Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Objective and Subjective Issues in Social Change

To understand the process of social change it might help to divide up issues and elements into two broad categories: Objective and Subjective.

The Objective elements of social change, reform or revolution include these features:
·         Conditions and situations in a nation that are external to activists and movements.
·         The knowledge and information of ordinary people at any given time
·         Spontaneous action of the people
·         The machinations of elites
·         Even international events and relationships and conditions
·         Also, accidental, chance events

Objective elements are those things, people, events and processes that are NOT in the sphere of activist activity, organization and consciousness. Objective factors are what Social Genios are up against, these are the hard reality, the things out of their control, both circumstance and chance.

But these issues do not add up to “fate”, they are not determinist forces locking social leaders into a small range of options.

Objective elements and causes can and do create events and environments that produce crisis and chaos. Political or economic events can produce a protest and rebellion. Often a trigger or spark initiates a wave of events. In Tunisia, a 28-year-old vegetable seller set himself on fire, his name was Mohamed Bouazizi. This act of ultimate despondency and protest became the trigger which initiated the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution. Alert activists seize upon triggers and sparks to spread protest.

A subsequent crackdown by a government can accelerate social disintegration. Objective factors can cause confusion and infighting among elites, splitting them into hostile camps giving activists opportunities as elite power declines and types of united fronts are possible.

So the Objective is what sets the stage and drives social change, the activist cannot make revolution all by herself or himself conjuring it purely out of its head or a manifesto.

On the other hand, there are limitations on spontaneous demonstrations and actions. Without organization, skills or clear vision where to go, an impromptu rebellion will flounder, make mistakes and seek alliances with the wrong forces. It is the responsibility of a social movement to provide this but in its absence when a popular upheaval comes out of nowhere, then these unorganized processes driven by emotion and very vague ideas will often stall.

Also, consider that an extemporaneous insurgency is driven by a burst of anger and confidence, but how long can this last? How many weeks or months can this be sustained? It is the job of activists to make the period as effective and productive as possible with organization and plans. And knowing that the period of enthusiasm will decline, one must get the people to the next phase of a strategy in preparation for the next battle.

So the Objective does not necessarily lead to social change even though we have tremendous events. Without leadership there may not be any progress and old forces will retain their power, perhaps in a modified form but essentially the continuance of the same.

Or the worst kind of party arises that demands “order”.  A kind of “mass” counter is created to suppress the insurgents, this group has a base in the most backward sections of the people. Because the state is paralyzed another force must arise -- this is what fascism is, an assistance to the state when it is weakened.


The Objective provides opportunities and at the same time offers severe limitations. The Subjective is required, this includes: Leadership, a plan, a vision, a programme, methods, skills, strategies, mass education, communication, organization, mythology, alliances and creativity.

Often the Subjective is built during a period of spontaneous outburst. It arises in a sense from the Objective, advanced and enlightened people find their way toward each other and found initial networks. If the Subjective does not precede a social event, then it cannot have much influence over it, it must wait for future actions. If the Subjective is in place when the Objective situation explodes then much can be done – ideas can be disseminated, people can be recruited, organization can grow, debate and dialogue can clarify issues, strategies to enhance creativity can be employed.

The Subjective develops in stages. After an assumption of power, the Subjective continues to evolve. It may be in a united front with forces that take the wrong path at a crucial turn and it must struggle for clarity and a new alliance. If the Subjective is immediately in the situation of creative hegemony then the tasks have to do with implementing a plan of change step by step.
The Subjective is evolutionary, it grows, learns and faces new conditions over time. From street rebellion and anarchy the movement gets organization and a vision, it acquires a sharper grasp of issues at each phase, it garners more dedicated followers, it engenders more trust, it moves from crisis to power, and from power to realization of the social goals.

In the beginning of this article it was said that objective conditions lies outside the realm of the Subjective. But now we can see that the Subjective can actually change the Objective in its favor. Activists can raise the awareness, information, knowledge and vision of citizens so that a new objective situation includes ordinary people with a higher consciousness. This means they will now act for a clearer set of goals and are less likely to be confused or fooled by bad plans put out by former members of the elite and other erroneous political forces. Their spontaneous behavior is not so spontaneous anymore.

Often certain types of “liberal” forces will try to offer indirect forms of democracy that will keep elite control. Also, they will try to delay a process of creating a new constitution and government to reduce the energy and enthusiasm of the masses; other times they may try to speed up the process to get a jump on popular forces as they try to consolidate and organize themselves.

The Subjective through its work can now create crises. While there are unexpected and spontaneous events, a movement can initiate a crisis on an issue, it can plan for it and make it happen. No longer are activists merely reactors to events.

Further, the Subjective can by its actions split a ruling elite and cause squabbling that will severely weaken it. And when a movement gets strong enough it can influence other nations in regards to its revolution.

The smart and prodigious Subjective can change the Objective. And this is the secret of long term social movements. A duality exists between the Subjective and Objective, a feedback cycle can be created where the Subjective influences the Objective and creates a New Objective situation in its favor. When doing this activists are no longer imprisoned by fate or luck, they have made their own fate and luck. And as for the accidental and chance events, as the Subjective gets more sophisticated these can utilized to further a movement.

So in sum, Subjective and Objective revolve together, but it is the Subjective that leads. When the Objective leads we have limited options, the survival of a movement may be danger, spontaneous rebellion might falter, false leadership and false programmes will emerge, and activists may be constrained to actions by only a radical few.

Important for a movement is the ability to create Transitions. One must think in terms of stages and phases because getting to the ultimate goal cannot be done in one big leap as joyful as that sounds. People should think in terms of transitional strategies that mix some old and new, and create alliances with other forces, and mix very advanced ideas with more commonly held ideas. Transitions provide the possibility of real motion, they deal with actual conditions and offer what can practically be done in a context. At the same time, they are self conscious techniques that see the necessity of struggle and education within a stage pushing things to the next level, and then to the next transition.

Broadly speaking we can say transitions are of these types:
1] Forming a movement
2] A programme, vision and alliance for power
3] Then to the implementation of a plan after creative hegemony is established and all of its stages

In actual practice, many more transitions come up per specific issue.

Related to transitions is the idea of being Flexible. Without flexibility in thought it is difficult to formulate a transition. A transition is by definition a contradictory phenomenon of ideas and forces, of old and new, so one must think in new modes, we are not dealing with pure ideas and the promised land, we are dealing with a complex reality of competing ideas and personalities. The ideal is more of a process that keeps driving us from stage to stage. Eventually over much time we reach this ideal.

Each generation has its vision and plan. The “Good” we are seeking is an Evolutionary Good that evolves generation to generation. It moves on endlessly in history but each generation has a specific idea of what it should be. Our ideas of good are contradictory actually. We have the pure idea of it and the immediate practical programme of the Good. Because of this we are attached to the long term notion of constant change and the pure land in the future, at the same time we want joy and relief right now, we want morality and compassion today. Transitional thinking enables us to do both.

In radical strategy two approaches usually arise. One is to make a break with past behavior, to castigate the old and launch into a pure realm. This attitude is conflict oriented and usually produces only a minority of individuals who able to leap into the next society. The other strategy is to bring the entire nation into the new civilization without leaving behind anyone. One method is based essentially on ideas and the other is based on something like family and love. One is exclusive and the other is fully inclusive. One is vanguard, the other is whole community. The best technique is to include both strategies because we must have a new vision and goal, so we need the idealist wing; and we need the family approach because we need to bring as many people as possible into the world otherwise it won’t be very well populated. And also what will happen to millions who are left behind? They can be won over if we are patient and smart.

All of this can be done with Transitions and Flexibility, and they are of course a subset of Creativity, and it is creativity we need most of all when producing transitional ideas.

Social Creativity is the overall technique.



Cage Innoye



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