Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thoughts on revolution

One boozy night at university, I found myself in conversation with an anarchist. I am no expert on anarchism, but I understand it comes in many flavours. A unifying theme is a lack of centralised government. This particular anarchist wanted us all to live in self sustaining communities, a sort of modern throwback to a traditional lifestyle. Such communities would be relatively without conflict, lacking the means or reason to do so, and would be environmentally non-impactful, being self sustaining and fairly low tech.

I, perhaps unsurprisingly, disagreed with this concept. Firstly, the concept did not seem terribly realistic to me. As I argued, we had been in such a state before, and some communities had wanted more, and had warred to unify themselves. Our current state is not our natural state, but it is something that came as a consequence of disparate communities being unified by force. Secondly, I'd find such a state boring. Things that excite me about the human condition: science and art primarily, exist primarily thanks to our current centralised nature. Science certainly could not progress without co-ordination, and art certainly benefits from it.

I bring up this anecdote because I've been thinking about revolution recently, and how one must be careful what we wish for. Both this anarchist and I were left wing, and could probably agree on many fundamentals, yet on others we were completely at odds. So lets suppose the left, and only the left, had managed to organise a revolution. What form would our new society take? An anarchistic or socialistic utopia? Our visions of paradise were at odds with one another.

Of course in practice there's no such thing as a purely left wing revolution, because revolution rarely happens without organised violence, and organised violence requires the control of force. Those who are good at applying force are not necessarily good at fair rule, as Egypt is discovering. The military has always had a massive amount of power in times of civil unrest, and without the restraints of a civilian government, unwelcome consequences can arise.

What we have now, the political system that exists, is by no means perfect, and  I understand those who would wipe the slate clean and replace it with something else, but what that something else might be is an incredibly hard question that would need firm answers now rather than later. Even if you have a replacement for the current government, you need a way to get to that replacement without losing your way.

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At 3:08 pm, Blogger Helen said...

Have you read Ursula le Guin's "tHe Dispossed? It has someone from a world founded in anarchy going to a capitalist one. Arguably her best book, though others would put "Left hand do darkness" first

At 8:09 pm, Blogger Mr K said...

I have not, I may have to check it out!


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