The Ideology of Revolution

Trapped: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom

Adam Curtis

BBC (2007)

Film Review

Part 3 We Will Force You to be Free

Part 3 is about the philosophy of revolution, as articulated by the Algerian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon (author of Wretched of the Earth and Black Faces, White Masks). Fanon, who studied in Paris, was strongly influenced by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre, who viewed economic equality as essential to personal freedom, believed true freedom was only possible through the overthrow of bourgeois society via violent revolution. Fanon was convinced that the western elites got into people’s heads and turned them into zombies devoid of the ability to think critically or act altruistically for the collective welfare of the community. He also believed that the mere act of organized violence freed people from their competitive individualistic conditioning.

Fanon’s ideas had major influence over numerous third world revolutionaries, including Che Guevara in the 1952 Cuban revolution, Pol Pot in the 1975 Cambodian revolution and Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Pol Pot believed the only way to rid society of bourgeois self-interest was to kill the entire bourgeoisie – all 3 million of them.

Positive and Negative Liberty

The documentary goes on to discuss the work of British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Berlin believed only two types of freedom, which he called positive and negative liberty, were possible. He labeled Fanon’s type of freedom “positive liberty,” as it involved a new elite forcing the masses to adopt a new way of thinking through violence. In contrast, “negative liberty,” allowed individuals to do whatever they want so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of anyone else.

Curtis contends that both types of so-called liberty involve violence and coercion. As examples, he offers the “shock therapy” the US corporate elite carried out in Russia in 1992 and in Iraq in 2003. While on the surface, both instances of “shock therapy” looks like pure exploitation by US banks and corporations, both were examples of the neoconservative doctrine of spreading “democracy” via armed force.

Shock Therapy in Russia

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, US vulture capitalists invaded Russia and pressured the new regime to abandon its centrally controlled economy virtually overnight. All subsidies for food, energy and other basic necessities were discontinued and most of Russia’s state owned industries were privatized. Millions of Russians lost their jobs and were plunged into abject poverty, as Russian oligarchs and American venture capitalists stripped the newly privatized industries of their wealth. Face with the loss of government subsidies, ordinary Russians lined up on the street and traded everything they owned for food.

In 1993, with the economy on the verge of collapse, Boris Yeltsin dissolved Parliament and launched a military coup to install himself as absolute ruler. He had to borrow money from the oligarchs to run his government, for which he handed over the remaining state-owned industries.

By 1998, the oligarchs and their American investors had bled Russia dry and the currency collapsed. Yeltsin was forced to resign and the Russian people elected Putin as president. The latter moved quickly to strip the oligarchs of their wealth and jailed them or forced them into exile. The vast majority of the Russian people adored him. They didn’t care if they lost basic freedoms (e.g. of speech, the press and assembly) because it was a better alternative than starvation.

Shock Therapy in Iraq

The Americans applied similar shock therapy during their occupation of Iraq, privatizing all the state owned industries (selling them for a pittance to US investors) and writing a new constitution that allowed foreign companies to expatriate 100% of their profits tax free.

In Iraq, the brutal US occupation would enhance the rise of a radical Islamist movement violently opposed to both western colonization and exploitation and the selfish, hedonistic and morally bankrupt lifestyle that seemed to be the driving force behind US foreign policy.

The US and Britain, in turn, responded to the threat of Islamic terrorism by severely restricting the freedom of their own citizens.

Both Fanon and Berlin Were Wrong

The two conclusions Curtis draws is that 1) both the so-called positive and negative liberty Berlin describes lead to violence and coercion and 2) Berlin was wrong in claiming that all attempts to change the world for better lead to tyranny.

My own perspective is that both Fanon and Berlin are wrong. As educated members of the upper middle class, they both made the mistake of assuming that the working class thinks the same way they do, i.e. that the working class is afflicted to the same extent as the middle class by individualism and competitive self interest.

Both failed to appreciate or understand that working class people share a distinct culture with its own values, language and world view. In fact, the issue of working class culture received little attention in academic circles prior to the 1970s.* Basic to this culture are the loyalty and group allegiance based on shared hardship.

Both are deeply ingrained values stemming from early childhood experience, which makes them difficult to reverse with mass media messaging, no matter how pervasive it is.

This is certainly my experience in working with blue collar families for 33+ years. It’s also born out by working class patterns of charitable giving.**


* Some of the better known authors on working class culture include Lillian Breslow Rubin (Worlds of Pain), Richard Sennett (Hidden Injuries of Class), Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey (Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class), and Alfred Lubrano (Limbo: Blue Collar Roots and White Collar Dreams).

**Studies of working class charitable giving:

 

Free link to Part 3: The Trap 3 We_Will_Force_You_To_Be_Free_BBC/

4 thoughts on “The Ideology of Revolution

  1. Tubularsock tends to agree with your experience of the “working classes” having “. . .the loyalty and group allegiance based on shared hardship . . .” And that being based on early childhood experiences does create a very powerful imprint. We all have difficulty recognizing how prevalent our five-year-old-shelves are is our present lives.

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    • This is what I really love about living in New Zealand. There is no middle class here (they all leave to earn higher salaries in Australia and the UK). Whenever I encounter Kiwis from blue collar backgrounds, it seems to make no difference how much bullshit they watch on TV. The veneer of individualism and consumerism (it’s hard to be a consumer when you have no money) is skin deep and evaporates after about 10 minutes of conversation.

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  2. ” . . . . They didn’t care if they lost basic freedoms (e.g. of speech, the press and assembly) because it was a better alternative than starvation.”

    “By 1998, the oligarchs and their American investors had bled Russia dry and the currency collapsed.”

    Having someone like Putin clearly was a better alternative for the people of Russia. I wonder why so many people refuse to understand this.

    As far as the middle classes go, to my mind it has not necessarily to do with how much you own or how much you earn. Everything needs to be in a balance for a well functioning society. Not everyone can be middle class and not everyone should be working class. There should be a place for everyone. I think too, as a group working class people are more in touch with people who have “fallen on hard times”. – “To help each other out”, this comes very naturally to working class people.

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