Last month, Muftah presented the first in a short series of exclusive excerpts from Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam’s latest book, On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today, published by Bloomsbury in October 2013. The second excerpt – taken from the book’s second chapter, “Between Power and Resistance in Praxis,” is below.
These extracts, specially selected and made available to Muftah by the author himself, are part of an ongoing Special Issue here at Muftah, featuring numerous cultural, political, and popular analyses entitled, “The Arab Spring – Three Years On.”
Muftah readers interested in purchasing the book can receive a 35% discount by entering the code GLR 9XR at www.bloomsbury.com.
The Art of Resistance
Power and resistance: Between 2009 and the production of this book, world politics have been shaken by recurrent battles that have given theorists and activists ample material to reflect upon and theorize. What are some of the conceptual lessons that we can learn from these protests? What do they tell us about the politics of radicalism, power and resistance? Can we discern new tendencies in the way people revolt? The first striking aspect addressing these questions is that from Tehran to Athens, Cairo to Madrid, Tunis to Ohio people were not moved by all-encompassing ideologies. It was not Marx who drove the people onto the streets. Neither was there in the Arab-Muslim world a particularly Islamic ideology with a totalitarian claim that gave the revolts momentum. The bulk of the demonstrators carrying the events were not morphed into one ideological group with an all-encompassing claim by an avant-garde or a charismatic point of fixation for the masses. These were not modernist ideological projects, in the sense that they were not trying to advocate total revolution of some sort. The grievances were geared to very specific socio-economic issues and political demands. In short, these were ‘bread and butter’ revolts as much as movements for political emancipation, rather different from the revolutions of the twentieth century in Russia China, Cuba and Iran which brought about more abrupt and immediate changes to the ancien régimes in place.
Secondly, the revolts and demonstrations played out on a broad canvas, as none of the protests movements sketched out above were provincial or cloistered locally. While the demonstrators organized in confined spaces – major streets, squares, public areas – their demands and activities were spread out on a vast plane permeated by molar lines, interspersed mental images, scattered political activities and economic agendas dispersed within globalized, networked polities. In this respect, online networks certainly made the organization of protests more efficient because they multiplied the recipients of information who had instant access to updates about where to gather and how to organize. They caused a domino effect on the Internet which galvanized a large number of followers in a relatively short time. This facilitated the recruitment of protesters and their identification with the cause in a decentralized yet highly efficient and pluralistic way. The absence of physical headquarters, a centralized politburo that would organise the resistance, is an important departure from previous revolts and revolutions and it is indicative of the post-modern context within which contemporary resistance reveals itself.
While online networks are very functional for organizing and coordinating social movements, they do not automatically translate into a political dividend. For instance, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Occupy London demonstrators that set up a ‘tent city’ around St. Paul’s cathedral in the capital for weeks did not achieve decisive political concessions from the state. The online networks and the occupation of public spaces elicited a lot of support and media attention, but the very fact that there was no intellectual framework to the movements or an effective decision-making process to articulate the aims of the protesters is a part of the explanation as to why they failed in their efforts to bring about lasting political and socio-economic changes. The daily assemblies in the occupy tent towns that were leaderless were very functional to simulate radical democratic politics, a communal utopia that resembled an anarcho-egalitarian order, but the minimalist consensual agendas that came out of these meetings were devoid of political stamina. Post-modern modes of resistance cannot be oblivious to the determinations of power. Within a regime of truth that is as intrusive as in advanced liberal-capitalist societies in the west, the nodal points of resistance need to be coordinated in order to produce effective demands and a political infrastructure to translate them. What is needed to combat a politics of ‘truth’ that delimitates political choice is a counter-cultural politics of resistance that transcends different strata of society and their cultural loci.