Lenin and the early Bolsheviks believed the world had gotten to a point in its history that the proletariat would revolt. Like a forest full of dried timber baking in the hot sun all that was needed for the Communist Revolution they so desired was for a spark, iskra, to set the forest ablaze. The concept was so important to Lenin that he named his newspaper after it while he lived in exile. It was a continuation of Marx’s belief in the evolution of control over the means of production. Marx looked at the world around him at the height of the Industrial Revolution and saw the dehumanizing impact of life living in the crowded cities and working in the factories. To him this was a natural progression from the dawn of civilization that would inevitably lead to the rising up of the working class to take ownership of the factories they slaved in. Marx expected this revolution to occur in countries on the vanguard of the industrial revolution such as Prussia, France and Great Britain, but except for the brief interlude of the Paris Commune in 1848, socialist uprisings failed to materialize in these countries.
The United States has always had a small contingents of people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. During the colonial period various groups came to America fleeing religious persecution in continental Europe. The expansion of America westward was led by individualists like Daniel Boone and religious heretics like the Mormons followed by vast waves of immigrants seeking better lives after escaping oppressive regimes in Ireland, Central Europe and Russia. Each individual of that time left a legacy that is written in our DNA as a people. Echoes of the suffering of each Russian Jew arriving penniless in New York City or illiterate Irish woman sleeping with her children on the deck of steamer paddling up the Mississippi from New Orleans can be heard as whispers in our collective unconscious. These unique experiences are why we so frustrate our allies and enemies alike. It is impossible for a Brit to truly understand why Americans instinctively abhor collectivism and celebrate the codified rights of the Constitution that protecting individual liberty. The divisiveness that comes with individual rights also encourages our enemies to see America as a “paper tiger” that will explode into confetti with the right spark, be that a sneak attack on the Pacific fleet while in port or twin skyscrapers in Manhattan.
This is also a lesson that the American left socialized on European collectivist thought has forgotten over the past generation. The American Left has always looked towards the Continent for inspiration but that had been tempered at least somewhat by the home-grown anarchism of Henry David Thoreau and at least found common cause with American libertarians. But sometime over the past forty years being a socialist or progressive has meant believing in the power of the State. This reflects an acceptance by the American Left of “Big Government” European-style Socialism which ironically is in decline in the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Germany. As a consequence anarchists and libertarians who once were considered extreme leftists are now viewed by the American Left as extremist members of the right wing.
Today’s American Left wing now sees the State as its salvation and protector. Unions in the private sector have almost disappeared yet the public sector unions are thriving. In 2011 the Economist reported, “government unionisation has risen from 23% in 1973 to 36% today, while private-sector unionisation has declined from 24% in 1973 to 7% today.” Challenges to state power are no longer coming from the Left as they did in the 1960, but from the Right as exemplified today by the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada.
In this dispute the Left stands with the federal government while the Right including the libertarians side with the Bundy family. Progressive groups have gone on the attack including calling for the silencing of Tea Partiers and other supporters of the Bundy family. In It’s Time to be Honest: The Tea Party Has Become a Terrorist Group, Allen Clifton writes,
But the longer these people are given a voice, the more they’ve moved from a political movement to a domestic terrorist organization. In politics, they’re doing everything possible to sabotage our country for political gain while outside of politics they’re becoming even more brazenly radical than ever before.
And much like traditional terrorists, these domestic tea party terrorists have a main goal of demonizing and destroying the United States government.
Burning Man founder and liberal activist Sean Shealy plans to hold “Bundyfest” promising 30 days of anarchy across from the Bundy Ranch. In a Facebook post Shealy pokes fun at Bundy then ends, “Get a grip, folks. It’s about some cranky old dude and some cows in the middle of a barren desert. And the rule of law.” Rule of law? Coming from the organizer of the largest LSD and Ecstasy bash in the country it’s nice to know Shealy has some boundaries. The Left has come a long way from getting their heads bashed in Chicago in 1968 by the police force of Mayor Richard “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder,” Daly.
The Bundy standoff has shown the true face of the American Left. Transport the hippies of 1967 through Time to today and it’s unlikely they’d find the federal government all that groovy. The anti-establishment of that era has become the Establishment.
So now it’s up to the right wing and its individualist supporters to take up the idea of “iskra.” The right wing and old-school libertarians have always had a paranoid fringe, but Edward Snowden’s revelations of domestic spying along with the IRS persecution of conservative groups exacerbated by the government takeover of health care proves the wisdom of Henry Kissinger’s quote that even paranoids have enemies. Could Bundy be that spark that ignites the conservative base into open revolt?
Cliven Bundy is not a natural leader for everyone who distrusts the government, nor is his issue with the federal government a clear-cut case of abuse of the individual by the State. It would be nice if there was a more appealing leader than a Mormon rancher, and a more obvious case of government persecution, but the mere fact that the Bundy Ranch dispute continues making headlines on both sides of the political divide shows the there is plenty of tinder in the forest. Only time will tell if the Bundy standoff leads to the rollback of federal power.