On Revolutionary Leadership and Mass Action


Some stood up once and sat down.
Some walked a mile  and walked away.
Some stood up twice then sat down.
I’ve had it, they said.

Some walked two miles then walked away.
It’s too much, they cried.

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools
They were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked
They walked the earth
They walked the waters
They walked the air.

Why do you stand they were asked, and
Why do you walk?

Because of the children, they said, and
Because of the heart, and
Because of the bread.
The cause
Is the heart’s beat
And the children born
And the risen bread.

— Daniel Berrigan

I am writing two days after the huge first step of the Egyptian democratic revolution, the driving out of Hosni Mubarak, the man about whom Vice President Joe Biden said, two weeks before his departure, “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Fortunately, the masses of the Egyptian people weren’t acting on behalf of the U.S. government, and they found the courage and the tactics to make history. February 11th, 2011 may end up being more important to world history than September 11th, 2001.

I know very little about the ins and outs of the groups which have been organizing for democracy and justice for decades in Egypt. But I do know enough about revolutions to know that without the work of those brave individuals and organizations, those “taken for fools, taken for being taken in,” those jailed, tortured, killed for risking those things, the successful uprising of the millions over the last three weeks would never have happened.

It is clear that in the new political situation with the military in formal control of the government, and with a protracted process taking place over many months to try to deepen the revolution and prevent cooptation or even a counter-revolution by pro-Mubarak elements, both the leaders and the masses will be repeatedly tested.

I fervently hope that this latest “laboratory of revolution” yields more positive results than what we have too often seen in the 20th century after the taking of power—which has not yet happened in Egypt—by the revolutionary forces. Given the positive interplay so far between the organized groups and the masses, there is reason to have hope.

This issue, the relationship between the organized, dedicated political forces working for fundamental change and the broad masses of the oppressed and disenfranchised, is the most decisive issue as far as the long-term success of efforts at social transformation.

There are at least two elements involved, one programmatic and the other process.

The programmatic element has to do with the policies advocated by the organized political forces. A truly democratic revolution, for example, would support an electoral system which was about proportional representation in government and which curtailed the ability of the rich to dominate it (neither of which are the case in the supposedly-democratic USA). It would be about a redistribution of economic resources from the obscene rich to low-income and working class people. It would support land reform, improved health care and education for all and the replacement of pro-Mubarak elements in the judiciary, the government, the police forces and elsewhere. It would consciously reject an approach of changing faces in high places with little of substance happening at the grassroots of society.

The process element has to do with HOW the advocacy for change and eventual implementation of it takes place. Structures and mechanisms need to be put in place that provide for accountability and meaningful input by the people into both the processes of determining the strategy and tactics of the revolution prior to the creation of a genuine popular democracy and the actions by a new government.

This is not a new idea. In both post-revolutionary Russia and Cuba, for example, conscious consideration and actual steps were taken toward this objective. In Russia, after Lenin died and Stalin rose to power, these beginning efforts were smashed. Cuba has had more success and continues to struggle with this issue.

What does all of this mean for those of us who are not in pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situations, who must slog along as best we can to keep the hope of positive social change alive and growing?

First, while we draw inspiration from the heroism and successes thus far in Egypt, we should look for articles, interviews and information that can help us better understand more objectively all that happened that led to the February 11th victory. We should continue to follow and learn from all that will be unfolding in coming weeks and months and provide support to on-going progressive and democratic efforts.

Secondly, the amazing, day-after-day, mass actions in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere should strengthen our commitment to the kind of outreach and education among grassroots people that leads to more of them coming forward to become activists and organizers themselves in a constantly growing and widening circle.

Finally, we need to consider the mix of tactics in Cairo that worked to neutralize the armed forces and eventually forced them to move to push out Mubarak. It was more than mass action in the streets. It was mass action that attempted to be nonviolent, but people were prepared to defend themselves, to defend their right to demonstrate and demand change, to fight with stones against the pro-Mubarak thugs when they attacked. This mass movement could not be called pacifist, but it also could not be called adventuristic or violent. From what I saw, the movement as a whole was open to the possibility and made efforts to try to bring about a generally nonviolent revolution, without being rigidly locked in to that approach.

Power to the people.

Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and is president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/jtglick. Read other articles by Ted.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 15th, 2011 at 10:57am #

    the key to it all: who governs a govt? it shld be never a matter of what governs a govt.

    do all people in u.s. superwise a govt? it seems to me only some people govern a govt. and the ones that do, some of them do more of it than others; while the top onepercent may hold 98% of the control of any u.s. govt.

    this renders any prez a mere safeway manager; nevertheless, fiercely defending the structure.

    it wld be nice if egyptians wld set up a new structure of society and governance in which referendums wld play a role also.
    unfortunately, i don’t see anybody in europe and elsewhere marching in support of the egyptians. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on February 15th, 2011 at 11:33am #

    It was mass action that attempted to be nonviolent, but people were prepared to defend themselves, to defend their right to demonstrate and demand change, to fight with stones against the pro-Mubarak thugs when they attacked. Ted

    The right to free speech and assembly and if that was ever needed it is needed now. Am very sure Ted knows what’s coming down the tract and because we waited to long either way it’s going to get ruff. There still is time not much and yes it will take an enormous effort that very sure part of that effort will be to slowdown. The pro-business forces in all there shapes and sizes will fight back cap and trade sorry that will be the last joke played on life third planet from the Sun. Tax carbon return the tax back to the people yes only a start and to accomplish that little feat will be one hell of a fight. Calm at peace the truth the knowledge and the pro-business forces heck all they have is the media in there back pocket, the so called policy makers on the take, and the money and power on a relentless basis to keep sending out messages that have zero to do with truth and knowledge how hard could it be as we outnumber them let’s be conservative about 8 to 2. Hay did anybody see Dick Armey you know freedom work’s on Fox New’s today had on a big white cowboy had they really do like there prop’s don’t they.

    A pyramid is a polyhedron with a polygonal base and triangles for sides.

  3. Deadbeat said on February 15th, 2011 at 12:16pm #

    It amaze me how members of the pseudo-Left tries to “embrace” the Egyptian Revolution yet when it had a modicum of an opening to alter the system they sabotage it. Mr. Glick was instrumental in sabotaging the 2004 Nader Campaign and an opportunity to build a viable 3rd Party and now wants to convince us he’s supports what’s happening in Egypt.

    The lesson of Egypt is they they know who and what their enemy is — Zionism and they are standing together to overthrow Zionist tyranny. Will Mr. Glick stand against Zionist dominance in the U.S? I doubt it. His stance in 2004 tells us quite the opposite.

  4. mary said on February 15th, 2011 at 2:29pm #

    Rise Up! Rise Up!

    The more than two- week long popular uprising in Egypt, at last, compelled Hosni Mubarak, ruler of that country, to step down by ceding to the basic condition of the protesters.

    He was at the helm of affairs of the Egyptian government for the last thirty years and had been enjoying all-sided American and Israeli assistance in financial, political and intelligence fields. However, ground realities established (once more) that arsenal of weapons, huge army and foreign support is no guarantee for continuation of power; nor they can prevent the caravan of the aspirations of the people from forging ahead. Whenever, the patience of the people overwhelms its brims it is set to lead its way as a strong tide.


  5. Don Hawkins said on February 16th, 2011 at 4:20am #

    The Weather Channel said the current La Nina event had now peaked, with Pacific Ocean temperatures increasing during the past month.

    Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Saunders said other La Nina indicators, such as the Southern Oscillation Index and trade winds, had also eased, prompting him to declare the La Nina event was now weakening.

    Mr Saunders said, although the La Nina has passed its peak, the global weather pattern was still tipped to bring widespread rain to Australia over the coming months.

    “This week most of the country will see significant rain, particularly the northern tropics, the Queensland coast and most of New South Wales,” he said.

    “After a dry start to the week, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania will also see rain, mainly from Friday to Sunday.”

    Mr Saunders said rain most areas of NSW could expect at least 10mm of rain this week, with some areas experiencing severe thunderstorms and flash flooding. Weather Channel

    La Nina that’s part of it.

    At least 34 people were killed when a river in south-eastern Bolivia burst its banks, sweeping away a passenger bus and a truck, authorities said on Sunday.

    Bodies have been washing up on the banks of the Mollepunku River since the incident late on Friday near the town of Pampahuasi, 700 kilometres south-east of the Andean nation’s capital, La Paz, police said. ABC

    Starting to add up.

    Did wet weather last summer in Saskatchewan help bring down Hosni Mubarak? The surprising answer is yes. The chain of events that links a poor 2010 wheat harvest in Western Canada to recent political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East – which culminated Friday in the forced resignation of Mubarak, the much-loathed Egyptian president – is raising difficult questions about world food production amid the cries of joy emanating from Tahrir Square in Cairo.


    And in America many eat like there’s no tomorrow any thought’s and why that happen’s. A massive wealth transfer oh there’s a transfer alright and has nothing to do with wealth.

    Because of the children, they said, and
    Because of the heart, and
    Because of the bread.
    The cause
    Is the heart’s beat
    And the children born
    And the risen bread.

    — Daniel Berrigan

  6. mary said on February 17th, 2011 at 1:25am #

    Some stood up….

    One American stood up and this is what they did to him.

    At Clinton Speech: Veteran Bloodied and Arrested for Standing Silently

    As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her speech at George Washington University yesterday condemning governments that arrest protestors and do not allow free expression, 71-year-old Ray McGovern was grabbed from the audience in plain view of her by police and an unidentified official in plain clothes, brutalized and left bleeding in jail.

    She never paused speaking.

    When Secretary Clinton began her speech, Mr. McGovern remained standing silently in the audience and turned his back. Mr. McGovern, a veteran Army officer who also worked as a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years, was wearing a Veterans for Peace t-shirt.

    Blind-sided by security officers who pounced upon him, Mr. McGovern remarked, as he was hauled out the door, “So this is America?” Mr. McGovern is covered with bruises, lacerations and contusions inflicted in the assault.

    more (plus photos) at link…

  7. mary said on February 18th, 2011 at 1:45am #

    Op Ed News
    McGovern Discusses His Arrest During Clinton’s Speech

    …Ray McGovern explained that it was in this spirit that he chose to protest Clinton’s policies and track record.

    “Hillary is the driving force, together with a few others, behind the wars in Afghanistan. She’s one of the big hawks in Iran. When I look at her and her husband that they don’t know the first thing about war. I do and so do my fellow Veterans for Peace. I have to make clear that we Veterans for Peace think that her policies are an abomination to the nation, that they are at cross purposes to the country and not everybody should applaud and give her the idea that she’s doing the right thing.”

    “I knew that Hillary knew, at the beginning of the war, that Hillary knew how things would go. There was a young lady who was working as Hillary Clinton’s personal staff chief, when she was a senator in 2002 and 2003, was in a class I taught in DC and I’d ask her to give her boss articles I wrote. And she did give them to her. So I know that. She made a political calculation that she needed to be strong because she was a woman even though she knew from us that the unintended consequences would be catastrophic. She knew all that and made that calculation.”

    … She is the height of hypocrisy. When people die because we have hypocrites at the top of our government, that compels me to make a statement in whatever way I can. It was not the theme of her speech that I was protesting. It was her war policies and support of Mubarak.”