Dissent, Resistance, Rebellion

By Tim Hardy

Joss Hands opens his excellent new book @ is for Activism with a helpful definition of three key words for which activism may stand in as a general term.

Dissent is an expression of dissatisfaction and contains an implicit claim to moral validity: it may be legal for corporations to avoid paying taxes but it is immoral and the law must be changed.

Where dissent is a refusal of assent, resistance is an act of refusal that refuses to accept the claims to authority of those in power: resistance may involve breaking the law when the law is unjust, such as the mass non-payment campaign against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.

Finally rebellion is the collective and cooperative positive counterpart to resistance: it seeks more than to affect the beliefs and behaviours of others and can only be satisfied by the fuller transformation of the system that created the state of dissatisfaction. It is not enough to restore the EMA, reverse the tuition fees increases, protect DLA and undo the damage wrought so far by the coalition: one must uproot the tyranny of the free market ideology that makes these savage transformations conceivable.

Individuals within the same movement may at any time occupy different positions in the activist spectrum. Acts of protest will move constantly from one state to another, reacting to circumstances. Dissenters may find themselves forming a resistance. A resistance may become a rebellion.

The internet plays a key role in increasing this fluidity by providing information as well as the means to mobilise quickly, from legal advice for activists to event calendars for protests and other free tools to find information and build an infrastructure for acts of dissent. No wonder the police are concerned that they have lost control. Around the world, security forces with far less scruples than our own are finding that the old hierarchies are being flattened and that they can no longer rely on superior intelligence alone to prevent the powerful from being held accountable.

On 11 February 2011, when Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo, five of the top ten stories on google news were concerned only with the effect on the markets. That should tell us something about the sickness of our society.

Having endured the triumphalism of those who saw the fall of the Berlin Wall as proof that capitalism was the only way to run society, we are now living through an uneasy period in which the collapse of the banks has shown that the free markets just do not work; not even for those who profit most from them. In the eyes of many, this was the Berlin Wall of capitalism yet those who proclaimed its values the loudest are still refusing to leave their palaces and are ready to steal the last crumb from the mouths of the poor before they will give up a penny of their undeserved riches. Marxism is not necessarily the answer but nor can we just put up a sign saying “Business as usual” and hope that everybody is so distracted by the decimation of social services, health and education that they won’t notice that the casino is rigged and that the house always wins.

Day by day, ordinary people are using the power of freely available technology to bring closer a long needed, radical transformation of a moribund and unjust political system. When politicians lie to line their own pockets and treat their electorate with contempt, promising the moon to win power then telling those whose votes they stole that they should just “grow up”; when private corporations and privatised police forces spy on peaceful protesters, authorising violating and degrading behaviour towards women; when the first reaction of the police when they kill an innocent man is to hide the evidence and leak smear stories to the press; when newspapers that support and are supported by the Conservative Party use private detectives to break into the voicemail of citizens and the police fail again and again to investigate the crime; when a cabinet of millionaires as grotesque as a Dickensian caricature blame the weak and the vulnerable for the state of the economy while handing out treats to their rich backers whose psychopathic recklessness caused the global downturn — when those in power are this corrupt and obtuse, then dissent is the very least we should be feeling. Day by day, the moral case for resistance and rebellion grows stronger.