Retconning the Revolution 2

An alternative view to Keith Preston’s Forty Years in the Wilderness.

People are rarely struck by trains they see coming. No-one expects to meet their end under the steel wheels of a hundred ton freight engine because no-one seriously believes they could fail to note the approach of such a machine. Particularly given these things don’t ambush people from dark alleyways but travel along easily observable rails in a not inconspicuous fashion. Yet every year a number of people are surprised, and probably temporarily embarrassed, to find they have just been struck by locomotives. Revolutions are much the same.

There is a good reason that revolutions often appear to fall out of merely mildly overcast sky upon some innocent elite going out their daily business. It is because there are very simple and effective methods that can be used to suppress them before they gain any traction. Potential leaders can have accidents, go to prison or simply inexplicably vanish, propaganda assets can inoculate against movements and ideologies, the cops can get a big pay rise etc. For this reason many highly anticipated revolutions, such as the radical British of the early nineteenth century and the Communist German at the back end of that century and front end of the subsequent one, never materialised.

However, even though social control is alarming easily exerted by a modern state, they don’t always see the threat. One reason is that basic human nature usually allows elites to believe themselves beloved, righteous and rightfully in command while their enemies are despicable incompetent maggots. Another is because of complacency “we haven’t had any trouble of the plebs for fifty years, why would that change now?” And there is also the problem that, in the long term, suppressing subversives tends to make more of them, so it’s not just distasteful, it’s counter productive. The boiling frog comes in as well, “yeah sure people are pissed off, but only slightly more so than they were last year, and maybe not as much as they were that time ten years ago”.

Usually this attitude is justified, because revolutions don’t happen very often; riots happen, protests happen, enormous labour strikes happen, terrorism happens, but revolutions do not. The difference, I would like to suggest, between any of those things and a revolution is not scale, its method. We’ve all got annoyed with the government and in a fit of rage joined a mob and tossed a lit dustbin through a police car window; but that is not an attempt to bring down the system. That is merely expressing your dissatisfaction in a creative manor. The difference between regular fit of large scale disorder and a revolution is intent; nothing more.

This is a particular problem for Anglos, most nations have a cultural memory of how to go about overthrowing a government. In France it’s practically a ritual activity. You simply build a few barricades, seize the local town hall, defenestrate a couple of filing cabinets, run an appropriate banner up the town flag poll, declare a new republic and go get drunk. (It is by no means unknown to history for formal revolutions to occur for no serious reason at all. Societies will undergo the process only to, on the point of victory, realise that they have no idea what would constitute an improved system and simply put the old one back. 1848 went down pretty much like that, 1968 almost went that far.) However, despite having more or less invented the game back in the sixteen forties and perfecting it in the seventeen seventies, nothing remotely like that has happened since (with the exception of that unpleasant episode half way through the nineteenth century; which failed anyway and thus doesn’t count). Anglos just don’t have a popular cultural tradition of revolution.

The task of Late Modern Western dissidents is to make one.

This sounds like tremendous fun; organising competitive barricade construction competitions and rehearsing storming civic buildings with paint ball guns and so forth. Sadly the reality is a little more complex. It is not sufficient to teach rioters how to beat riot police (an improvised cavalry charge usually works quite well and if not available flanking manoeuvres often results in orderly withdrawals of the opposition). This is partly because routing the pigs, and perhaps forcing them to undergo some kind of humiliating surrender ritual, is unnecessary. However it is mainly because it is ineffective, “the day the Chief Constable handed his baton to Dave Scum” might make a great piece of folklore but it isn’t going to change anything. Dave will still be in prison ten years hence and the Chief Constable will still be collecting his pension.

In order to enact an actual systemic political change what is required is nothing less than the construction of a new system. Opinions vary on how this might be achieved, many look enviously at Hezbollah, and others are inspired by the EZLN. However until such a time as a major state such as Iran decides to finance your comprehensive social program or you find yourself in possession of a balaclava clad, pipe smoking, poetic media genius slightly more mundane options are probably a better bet. Taking control of your local government through conventional (ish) electoral techniques spiced with a little asymmetric conflict theory for example. Such a technique offers the intriguing possibilities, such as having the state pay for its minions to enact your subversive programs for example. Plus it also has the advantage of not requiring you to find some way of disposing of the competition such as running the tax officers out of town on a rail.

If such a task could be accomplished then the next time a wave of disaffection or electoral disloyalty breaks out those so inclined might have a better idea than having their faces trod on by police horses.

This is of course a ludicrous propositions, what kind of immense resources would it take to change the entire sociopolitical culture of an entire nation/civilisation/planet?

Well it is either impossible, or quite easy. The only way it could possibility be realistically accomplished would be by example. Imagine if somewhere in the West an Islamic fundamentalist, primitivist ecologist, libertarian, white nationalist, Christian fundamentalist, communist, direct democratic or hard money group managed to take control of a town council. They then used this institution to enact a localised version of their favoured system of governance, in so far as they could. This community would now stand as concrete proof that this was a possibility, that real change in social, political, legal and economic circumstances could be effected.

Obviously we can not with any confidence predict the zeitgeist but it seems a fairly reasonable proposition that other dissidents might get the idea. It doesn’t seem like a completely fantastic concept that many other groups might use the same techniques, or better yet variations of them, to achieve the same for themselves and their beliefs.

Of course we a hypothesising that any such community could ever come into being to stand as an example. Unless we take the radical step of imagining that, and this is pretty wild conjecture, rather than need a freshly minted radical autonomous community maybe we could just use one of the several that already exist?

Freetown Christiania perhaps? Or Orania in South Africa maybe? Along with the EZLN’s autonomous communities these might be some of the most direct examples. But, squint a little, and more precedents might suggest similar concepts; The Amish communities (and other religious communities) the micro-nations of Europe (and elsewhere) might serve as inspiration. And then there is the interesting examples of Ukrainian radicalism and its favoured strategy; secessionism.

However, of course, some off these examples have existed for some considerable time, decades and centuries in some cases and as yet their existence has not as yet had any discernible impact on the thinking of any dissident tendencies. Other than the Islamic Republics advocated for cities in the UK. And also the Libertarian Free State Project. And the micro nation movement itself perhaps. Oh, and it appears that a fair chunk of the radical right has grasped the concept as well, which considering its long standing attachment to the idea of the nation state is pretty significant. But other than that?

Aside from the obviously related ideas of groups like Transition Towns and the whole localisation movement there really isn’t much sign of decentralist ideas penetrating into the collective consciousness. Only a few fringe members of the British ruling party seem to have similar conceptions for instance. And only a fraction of European states have large scale secession movements, mostly minor countries like the UK, Spain, Belgium and Italy; most European states have hardly any at all.

Which is to say that Keith Preston’s “Forty years in the Wilderness” is probably a pretty accurate account of how decentralist ideas are going to become the mainstream alternative to the orthodoxy of the status quo. However, I would suggest, that the clock started ticking some considerable time ago.

So where are we now? It is, of course, impossible to say. However I would certainly not rule out an acceleration of the application of decentralist strategies by all sorts of groups in the very near future it impossible that if any of those groups have any success that might well even further catalyse the process. It is undoubtedly optimistic but not unthinkable that in the near future serious wave of discontent could wash over the West and this time the result might be inspired more by the kind of ideas ATS deals in and less by student sit ins.

Given the current state of the popular conception of the elite. Given the insoluble structural weakness of Western economies. Given the increasing sophistication of radical critiques of the system. Given the ever increasing geo-political pressures on the West. Given the potential dislocation caused by resource depletion and environmental degradation it is not fanciful to consider a sustained and substantial period of political disorder could occur sometime soon. Indeed it is more, rather than less, likely.

All of which appears an absurd suggestion on this fine summer evening in 2014, but then again so does the proposition that you might find yourself with a train all up in your face any time soon.


  1. I’ve been there done that with the local government thing and I still had police horse hooves on my face, metaphorically. That’s one reason I became an anarchist.

  2. Yeah see, that’s a common mistake, become an anarchist first; then go take control of your local government. Doing it the other way around is kinda counter productive since it’s pretty difficult to advance the revolution if you’re not on board with it in the first place.

    Obviously that would sound ludicrous to a “conventional mainstream” anarchist because like “government!?” but I’m talking about serious applied anarchism. The only sensible practical or viable proposition for anarchists or any other kind of radical is the idea of building parallel structures of organization. However in the West that is seriously the long way around when they are already in place just waiting to be co-opted.

    The critical innovation here is too not go around talking in obscure abstractions or to make appeals to grandiose schemes which could only be enacted, if at all, by control of a nation state. Instead I’m suggesting talking about practical propositions; local currencies, credit unions, free schools whatever. Not only will these projects directly challenge elite power, not only might they do some good in themselves, but their implementation but the inevitable consequence would be to bring local communities into conflict with central authorities. Once that conflict is instigated then it will inevitably radicalize communities and individuals against the system.

    This approach has the possibility of bringing ordinary none ideological driven freaks like us into conflict with the elite. And that is the only way this is going anywhere.

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