Slow-burn rebellion

Seen those complaints on social media that the people aren’t rebelling? They think we’re a nation of quitters, or that we’re all duped by the Tories or the fake opposition.

Tell them we haven’t given up. Tell them to come on out and join in – there is so much going on lately.

Got depressed because the rebellion is all splintered and full of disagreements?

Carry on anyway. No mass human endeavour was all neat and tidy. When people get out on the streets, they forget the theory-quibbles and yell for fair play. It’s what people do.

Ask the French – they know that rebellions grow organically. When the “yellow jacket” movement started, it didn’t really know what it was – well, bits of it knew what they thought it was but many looked on in puzzlement. It grew though, because the badge of the rebellion, that hi-viz jacket, was something many people already owned and everyone could get hold of, anyone who was unhappy with how things were could join in and gradually, the big issues that were damaging everyone bubbled up to the forefront of the rebellion.

Photo by XR

A government that serves only the wealthy few is the problem we all have, but the issues the situation throws up come in many varieties. Different people hit the limits of their toleration for different reasons, so the rebelliousness can look random.

All those issues are really one problem. You might just call it “injustice” or “the cost of living crisis”, or “destructive billionaires”…

H TUC chair with 'Stop Rwanda' and 'Hastings Deserves a Pay Rise' placards
Hastings TUC

Whatever you call the problem, it’s everywhere, and wherever people protest, the wealthy minority will seek to divide them by pointing out differences and imaginary threats. That’s why the rebellions, and the stated reasons for them, come in so many forms.  People imbibe the damaging, divisive ideas from the cradle. We all grow up trained in behaviours that (subconsciously for most of us) promote and maintain oppression: sexism, racism, and classism – that creeping belief that those born into certain sections of society are somehow entitled. Then, gradually, we see the real problem – or bits of it, and start rebelling. The harder the establishment treads on a rebellion, the more it splinters into little rebellions that break out over all kinds of wrongs – it splinters, but it doesn’t go away – it’s like a dandelion head bursting into the air.


The most attentive commentators are calling our times “capitalism’s end game” or even the “post capitalism era”, because that theory of perpetual growth, of the supposed value of very rich people, and the belief that you can exploit all the resources of the planet to the last ounce, is extremely ragged and difficult to believe now we’re facing climate crisis, and an economic situation where most people can’t pay their bills or their rent. Neoliberalism is a hard-nosed replacement for capitalism. It doesn’t attempt to do the old, “benevolent patriarch” act – it just stamps on opposition, and those it can’t intimidate, it confuses and deceives.

The deceit isn’t proving effective though. The knowledge is creeping through our society now, the realization that our government does not govern. We’ve seen the puppet-politicians show themselves up as incompetent time after time. We know they are just making opportunist money-grabs because they have found themselves there in Westminster, as part of someone else’s plan. We’ve known for some time that there is another layer behind them, the billionaires, the corporate heads, and we note that this latest, most destructive incarnation of corrupt government is now shamelessly putting its billionaires directly into top jobs. We also know – thanks to Occupy for that brilliant campaign – that they are “the one percent”, and we are just about everyone.

Steinbeck text
John Steinbeck, from “The Grapes of Wrath”

It doesn’t matter what the one percent think, because they are only one percent. They can only rule for as long as we are too confused and divided to rebel effectively. What we need to do is finish the job of showing the rest of us who the enemy is, and how vulnerable they are.

Don’t feel united?

Of course we don’t! the opposition (the real opposition – the super-rich) have gone to a lot of effort to make sure that you won’t get along with people who are the wrong sort of socialist, or the wrong sort of feminist, or the wrong sort of anti-racist, or whatever it is you personally get into arguments about. You know what? The worst abuse I’ve had in my whole political career has come from people who nearly agree with me.

The solution is to turn up at the demos and on the picket lines and stand next to them all anyway. It sorts itself out, in the end.

Sin is a mistake

Don’t worry, I’ve not had a sudden religious attack – but I want to tell you about a moment of great surprise I had, when I discovered that word we learned from the bible doesn’t mean “evil”, it means “mistaken”. It really does. When someone does something you think is outrageous, the chances are that you think you’re being reasonable and they think they’re being reasonable and if only there was time to sit down and talk, you’d find out how you’d mistaken each other’s intention, or maybe that there’s another way of looking at the situation that would make sense to both of you.

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Sin is just a mistake. That’s the original meaning of the word that western literature lifted out of the bible. Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to see that you don’t cure people of mistakes by shouting at them and threatening them. Don’t call them racist, sexist, classist; don’t call them bigots, gammons, brown noses or whatever terms of abuse come most readily to your tongue. Unless the person with different views to yours is actually a billionaire, or one of their operatives, it’s just that one of you has made a mistake, or misunderstood the other one. Have actual conversations, invite them to join your actions, and find out where they’re coming from.

Some mistakes, the ones that maintain the rich, are built into our society deliberately, and nurtured by those who benefit from them. That’s why our current, billionaire Prime Minister keeps telling us our worst problem is those desperate, half-drowned people who wash up on our shores in half-sunk dinghies. That’s why the best way to challenge capitalism and oppression is communication and community action. Getting people to mix more, talk more, think more, is the way we get the rest of everyone to see that sexism, racism and classism are the weapons that distract us from standing together and taking the keys of power away from the one percent.

We’re doing it, we’re doing it!

Rebellion is not going to be a neat, one-off appearance of everyone, miraculously in possession of pitchforks and flaming torches. Rebellion is every conversation that helps to break down the barriers that divide us. The value of those many, diverse rebellions that we currently see is that they bring together different people and help them see who the enemy is, and to see that we are nearly everyone, and we agree on a heck of a lot of things.

The 100-odd people who had to be arrested in order to make way for the rich people’s Grand National; the hundreds of Republic people who turn up with yellow cards everywhere the would-be king goes, the coastal town groups who come together to support refugees, the kids’ school strikes, the thousands upon thousands who are turning up to support the junior doctors, the nurses, the train cleaners, the posties, the teachers, and all the others who are striking to force a decent wage out of a rich-people’s government and yes, even those Just Stop Oil people – every single protest, every single mini-rebellion you join in brings different people together, and every single time we’re joining in a group effort that helps us see the enemy more clearly. Every time you say “hello” to someone on a picket line or at a demo, you’re building solidarity in the rest of us.

“There’s no opposition”

It’s what people say when they look at the very obviously corrupt, destructive government, the “we’re not quite as bad as them” Labour Party, and the confused, vindictive mess that’s all that remains of the toe-hold parties in Westminster – yes, there’s confusion over how we deal with that come election time, but the confusion is the noise of a million conversations trying to find an answer. Another party? Personally, I haven’t yet seen one that can address race, sex and class well enough to convince me. Independent candidates? Sure, in some places there are sufficiently switched on, well known indie candidates standing ready. What’s Jeremy Corbyn going to do? No idea, but if all these mini-rebellions teach us anything, it’s that we don’t have to wait for one man to brandish a magic starting-pistol.

We can fall back on independents in the coming local elections, or settle for the least awful candidates from the old parties, because it’s likely a potential winner will emerge from all those arguments and debates about new parties by the next general election. Let’s just make sure we’re debating, rather than arguing, getting upset and creating divisions. In the meantime, we can get on and build rebellion in a million ways, because there are millions of us.

Don’t complain that people aren’t rebelling – go join in one of the many mini-rebellions, then go away and talk about it to friends, colleagues and family. Talk about it with enthusiasm, talk about the one percent, about how scared they are, about how much fun you had on the picket line, and about how we’ll soon have them cornered. Talk about how all the wars and the bitter disputes – all of them, all down the centuries, are the weapons of the rich. Talk about what we are doing together in spite of all that, about what we can do, and what we’re going to do next.


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