Chris Hedges sees revolution on the horizon.
It’s a phenomenon he’s witnessed before. Hedges draws on decades of experience reporting from revolts and counter-insurgencies around the world. He's covered the dissolution of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia and Romania, met with guerilla leaders amid conflicts in Central American, and reported from Yugoslavia as the country fell into civil war and acts of genocide.
“The veneer of power appears untouched before a revolution, but the internal rot, unseen by the outside world, steadily hollows out the edifice state,” Hedges writes in his latest book, Wages of Rebellion. “And when dying regimes collapse, they do so with dizzying speed.”
The world is once again characterized by “popular uprisings exploding in waves”, he continues.
“The promised prosperity that was to have raised the living standards of workers through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie,” Hedges writes. “A tiny global oligarchy has amassed obscene wealth, while the engine of unfettered corporate capitalism plunders resources; exploits cheap, unorganized labour; and creates pliable, corrupt governments that abandon the common good to serve corporate profit. The relentless drive by the fossil fuel industry for profits is destroying the ecosystem, threatening the viability of the human species. And no mechanism to institute genuine reform or halt the corporate assault are left within the structures of power, which have surrendered to corporate control. The citizen has become irrelevant.”
On Friday, September 25, the American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author is scheduled to opine on those ideas in Vancouver at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church at Nelson and Burrard.
Ahead of that engagement, Hedges spoke with the Georgia Straight. The transcript of that conversation that follows has been lightly edited for length.
Georgia Straight: "Can you give us a short preview of your upcoming talk in Vancouver?"
Chris Hedges: “The system of corporate capitalism, or what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin called inverted totalitarianism, is not only not sustainable, but it is unravelling. We can’t continue this kind of assault on the climate, we can’t continue these kinds of wars, we can’t continue the reconfiguration of the global economy into a global neo-feudalism, where money is concentrated into the hands of an all-powerful, tiny, oligarchic elite at the expense of everyone else. We are already seeing the signs of disintegration. You look at the political farce that is happening in the United States because the system has been seized by corporate oligarchs and no-longer responds to the grievances, needs, justices, or rights of the citizenry. You see it in the refugee crisis that is besetting Europe, you see it in the wildfires that are sweeping across California. We better wake up and we better respond quickly, or we’re headed for massive societal breakdown. It is already beginning.”
GS: "Getting to your latest book, Wages of Rebellion: You use the word ‘rebel’ with a positive connotation. Let’s begin there: What is a rebel and why is that what’s needed?"
CH: “A rebel is somebody who rises up against the established order and is willing to carry out acts of self-sacrifice in order to defy that order. It is rebels that have always moved history forward. Rebels very rarely succeed. Most of them are wiped out. I mean, that is just a historical fact. But our passive acquiescence to this system, at this point, makes us complicit in our own self-annihilation. So it is to the rebels that we have to listen.”
GS: "When you look around today, who do you see who fits that description?"
CH: “There are lots of them. [Edward] Snowden, [Julian] Assange. They’re there. [Noam] Chomsky, [Ralph] Nader.”
GS: “Early in this conversation, I wanted to raise the issue of Canada’s upcoming election happening this October. Are you watching or thinking about Canada’s election?"
CH: “I’m aware of it. You are able to mount a third party in the NDP in a way that we [the United States] are not. I mean, the game is fixed here.”
GS: “What differences do you see between the two systems? Are the differences as strong as they used to be?”
CH: “There is quite a bit of difference. There is more room within the national discourse for more radical critiques in Canada. Canada is not, like the United States, an inherently violent culture. You are not an imperial power; we, across the border, are infected with that imperial hubris, that belief that we have the right to use our military to impose our ‘virtues’ on the rest of the world. And your political system is not as corrupted as ours. So there is more space for dissent within the system. Now, I don’t know to what extent, if the NDP takes power, it can actually confront these corporate forces embodied in TransCanada and everything else. That I don’t know. I just don’t spend enough time in Canada to know the answers to those questions.”
GS: “Speaking more generally now, how would you describe your faith in electoral politics?”
CH: “I don’t have any faith in electoral politics. We have to begin to build mass movements that take power back. I spend a lot of time in the book, Death of the Liberal Class, chronicling how all the mechanisms by which citizens once were able to defend their interests have been taken from them. So I don’t waste much time on electoral politics.”
GS: “Electoral politics is obviously failing to solve very big and complex problems like inequality and climate change. After so many years, what can be done?”
CH: “I think what people are doing: organizing at a local level to stop fracking, getting arrested at military bases that operate drones, severing ourselves as much as possible from the tentacles of consumer society – that’s what local food production and sustainable agriculture is about. There is a myriad of ways in which we can fight back, and on all of those fronts, that is what offers us hope. But believing that the NDP or Bernie Sanders is going to come in alone and change anything of any substance is very naïve.”
GS: “Towards the end of Wages of Rebellion, you present the story of an Albertan man named Wiebo Ludwig. Some people would call that example radical or an extremist. Is that what’s needed and where we’re at?”
CH: “He was an extremist and he was a radical.”
GS: “And is that what is needed?”
CH: “Yes. Wiebo Ludwig found out that it didn’t matter how many letters he sent. They were going to take that sour gas out of the land and he was right.”
GS: “Can you talk about online activism? Where does it fit into all this? And young voters and the need to overcome apathy?”
CH: “The young generation kind of gets it. Obviously, you have that segment that is staring with their mouths open at their electronic hallucinations, which is just what the corporate state wants. But you look in the United States at groups like Black Lives Matter, or at Idle No More or the Quebec student movement, and you have pretty sophisticated movements among young people who have figured out the political system. Even the protests at the G20. Occupy was a youth-driven movement, the Quebec student movement was a youth-driven movement, Black Lives Matter is a youth-driven movement. And I’ve met all of these leaders and I am a lot more impressed with them than I am with people my own age.”
GS: “I’m surprised we were able to end on an optimistic note.”
CH: “I’m not very optimistic. Things are pretty grim. And that is part of the existential crisis of our time. We do have to grasp the reality that we face and yet resist anyway. But I certainly find a lot more hope in the young, in this generation – which is not being fooled by Obama – than I do anywhere else. I certainly don’t find it among the old, established left, which has kind of just sold out to the Democratic Party of the United States. The political consciousness in the groups that I just mentioned, I think, is quite high.”
Chris Hedges is scheduled to speak in Vancouver at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 25.