Mass Protest Movements Come and Go, Struggle is Permanent

Photo credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

By the Editorial Board

When mass uprisings take place it is like a great awakening—many new activists are like a person seeing snow for the first time and expecting it to last for years. To seasoned eyes, it is more like a tide, powerful and inspiring, but already poised to recede. The tide returning to the sea never means that the struggle is actually concluded.

The inevitable wave-like motions of the mass uprisings are also affected by specific conditions, —the contradictions within them and the activity of reaction, which can prolong or shorten the duration and intensity of such conflicts. These must be evaluated in two parts, internal and external, while also considering how the two relate.

The May Uprisings, for example, were sparked by an external action—the murder of George Floyd—but they went so far beyond this single cause and became a field for both airing grievances and retaliating against those who inflict them. The May Uprisings exploded on the basis of the contradiction between Black people and the state, and immediately extended past even this and exposed the contradiction between the state and the masses in general. The police attempts to use force (even kneeling on necks) to put down the first uprisings only put gasoline on the fire which would engulf so many buildings of the enemy.

For the first part of the uprisings, the demographics were mainly poor and very diverse, with large-scale participation of Black people. The crowds were mainly workers in lower-income jobs and not professional activists or professional intellectuals. This is the reason for the anger, ambition, and initial violence against the state, including its buildings and agents. It would take the professional opportunists a few days to muster their forces and start putting out the proverbial fires, but they would without fail attempt to force their ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation’ before the battle had even matured. Their first act, in concert with the police and FBI, was to divide protesters into ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ camps and, of course, the opportunists and liberals do this without a second thought. They base this division on none other than the police’s own word even though it is the police and their lies which were being confronted by the uprising. This is what an internal enemy looks like, and this is one way they function in service of the state.

With the opportunists come the small proprietors, the petty bourgeoisie, and the others who thought that with their ‘activist experience’ and ability to grab attention they would try to bring in something new—sacred identity politics. While the first few days exemplify the militant activity of working and poor Black people, which inspired working and poor people of all backgrounds to join them in rebellion, the petty-bourgeois activist brings in a line of further division. Their narrative becomes centered around claims (often at odds with reality) that ‘white people’ are now ‘co-opting’ and causing destruction without regard for the people. Worse, in some cases they are totally correct, and can use these examples (mainly of juvenile anarchist activity) as a platform to legitimize their soft counter-insurgency. Every manner of pandering is used here—every type of lofty feigning concern for the people is unpacked in the most slimy manner to convince everyone possible to stand down, to vote, to comply with the orders of the police—no matter how brutal.

Internally, there are two main types of police agents: propaganda agents and active agents. A propaganda agent (employed by the police or not) is one who is placed in a demonstration to reconcile with the police while everyone else is there to protest them. These agents are trained in manipulating human emotion—they receive gifts from the police and make sure the media sees how kind these cops are. They also kneel with them, hug them, and give them children to hold in front of the cameras. They did not come to protest, but to score public relations points for those being protested. This is another enemy of the people who suffocates the people’s movements. The second type of plainclothes cop is the active agent (again, employed by the police or not). These types serve up victims to the police line with force, use their bodies to protect buildings, and report as the eyes and ears of the police. They will not limit themselves to this treachery, but will also push for action at the worst times and assist the opportunists in dividing the crowd when it suits the police most, and, of course, help make cases and arrests. Sometimes agents can manage to do all of the above at once.

It is important to understand that the state has two main responses to mass uprisings and mass protest movements which act on the internal contradictions of the movement in question. The first method of repression is through violent brute force and the second is through bribery or sponsorship—both types are reactionary and designed to minimize the impact of the movement and lessen its duration. They seek relentlessly to drive the tide back out to sea and keep the cash flow and power structure unchallenged. The only goal must be to win. The goal is never ‘to be heard’ or ‘exercise our rights,’ though those are the ideas they press upon civilians in liberal society because they lead to losing tactics. Generally, they are more successful in neutralizing mass movements with low-intensity warfare tactics than with hard tactics. The hard tactics are indispensable, though, because they maintain their support from large sections of the ruling class, which increases the agents’ operational capacities. The soft tactics exist because they are both effective and appealing to the moral sensibility of liberal bourgeois society.

The above measures are used not only to minimize and shorten uprisings as much as possible, but also to impose disorganization to the maximum degree—the state is aware that disorganization is detrimental. Disorganization is the single greatest factor in diminishing a movement, while organization, on the other hand, can prolong a movement and increase its intensity. The best-organized militants can and do act as a lever among the masses, agitating among the people to take action.

When the Tide Recedes

Spontaneous movements, produced without a central plan as pure and genuine responses to the unbearable contradictions in society and the economy, will inevitably recede, no matter the intensity or duration. They will not conquer power for the oppressed and exploited. On their own, they can at best open a fissure that some faction or another of the current ruling class can make political use of, and thus take over the existing and intact state. In the majority of uprisings and movements such a fissure is not made available and the movement will recede on its own after shaking the foundations of power and showing the strength of the people who rose up.

The only revolutionary view of uprisings and movements like this is to consider them in two respects. The first is to view them as a school of war, a place where the people and the revolutionaries learn and teach one another to resist and rise up better and more organized. The second is through improving the duration and intensity of the uprisings and movements to recruit the disorganized people into organized and stable bodies which can continue the school of war in ‘peacetime.’

The opportunist will already be moving on to the next agenda, even before the last protest signs have been loaded into trunks and the ink on the fingerprint cards down at the jail has dried—those who so skillfully quelled rebellion will move on easily, consolidating whatever their gains into electoral dead ends. They dropped all but the most superficial mention of Black lives, and began talking about LGBT issues, homeless issues, or whatever issue most recently caught their flickering attention—based mainly on whatever is getting the most attention from the ruling-class press at the time. The opportunist begrudges the people for their inevitable return to work, for their return home, etc. They blame the people and hate them. Once they see a bonus in it for themselves and another crowd of thousands emerges, the opportunist will be late to the party, but will again get ready to put out fires for the ruling class. Importantly, they do not stay with the people.

These same types of opportunists impose their own disorganization. They hype up the virtue of spontaneity and do everything they can to secure a premature and unprincipled retreat.

Many genuine people who cut their teeth on the inspiring mass uprisings and protests movements are susceptible to demoralization when the tidal wave recedes back to the sea. The susceptibility to demoralization is based in exactly the same thing as their susceptibility to fatigue—in disorganization. What is worse, bourgeois ideology promotes demoralization and fatigue as acceptable conditions—anything to weaken. These new activists and the newly active masses who found so much hope eight months ago are not wrong in asking themselves, “What do we do now? Nothing has changed for the better and everyone has gone home.” It must be understood that battles will conclude with no clear victor in the war, and only through the organization of superior forces can the outcome of the war be determined—and only over a long period of time at that.

The Revolutionary Viewpoint

The revolutionary, the true revolutionary, is a rare person today in the US. He or she embodies all the contradictory traits of the system they live in. The revolutionaries are tirelessly optimistic and their spirits do not dampen even in the face of damaging blows and humiliating mistakes. Nothing and no one can defeat them.

When the wave returns to the sea, the revolutionaries have already begun to consolidate among what is left behind and make use of the temporarily altered conditions by extracting lessons. This is a start but it is not enough. What must be done is to stay with the masses—when they are no longer protesting en masse in the streets, they are somewhere. The revolutionary must stay firmly at their side and return with them—live with them, work with them, fight alongside them always, both in the ebbs and in the flows.

At times, the revolutionaries will be able to consolidate many and at others times only a few—each one counts and each is included sooner or later among the revolutionary ranks. Uprisings provide a new quality through experience and a new quantity through contact with the masses—the latter converts into a better quality and so on. Bonds are made between revolutionaries and the masses, and this is the most sacred bond known to mankind. It is hard to accept fatigue or demoralization once this fact is appreciated.

The revolutionary must understand that he or she must always have the utmost faith in the people. The contradictions mean they will rise again, higher and in a mightier storm. The best children of the class will always come forward in struggle, and they will take up their posts in the revolution. It is not a matter of whether or not another uprising will take place, but a matter of when—if the revolutionary activist is any good, she will keep her ears and eyes open, listening and looking for the faintest tremor or movement of the masses, and will become good at predicting the when. This forms a sequence. The revolutionary will then always be in a better place than the opportunist to act with the people, to help press them forward immediately.

Learning and summarizing experience only improves the revolutionaries’ abilities, and only improves their morale and strengthens their resolve. Learning and summarizing are what have been done here. Be ready and stay ready. Even when the crowds go home, the struggles continue and the revolutionaries remain firm in these struggles. Nothing and nobody can defeat them.

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