ROME—It’s an cumulative kind of thing, the demise of capitalism worldwide: at first the waning and the dwindling, now the rapid corkscrew-like downwards spiraling, of greedy, vicious, cannibalistic capitalism busily devouring itself. Today, one can only conclude the imminence of its just demise.
Just as one once said in Italy during the agony of the death of the Italian Communist Party, just as one once spoke of the loss of the propulsive force of the French Revolution, current events show that also capitalism, the capitalist system itself, has lost its self-proclaimed propulsive force. Today, for a growing number of capitalists it is a case of si salvi chi puo, every man for himself. No one can logically claim that capitalism as an economic-social-political idea propels forward world society.
In the face of the current disaster of the capitalist system, one can determine that capitalism’s ideology, its promises for societal well-being, were false from the start. One can no longer defend capitalism in good faith. Marx was right, over a century and a half ago: capitalism has hung itself in its excess, in its greed for more and more and more.
Underlying what I prefer to call the Mediterranean Spring rather than the European Spring are a host of symptoms of a highly infectious pandemic of rejection of the capitalist system. The movement of the movements infecting Spanish youth camping on the plazas of their nation today is transversal. Its common denominator is anti-system, which, though they might not yet realize it, I believe translates into anti-capitalism.
Rejection of what is and what has been in Europe. The fever has spread across all of southern Europe, from Portugal to Greece. The Spanish-Portuguese mood is almost identical in Greece, where working people, especially youth, refuse to pay for the greed of capitalism. Also some similarities are visible in the overturn of systems in Tunisia and Egypt. Now today also in Italy, the grassroots—youth and workers. the unemployed and the underpaid underemployed—demand the same rights claimed by protesters in Spain and Portugal and Greece.
It has become contagious. A fever. The Mediterranean world is burning: the demand is economic democracy, political justice and peace. In Spain, Real democracia ya! Real democracy now. The time of indifference seems over and past. Society has awakened. Spain’s indignados, modern Don Quixotes, have occupied sixty plazas across the Spain. The Indignant Ones movement in Portugal is the same. The movement is hailed and imitated by Greeks and Italians. In France, they occupied for a brief time the Bastille. Capitalism should tremble. For when indifference ends, social activism takes over. Revolution is in fact already underway.
It is clear that capitalism cannot change its very nature. Reform has become an obscene word since it today means change so that nothing changes. Reform has come to mean shifting gears so that the strain of economic crisis shifts ever more onto the backs of the socially weak and undefended.
Who then are the weak and undefended? As always in social history of the over one hundred years of rampant, unbridled, excessive capitalism, they are the working class. As an irony of history that class today is bigger than it has ever been. It now includes also a great part of the former middle class. Simultaneously however, the ruling capitalist class has shrunk in numbers to that infamous one percent who hold and use the social wealth to crush and humiliate the weakened classes.
In Italy, the symptoms of the socio-political revolution underway have suddenly, overnight, exploded onto the scene. Everything has been commented on in Italy: the lowest salaries, the highest prices, the lowest pensions, the hardest workers, the greatest insecurity, the highest real unemployment, the highest number of precarious workers, the highest emigration from Italy of qualified university graduates in search of better lives elsewhere.
Wherever you look in southern Europe, you hear the same cries of indignation. While financial collapse threatens Mediterranean Europe, the cries of the indignant ones are rising in intensity. What at first seemed like just another protest movement similar to 1968 has changed gears and entered a slow-motion period of still nonviolent but constant, unrelenting dissidence which is also becoming an accelerated socio-political catastrophe. In Spain and Portugal, in Italy and Greece, while the political elite struggles with economic recovery from the disaster it created, everyday life is worsening: economically, politically, and socially. Today’s nonviolent protest seems on the verge of violence.
Debt defaults, impossible state bond sales, hopeless bailouts and failed debt restructuring threaten. In this eschatological atmosphere, suddenly appeared the indignados. As if from nowhere, university-educated, networked youth, especially in Italy and Spain, many still living with their parents, are all acutely aware that their post-bubble nations have little or nothing to offer them as unemployment soars, precarious part-time employment becomes the norm and health benefits are reduced,
Until now, their demands have been restrained: they have aimed at making the political elite accountable, called for new electoral laws geared to end the fake two-party system in Spain and the stale political systems in Italy and Greece. Electoral reform is a modest demand for what in south Europe is widely labeled a lost generation.
On the other hand, in Eurolandia, as in the USA, politicians and bankers are joined at the hip in their response to the economic crisis.
Therefore, one is surprised by protester statements such as: “We are not against the system, but we want a change in the system. We want change—not in the future; we want a change in the present. We demand a change, and we want it now.” But not even that voice of the people is heard.
In this atmosphere of socio-economic hopelessness, reform seems enough in the immediate future. Still, I believe the still unconscious demand reaches much more deeply into society and that the ante is rising with each passing day. We know that as a rule people don’t rebel easily. People do everything possible to avoid real social convulsion and upheaval, even compromising with a Fascist police state.
On the other side of the fence, today’s government is aware that a spirit of mutiny is brewing. That is why it has armed itself with a set of illegal and anti-constitutional laws to crush it. But the evident reality is that at this point the alternative to ousting today’s corrupt system is a permanent police state, which if it becomes any more fixed than it is now just might last a thousand years.
Acceptance of the legitimacy of Power, indifference to Power’s deviations and passivity in the face of Power’s threats against external enemies at least seem to have peaked. It commonly accepted that Power gone mad has to be put aside. The eventual end of acceptance and passivity could result in a kind of explosion the world has never seen. Clash between people and corrupt systems appears logically inevitable.
At the same time, and on another front, more and more people are losing faith in nonviolence, even though capitalism itself is extremely violent. If you’re not nice and polite, some people consider that violence. But most violence is in business as usual and capitalism grinding on, killing workers, forests and oceans. We’re surrounded by normalized violence and don’t recognize it for what it is. Confronting this normalized violence in a direct way is not violent; it is necessary.
Yet, many people still argue that you have to work within the system, that is, within the capitalist system. But it is a truism that you can’t have it all. You can’t have your air conditioning and not use up limited energy. You don’t have to be an economist to understand that endless economic growth is unsustainable. Climate change is a reality, so drastic change in the field will come about whether we like it or not.
The romantic word Revolution is terrifying to most people. There is just reason to mistrust it. Since the heroic times of the American and French revolutions and the Great Russian Revolution, the word has degenerated. The student revolution of the 1960s, though leaving behind many lasting effects, petered out in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine comes to mind as an example of a political class abusing the word Revolution.
If we discard the idea of armed revolution, at the same time let’s don’t confuse revolution with mere reform on the one hand or with armed insurrection on the other. Insurrection is a local, usually spontaneous and one-issue matter. Reform is simply adjustment made by the rulers in order to maintain power as happened time and time again in Tsarist Russia. As a rule, reforms are too little and too late, and besides are offset by negative developments in other sectors.
Resistance against oppression causes a rupture between rulers and the ruled. That is the beginning of revolution. The thing about revolution is that it is gradual and elusive. You don’t even realize it is revolution when in fact you are already in it.
Resistance and rebellion against unjust power remains a leitmotiv in the history of mankind. With that tradition in mind, the present rulers of Europe must wonder what form the next explosion will take and when it will arrive. For when the gap between rulers and people becomes unbridgeable and the scared people relearn the sense of social solidarity and widespread Resistance sets in, the revolutionary step is inevitable. In an adult and mature people, the passage from one step to the next in the dialectical chain appears historically ineluctable. Once underway, such a process doesn’t just stop.
The masses of the oppressed of America and Europe have thus far appeared surprisingly nonchalant about their lost freedoms. Most snicker at suggestions of rebellion. Of any kind of rebellion. Many still see America and Europe as the cradle of democracy and freedom. But what if, for example, in the United States of America—shaky super power today, in decline and tottering on the brink of disaster—what if the next step by the people was mutiny against the long, gradual counterrevolution in America, as of yet little charted by historians? What if real revolution broke out in Greece and then spread westward? Is it science fiction, the image of people taking to the streets? Is the idea of revolution really far-fetched?
Globalization has accelerated the crises of traditional, national political systems, reorganizing and transforming the nature of power, relocating it to international political bodies. The institutions of the European Union—the European Commission, the European Council, The European Central Bank—are not democratic representatives requested by popular majorities. Instead, they represent the bureaucratic and technocratic structures instituted to permit capitalism to continue to expand its hegemony on a continental and global scale. Within the revolutionary process underway in the world, Europe is attempting to cut its own vital space pointed toward monopolizing planetary resources. The size of this space will be determined by the European Union’s capacity to develop a new regime of accumulation, integrating territories, capital and consumers/workers. In fact, the real revolution of the unification of world markets is not the vaunted liberal revolution, but instead a financial revolution, affecting all the peoples around the Mediterranean Sea.
Protesters worldwide do not yet realize that the factor that has accelerated the transformation of markets and the degradation of the situation of workers in recent years has been the savage deregulation of the mechanisms governing financial transactions. This deregulation paved the way for the change from an economy based on productivity of industrial systems to a drugged economy based on incomes for the top 1 percent of the population derived from monetary and financial transactions.