Occupy’s Greatest Debate: Evolution vs Revolution (For the hell of it…)

I’m the one on the stage, wearing orange…

One of the most popular songs at Occupy Vancouver’s opening day was the Beatles’ Revolution. I remember when it came on the first time, shortly after I did my first speech on taking corporate money out of politics. I was excited and pumped-up after speaking to the crowd- they loved my proposal and I already had the backing of my local MP. It felt like we were on the path to a very exciting journey…

From my estimate, the majority of people who came to OV were people who wanted to see a change but who weren’t up for a Russian style revolution. Had they been, I doubt that thousands of people would have been cheering for my proposal to reform electoral funding. Had I known what I do today, I probably would have been more observant that day and tried to identify those who weren’t cheering.

Over the next couple of weeks I discovered that there was a minority who wanted anything but electoral reform- they came to Occupy with well-established revolutionary ideals. We debated evolution vs. revolution throughout OV, the lines were clearly drawn, and it was no coincidence that the revolutionaries were the same people backing the violence of the Black Bloc.

By the time I’d been at Occupy Toronto for a couple of months I learned the reason the revolutionary camp was so steadfast in their beliefs. Partly this was based on the hoodlum factor- disenfranchised young people can only see violence as an answer. But, also, there was a major influence from people who followed the teachings of Trotsky and Mao.

The socialist ‘obedience cults’ had really done a number on these people…

What makes Trotsky and Mao different than other political philosophers? It’s simple, and can be explained best using the words of Mao: “Change must come through the barrel of a gun.” Trotsky takes things a bit further saying that we must live in a permanent revolution.

Somehow, I don’t feel this is the change that most Canadians want to see- is it?

For the past couple hundred years, Canada has been mostly going down an evolutionary path. Our country did some good things, some bad, and some horrible. We’ve been great at heralding our positive achievements, less good at assessing and remediating the bad and the horrible. But, eventually, we seem to get to those.

What happened at the residential schools is a great example. It is probably one of the worst cases of the horrible parts of our history, and it took a very long time for our country to acknowledge the damage that was done. Even now, while we have been awakening from our slumber, we could be doing a better job in many ways. But, this is part of evolution, we do our best to learn and improve along the way. Most Canadians want to see justice for residential school survivors.

Granted, we could definitely improve the process. But, compared to other countries, we are well ahead of the curve in evolutionary terms. I’m not so sure how well a plan for an evolutionary path would work in other countries- particularly those ruled by violent dictators. (real dictators, the kind who would kill or imprison me for writing this essay.) It’s hard to argue for evolution when you see neighbours getting carted away to secret prisons each night.

But, then, we must think about what takes a country to the place where the people let themselves be ruled by a violent dictator. Violence begets violence, right? Any incidence of violence is like hitting a drum in an echo chamber- you can’t stop the noise from reverberating, it will last as long as the energy has dissipated. The more intense the violence, the lower the note, the longer it takes to fade away.

Let’s take as an example the events of the G20 in Toronto. The city and the police ran an unreasonably high security budget for this event. Partly as a result, an unreasonable amount of people were arrested for insufficient reason. Many Canadians are unhappy with that result- but, equally, many Canadians are indifferent (or even enthusiastic) about the number of arrests.

Now, let’s imagine if the demonstrators behaved differently- the Black Bloc didn’t show-up, no windows were smashed, and everyone treated each other (and each other’s property) with respect. And say, for some reason, that there were still the same number of arrests. Do you think that as many Canadians would have been as accepting of so many people being detained in this situation?

Of course not! Now, there may have still been a reactionary contingent that is happy to see ‘hippie protesters’ getting tear-gassed- there will always be the few. But, most Canadians would have risen out of their seats and had been genuinely upset. However, all it takes is for a few people to light a police car on fire, and all bets are off. The more often this violence occurs, the more likely Canadians will back the need for a police state.

There’s a reason so many people believe in their hearts that the Black Bloc was infiltrated by the police. It’s because there’s no better way to justify a police state than to run around in scary (to average folk) black costumes, smashing windows and setting things on fire.

As John Lennon said “When it gets down to having to use violence, you are playing the system’s game.”

I’ve studied history, and searched desperately for an example where violent revolution has succeeded. You know what? I haven’t been able to find a single example. That said, the world has a contemporary shining example of where evolution has succeeded. Can you guess where that is?

I’ll give you a hint…


Yep, Iceland! Now, I know what you are going to say- we’ve got Celine Dion, and she’s no Bjork. And, you are right about that- as the Quebecois can tell you, Dion appears to be the revolutionary’s choice. But, we also have Feist, and she’s as peaceful as a Canadian can be!

To be more serious- Iceland changed their world without a single gun being shot. Instead, the people collectively realized there was a problem and insisted that it is fixed. So what happened? Well, they told the bankers where they could shove their debt, arrested them, and got to work on evolving their country’s economics. Things are doing pretty well in Iceland today.

Or, we could go the path of the Greeks. Many (but not enough) Greeks raised their fists and tried to start a revolution. Unfortunately, this failed miserably. All they got was a bunch of broken windows, incinerated cars and violence that is still reverberating through their society. And, now, the bankers are telling them to switch to a six day work week.

If we were in a truly repressive country like Turkmenistan I wouldn’t even bother recommending we take a peaceful evolutionary route. The problem is, there, it wouldn’t turn out to be peaceful- anything but. Having organized Occupy Harper, I’d probably be dead right now in many other countries.

If you want to live in a repressive society, I’ll give you an easy way to do it- and you don’t even have to leave your home town. Just get a group of people to regularly go out together, bait the police, smash windows, and burn down a few cars. Eventually, you too can live like a Turkmen!

Instead, why don’t we spend our time educating and sharing information with our neighbours. Tell them how great things worked out for Iceland, explain what things need to be changed in Canada- help them understand the dangers of using violence to get there. Organize peacefully.

And, if the conversation get’s heated? Just play a little Feist…

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