“Certain years in history — 1848, 1917, 1968, 1989 — conjure up images of street protests, mass demonstrations and revolutionary turmoil. When historians put 2019 in perspective, they may also declare it a vintage year for popular unrest. In terms of sheer geographical spread, it is hard to think of a year to rival this one. Protests large enough to disrupt daily life and cause panic in government have broken out in Hong Kong, India, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Russia, Malta, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Sudan — and that list is not comprehensive.”
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, December 23, 2019
The last time similar statements were made was in 2011, a year that was quickly compared to 1968 by many observers, due to the simultaneity of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and large protests in places like Spain and Greece. In hindsight, the protests in 2011, an immediate response to the crisis that began in 2007/2008, seem to represent the immature and infantile stage of a more profound change that was taking forms during 2019. Some of the current insurgent movements already started to take shape in 2018 — like in Haiti, Iran, France and Sudan. The crucial difference of today’s rebellions in contrast to 2011 seems to be a much more determinate stance – protesters are much less ingenuous about “democracy” and are coming to stay, not ready to give up their positions after a few months or weeks of protests. What is also distinguishing the 2019 insurgencies is an existential and deep-seated disgust towards the political-economic systems and their elites – which is the fuel driving the attacks against the system, but not the motor. The spark that caused the uprisings were often price rises in transport, like in Chile, France, Iran, and Haiti, but the spark that caused the fire should not be quickly mistaken for the characteristic of this cycle of struggles, as some commentators did who quickly came up with a term as “circulation struggles”. We can, at this point, only begin to analyse the dynamics, actors and trajectories of those new forms of mass struggle – as we did in the last issue for France and Hungary, and continue to do so in the current issue with contributions on strikes in Mexico, the US, and the rebellions in Haiti. This list already displays one important characteristic of the current cycle of struggles: Despite the contagion from country to country, those conflicts are all led on a national terrain, and while protesters in Algeria for example continue to make references to their fellow comrades in Sudan for example, and Sudanese activists did a thorough analysis of what happened in Egypt since 2010, there a few transnational coordinations between them. This probably means simply that those insurgencies have to build their own national basis to stand on solid ground before they will be able to reach out and create solid international links.
The economic context of the current uprisings is the long depression after the global financial crisis, coming with a global stagnation of productivity, a drop in global trade and various rounds of mass dismissals and mergers in multinationals like BayerMonsanto, Deutsche Bank, PSA. Corporate debt is at an all-time high, and financial experts are currently rather waiting for this bubble to burst. Politically, right-wing authoritarianism in its various shades is dominating the scene, blending perfectly with free market liberalism. Scattered examples of left-reformist governments in Mexico, Argentina, South Korea or Spain do not seem to have much space for manoeuvre or a long-term strategy, except for preventing the worst. What could potentially unite the various initiatives of the disgruntled and angry on a global scene is the movement against climate change since it is something that affects everyone and is deeply connected to questions of poverty, land grabbing, agrobusiness and global supply chains – but it is currently more a movement led by middle classes in imperialist countries, and still has to prove if it is really willing and able to shake the foundations of power. 2020 will probably show how far the current wave of insurgencies can get – but it can already claim much bigger achievements than what we saw in 2011 and 2012.