By Dyab Abou Jahjah
Are we facing a revolution in France? If I am to believe my leftist comrades then yes, it has arrived in the form of the Nuit Debout movement and the revolt is supposedly even blowing in this direction. Some even speak of a new May '68. In unison with them I'm hoping this mobilization is more than a mere echo of trade union protest against austerity and against the mismanagement of a weak government. Such a mobilization can be successful and can even cause a government to fall but that doesn't mean it is a manifestation of an historical turning point as was the case with '68 much less a total revolution to a new society as in 1789. In France however every strike and every demonstration is a bit of a revolution, albeit in a folkloric way.
We have arrived at a pivot point and it is a fact that radical ideas are all the hype but it's impossible to organize a revolution based on standpoints that advocate the status quo. Conservatism cannot be the ideology of a revolution even if it's social conservatism.
That doesn't mean the struggle to defend democratic and social rights is unimportant and invalid. It remains a necessity to stand on the barricades and defend all those elements of solidarity, justice and democracy that were established in the struggle against the power of the system. This system is not a producer of democracy and solidarity in and of itself but rather experiences them as a result of multiple historical struggles of citizens. It is for that reason the system will seize every crisis, every war and every terrorist attack as an opportunity to regain ground and reduce solidarity and democracy.
So yes, mobilizing against austerity, against anti-democratic laws and measures and against war and terrorism is important but these are acts of resistance, not revolution.
As progressive forces in Europe we are currently in a defensive phase. We are resisting against an attack on democracy and solidarity and we need to be aware of this in our mobilization. We shouldn't overestimate our strength and we shouldn't underestimate the other party. The forces of regression, of war, of the ideas of supremacy and of reduction of solidarity are on the rise. We mustn't make the mistake to see our own mobilization, which fluctuates between success and failure, as a sign we are owning the initiative. That would be a miscalculation for which we would pay a high price.
If we see our defence of the status quo as revolutionary we have already lost. We then will be satisfied with a couple of successful demonstrations and actions while compromising on rights and freedoms. We could even bring down a government but what's the point if the next one is even more right-wing and even more aggressive in attacking our acquired rights?
Resistance is necessary but the danger exists it becomes an end in itself that pushes us in the passive role of saving what can be saved. That's why we have to counter-attack. We mustn't just mobilize against regression but also for progression. We have to go heads on against the narrative of power and formulate concrete demands in order to force new achievements. For example, we have to embrace the demand for basic income, or the 32-hour week, quotas for minorities in the labour market, a withdrawal from NATO, the breaking of the European association agreements with Israel, recognition of colonial crimes and dishonouring the criminals, free public transportation, a wealth tax. Let's take to the streets with a clear radical project, occupy squares, erect a Tahrir Square where people meet in the spirit of peaceful civil disobedience that has the potential to flare up into revolutionary dimensions. On such a square a new people can emerge. It can become a breeding ground for a we-consciousness that is driven by historical awareness and by a perspective that has the power to inspire.
A mob is the caricature of the people, Hannah Arendt once wrote and often this is true even in our most progressive demonstrations and meetings. Yet a crowd camping out on the streets and stubbornly staying put until its demands have been met is not a caricature but the engine of history.
This article appeared in the Belgian daily de Standaard on the 15th of april 2016.
Translated from Dutch by Oriana P.