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The Meaning And Necessity Of Revolution In The 21st Century


The global day of action on May 12 will mark the resurgence of our resistance. But what is the way forward for our movement in these times of crisis?

 

This is the transcript of a presentation given at the OVNI 2012 festival in the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona on May 11, 2012.

 

It’s amazing to be here in Barcelona – home to one of the most inspiring revolutionary episodes in European history and today once again a hotbed of popular resistance against market fundamentalism and a false democracy. Before I start, I would like to thank the OVNI organization and Carlos Delclós — a lecturer at Pompeu Fabra, an active member of the movement here in Barcelona, and a contributor to ROARMAG.org — for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today, on the eve of the global day of action of May 12.

 

On the Edge of History

We are living through historic times. While the future may look bleak and uncertain, we are – in our own particular way – blessed to live through an era in which the very word ‘revolution’ is no longer just the abstract obsession of some fringe romantics inside the Old Left. We are living through a time in which the word capitalism no longer invokes hard work and ample reward, but the lack of work and opportunity for a growing number of people around the world. This is a time in which the very existence of revolutionary theory and practice is no longer considered just an academic or activist privilege, but a pressing global necessity and – increasingly – a factual reality on the ground.

We are living through a time in which the illusory sense of growth and progress that underpinned the cultural hegemony of neoliberalism – and its belief that representative democracy and the self-regulating market will bring freedom and prosperity to all – is dying a slow and painful death. The deceptive ideological mirror of the End of History has been shattered, and in come tumbling a whole new range of alternative futures. With the uprisings that started in the Arab world last year, history appears to have started anew. After a brief interlude that began with the end of the Cold War, the ongoing global financial crisis has radically shaken the foundations of the neoliberal world order. The endless struggle has recommenced, and in the process, the horizon of the possible is rapidly shifting. And the most incredible thing is that we’re watching all of it happen right in front of our very eyes.

 

The other day I was speaking to a journalist who in his time covered the 1968 student uprising in Paris, and ran from revolution to coup d’état in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. He told me something that rang very true and that still seems very applicable to our predicament today: he said that in times of crisis, as coalitions of convenience fall apart and the illusion of systemic stability is disturbed from the inside out, the interests of different social groups and political actors suddenly appear just as they are. The naked essence of the system is revealed for what it always already was. If the current crisis has been good for anything, it is that it has brutally uprooted the post-political consensus of the centrist parties and re-drawn the battle lines along the class divide.

 

The crisis, in short, has brought class struggle back to the fore. Suddenly, there is no longer such a thing as a safe and secure middle class. The politics of austerity have revealed the real cleavages in our globalized world economy. The battle-lines are drawn: this is a struggle between the 1% — politicians, financial capitalists, CEOs and military elites – and the rest of the world population. For the past 30 years, the 1% have been waging a silent war upon the 99%, but it took a financial crisis of historic proportions to bring this reality to light. So yes, even though we have chosen to struggle strictly with non-violent means, we find ourselves in a state of war nonetheless. And as Tolstoy so beautifully depicted in his War & Peace, those participating in the battle often find themselves in a ‘fog of war’ – a period of protracted uncertainty about the strength of the opposing force, about one’s own strength, and about the future of our world in general.

 Reflections on a Revolution

The main thing we have tried to do at ROAR over the past year – and the main thing I will try to do in this intervention as well – is to alleviate some of this uncertainty through what one of our contributors has called ‘The Art of Information Activism’. One of our key objectives at ROAR has been to provide some perspective. To take a step back and understand the events of the past year in their spatial and temporal context – that is to say, to always highlight the global and historical dimension to what is happening today. In the process, we hope to not only amplify the voice of our generation, but also to distill some sense and order from the clamorous cacophony of our rapidly changing world.

 

Rosa Luxemburg once wrote that “the most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.” But as we face an overload of informational stimuli, it seems at least equally important to try and connect the dots between all the seemingly disconnected events that present themselves to our consciousness on a daily basis. What connects the global financial crisi

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