[Marxism] As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Wed Sep 28 11:53:57 MDT 2011

As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe
September 27, 2011

MADRID — Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural  
activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street  
demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and  
Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing  
and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South  
Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these  
protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward  
traditional politicians and the democratic political process they  
preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little  
faith in the ballot box.

“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta  
Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the  
Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting  
is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income  
inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social  
spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep  
in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens,  
erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters  
say they so distrust their country’s political class and its  
pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an  
assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds  
insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been  
so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups  
and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the  
country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved  
himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated  
to some of his central demands on a proposed anticorruption measure  
to hold public officials accountable. “We elect the people’s  
representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh,  
25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan,  
where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved  
Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are  
rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in  
favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in  
many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not  
altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments  
this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  
Protesters have created their own political space online that is  
chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of  
the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social  
networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of  
donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like- 
minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used  
to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman  
Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe  
life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on  
the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the  
big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the  
industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a  
beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like  
Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures  
like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker,  
hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand  
signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and  
food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be  
available without charge.

Someone had to step in, Mr. Levi said, because “the political system  
has abandoned its citizens.”

The rising disillusionment comes 20 years after what was celebrated  
as democratic capitalism’s final victory over communism and  

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a consensus  
emerged that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions  
represented the only path forward. That consensus, championed by  
scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his book “The End of History and  
the Last Man,” has been shaken if not broken by a seemingly endless  
succession of crises — the Asian financial collapse of 1997, the  
Internet bubble that burst in 2000, the subprime crisis of 2007-8 and  
the continuing European and American debt crisis — and the seeming  
inability of policy makers to deal with them or cushion their people  
from the shocks.

Frustrated voters are not agitating for a dictator to take over. But  
they say they do not know where to turn at a time when political  
choices of the cold war era seem hollow. “Even when capitalism fell  
into its worst crisis since the 1920s there was no viable alternative  
vision,” said the British left-wing author Owen Jones.

Protests in Britain exploded into lawlessness last month. Rampaging  
youths smashed store windows and set fires in London and beyond,  
using communication systems like BlackBerry Messenger to evade the  
police. They had savvy and technology, Mr. Jones said, but lacked a  
belief that the political system represented their interests. They  
also lacked hope.

“The young people who took part in the riots didn’t feel they had a  
future to risk,” he said.

In Spain, walloped by the developed world’s highest official rate of  
unemployment, at 21 percent, many have lost the confidence that  
politicians of any party can find a solution. Their demands are  
vague, but their cry for help is plaintive and determined. Known as  
indignados or the outraged, they block traffic, occupy squares and  
gather for teach-ins.

Ms. Solanas, an unemployed online journalist, was part of the core  
group of protesters who in May occupied the Puerta del Sol, a public  
square in Madrid, the capital, touching off a nationwide protest.  
That night she and some friends started the Twitter account  
@acampadasol, or “Camp Sol,” which now has nearly 70,000 followers.

While the Spanish and Israeli demonstrations were peaceful, critics  
have raised concerns over the urge to bypass representative  
institutions. In India, Mr. Hazare’s crusade to “fast unto death”  
unless Parliament enacted his anticorruption law struck some  
supporters as self-sacrifice. Many opponents viewed his tactics as  
undemocratic blackmail.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out last month in New Delhi to  
vent a visceral outrage at the state of Indian politics. One banner  
read, “If your blood is not boiling now, then your blood is not  
blood!” The campaign by Mr. Hazare, 74, was intended to force  
Parliament to consider his anticorruption legislation instead of a  
weaker alternative put forth by the government.

Parliament unanimously passed a resolution endorsing central pieces  
of his proposal, and lawmakers are expected to approve an  
anticorruption measure in the next session. Mr. Hazare’s  
anticorruption campaign tapped a deep chord with the public precisely  
because he was not a politician. Many voters feel that Indian  
democracy, and in particular the major parties, the Congress Party  
and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become unresponsive and captive  
to interest groups. For almost a year, India’s news media and  
government auditors have exposed tawdry government scandals involving  
billions of dollars in graft.

Many of the protesters following the man in the white Gandhian cap  
known as a topi were young and middle class, fashionably dressed and  
carrying the newest smartphones. Ms. Singh was born in a village and  
is attending a university in New Delhi. Yet she is anxious about her  
future and wants to know why her parents go days without power. “We  
don’t get electricity for 18 hours a day,” she said. “This is  
corruption. Electricity is our basic need. Where is the money going?”

Responding to shifts in voter needs is supposed to be democracy’s  
strength. These emerging movements, like many in the past, could end  
up being absorbed by traditional political parties, just as the  
Republican Party in the United States is seeking to benefit from the  
anti-establishment sentiment of Tea Party loyalists. Yet purists  
involved in many of the movements say they intend to avoid the old  
political channels.

The political left, which might seem the natural destination for the  
nascent movements now emerging around the globe, is compromised in  
the eyes of activists by the neoliberal centrism of Bill Clinton and  
Tony Blair. The old left remains wedded to trade unions even as they  
represent a smaller and smaller share of the work force. More  
recently, center-left participation in bailouts for financial  
institutions alienated former supporters who say the money should  
have gone to people instead of banks.

The entrenched political players of the post-cold-war old guard are  
struggling. In Japan, six prime ministers have stepped down in five  
years, as political paralysis deepens. The two major parties in  
Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, have seen  
tremendous declines in membership as the Greens have made major  
gains, while Chancellor Angela Merkel has watched her authority erode  
over unpopular bailouts.

In many European countries the disappointment is twofold: in heavily  
indebted federal governments pulling back from social spending and in  
a European Union viewed as distant and undemocratic. Europeans  
leaders have dictated harsh austerity measures in the name of  
stability for the euro, the region’s common currency, rubber-stamped  
by captive and corrupt national politicians, protesters say.

“The biggest crisis is a crisis of legitimacy,” Ms. Solanas said. “We  
don’t think they are doing anything for us.”

Unlike struggling Europe, Israel’s economy is a story of unusual  
success. It has grown from a sluggish state-dominated system to a  
market-driven high-tech powerhouse. But with wealth has come  
inequality. The protest organizers say the same small class of people  
who profited from government privatizations also dominates the major  
political parties. The rest of the country has bowed out of politics.

Mr. Levi, born on Degania, Israel’s first kibbutz, said the protests  
were not acts of anger but of reclamation, of a society hijacked by a  
class known in Hebrew as “hon veshilton,” meaning a nexus of money  
and politics. The rise of market forces produced a sense of public  
disengagement, he said, a feeling that the job of a citizen was  
limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote.

“The political system has abandoned its citizens,” Mr. Levi said. “We  
have lost a sense of responsibility for one another.”

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Tel Aviv, and Jim Yardley  
from New Delhi.

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