If there was a general election tomorrow, for whom would you vote? Abe Lincoln’s not standing but I’ll get back to him in a minute. So, in the absence of Mr Lincoln, who would you choose? The money-grubbing Tories and their Lib-Dem lapdogs? Milliband Minor and the heirs of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Nigel Farage and his neanderthal gang of Little Englanders? The well-meaning but ineffectual Greens perhaps? Would you actually vote at all?
When Russell Brand told Jeremy Paxman on a Newsnight interview last October that he didn’t vote because none of the parties were worth voting for, Prime Minister David Cameron sneered that Brand should let him know if he had a better idea than democracy. The point Mr Cameron – and all who engage in the “green-bench pantomime” of Westminster – is that, if by democracy you mean “government of the people, for the people, by the people” which is about the best definition I’ve ever heard of democracy, then we don’t have one.
If we did have one, and if our politicians had the courage to stand up to the corporations who de facto run our country, Russell Brand and many other increasingly disaffected citizens (citizens, not subjects, please note) might look forward to the prospect of casting their vote in the hope that it would make a difference. But they know (as I know and as I suspect you know) that we don’t have a democracy, the vast majority of politicians won’t stand up to be counted, and the way we vote won’t make a blind bit of difference.
What has Abraham Lincoln got to do with all this? Well, he understood that replacing one government with another of a different stripe is not always enough and that sometimes it is the system of government that needs to be changed. In 1861, his inaugural address as the 16th President of the United States of America included these words:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
Who would have thought it? Abe Lincoln who fought a bloody civil war to maintain the Union, also upheld the revolutionary right of the people to dismember or overthrow their government when their constitutional right to amend it proved inadequate to meet their needs. Of course, he had the advantage of being a citizen-president and neither a political apparatchik nor a member of the ruling class, so it was perhaps easier for him to think for himself than it is for our institutionally entrenched leaders.
And, if we decide to exercise our revolutionary right, what sort of revolution should we stir up? Guillotining aristos and hanging bankers from lampposts (tempting though the prospect might be) is somewhat crude and a bit passé. The French and the Russians have already tried that and it didn’t do them much good. The media-savvy Zapatistas offer a more fashionable, rock and roll, post-modern style of revolution. Subcommandante is a pretty groovy title and I quite fancy the idea of wearing a Mexican-style bandolier and balaclava, though there isn’t much virgin rainforest in Britain in which to hide nor – so far as I am aware – are there any long-lost indigenous tribes to offer us shelter.
We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution
There is a place and time for armed struggle but it’s not here and it’s not now. Not yet, anyway. No, the most appropriate way to deal with the wizards behind the curtain is to show just how ridiculous and irrelevant they are. As Arundhati Roy said:
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire [for which, read self-appointed economic and political ruling class], but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
Will those in power tremble at such a prospect? Probably not; though they should because it is not just the needy and dispossessed who have become utterly disenchanted with their behaviour. It is also those who, at first sight, might be perceived as natural supporters of the status quo: we are not wealthy though we have something to lose; we are not poor though our children may be struggling to get on; we are not politically active though we are intelligent and well-informed. We are the middling mass of people without whose support neither governments nor systems of government can long survive.
Many of us are desperately concerned about the well-being of the planet; incensed by the crass greed of financiers and capitalist fat-cats; and appalled by the partisanship, cronyism and myopia of politicians. What on earth makes our lame excuse of a government think that we can be bought off by scraping a meagre 50 quid off our fuel bills by reducing green levies and letting energy companies off the hook? At the same time they were quite willing to countenance an obscene 35% increase in average salaries for investment bankers last year to £1.6 million when public sector workers including doctors, nurses, firemen and police officers, social workers and civil servants have seen wage rises frozen at just 1 per cent a year since 2010.
If those who claim to rule in our name (and the unaccountable, self-interested corporations who exert so much influence behind the scenes) carry on like this they’ll make revolutionaries of us all. In the meantime, what can we do – we middling people? We can make it clear that we see through the ludicrous stories we’re being brainwashed to believe; we can choose to live lives that are less dependent upon our own complicity in the systems we despise; and we can remind our erstwhile rulers that this country belongs not to them but to all those who inhabit it.
The sin of silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
It is time to tell our own stories.
It is time to speak out.
Well said, Geoff!
I love the energy and passion of this piece. Those words from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address ring out loudly! Methinks the middle classes are too busy tending to personal & filial accomplishment and wealth-generation to really open up to the needs of our wider society. Not much impetus for them to become revolutionaries… 🙂