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More Thoughts on Confusing Rebellion with Revolution

At the 2014 Academy Awards Jared Leto, upon receiving his award, received an excited round of applause for recognizing the rebellions in Venezuela and Ukraine, celebrating those involved in these uprisings as "dreamers".  Thus, due to the warm reaction his statement elicited, there is little reason to doubt that these two rebellious events have found their way into the imagination of those involved in shaping the US pop cultural imagination.

The fact that one uprising is another attempt at a US backed and endorsed coup, and that the other has become the property of the fascist camp (also US backed), apparently mattered very little to Leto and the audience who enthusiastically applauded his endorsement.  It is not as if they lacked the information that would tell them how to understand these rebellions––even mainstream newspapers have reported, at the very least, on the fascist aspect of Ukraine's uprisings––but only that, as ambassadors of the Culture Industry, they were capable of understanding these events only according to the official narrative.

Of course, Leto and his ilk are not exceptions to the rule, regardless of the particular ostentatiousness of their supportive statements.  Even amongst a left that should know better there is an ingrained habit of confusing rebellion with revolution, or at the very least assuming that every rebellion is worthy of our support, without thinking through that question guided by even the slightest attempt at social investigation: what forces are behind the rebellion, what is the goal of the rebellion, whose interests does the rebellion ultimately serve?  And though the left as a whole recognized the problem of endorsing the protests in Venezuela (we knew enough to be aware that this had happened before and that it was an attempt at a coup), there were still aspects of this left that were initially, and for too long, enamoured with the events in Ukraine.

To be fair (and thankfully), most of the left stopped endorsing even the Ukraine rebellions when it became patently clear that they had passed into the hands of the fascists.  While some would make the opposite mistake (i.e. that of open endorsement of a government intrinsically wed to global imperialism and claiming this endorsement is "revolutionary"), which is often the case, at least there was a quick abandonment of revolutionary zeal that had initially accompanied the spectacle of street rebellion.  It is hard to confuse rebellion with revolution when the most organized factions of the rebellion––that is, those who can provide the rebellion with its political direction––is openly proclaiming reactionary ideology and celebrating nationalist heroes who were Nazi collaborators.

But it would be extremely difficult to misunderstand the rebellions in Venezuela and Ukraine as revolutionary in any manner.  In the case of the former, we have the historical memory (well, most of the time) of previous coup attempts in that nation and neighbouring regions.  In the case of the latter, as noted above, the fascist direction it took was not a secret.  Only someone who thinks like Jared Leto, or who thinks according to fashions set by Culture Industry apparatchiks, would have reason to ignore such evidence.  The problem is that Venezuela and Ukraine were exceptions to a normative rule that conditions us to treat rebellion as an unqualified good regardless of the context.

Here I am again forced to return to the example of the Arab Spring and the delirium it produced amongst large swathes of the first world left.  Some of the same people who condemn the rebellions in Venezuela are the very same who told us that the FSA was revolutionary and represented "dual power" in Syria, or that NATO involvement in Libya should be supported, or even that the Egyptian military was a popular force that was not implementing a coup.

Moreover, this confusion of rebellion with revolution, and the desire to uncritically embrace innumerable rebellions regardless of their content, can easily be used to undermine actual revolutionary movements.  Take, for example, the CIA-backed insurgencies in Nicaragua and El Salvador that were designed to undermine socialist states by painting them as authoritarian.  Or any of the other supposed "resistance movements" or mass demonstrations that happened in the former socialist bloc.

Of course, such a confusion is, in some ways, laudable because it comes from a sincere desire to stand in solidarity with people engaged in resistance.  And the fact that rebellion can and should happen in socialist states means that we should recognize that, yes, it is "right to rebel."  We should not, however, refuse to think critically through these instances of rebellion simply because we want every uprising to be revolutionary––because we are enamoured with an unconditioned rebel that is always pure.  Nor should we whole-heartedly endorse, at this historical juncture, those states that are troubled by rebellions that possess a reactionary and pro-imperialist character––but that's another (though related) problem.


  1. I confess I'm a little surprised no one has commented. About all I can say is, yes!

    In desperation to try to say something substantive, all I can think of is, don't be confused by conservatives selectively advocating the rightness of rebellion. They know exactly whose goals are pursued. Hypocrisy in the pursuit of empire and counter-revolution is a practical political virtue in their eyes. A handful of more consistent conservatives are reluctant to approve any rebellion and a few more are wary of the risk of general war. But their temporary, limited and tactical appearance of agreement with the left is not the unmasking of a right essence.

    The easy way the "liberals" fell into arms with neo-fascists in Ukraine is still horribly disheartening, I must admit.

    Steven Johnson

  2. the Nepali Maoists have failed as badly as the non-Maoists in other parts of the world, despite its MLM theory.

    1. And what does this have to do with this article? What an odd, red herring comment that has nothing to do with anything that I've written above. Moreover, I've talked about Nepal's failure elsewhere. If you're the same anon who has been trolling me throughout the day with the cultish comments about the RCP-USA, this is the last comment I'm going to allow. It doesn't say anything interesting (none of your comments have) but is merely dogmatic assertion. You're wasting my time with your religiosity.

  3. Thank you for this excellent article. The last sentence is very interesting and I can't wait to read the article you promise.

    1. What article did I promise? I said that something was a "related" problem at the end, not that I was going to write about it... Even still, if you do want to read something about this can you explain, generally, what you would like covered in such an article and I will be happy to produce it in the near future.


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