The Year of the Fauxtestor


Time magazine calls 2011 the year of the protestor. Being a creature of the times, I protest.  

Time imagines a global revolt against capitalism. This is really the year of socialism’s implosion.

It took 22 years for the news to travel from Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean that Marx was a fool. The means changed from fax machines to Facebook, but the ends remained the same: toppling socialist governments. It’s true that 2011 has happened before—1989 being the most recent instance. But Santayana’s words aren’t the cliché; it’s the people who keep repeating the past who are.  

It’s also true that 2011 is the year that the media redacted socialism as the object of objections. Like socialism failing, that’s happened before too.

In the aftermath of 1989, some journalists actually lamented the fall of the Iron Curtain. “This is Marlboro country, southeastern Poland, a place where the transition from communism to capitalism is making more people more miserable every day,” Bert Quint infamously reported for Pravda West, the CBS Evening News, in 1990. Twenty-one years later Time’s protesting “Man of the Year” article doesn’t bother mentioning the word “socialism” in connection with  the socialist governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Greece that the protestors protested.

Writing about unrest around the Mediterranean without mentioning “socialism” is like talking about Occupy Wall Street without saying “capitalism.” One can only link the very different demonstrators by ignoring why they demonstrate.

Greeks learned that George Papandreou, prime minister of Greece and president of the Socialist International (SI), couldn’t effectively perform both jobs simultaneously. His destruction of Greece hasn’t disqualified him as the head of the SI, though. The Western media didn’t call Muammar Gaddafi’s country the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. But he did. In Syria, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, whose motto is “unity, liberty, socialism,” upheld the last of these principles by firing upon its own citizens. Hosni Mubarak’s Egyptian government was a member in good standing of the Socialist International for thirty years. Only when the protestors objected to Mubarak did the SI.  

Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian merchant whose self-immolation sparked 2011’s Middle Eastern wildfire, protested, in Time’s words, the state “making him jump through bureaucratic hoops.” He was fighting against the big government that Occupy Wall Street is fighting for.

Time nevertheless depicts the Middle Eastern protestors and Occupy Wall Street as part of the same phenomenon. “It’s remarkable how much the protest vanguards share,” the cover story claims. But like Paris and Prague in 1968, Tahir Square and Zuccotti Park in 2011 are quite a distance from each other.

In Tunis, young people died for their beliefs. In London, they looted stores.

In Cairo, they evicted the government. In Salt Lake City, they displaced the homeless.

Occupy Tripoli killed their president. Occupy Wall Street wants to reelect the president.

In Tahir Square, they changed the world. In Zuccotti Park they didn’t even change their clothes.

Western protestors wanted the government to give them things. Middle Eastern protestors wanted their governments to leave them alone.

Our protestors’ solutions are their protestors’ problems. Does the federal government really quake in its boots at urban campers demanding that the federal government have more power, more money, and more control? Never has speaking truth to power sounded so much like sucking up to power.

Occupy Wall Street is a cause without a rebel. They say they hate corporations. But Gap gear and Apple gadgets suggest cognitive dissonance. They are subversives the way media-darling John McCain was a maverick. The media won’t say a bad word about them and they won’t say a bad word about the most powerful man in the world. They want to be thought as “subversives” more than they want to actually be subversive.

The West’s urban campers recast themselves as the kin of the Middle East’s revolutionaries. Isn’t it just like a socialist to leech on someone else’s success?

Halfway around the world this may be the “year of the protestor.” Closer to home it is just the year of the fauxtestor.