Viva la Revolutionaries?



I am in sympathy with revolutionaries. I know what you’re going to say: ‘revolutions so often birth cycles of violence and regimes just as brutal as those they replace.’ You and your concise political opinions. I understand. And I know that a Che Guevara T-shirt should be less encouraging to see on a youth than a Gandhi tee.

But the desire for revolution, the impetus behind it, pleases me. It suggests an impatience for positive change, a serious willingness to have one’s world turned upside down to see injustice overturned, and to see it soon enough to matter now.

I am in sympathy with revolutionaries because, even though, as a Christian, I can’t imagine Jesus shooting someone to bring about change, I think revolutionaries often get a rough ride in the media. Often it seems that if you wear uniforms, own fighter-jets and are able to call your military actions ‘restoring stability’ (ie: the status quo), you are often given automatic legitimacy in a conflict with those with makeshift weapons, decentralised leadership and no state to call their own (who are usually called terrorists, like Nelson Mandela).

But as I read last week of Che Guevara’s granddaughter, Lydia, posing semi-nude for PETA posters, promoting the ‘vegetarian revolution’, I had to wonder if the pendulum had swung the other way. Have people like me, with our bias towards underdogs fighting for change or resisting more powerful enemies, simply given a PR platform to anybody invoking the spirit of Che? After all, not every revolution, even if we can set aside the potential bloodshed in the ‘means’, has righteously-motivated ‘ends’.

How should I, a fan of the little guy fighting back, view Iran’s recent riots, still dominating last week’s news? Sure, the current leadership are not my kind of people and the violence they have used is deplorable. But if it were, say, white South Africans refusing to accept the results of an election in my homeland, would I not raise an eyebrow at an unwillingness to face electoral defeat without rioting? Please understand, I’m not equating that with Iran – but have we perhaps uncritically accepted the narrative that the Iranian people have not been heard? Is my romantic desire for revolution putting me in opposition to democracy and self-determination?

Last week in Honduras, President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a military coup. Some demonstrators on the street were in favour of the action. Am I to support them as a ‘spontaneous uprising of the people for freedom’? Or is it similar to the rioting of the middle classes in Bolivia over recent years, petulant (if violent) foot-stamping from the privileged who don’t like sharing their toys with the poor?

In this case, the sheer breadth of support Zelaya has received (Castro, Chavez and Obama) helps us identify who to back, but it is not always that easy, particularly when much of the middle-class church around the world finds itself praying for nothing more insightful than ‘stability’ in conflicts where stability may just be another word for continued injustice.

We Christians believe that spontaneous, almost immediate change can be positive in human life. We should not fear repentance enacted on the social field. But we should always make sure that it really is repentance, not apostasy, and that it is not confession of faith gained on pain of Inquisitioners’ violence, if we are going to support it.


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