Shelves: I found this well meaning, but all rather tentative and wet behind the ears. I dont want to doubt its sincerity - Im just not hugely surprised that a few years on from its publication, examples of ordinary people changing politics remain rather scarce. Ordinary people will not take power and change politics in the 21st century. At most, theyll make small inroads, and perhaps advance some finite correctives. The actions of Carne Rosss ordinary people arent what marketers call scaleable. We need I found this well meaning, but all rather tentative and wet behind the ears.

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Occupy, the Arab spring and MeToo are other recent examples of this new politics. Some of it is good. Some of it is not: a leaderless movement, self-organised on Reddit, helped elect Donald Trump. Leaderless movements spring from frustration with conventional top-down politics, a frustration shared by many The Arab spring began with the self-immolation of one despairing young man in Tunisia; the revolt rapidly spread across the region, just as protests have proliferated in France.

We cannot predict which agent or what event might be that trigger. But we already know that the multiplying connections of our worldoffer an unprecedented opportunity for the rise and spread of leaderless movements.

Leaderless movements spring from frustration with conventional top-down politics, a frustration shared by many, not only those on the streets. Polls suggest the gilets jaunes are supported by a large majority of the French public.

Who believes that writing to your MP, or signing a petition to No 10 makes any difference to problems such as inequality, the chronic housing shortage or the emerging climate disaster? Even voting feels like a feeble response to these deep-seated problems that are functions not only of government policies but more of the economic system itself.

What such movements oppose is usually clear, but what they propose is inevitably less so: that is their nature. The serial popular uprisings of the Arab spring all rejected authoritarian rule, whether in Tunisia, Egypt or Syria.

But in most places there was no agreement about what kind of government should replace the dictators. In Eygpt, the Tahrir Square protests failed to create an organised democratic political party that could win an election. Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood, long highly organised and thus prepared for such a moment, stepped into the political vacuum. Play Video Riot police use teargas and water cannon in clashes with gilets jaunes in Paris — video report When the demand is for change in social relations— norms more than laws — such as the end of sexual harassment, the results can be as rapid but also more enduring and positive.

The MeToo movement has provoked questioning of gender relations across the world. The British deputy prime minister, Damian Green , was forced to resign; in India, a cabinet minister. The effects are uneven, and far from universal, but sexual harassers have been outed and ousted from positions of power in the media, NGOs and governments. Some mass action has required leadership. The race discrimination that confronted the US civil rights movement was deeply entrenched in both American society and its laws.

King correctly judged, however, that real and lasting equality required the reform of capitalism — a change in the system itself. In a sense, his objective went from the singular to the plural. And that is where his campaign hit the rocks. Momentum dissipated when King started to talk about economic equality: there was no agreement on the diagnosis, or the solution.

The Occupy movement faced a similar problem. It succeeded in inserting inequality and economic injustice into the mainstream political conversation — politicians had avoided the topic before.

Ideas were soon plastered up, from petitioning Washington DC to replacing the dollar — many of which, of course, were irreconcilable with each other. But leaderless movements have largely proved incapable of such complicated decision-making, as anyone at Zuccotti Park will attest.

Conventional party politicians, reasserting their own claim to legitimacy, insist that such problems can only be arbitrated by imposing more top-down policy. But when most feel powerless about the things that matter, this may only provoke further protests.

Ultimately, to address profound systemic challenges, we shall need new participatory and inclusive decision-making structures to negotiate the difficult choices. An example of these forums has emerged in parts of Syria , of all places.

Rightly, this is precisely what the Extinction Rebellion is also demanding. Inevitably, leaderless movements face questions about their legitimacy. One answer lies in their methods. The Macron government has exploited the violence seen in Paris and elsewhere to claim that the gilets jaunes movement is illegitimate and anti-democratic. Mahatma Gandhi, and later King, realised that nonviolent action — such as the satyagraha salt march or the Montgomery bus boycott — denies the authorities this line of attack.

On the contrary, the violence used by those authorities — the British colonial government or the police of the southern US states — against nonviolent protestors helped build their own legitimacy and attracted global attention. Complexity science tells us something else important. System-wide shifts happen when the system is primed for change, at so-called criticality.

In the Middle East there was almost universal anger at the existing political status quo, so it took only one match to light the fire of revolt. There will be more leaderless movements to express this frustration, just as there will be more rightwing demagogues, like Trump or Boris Johnson, who seek to exploit it to their own advantage. For the right ones to prevail, we must insist on nonviolence as well as commitment to dialogue with — and not denunciation of — those who disagree. Messily, a new form of politics is upon us, and we must ensure that it peacefully and democratically produces deep systematic reform, not the counter-reaction of the authoritarians.

Get ready.


Occupy Wall Street and a New Politics for a Disorderly World

This is the stark conclusion of a former high-flying British diplomat who quit the Foreign Office in disgust over Iraq and who has since worked with emerging governments in trying to assert themselves on the world stage. This is an impassioned, idealistic critique of the state of global politics and the deepening rift between those with power and those without. Most of all this is a mea culpa. It is refreshing for a non-fiction author to be so brutal about himself. Ross was one of an elite corps of diplomats, fast-tracked to a high position at a relatively young age. He would probably have received a top ambassadorship — with all the baubles of status and comfort that he admits he found attractive — had he not jumped ship. He contends that the Brits and their allies knew pretty much all along that Saddam Hussein did not possess significant WMD.


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This article will forever disqualify me from govt service, thx KatrinaNation! So pervasive is this disillusionment with the current order that it is hard to find anyone prepared to defend it. Disorder is the new order; disequilibrium rules, and old assumptions no longer hold. As a diplomat in the British foreign service, I served deep inside one bastion of conventional politics—the world of international diplomacy. This breach triggered a deeper questioning of the way things are done.


Carne Ross



The Leaderless Revolution by Carne Ross – review


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