iOS app Android app

Carne Ross

Entries by Carne Ross

Down With Leadership

(8) Comments | Posted February 2, 2012 | 1:42 PM

The Republican primaries grind on. Now that Newt Gingrich has declared his determination to fight it out until the convention in August, the year's news "agenda" will be wholly dominated by the soap-opera arguments of the presidential contest. Though tediously drawn-out, the ritualized debates reveal little of how the successful...

Read Post

The Leaderless Revolution, Part 2: The Action of One

(88) Comments | Posted December 19, 2011 | 2:32 PM

2011 will be remembered perhaps above all for the extraordinary wave of revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East. They were triggered by the self-immolation a year ago this week of one man in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi. It was an appalling act, but one of such devastating conviction that it inspired millions.

Our own politics has been in recent weeks illustrated by the banal spectacle of the Republican presidential debates. It could not offer a more hollow and passionless contrast. Whether the resemblance to The X-Factor is deliberate or subconscious, the public admission of the utter artificiality and boredom of contemporary politics could not be more conspicuous. The contest is dull because we already know who has the real power behind the scenes, and it's not us.

Like the "color" revolutions that overthrew repressive regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, the Arab Spring revolts had one goal: the removal of the oppressor, replacing autocracy with democracy. The object of the revolution was singular.

Those seeking fundamental change in western democracies face a different and more confusing situation. The lines of good and evil are not so clearly drawn, although they undoubtedly exist. We enjoy pluralism, freedom of speech, and democracy, at least in name and form, if not actual effect. The problems of today cannot be singularized, as dictatorship can. Mounting inequality, climate change, and the ultimate emptiness of much of modern life may be pernicious and potentially devastating problems, but they are also complex and resistant to simple remedy.

The causes of these ills are multiple but closely connected. The reckless pursuit of profit above all else is sustained by political institutions, and electoral process, that have been more or less completely, if often covertly, subverted by money and corporate influence. Remarkably, everyone seems to know this. We pretend to believe that our democracy works, even when we know that it doesn't.

The enemy that must be conquered is not a dictator, both easily identified and caricatured. It is both less blatant and more sophisticated. It is not one, but many. This means that a revolution to change things fundamentally for the better will not look like the Arab Spring. Protest alone will not dislodge the deeply entrenched forces that maintain an iniquitous status quo.

Indeed, protest in some ways helps legitimize this subtly but deeply unjust system, for it reinforces the pretense that the system is responsive to popular discontent. The bankers of Wall Street may secretly welcome "Occupy Wall Street" because one of its cultural effects is to remind the broader public that, unlike Egypt, America is, at least ostensibly, a free and democratic country. The subterranean reality however is that it is neither of these things, as the plutocrats are well aware. Both wealth and legislation are controlled by a tiny minority, and for their benefit.

This is a complex beast to fight, and it must be fought on many fronts and in many ways. This battle will not be won by marches on Washington, but by myriad small but substantive changes wrought by individuals and groups acting upon, as well as declaring, their convictions (for not only systemic change is needed, but also cultural). This revolution does not need a manifesto, or leaders. It can be, and perhaps needs to be, a leaderless revolution: a million acts of change, driven by individual conviction.

These acts might be to set up or give preference to new forms of economic organization, like cooperative companies that, owned by their workers, give weight to other values, social and environmental, as much as profit, but without sacrificing competitiveness. In one Occupy Wall Street working group we are seeking to establish a bank that by its very nature -- transparent, accessible, democratic -- will inject these values into the nervous system of the economy, and thus society (and offer better services than the for-profit banks, to boot).

But these multiple acts of change must also inhabit the simple choices of the everyday: what we buy and where we bank, and how we treat others -- celebrating the compassionate, shaming the greedy. And though simple, the decision to enact our beliefs in every circumstance is profound and liberating, not least because this is harder than it sounds. Dull, it is not.

The many steps towards a just and sustainable economy, and a truly inclusive democracy will be taken not by those we vote for, or petition. They will not emerge from the inevitable dialectic of history either. These steps require action and choices by us, individually, and then together. And here is one similarity of this revolution to the Arab Spring. Like the act of Mohamed Bouazizi, it can only start with one person, and that is us.

A former diplomat, Carne Ross is the author of The Leaderless Revolution: how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century, published by Blue Rider Press (Penguin), ebook now available, hardcover to be published in January 2012. For further information and videos explaining the book, visit This is the second in a series of four...

Read Post

The Leaderless Revolution: A New Paradigm of Political Change

(51) Comments | Posted December 12, 2011 | 12:30 PM

A new paradigm of political change:

The political methods of the 20th century are, it appears, less and less effective for the world of the 21st.

The nature of globalization is without precedent: accelerating interconnectedness, with billions of people interacting constantly in a massive, dynamic, and barely comprehensible process.

Yet the assumption persists that the political processes and institutions designed in the 20th century, or earlier, remain appropriate and effective in this profoundly different state of affairs. In fact it appears that the ability of national governments and international authorities to manage the severe problems arising from this new dispensation are declining, despite their claims to the contrary.

Take climate change. The annual climate summit has just ended in Durban, after dozens of "preparatory" meetings and thousands of diplomatic discussions. Its output was a decision to agree a treaty in 2015 to introduce emissions limits in 2020. Oddly, many governments (and commentators) are claiming this as some kind of victory.

It is traditional to blame individual states (the US, China) for the failure to agree to more robust measures, and these do bear some responsibility. It is however also apparent that the process itself is the problem, and has been since its inception. The negotiation echoes traditional models of state-based interaction. Governments treat it as a bargaining process, where commitments to curb emissions have to be matched by other countries. The net result is that nothing is done.

The correct measure of Durban is not the declarations of success by the participating governments, which are required to trumpet their own effectiveness and negotiating prowess. The only output that matters is the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. This has grown with unprecedented rapidity by more than 10% since the first such conference, the so-called "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Effects in the real world should be the test of such processes, and indeed of all political methods, including government's. By this measure, efforts to curb financial volatility or terrorism have been similarly ineffective. Experts say that the internationally-agreed Basel III rules to reduce risky banking practice are insufficient, and they are already being watered down by banks' lobbying. Ten years after 9/11, and despite the killing of Osama bin Laden, we find ourselves in a condition of never-ending threat, multiple conflicts and the seemingly permanent embrace of an intrusive and hugely expensive security state.

There is a more pernicious consequence of the repetitive but tenuous claims to effectiveness made by the practitioners of conventional politics and government: everyone else is dulled into stupefied inaction. If "the authorities" claim to be on top of these problems, what does it matter what we do? And here's the rub. We have been pummeled into a kind of dazed apathy, endlessly badgered by politicians that they can fix it, when in fact we are the most potent agents of change.

At home, democracy has been subverted. Corporations donate copiously to both parties to insure their influence. Politicians initiate legislation in order to extract rents from big business. Private prison owners lobby for longer sentences. There are now lobbying organizations representing the interests of lobbyists.

This legal corruption is deeply entrenched in our supposedly democratic political system, resisting all attempts at reform. It is naïve to expect decisions from this system to reflect the interests of ordinary people. And this is what we see: tax regimes that tax incomes of the poor more than the accumulating wealth of the rich; healthcare legislation whose primary beneficiary is the healthcare industry; a comprehensive failure to regulate the banking industry to prevent further violent crises such as the '08 credit crunch.

Cynical despair would be a perfectly understandable response to this dismal picture. But this reaction entirely suits those who profit from the status quo. Instead, this analysis leads to one clear prerogative: there is no choice but to act ourselves. If we are not to stand by while the world's problems deepen, there is only one alternative: action based upon on our convictions, uniting with others for greatest effect. And as we shall see in the next post, such action is in fact far more powerful than any other method of politics in effecting real and lasting change.

A former diplomat, Carne Ross is the author of The Leaderless Revolution: how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century, published by Blue Rider Press (Penguin), ebook now available, hardcover to be published in January 2012. For further information and videos explaining the book, visit This is the first in a series of four...

Read Post

9 Ways To Start Your Own Revolution

(18) Comments | Posted December 3, 2011 | 10:12 AM

The Leaderless Revolution (Blue Rider Press, $10.99) is a guide to what's wrong with the current system and how to put it right. Judge the current economic and political system by its outputs: rising inequality, climate change, and mounting economic volatility. Things are not going as planned.


Read Post

A Manifesto For Better Banking

(73) Comments | Posted September 27, 2011 | 3:17 PM

Here are some suggestions for a manifesto for the Occupy Wall Street protests, which are currently taking place. The manifesto attempts to summarize common concerns about current banking practices and articulate a new agenda for a better system. The banks are busy lobbying lawmakers and the Administration every day. The...

Read Post

Libya: Eight Nonmilitary Options

(31) Comments | Posted March 4, 2011 | 1:33 PM

I am, like many, disappointed by the lack of debate about nonmilitary alternatives to the situation in Libya. No Fly Zones are an extremely risky venture, have no current legal basis, and may backfire.

Before any military action is contemplated, there are other steps available to put pressure on Gaddafi's...

Read Post

Uncomfortable Lessons From the Reaction to WikiLeaks

(274) Comments | Posted January 7, 2011 | 4:02 PM

Amid the sound and fury of the reaction to WikiLeaks, something is missing. Whether hostile or supportive, politicians and commentators on all sides have managed to miss the real point. The contents of the leaked cables should demand a deep reflection on our foreign policy. That this has not happened...

Read Post

The End of Diplomacy As We Know It

(63) Comments | Posted November 30, 2010 | 5:34 PM

It will take a long time, perhaps many years, for the full impact of the WikiLeaks disclosure of thousands of US diplomatic cables to become known. Make no mistake: this is an event of historic importance -- for all governments, and not only the US.

As politicians of all...

Read Post

Fleeing the Volcano

(7) Comments | Posted April 20, 2010 | 1:42 PM

As the volcano vomited its detritus of ash across the European continent, a million plans were disrupted. Families were divided, businesses interrupted; chaos took hold. But under the cloud, small stories like this one played out, with consequences not of delayed travel, or money lost, but of something else, indeterminate.

Read Post

A Brave Woman Pays the Price for a Misinterpreted Interview

(5) Comments | Posted November 16, 2009 | 1:48 PM

Being US Secretary of State requires difficult choices and careful words. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining relations but also principle. Great harm can be done with a few words. One recent episode illustrates the risks.

In my work on the Western Sahara (my non-profit group...

Read Post

Hostage Diplomacy

(243) Comments | Posted August 5, 2009 | 6:00 PM

There are few acts of diplomacy more striking than a former American president swooping in to the world's most forbidding nation to rescue two women from years of imprisonment and hard labor. If Hollywood produced it, it would almost seem trite. Even Bill Clinton's harshest critic should celebrate this rescue...

Read Post

The New Power Dispensation at the UN Security Council

(1) Comments | Posted May 22, 2009 | 12:02 PM

Changes are afoot in the way power works in the world. Oft-predicted (by Parag Khanna, among others), new axes of power are emerging.

At the UN Security Council, where power is (sometimes) made visible, a statement is this week under preparation to react to the trial of Aung Sung Suu...

Read Post

US Drone Strikes and Civilian Casualties in Pakistan: "It's Not Moral"

(6) Comments | Posted May 15, 2009 | 1:35 PM

Three recent official and sort-of-official comments on this issue (well, two comments and one non-comment):

A remarkable interview in the Financial Times with David Kilcullen, the Australian former adviser on counter-insurgency to General David Petraeus. Kilcullen's comments on the civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes in western Pakistan:

Read Post

Will Obama Solve the Middle East -- All at Once?

(13) Comments | Posted May 13, 2009 | 10:59 AM

There are immense and tectonic shifts underway on the Arab/Israel dispute. Nothing is confirmed, but the signs are growing of a new US policy that is remarkable in its scale and ambition: nothing less than a comprehensive solution to all "tracks" (as they have hitherto been known) of the peace...

Read Post

Why Arlen Specter is an anarchist

(19) Comments | Posted May 5, 2009 | 4:29 PM

I have been pondering Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats. The only plausible explanation of his behavior is that he is, in fact, an anarchist. Only someone dedicated to the destruction of democracy would act in such a manner. Consider the facts. He serves the Republican party for 40 years,...

Read Post