Global Protests Rage On: But Slogans Are Not Plans.


WHERE’S THE PLAN? Across the planet massive protests, like Californian forest fires, rage out of control. In Santiago, Chile, hundreds-of-thousands march and are met by tear gas and water cannons. In Hong Kong, the confrontations between protesters and police have become almost routine. In Beirut, the crowds, having already brought down the Lebanese Prime Minister, are now going after its President. But what do they want? Where’s the plan?

It is simply not enough to demand an end to “corruption”, or “inequality”, or the overbearing influence of the authorities in Beijing. These are just “lowest common denominator” demands: the sort of slogans that pull people onto the streets. They are not a plan.

There’s reason for this lack of specificity. The moment a protest movement begins to consider specific reforms it opens itself up to debate and division. Unity, difficult to maintain at the best of times, seldom survives the democratic consideration of political alternatives. The moment competing reform programmes are presented, and the mass protest movement begins sorting itself into supporters and opponents of the specific measures being proposed, politics rears its ugly head. The intoxicating unanimity of chanting slogans in the street gives way to the peevish horse-trading of constructing a political programme.

In the end, you can’t keep politics out of politics. A crowd is not a deliberative instrument – no matter how earnestly the Beirut masses insist that it is. Faced with the protesters’ fantasy, the exasperation of Lebanese parliamentarians is entirely understandable. In spite of their guarantees that the grievances of the people have been heard, and will be answered, the crowd stubbornly refuses to disperse. Their massive presence is all they bring to the table. It is not enough. Short of embracing the direct democracy of Ancient Athens, the crowd must, at some point, allow their elected representatives to do what they do.

The unreality in Hong Kong is even more pronounced. What do the protesters expect the Territory’s administrators to do? Set up an independent city state on the model of Singapore? Except, of course, their city state – unlike Singapore – will be defiantly democratic. No one seems to have a believable answer, however, when sceptics demand to know under whose protection this independent democracy will be established?

Are the young people in the streets proposing to throw themselves back into the arms of the United Kingdom? Or would they prefer Trump’s United States as their new sugar-daddy? And China? What do they suppose the People’s Republic will be doing as the Hong Kong population lines up for a second helping of imperialism? Do they really suppose that Beijing will cheerily wave good-bye as its most important financial hub simply walks away?

It is precisely to keep Hong Kong within its grasp that Beijing has ordered the Territory’s police to avoid the use of deadly force. Clearly, it is the Chinese Government’s intention to wait the protesters out. At some point, Beijing knows, these youngsters will begin to ask themselves how long they’re prepared to postpone completing their university studies. They will also begin to wonder whether the Territory’s extensive surveillance capabilities have put their personal details on file. And, if they have, how might that affect their future careers?

If, however, the protesters were able, somehow, to convince the rest of Hong Kong’s population to follow them into the arms of the imperialists, then Beijing would no longer have any reason to exercise restraint. The People’s Liberation Army would be unleashed upon the youth of Hong Kong with exactly the same orders it carried into Tiananmen Square in 1989. The resulting bloodbath would be carefully scaled to put an end to any thoughts mainland Chinese youth might have been entertaining of emulating Hong Kong’s example.

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The poor and the marginalised throughout Chile should also give thought to the intentions of their country’s armed forces. It took the democratic elements of Chilean society 17 years to persuade the generals to return to their barracks. How likely is it that they will stay there if buildings continue to be torched and shops continue to be looted? How long will the Chilean middle-class remain committed to democracy in the face of the poor’s open contempt for the rights of property-owners?

Over recent days, the language used by Chile’s right-wing President, Sebastian Pinera, has carried frightening echoes of the language used by Augusto Pinochet – the general who overthrew Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, in 1973. Rioting and looting, while undoubtedly cathartic, is not a plan.

Popular rage can frighten politicians: sensibly directed it can even chasten them. What rage cannot do, however, is serve as a substitute for reason. The young, well-educated Lebanese who are tired of economic mismanagement and corruption, and who long for the day when secular politics is able to replace the careful balancing-act that keeps the country’s Christian, Sunni and Shia citizens from falling into mutual communal slaughter, would be most unwise to confuse themselves for the Lebanese “people”. They may represent the best and the brightest which Lebanon has to offer, but they do not represent all of it. Has Hezbollah joined in the street protests? And what will happen if/when it does?

When the world witnessed the “Arab Spring” it waited in fervent hope for an Arab Summer that never came. The young, middle-class Egyptians who crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanded democracy. But, when they got it, the answer it provided to the question: “Who are the people, and what do they want?” was not at all to their liking. Within months, the soldiers were back in charge, and the people’s choice, the Muslim Brotherhood, were back in jail – or dead. In politics, as in no other human activity, people should be very careful what they wish for.

Planning for the future will always produce a richer harvest than merely wishing away the present. Protest, if it is to be effective, has to make more than noise – it has to make sense.


  1. Let’s put it this way. Any increase in the cost of living with out a corresponding increase in productivity means programmes for low wage beneficiaries just go away. Less aid, development, housing just means more people on the streets. Less medicines and basic and applied research.

    The government can not go out with its tin cup begging foreign investors for capital while austerity raises the cost of living. There’s no productivity left to trade. China has bought all our dairy, wood and water. What else is there to sell? Organs maybe.

    Interests rates are 2% which means the government rather than beg for foreign capital at 5%+ interest could borrow to expand the things that are important for the smooth running of the government at 2% interest. Y’know roads, hospitals, communications, public transport.

    It’s the fiscal stimulus staring the government in the face. We’ve already done it for Christurch only this crises is not like an earthquake. Austerity is a man made crises that pays the corrupt fraudsters and bankers that created the foreign debt crises in the first place.

    The difference though and this is important as Greece has shown with its foreign debt crises. The banks own all the debt and are forcing cuts to government services instead instead of expanding productivity to pay for the debts. Where as Japanese debt is mostly owned by its citizens who wouldn’t really demand that there poor neighbours be punished for dodgy financial advice from corrupt bankers. So the suggestion is to expose sovereign retirement funds to government bonds so every worker doesn’t become a debt slave to foreign capital.

  2. Was there a plan when the Roman empire ceased to exist in its once proud form or when the 1789 saw the end of the French Monarchy? This is the another example of the collapse of civilisation as we know it and its being brought on by “planned” indifference to the environment and the will of the people by those currently holding the reigns of power.

  3. What’s important in a revolution is the complete overturning of the power structure. Those who have power must be rendered powerless. Then you can start talking about real change. That’s just the way it works, and while circumstances in which this is a good idea are rare, they do exist.

  4. Or to put it another way, Elites’ idea of change is always them keeping control. For instance, if people complain that journalists are out of touch, the response will be to have the same people make minor changes to their output. In extreme cases, older journalists might be pensioned off, but the replacement will be some “bright young thing” from exactly the same class background who will develop in exactly the same way over time (half the time they’re the kids of people you’re trying to get rid of). What’s needed in this case is complete removal and replacement of the entire class.

    It’s the same in politics. Elites view public disquiet as reason for them to offer something new or replace existing members with clones–but they always stay in control. What they can’t countenance is their complete removal and replacement, which is what you need when the people running things have become sclerotic hopeless at their job. Perhaps the Chileans are getting close to that.

  5. Those commenting above are, of course, correct. Genuine revolutionary upheavals will result in the elimination of most of the incumbent elites. Eventually, however, the delirium of the revolutionary moment passes and the people realise that while they were celebrating the downfall of the ancien regime a new elite has quietly installed itself.

    In the immortal words of “The Who”:

    “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.”

    • True, but sometimes it’s an improvement. Sometimes it’s not even revolutionaries that cause it, but the elites destroy themselves, as they did in WW1, which saw more or less the end of the aristocracy’s real political and social power.

  6. A revolution worthy of the name should see a fundamental shift in class power, not just any number of sorely needed reforms, or a move from say authoritarianism to bourgeois democracy.

    Such revolutions are rare indeed, and always subject to being rolled back via a combination of their internal problems and counter attack from corporates and armed imperialist powers.

    Why begrudge the current wave of protestors? apart from the Hong Kong lot perhaps who seem to never heard of strategy and tactics! Taking action is where people can learn a lot and move to a higher stage–or not as may often be the case. But the spark will catch eventually. If you fight you might lose; but if you do not fight you will definitely lose.

  7. …AND Trotter-sky is not of the Left… he is a member of the propertied class who acts in his own interests, first and foremost…

        • As I was saying in last Thursday’s open mic to you, Marc, you want people to hate Bomber and Castro wants people hating on Chris Trotter. In a million years.

          • Nope, I do not ‘hate’ Bomber or any of you, I just want to challenge you, to get real, to talk truth and to support and take radical action that is needed, not beat around the bush and dilly dally all over the show.

            At times I blow my collar, as it seems so ridiculous what goes on in this little Niu Zillind country, at times even on TDB.

            • Well I think it’s more likley there’s a little bit of residual trauma hitting to close to home when Chris Trotter spoke about in his blog titled The Feeble Protest of One.

                • I’m sorry if I caused you some confusion but I won’t accept when I answer a question that that automatically means that I can not go back to the question that caused said confusion in the first place.

                  The inference Castro implied was that Chris Trotter could not be trusted because he owns property which I disagreed with. He found some support in you, Marc so I then stated that the feeble protest of one, which is you Marc, is not evidence or supplary to Castro’s claim that Chris a trotter can not be trusted.

                  If it is true that Chris Trotter can not be trusted then he would have lied more than once or at least regularly lied which isn’t true or at least I’m not proving the negative for you. If Trotter is lying it would be pretty straight forward to just quote from the blog. I don’t think you’ll find anything that substantiates the claim which is why I assumed you to just wanted people to hate Trotter and thus read less of his stuff because he’s not saying what you want him to say.

                  You’re very manipulative if you ask me. Further I care a little less about your feelings. My next replies will just be quotes of you throwing shade on the daily blog. Just waiting for you to provide me the opening.

  8. Perhaps the plan is to nationalise and socialise Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Netflix and the rest, same as the corporations, utility companies, private residential accommodation providers, the remnants of media, and what else there is?

    The people have realised, negotiating with the establishment brings nothing, look at our Labour LIght and Greenwash MPs, some of whom were once activists, then became ‘slacktivists’, and now are part of the establishment and of the furniture.

    Time to burn the old furniture, and to throw of the shackles, the feeling seems to be, hence open rebellion and revolution in its early phases.

    • Yknow I write harshly about Labour and The Greens and NZFirst because I want them to pull it together and not take any shortcuts. That doesn’t reflect on society because individuals are complicated and over time with more people participating it won’t just be one persons decision on this or that or what ever. What we have is a politics that’s try’s to please everyone because that’s how you win a popularity contest. The tragedy is that pleasing people waste time which we don’t have. Why rank politicians as if it was a beauty contest? Because it serves a useful way function for our politicians. When you think nothing is changing or that your talents aren’t being used satisfactorily…, we don’t do that for most people, we fire them when ever the employers thinks it profitable to do so and sticks everyone in jobs that people hate and here’s where the National Party comes in because they claim it’s all your fault and that you do not have merit.

    • You don’t need that. The present divisions in society are mostly between the over-55s and everyone else. You can see this in recent elections around the world: what used to be a class division is now more of an age division. Almost all the salient issues involve the welfare and interests of the young being sacrificed to benefit the old–climate is just the most obvious one.

      There are various social democratic forms of society that have been tried and which work reasonably well, so the problem is really only a political problem: removing the political, economic, and social power of the old. They just need to retire and STFU.

  9. Comrade Trotter is not one for the barricades, he sits behind in the distant tent, strings his guitar, and sings songs of consolation to the wounded, at times with a hint of ‘encouragement’. He is not made for revolution himself, that is where others are required to lead.

    • The Daily Blog and the people who make up its content and debate the topics and issues at hand literally changes the narrative theough share force and purity of the truth. Labour for 8 years was polling bellow 30 and national is still polling above 40 after 8 years. It was assumed that National would form government in 2017 not because of some myth or mysticism or conspiracy but because we won the policy debate. Even a cursory look at Green and NZFirst policy shows they’re incomparable with National and thanks to Martyn Bomber Bradbury, Chris Trotter, Frank and others they were able to expose that to enough people and win the debate. Y’know the only poll that matters is on election night. That’s what I think leadership is about.

      • We still need a new party and movement, as you support the stale old diet, leading to disease within society and people’s minds.

  10. Chile seems to me to be central to us –y’know, just our egalitarianism. Our country putting up with 20-30 % desperate disgusts me, like the old New Zealander I am. This apparent modern willingness to put up with it. I prefer everything but that. Becoming our American cousins.

    • Because it is in Sleepy Hobbit Land not quite as extreme as in Chile, the people put up with it, and dare not risk the bit they have, including their ‘careers’ or ‘jobs’. It shows that most people are short term thinkers and real cowards.

  11. Expression is a necessary blunderbuss. When and if Egypt comes to just govt they will leave behind the most recent dictators and prefer the brave protestors. Bloody absolutely for Chile demo-crats. What Friedmanite economics did to ordinary people.

    Sure it frequently blows up in faces — not sure about Hong Kong, let alone Beijing 89 — but it pushes truth and justice on. And we all know when the true story of earth is writ the guy stopping the tank was right. And the tank crew.

  12. Most important, given this ‘Labour’ govt, is a mental revolution. They are not willing to present a target when we need to go over the top. Perhaps a ‘New Labour Party’ . You’re getting reactionary, Chris. Unnerstanable. You’ve been hurt every which way.

  13. Ah yeah , but a graphic example of the narrownindedness of politics closer to home is the moderator weka…

    Now… closer to home we have a mod on the Standard who is deleting posts, no matter how detrimental to her personal views, and I ask you…. is this not reminiscent of the same sort of tactics that exists in the CCP manipulations of internet use?

    Surely we can find similarities.

    I’ve threatened her with exposing her biased , one eyed political viewpoints, … and I think its worth highlighting, – if only because it underlines the sort of political diatribe that is common to the very thing Chris Trotter speaks about… that of a ‘activist front’ that is so far ahead of-itself it cannot perceive its existence as anything more than a force for good… where in fact, it is exactly the opposite.

    A clarion call for a rabid , morbid , poorly thought out assault on an assumed moral high ground that does not in fact , actually exist.

    Similar to the one Mr Trotter names with the …

    ….’ When the world witnessed the “Arab Spring” it waited in fervent hope for an Arab Summer that never came. The young, middle-class Egyptians who crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanded democracy. But, when they got it, the answer it provided to the question: “Who are the people, and what do they want?” was not at all to their liking. Within months, the soldiers were back in charge, and the people’s choice, the Muslim Brotherhood, were back in jail – or dead. In politics, as in no other human activity, people should be very careful what they wish for ‘ …

    This is what I mean…

    When truth arises, and the historical facts emerge,… it has a strange way of dividing the bullshitters from the truth-tellers.

    And whether its cannibalism in these Isles or the Scottish Viking Hebrides , the fact of shitting out your enemy’s remains the morning after the drinking and the massacre and the butchery is not really that much different from shitting out your political rivals remains after a mass political demonstration,… the question is…

    Just what have you attained,… what long term progressive political advantage have you actually achieved ?… other than to have wreaked carnal destruction in the basest motives of revenge upon your enemy’s…

    Something with which even wolves and chimpanzees seek to endeavor…

    Really… what have you attained?

    And yet we call ourselves ‘ human’.

  14. “….The People’s Liberation Army would be unleashed upon the youth of Hong Kong with exactly the same orders it carried into Tiananmen Square in 1989. The resulting bloodbath….”

    This did not happen. And this egregious piece of propaganda neatly illustrates the folly of assuming that – on the basis of msm “reportage” – we have the least idea of what underpins protest in other parts of the world.

    Anent Tiananmen Square: at the time, we knew people who were in Beijing: one lot on holiday and an academic, all visiting from NZ. The tourists watched events from their accommodation, which overlooked Tiananmen Square. It was the days before e-mail: we got a letter from them, giving us a blow-by-blow account. They sat on the balcony of their room with a G&T, watching the protesters. There was no shooting. Had there been any, these were NZers: they’d have been under the bed, or demanding a transfer to other accommodation. The visiting academic’s account was similar.

    The Tiananmen Square protests were fomented by western agencies: a failed attempt at a “colour” revolution. The same is true of what’s happening in Hong Kong today.

    I’d have scarcely thought that it needed to be said: take what you read in the msm with a very large handful of salt. We don’t know for sure the drivers underlying what’s going on elsewhere in the world, so we should refrain from making judgements on such events. On the basis of what I’ve read from dissenting journalists, diplomats and academics over the last 25 years or so, I assume western – especially US – interference, unless anyone can produce incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

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