Upheavals or Uprisings

Protesters confront police in the riot that broke out following a police killing in Bogotá in September.

By Raúl Zibechi

A recent report from the International Monetary Fund reveals that the dominant classes that the organization serves expect social upheavals throughout the world as a consequence of the pandemic. 

The work Social Repercussions of the Pandemic, published in January considers that history is a guide that allows us to anticipate social upheaval that reveals the already existing fractures within the society: the lack of social protections, the distrust of institutions, the perception of incompetence or corruption of the government (https://bit.ly/3qVVhAV). 

Thanks to its extensive resources, the IMF has developed an index of social unrest based on an analysis of millions of press articles published since 1985 in 130 countries, reflecting 11,000 events likely to cause social unrest. This allows the IMF to predict that a wave of protests will begin around mid-2022, which it seeks to prevent and control.

The important thing is that the organization tells governments and big capital that the period starting in the 14 months following the beginning of the pandemic may be dangerous for their interests, and that they should be prepared, but adds that five years later the effects of the upheavals will be residual and will no longer affect the economy.

The equation seems clear: the ruling classes expect upheavals, they prepare to face them and neutralize them, because they can destabilize  domination for a time.

One detail: the study does not even mention the results of eventual elections as risks for capital, perhaps because regardless of who wins, they know that the governments that have emerged from the ballot box have never managed to dent the power of capital.

Anti-capitalist movements should take good note of the forecasts of the system, so as not to repeat mistakes and also to prevent ourselves from actions that, in the long run, wear us down instead of producing changes. I propose that we differentiate upheavals from uprisings, to show that the former are not convenient, but the latter can be if they are the fruit of a solid collective organization.

Upheavals or outbursts are almost immediate reactions to grievances, such as police crimes; they generate an enormous and furious social energy that vanishes in a few days. Among the upheavals is the one that took place in Bogotá over three days in September, in the face of the police murder of a young lawyer with nine skull fractures.

Repression [of the incident] caused the death of more than 10 demonstrators and 500 wounded, around 70 of them by gunshot. The righteous anger was located at the Center for Immediate Attention, police headquarters on the peripheries, 50 of which were destroyed or set on fire. After three days, the protest faded away and there were no organized collectives left in neighborhoods most affected by state violence.

There are many examples of these, but I am interested in highlighting that the states have learned to deal with them. They cover violence in the media, they create study groups on social injustices, negotiation tables to simulate interest, and they can even separate some uniformed personnel from their duties, sending them to other places.

Most commonly, governments accept that there are injustices, in general, and attribute the violence of the outbursts to the precariousness of youth employment and other consequences of the system, without addressing the root causes.

Uprising is something different. An organized body decides its beginning, outlines the objectives and modes of action, points of concentration and withdrawal, and in collective dialogue, decides the moment when the uprising ends. The best example is the indigenous and popular uprising of October 2019 in Ecuador. It lasted 11 days, was decided by the bases of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador and was joined by unions and young people from the urban peripheries.

Violence was limited by the organizations’ guards, who prevented looting provoked by police infiltrators. Its end was decided in huge assemblies in Quito, after the government of Lenin Moreno annulled the package of neoliberal measures that generated the mobilization. The indigenous and social movements’ parliament, created days later, was in charge of giving continuity to the movement.

An uprising can strengthen popular organization. In Chile, where they prefer to say revolt and not explosion, more than 200 territorial assemblies were created during the protests in almost all the workingclass neighborhoods.

Massive and forceful collective action must reinforce the organization, because that is the only thing that can give it continuity in the long term. The ruling classes learned long ago to weather the upheavals, because they know that they are ephemeral. If we organize, things can change, but we will achieve nothing if we believe that the system will fall with a single blow.

This article was published in La Jornada on February 26th, 2021. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2021/02/26/opinion/017a1pol This English interpretation has been republished by Schools for Chiapas.

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