Before we begin and everyone freaks out, I’m not calling for one! Nor for anyone to take up arms and rebel! Rather, I wanted to come back to a tweet by Dave Weigel that Anne Laurie posted the other day:
This may end up being what the "heighten the contradictions and let Trump win" people didn't appreciate. Most people are too busy for constant political action. Constant struggle doesn't turn them into revolutionaries; they just want some rest.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 21, 2019
I’ve spent a lot of time reading the scholarly literature on low intensity war, everything from revolution to terrorism since I began my career in the early 1990s. Since going to work for the Army in 2007, I’ve spent a lot of time reading the professional military’s and defense policy community’s literature on this topic as well – everything from manuals to analyses to assessments to articles in professional journals. And I’ve contributed to it as well. I think that Weigel, in these two tweets, has summed up something that is so much a part of the conventional wisdom of understanding low intensity war that it is just background noise that is normally never explicitly stated. Quite simply: it is very, very, very difficult to start a revolution or a rebellion because of the social and economic costs.
The social and economic costs of a revolution or a rebellion are just too great for almost anyone who is not an elite, or an exceedingly committed ideologue, to overcome. The vast majority of people are just trying to get through the day. To make it home to their families. To survive until they repeat it all again the next day, and the next, and the next. And that’s in the US where what Senator Sanders is asking for is simply political, social, and economic mobilization through constitutional and legal means to change the government at the ballot box, not to violently overthrow it.
Imagine how much harder and more difficult it is for people to revolt or rebel in places where they are facing hypertrophic internal surveillance states, secret police, and the entire power of the state utilized to ensure the survival of the regime, those in the regime, and those favored by the regime? If you ever wondered why oppressed people, whether in the Soviet Union when it still existed or in Russia and the former Soviet states today, in states and societies in the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, in Central and South America, in Cuba don’t revolt or rebel, it is because they just don’t have the energy to do so. All of their energy goes in to surviving. To being able to put enough food on the table, to ensuring one or one’s loved ones don’t get scarfed up by the security services, to just making it through to the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Places where you’d expect revolutions and rebellions to occur don’t have them because them people that live in those states and societies can’t socially or economically afford to undertake a popular revolt or rebellion.
The American revolution against the British was conceived, promoted, and led by elites. The southern rebellion against the United States was conceived, promoted, and led by the southern elites of the emerging Confederacy. As was the post Great Rebellion, know doing business as the Civil War, insurgency against the United States known as the Lost Cause. This insurgency, still ongoing today in the former Confederate states, as well as places that it was exported under the guise of some forms of white evangelicalism, has always been both violent and non-violent at the same time, led by elites, and conducted to co-opt non-elite support. Neither the American revolution or the Confederacy’s counter-rebellion against the US and post war insurgency were popular uprisings of the masses. And this is because it is only elites with the time, money, other resources, and the liberty that time, money, and those other resources provide them, who are able to pay the social and economic costs of trying to start a revolution or a rebellion. Or to escape them.
What Senator Sanders and his supporters, just as Jill Stein and her supporters, and Ralph Nader and his supporters, and others who think heightening the contradictions will lead to a non-violent political, social, and economic revolution in the US don’t understand is that when the contradictions get heightened, very, very, very bad things happen to those who can least afford to endure them. And being subjected to these bad things does not incentivize those enduring them to revolt and rebel, even through legal and constitutional means like demonstrating, protesting, and voting. Rather, they are further incentivized to just try to survive. To make enough to put food on the table. To get through the day and get home to their loved ones. And to do whatever they can to ensure that they and/or their loved ones can survive to the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.