John Rees is a political writer, activist and broadcaster for publications including Counterfire. He has also written The Leveller Revolution, revolutionaries who grew out of the battlefields of the Civil War in 1642. Join John who will be at Revolution! with author China Miéville and cartoonist Kate Evans.
What does revolution mean to you?
Well I think it means that there is a total transformation in society when oppression and exploitation which has marked and defaced a society are bought to an end, that’s there’s a complete transformation in the democratic structure of society and in the social and economic order so that people control their own lives, not just once every five years at the ballot box but they control their working environment, they control their environmental condition of their society, that they have complete democratic control over their lives.
Do you think there is a still a need for revolution in today’s world?
Yes, I do because I support every partial movement for a change, any improvement, any reform that working people can get, I’m definitely in the fight to get that. But I don’t think an amount of small pieced changes can transform society completely because they are taken away when they are achieved so I think there’s a still a need for a movement to transform society as a whole. All that we have just lived through in 2010 and 2011 were the great international waves of revolution in the Arab worlds. I still think it’s a political reality and a political necessity in the modern world.
What was the important thing in your opinion that you have protested for or against?
The largest demonstration that I was part of was the national demonstration in London on 15th February 2003 against the Iraq War which was the biggest demonstration in British political history that was part of a global movement – the biggest ever globally co-ordinated series of demonstrations in history. I think that was a very important issue. I think those protests had long term effects in terms of changing the political culture and attitudes in this country towards war intervention so I think that was very important. I was also a participant in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. I was in Tahrir Square for nine out of the eighteen days that bought down the Mubarak regime. I was working with people in Egypt for many years before that revolution broke out so that was a very important experience in modern revolution that I was part of.
What were the experiences like being part of a protest?
Over the years I was involved in the Solidarity movement with the miners and the anti-poll tax campaign and as I’ve said with the Egyptian revolution and with the Anti-War movement and what binds them all together is ordinary people organising themselves and begin to use that organisation to try and change society. Even before they have achieved anything, there is a sense of liberation and potential power. Most of the time in society, people spend their time in an atomised condition – they live at home with families and go to work, they do what they are told to do when they are told to do it in the time they are meant to do it. They get paid what they are told they are going to paid at the end of the day. Then they have to pay what they are told they are going to pay to buy back the things they have produced. It’s a dis-empowering experience. When they are left on their own it’s an oppressive experience. When the organised collective is acting together it is a liberating experience. I would say that from the smallest kind through to the Egyptian revolution that sensation is there – obviously the bigger the movement, the stronger and the more powerful it is. I would say that is the thread that runs through it all.
Is there any advice you would give to young people who feel dis-empowered by today’s political world?
Get organised. The system wants you to feel disempowered. It wants you to feel atomised and unable to change things. That’s how it continues. Don’t give into that situation. There is an antidote to that feeling which is collective organisation. Working people don’t have money, they don’t have guns, they don’t have political power, they don’t have control of the media but we do have numbers and we do have organisation and even the numbers aren’t any good unless we don’t have organisation and that is the lesson of generations of radicals. So if you aren’t in a union, get in a union, it is the basic defence mechanism for working people. If you aren’t part of a campaign to change something, then you should join one. If you aren’t in a political organisation you should join one because that is the way in which change happens. There is no other effective way for working people to make a difference in the world around them.
Thank you so much for your time. Looking forward to see you talk further on these topics on 3rd May.
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