The French Revolution proceeded because the peasantry and the urban poor had been so depressed economically that they had no way to go on living without throwing off their repressors. The Russian revolution succeeded because the Czarist government had oppressed the peasantry and the urban poor into conditions as bad as U.S. style slavery. The Chinese revolution started against an emperor, much as the Russian revolution, but then really got off the ground when external colonial powers gave the oppressed population a stark choice between revolution or submission to the corrupt “Nationalist” army whose leadership promised to be more repressive than the Emperor ever was.
Contrast these examples with the Proud Boogaloo Boiz revolt, which recently fizzled. Our insurgents wore designer camo outfits to the assault on the capitol. Some drove to “the revolution” in their 4X4, turbo-V8 trucks, “rolling coal,” while others cruised in chartered tour buses. They stayed in hotels and motels, and instead of breaking into armories for weapons, they brought their own private assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, automatic pistols, etc. And hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo, that they weren’t allowed to “pack” as they roamed the capitol city.
Our insurgents wore designer camo outfits to the assault on the capitol. Some drove to “the revolution” in their 4X4, turbo-V8 trucks, “rolling coal,” while others cruised in chartered tour buses.
The French and Russian and Chinese revolted because they couldn’t get subsistence rations of bread. Our own activists became revolting because their wives gave them only the 75-inch HD flat panel for Christmas, instead of the 82-inch, with full 5.1 surround sound that they were hoping for.
Revolutions need some level of planning and foresight to succeed. The French revolution foundered on internal bickering, expanding violence and a spreading thirst for both vengeance and “getting even.” The revolution stumbled into a restoration of the monarchy and the rise of emperors. It took decades to achieve a stable republican form of government.
The Russian revolution and the Chinese revolutions faltered over the illogic of trying to impose “industrial” policies onto largely illiterate agricultural populations. Factional bickering became easier than imposing the fantasy ideal of “communism” on an unready population. Eventually, each country descended into one-party dictatorship, more intent on stamping out dissent than on achieving their stated goals.
In contrast, the American colonies almost foundered over Articles of Confederation which empowered dissenters over any group that wanted to agree on policy. But rather than fight among themselves, after the revolutionary war, the various colonies acknowledged the failures of the Articles of Confederation and wrote a model for a new kind of government, freer than any previously known, but still free only to propertied white men.
A subsequent American revolution happened when uncontrolled business greed drove the nation into financial catastrophe, and Franklin Roosevelt, a wealthy capitalist, led the government to extend economic democracy to the middle and lower classes. Rather than promote grandiose generalities about political fantasies, FDR pushed specific programs that provided specific items of relief and reform. FDR’s New Deal delivered benefits, not just theories, to the people who needed help.
Lyndon Johnson built on the New Deal at a time of economic growth rather than depression. While anti-war protesters shouted, Hey, hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Johnson used his influence over Congress to push through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty programs, environmental laws, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, attacking racial discrimination.
No one can honestly say that Johnson didn’t rain terror and death down on increasing segments of the Vietnamese population. His legacy there must never be forgotten. But we should also never forget that by promoting specific, targeted domestic programs, Johnson also saved and improved the lives of millions more people in the U.S. than the number he killed and maimed in Vietnam.
There is no balancing act here. Johnson’s colonial war was simply wrong. Johnson’s support of corporate “banana” republics across Latin America was simply wrong. But it is equally wrong to ignore or deny his domestic policy achievements. It is wrong not just on policy grounds but because turning our backs on that work turns us away from work that is needed right now.
Democracy is a process, not a goal. As hard as some people work to expand rights and involvement others, generally monied interests, invest in stamping out rights and access and equity. Rights of workers expanded in the New Deal but were quickly attacked after WW-II by business Republicans. Cracks in the Color Line that were an inevitable result of the struggle against fascism were also attacked, with legal discrimination written into the G.I. Bill and other post war veterans’ benefit laws.
Now, as we begin a new administration, we should look at the voices calling for “change” and ask whether they are proposing real change or simply voicing fantasy political ideas.
A couple of examples show what we need to distinguish. In 2016, Donald Trump predicted that election fraud would cheat him out of office. During his administration, Republican controlled states worked constantly to gerrymander and suppress voting rights. And for the months following the 2020 election Republicans have called for “fixing corrupt voting systems.”
Here is a chance at a practical step to address a real national problem. A newly Democratic majority Congress could pass voting laws that Republicans claim to want - laws that reinforce the Constitutional right to one person, one vote. While states are allowed to control their own voting processes, those processes cannot violate voters’ Constitutional rights. So Federal laws could be passed to standardize voter qualifications, voter roll maintenance, including registration and purging of dead or “moved away” voters. Federal law could require paper ballot trails to ensure reliable recounts.
The cost savings of any such bills would be enormous as they eliminate the possibilities of challenges that were not fact-based,
But have any of the “revolutionary” Congress people introduced such voting measures, even after thousands of speeches, dozens of lawsuits and millions of taxpayer dollars wasted?
Similarly, we have been told for decades that Social Security is going bankrupt. We are told that the program must be ended or at least gutted, with people’s benefits slashed. This message has been a Republican mantra since FDR first gave the working poor a chance at some little retirement security.
Social Security is always a target and will always be a target, because it weakens corporate control over employees, giving them the ability to retire from a job, no matter how frugally. Business have always, and will always, work to reduce or eliminate such programs.
But the numbers are clear. The ONLY reason that Social Security has any financial difficulty is that only the poor and the middle classes pay into it. Anyone making more than $125,000/year stops paying into Social Security. Anyone who’s pay comes from commissions or capital gains or dividends doesn’t pay into the system at all.
Social Security could be made permanently stable, with increased benefits to all recipients if everyone who earns an income within our economic system had to pay into the program. If everyone who’s income comes from investing instead of working had to pay in, if everyone who earns more that $125,000 had to pay in, if every apartment building owner had to pay in, just like his tenants, the entire population would have adequate, not extravagant post-work retirement support. Fewer people would need welfare and other senior support program.
But have any of the “reformers” of the new Congress filed bills to enact such simple, common sense reforms? Such practical steps are not as “sexy” as talking about expansive, “revolutionary” ‘concepts’.
On the other hand, are voters, who should be demanding progress from their representatives, writing and calling their representatives to demand either voting procedure reforms or an updating of Social Security? Democracy is not only a process. It is also a system that requires its beneficiaries to be involved and demand that their representatives do what’s right for the entire nation.