Is a revolution possible?…and what can it mean?

    PROTEST / The goals and contradictions of a modern protest movement - the yellow vests.

    The Arab Spring stimulated high hopes for profound cultural and social change. Especially interesting as an international movement, it was also an important reaction against autocratic and dictatorial systems. Looking back after some years, the diagnosis is sobering. Maybe punctual acts of liberation could be observed, but the main course is still marked by restriction, injustice, and control. This isn’t surprising because always after confusing periods of general rebellions, the already existing and organized institutions will take over again. Street movements don’t really touch the administrative power itself.

    A French Revolution, a film by Emmanuel Gras
    A French Revolution, a film by Emmanuel Gras

    The continually missing point in all efforts for profound change is the concept of how to organize complex societies in profoundly different ways. The reflection regarding the reorganization of the production and distribution system of all kinds of services, their inner structure, accessibility, and transparency, is always lacking. In other words, the most decisive question for the future of humankind isn’t followed up in a consequential and public way. There are many efforts for «catastrophe management,» but much less for the previewing or avoiding catastrophe. We only can add the question here of whether any autocratic or democratic systems can react with the necessary speed to face the threatening challenges of climate change to ensure a possible survival on the planet. Asking the question seems only to negate it.

    We observe huge discomfort, rebellion, and sometimes hate concerning the status quo, leading to the outbreak of more or less violent movements, even in the wealthier states. Emmanuel Gras takes the example of the Yellow Vests rebellion in France, especially in the northern provincial city of Chartres. He offers an inside view into the life of those, who cry for a «Revolution,» a radical system change. The structural conflict is that all these people, most of whom are not homeless, but always have lived in a social and cultural marginalization. Therefore, their request for greater social justice will not be perceived. Mass media does not take them seriously enough as a significant political element. To get attention and visibility, some of them chose the strategy of street violence. But again, in this way, they will be marginalized again and publicly attacked. Consequently, this conflict is carried out also inside the rebelling movements, mostly leading to separations and fragmentations.

    The continually missing point in all efforts for profound change is the concept of how to organize complex societies in profoundly different ways.

    Gras portrays these people-without-voice, who often merely ask for a new leader to fulfill their most fundamental needs. Asking for a better father as a solution is one of the fatal consequences of family-oriented societies. Their aggression is directed against those visibly «responsible,» the president or «the government,» but it never reaches the real levels of power proceedings and their possible transformations. Gras opens the view on people crying in despair, people nobody had ever supported, and people who even feel shame to have no means. They try to act in symbolic helplessness, like opening the cash points of the highways. They are already happy and touched to find an official place for their reunion. Just coming together for most of them is already a consoling experience to get out of their isolation. But barely in unison with them, the «officials,» the representatives of different political fractions, quickly take over the upcoming discussions and repaint them with their already fabricated propositions, and in this way, finally stabilizing the ideological frame of the system in power. Of course, they mostly argue with existing debts and duties, which makes real changes impossible, promising small and punctual ones. Indeed in a globally connected, purely economic profit-oriented world, a socially and culturally engaged society can only be the economic loser and is condemned to fail.

    The deprived are limiting themselves to ask for a «referendum,» but without getting the possibility to question and develop the main cause, how to build up another environment, a new organization of society. Even possible engagements on a smaller local level, like innovative forms of sharing and collaboration, will not enter into their spontaneous purposes and will consequently fail to be transformed into concrete and continuing actions and manifestations.

    A French Revolution, a film by Emmanuel Gras
    A French Revolution, a film by Emmanuel Gras

    Smashing back

    On the other side, the state power smashed back with huge violence, often by also attacking peaceful demonstrators. Emanuel Gras captured their despair and shock, which often lead to lasting traumatic experiences. Observation cameras capture all protesters who aren’t allowed to hide their faces. Syria, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and Belarus are only the most visible examples, proving that united mass demonstration doesn’t change the power setting anymore. People facing armed police, military, and special forces, equipped with a control and observation technology aren’t standing a chance. Efficient international economic reactions, like in the case of Ukraine, haven’t taken place after all these occasions.

    Finally, a system where an imperative mandate is void cannot deliver solutions. Given promises during the election phase can be denied shortly after. This farce just stabilizes the system and grants that the elected stay in charge. A grotesque spectacle! Again, a rethinking of «democracy» and its real organization is of first urgency. The abolition of the privileges of the government elite can only be a first step.

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    Dieter Wieczorek
    Dieter Wieczorek
    Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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