A “hard” revolution or upheaval is the critical phase of social and political change, the point at which huge amounts of the citizenry move into the streets to demand—sometimes forcibly and sometimes through overwhelming demonstration—for the current power structure to come to an end, or in some way alter itself according to the will of the people. This is the romantic cumulation of deferred social justice, the moment of a movement. But take care not to forget the soft revolutions which typically precede these dramatic tipping points.

Hard revolutions are necessarily driven by a narrow range of focused political thought designed as a battering ram to finally topple entrenched systems, but they do not function well as lasting imperatives of social organization past the point of victory. In fact, the psyche of hard revolution poses an inherent danger to any post-revolutionary society. Hard revolution is fueled by highly generalized political stances which encapsulate the essence of the opposition and bring together vast swaths of political sectors. Such stances often take the form of hard-line dogmatic slogans imbued with a militaristic or pseudo-militaristic spirit. Getting a populace to rebel requires such efforts. But so soon as revolutionary dogma propels itself beyond the uprising, it finds itself without a primary enemy and begins to succumb to a psychopathology of high paranoia. This tends to result in a panicked effort to over-consolidate power in every sphere it can reach itself into, as well as habitual delusions of secret enemies lurking in every shadowy corner. Revolutions have, and often do, devour themselves.

Soft revolutions, in comparison, are not easily identifiable as historical events, but they are indispensable to any genuine overthrow. They are long, chronologically indefinite periods of time in which the hunger and sentiment for change blooms. Most importantly, they are periods of wide-ranging political imagination and open social experimentation. In short, they are the beating heart and intellectual underpinnings of any hard revolution.

There is a strong, admittedly qualitative tendency of those who are the most suited to driving hard revolutions forward not only to scoff at soft revolutionary thought and behavior as being lukewarm and ineffective, but to actively vilify and publicly upbraid soft revolutionaries as unwitting perpetuators of the enemy regime. The necessity of such agitation is debatable, but what’s clear is that this tendency of hard revolutionary leaders and figureheads has the lamentable effect of delegitimizing all other anti-regime viewpoints, which, over time, eventuates in an ever-deepening criminalization of those within the revolutionary movement. Criminality, in this context, has no basis in concrete actions, such as political action or membership, and is instead predicated upon a constantly shifting terrain of political sand, so that even the smallest deviation from hard revolutionary dogma amounts to an indemnification.

The uncomfortable truth—not just for revolutionary leaders, but also for those who naturally identify with the best promises of revolution—is that soft revolutionaries far outweigh any hard revolutionary leader in importance. Soft revolutionaries are common, everyday people. They are the lifeblood of any society, and far more psychologically balanced. They live their lives in accordance with the values and ideals that the post-revolutionary society aspires to institute as the norm. They are willing collaborators and spontaneous problem-solvers.

In our own time, which is fast-approaching a hard revolutionary moment, the Left rejects most revolutionary critique as a matter of reflex. We have become fascinated with the historically proven potential of various symbols of radical political violence to spur on change: the guillotine of the Jacobins, the inverted power dynamic of the Haitian Revolution’s slave revolt (a de facto race war), the Russian Revolution’s brutal monopoly of political power, the Third World-solidarity terrorism tactics of the 1960s, etc. In mainstream academia, it is next to impossible to encounter substantial, detailed investigations of these dangerously powerful historical occurrences. Most commentators are more or less satisfied to pick a side—good or evil, messy effectiveness or pure damning irony. The result is fetishization.

As our much-needed revolution becomes more and more delayed, glaring symptoms of a hard revolutionary psychopathology are cropping up and crystallizing. Before we make this much-awaited leap into transformative euphoria (a euphoria born distinctly of rage), we should remind ourselves: do not forget the soft revolution.

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