Why So Many Rebellions?

“They asked for our vote to put the boot on us.”  Cartoon by PxMolina

A key element underlies the massive protests: the search for a different model of political representation.

By Gioconda Belli  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The world is witnessing with astonishment a series of popular rebellions: France, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, and Haiti have seen multitudinous protests, each with its particular origin, that have provoked diverse responses.

The most violent reaction was in Nicaragua, costing the lives of more than 328 people. But in the other countries, the governments have stumbled in the face of the actions of the multitudes. Pinera brought tanks out into the streets. Evo, like Ortega, called it a “Coup d’etat”.

In this article, I don’t intend to emit judgements regarding the correct or incorrect behavior of the governments that have been called on the carpet by those they govern. My interest lies in venturing some hypotheses on the social phenomenon manifested by these enormous marches, with the masses taking over the streets, the plazas, and menacing the supposed serenity or the supposed “well-being” or growth of their societies.

I’m not in agreement with the simplistic assertions that attribute these events to conspiracies originating in the United States, Venezuela or Cuba. Massive phenomena in which different thoughts and visions converge, actions that bring together hundreds of people for citizen demands go far beyond the conspiratorial capacity of those regimes.

To me, these complex events point towards a very particular moment in the history of this century and are the consequence of an accumulation of factors that can’t be summed up by purely economic explanations.  

In Nicaragua as in Chile – two countries at different ends of the spectrum: one poor and the other economically successful – the initial causes, a reform of Social Security and an increase in transit fares respectively, very quickly stopped being the motivation for the large protest demonstrations.  Feeling the power they had, the demonstrators expressed, beyond the shadow of any doubt, a far deeper demand: that of a radical change.

In the past few days I read an interview with Ece Temelkuran, Turkey’s most followed columnist. She stated: “Since the seventies, the western democracies have distanced themselves from one of their essential components: social justice. For that reason, now their democracy is merely theater with the members of Parliament sparring among themselves and that’s all. The result is that people no longer feel represented. So, at the same time that we’re looking for a model of different representation, populism proclaims that the system is finished and proposes that we forget about democracy.”

In other words, while on the one hand democracy has stopped meaning social justice, the populists have raised themselves up as the redeemers of the oppressed, who democracy has “failed”. As a result, as the Ortega doctrine proposes in Nicaragua, the populists suggest: “forget about democracy and enjoy the benefits that we offer you.”

Neither of those two positions – democracy without social justice, or authoritarian populism without democracy – have ascertained a key element that, in my judgement, is underlying the great, massive protests: the search for a different model of representation.

Temelkuran says: “It’s not only a crisis of democracy, of neoliberalism or of the model of the industrial revolution. These mutations are passing away simultaneously, and we’re moving towards a lack of human comprehension of themselves as human beings.”

An era of bewilderment, I’d say. We could speculate that the capitalist model, upon globalizing, revealed to human beings that satiation and consumerism don’t lead to happiness, nor are they the goal of history. On the other hand, the antithesis of capitalism, the socialist model, with its collapse in Eastern Europe or the evidence that it can’t coexist with the right to freedom, as in the case of China and Cuba, has been stripped of its robes of idealism and utopianism.

So, we’re living in a stage when the compasses with which we guided ourselves ideologically have stopped registering a propitious North. We know what’s bad, but we still haven’t succeeded in formulating what would be good.  

It’s enough to read what many young people post in the social networks in Nicaragua when they talk about not repeating the errors of the past, or when they talk of a different democracy, to perceive the desire for a design that, nonetheless, they don’t manage to describe or to articulate. Instead, it’s paradoxical to see them return to the old discourse of the class struggle. They reject the Sandinista thought of the eighties at the same time that they repeat the same arguments on which the politics of the eighties was based: down with capital and zero trust in bloodsucking business magnates. If we could only get them out of the picture, Nicaragua would magically surge ahead.

In Chile as well, the demands run from changes in education, to the redistribution of wealth or a new constitution, to Pinera’s resignation. A mixture of ideas that also reveal more criticisms than alternative proposals. There, as here, those most experienced in radicalisms of the left or right attempt to fill that philosophical vacuum.

In one of the best articles that I’ve read on the Chilean ‘explosion’, Fernando Mires laments the economic focus with which they’ve attempted to explain what happened:

“For the great majority, there’s one command in force: everything that happens on the social or political surface must necessarily have an economic origin. That is, we find ourselves faced with a paradigm. A paradigm that had its origin in liberalism (the invisible hand that regulates the market) and was later assumed by the Marxists (the development of the productive forces shapes a political super-structure).

“This paradigm is so established that not only the macro-economists but also a great part of the political class can’t conceive of thinking some other way. It doesn’t matter that all of the great demonstrations of our time, from the French May, through the ecology movements and on to those in Chile and Hong Kong, don’t have any visible economic causes. The economics paradigm must be salvaged even at the price of denying reality. The purely economics lens has come to be the dialectic of fools.”

Here in Nicaragua we’re divided, not about the central objective of a change of government and the end of the dictatorship, but about vague conceptions: on one side, half reformist or purely economic; or those who propose, without much imagination, a different kind of Sandinismo or leftism, that’s been rehabilitated – it’s not explained how – from its own genetic faults. It’s a more serious problem than it appears because the prejudices against the person proposing doesn’t allow us to weigh the validity of what’s being proposed, nor to find the basic points of agreement. 

I believe it’s worth the trouble in our particular case to reflect without dogmatism or limiting economics lenses, on that model of representation that still profiles itself more as a temptation than a reality. Being in crisis isn’t necessarily negative; crises are also opportunities to grow. We could try to propose, imagine, and put down on paper that model of representation that we aspire to. We could think about what changes would take us to a society that not only could satisfy its most urgent material necessities but could also generate a way of existing that would give sense and purpose and happiness to our lives.

Who would deny the possibility that we could formulate a lever to move the world or to diminish our bewilderment?
Note: The interview with Ece Temulkaran that I’ve quoted here is well worth the time to read and can be found in Spanish at this link.

Fernando Mires’ article in Spanish can be found here. 


One thought on “Why So Many Rebellions?

  • Why so many rebellions and dissatisfaction bordering on chaos with the ruling governments in these stated countries: France, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, and Haiti. With the exception of Hong Kong, which is undergoing a tremendous resistance to totalitarian Communist rule from China, the other countries rebellious population arises, from my perspective, youth unemployment and/or underemployment. By the latter, I mean young people who have gone to university, studied hard and obtained their hard earned degree, and engineer for example, only to be regulated to the unemployment lines or having to take “jobs” either part-time or full time as taxi drivers, bartenders, security guards, farm hands, labor which to them is unacceptable and frustrating, but necessary to survive, to their acquired education. So these young people take to the streets in protests because they are increasingly tired of the status quo. They seek political reform and social justice; they want a fair chance at employable and meaningful education that provides full time jobs so that they can take care of their families and live a life with dignity and respect; they want to compete for jobs on a merit basis not jobs handed out by corrupt government officials to family members.

    I agree with the article that you have read on the Chilean ‘explosion’ whereby Fernando Mires laments the economic focus of what is happening:
    “For the great majority, there’s one command in force: everything that happens on the social or political surface must necessarily have an economic origin.”

    Youth rebel on the streets because they want economic justice rightly earned by their educational sacrifices denied by their governments.

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