There is really only one problem: how can the majority be both persuaded that they are being fooled, and empowered to stop being fooled?
It’s a good question; good in that it is the most important political question in the world, and good in that it is the most intractable political question – perhaps the most intractable question – in the world.
Interestingly, it is very clear that people believe that they are being fooled. In virtually every country in the world, people are intensely dissatisfied with their governments. The few countries where this is not true are the countries where the alternative to their current governments are truly awful, like South Africa, or the countries where the current government is doing a comparatively good job, like Bolivia. And, of course, comparatively good doesn’t mean good; merely that the alternative is conspicuously worse.
Dissatisfaction takes different forms, and can often be whipped up into violent disruption or armed struggle with the assistance of money, as inLibyaorSyria. But in many parts it simply amounts to a firm, well-grounded sense that the government of the country is wholly unconcerned with the interests of the people of the country, combined with an equally firmly rooted sense that nothing at all can be done to change this situation. One perceives this in Western societies, where the vast majority believe that the government is essentially their enemy. Thus far, many have been persuaded to combine this with a belief that the best way to wish the enemy away is by voting for the party not in government. Increasingly, this group has discovered that voting for the party not in government, if successful, generates a party in government, and that this is not an improvement. The end product of this is a community which no longer has any faith in the formal political process. Under such conditions, some will pursueinformal political processes – like the OCCUPY movement – but most will probably withdraw from the political process altogether, finding it uninteresting as well as useless.
Which is approximately what the ruling elite wants. The trick, surely, is to provide the majority with an actual alternative to the formal political process which provides some prospect of changing the system into one worthy of participation. This is what has been promised in all the revolutions throughout history, although most of them failed to live up to those promises. (At the same time, the end product of such revolutions was usually better than the one which went before; Leninism was better than the Tsarist system which preceded it — although once Stalin had completed his coup, he was able to generate a system which was worse, and after Stalin died, it proved impossible to reconstruct Leninism in the Soviet Union.)
The elite will claim that all revolutions fail, because it is in their interest to make that claim. The interesting question is why the populace listen to the elite’s claim. The answer, surely, is that they will listen to the elite for just so long as they can safely do so, but as soon as the elite’s behaviour becomes unbearable to them, they will cast about for a revolution. At that stage the elite’s only option is to invent scapegoats and place their fate in the hands of counter-revolutionaries who are prepared to manipulate society in order to divert the anger of the populace against the scapegoats – as happened with the Nazi and Fascist movements, and which is, to a great extent, the role of the Tea Party in the United States and the more inchoate activities of the white and white-controlled right wing in South Africa now. The trouble with this elite option is that it runs the risk of losing control of the system – the elite managed to hang on in Fascist Italy and Fascist Japan, but lost power almost completely in Nazi Germany, which is one reason why the Nazi system is much more demonized than the other two. (Also, of course, Italian and Japanese genocide was aimed against brown and yellow people, not against whites.)
Either the elite hands control over to authoritarians sympathetic to the elite (yet whose agenda may not be identical), or it hands most power over to an elite-sympathetic system to manage things in the elite’s interests without allowing the system to collapse (which was the source of the Golden Age) or it loses power to a revolutionary movement.
The problem with handing things over to an elite-sympathetic system is that it is not stable. It will inevitably be co-opted by the elite as soon as this is practical, which happened in the 1970s, for instance. But in any case, if the system is to be changed, it requires mass action. But where is that mass to come from, if the public is apathetic about accomplishing anything?
Obviously, it can only come from a dynamised and well-informed public. That, in turn, can only come from the establishment of someone to dynamise andinform the public. In other words, you need a vanguard party, or you don’t get anywhere. Thus far we must acknowledge that the Trotskyites have it right. However, the vanguard party has to attempt to listen to what the people say, but also to present its message even when the people disagree with it if it seems probable that the people are wrong because they are misinformed. This, of course, is where the Trotskyites have it wrong; they attempt to pander to the public and to get photo-opportunities out of public indignation, and as a result they fail to build trust, fail to mobilize, and fail toinform. We need to fall back on Leninism rather than on the kind of Trotskyism which gradually metastatised as a degraded counterpart to the cancer of Stalinism. Actually, we also need to fall back on liberalism, in the sense of a philosophy which ultimately wishes to free the people and their minds instead of enriching and empowering a tiny elite who secretly want to don the jackboots work by the current tiny elite in power.
What this means is that it can be done – mobilizing andinforming, that is – but it will require a change in tactics from all current tactics on display, and also require the goal to change from self-centred narcissism or downright corruption, towards a desire to actually improve conditions. This is tough, because at the moment the people who are involved in such activities are almost invariably middle-class people with essentially no experience of personal suffering, and therefore, no direct contact with the working class or the unemployed except on the most superficial level. And no sign of humility of the kind required.
Faced with such people, many of the general public will simply say: fuck off, the bunch of you, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. What they’ve got may be Zuma, but so far many are not convinced that Zuma is responsible for their problems, nor are they aware of the extent to which Zuma is in the back pocket of their enemies. As a result, they are marching along behind a puppet whose strings extend up into the penthouse suites of the CEOs of Sandton – but nobody is pointing to the strings. It would be the task of a serious political organization to point out those strings, and to make it absolutely clear that the serious political organization does not have such strings.
But then, it would also be the task of such a serious organization to point out the actual organization of the world, instead of the way in which the ruling class represents the world. It might be easier to do than you’d think. A lot of people support Zuma while holding their noses. A lot of people recognize that the ruling class are a gang of sleazy crooks. It wouldn’t take much to point out the connection between Zuma’s corruption and the sleaze of the white elite whom he serves. The fact is that the attempts by the media to conceal these obvious connections are extremely ineffectual, and are constantly undermined by the media’s need to generate evidence of the corruption of the ANC – after all, Zuma is the boss of the ANC, and the media must do endless double back-somersaults of logic to try to conceal the fact of his culpability in the face of ANC and governmental criminality, policy meltdown, and administrative disaster.
No, it is not logically difficult. The problem is simply to get one’s voice heard amid the cacophony of right-wing propaganda. But then, in 1973 there was no possibility of any kind of non-racist or socialist voice being heard at all, because all the media were in the hands of the white ruling class who were racist and anti-socialist. Furthermore, any non-racist or socialist statement was actually illegal, and anyone who expressed such statements faced not only the probability of being jailed, but the possibility of being murdered by state hit-squads. None of that exists today, even if the Zuma administration is planning it. (It now seems probable that neither the shoot-to-kill police doctrine nor the murder of Andries Tatane had anything real to do with a change in policy; both seem to have been a product of administrative incompetence and a preference for bluster ahead of meaningful action. In other words, we know that our police are capable of forming the kind of murder-squads recently legalized by theU.S.government, but they are not doing it – yet.)
Of course that does make things appear a little urgent. If we don’t do something about this, sooner or later the ruling class will notice that if a few death-squads are set up, the possibility of an anti-ruling-class coalition arising can be pre-empted courtesy of some beheaded corpses left on the roadside, a few disemboweled figures sprawled on university plazas, a few bombs blowing apart political offices and their officers, and a few heavy machine-guns fired into crowds. Once that happens, it will be too late for a political solution, and maybe too late for a revolutionary solution – even the belated Honduran revolution was eventually crushed with American help. So it seems that the late Mr. Lennon had a point; “You say you wanna revolution? We better get it on right away.”