Why Don’t People Revolt?

Our views about the world are molded by those who cast and press the dies together.  There are no independent ideas unless the slave mind completely severs itself from the chains which keep pulling those synapses apart.

Poem by Agnes Török on the news of a new Conservative budget. Based on experiences of living in Britain under austerity as a young, queer, unemployed, female immigrant student – and not taking it any more. More info on: www.agnestorok.org

“What has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority of those who are hungry don’t steal and why the majority of those who are exploited don’t strike.” Wilhelm Reich “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”

Presuming that people are exploited and that it is in their interests to strike back, and we think they are and it is, what can we say about this?

Credits:
Music: Chris Zabriskie – Cylinder Five
Film footage: “Night Of The Living Dead” / Unknown

Further reading:
Marx and Engels “The German Ideology”
Steven Lukes “Power” / “In Defence of False Consciousness”

How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’

By George Lakey / wagingnonviolence.org / Jul 12, 2017

A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931
A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931

While many of us work to create a better world, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.

In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died. Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population—about three million—was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.

When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.

In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.

The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; in 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers—this in a country of only 3 million!

The Labor Party, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.

The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.

Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms. The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.

By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side.

This it did. In a compromise that allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The 1 percent thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)

Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.

Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle-class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.

This article was originally published in 2012. The first sentence has been edited slightly for posterity.

A global revolution is only impossible for those who have benefited from the status quo.

8 thoughts on “Why Don’t People Revolt?”

  1. MOBS ARE WHAT RULE DISSATISFACTION. I THINK JOHN STEWART MILLS GOT IT RIGHT WITH HIS THEORY ON “PLEASURE”. PEOPLE SEEK OUT THE MOST ADVANTAGEOUS SYSTEM FOR THEM TO EARN REWARDS WITH LITTLE LABOR AND LITTLE RISK. SO PEOPLE ARE INERT UNTIL THEIR SAFETY IS AT RISK THEN THEY STRIKE OUT.

    I THINK THE CURRENT AMERICAN MEME (COMMON SENSE) WAS HONED FROM THE GREAT INSECURITY AMERICANS FEEL LIVING IN A SOCIETY WHERE THEY ARE A NUMBER. THEY HAVE BEEN CONVINCED THAT IF THEY FAIL TO BECOME A MILLIONAIRE IT IS THEIR PERSONAL FAILURE ONLY. THEN THERE IS THE IDEA OF “INDIVIDUALISM” WHICH HAS DENEGRATED INTO PATHOLOGICAL SELFISHNESS. WHICH TURNS AMERICANS AGAINST OTHER AMERICANS ESPECIALLY WITH PEOPLE OF EQUAL OR LESSER STATURE IN THE COMMUNITY. AND FINALLY, THERE IS DEBT AND THE LEGAL INABILTY TO HAVE IT FORGIVEN.

    THEIR IS THE MASS MEDIA: TV, CABLE, INTERNET, SMART PHONE, THAT CONSTANTLY FEED MESSAGES TO THE VIEWER MUCH LIKE IN IN THE BOOK 1984. BEING ABLE TO COMPLAIN AND WATCHING PEOPLE BEING ANGRY FOR YOU IS DEBILITATING, AND TAKES AWAY THE INCENTIVE TO ACT.

    AND FINALLY THERE ARE THE NARCOTICS BOTH LEGAL AND ILLEGAL. AND A FOOD SUPPLY WITH NOT NUTRITION. BOTH OF WHICH AFFECT THE MIND.

    I THINK THE VIDEO IS MISLEADING BECAUSE IT IGNORES THE HUMAN FACTOR. KIND OF SOUNDS LIKE ADVERTISING EXECUTIVES PITCHING AN IDEA.

    AS FOR THE SCANDANAVIANS THEIR CULTURE IS UNLIKE OURS. THEY ARE ALL REALTED TO EACH OTHER. THAT IS NOT THE CASE OF AMERICANS.

  2. I think the personal relationships mentioned by Frank Stein in his comment make a lot of sense. I can’t see that happening in Australia – it is ridiculously multi-cultural. I cannot or more rightly would not take a chance on speaking to another person at my local shops!! Try a revolt in that kind of society.

    1. This why the 1% encourage immigration and especially those poor souls that have been ravaged by war. This does create division in the ranks, but more interesting I have found is that they are willing easily to condemn their own countries rather than those that invaded them and bombed their homes???
      The issue here is that the 1% truly believe it is their right to be both rich and to own the souls of those they class as been ‘lower’ than themselves. It is also what we allow whether it was brought on by poor education or constant oppression.
      They( 1%) need their slaves for now until they have built a perfect world for themselves. Once this is done then what – ah I know, we inhabit Mars 🙂

      1. The other fact especially as in regards to Sweden is that during the course of both ‘great’ wars Sweden was neutral to both factions and thus benefitted hugely from the sale of products for the the war efforts on both sides.

  3. Quisling should not have been given the death penalty

    Quisling believed he was doing the right thing, and I agree

    Norway should not have opposed Germany’s temporary occupation

    A lot of Norwegians died for no real reason

  4. “If sheeple understood – there would be a revolution by tomorrow morning.”
    – Henry Ford

    7billion (and counting) narcissistic sub-human low IQ dicks and cunts. Fat pigs on scooters outside walmart. Blue/yellow/pink haired tattooed freaks glued to facebook, amazon, netflix and google. Men fucking men in the ass. Trannyys changing body parts. Drunken pierced women whose wombs have become a toxic stew of weed, cocaine, alcohol, mental and birth control drugs. Becoming nothing but glorified cum dumpsters with absolutely no use other than opening their legs and bitching and pestering everyone else because “I’m not haaaaappppyyy!”

    The human has been destroyed.

    1. kumon – thank you!! That is why we don’t take the world back… your vile hatred of the modern human is accurate, but it should be noted that our leaders CREATED this diseased sub-human.THIS was intended.

      Also, not all the world is so fucked up as the western world is. The fact that we became “this” is why Islam has value – are people like us in Iran? Other major control problems there, but not “this”.

      PS – are you more disgusted by women than men? Ahhh HA – a misogynist perhaps?

We do appreciate sensible comments...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s