As Russell Brand and his particular form of revolutionary politics has seemingly become the popular voice of the disillusioned left in recent months, disengagement from electoral politics among us seems more and more prevalent. Brand’s views on the current political system are legitimate, insightful even, but as many left wing commentators have written in recent months, his conclusions are at best incomplete and, at worst, highly dangerous. Given the rise of UKIP and the right across Europe and growing inequality, it is important for us to acknowledge that revolution and evolution are not mutually exclusive.
To be clear, what I’m not advocating is the kind of reformism that centre-left parties across Europe practise. These are politics that focus on stability for privileged groups above liberation for disadvantaged groups, that preach patience to those with the most urgent needs and that accept unpalatable right-wing policies on the grounds of pragmatism. We should oppose these politics in all their forms because they legitimate the right-wing argument and help to create the illusion of consent for a hegemonic set of values and economic policies which we on the left oppose.
we do have a duty to convince ordinary people of our argument before we even think about forcing it on them
However, instant revolution; the destruction of existing infrastructure and institutions in the hopes of building something better, rarely leads to a better society. Most of us strongly oppose authoritarianism when it is practised by the right, but seem to encourage it amongst the left. This is not to say that we have to wait for the consent of multinational corporations or conservative politicians, but that we do have a duty to convince ordinary people of our argument before we even think about forcing it on them. The requirement for a majority belief in the kind of society we wish to see means that instant, violent revolution is not justifiable.
I’ve always found it utterly distasteful to use people’s lives as tactics in a political fight.
Electoral politics is a dirty game and, some would argue, an integral part of the capitalist system, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try our hardest to use it to forward our beliefs. It’s a slightly simplistic, but nonetheless important, point to make that those who support UKIP’s attempts to push our country even further to the right and those who support maintaining our current system will turn out to vote in May 2015. I’m sure there are some who would argue that, in the long term, the election of UKIP MPs in 2015 would be good for us, as it would make life intolerable for disadvantaged groups and make them more likely to support revolutionary politics, but I’ve always found it utterly distasteful to use people’s lives as tactics in a political fight.
We are highly unlikely to build the kind of society we want to see through the established electoral system. In the long run, we should be using a diversity of tactics to undermine and delegitimate capitalism and privilege. However, just because we’re fighting for a better type of society, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for the best version of what we have.
3 thoughts on “THE BLURRY LINE BETWEEN EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION”
I disagree with this article and I’m going to write a reply in defence of Revolution.
But I will say now that the idea that a Revolution is some form of instant event which is very violent with authoritarian overtures is a crude, historically inaccurate caricature.
Any Revolution involves Millions of people, different classes with conflicting interests clashing, fighting either to take humanity forward or take it backwards. It is a clash of ideas and the greatest political test for anyone who wants serious change.
And as Karl Marx said Violence is the midwife of Revolution. It would be false to argue for a “non violent” Revolution because we don’t live in a nice world full of fairies. We live in a violent class society.
However, as the pain that occurs in childbirth is but a brief part of a human’s life, violence is only a small part of what a Revolution is and what Revolutions have and can achieve.
A Revolution is not made by a minority it is made by the majority of people, the mass of people who have reached the point where they cannot live in the same way any more and their rulers are unable to rule in the same way anymore either. This is brought about by many years of problems developing at the base of society which seem to bubble underneath, unnoticed as people find a way to keep going but at some stage they are unable to do so and that is when a Revolution occurs.
This causes a clash that rips society apart and whether you or I like this it will happen because a class society never stands still and creates the conditions where people rebel and fight back.
The real question is who will win out in such struggles.
Furthermore, it is also historically inaccurate to claim that Revolutions don’t bring about major gains and changes. Or that they “rarely lead to a better society”.
Without the Dutch or English Revolutions of the 17th Century the modern world would not have emerged.
They were vital for the rise of capitalism.
In the same way that the Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War of the 19th Century were the real death-nail’s for slavery and the slave trade.
And we are taught that Britain is a democracy and that has always been so.
1832 is often mentioned as an important event – the great reform act – which seems to justify the idea of reforming the system.
What is not taught is that it took the revolutionary upheaval of a dozen General strikes described by the Prime Minister of the time as the “nearest run thing to a Revolution you ever saw” to bring about those reforms.
This movement of working class people failed but it led to most of the democratic rights we have today.
I agree with everything you’ve said. Ultimately, our current system is not the kind of system which any of us want to see, so all I’m saying in this article is that we should use a diversity of tactics to bring about change. One of those, I would strongly argue, is trying our hardest to push parliament as far left as it can go.
I agree that violent revolution is not the answer, but, when we have a pseudo democracy based on a first past the post system that relies on marginal seat victories how are we to gain enough seats for the left? As the three main parties all espouse similar policies and all endorse Austerity, with only the Green Party offering anything vaguely socialist what are the real world chance of reform based change? Civil disobedience will only achieve so much, somehow the left has to engage the people who until now have been apolitical as the nasty UKIP people have managed to do. As our traditional class distinctions have blurred in the past 20 years maybe we need a new banner to unite people, especially as most working class people now consider themselves lower middle or middle class. Maybe sell the idea that if you are earning less than £150,000 a year as a couple then the 3 main parties are not for you and the Greens and Left Unity are the only Parties not bought and paid for by big business and the Wealthy elite. The main problem I see is reform is reforming a political system that is designed to keep the elites powerful. Lessons from Spain and Greece could help together with lessons from the Scottish referendum.