I was chatting with a couple of friends Monday about the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in its unfocused protest about banks and the financial sector and other things. No specific targets, but they know something is wrong here.
One friend, a firm "independent," dismissed the crowds as "a bunch of purple-haired freaks." The other - a determined conservative who has predicted rioting in 18 months in American cities when the economy collapses, as he is sure it is about to - similarly waved off the protests because the crowd was largely young and powerless with no agenda.
I tried to put the Occupiers in perspective, looking back on my Air Force study of the Russian revolutions as a briefing intelligence officer in SAC (the B-47 aircrews must have hated me but I was only doing my duty, as the Pentagon ordered) instilling the crews with "know your enemy" info.
I remember that the Russian revolt was actually three uprisings, the 1910 one the first, then in 1917 when the Duma dissolved the tsar and the Menshaviks took over. The peasants in 1910 were not organized at all and were brutally cut down, but they were the shape of things to come.
The Menshaviks were not very well organized, either, with students and intellectuals in charge. Alex Kerensky dallied and continued the war with Germany.
But then with Lenin newly back in Russia, the soviets (workers' groups) joined the Kerensky government with the Bolsheviks and then ousted the provisional regime. And from that we got the Soviet Union.
Much the same pattern held in China, with disorganized protests breaking out from the Boxer War on until Sun Yat-sen and Chang Kai-shek lost to the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung.
China's Manchu government fell because of youthful protests and intellectuals acting. Same with Sun. But not Mao. He welcomed the students.
Much the same can be said about the French revolution, in which the young mobs (see "A Tale of Two Cities") ousted Louis XVI and eventually the organized anti-royalists seized power on the backs of disaffected peasants and youths.
The pattern seems obvious. A nation blunders, and segments of the population demonstrate, usually with few specific aims. Small, organized groups, using the angry youths, move in and come up with objectives. They take charge of the lightly organized youths and gain political control, perhaps of a country.
Here's what one Occupier said about the movement:
"We are also not asking for a revolution. We are asking for our government to apply the principles of our rule of law that already exists to take down corruption in our government, where the financial industry and the oil industry are clearly dictating policy on behalf of our elected officials for their personal gain.
"We are asking that they punish those who continue to play brinkmanship games with our economy, both in government and extra government. We are asking for a separation of corporation and state. Similar to the separation of church and state, where we establish no state-sponsored religion.
"We want to end state-sponsorship of favored corporations as a parasitic shadow government.
"We are asking that ALL Americans get access to the blessings of our system, not just THE FEW 1%."
You may like to sneer at the Wall Street Occupiers, but learn your history before you find purple hair a laugh.
• Sam Bauman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org