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Tag: insurrection

Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (Engels, 1851)

by Friedrich Engels (1851-52)

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Marx was asked in the summer of 1851 by Charles Anderson Dana, managing editor of the New York Tribune, to write a series of articles on the German Revolution. Founded in 1842 by Horace Greeley, the Tribune was the most influential paper in the United States at the time. These articles were written by Engels at the request of Marx, who was then busy with his economic studies and felt, besides, that he had not yet attained fluency in English. Engels wrote the articles in Manchester, where he was employed, and sent them on to Marx in London to be edited and dispatched to New York. Thus, although Engels must be rightly considered their author, Marx took a big part in the preparation, for in their almost daily correspondence the chief points were discussed thoroughly between them. The articles appeared under Marx’s name, and it was not until much later, when the correspondence between the two life-long collaborators became available, that the true circumstances were revealed. The contributions to the Tribune thus begun continued until 1862, and though Marx himself wrote most of the articles after 1852, Engels continued to help his friend by writing for him important articles on political and military affairs. When Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, wrote the preface to the 1896 edition she was still under the impression that Marx had written the series. [Publisher’s Note to the 1969 edition published in London by Lawrence & Wishart]

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A world without money: communism (Les Amis de 4 Millions de Jeunes Travailleurs, 1975-76)

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Un Monde Sans Argent: Le Communisme was originally published in three parts, as three separate pamphlets, in France, between 1975-6. It was produced by Dominique Blanc, shortly after the dissolution of the Organisation des Jeunes Travailleurs révolutionnaires. The name Quatre Millions de Jeune Travailleurs was apparently ‘adopted’ from a 1971 PSU youth publication (Parti Socialiste Unifié – a French Socialist Party), presumably to satisfy French publishing laws, and texts continued to be published under this name through the 1970’s including the widely distributed tract A Bas Le Proletariat/Vive Le Communisme.

PDF: English / French

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How it Might Should be Done

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by Idris Robinson, July 2020

The following is a transcript of a talk delivered in Seattle on July 20, 2020, lightly-edited by the author for readability. A video recording produced by Red May is online here. (Taken from Illwilleditions.org)

* * * * *

I want to begin with a shout-out to what happened here last night, and to the working class of the city of Seattle, to the rebels of the city of Seattle: I really liked what I saw, that’s why I’m here, you know, to feel that vibe. I would also like to send my solidarity to comrades in Greece. It was they who allowed me to experience insurrection for the first time in 2008. The lessons I’ve learned and the experiences I had there have been so valuable this time around, even though we are in a much different social context. Moreover, a comrade was recently killed at the hands of the police there. To the fallen comrade, Vasillis Maggos, I want to say: rest in power.

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We Demand Nothing (2009)

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Minneapolis 2020

by J. Kaspar (‘Fire to the Prisons’ # 7, Autumn 2009) PDF read / print

“I do not demand any right, therefore I need not recognize any either.”
– M. Stirner

On the night of August 8th, 2009, hundreds of inmates at the California Institution for Men in Chino rioted for 11 hours, causing “significant and extensive” damage to the medium-security prison. Two hundred and fifty prisoners were injured, with fifty-five admitted to the hospital.

On Mayday 2009, three blocks of San Francisco’s luxury shopping district were wrecked by a roving mob, leaving glass strewn throughout the sidewalk for the shopkeepers, police and journalists to gawk at the next morning.

On the early morning of April 10th, 2009, nineteen individuals took over and locked down an empty university building the size of a city-block on 5th avenue in Manhattan, draping banners and reading communiqués off the roof. Police and university officials responded by sending helicopters, swat teams, and hundreds of officers to break in and arrest them all.

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Contribution to the Rupture in Progress

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A Translation from France on the Yellow Vest Movement

The following text appeared December 6th on the French platform lundimatin; they describe it as the best sociological and political analysis to date on the yellow vest movement. Although we are no more optimistic about the “non-ideological” character of the first phase of the yellow vest phenomenon than we are about the antiquated methods of organization it supplanted, the movement itself has become a battleground to determine what form the next wave of opposition to neoliberal austerity will assume—and no one can afford to stand aside. This text concludes with a cool-headed appraisal of the risks and possibilities before the gilets jaunes and all who will follow in their wake.

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Now

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THE INVISIBLE COMMITTEE, NOW (2017)

Full book, translated into English by Robert Hurley.

Economy rests on a pair of fictions, therefore, that of society and that of the individual. Destituting it involves situating this false antinomy and bringing to light that which it means to cover up. What these fictions have in common is making us see entities, closed units and their relations, whereas what there is in fact are ties. Society presents itself as the superior entity that aggregates all the individual entities. Since Hobbes and the frontispiece of Leviathan, it’s always the same image: the great body of the sovereign, composed of all the minuscule, homogenized, serialized bodies of his subjects. The operation which the social fiction depends on consists in trampling on everything that forms the situated existence of each singular human being, in wiping out the ties that constitute us, in denying the assemblages we enter into, and then forcing the depleted atoms thus obtained into a completely fictitious, spectral association known as the “social bond.” So that to think of oneself as a social being is always to apprehend oneself from the exterior, to relate to oneself as an abstraction. It’s the peculiar mark of the economic perception of the world to grasp nothing except externally.

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Rèpublique Absurd

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Rècit of the Spring 2016 French Uprising  by Asja Crise

The following account, necessarily incomplete and perhaps also imprecise in places, will attempt to describe the recent struggles in France as they developed over the course of four months, from late February to the middle of June. It is based both on translations of material at the time and first-hand experiences. These struggles understood themselves as challenging not only the “labor law [loi du travail]” handed down by the Socialist government of Manuel Valls and François Hollande, but also—as one key slogan had it—“against its world,” that is, the conditions that have made it possible but that are also left wide open in the slogan. Is this world the capitalist one? The “neoliberal” one? That of E.U.-imposed austerity? Or just that of a routinely treacherous Socialist government? And then there is the more radical, let’s say constructive, slogan that circulated among younger demonstrators, borrowed from the title of the Parisian hip-hop group PNL’s hit the previous summer: le monde ou rien, the world or nothing. While I will proceed more or less chronologically, there are a couple of points to make here at the beginning. I choose to start with a short account of the November 13th attacks aftermath and the context of the state of emergency, leading up to the beginning of mobilizations in late February and March, spearheaded by highschoolers. This account moreover will focus on the Paris metropolitan area, where I was living, with minimal reference to other cities.


Accounts of the different phases of the struggle typically break down like this, as the movement mutates from month to month: March is the month of high school mobilization (picking up from last year’s movement against a different version of the law, this one proposed by Emmanuel Macron, the Economics minister), while April saw the occupation of République by the so-called Nuit Debout movement and May was the month of strikes and blockades, as the key French labor union, the CGT—traditionally aligned with the French Communist Party—found itself forced to enter the fray, in part from pressure from its own restive rank-and-file. Throughout this sequence, we encounter the notorious casseur (“wrecker”) who is an entirely ambiguous figure within the movement (that’s the point). The hooded proletarian—high school student? radicalized union rank-and-file? youth from the suburban housing projects, eager to fight the police? “anarchist” or “autonomist” militants?—is targeted and denounced by all the respectable actors of the movement, from Socialist ministers to the CGT leadership, and even by voices on the “revolutionary” Left. At the same time, the figure operates as a unifying point of identification for the movement itself: “we are all casseurs” was a chant often heard in demonstrations, in particular during pitched battles with police.  . . [read more]

Insurrection and Production

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Angry Workers World

An empirically heavy mind-game for the debate on working class strategy: First steps in a six-month revolutionary transition period in the UK region

Dear fellow travellers,

We’ve written a few texts on ‘revolutionary strategy’ before, focusing on the relationship between workers’ existence within the social production process, experiences of day-to-day struggles and the possibility of a wider working class movement – termed by others as a ‘social strike’. [1] While we maintain that we will only be able to make fruitful organisational proposals through an analysis of the concrete day-to-day struggles of our class, we think that it can’t do any harm to discuss what we think a revolutionary situation in the 21st century could look like. Thinking about tomorrow might make clearer our view on today.

We are not alone in this. Since the uprisings in 2010/11 (‘Arab Spring’ etc.) and the general upsurge in social movements and global strike waves in the last ten years or so, the radical and not so radical left have had a lot of discussions about transitions, post-capitalism, social strikes or the era of riots and coming insurrections. In this text we will briefly engage with some of the main ideas that have been put forward in these recent analyses of revolution and fundamental social change. We do this to point out some limitations to these theories, as well as to draw out their political implications. The two main camps we look at here are, unsurprisingly, given the title, that of those in the radical milieu who favour an insurrectionist approach to political action (riots on the streets, spontaneous proletarian action, or that done by those on the margins, the so-called ‘surplus population’) and those that tend to concentrate on workers at the point of production and their collective power but who maybe don’t relate this to a wider view on general proletarian impoverishment and other areas of life and struggle. We put forward our perspective that tries to move beyond the traditional insurrectionist and syndicalist approaches to think in less abstract ways about what a communist revolution would actually entail. To this end, the main part of the text consists of an empirical study of what we term the ‘essential industries’ in the UK region, which comprise roughly 13 million workers. We think this will be the backbone of our strength in the revolutionary transition period in order to reproduce ourselves while the counter-revolutionary forces try and crush us. While this seems like a bit of a flight into the idealistic, unknown future, we think that reconsidering the relationship between proletarian violence, insurrection and production on the level of 21st century class composition will help ground our current practical political orientation. This at a time of general political disorientation (of which we see Corbyn-mania as an obvious sign!) in the wake of defeats and containment of the upsurges we have experienced and witnessed around the world in recent years. In short, we hope that in the course of the following text we put some basic assumptions about a communist revolution into a more concrete context. We try and do this in seven steps by looking at:

a) the reality of recent struggles with a brief review of the 2010/11 uprisings from a revolutionary perspective
b) the revolutionary essence of capitalism: short remarks on the debate about ‘surplus population’ (riots) vs. ‘global working class’ (global production) to tackle the question of what capitalism’s main revolutionary contradictions are
c) the material (regional) divisions within the working class: some thoughts on the impact of uneven development on how workers experience impoverishment and their productive power differently
d) the regional backbone of insurrection: empirical material about the structure of essential industries in the UK region
e) whether anyone can say ‘communism?’: brief conclusions on revolutionary transition
f) the basic steps of organising revolution: what would a working class revolution have to achieve within the first months of its existence
g) revolutionary organisation. Here we propose that this perspective on ‘revolution tomorrow’ does not leave us untouched today, for it asks for certain organisational efforts in the here and now. We sketch out what those could be.

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Baltimore Riot. Baltimore Commune?

APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore

By Joshua Clover / 25 April 2016

A picture of a young person on a BMX bike, April 27, 2015, his arms filled with looted cereal boxes. The caption on the original Instagram snap is mostly redacted. What remains reads “Baltimore shit” and “hate yall.” The person who has reposted this picture on Twitter wonders “Why would you take cereal” and attaches a series of emoticons indicating mortal disbelief. It seems like a good question. Why not take something more valuable, perhaps remarketable? Or why not something that expressed the riot’s state of exception, its curfewless joy — something like the tubs of ice cream some friends of mine wound up with in Hackney, summer 2011? The sense here is that an error has been made.

This sense corresponds to the axiomatic position of state, media, and the respectability politics that keeps state and media always in mind. Looting is not just a crime but an error, a tactical or moral failing. It is the act that delegitimates what might otherwise conjure some sympathy from the nebulous public and indeed the political class: the spasm of outrage erupting from an immiserated people. If only their refusal took a more properly political form instead of just jacking shit! Why, that’s just shopping on steroids, just — we are informed by self-serious theorists — capitalism’s ideology saying its own name through these benighted individuals greedily grabbing at goods the moment the opportunity affords. And, as our observer notes, not paternalistically but with wry puzzlement, paltry goods at that. Breakfast cereal.

This is a moment of levity, not the only one, in The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary. It is the first great book to come from the last great riot in the United States. It has a simple concept: it gathers together tweets related to the rebellion that followed on the police murder of Freddie Gray on April 12th of last year, his spine severed while being given a rough ride in the back of paddy wagon, shackled and alone, the vehicle careening intentionally off course through Baltimore neighborhoods that would burn in the weeks to follow. Coma, and then death on April 19th, which is when the first tweet is dated: “Screaming Fuck The Police #Justice4Freddie.” Increasingly angry protests would yield to open riot on the 25th, a year ago today.

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Build the hacienda, burn down the palaces

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Translated from the French by edicioneschafa, revised by ill-will
Original text found at Lundi Matin.
  1. What we’ve been living through is new. It is certainly not just another “social movement.” “Social movements” have a frame, so that everything escaping it is defined as a boiling-over or a break-away [débordement]. Yet what we’ve experienced since March 9th has been an uninterrupted series of such boiling-over breakaway moments, with the old forms of politics chasing after them from behind. The call to demonstrate on March 9th was a breakaway from the unions by the YouTubers. The demonstrations since then have seen constant breakaway marches led by the “youths”: the traditional image of union marches headed up by the various union bosses was systematically replaced by hooded youths defying the police. Nuit debout overflows every recognized political frame, while the “wild marches” that leave from its site at place de la République are themselves a breakaway from Nuit debout. We must continue to begin—or in other words, continue to break away, to remain on the move, to surprise.
  2. Attempts to assimilate the new into the already-known are part of the arsenal of neutralization. Just as the demonstrations against this new Labor law have little to do with the struggle against the CPE, Nuit debout bears very little relation to the Indignados of Puerta del Sol [Madrid, Spain]. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol declared itself pacifist, [the occupation at] Place de la République had, last Friday, hours-long clashes with the police. “Everyone hates the police” has become a noted chant hit. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol called itself “apolitical,” we have lost count of the calls by unions and the speeches by unionists at place de la République. However, Puerta del Sol was really occupied, which is not the case with place de la République. At Puerta del Sol food was made for thousands, people stayed day and night, the police were not making daily evictions, nor ordered to takedown this or that, or to stop folks from cooking. This last difference indicates a path to follow: if we want to make place de la République more than just an interminable general assembly where curious on-lookers are giving a first-hand look at its powerlessness and the inconsistency of its “decisions,” then we must really occupy it; this means building real spaces and defending them from the police.
  3. What place de la République really constitutes is a public counter-space. Since the public, political and media space that exists has become an integral lie, we have no choice but to desert it. Not by falling back into silence, but to positively desert it by constructing another. And speech is like freedom: when you first take hold of it you start to say or do some dumb shit, but that’s not what’s important. What matters is to not to dwell on that first fuck-up. We must instead say that we have a long way to go, that these past weeks comprise our first few breaths. It’s been years now that a coalition of forces have made the situation unbreathable, between the “threat of the National Front,” “war on terrorism,” “crises”of all kinds, the state of emergency laws, climate apocalypse and the permanent campaign for the next presidency. What characterizes the reigning public space is that it offers a space for nothing but contemplation: what we witness, what we hear, what we learn never becomes an act or bears any consequence because we face it all alone. As was made evident in exemplary fashion the night of the ‘nightcap at Vall’s place’, what is vibrant and powerful about a counter-space is the capacity for acts to follow speech. Consciousness and the capacity to act are not disjointed. This is the way that a counter-space can positively destitute the existing public space. Hence the great curiosity and jealousy of the media.
  4. The conflict around the El Khomri law is not just a conflict around the “work” law, it’s a conflict around the possibility or not of governing, which is to say, a political conflict in the true sense of the term. No one can stand to be governed any more by the puppets in the [National] assembly, which is why, in our point of view, the law cannot pass; yet the government itself cannot afford not to pass this law—this means, it has been factually destituted [destitué de fait], and can no longer govern. This refusal is even seen in a union like the CGT, whose rank-and-file can no longer can bear to be governed as it had previously been by its management. If one listens to the speeches people give at place de la République, most fall into either one of two camps regarding this question of destitution: some wish the moment of destitution to be followed by a constitutive moment where they a new constitution could be written and a new society founded, where as others think the destitution should be without a conclusion because it is first of all a process of construction, and that  for fiction of a single society we must substitute the reality that there exists a plurality of worlds, each of which express and incarnate their own idea of life and of happiness. Those of us writing here share the latter position.
  5. Let’s be pragmatic: no one’s going to be able to write a constitution until this regime has been overthrown. And being that you do not overthrow a democratic regime democratically, i.e. that it will defend itself against any fundamental challenge until its very last riot cop, the only path leading to a new constitution is an insurrectional path. However to lead a successful insurrection, like that of Maidan for example, place de la République must be really occupied, barricaded, guarded, etc.; also, all political and existential sensibilities favorable to insurrection must be able to find each other; to this end, for the desperate search for a consensus never to be found in the middle of Paris, a consensus of a more or less frightened metropolitan petty bourgeoisie, we must substitute the material existence of a plurality of spaces, of “houses,” where each of the sensibilities of the insurrection could come aggregate themselves and enter into a fusion. Those who are passionate about writing a constitution are welcome to build their own house where they can write up as many drafts as they like. And as for those who want to put the constitution into place, well we’ll discuss this when Valls and Hollande will have already taken their jet to take refuge in the USA, Africa or in Algeria.
  6. A poster in the Parisian metro a few years ago declared, “Who organizes spaces, rules over them”; it was decorated with a majestic lion supposedly representing the sovereignty of the RATP Group [management of Parisian state-owned transport]. What is the power to be found in place de la République? It resides the management of the place itself, and the forces of order who impose respect thereby. Power is thus this grand empty esplanade; the flux of cars and their din; and the anti-police vans posted on all sides. How can an assembly seriously claim to be sovereign which then debases itself by respecting the real sovereignty that dictates its every move? Impossible to take it seriously. But we would not have gathered together, nor been as numerous and determined as we’ve been, if we weren’t very serious. By serious, here we mean that we have taken it upon ourselves to manage this place, to  express our intention to hold out by constructing the means for doing so, to refuse to be added to the list of mediatic flashes in the pan that let themselves be swept away at the first attack. We we are going to be able to welcome comrades from all over, we have to escape the precarity that imposed on us by the current forces of management, and to arrange things as we see fit – we have to be constructive, in other words.
  7. We are in the middle of a ford, at the heart of peril: there are too many of us to simply return home and not enough of us to throw ourselves into an insurrectional assault. We must “shift into second gear” as some say. To hold out till the end of April is already not bad. We cannot count on the union bosses, because even if a few strikes that can be re-directed spring up here and there, by nature these strikes will be against their will. However we know the danger that awaits us if this situation closes up again, a danger we already struggle against even now: that of the electoral system, the democratic blackmail of having to choose between the plague and cholera, between Alain Juppé and Marine Le Pen. Those who are apt to join us are precisely those whom are disgusted by such a reality, those who cannot bear for politics to be reduced to the insignificant process of voting. Politics is in what we plan, in what we build, in what we attack and in what we destroy. Shifting into second gear means: build the hacienda, burn down the palaces.

The Construction Commission

Paris /  April 2016

Why Don’t the Poor Rise Up?

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Why are today’s working poor so quiescent? I’m not the only one posing this question.

“Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” asks The Economist. “Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?” wonders David Samuels, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. The headline on an April 7 National Catholic Reporter article reads: “Why aren’t Americans doing more to protest inequality?”

There are legitimate grounds for grievance. For those in the bottom quintile, household income in inflation-adjusted dollars has dropped sharply, from $13,787 in 2000 to $11,651 in 2013. According to the Census Bureau, 64 million Americans currently live in the bottom quintile.

Still, it’s possible that poverty is less grueling than in the past, for several reasons. First, although incomes have declined, the cost of many goods – televisions, computers, air-conditioners, household appliances, cellphones – has fallen, leaving the bottom quintile less deprived than simple income figures might reflect. Second, people nowadays marry and have children later in life than in the past, postponing some financial demands to better earning years. Third,some economists contend that commonly used inflation measures result in excessively high estimates of the real-world cost of goods for consumers, thus making living conditions less dire than they might otherwise be.

But there is another reason that there has not been broad public insurrection.

Society has drastically changed since the high-water mark of the 1930s and 1960s when collective movements captured the public imagination. Now, there is an inexorable pressure on individuals to, in effect, fly solo. There is very little social support for class-based protest – what used to be called solidarity.

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Since the End of the Movement of the Squares

The Return of The Invisible Committee

Since the end of the movement of the squares, we have seen networks of mutual support cropping up in many cities to stop evictions, of strike committees and neighborhood assemblies, but also cooperatives, for everything and in every sense.

To Our Friends

“The insurrections have come, finally.”

To Our Friends, The Invisible Committee’s most recent book, appears a little over seven years after 2007’s The Coming Insurrection. Its opening sentence—“The insurrections have come, finally”—savors a note of vindication. Sympathetic readers will indulge them this small triumph, and give them their due. There is little doubt that since the publication of The Coming Insurrection we have witnessed, on a global scale, a welter of riots and revolts the likes and intensity of which have not been seen for 40 years. “Ten years ago,” the authors go on, “predicting an uprising would have exposed you to […] snickers.” Today, they contend, everyone has on their lips the watchwords of the moment: que se vayan todos! (“out with them all”), or even that old anarchist refrain, all cops are bastards. Rarely do short essays risking themselves in the waters of historical speculation hit their mark. The Invisible Committee was clearly on to something.

Burned police station” by Mohamed El Dahshan 

All the same, a worry, a quibble, settles in quickly. Did the insurrections really come, after all? We can be sure the authors of To Our Friends are not speaking of the North American Occupy movement which, with the exception of some aspects of Occupy Oakland, was a largely toothless affair, swept away brusquely after a few weeks or months at most. They must have in mind instead some of the more spirited outposts of Occupy’s European counterpart, the so-called “movement of the squares,” such as the M15 movement in Spain and the Syntagma Square occupation in Athens, both frequent points of reference in To Our Friends. But there was little insurrectionary about these movements, despite the numbers and energies pouring into them: they remained focused largely on developing novel forms of mass democracy in their general assemblies, and denouncing the austerity programs implemented by their respective “caretaker” national governments at the behest of the true power players in Europe, the so-called “troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. The weeks-long riot in Greece in December 2008 is marshaled as an example, but that moment of disorder, marked as it was by attacks on banks and symbols of the state, and the temporary routing of police in the streets, was in a way an exception to the period in question, unleashed as it was before the austerity programs could firmly take the country hostage and the wheels of crisis grind the social fabric down to powder.

The story told in To Our Friends therefore largely depends on what transpired in Egypt, which broke the seal on the epoch and remains its signature event. If Tahrir Square is still the pulsing center of our historical moment, the disheartening if predictable fallout of the mass movement—elections, Muslim Brotherhood, army coup—offers writ-large lessons on just how weak, despite its mobilization of millions, the movement was. Despite numerous attacks on police stations and a series of important factory strikes, everything unfolded under the knowing, patient eye of the army, and most of the key structures of the Egyptian state stayed intact throughout, generally in the hands of autocrats in waiting. Few of the telltale traits of insurrection came to the fore. No significant movement to occupy factories, no crippling of the economic infrastructure, and no veritable splits within the armed forces. The other key uprisings of the Arab Spring, in Syria and Libya, leapt quickly—due in large part to the standing regimes’ move to militarize these conflicts—from popular mass movements to full-blown civil wars, complete with territorial fracturing, competing offshoots of Al-Qaeda assuming command over key zones, and the entire region transformed into a geopolitical powder keg, vaguely reminiscent of the Balkans a century ago. The scene is, altogether, grim.1

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