The world returns to the barricades

Pankaj Mishra writes: Historians examining our era will marvel at the proliferation of street protests around the world. Blessed with hindsight, they will probably not struggle as much as we do to grasp their broader meaning — one that goes beyond specific provocations in each case (an increase in bus fares in Brazil, or the destruction of a landmark in Turkey).

On the face of it, protests against the creeping authoritarianism of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have next to nothing in common with demonstrations in India, where a quasi-Gandhian activist proclaimed a “second freedom struggle,” or Egypt’s Tahrir Square, site of a “second revolution” against the elected government of Mohamed Mursi.

The Turks appear to have even less in common with the tens of thousands of Israelis calling for “social justice” in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, or the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who, after the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, turned out, in their country’s biggest demonstrations since the late 1960s, to protest against an incompetent and mendacious government.

Local grievances and socioeconomic variations must not be suppressed in our eagerness to find broad patterns. Protesters in Greece and Spain live in nations that are being steadily impoverished. Those in India, Israel and Turkey belong to countries that have enjoyed high economic growth in recent years. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The world returns to the barricades

  1. hquain

    Does this strike anyone else as excessively romantic?

    The historical rate of success of ‘aux barricades!’ -type movement is dismal, and their sustainability is even worse. To cite US examples: Occupy was faint echo of the 60’s, wiped out in 2 weeks, and — looking back to the source — everything achieved in the 60’s has been obliterated, with the obliteration starting in the 60’s themselves (1968: Nixon). And I simply don’t see how anything like the mass-movement quality of the 60’s would even be allowed to develop (should anyone be interested in developing it) in today’s much more controlled, militarized, total-intelligence environment.

    A more realistic broad guess would be that huge, immensely powerful, interwoven institutions have made significant progress since WWII in stabilizing themselves for the long term, and can confidently tolerate a little squawking because they are confident of their future.

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