Nearly every activist has a place for revolution in his or her political toolbox. Some treasure it as their most precious tool, constantly polishing it up and yearning for the day when it can be put to good use; others hide it away at the bottom of the deepest drawers and instead choosing to use strikes, lobbying or legislative change to achieve their ends.
The appeal is obvious: with the option of revolution we can dream of smashing the system, destroying the structures that confine us and rebuilding our society for the betterment of all its members. Yet revolution is an unwieldy tool and indiscriminate in its manner. As Godwin said, “Revolutions are the produce of passion, not of sober and tranquil reason.”
One might also suggest that for a revolution to provide a satisfactory result for all involved would require a level of unity and common purpose that is not usually found in human societies. It might be possible to unite the masses to depose a brutal dictator or an unfair polity but, when they come together afterwards to define the new state, the dream can too easily be destroyed by factionalism and ego.
In Australia there is not much of a culture of revolution: the few incidents that resemble anything close to revolution (the Rum Rebellion and the Eureka Stockade) came early in our history and are only celebrated and remembered by descendants of the original participants or those who view them as the stuff of legend. This is not to say that there haven’t been struggles or that Australians are totally apathetic; we have a long history of dissent and protest. Instead what it means is that we have found reform a more accessible and effective tool for effecting change.
Reform is a slow and painstaking process but the small steps it takes can help to direct cultural changes that will, in turn, drive further reform. Reform is useful for those who want to effect change because the process of gradual reform softens the blow of change – this is something the Right knows and has put to great use to support the 1%. The Big 4 banks (the major Australian banks) are also employing reform as a technique to trick consumers into accepting their extortionate business practices and in talking to people and reading what they have written online it is clear that the Big 4 are enjoying a lot of success in this endeavour.
For reform to be effective for the progressive cause we must take the reins and direct it in favour of the most disadvantaged and disaffected, rather than the 1%. We can make major reforms to address serious and immediate problems and we can chip away with smaller reform; either way we need to utilise the cultural change inspired by the Occupy movement to help the 99%.