Progressive Calendar 05.09.09
From: David Shove (
Date: Sat, 9 May 2009 13:02:35 -0700 (PDT)
              P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R    05.09.09
                   ed under the weather the last 36 hours

1. Northtown vigil   5.09 2pm
2. Venezuela         5.09 3pm
3. Somali voices     5.09 4/5:30pm
4. Palestine/Indians 5.09 9pm

5. Stillwater vigil  5.10 1pm
6. Mothers day/peace 5.10 2pm
7. RNC 8 defense     5.10 3:30pm
8. Dia de las Madres 5.10 5pm

9. Jeffrey StClair - Damage continues from Amchitka nuke blasts
10. Serge Halimi   - In praise of revolutions

--------1 of 10--------

From: Vanka485 [at]
Subject: Northtown vigil 5.09 2pm

Peace vigil at Northtown (Old Hwy 10 & University Av), every Saturday

--------2 of 10--------

From: Socialist Appeal
Subject: Venezuela 5.09 3pm

Contacts: John Peterson (651) 373-7609 Josh Lucker (618) 691-8277
wil [at]

Venezuela Nationalizes Cargill Plant May 9th, 2009 @ 3:00pm Mayday
Bookstore 301 Cedar Ave S. Minneapolis, MN

Venezuela recently expropriated a rice processing plant owned by Cargill,
a multinational food giant based in the Twin Cities. Come to Mayday Books
to hear John Peterson, National Secretary of the Hands Off Venezuela
Campaign, speak on what this means for workers in Venezuela and in the

--------3 of 10--------

From: Women Against Military Madness <wamm [at]>
Subject: Somali voices 5.09 4/5:30pm

"Voices from Somali Minnesotans: A Community Response"
Saturday, May 9, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. (Somali Session), 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.
(English Session) Minneapolis Convention Center, Room 101, 1301 Second
Avenue South, Minneapolis.

Speakers will address current targeting, scapegoating and persecution of
the Somali community in Twin Cities. Over the past six months, as a
national task force investigates missing Somali youth, members of the
Somali community have reported being stopped on the streets and in the
malls, Somali businesses have been raided, students have been approached
by federal agents in campus libraries, community leaders have been denied
boarding passes without due process, agents have talked their way into
homes without warrants, non-English-speaking Somalis have been interviewed
without translators, agents in unmarked cars have staked out in front of
Somali mosques, informants have allegedly been sent inside the mosques.
This is an opportunity to understand what is happening to the Somali
community here and to stand with them when under racist, targeted attacks
by government authorities. Open to public.

Co-Sponsored by: United Somali Movement, Somali Youth Network Council
(SYNC), Somali Family and Children Services, Somali Youth Action of
Minnesota, Somali Action Alliance, United Somali Diaspora, Somali
Leadership Council, Somali American Community, World Peace Organization,
African Community Center, Students Against Violence Project, Somali
Contact Group, Somali Student Association-University of Minnesota Chapter,
Muslim Student Association-Augsburg College Chapter, Abubakar As-Saddique
Islamic Center (AAIC), Islamic Dawah Institute, Al-Ihsan Islamic Center,
Khaled Ibn Waleed Mosque, Karmel Plaza Business Association, Eden Prairie
Islamic Center, Daruasalam Cultural Center, Antiwar Committee, Council on
American-Islamic Relation-Minnesota Chapter (CAIR-MN), and WAMM. FFI: Call
Hindia Ali, 612-423-0106 or email voicesfromsomaliminnesotans [at]

--------4 of 10--------

From: Eric Angell <eric-angell [at]>
Subject: Palestine/Indians 5.09 9pm

Maying Minneapolis Television Network (MTN) viewers:

"Our World In Depth" cablecasts on MTN Channel 17 on Saturdays at 9pm and
Tuesdays at 8am, after DemocracyNow!  Households with basic cable may

Sat 5/9, 9pm and Tues, 5/12, 8am
Parallel Injustices: American Indians and Palestinians

At an amazing gathering, for the first time in Minnesota, Native Americans
and Palestinians publicly shared their respective experiences of
dispossession of their land and genocide of their people.  Council on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Director Nihad Awad and
American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Clyde Bellecourt speak at Augsburg
College.  April 2009.

--------5 of 10--------

From: scot b <earthmannow [at]>
Subject: Stillwater vigil 5.10 1pm

A weekly Vigil for Peace Every Sunday, at the Stillwater bridge from 1- 2
p.m.  Come after Church or after brunch ! All are invited to join in song
and witness to the human desire for peace in our world. Signs need to be
positive.  Sponsored by the St. Croix Valley Peacemakers.

If you have a United Nations flag or a United States flag please bring it.
Be sure to dress for the weather . For more information go to

For more information you could call 651 275 0247 or 651 999 - 9560

--------6 of 10--------

From: Women Against Military Madness <wamm [at]>
Subject: MothersDay/peace 5.10 2pm

Mother's Day for Peace
Sunday, May 10, 2:00 p.m. Lyndale Park Peace Garden, 4124 Roseway Road
(Northeast of Lake Harriet by the Rose Garden), Minneapolis.

The third annual Mother's Day for Peace event will feature music, poetry,
story-telling and crane-making. This year troubadour Larry Long, who
prepared a song to sing at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday party at Madison
Square Garden, will perform. Julia Ward Howe's 1870 proposal for, the
original Mother's Day, a national day of peace will be read. Origami paper
to fold a peace crane will be available. The event is free and open to
all. Sponsored by: the Friends of the Peace Garden Project. Endorsed by:
WAMM. FFI: Call 952-922-0308 or email msphncc [at] .

--------7 of 10--------

From: info [at]
Subject: RNC 8 Defense 5.10 3:30pm

This is just a friendly reminder that we have our monthly meeting of the RNC 8
Defense Committee:

Sunday, May 10th at 3:30
Walker Church
3104 16th Ave S, Minneapolis

Lots of things are going on with the case.  Let's come together to figure
out how to capture and build on the momentum of recent supportive media
and Mayday positive vibes.

On that note, check out pictures from the RNC 8 and supporters in the
Heart of the Beast Mayday parade soon, plus announcements of upcoming
events, at Stay righteous!

--------8 of 10--------

From: "[ISO-8859-1] Marco Dávila" <maidaca85 [at] GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Dia de las Madres 5.10 5pm

The FMLN-Minnesota and Mujeres en Liderazgo want to invite you to
celebrate Mother's Day.

We are celebrating El Dia de las Madres-Mother's Day.
Bethany Church (2511 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis).
5pm - 8pm
Sunday May 10
There will be poetry, performances, food, raffles, a lot of gifts, AND A LOT

--------9 of 10--------

40 Years After America's Biggest Nuclear Blast, the Damage Continues
Echoes of Amchitka
May 8-10, 2009

Amchitka Island sits at the midway point on the great arc of Alaska's
Aleutian Islands, less than 900 miles across the Bering Sea from the coast
of Russia. Amchitka, a spongy landscape of maritime tundra, is one of the
most southerly of the Aleutians. The island's relatively temperate climate
has made it one of the Arctic's most valuable bird sanctuaries, a critical
staging ground for more than 100 migratory species, as well as home to
walruses, sea otters and sea lions. Off the coast of Amchitka is a
thriving fishery of salmon, pollock, haddock and halibut.

All of these values were recognized early on. In 1913, Amchitka was
designated as a national wildlife refuge by President William Howard Taft.
But these ecological wonders were swept aside in the early '60s when the
Pentagon and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) went on the lookout for a
new place to blow up H-bombs. Thirty years ago, Amchitka was the site of
three large underground nuclear tests, including the most powerful nuclear
explosion ever detonated by the United States.

The aftershocks of those blasts are still being felt. Despite claims by
the AEC and the Pentagon that the test sites would safely contain the
radiation released by the blasts for thousands of years, independent
research by Greenpeace and newly released documents from the Department of
Energy (DOE) show that the Amchitka tests began to leak almost
immediately. Highly radioactive elements and gasses, such as tritium,
americium-241 and plutonium, poured out of the collapsed test shafts,
leached into the groundwater and worked their way into ponds, creeks and
the Bering Sea.

At the same time, thousands of Amchitka laborers and Aleuts living on
nearby islands were put in harm's way. Dozens have died of
radiation-linked cancers. The response of the federal government to these
disturbing findings has been almost as troublesome as the circumstances
surrounding the tests themselves: a consistent pattern of indifference,
denial and cover-up continues even today.

There were several factors behind the selection of Amchitka as a test
site. One most certainly was the proximity to the Soviet Union. These
explosions were meant to send a message. Indeed, the tests were designed
to calibrate the performance of the Spartan anti-ballistic missile, built
to take out the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Publicly, however, the rationale
offered by the AEC and the Defense Department was simply that Amchitka was
a remote, and therefore safe, testing ground. "The site was selectedand I
underscore the pointbecause of the virtually zero likelihood of any
damage," claimed James Schlesinger, then chairman of the AEC.

What Schlesinger and his cohorts overlooked was the remarkable culture of
the Aleuts. Amchitka may have been remote from the continental United
States, but for nearly 10,000 years it had been the home of the Aleuts.
Indeed, anthropologists believe the islands around Amchitka may be the
oldest continuously inhabited area in North America. The Aleuts left
Amchitka in the 1880s after Russian fur traders had wiped out the sea
otter population, but they continued to inhabit nearby islands and relied
on the waters near Amchitka for subsistence. The Aleuts raised forceful
objections to the tests, pointing to the risk of radiation leaks,
earthquakes and tsunamis that might overwhelm their coastal villages.
These concerns were never addressed by the federal government. In fact,
the Aleuts were never consulted about the possible dangers at all.

In 1965, the Long Shot test exploded an 80 kiloton bomb. The $10 million
test, the first one supervised by the Pentagon and not the AEC, was really
a trial run for bigger things to come. But small as it was, there were
immediate problems. Despite claims by the Pentagon that the test site
would not leak, radioactive tritium and krypton-85 began to seep into
freshwater lakes almost instantly. But evidence of radioactivity,
collected by Defense Department scientists only three months after the
test, was kept secret for five years. The bomb site continues to spill
toxins into the environment. In 1993, EPA researchers detected high levels
of tritium in groundwater samples taken near the test site.

The contamination from Long Shot didn't deter the Pentagon bomb-testers.
In 1969, the AEC drilled a hole 4,000 feet deep into the rock of Amchitka
and set off the Milrow nuclear test. The one megaton blast was 10 times as
powerful as Long Shot. The AEC called it a "calibration test" designed to
see if Amchitka could withstand a much larger test. The evidence should
have convinced them of their dangerous folly. The blast triggered a string
of small earthquakes and several massive landslides; knocked water from
ponds, rivers and lakes more than 50 feet into the air; and, according to
government accounts, "turned the surrounding sea to froth."

A year later, the AEC and the Pentagon announced their plans for the
Cannikin nuclear test. At five megatons, Cannikin was to be the biggest
underground nuclear explosion ever conducted by the United States. The
blast would be 385 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Cannikin became a rallying point for native groups, anti-war and anti-nuke
activists, and the nascent environmental movement. Indeed, it was
opposition to Cannikin by Canadian and American greens, who tried to
disrupt the test by taking boats near the island, that sparked the birth
of Greenpeace.

A lawsuit was filed in federal court, charging that the test violated the
Limited Test Ban Treaty and the newly enacted National Environmental
Policy Act. In a 4 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court refused to halt the
test. What the Court didn't know, however, was that six federal agencies,
including the departments of State and Interior, and the fledgling EPA,
had lodged serious objections to the Cannikin test, ranging from
environmental and health concerns to legal and diplomatic problems. Nixon
issued an executive order to keep the comments from being released. These
documents, known as the Cannikin Papers, came to symbolize the continuing
pattern of secrecy and cover-up that typified the nation's nuclear testing
program. Even so, five hours after the ruling was handed down on Nov. 6,
1971, the AEC and the Pentagon pulled the switch, detonating the Cannikin

In an effort to calm growing public opposition, AEC chief Schlesinger
dismissed environmental protesters and the Aleuts as doomsayers, taking
his family with him to watch the test. "It's fun for the kids and my wife
is delighted to get away from the house for awhile," he quipped.

With the Schlesingers looking on, the Cannikin bomb, a 300-foot-long
device implanted in a mile-deep hole under Cannikin lake, exploded with
the force of an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter Scale. The shock
of the blast scooped a mile-wide, 60-foot-deep subsidence crater in the
ground over the test site and triggered massive rockfalls.

The immediate ecological damage from the blast was staggering. Nearly
1,000 sea otters, a species once hunted to near extinction, were
killedtheir skulls crushed by the shockwaves of the explosion. Other
marine mammals died when their eyes were blown out of their sockets or
when their lungs ruptured. Thousands of birds also perished, their spines
snapped and their legs pushed through their bodies. (Neither the Pentagon
nor the Fish and Wildlife Service has ever studied the long-term
ecological consequences of the Amchitka explosions.) Most worrisome was
that a large volume of water from White Alice Creek vanished after the
blast. The disappearance of the creek was more than a sign of Cannikin's
horrific power. It was also an indication that the project had gone
terribly wrong; the blast ruptured the crust of the earth, sucking the
creek into a brand new aquifer, a radioactive one.

In the months following the explosion, blood and urine samples were taken
from Aleuts living in the village of Adak on a nearby island. The samples
were shown to have abnormally high levels of tritium and cesium-137, both
known carcinogens. Despite these alarming findings, the feds never went
back to Adak to conduct follow-up medical studies. The Aleuts, who
continue their seafaring lifestyle, are particularly vulnerable to
radiation-contaminated fish and marine mammals, and radiation that might
spread through the Bering Sea, plants and iceflows.

But the Aleuts weren't the only ones exposed to Cannikin's radioactive
wrath. More than 1,500 workers who helped build the test sites, operate
the bomb tests and clean up afterward were also put at risk. The AEC never
conducted medical studies on any of these laborers. When the Alaska
District Council of Laborers of the AFL-CIO, began looking into the matter
in the early '90s, the DOE claimed that none of the workers had been
exposed to radiation. They later were forced to admit that exposure
records and dosimeter badges had been lost.

In 1996, two Greenpeace researchers, Pam Miller and Norm Buske, returned
to Amchitka. Buske, a physicist, collected water and plant samples from
various sites on the island. Despite claims by the DOE that the radiation
would be contained, the samples taken by Buske revealed the presence of
plutonium and americium-241 in freshwater plants at the edge of the Bering
Sea. In other words, Cannikin continues to leak. Both of these radioactive
elements are extremely toxic and have half-lives of hundreds of years.

In part because of the report issued by Miller and Buske, a new sense of
urgency was lent to the claims of laborers who said they had become sick
after working at the Amchitka nuclear site. In 1998, the union
commissioned a study by Rosalie Bertell, a former consultant to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (which replaced the AEC). Bertell found that
hundreds of Amchitka workers were exposed to ionizing radiation at five
times the level then recognized as hazardous. However, the research is
complicated by the fact that many of the records from the Amchitka blast
remain classified and others were simply tossed away. "The loss of worker
exposure records, or the failure to keep such records, was inexcusable,"
Bertell says.

One of the driving forces behind the effort to seek justice for the
Amchitka workers and the Aleuts is Beverley Aleck. Her husband Nick helped
drill the mile-deep pit for the Cannikin test; four years later, he died
of myelogenous leukemia, a type of cancer associated with radiation
exposure. Aleck, an Aleut, has waged a multi-year battle with the DOE to
open the records and to begin a health monitoring program for the Amchitka
workers. For more than four decades promised health surveys of the
Amchitka workers have languished without funding.

Will the victims of the Amchitka blasts ever get justice? Don't count on
it. For starters, the Aleuts and Amchitka workers are specifically
excluded by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act from receiving medical
assistance, death benefits or financial compensation. There is a move to
amend this legal loophole, but even that wouldn't mean the workers and
Aleuts would be treated fairly. The DOE has tried repeatedly to stiff arm
other cases by either dismissing the link between radiation exposure and
cancer or, when that fails, invoking a "sovereignty" doctrine, which
claims the agency is immune from civil lawsuits.

Dr. Paul Seligman, former deputy assistant secretary of the DOE's Office
of Health Studies, writes it off as the price of the Cold War. "These were
hazardous operations," Seligman says. "The hazards were well understood,
but the priorities at the time were weapons production and the defense of
the nation."

At a time when the mainstream press and Republican politicians are howling
over lax security at nuclear weapons sites and Chinese espionage, a more
dangerous betrayal of trust is the withholding of test data from the
American public. China may use the Los Alamos secrets to upgrade its tiny
nuclear arsenal, but the Amchitka explosions already have imperiled a
thriving marine ecosystem and caused dozens of lethal cancers.

The continuing cover-up and manipulation of information by the DOE not
only denies justice to the victims of Amchitka, but indicates that those
living near other DOE sites may be at great risk. "DOE management of the
U.S. nuclear weapons complex is of the old school in which bad news is
hidden," says Pamela Miller, now executive director of Alaska Community
Action on Toxics. "This conflicts with sound risk management and makes the
entire system inherently risky. The overwhelming threat is of an
unanticipated catastrophe."

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green
to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book,
Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He
can be reached at: sitka [at]

[Don't let Exel and the soulless nuke developers put up more nuke stations
in MN - threatened this session at the MN Leg - ed]

--------10 of 10--------

"We Lost All the Battles, But We Had the Best Songs"
In Praise of Revolutions
May 8-10, 2009

Two hundred and twenty years may have passed since 1789, but there's still
life in the French Revolution. During the bicentenary commemorations,
though, Franois Mitterrand had extended an invitation to Margaret Thatcher
and Joseph Mobutu to check it was dead and buried. The anniversary year
also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, prompting Francis Fukuyama to
announce the "end of history"; in other words, the neoliberal domination
of the world would last forever, the so-called revolutionary parenthesis
opened in 1789 had closed for good.

But the current crisis in capitalism is now challenging the legitimacy of
ruling oligarchies. The air has become lighter - or heavier, depending on
your viewpoint. Le Figaro, for example, referred to "these intellectuals
and artists who call for revolt' and lamented: "Franois Furet [the French
historian] seems to have been mistaken: the French revolution isn't over".

Like many others, however, Furet had spared no effort to dispel the memory
of it. In the past, the Revolution was taken to be the expression of a
historical necessity (Marx), of a "new era of history" (Goethe) or of an
epic which began with the soldiers of the Year II celebrated in a poem by
Victor Hugo: "magnificent barefoot men marching on a dazzled world". All
we are allowed to see now is the blood on the Revolution's hands. From
Rousseau to Mao, an egalitarian, terrorist, virtuous utopia is said to
have trampled on individual liberties and given birth to the cold monster
of the totalitarian state. And then "democracy" got its act together and
won the day: cheerful, peaceful, free-market. It too is the heir of
revolutions, but of a different sort - English or American style, more
political than social, decaffeinated.

A king was beheaded across the Channel too, of course. But the English
aristocracy put up less resistance than in France, so the bourgeoisie
there felt no need to make an alliance with the people to establish its
domination. Among the privileged classes, a model without the barefoot or
sans-culottes had more appeal and seemed less dangerous than the
alternative. So Laurence Parisot, head of the French employers' union,
wasn't betraying the trust of her members in telling the Financial Times:
"I love French history, but I don't like the Revolution very much. It was
an act of extreme violence from which we are still suffering. It forced
each one of us to be in a camp". She added: "We don't practice [democracy]
as successfully as in England".

The polarization of society inherent in the notion of "being in a camp" is
unwelcome because instead we all ought to be showing our solidarity with
our employer, our boss or his brand - while still knowing our place. For
in the eyes of those who aren't among its fans, the main charge against
the revolution isn't its violence - sadly an all too common phenomenon in
history - but something infinitely rarer: the upheaval of the social order
which occurs when the proletariat and the affluent go to war.

In 1988, George H. W. Bush, looking for a knock-out argument to floor his
Democrat opponent, Michael Dukakis, came up with this: "Wer'e not going to
be divided by class. You see, I think that's for European democracies or
something else. It isn't for the United States of America". Class. Just
think how horrifying such an accusation must be in the US! To the extent
that 20 years later, at the moment when the US economy seems to be
imposing sacrifices as inequitable as the profits that preceded them, the
present incumbent in the White House judged it imperative to forestall
popular anger thus: "One of the most important lessons to learn from this
crisis is that our economy only works if we recognize that we're all in
this together, that we all have responsibilities to each other and to our
country. We can't afford to demonise every investor or entrepreneur who
seeks to make a profit". Whatever ultra rightwing Republicans are
claiming, Barack Obama is not about to start any revolution.

"Revolution is first of all a rupture. Anyone who cannot accept that
rupture with the established order, with capitalist society, cannot be a
member of the Socialist Party". Those were the words of Franois Mitterrand
in 1971. Since then, the conditions for membership have become less
draconian, since they don't put off either the IMF's director general
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or its head, Pascal Lamy. The idea of revolution
has ebbed elsewhere too, even in the most radical groups. But the Right
has made the word its own (evidently it still contains some seeds of
hope), and has turned it into a synonym for the rolling back or
destruction of social security gains made - or wrenched - from the
established order.

                   Everyday acts of violence

Even so, a charge levelled against major revolutions is they were violent.
Exception is taken to the massacre of the Swiss Guard during the storming
of the Tuileries in August 1792, to that of the Russian royal family in
July 1918 in Ekaterinburg and to the liquidation of Chiang Kai-Shek's
officers when the Communists took power in China in 1949. But if you
object to those, then you shouldn't ignore the famines of the Ancien
Rgime, which happened against a background of balls at Versailles and of
tithes demanded by priests; or the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators
massacred by Nicholas II's troops in St Petersburg on Bloody Sunday in
1905; or the revolutionaries in Canton and Shanghai thrown alive into the
boilers of locomotives in 1927. Not to mention the everyday acts of
violence which were part of the social order the revolutionaries sought to

The story of the revolutionaries who were burned alive hasn't just
affected those with an interest in China; it's also known to the millions
who have read Andr Malraux's novel, La Condition humaine. For decades the
greatest writers and artists made common cause with the workers' movement
to celebrate revolutions and the glorious future. In doing so, it is true,
they underestimated the downside, the tragedies and the chilly dawns (with
their political police, personality cults, labour camps and executions).

For 30 years, by contrast, those are the only consequences of revolution
which have been spoken about; in fact it's the recommended course of
action for those who want to succeed at university, in the press - or the
Acadmie Franaise. "Revolution inevitably means an irruption of violence,"
explains Academic Max Gallo. "Our societies are extremely fragile. The
major responsibility of those who have a public platform is to guard
against this irruption". For his part, Furet reckoned that any attempt at
radical transformation was totalitarian or terrorist, that "the idea of
another society has become almost inconceivable". His conclusion is that
"we are condemned to live in the world that we live in". It's not hard to
imagine that such a destiny fits in with the expectations of his readers,
who are generally protected from life's storms by a pleasant existence of
dinners and debates.

There are many other examples of the phobia of revolutions and its
corollary - the legitimization of conservatism - besides Gallo and Furet,
such as the media, including the cinema. For 30 years, television has been
keen to show that the only alternative to liberal democracy is scheming
tyrannical regimes. And so the attention given to the German-Soviet pact
assumes much greater importance than other unnatural alliances, such as
the Munich Agreement or Adolf Hitler's handshake with Neville Chamberlain.
At the very least, the Nazi and the conservative shared a common hatred of
popular fronts. And the same class fear inspired the aristocrats of
Ferrara and the ironmasters of the Ruhr when they enabled Mussolini and
the Third Reich to come to power. But is it still permissible to point
that out?

If so, then we can go further still. While brilliantly explaining why he
rejected a Soviet-style revolution, no less a figure than Lon Blum,
France's first Socialist prime minister, reflected on the limits of a
social transformation which had universal suffrage as its only talisman:
"We are not certain," he warned in 1924, "that the representatives and
leaders of society today won't themselves depart from the law at the
moment when their essential principles appear too seriously threatened".

                   A requirement for revolution

Since then there has been no shortage of just this sort of transgression;
from Franco's pronunciamento in 1936 to Pinochet's coup d'tat in 1973, not
forgetting the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. Blum underlined
moreover that "the Republic has never been proclaimed by virtue of a legal
vote according to constitutional rules. It was established through the
will of the people who rose up against the existing laws".

Universal suffrage, which is now invoked as a way of ruling out other
forms of collective action (including public service strikes, which are
compared to hostage taking), has become the alpha and omega of all public
action. The questions Blum posed about it have scarcely dated at all: "Is
it a true reality today? Don't the influences of the boss and the
landowner bear down on the electors with the pressure of the power of
money and the press? Is every elector free of the suffrage he expresses,
free through the culture of his thought, free through the independence of
his person? And in order to liberate him, isn't a revolution precisely
what's required?". In three European countries - the Netherlands, France
and Ireland - the "no" vote defied the combined pressures of the bosses,
the power of money and the press. For that very reason, it was

"We lost all the battles, but we had the best songs". This view from a
Spanish republican fighter seeking refuge in France after Franco's victory
sums up the problem of conservatives and their insistent message of
submission. Simply put, revolutions leave an indelible mark on history and
human consciousness, even when they fail and even when they are later
dishonoured. They embody a moment when fate rises up and the people have
the upper hand. This gives them their universal resonance. Each in its way
the mutineers of the Potemkin, the survivors of the Long March, the
barbudos ("bearded ones") of Cuba's Sierra Maestra - echoes the actions of
the soldiers of the Year II; that suggested to British historian Eric
Hobsbawm that "the French Revolution demonstrated the power of the common
people in a manner that no subsequent government has ever allowed itself
to forget - if only in the form of untrained, improvised, conscript
armies, defeating the conjunction of the finest and most experienced
troops of the old regimes."

But it isn't just about memory: modern political vocabulary and half the
legal systems in the world were inspired by the code invented by the
Revolution. And anyone who thinks about the support for the Third World of
the 1960s may wonder if a part of its popularity in Europe comes from the
feeling of both recognition and gratitude which it gave rise to. The
revolutionary, egalitarian, liberating Enlightenment ideal seemed to be
reborn in the South, in part thanks to the Vietnamese, Algerians, Chinese
and Chileans who had learned their lessons from Europe. The Empire grew
cumbersome, former colonies took up the baton and the revolution

The situation today is different. The emancipation of China and India and
their self-assertion on the world stage may give rise to some curiosity
and sympathy, but they don't refer back to any universal hope linked to
equality, the rights of the oppressed, an alternative model for
development or the desire to prevent conservative restorations based on
knowledge and social graces.

                     Revolutions remain rare

If the international interest in Latin America is greater, that's because
its political orientation is both democratic and social. A sector of the
European left has spent 20 years justifying the priority it gives to the
wishes of the middle classes by coming up with theories about the end of
the "revolutionary parenthesis" and the end of the political significance
of working classes. Venezuela and Bolivia's leaders are, by contrast,
remobilizing these people by proving that their lot is being taken into
account and their destiny is not sealed - in short, the struggle goes on.

However desirable they may be, revolutions remain rare. They require
simultaneously: a broad mass of dissatisfied people who are prepared to
act; a state whose legitimacy and authority are challenged by some of its
usual supporters (as a result of economic incompetence, mismanagement of
the military or crippling internal divisions); and finally, pre-existing
radical ideas that question the social order and which, though they may be
held only by a tiny minority to begin with, are capable of attracting all
those whose loyalty to the old order has crumbled.

The US historian Victoria Bonnell studied the workers of Moscow and St
Petersburg on the eve of the First World War. As this is the only instance
of this social group being a major player in a "successful" revolution,
her conclusion is worth quoting: "What distinguishes revolutionary
consciousness is the conviction that grievances can be redressed only by a
transformation of the existing institutions and arrangements, by the
establishment of an alternative form of social and political
organization". In other words, this consciousness doesn't appear
spontaneously without some pre-existing political mobilisation and
intellectual ferment.

This being so, the demands of social movements are primarily defensive -
as can be seen at the moment. They aim to re-establish a social contract
which they believe to have been broken by the bosses, landowners, bankers
and governments. Food, work, shelter, education, prospects: not (yet) a
glorious future but "a vision of the present stripped of its most painful
aspects".  It is only later, when the inability of those in power to
fulfil the obligations which legitimate their power and privileges becomes
apparent that the question is sometimes asked outside militant circles:
"whether kings, capitalists, priests, generals, bureaucrats, etc, serve
any useful social purpose at all". At this point, it is possible to talk
of revolution. The transition from one stage to another may occur quickly
- in two years in 1789, a few months in 1917 - or may never happen.

For nearly two centuries, millions of political and union activists,
historians and sociologists have been examining the critical variables: is
the ruling class divided and demoralized? Is its machinery of repression
intact? Are the social forces that seek change organised and capable of
mutual action? Nowhere have these studies been more abundant that in the
US, where it is often a case of understanding revolutions and conceding
all that they have achieved, the better to avert them.

The reliability of these studies has been patchy. In 1977, for example,
there was concern about the "ungovernability" of capitalist societies. And
the question of why the USSR was so stable also arose. There was no
shortage of available explanations: the preference of the Soviet
leadership and people for order and stability; collective socialization
which consolidated the values of the regime; the non-cumulative nature of
problems to be tackled, allowing the party room for maneuver; good
economic results; the USSR's status as a great power and so on. The Yale
political scientist Samuel Huntington, who was already immensely famous,
concluded this roster of corroborating signs: "None of the challenges
which are identified in the future appear to be qualitatively different
from those the Soviet system has demonstrated the ability to deal with in
the past"

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Serge Halimi is the director of Le Monde Diplomatique. His article appears
in the May, English language edition of the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique,
to be found at This text appears by agreement with Le
Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD
every month.

[Revolution may be the only way to clean the sticky scum off the top of
society.  How else might we end all our wars, or get single payer? Not
thru "representative government", as we see today. -ed]


   - David Shove             shove001 [at]
   rhymes with clove         Progressive Calendar
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