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The Road to Revolution is Paved with Bread Not Tech.

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Bread is always the key

And it always has been.

Napoleon’s famous adage that an Army marches on its stomach applies to something else he knew a little something about – popular revolt. Indeed, a brief scan of the French Revolution might be more than a little prescient as Egypt settles in for calamitous disappointment.

Simply put, the story goes like this.

While it was the gifted thinkers of the bourgeoisie in France that framed and drove the conflict with the monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy, it was the energizing of the mob that turned the slow and enlightened march to reform into an irresistible and uncontrollable surge, starting from the Siege of the Bastille in 1789.  And what triggered the rage of the urban poor? Astronomical bread prices brought on by disastrous harvests and cynical price controls. For the Sans-Culottes on the streets of Paris spending 80% or more of one’s meager day wages on bread meant slow starvation. So a sheet of musket fire was hardly something to be feared.

The power of the mob to drive class revenge reached its bloody zenith during the Reign of Terror. Gone was the great oratory of Marat, and the brave populism of Danton, the latter silenced by the dictatorial insanity of Robespierre, himself a victim of the guillotine. And from 1789 to the rise of Napoleon, the Sans-Culottes equated revolutionary glory with one thing above all. Cheap and plentiful bread.

In Egypt, bourgeois reformers with their new social networking toys were able to lay low a dictator (if not the edifice of the state) with the support of an urban poor traumatized by high food prices. Throughout the Arab world, governments are busily meddling with price controls to appease their own masses, and prevent them becoming the street armies of existing middle class democracy advocates. In China, skyrocketing food inflation could bind an unsettled Internet-obsessed middle class with the wider peasantry and put serious pressure on the Communist Party.

Technology is a religion with its own self-serving vanity.  But revolutions happen not so much because of the smart phone, but far more because of the simple baguette.


Written by coolrebel

February 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm

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