Thoughts on violent revolution, anarchism and social change…

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought it was time for a good old fashioned rant... J

Though I have a lot of friends who consider themselves anarchists, it’s a philosophy that I’ve never fully been able to agree with in any real sense. I often find myself in great debates over the practicality or some underlying, glaring contradictions that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. It’s not that I don’t see the problems with the way the world is currently being run, nor that I am brainwashed or don’t appreciate (and hope) for the idea of erasing the hierarchical subtext of our world and creating a more just society in its place. It’s the method of getting there that most worries me. The particular rise I see in the “F#*$ the police”, let’s-start-a-violent-revolution-to-overthrow-the-government-type of anarchism is quite troubling to me. Having experienced what happens in the absence of a functioning state first-hand, I fear the shape that would arise from such a drastic situation and see alternatives that are not so abrupt that I feel could be just as, if not more, effective.

Most of the anarchists I know believe in creating consensus-run societies. Herein lies one of my greatest problems with the whole philosophy of the violent revolution type of anarchism. Consensus right now does not favour a violent overthrow. Society does not consent to this. How can one expect to build a consensus society on the back of silencing another’s objections entirely? How does this inevitably not lead to more hierarchy—as those who have had their objections bulldozed over now become the ones who feel oppressed and ignored? I am not talking about the objections of those top elites in power, but rather, those of Joe Average; the vast majority of everyday persons who object. Those who will likely have a drastic change of life in the transition that they may well feel resent towards. Consensus doesn’t mean we all have to fully think everything is the best decision, but we do have to consent.

History has demonstrated repeatedly what can happen when a small group of people feel they know what is “best” for society and violently take matters into their own hands to try and change the situation via revolution.

Thinking practically for a minute; if all governments were tomorrow overthrown, what would happen in the world? What shape would the new, new world order take? How would society transition? Would essential services still run? Who would ensure that they do? Would it become a free-for-all in the streets in some places during the transition?

Obviously, if one believes in the ideal of consensus—then each community would be left to decide what shape this would take amongst them-selves. This leads to a seemingly never ending list of questions within my mind. Does the power vacuum created in the fall of the state lead to a crisis situation wherein a new power struggle takes place? Do those who led the overthrow get power-hungry once they have toppled the government? Do those freed from the previous system, those who were imprisoned by its rules rejoin society and how do they do that? How does society respond to those who refuse to live by consensus choices or laws, the psychopaths and the killers and such? If the world becomes decentralized, and communities become responsible for themselves, what happens to those communities without access to essential resources? Do we form some kind of global consensus on issues that affect us all? How does that take shape? Would we have to send representatives from our communities to share our objections and consent on the global stage, thus replicating government forms all over again?  What happens to all the people who are currently reliant on capitalist global trade? Would their positions (and livelihood) just cease to exist in the breakdown, and what would their role in society now become? Would they be resentful of the change, having a complete upheaval in their way of life?  What IS working in society right now? Do we have to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as they say. Is there anything worth keeping in the current system? Each question leads to a new series of questions with endless possibilities, many of the likely ones far worse in my mind than our current reality.

The status quo is violence. We, as humans, have invented so many forms of degrading, hurting, killing and maiming each other and our violence comes in so many forms; it is engrained in us that violence is the only “real” response. That oppression cannot be overcome by any other means. That the only way to respond to violence is with more violence. That perhaps, in reality, everything is violent. We cannot imagine a world without it. Perhaps there is no way to even be completely non-violent. Can we at least strive to reduce the harm as much as possible?

People are becoming more aware of the world around them. For the first time in history, the world is truly connected. It is possible to see live events from someone’s cell phone on the opposite side of the globe, to share ideas instantaneously. The technological advancements over the past hundred years are astounding. We began creating and creating and not immediately realizing the side effects and in the search for the almighty dollar, cheaper became more important than quality or overall consequences, especially when someone distant bore the brunt. We are growing consciousness and if you look around you—things are s-l-o-w-l-y changing right now. The corporate world is desperately trying to keep up placated, while others have been growing test communities with alternative economies and ways of life.

People are creating and innovating and trying to make great changes in the systems all over the world. And they are making things better. Instead of bullying our way through to change, why don’t we do our best to build consensus among those around us that change is desirable by demonstrating what’s possible. What is working. What can work.  And educating on what doesn’t and why it doesn’t work for everyone.

We as humans are capable of great change. Numerous times throughout history we have seen a radical change in morality and norms. Slavery was not so long ago thought to be a natural state of humanity. Though it still exists, it is no longer a morally acceptable practice in the vast majority of the world and there are numerous laws outlawing its practice.

So how can we drastically change the system, without necessarily breaking the system?

Government and society’s systems are intricate and complex—there is no one answer that will work universally. Practice out what works and what doesn’t in test communities all over the place. When something works, share it widely among other communities. There are already test communities popping up all over the place. They need more funding, more awareness and more ideas to be successful.

Some key things I think are necessary for drastic change and necessitate testing:

  • Teaching peace and investing in peace on a global scale. Teach it from early childhood in every classroom, techniques such alternative dispute resolution and other conflict management strategies. Reinforce conflict resolution skills all through school and workplaces where possible. If we can spend trillions of dollars annually on militarization, we can surely spend billions on peace. Peacebuilding projects around the world are currently sparse and severely underfunded.
  • Gradual reduction/retraining of the current armed forces into national guard/emergency services roles. Army functions retrained into civilian-based defense facilitators and other non-militarized functions.
  • Reform the judicial and penal systems to focus on actual rehabilitation and positive reintegration into society for current offenders. Try alternative dispute resolution and alternate forms of justice in future grievances, particularly in “non-violent” crimes. Review current societies’ laws via some form of consensus. This includes local, regional, and global laws.
  • A complete overhaul/creation of corporate law that favours the living world over profit.
  • Restructuring local and regional governments so that they become more direct forms of democracy.
  • Massive investment into the research and development of sustainable communities.
  • Investment in basic needs over luxuries.
  • A complete overhaul or creation of new international structures.
  • Re-thinking spaces. Let cities feed cities. Rethink how spaces are connected, how they are accessible, how they blend into the environment around them, how they use energy, how they use water, how they interact with humans and other living species and let’s invest our time and our energy in that direction in the future.

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Comment by John C. Turley on July 22, 2012 at 11:05pm
The Republic of the USA is a successful, albeit imperfect, model for governing people democratically. It is one of the greatest achievements of mankind over the long perspective of history. Another brilliant model for enlightened government is that of the Doge of Venice from the Renaissance Period of European history. The USA model is somewhat disappointing because of the undue influence of lobbyists and the worship of wealth within this country. There are significant inequities within American society namely the vast wealth of our country controlled by 2% of the population. Social injustices abound.

Anarchists have existed throughout history with revolutionary ideas. Peter Kropotkin comes to mind as one of the most notable anarchists of the 19th Century. The problem with anarchy and government by consensus is that society becomes unruly and spirals into chaos. The anatomy of the French Revolution demonstrates the stages of revolution from the initial rebellion against oppression by the lower and middle classes by the aristocracy to the emergence of Napoleon as dictator and the attendant wars that plagued Europe for 25 years.
American society and government will change over time organically or from within and by the power of external forces characterized by the global economy and the rise of other great powers. Changes are needed to address the needs of the whole USA society and not those of the upper 2%. There is no need for anarchy within the USA which will most likely not be tolerated. There is a need to support change through the democratic process and to evolve based on the internal drivers of American society and the external drivers of the world community. The USA has an excellent model upon which to enact the necessary changes that will allow us to lead the rest of the world in so many important categories for the overall betterment of the human race.

Comment by Andre Jackson on July 25, 2012 at 2:28pm

Hi Rebecca,

I agree. It seems that many people who think they support an anarchistic revolution don't think past the overthrow/anarchy phase. You pose good questions about the practicality of a "stateless" society.

In regards to violence I also agree that transparency helps, together with a sense of accountability. In our day and age where many people have means of almost instantaneous transmission of text, photos and even videos it becomes increasingly difficult to continue and hide certain violent acts that not even a decade ago where almost common. I think of the news report today of Argentinian police torturing suspects.

And easier access to information also contributes to an increased sense of accountability. Even if somebody was to claim they were just doing as they had been told, it becomes more and more difficult not to be aware of a community's, a society's or even the international response to certain situations.

For me faith is the ultimate inhibitor from commiting acts of violence.

A thought that often crosses my mind when I think about violence, is the acceptance of violence in sports and the glorificaiton of the military. Having grown up in a different country I'm still caught off guard when I see the popularity of brutal MMA events on TV and the Ads, etc. of different military branches. A short while ago I went to a country that had declared its military unconsitutional - and low and behold! - the country was not annexed by its neighbors over night. When I think of the military spending - and what could be done with those funds if they weren't spent on military...

Reading your article on the depths of violence I wonder: Can there be ever no structural and cultural violence as long as there are nations? When I look for instance at some of the topics being brought up during policitcal campaigns - as long as we find it "right" to increase our well-being at the expense of another, can we ever say there is no systemic violence?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

And if you could recommend any reading on the topic I'd be much obliged. During my NDR studies I did not come accross much along the lines of violence (with the exception of domestic violence)...


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