In a Season of Change: Revolution or Evolution?

occupy la

(Photo: Michael Dussault).

One of the things I think I might have learned over the years is that a fundamental shortcoming in the ongoing struggle for human freedom and progressive values occurs when ideology and strategy become confused and substituted one for the other.

For me, as a veteran of the street fights of the ’60s and the natural resources conflicts of the ’90s, this failure has been most clearly evident in the polarizations between violence vs. non-violence, and preservation vs. utilization, related to each of these struggles.

In the first case, the faith in passive resistance as a tactical response to oppression and exclusion from power has often been embraced as a belief system with all of the attendant loyalty and dogmatism that attend such expressions. Self-defense against the violence of the State, and its tactical role in protection of self and others, and honoring the potential to “live to fight another day” is lost in the judgment any time that there is purported to be only one way to challenge perversions of authority and the institutional power used to enforce its will.

The strident tone of this debate has dogged the Left and many of its possible and real allies for too long, and even recently created the curious kind of confusion seen in American progressives’ response to such events as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement.

I do not want to imply that there is anything wrong with the strategy of non-violence, only that as an ideology it fails to encompass the full-range of necessary and effective responses to the habitual repression and coercion exercised by governments and those supporting factions that consistently and virulently oppose liberty and human rights.

In the second instance, the conflict over natural resources and their protection and productivity has so often descended into the internecine and misguided struggle between an ideological allegiance to litigation and preservation opposing itself to the collaborative solutions required to truly manage landscapes for multiple and sustainable uses.

Once again, we have seen the ideology of many progressives engaged in pitched battle with those who attempt to express and implement strategies which can steward and conserve the resources which are necessary to the well-being of society and its needs. Lost in this struggle of polarizing ideologies to “lock it up” or “use it up” is the real crisis of economic and social equity that is best expressed in a paraphrase of Chekhov who said over 110 years ago, “Poverty is the Enemy of Conservation.”

Using these two examples of what I take to be the misapplication of ideological and strategic avenues to change, we come to the present and recurring debate regarding electoral politics, and whether or not to participate or to boycott its processes and outcomes.

First of all, in our system of government, for better or for worse, elections are an intrinsic component in the political landscape we inhabit. And there are ways to participate without becoming contaminated by its nasty and frustrating aspects, however, there are those who will always say that participation empowers the system without producing any real change.

Here again, I would say we have confusion over the role and meaning of strategy. To not engage in this form of power distribution is an ideological choice while to engage in this process without sacrificing other methods of achieving change is what I view as strategy, and should be weighed based on its effectiveness rather than its credo.

In the big picture we come to the role of the concept of Revolution, and here I think we have the ultimate challenge to our constant need to evaluate our hopes and dreams against the backdrop of reality and pragmatism. Again it seems to me that this methodology of change is an ideological approach that inevitably produces a perpetual pendulum of power exchanges between the winners and losers.

Revolution has never been successful at uniting a people or building a real consensus for social identity and cooperative actions. What I see as needed, over time, is a clear and adaptive strategy of Evolution: fundamental, incremental, and long-term change always targeting results and not bogging down in wasteful debates over process.

This approach can be the foundation of a strategic approach to the ongoing struggle for a better world and offers a way to utilize nature as a model for an ongoing change that is based not on the usurpation of power but rather on what successfully finds its niche in the panorama of justice and freedom.

And while this compendium of diverse and long-term changes may require many of the same tools as revolution (even including armed struggle), the outcomes are hopefully more stable and long-lasting when change comes about by implementing the most good for the most people and their interests, and its benefits are demonstrable to that majority without oppressing or annihilating the minority.

johnny sundstromSome things are getting better, some worsening, but overall my ideology is to believe in the rainbow trajectory of an uncountable myriad of small, positive changes adding up to the achievement of necessary and significant qualitative improvements in the well-being of more and more of earth’s inhabitants and for its threatened ecosystems. However, as has been said, the best strategy will always be, “Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty.”

Johnny Sundstrom

Posted: Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on April 24, 2012
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About Johnny Sundstrom

Johnny Sundstrom has lived most of his life in the American West, with the exception of getting educated at Williams College in the East and street-fighting during the 60s in New York City. He is currently a co-owner and manager of a livestock and timber property in the coast range of Oregon, and track & field coach at the local high school. His recently published novel, Dawn's Early Light, is available on Amazon.com.