‘The act of refusal’ – Some thoughts on revolution

Advertising has tried to appropriate the idea of ‘revolution’, yet it can’t help but ring hollow whenever it does. Luke E looks at what revolution actually means, and how we build for it on a day-to-day basis.

Indignados vote in a General Assembly – photo by Jesus Solana, flickr.com/photos/pasotraspaso

It can be easy to feel crowded by claims of revolution. Whether it’s some “revolutionary” new form of toilet cleaner. Or a “revolution” in the way we dye our hair or pay for bus tickets. Or the description of some billionaire computer expert as a “revolutionary” because they can offer us up both 7″ and 10″ versions of the newest tablet computer. The idea that some product we purchase is powerful enough to change our everyday lives is a mis-packaging of revolutionary passion and desire. Anything that makes the blurry and repetitive qualities of life that little bit more hi-definition is welcome, but revolutions are more than a matter of convenience. They are moments of liberation and empowerment.

There seems to be a contradiction between fighting for revolutionary change, and rooting that fight in the ordinary bullshit that we have to put up with. Revolutions are moments of transformation, whereas all that we feel certain about in our everyday lives is our shared experience of crushing, endless monotony. Revolutions begin as processes in our everyday lives, and are not just a one-off event. This doesn’t mean that we can dissolve revolutions into a series of smaller occasions. Revolutions are definite and identifiable moments of change in our society that shake the Earth on which we walk and leave lasting marks in the sediments of history. But a revolution is also a time of crisis that occurs both because of the lofty errors of the elite, and as the product of mass grassroots activity.

Revolutions are rooted in collective attempts to resist the crap we have to put up with. If we were to write down every time during a day that someone around us performed a little act of rebellion we would soon find our pages filling up. Whether it’s refusing to snitch on a colleague to management, illegally downloading a favourite album, sharing a complaint about the rightwing bastards that run our parliament, or putting our name down on an online petition protesting the deportation of a teenager, we see that the muck of life is interwoven with it’s opposite: the act of refusing to accept that things have to be this way. The point where everyday resistance becomes a revolution is when our isolated but often heroic struggle against those in charge becomes an organised and collective expression of our unspoken aspiration for an alternative. When we are isolated, our power to resist is what helps us survive as an individual or a family unit, yet when we act together our we open up the possibility that we can all thrive at once.

The importance of organisation in securing our shared future is not just an abstract call to form groups of like-minded individuals. Creating organisations that seek to protect themselves from the outside world and pretend that only it can see beyond the nonsense forced on us by our bosses and leaders is appealing, but will implode and turn into a cult under pressures from the outside world. Creating revolutions requires being politically active in the places where we all find ourselves on any given day. That can begin with organising in our workplace as part of a trade union, and move onto getting involved in a local campaign to prevent the closure of a library, hospital,  college, or swimming pool, which then leads to participating in a national group challenging the racism, homophobia, transphobia or sexism authorised by the ignorance and complicity of those ruling our society. Each revolution has a history involving people encouraging, nurturing and challenging one another to organise against the oppression and exploitation they face at that time.

If a movement comes to rely on a tiny cabal of individuals to provide it with opinions and direction, it has failed to achieve the goal of developing a revolutionary process. At various times individuals or small groups will provide inspiration and critical perspectives that will be invaluable in helping a revolutionary process become a revolutionary outcome. But these ideas will only prove their relevance if they widen, rather than restrict, the involvement of people in the struggle to change the world. Electing good people to a parliament or congress might make resisting our everyday boredom and frustrations feel easier, but it won’t create a revolution. It is only by taking on the task of running things for ourselves that we can guarantee the accountability and equality that prevents individuals from becoming too big for their boots. Revolutions might be rooted in the places we spend our lives, but their goal is to tear down the world we have inherited and replace it with something we have created for ourselves.

As we collectively create new kinds of behaviour in response to the struggle against the exploitation and oppression we face everyday, these new ways of doing things become new structures. These new structures can embody the potential for human beings to consciously control their everyday world. We are not just limited to what things we buy, we can share in making the decisions about how our society should be run. Resistance becomes revolution when our practices of struggle and resistance become forms of organization that can challenge and replace the institutions that the elite use to police our lives. Organizations of dedicated revolutionaries prove their worth by calling for the next step that best furthers the process of ordinary, working class people taking collective ownership over their own destiny.

The process of resisting the continuous shite of everyday existence can explode into a time of revolutionary change when we shape our resistance into something involving democratic mass participation. As we work together to overcome the inadequacies of a system that will only ever really benefit a gilded and detached elite, the experience of collective action can show us that resisting the world as it is not our only limit but that we are able to remake it all anew.


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