Mýrto Ioannídou
Living At A Time of Change

In Egypt, during the huge wave of democratic mass protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Suez etc., the thugs that the State sent out – some in uniforms, some exchanging their police uniform for civilian clothes – killed more than 700 peaceful citizens.(1)

Peaceful, peaceful! was the exhortation most often heard when protesters reminded their compatriots of the necessity to remain calm. Any other move, any excited and rash action, was bound to offer the generals in command of the armed forces an excuse for ordering a far more bloody crack-down than actually happened. And at any rate, in a democratic revolution, a few stones targeted at the police are without any practical effect. The fire power of the army and police is something no movement of unarmed civilians can challenge by physical force. If political power would always depend on rifles, democracy movements could be considered failed undertakings from the very beginning.

Those who have in the past advocated militarist solutions as answers for the problems faced by a disempowered and disgruntled population were wrong in at least one respect. Perhaps successful revolutions, in the past have brought about a change of personnel in the “executive” and even a new relation of power with regard to class relations. But armed revolution always presupposed military hierarchies, and these hierarchies tended to subsist in the aftermath of a victorious revolution.

Also, today, we see that the “elites” are far better prepared to suppress armed revolt than they were in 1918. And even then, uprisings of the people failed in Hungary, in Germany, in Italy.

Perhaps, we the people are weaker today than the people was in 1776, in 1789, or in 1918, when we assess our chances to effect change from a “military” point of view. 

But perhaps, despite their better preparations for counter-insurgency and for the suppression of mass demonstrations, the rulers of today are weaker than before in other respects. Their policemen and soldiers are not prepared to commit unlimited brutality against a peacefully protesting majority. They suffer the consequences of austerity measures, as well. And so do their next of kin.

In Egypt, the people on Tahir Square shouted: “The People and the army are one.” That makes a lot of sense. They did not shout, the top generals,  the buddies of general Mubarak, and the People are one. NO – the People and the army. The ordinary recruits. The middle level officers. Those who did not and still do not profit by millions of dollars the U.S. government handed over each year to the corrupt generals running that military dictatorship.

It is clear that it is wrong to antagonize the army or the police.
The flower the girl hands a police officer during a demonstration is better than the stone thrown in his face.

They want you to disband? To vacate a square? Okay; sometimes it makes sense to resist. To keep sitting or standing where you are. ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A LARGE CROWD AND THEY ARE FEW. But don’t be foolishly stubborn. When it’s clear that you are only a few hundred or one or two thousand only, and when you see that they’ll start to beat people up, trampling on their democratic right to assemble peacefully in the street, remember tactics used in the so-called Third World by freedom fighters encountering superior forces. Dissolve, move elsewhere to a rapidly agreed upon spot, and form a protest sit-in again. In that hide and seek game, the people can always outwit the so-called forces of order. 

So don’t stick to “symbolic” places, like the Bastille. Be rapid, “flexible” as the bosses call it today. And don’t let pent-up aggression develop inside you, because they beat you up cruelly, mocking your right as a citizen to be were you are, voicing your democratic grievances, like the American revolutionaries of 1776 voiced theirs.

We have to have courage, as a peaceful people demanding change. Everywhere. In Greece. In Spain. In Germany. In Britain and in the U.S.
No government, whether it relies on the power of the army and police or not, can run a country indefinitely against a peacefully resisting majority. And every police of repression that aims to break the will and courage of a peacefully resisting majority will run out of steam in the end. 

It is true that even as a peaceful movement we can be temporarily defeated. But I prefer not to think of defeat now. They chances that protest movements will grow are not bad. The situation is bad for the “elites” in many ways. They have no way to handle the crisis. They are groping for instruments, in the dark. The grievances of the people are real. They talk about it, at home. They mutter. They sense that they are 
being conned. People are waking up. More and more. Those who are most awake are out in the street today. Protesting.

Repression may destroy courage and cause the silence of a graveyard. But the apathy, passivity, the despondence that ensues will ruin the economy and it will ruin culture and the ability to create, to invent. In other words, those who think they can win by repressing peaceful democratic demands of the majority will fail in the end.

Because the ruling elites in the West understand this, they have tried sweet-talk. For many years it was usual to offer bread and games, like the Roman emperors who offered it to their subjects. 

Now, the bread question is resurfacing.
It was the tinder that was set aflame by the IMF proposals to cut subsidies for bread and gasoline in Tunisia. (2)

Yes, the bread question was always a central question in our “free” enterprise system. Before WWII, working people asked for bread because they went hungry. Actually, for “bread and roses.”

Bread alone is never enough for a human being. “Man does not live by bead alone.”

Between 1945 and 1989/90 we experienced a special situation in the West. There was a competition of “systems” of government, each in charge of broadly speaking the same industrial society although these societies of course differed in some respects. The one  “system” was wrongly labeled a “free” enterprise system even though it was and continues to be corporate feudalism. And the other was called a “Soviet” system although the “soviets” (the Russian word for councils, i.e. town meetings and  assemblies of the workers in a factory) had been disempowered and turned into transmission belts of policies decided further “above”, by the top layers of a party bureaucracy.

In the West, we have heard a lot about the backward and repressive character of the “Soviet” system and very little about its interesting aspects.

The extent of repression was enormous. The “Soviet” etatist system used a combination of repression as well as evoked idealism to achieve a vast, very rapid expansion and modernization of the economic base in the period between the 1920s and the 1950s. When, after the war and especially after the “deconstruction” of the image of Stalin, idealism was replaced by disillusionment, only repression remained and stagnation set in. The elites counteracted by reducing the level of repression considerably, by inducing people to be pragmatic, by investing less in heavy industry and the military industrial complex and more in light industry that churned out consumer goods. In the early 1970s, even miners in Karaganda  who weren’t party members, who were Baptists and anti-party, would owned a car and pay scarcely any  rent for a nice, modern apartment with central heating and a modern bathtub. Their kids, though refusing to join the “young pioneers” and, when older, the Komsomolsk youth organization, would attend high school and earn a high school diploma. Health services were free and much better than today. The health service, in another word, was on about the same level as that of Italy or Oklahoma, in the 1970s. But then demands for more democratic breathing space were voiced again, the scourge of repression returned, and productivity lagged. Passivity grew. Corruption spread. Society was in decline. A process that was aggravated by the cost of the arms race which the Reagan regime forced upon the adversary. The collapse of the “Soviet” regime in the early 1990s was logical and predictable.

In the West, the elites knew that in the 1960s and 70s, living standards in the “Soviet Union” had attained an admirable level, taking into consideration the backwardness of the country in 1918 and the destructions wrought by the Nazi German aggression in 1941 and the Nazi “scorched earth” tactics employed when the Wehrmacht troops were forced to withdraw again after the surrender of one of the Nazi armies in Stalingrad. Of course the price of rapid industrialization paid by ordinary people had been as high as the price paid by the working class in the West between 1830 and 1890. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the elites in the West knew what working people in the West knew: that no one was threatened by unemployment in the bureaucratic etatist industrial societies of Eastern Europe. That health services were free. That programs existed for free vacations for working people and their families. That school and university education was free. That working class children had a chance to attend university and to become a scientist, an engineer, a physician that was infinitely better than in all Western industrial societies. That rents were low and not subject to hikes. Investment in the housing stock, however, was focused exclusively on the production of new, modern town quarters consisting of multi-story apartment buildings. Somewhat in the Bauhaus style, but made of prefabicated concrete elements, that is to say produced rather cheaply, in view of the limited funds that could be allocated when so much of the budget was eaten up by “defense requirements”.(3) In effect, the Eastern “people’s democracies” (democracies, in name only, mock democracies – a bit like ours in some respects) pursued social democratic policies aiming to improve the general material situation of the disempowered working population, also of the elderly, and especially of the young, “the future of our society.” It is interesting to see that the modern working class quarters produced in the 1930s in Russia and again, in the 1960s and 1970s in Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia or East Germany, with their moderate densities, their greens, their spacious streets, the wide spaces between tenements, prefab buildings of moderate height, equipped with  balconies, etc. look so much like the working class quarters produced in the 1960s in Sweden, in West Berlin, or in Bremen, Germany. Centers of Social Democratic political power in the West, at the time.

Actually, the answer to the temptations of social democratic policies in the East was the rise of Social Democatic parties and the introduction of Social Democratic policies in the West. The welfare state was taking shape in Britain, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, France, Austria and Germany. 

This policy was not restricted to Western Europe. It had been preceded by New Deal reforms in the U.S., and it was echoed by “reforms” in U.S. occupied areas that were adjacent to China where the revolutionaries had won the civil war in 1949.

In East Asia, under pressure from their U.S. masters, the dictators in South Korea and Taiwan chose to hurt the land-owning “elites” by introducing “democratic land reforms,”  giving private plots to tenants. Taiwan and South Korea were too close to the Bamboo curtain, and left-wing rebellions in both countries were seen as possible. In effect, the left was bloodily repressed on Cheju Island in South Korea, and also throughout Taiwan in the context of the massacres of civilians that took place in February 1947.  In another factual U.S. protectorate, the Philippines, the U.S. “advisers” obviously deemed land reform unnecessary because it was too far away from the Bamboo curtain to warrant the cost of turning it into a showcase of “democratic Capitalism.”

It is since the early 1990s that the necessity for a class compromise in the West has been put in doubt by the “elites”. And not only put in doubt. They have virtually turned their back on it. 

The trade unions and their allies, the Social Democratic Parties, were slow and in fact often reluctant to comprehend this. 

But the “elites” had an answer for this. 

Corporations and very wealthy individuals  in some if not all Western democracies routinely give large sums to both major parties. Both openly and legal, as campaign contributions; and illegally, in a clandestine way. 

In some Western European countries, even ordinary citizens hoping to run for office on the local level, the provincial level, let alone the national level, are routinely “supported” financially by big business in order to have a better chance to build an intra-party career. 

A typical example is that the former German chancellor, Mr. Kohl, was an employee working for BASF, a transnational corporation. The corporation “encouraged” him to enter politics and  run for office.

That it is necessary to have considerable private means at your disposal in order to have a chance to run successfully for Senator in the United States has been noted by many critics. It turns democracy into a pasttime for the rich.

In Germany, at least one of the two major parties has demanded of people who wanted to run on their ticket for a seat in city hall to pay one thousand Euros into the coffers of the party, a demand that is totally illegal. It reminds some of us of practices in the Roman empire two thousand years ago, and of the medieval Catholic Church. Then, you bought an office, in order to squeeze a far bigger amount out of your “clients” or “subjects” once you were in office.

In Italy, the sources of the fortune of Mr. Berlusconi are unexplained; some critics think of him as a “straw man” of organized crime. If we look at his predecessors, we will remember that an elder statesman of the so-called Socialist Party, Mr.Craxi, had to stay in exile in Tunisia to evade jail; apparently he had been sentenced because of contacts with the Mafia. Andreotti, a prime minister, was found guilty of this crime, as well.  In France, corruption is at the core of the conflict between the present conservative President of the Republic, Mr. Sarkozy, and a former conservative foreign secretary. That big sums were changing hands is undisputed, and everybody knows the name of the lady (a wealthy industrialist) responsible for illegally giving funds to the majority party of Mr. Sarkozy. We simply don’t know who exactly took the money. A “Socialist” President, Mitterrand, was involved in the Elf-Aquitaine corruption scandal, and the name of the former German Chancellor, Mr. Kohl, was also named but the German judicial system, in the view of one Swiss investigating judge, was surprisingly unable or unwilling to investigate.

In France, again, former conservative President Chirac is too old now to realistically stand trial in court, because of corruption charges. Like Berlusconi, he has evaded justice again and again, by apparently seeing to it that trials were postponed. Or perhaps other reasons contributed to this unability of the judicial system to persecute cases of corruption involving various people in high office. If we would probe deep enough, we would probably be able to come up with more examples, and would implicate politicians in far more countries, including those in Washington, D.C. and in various states of the union. Didn’t an Illinois politician try to “sell” the seat vacated by Senator Obama? And who would seriously think that big business is not “buying influence” in the U.S, when it supports Republican candidates but also (though often to a lesser extent) Democrats?

The need for a class compromise in the heart and center of the modern Capitalist world, in the fortress of the Western “elites” that dominate and exploit the world, has never existed in a comparable way in the so-called Third World. That is why repression was always open and shameless in these parts of the world. IF APATHY RESULTED AND DEVELOPMENT WAS BRAKED, ONLY THE BETTER FOR “OUR” ELITES IN THE WEST – at least that was the dominant though tacit view for several decades in the post-WWII era.

The collapse of the “competing” East European system changed everything.

Now, it is safer to invest everywhere. No need to fear that a “Third World” country will switch to the “wrong camp” and that investment there will be irrecoupably lost.

Also, no need any more to “pander” to working people in Western Europe and the United States of America, in Canada, or in Australia and New Zealand.  The old arrogance and racism found among some “white” WORKERS in the West when they talked of their peers in Brazil or Argentine, in India, Turkey, Tunisia or South Africa, is waning. The unions have been frontally attacked by Thatcher in Britain. They have been weakened by Republican anti-labor legislation, by the court system, by NAFTA, in the U.S.  In Germany, corporations like SIEMENS have used millions of Euros so that yellow company unions could be established, their leaders being in close contact with top management. VOLKSWAGEN invited top union officers of the metal workers union, the equivalent of the U.A.W., to brothels in Rio de Janeiro and paid for a Brazilian luxury prostitute and her apartment in Germany, all at the service of the top union representative at VOLKSWAGEN Inc. Of course, cash payments are also a common but less openly conducted way of assuring good cooperation between elected union representatives and management. A bus driver in Germany recently reported that the bus company had twice sent him an unearned amount of thousand Euros, with a note that they hoped “for good cooperation”. This happened shortly after he had been elected shop steward. So the practice of buying influence has spread even to the lower levels, in the provinces. 

At a time when a massive attack on salaries and wages –  that is to say, on the general level of income or the “standard” of normal decent working class existence that had evolved in the Social Democratic decade (ca. 1965-1975) in Western Europe –  is under way, and this at an accelerated rate since the 1990s, it is obviously cheaper to buy the representatives of the people than to buy the approval of the entire working  population and of working class retirees by continuing “welfare state policies.”

The social conquests of social democratic decade, and the social reforms that preceded it since the advent of the New Deal (and in Western Europe in the wake of WWII ), are obviously a thing of the past. They negatively affected the rate of profit of big business. 

The reforms were a concession, and the class that owns and controls Capital to a noteworthy extent must have felt it was taken hostage by social democratic reformers who more or less indicated, “you can cooperate with us, but we need to show the rank-and-file that it’s worthwhile to cooperate; they must see, realistically, that it pays to be good friends”: well, or else, you can face internal labor unrest inside the castle while you have the Barbarians outside the walls. 

With the “end of history” at hand, that is to say, their final triumph, the “elites” shook off the shackles that braked their power. Capitalism could accumulate so much faster, and they could triple their fortunes so much more quickly, when its dynamics was no longer “braked” by high wage demands of unions, by early retirement, by the burden of pension funds that corporations like GM had consented to contribute to.

Today, dear reader, the fast accumulation has ended in a superfluity, an enormous abundance, of capital that is involved in a desperate flight for safe havens: Gold, land bought up by corporations in Ethiopia, investment in luxury apartments in a ridiculous spot, at the edge of the desert and of the polluted Persian Gulf. They erected the world’s highest building in a little Sheik’s revolution-threatened no-man’s land, an energy-wasting Disney-land conceived by postmodern architects and eager investors, under conditions that defy all demands for sustainability. The elites and their financial institutions, in other words, are desperate because they don’t know anymore what to do with all the liquid means at their disposal that they have squeezed out of the world’s laboring women and men (and children, in many places).

No, the “elites” hardly pay taxes any more because the accumulation process is still not fast enough. And so public coffers are empty, more and more governments, including the U.S. government, the British government, the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Greek government, are on the brink of default. And the people get indignant and angry.

Seems that the “End of history” also announces a new beginning.


(1) A good early assessment of the protests in Feb. 2011 is offered by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani, “Political Energy Powers Exhausted Protesters”, in: IPS NEWS, Feb.7, 2011 (http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54389  - backup copy:   egypt.FEB7.2011.pdf )

(2) The IMF also recommended cutting gasoline subsidies in Egypt, claiming that such subsidies favored the wealthy. Of course an increase of the price of gasoline immediately translates into higher bus fares. Which hurts ordinary citizens who are by and large poor. Cf. Amira Saleh and  Mohsen Abdel Razeq, “IMF calls on Egypt to abolish subsidies on petroleum products”, in: al-Masry al-Youm, Jan.23, 2011 (http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/imf-calls-egypt-abolish-subsidies-petroleum-products  --
backup copy:   EGYPT-23.1.11.pdf )

(3)  Investment in pre-war buildings was almost nil. In East Germany, for instance, much of the pre-war housing stock was privately owned; owners could not raise rents which could well be at a level of 30 Marks for a downtown Berlin apartment in the 1960s and ‘70s. The upside of it was that there was no gentrification. Grannies lived downtown because the rent was affordable even after they had become a widow. On the other hand, owners had no funds to carry out repairs. They would address the city government, asking it to take over the property when the city demanded that they carry out inevitable repairs. Usually, the city would decline to take over the house, claiming they had already taken over so many houses that their budgets simply did not allow them to be responsible for an even bigger housing stock. So the fact that old buildings fell in disrepair cannot be overlooked. 
No one thought of the possibility to turn old houses over to tenants, the only ones who would have been capable to care for them well.


Check: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/17/democracy_uprising_in_the_usa_noam

go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 6




Demokratie ohne Parteien? Eine ganz reale Utopie- Ein Gespräch mit der Schriftstellerin Juli Zeh 

backup copy

Libcom.org, Theses on the global crisis 

backup copy

Al Ahram Weekly

Galal Nassar, "The Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite" 

backup copy

Al MasryAlyoum.com

Mohamed Azouz, Egypt govt mulls raising workers' incentives in bid to thwart labor strikes 

Ahmad Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"

backup copy

Democracy real YA!

Manifesto of Democracia real YA!

backup  copy

DemocraciarealYa Sevilla (29-5-2011)

backup copy

Suite 101. net

Carolina Castañeda López, La "Spanish Revolution" y los movimientos sociales en la red

backup copy

Lola Romero Gil, Movimientos ciudadanos, la red se mueve

backup copy

Lola Romero Gil, "Una semana de España acampada, por la democracia real"

backup copy

Heinz Dieterich, "Transición al Socialismo del Siglo XXI: avances en Europa y Asia"

backup copy 

Greg Sargent,"Wisconsin Dems 6. Wisconsin Republicans 0"
(On upcoming recall-elections)

backup copy

BBC on Wisconsin (Feb. 18, 2011)
Democrats flee Wisconsin Senate to slow anti-union bill 

backup copy

Matthew Cardinale, "New and Old, US Groups Forge Broad Alliances"

backup copy

Local to global.org

Left Forum

Tom Hayden, "The Defunding of the Peace Movement" 


Not in our name

backup copy

disarm now

"Former US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"

backup copy

Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace Coalition)

Richard Luecke, "Saul Alinsky: Homo Ludens for Urban Democracy"

backup issue

John E. Jacobsen, "Wall Street Already Finding Loopholes in Financial Reform Legislation" 

backup copy

Louise Story, "A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives"

backup copy

Readers' comments on
Obama's tax cut for the rich

backup copy 

Alternative web.es

Esther Vivas

backup copy

backup copy (doc.file)

Retos anticapitalistas

backup copy

Forum Social Mundial

Support Julian Assange

Z Communications  AND Z mag

Z call for help





                                                                                  go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 6