustment, of privatization and selling off of state goods and opening up to foreign direct investment is not just a restructuring of class power within the borders of the nation state. It also opened up and facilitated the wider internationalization of capital within the region, within Middle East itself.
One of the instance of this is through the way that Gulf capital, Gulf business conglomerates, played a major role in taking advantage of the neoliberal period and becoming major owners, if you like, of capital throughout the wider region. This took place through this 20 or 30 year period that preceded the revolutionary uprisings in 2011. Now, I think this is really important because what it means when we look at the neoliberal experience in the Middle East is that the reforms didn’t just reconfigure terms of class and state at the national scale. They also led to new kind of regional circuits of accumulation that was superintended by Gulf business conglomerates: Saudi, Emirati, Qatari, Kuwaiti and so forth.
One of the consequences of this is that Gulf capitals becoming interiorized in the class structures of many Arab states, and the political economy of the wider region has become pulled around the tempo of accumulation in the Gulf itself. Now, this is important to think about and Sameh talks about this in his chapter to a certain degree, but I think it’s important to pull out the kind of political implications of this, regarding what the nature of class is in a country like Egypt. It’s not just Egyptian capital in the sense of a national capital that we need to think about in who constitute the ruling class and therefore who is linked to state power. It’s also these other internationalist or internationalising capital fragments, particularly in the case of the Gulf States.
What looking at class in this way does is challenge the kind of two-stage theories that were present in much of the Arab left through the ‘60s and ‘70s, where the hope for revolutionary change was placed upon a national bourgeoisie somehow in opposition to international Western imperialist capital. But if we think about the ruling class in this sense, that is, as involving these other kinds of regional fractions of capital, then this idea of a progressive national bourgeois, I think really falls. This is really quite illustrative in the case of the Egyptian struggle.
To be clear, I’m not saying here that the national borders are not important. I’m not trying to advocate some kind of amorphous idea of transnational capital. I’m simply stating that understanding the nature of the ruling class means looking at the way that capital accumulation extends through cross-border processes. I think this is actually a point that Neil Davidson has made in other writings.
So in Egypt, we can see this in some of the demands and political implications that emerged in 2011, in particular, the demands around renationalizing goods or assets that have been privatized and bringing to account those who had benefited from the sell-off of state goods under Mubarak. All of these political demands that arose at that moment inevitably came up against the entrenched position of Gulf capital within the Egyptian state, within the Egyptian class formation. This was something that wasn’t necessarily explicitly recognized in the demands of the movement in 2011, but it is something that was nonetheless implicitly there.
We can also see this in the way that the Gulf States played a major role in backing different forces, both the Morsi period through support of Qatar, and Saudi and Emirati support to Sisi in his current military dictatorship. I don’t think this is a point that is solely connected to the Middle East. The chapters by Matt Gonzalez and Jeff Weber make similar points in the Latin American context regarding the need to see the way that extractivism is inevitable or bound to come through forms of international capital.
The other side to this is the way we think about working class struggle particularly in the Middle East, where so much of the region’s working classes are actually constituted by refugee populations and peoples displaced across borders. These are people who don’t hold citizenship in the region, but nonetheless need to be seen as major and driving forces behind a working class struggle throughout the entire Middle East. So here we can see the way that conflict, crises, violence, displacement, and war feed into our processes of class formation and therefore the nature of struggles against the state.
The other thing that I wanted to quickly highlight, and which relates to this, is the international character of the counter-revolutionary moment. Gareth draws this out quite nicely in his chapter on Eastern Europe. What really struck me reading that chapter was the way that Eastern Europe really was a laboratory for things that came much later. This was very striking in the case of the Middle East. There institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development were was set up very much as part of a similar process. They made that a foray into the Middle East post 2011 with much of the same logic of trying to reconstitute state powers, make sure there’s a continuity with the neoliberal trajectories, and to kind of keep what they called the orderly transition at that moment.
The final thing I would say is I think there are different elements to the counter-revolutionary moment in this international context. We do need, I think, more careful attention in particular to the way that debt and forms of world money play in restraining or constraining the ability of movements to take state power and to move beyond capitalism. There’s a lot that can be said about this in the case of the Middle East, not least of which is the way the same regional powers that I spoke to have been placing their own financial surpluses in the central banks of neighboring countries as a way of increasing or deepening their regional control. So I think these new forms of financial hegemony, are important to consider in looking at how revolutions actually unfold.
I’ll leave it there, and thanks again to Spectre and to Gareth for making this possible.
Zach Levenson: Thanks, Adam. I wanted to give Gareth a few minutes to respond and then we can open it up. So, Gareth, the floor is yours.
Gareth Dale: Thanks so much, Mattie and Lucí and Adam, for these really very interesting remarks.
On Adam’s comments, I am certainly very much in agreement with your emphasis that to understand ruling class strategies in crushing and containing revolts, we need to factor in questions of imperialism and debt and so on. In Colin’s first book from the 1980s, the chapter on Chile makes clear that we can’t discuss Chile without discussing the United States. Or, in some cases, we noticed that some decaying hegemonic powers are forced to tolerate revolts, as was the case in the GDR, which I looked at in my chapter. The Soviet Union was just pushed into a corner and had to accede to the toppling of the regime there.
I wanted to also to look at questions of the international and just a couple of remarks on them, then Mattie’s, and Lucí’s comments, which again, were really very interesting. Mattie talked about the Movement for Black Lives in America and its revolutionary spirit at times, and I recall the toppling of statues, and it very much reminded me of 1989 in Eastern Europe, in some respects. It was a movement that had a global purchase. In Britain there were very, very strong echoes of it. This was true elsewhere in the world, for instance in Nigeria, with the anti-police movement there.
Likewise, Lucí discussed the feminist uprising, which again globalized very rapidly. So when we compare the period of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the last 10 or 15 years, we see in both cases, movements against oppression were very important parts of the movement architecture, if you like and they globalized very rapidly. The global links were very vivid to the actors involved. I suppose the difference between the two periods is that in the first case, those movements against oppression could more closely connect to powerful workers movements. When workers are going on strike there’s a sense of power to change the world because these are movements of people who are who are central to production. That makes for quite a significant difference there.
Having said that, I very much agree with Lucí’s remark that the feminist strikes and the feminist movement in Latin America and elsewhere helped to redefine perspectives of labor. We can consider the labor movement as occupying a force field between a middle class layer of functionaries in the unions and their allied political parties that are essentially engaged in negotiating with capital on behalf of workers. The pressure from workers themselves whenever a movement such as the feminist strikes comes about that, at least at its high points, can force the unions and related parties to attend to the real problems and real lives of working people, as was the case in Lucí’s discussion for women, or in the case of Black Lives Matter, the black communities in America and elsewhere. This is part of the process of pulling wresting the labor movement away from the grip of the middle class functionaries and towards a protest identity that is much more closely related to the lives of working people themselves and their interests.
Finally, just to say one other thing regarding the globality of all of this. If we look at the feminist strikes, they were part of a series of huge movements around the world that included the #metoo movement, and so there was a sense of a rolling women’s movement developing real impetus and momentum worldwide. It sparked off in one country after another, on one issue after another, whether it be abortion in one country and then against police violence in another, and so on. So this sense of global consciousness, which was very much there in the 60s and 70s and was a key part of the social movement upturn, is really tangible today and has been for a number of years.