Symposium: "Arab Spring, European Summer, American Fall"

As the year 2011 wore on, protest banners asserted a thread of commonality that also runs across its offerings: “Arab Spring, European Summer, American Fall.” Symposium editors Ian J. Seda-Irizarry and Maliha Safri collect pieces touching on events that transfixed the world and excited radical activists and theorists. We cannot help but think of Marx's writings on 1848 as we struggle to make sense of the contagious revolts of 2011. In the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the often-neglected Revolution and Counterrevolution, or Germany in 1848, Marx undertakes a different mode of analysis situating class struggle in historically specific and detailed terms, generating an influential model of scholarship for subsequent generations. Ultimately, he argues that counterrevolutionary forces usurped the final outcomes both times, despite the genuinely radical revolutionary potential of France during the “June Days,” of Germany and Italy in 1848, and later, of the Paris Commune in 1871. In the same vein, each of the symposium's authors seeks to analyze the specific class struggles that have culminated in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Spanish revolt of the Indignados, always keeping in mind that counterrevolutionary forces are actively seeking to reverse any progress made.

In the first piece, “The Arab Revolts: The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born,” Yasser Munif turns to precisely the point that Marx turned in his writings on 1848: the fragile coalitions that may lead to revolutionary or counterrevolutionary changes. Munif examines three very different sites of the Arab Spring—Egypt, Algeria, and Syria—none of whose final outcomes are certain at the moment. In the case of Egypt, he argues that a coalition brought together the labor movement, anti-authoritarian activists, and the Muslim Brotherhood in such a way that the military had no choice but to oust Mubarak in order to preserve the economic and political power threatened by the more radical demands of protesters. At the other end of the spectrum, Syrian protesters have not been able to coalesce into a “solid counterhegemonic force yet.” Munif demonstrates that in each country, the success of counterhegemonic coalitions is contingent upon historically specific factors, and must combat counterrevolutionary forces.

In “Prefiguring the Realm of Freedom at Occupy Oakland,” Emily Brissette describes the nuanced process of collectivity and subject-formation in OWS Oakland and in a later-occupied tract of land in Albany. She argues that the OWS movement is an instantiation of prefigurative politics in which participants strive to create a more just class vision in the “here and now,” rather than in an always-deferred postrevolutionary moment, striking the same chord played by J. K. Gibson-Graham's 1993 RM article, “Waiting for the Revolution, or How to Smash Capitalism While Working at Home in Your Spare Time.” Since “being part of the movement meant being present in those spaces and/or participating in lengthy general assemblies,” OWS operated on and transformed subjects in an immediate way, resulting in “a realm of freedom and a partial reconfiguration of the realm of necessity along more emancipatory lines.” At the same time, Brissette insightfully touches on the tension confronting all those interested in prefigurative politics: that in addition to building up the alternative communities and class forms, we must also struggle on a strategic anticapitalist front in order to generate macro-social transformation. Without the latter political strategy, prefigurative projects (such as OWS Oakland and the Albany occupied gardens) will be subject to evictions and demolition.

And last, Mario Espinoza Pino turns to the Spanish 15-M Movement in “Politics of Indignation: Radical Democracy and Class Struggle beyond Postmodernity.” Here, he tackles the thorny issue of representation (an issue common to all of the resistance movements in actuality)—how were/are the Indignados represented in media discourses? As millions gathered in city spaces across the country, the heterogeneous group was almost immediately dismissed by mainstream media as having ambiguous and unclear demands. However, Pino argues that the heterogeneity reflects a different kind of class character, echoing the analysis of E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class. Even as this heterogeneity is constituted by a different modality of class struggle, it runs against limits as well, given the lack of centralization through institutionalized party politics, as Pino argues.

Table of contents with links to articles:

Rethinking Marxism
Publication/Event Date: 
May, 2013