FEAR, YES. PARALYSIS, NO.
by John Spritzler
[Also please read "Violent Repression Is a Fact: What Should We Do?" and "Where to Find Egalitarian Revolutionaries--Lots of Them!"]
It's unfortunate to have to discuss a negative subject--fear--when discussing the positive subject of how we can make a truly equal and democratic society called egalitarianism. But many people, for quite understandable reasons, worry about getting in trouble--maybe ending up on an NSA "troublemakers" list or something--if they merely demonstrate interest in making an egalitarian society, even if just by reading a website about that subject. So we need to address that concern honestly and forthrightly, right from the beginning.
It's perfectly reasonable to fear the very rich and powerful people who actually rule the country--the ruling class. The ruling class, with the private and governmental power that its billions of dollars can buy, has the means to attack those who challenge its power. It would be naive to believe that this is not so.
Fear of such retaliation or repression is certainly one of the main things that sometimes prevents some people from expressing their true feelings about our dictatorship of the rich, never mind taking concrete steps to remove the rich from power.
Of course it makes sense to be fearful of the ruling class and to try to avoid being harmed by it. But must we be paralyzed by this fear? Must we simply accept that the ruling class will always remain in power? Or can we take useful steps towards removing the rich from power in a way that people with a sensible appreciation of the risks would nonetheless find reasonable?
MINIMIZE THE DANGER; MAXIMIZE OUR STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The PDRBoston "buttoning/stickering" (please read the linked page to see what it is if you don't already know) tactic and the "pose for a photo" tactic (again, please read the linked page to see what it is, and click here to see more than 500 photos of people all in my zip code saying they aim for an egalitarian revolution) are designed to be minimally dangerous for the people doing it, while at the same time being extremely useful (given our current situation) for increasing the number of people who have confidence that it is possible (and hence sensible) to build a majority-based egalitarian revolutionary movement.
Why is "buttoning/stickering"* or posing for a photo only minimally dangerous? To see why, compare it to the kinds of acts that are indeed very dangerous.
It's extremely dangerous to corner a rat
It would be extremely dangerous for an individual to confront a powerful member of the ruling elite with the threat of publicly documenting that he or she, personally, had engaged in a criminal act. This amounts to "cornering a rat." People who do that are sometimes assassinated.
When people in positions of power at a relatively low level in society (such as corrupt local labor union "leaders") fear that a relatively small number of people are doing things that will quickly lead to their being removed from power, then they may very well respond like a "cornered rat" and strike back violently to protect their power, essentially forcing their foes to decide if it is worth losing their lives just to remove some low level bad guys from power. This writer knows of one instance of corrupt local union leaders carrying out a drive-by shooting of live bullets into the homes of the leaders of an anti-corruption caucus in the union for this very reason.
It's extremely dangerous to lead millions of people in a more revolutionary direction
Another example of a maximally dangerous thing to do would be for an individual who is the respected leader of millions of people in a reform struggle to begin to give unprecedented good leadership that makes that struggle more revolutionary and immediately threatening to the ruling class than before. Martin Luther King, Jr. did this when he joined the Civil Rights Movement to the Anti-Vietnam War Movement and began framing the conflict in class rather than racial terms. Malcolm X did this when he too began towards the end of his life framing the conflict in class rather than racial terms. Both of these leaders were assassinated.
It's extremely dangerous for small numbers of people without widespread public support to use violence against the ruling class
The Black Panthers in the late 60s armed themselves with rifles and made it clear they would shoot police if necessary to protect black people from police brutality. The Panthers had substantial support for this in the black community, but very little in the general white population, which did not know the truth about police brutality against blacks. As a result of the lack of support for the Panthers in the general public, the ruling class calculated that it could literally murder the Panthers without risking it leading to a revolution, and so murder them it did, with the FBI. From the ruling class's point of view, this murder made sense: the risk (triggering a revolution) was very small while the benefit (ending a very real and immediate threat to the power of the police) was very large.
"Buttoning/stickering" or "posing for a photo," in contrast, are not very dangerous at all. These tactics don't "corner a rat," they don't involve giving revolutionary leadership to millions of people, and it's totally non-violent. From the point of view of anybody with the means of striking back at a "buttoner" or somebody posing for a photo there is very little motive to do so. Those of us who have been buttoning and the people who have posed for a photo have experienced no retaliation whatsoever.
Is there absolutely zero risk if one "buttons/stickers" or "poses for a photo?" Of course not. There is at least a small risk involved in doing anything not 100% approved of by the ruling class. Whispering in private to one's son or daughter a slightly anti-establishment opinion carries some risk, since the child could innocently mention it to somebody else who might report one to the authorities resulting in one "getting on a list" of troublemakers to be dealt with punitively at some point.
The ruling class relies on this kind of fear to cause people to self-censor their egalitarian revolutionary (or even just slightly anti-establishment) views, so that the Big Lie--that hardly anybody has such views--will remain credible. The ruling class wants people to feel so alone that they will abandon all hope of building an egalitarian revolutionary movement and not even try taking the first step of talking to others about it. To frighten people into silence, the ruling class thus makes a point of telling us that the NSA monitors our communications.
There are two ways of responding to this fear of "getting on a list."
One way is to refrain from absolutely all expressions of anti-establishment views by both word and deed, and thereby resign oneself (and one's children and grandchildren) to living in the kind of world the ruling class wants, with its unjust Orwellian wars of social control and divide-and-rule along race and religious lines and its treatment of ordinary people like dirt--all for the purpose of maintaining its domination over us, and--yes!--mass murder.
Another way is to do things that are only minimally dangerous but may nonetheless result in "getting on a list," while encouraging lots and lots of other people to do likewise, so that the list ends up having so many people on it that it becomes as useless to the ruling class as the telephone directory and the risk from being in the "troublemaker list" is hardly more than from being in the telephone directory.
In deciding which way to respond, it may be helpful to read this account (or here) of how Americans obtained the right of free speech. As late as 1912 the most recent Supreme Court's ruling had interpreted the First Amendment as allowing local government authorities to make it illegal to pass out a leaflet or speak to a crowd on public property. The reason we have this right of free speech today is because huge numbers of workers broke these laws against free speech and filled the jails. Had these workers not accepted the risk of being thrown in jail back then, we and our children and grandchildren would not be able legally to even hand out a flyer on the street if the government objected to its content.
Rights that we cherish and take for granted exist on a "use it or lose it" basis. If we retreat and stop using our rights to challenge the ruling class then we and our children and grandchildren will lose these rights and go back to the days when we couldn't even pass out a flyer on the sidewalk. Something to think about, no?
One might object that there is nothing to prevent the ruling class from cracking down hard on the first wave of people who "get on the list" in order to "make an example" of them and stop the growth of a revolutionary movement by "nipping it in the bud." While there is some truth to this objection, it is not the whole story. Ruling elites only remain in power if they grasp some key facts about how small elites can remain in power.
Why Does the Ruling Class Let Us "Button/sticker" and "pose for a photo"?
One of the facts that ruling elites know about how to remain in power is that for an elite--no matter how ruthless--to remain in power it needs at least the grudging tolerance of a substantial part of the population. Ruling elites always worry that if they use overt repression it may reduce the amount of grudging tolerance below the point where the ruling elite can remain in power. There are many cases in which the ruling class allows people to engage in anti-establishment, even revolutionary, acts without forcibly stopping them with overt repression. This happens when the ruling class has good reason to fear that the amount of repression required to stop the acts would be counter-productive to the ruling class because it would reduce the level of grudging acceptance to a dangerously low level.
This is why the ruling class lets us "button/sticker," and "pose for a photo" and why it lets countless other people do things it does not want them to do. It is thus possible to leverage the ruling class's fear (of losing the amount of public tolerance it requires to remain in power) to gain a relatively safe space for overtly revolutionary activity.
The Antidote to Fear is Strength in Numbers
The point here is not that "buttoning" or "posing for a photo" alone will remove the rich from power; it won't. But these activities are a way to develop our strength in numbers, which is the antidote to fear. Buttoning or posing for a photo gives people confidence that they are not alone in wanting to remove the rich from power and in fact are literally surrounded by people who want what the button says, "Let's remove the rich from power, have real--not fake--democracy with no rich and no poor" (in other words an egalitarian revolution.)
This confidence paves the way for people to start acting like the majority they really are instead of like the hopelessly small and hence impotent minority they think they are today. This in turn can lead to people acting collectively in large numbers--meaning hundreds of millions!--to demonstrate to themselves and to the members of the military forces that they are determined to make an egalitarian revolution. Only when this happens will a critical mass of members of the military think it makes sense to refuse orders to attack the revolutionary movement and instead to go over to its side. This is how the rich can be removed from power (discussed more fully here).
When hundreds of millions of people are rising up for egalitarian revolution, what people will think is sensible, versus just crazy and dangerous because of the risk of ruling class repression and violence, will be different from what seems sensible to those same people today. This is because people naturally weigh the risk versus the potential benefit. When the potential immediate benefit is enormous--egalitarian revolution or at least a major step in that direction--the acceptable risk is greater than when, as today, the potential immediate benefit from whatever we might do is definitely not going to be huge compared to an actual egalitarian revolution.
The PDRBoston "buttoning/stickering" and "pose for a photo" tactics are a very low-risk act with an extremely large but non-immediate potential benefit (and with a smaller but less distant potential benefit as well, as discussed here.) It is sensible to "button" or "pose for a photo" despite the fact that the ruling class is truly scary.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT EVEN WHEN HUGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE RISE UP AGAINST THE RICH, WE MIGHT STILL FAIL AND SUFFER LOSS OF LIFE?
It is quite true that there is no guarantee of success and it is likely that a revolutionary movement that seriously threatens the power of the rich would suffer some loss of life. I say we should have faith that we can succeed. Here's why.
To help think about the role of faith consider an example that the philosopher William James used to illustrate it.
Imagine you were climbing a mountain and got yourself into a predicament in which the only way you could save your life was by leaping across an abyss, a leap like nothing you had ever done before, a leap you had no way of knowing whether or not you could do successfully. If you chose to believe (i.e., have faith) that you could not do the leap, you would either not try or else try with an effort lacking conviction and hence lacking the maximum strength of which your body is capable. You would die. But if you chose to believe (i.e., have faith) that you could make the leap, your leap would gain enormous strength from that conviction and be far more likely to succeed.
I have personal experience of this phenomenon. Like most beginner karate students, I was told, after learning how to throw a punch, to punch through a half-inch plank of pine board. I didn't think it was possible, and for that reason I was afraid to throw my initial punch at the board with my maximum strength. Ouch! was the result when the board did not break apart. But when the instructor--and seeing other students do it!--convinced me that I could do it too, I succeeded in punching through the board by using my maximum strength.
The point is that what one chooses to believe when there is no way to know for sure can determine the outcome!
Believing that we can remove the rich from power maximizes the possibility that we will succeed in doing it. Believing that we cannot remove the rich from power ensures that we won't ever do it; it ensures that the mass murder and Orwellian wars of social control and the treating of people like dirt will continue.
The choice is ours.
* Buttoning/stickering is, of course, just one example of an activity that helps build the egalitarian revolutionary movement AND is very safe to do. Another example is what I did in my neighborhood, which I describe here.
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