Friday, October 23, 2009


(This post is likely to go better with the following music [this post will not be televised] again, if you are particularly offended by certain types of language, you may not enjoy all of this: )


You work 12 hours a day.  You make minimal money, and can just barely afford to feed your family, if you are lucky enough to make that much.  You have no rights in society.  Your government preaches democracy, but seems to leave you behind.  You try to bring your concerns to your boss, who doesn’t own you, but he may as well.  He doesn’t care.  You bring your troubles to the attention of “your” government…they don’t care either.  You are put down at every turn of life, and are denied access to basic services, food, or education, ensuring your children will forever have to deal with these horrendous conditions, and will never climb out of it.  You have nowhere to go, so what options do you have?  Too many throughout history (particularly in the late 19th century, early 20th century) the answer is simple.




This week in class and in Hobsbawn we discussed the idea of revolution and its goals, tactics, styles, and effectiveness throughout time.  Particularly, we talked about the similarities between the revolutions of peasants, industrial workers, and others in the 1700s, 1800s, early 1900s and today.  Particularly, it was noted that the goals of revolution have changed.  For instance, the much discussed French Revolution of 1789 had a completely different set of goals and tactics than the Civil Rights Movement or pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989, or even the operations of the Weather Underground or guerrilla movements in Cuba and around the world.  In France in 1789 (and subsequently throughout nineteenth century France and around Europe) the pattern was simple: “the people,” usually in relative disorder, storm a government building, normally something symbolic or useful (that stores weapons), barricades are erected in various cities, and the rebellion becomes more organized as urban fighting takes place.  Unless it was peasant initiated, that was the pattern (peasant rebellions began sporadically in the country until gaining enough power and attacking a city, then it follows, see for a variation on that theme).  Later, other targets for armed revolts turned to media (particularly in coups and revolts in Latin America and the “third world”) where the first goal was state owned media, which served as a precursor to the later non-violent movements (though not all were later, like Indian independence).  In the present day, the goal isn’t necessarily to destroy or replace the state, but to pressure it into acting according to the will of the people.  Instead of taking over state media, the goal is often to gain the attention of the world media, creating pressure on the governments of the world to lend support.  Often this is used in non-violent attempts more than violent revolutions, which mostly resort to guerrilla tactics and irregular warfare.


            So why are some revolutions successful?  This is an often-asked question, but I think the more correct answer is if any revolutions are successful.  In most cases, the goal of a rebellion is to improve the life of the downtrodden underclass.  Often though, even a “successful” revolution will simply create a different underclass.  Certainly some cases will see limited success (labor organizing, expanded rights for groups, etc), but almost always the wide, sweeping change is denied, or simply does not occur.  Why is that, and what is the ultimate effect of that on the people of this planet?


  1. Change doesn't happen because it is hard to do. It alot more easier to rise up and say "THIS SUCKS" and fight then it is to rebuild and come up with something bettter that everyone agrees with.
    I was also thinking that terrorism and suicide bombing can also be related to revolution except we use different words like "terrorist" but aren't the Palestinians trying to improve the conditions for themselves? Not really related to your post per se, but whatever. made me think.

  2. Well, that is very related, as throughout history to today one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Terrorism and guerrilla tactics are frequently used in revolts, and that is essentially where the term guerrilla comes from (the Spanish fighting the conquering French army under Napoleon)