October 14, 2011

Political Disobedience: Indignez-Vous!

[Scroll down, or click here, for English translation of excerpts from Stéphane Hessel's "Indignez-vous"]

Bernard Harcourt writes:

Civil disobedience accepted the legitimacy of political institutions, but resisted the moral authority of resulting laws. Political disobedience, by contrast, resists the very way in which we are governed: it resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.

Occupy Wall Street, which identifies itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many … political persuasions,” is politically disobedient precisely in refusing to articulate policy demands or to embrace old ideologies. Those who incessantly want to impose demands on the movement may show good will and generosity, but fail to understand that the resistance movement is precisely about disobeying that kind of political maneuver. Similarly, those who want to push an ideology onto these new forms of political disobedience, like Slavoj Zizek or Raymond Lotta, are missing the point of the resistance.

When Zizek complained last August, writing about the European protesters in the London Review of Books, that we’ve entered a “post-ideological era” where “opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst,” he failed to understand that these movements are precisely about resisting the old ideologies. It’s not that they couldn’t articulate them; it’s that they are actively resisting them — they are being politically disobedient.

And when Zizek now declares at Zuccotti Park “that our basic message is, ‘We are allowed to think about alternatives’ ... What social organization can replace capitalism?” ― again, he is missing a central axis of this new form of political resistance.

One way to understand the emerging disobedience is to see it as a refusal to engage these sorts of worn-out ideologies rooted in the Cold War. The key point here is that the Cold War’s ideological divide — with the Chicago Boys at one end and the Maoists at the other — merely served as a weapon in this country for the financial and political elite: the ploy, in the United States, was to demonize the chimera of a controlled economy (that of the former Soviet Union or China, for example) in order to prop up the illusion of a free market and to legitimize the fantasy of less regulation — of what was euphemistically called “deregulation.” By reinvigorating the myth of free markets, the financial and political architects of our economy over the past three plus decades — both Republicans and Democrats — were able to disguise massive redistribution toward the richest by claiming they were simply “deregulating” when all along they were actually reregulating to the benefit of their largest campaign donors.

This ideological fog blinded the American people to the pervasive regulatory mechanisms that are necessary to organize a colossal late-modern economy and that necessarily distribute wealth throughout society — and in this country, that quietly redistributed massive amounts of wealth to the richest 1 percent. Many of the voices at Occupy Wall Street accuse political ideology on both sides, on the side of free markets but also on the side of big government, for serving the few at the expense of the other 99 percent — for paving the way to an entrenched permissive regulatory system that “privatizes gains and socializes losses.”

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And Stéphane Hessel writes in "Indignez-vous":

The National Council of Resistance ... had adopted a program on 15 March 1944, offering for liberated France a group of principles and values on which would rest the modern democracy of our country. We need those principles and values today more than ever.

It is up to us together to make sure that our society remains a society of which we are proud: not this society of undocumented aliens, of extraditions, of suspicion of immigrants, not this society which threatens pensions, social security, not this society where the media are in the hands of the monied, all things that we would have refused to allow if we were the true heirs of the National Council of Resistance. ... All of the bases of the social triumphs of the Resistance are under threat today.

Some dare to say to us that the State can no longer meet the costs of such measures for its citizens. But how can there be a lack of money today to maintain and extend these triumphs since the production of wealth has considerably grown since the Liberation, a time when Europe was in ruins? Instead it is because the power of money, so much opposed by the Resistance, has never been so bloated, arrogant, selfish, with its own servants in the highest spheres of the State. The banks, now privatized, show themselves to be primarily concerned with their dividends, and the huge salaries of their directors, not the general interest. The separation between the most poor and the most rich has never been so great, and the race for money, competition, so encouraged.

The motive at the base of the Resistance was indignation. We, veterans of the resistance movements and combat forces of Free France, we call on the young generation to live by, transmit, the legacy of the Resistance and its ideals. We say to them, Take our place, Get angry! Political and economic leaders, intellectuals, and all of society do not have to submit to, nor allow their oppression by, the international dictatorship of financial markets that truly threatens peace and democracy.

I wish for each of you, each one of you, to have your own motive for indignation. It is precious. When something angers you as I was angered by nazism, then you become militant, strong, and engaged. You rejoin the flow of history, and the grand course of history continues thanks to each one of you. And that course moves toward greater justice, greater freedom, and not the unbridled liberty of the fox in the henhouse. ...

For a peaceful insurrection

I have noted – and I am not alone – the reaction of the Israeli government confronted every Friday by the way the citizens of Bil'in march, without throwing rocks, without using force, to the wall against which they protest. The Israeli authorities have classified this march as "nonviolent terrorism". Not bad – Israel has to call it terrorism, this nonviolence. They must be especially embarrassed by the effectiveness of nonviolence as it provokes support, understanding, the support of everyone in the world who are the enemies of oppression.

The production mindset of the West has drawn the world into a crisis from which it needs to emerge by a radical break from the drive for "always more", in the financial domain, but also the domain of science and technology. It is high time that ethical concerns, justice, lasting balance come to the fore. ...

How to conclude this call to get angry? By remembering again what, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Program of the National Council of Resistance, we said on 8 March 2004, we veterans of the Resistance movement and combat forces of Free France, that surely "nazism is vanquished, thanks to the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters of the Resistance and the nations united against fascist barbarism. But that menace has not completely disappeared, and our anger against injustice remains intact".

No, that menace has not completely disappeared. Therefore, we are always called to "a true peaceful insurrection against the means of mass communication that offer our youth only a future of mass consumption, scorn for the weakest, general amnesia, and brute competition of all against all".

To those men and women who will shape the twenty-first century, we say with our affection: