There is democratic fervor and revolutionary ferment in many spots around the world today. There are mass and sustained demonstrations taking place throughout the Middle East. Some are revolutions, some appear more so to be engineered coup d’états – the intervention and attack by western imperialist forces on one side in a civil war in Libya seems best described as a coup-in-the-making. The United States, a nation that has been the most egregious slaughterer of civilians in history, pressed for involvement on the pretext of protecting civilian lives. It is an irony of the most sordid type. Yet, even back in the United States a populist uprising sprouted up against anti-labor legislation in Wisconsin.
Against this simmering backdrop, psychologist and author, Bruce Levine’s book, Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated and Battling the Corporate Elite, is extraordinarily relevant. Levine tackles a massively important subject: namely, how to achieve social justice.
Get Up, Stand Up is anti-war, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. It is about how to escape such destructive systems and societies.
Levine reveals one obstacle to escape from the system is so-called democracy. Levine finds democracy to be a game rigged to be won by elitists. The last US presidential election added to the historical evidence of a system predisposed to plutocrats. The result was that Barack Obama bailed out the Wall Street financiers with the money of the masses who have been bilked by the self-same tycoons.
It is also the masses who wind up paying for the wars of the elitists. The Nobel Prize peacenik, Obama, has raised expenditures for US militarism.
Levine opposes the wars of US empire, but he mislabels them. If one were unaware, then Afghan War and Viet Nam War would sound like civil wars, but it was a US war against Viet Nam, a US war against Afghanistan, and a US war against Iraq. So let us not obscure that fact by misleadingly labeling such “wars” minus the initiator and perpetrator of the violence.
Joblessness is on the increase, and with joblessness comes loss of self-respect and despair. Without financial means, then seeking needed health care becomes a luxury one must forgo. Why are people not fighting back?
Levine says people are living in a state of fear. “Fear breaks human beings, and America’s health care system creates fear for the unhealthy and healthy alike.”
Levine acknowledges the difficulty of getting past such a situation: “… without a large enough number of people regaining individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, even the best organizers will fail.”
Levine posits several reasons for people’s passivity, among them psychological explanations such as learned helplessness, abuse syndrome, cognitive dissonance, and others such as drugs, disinformation and propaganda, and alienation. Since solidarity is crucial to resistance, it follows that alienation would have a negative effect on resistance.
Higher education has long been pointed to as the way for lower-income classes to escape their penury. Some people even speciously claimed, despite palpable evidence to the contrary, that the education system was a meritocracy. Even the sham of a meritocracy crashed to the ground with the student loan debt that has burdened so many students during schooling and upon graduation. Levine calls it “indentured servitude.”
Big Brother is here. People can hardly move around in privacy anymore as CCTV has become increasingly omnipresent. Levine warns that such surveillance will be considered normal for the recent generations raised under watchful eyes.
Worker solidarity is imperiled as unions are targeted by governments and their corporate sponsors. Levine cites figures that reveal the wide gap between union and nonunion wages and benefits. Thus unions are targeted to better keep profits out of worker hands. Where unions do exist, all too often the union leadership has been co-opted by union leaders, which makes one wonder why workers don’t function by mass consensus instead.
The elitists also have a fear: workers uniting to overthrow them. That, Levine explains, is why the corporatocracy wages war on workers.
Schools are places where powerlessness in inculcated. Levine says, “A key way to break people is to deprive them of free and private time to reflect on who they are and what they truly care about.”
Levine does not fault teachers too much, noting that they function within an undemocratic system. However, in a system that routinely espouses the virtue of critical thinking, the paucity of critical thinking among educators can be staggering.
I know only too well the authoritarianism that is rife within schools. I asked at one school staff meeting if teachers were meant to impose a note-taking system upon all students or that students might be granted autonomy to choose a method that best suits them as diverse individuals. The answer was that they were to be compelled to adopt the system the school administration chose for them.
I replied, “That’s authoritarianism.”
“Yes,” came back the terse rejoinder.
No justification was forthcoming for the authoritarianism.
Levine also laments that attaining higher education entails “jumping through meaningless hoops” – contrary to what a critical thinker would willingly perform.
Levine also takes aim at mainstream psychology saying it buys into the prevailing economic system. That, however, would hold for most institutions within society. Levine touts liberation psychology, and compared to the human carnage wreaked by APA psychologists at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere in the US gulag, it is certainly a more humane human-centered approach.
Get Up, Stand Up argues that gaining individual self-respect and empowerment are crucial to overthrowing the classist system in society.
Levine sees benefit in a classless, non-hierarchical society. Levine states boldly his preference for anarchism despite the demonization of the term’s meaning.
To the argument that anarchism will not succeed because humans are intrinsically greedy, Levine rightly points out that this is assertion. Whether humans are greedy or altruistic: “no one can definitively prove their case.”
It is likeliest that human character is in large extent shaped by the system and society one finds oneself in. If so, and indubitably it is, then human character can be shaped by designing culture and society to elicit desirable traits.
The electoral battle field is a no-win scenario. The two-party Tweedle Dee-Tweedle Dum focus is distracting and enervating.
Levine holds that lesser evilism is bad for democracy. If lesser evilism is so terrible, one wonders what Levine meant when he wrote of the US presidential election in 2000, “… Nader and the Green party lost their luster.” It seems that one could just as well conversely state that lesser evilism gained luster, but for this writer, each election has adduced that lesser evilism appeases iniquity and only the evilists gain.
Levine recounts that elections are a long, long trail of defeats for progressives. What to do?
Levine calls for disruption, which he acknowledges is risky. It is not a novel call; it has been known by many for a long, long time. Workers have power in that their labor is required to work the factories and workplaces. Workers using their wages to consume is necessary to keep capitalism flowing. Disruption is another name for general strike.
Levine warns of “violent revolution, one risks the loss of life and the loss of even more power if defeated.” This is a risk. However, Levine does not address that violent revolution originates with the authoritarianism and classism of the capitalist system. Violence is the modus operandi of the elitists, and violent resistance is legitimized by the initial violence of the elitists.
Get Up, Stand Up examines alternatives to capitalist society, a dropping out of the rat race: communes, worker cooperatives, lower-cost online education or worker colleges.
The right to study in tuition free universities should be enjoyed by every person. If university academics truly are critical thinkers, they might ponder deeply whether the university hierarchy is justifiable and preferable.
Levine does not explore deeply an alternative economic system, and it would have improved Get Up, Stand Up if he had included discussion of such, for example, parecon which empowers workers and is non-hierarchical.
The basic thrust of Get Up, Stand Up is laudable. A few times the book digresses from its thesis, and that is when it read unevenly. For instance, Levine appears to take couched potshots at Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, referring to him as a “ruthless dictator” on one hand and “not all that powerful” on the other hand. Why does Levine use a figure demonized by the capitalist-imperialist hierarchy to make his points and rather unconvincingly?
Such examples are points of contention among leftists,1 as is the current civil war with many foreign interlopers in Libya.
Solidarity is a sine qua non of revolution. The general strike will require everyone to look after each other. Electoral strategies and military or economic interference in the systems of other states are potentially unity destroying topics better discussed and decided upon after the revolution is won.
Get Up, Stand Up is valuable for societal and psychological insights into what fosters and maintains continuation of egregious violence, exploitation of resources and maldistribution of wealth, and classism (the ignoble prejudice that one group is in some way superior as human beings to other groups). Getting out of this jaundiced cycle of capitalism is needed for humanity to fully progress.
- I do not use the term progressives here because progressives would not encourage or support violent intervention in the civil war of another state, especially by warmongering imperialist states that pursue regime change to exploit the resources of another state. [↩]