The Backyard Revolution

(This post is to organize into a coherent piece a bunch of thoughts and conversations I had on twitter this morning)

I’m more and more convinced as of late that there won’t be a “revolution” in the sense that most people on the left have meant that word for the last 100 years (the right just calls it a coup anyway, not a revolution). One of the conundrums of looking at the history of leftist revolutions has always been that they didn’t really end up where the left wanted them to. Some just fell apart, others became simply another version of the previous system – perhaps organized differently, but with the same net result of haves and have-nots, hierarchy, etc. And yet the language of the left has scarcely changed. We still talk about revolution as this grand uprising en masse of all the disenfranchised people in the world (or being lead by a vanguard if that’s your thing) – but where has that ever really fundamentally changed things?

Instead, I propose we need to completely change how we view revolution and revolutionary action – or we need to abandon the word/concept entirely.

One of the biggest benefits of the internet for me as an anarchist has been the ability to witness, in real-time, a plethora of what I would define as “revolutionary actions” happening all over the globe. And while various groups exist that perpetrate some of these actions (Occupy, Anonymous, etc), or in some cases try to bring action into their specific fold, the beauty of all of it has been the spontaneous and decentralized nature of these actions. Just a short list of things I’d consider “revolutionary” in one way or another (even if those DOING the actions don’t think of them that way):

First the obvious ones:

-Occupying foreclosed homes to keep people from being evicted.
-Squatting abandoned buildings and setting up libraries/clinics/etc
-Food not bombs
-Industrial sabotage
-Antifa action
-Rally’s against police brutality
-Hacktivism
-Agorist style black markets
-Alternate economies (decentralized currencies, barter systems, etc)

But more importantly, think about the non-obvious trends/currents that are, in their own way, just as revolutionary:

-Home gardening
-Preppers/Survivalism
-Home 3D printing
-DIY culture
-Open source software

And many, many more things that can be listed, from jury nullification to filming police for accountability, workers strikes to entrepreneurialism, etc.

Here’s the thing: many of the people that participate in these various actions don’t see themselves as revolutionaries. My mom for example has continually expanded her garden each year so that more and more of her food comes from things she’s grown herself. Isn’t this as revolutionary in it’s own right as sabotaging a piece of industrial equipment?

The problem with seeing revolution as a mass uprising of people is that the only way that happens is to coordinate in such a way that everyone is “on message” and “moving in the same direction” and all of the other platitudes. And in the end, one of two things happen: on the one hand, revolutions that are coordinated and succeed usually end up with the people who did the “coordinating” as the new “leaders”. And what the hell is the point of a revolution when you’re just swapping leaders for more leaders, no matter how well the intention? Then of course the other thing that usually happens to coordinated revolutions is they fall apart, precisely because they are coordinated – when you are fighting a behemoth (say, the United States government and it’s associated corporate partners), the worst thing you can do is create a single point of failure.

I’d argue this is one of the major flaws of the Occupy movement. Occupy itself is fairly decentralized, at least in terms of political views of the individual participants/groups. But Occupy is VERY centralized (even if it’s unintentional) in terms of tactics and rhetoric (i.e. marches, rallies, etc). What this means is that in order to curtail Occupy, the government only has to focus on countering a limited number of tactics. (The corollary here is that there ARE smaller parts of Occupy that have broken away into various different tactics on their own, and THOSE are the groups that appear to be thriving, such as Occupy Foreclosure actions).

Instead I think it’s time to start embracing hyper-local “revolutionary” action, and even more these actions must fit within the context of the skills and principles (as varied as those are) that people are hold. I said on Twitter this morning, and I believe this, that a mass revolution of people trying to coordinate ideologically and tactically is doomed to fail – but a 1000 or 10000 small revolutions that are locally centered (both physically and philosophically) will lead to the system collapsing like a termite ridden log.

It’s the cumulative effect of everyone, in whatever way works best for them, tweaking the nose of the system that is truly revolutionary.