The Necessity For Revolution and The Depravity of Reform

The  Necessity For Revolution and The Depravity of Reform
Image: Salvador Dalí, Phenomenon City of Delft, oil on canvas, 1936.

I am happy to publicly say I have a soft spot for Donnachadh McCarthy. Over the last few years, he has periodically laid into me on social media with varying degrees of justification. But happily, I am from a generation and culture that looks upon getting offended as a necessary part of democratic discourse. So it’s all fine by me.

I raise this because he, and others, make an elementary error about the strategy (and moral necessity) of attacking reformism – the ideology of present-day liberals - in our present moment. He believes we are all in this together and should work together; let’s focus our attacks on the bad guys rather than attacking each other and related arguments.
We are not and we shouldn’t.

I want to be quite precise in this post. When I am promoting my views about the necessity and justification for a revolution I am not doing it for some lazy, machismo, anti-social or generally unpleasant reason.

First, let’s create some definitions. Reformism is the creation of political change within an existing political regime. Revolution is the creation of a new regime – which can be nonviolent or violent in the historical record. Of course, there are always fuzzy edges but there is a clear separation here between these two strategies.

Second I want to make clear I am not against nor for either reform or revolution as a matter of dogmatic principle. The argument is entirely contextual. 20 years ago, for instance, I would have said the prospect of revolution in western societies was ridiculous, while now I think it is inevitable. And I have, pragmatically and ethically, a lot of respect for our reformist traditions, and I’ve read enough about revolutions to know they can be – well, tricky. This is not the point here.

The point is this. There is a particular context where reform becomes both strategically and morally disastrous and there is one viable path: revolution.

Consider this analogy. Your car is heading toward a cliff at a momentum unit of 20. There are four of you – two revolutionaries (pushing back at 6) and two reformists (pushing at 3) – the total unit of push back is 18. The car rolls over the cliff. The outcome is binary – either the car stops or it goes over the cliff. There are only two outcomes. To stop the car you need 4 revolutionaries: 4x6= 24 – greater than 20 to get the car to stop.

The situation becomes direr in the following context: 4 reformists are pushing against the car (4x3=12). Everyone who is honest enough can see they are going to fail. Think about COP26 with 3 years to save the world. Four revolutionaries are on hand to stop the car (4x6=24) but they cannot get to the car because the limited space to stop the vehicle is occupied by the reformists (see my previous post about Greenpeace and Oxfam getting all the tickets/space at Glastonbury).

You can see the point. In Endtimes, that is, when you are objectively about to lose everything forever, the unavoidable strategic and ethical logic points to only one course of action – to remove the reformists from the field of play. If we had fifty years then we could all be friends. If we have three, and we do only have three, then it’s us or them.

Concretely speaking – everyone has to support and engage in a nonviolent revolutionary process – that is civil resistance (to the extent of getting over 20) or be the subject to direct action and moral exposure to get them out of the way. This is what being in a climate emergency actually means.

It’s not that intelligent analysts in the reformist space aren’t fully aware of the situation. A top Greenpeace strategist confessed privately to me that the only viable thing to do was “drive GP into the state” rather than engaging in “managed defeat''. It’s the age-old routine of incumbent power trumping moral responsibility.

In other words, in 2022 it’s revolution or certain death – because it just is. Reformism delays things for a year or two. Reformism dupes our young people with comforting fairy tales as we send them into the furnaces –“carbon neutral” “net zero”, and all the rest of the self-evident bullshit. As Johan Rostrum says 2C will lead to 3C, and you don’t need to be a climate expert to know that 3C leads to 4C.

It's not that civil resistance leading to a revolutionary change of the regime is bound to work, it’s that reformism is 100% going to fail.

Do you get it? If you do, you are a particularly intelligent or morally sensitive person or gifted with a certain moral courage that enables you to see the reality before it blasts itself into the face of the 99% who cannot do the maths, or whose privilege stops them from accepting it.
In the literature, on the historical sociology of revolution, the key objective of the revolutionaries is to destroy the reformist political space. This is structural as well as moral. This is what Martin Luther King was getting at in Letter from a Birmingham Jail when he said the white moderates were the biggest block to black liberation because they hold the space on pushing the car back, but they push it with one finger while making sure the radicals and revolutionaries don’t get a look in.

Throughout history these Endtimes – when it’s all or nothing to make system change happen, the “Ending” has been limited in both time and place. A particular part of the world and a particular period of history.

This time we face the Endtime of all Endtimes. It is infinite: the collapse of the whole global ecological/social system effectively forever. This is why reformism in 2022, is infinitely stupid and infinitely morally depraved.

Strange as it may seem it’s this maths which animates the extreme emotion which is now needed to make the transformation we need. In order to stop the unimaginable suffering, we are allowing to be imposed on others.

So offence being taken at my revolutionary rage is the last of my worries.

To contact civil resistance groups around the world:

The Climate Situation
is F*cked

Help me to get with the job of sorting it out.