The Carnivalesque Rebellion Issue

A Brief History of Revolution

The first of a series of articles exploring our revolutionary past in preparation for our revolutionary future.
A Brief History of Revolution

Image by Abyss, 2006, Narelle Autio

A Brief History of Revolution

Our schoolbooks would like us to believe that social change must always be gradual and peaceful. Sudden, abrupt changes are seen as disruptions of a “normal” functioning society. “Respectable” society looks upon mass protest, civil disobedience, strikes, disruption and revolution with horror. But fundamental social change rarely comes gradually. Industrial unions didn’t come to this country by the gradual addition, year after year, of a few new unions. On the contrary, mass industrial unionism came in an explosion of organizing and mass strikes over a period of about five years, from 1934 to 1938. The gains of the civil rights movement were achieved through heroic civil disobedience and mass protest in the face of systematic racist terror.

While governments caution the governed to act peacefully and to refrain from drastic action, they themselves reserve the right to use overwhelming force. There was nothing gradual about the invasion of Iraq.

Revolution is the ultimate social leap – a period when the gradual accumulation of mass bitterness and anger of the exploited and oppressed coalesces and bursts forth into a mass movement to overturn existing social relations and replace them with new ones. A few days of revolutionary upheaval bring more change than decades of “normal” development. Rulers and systems that seemed invincible and immovable are suddenly unceremoniously toppled. Revolution is not an aberration in an otherwise smoothly functioning society.

The last three centuries have been filled not only with wars, but also with revolutions and near-revolutions. A list of only some of these gives us an idea of the scope of revolutionary upheaval since the dawn of modern capitalism: the American Revolution (1776-87), the French Revolution (1789-94), the US Civil War (1861-65), the European revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolutions (1905 and 1917), the German Revolution (1918-23), China (1925-27), the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Hungarian Revolution (1956), Chile (1973), Portugal (1974-75), Iran (1979), Poland’s Solidarnosc uprising (1980-81). This partial list is enough to put to rest the notion that revolutions are rare or unusual occurrences.

Paul D’Amato, The Meaning of Marxism


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24 comments on the article “A Brief History of Revolution”

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Visitor Q

People don't seem to understand that our present Depression will not end until everyone feels it to the point that they change their actions. It will not go away if we continue business as usual. If it has to be bad in order for us to change it will be bad. In the end, we adapt or die.

Visitor Q

People don't seem to understand that our present Depression will not end until everyone feels it to the point that they change their actions. It will not go away if we continue business as usual. If it has to be bad in order for us to change it will be bad. In the end, we adapt or die.

you know who I am!

All the revolutions that You have mentioned are paid revolutions!!! There is a political influence with a big bag of money for "the leaders" of the revolutions by bankers trying to get their hands on the states "goods"...very sad, I almost thought that Your mag is different, You are trying to tame the wild ones by lies - once again. hehehehehe how sad....

you know who I am!

All the revolutions that You have mentioned are paid revolutions!!! There is a political influence with a big bag of money for "the leaders" of the revolutions by bankers trying to get their hands on the states "goods"...very sad, I almost thought that Your mag is different, You are trying to tame the wild ones by lies - once again. hehehehehe how sad....

Anonymous

I think you're all wrong about the coming revolution in that there will be no revolution.
Certainly we need more gender and ethnic equality but we also need more oxygen and more space travel (I want to see just one of the flying cars actually go somewhere) and less work.

If it's true that all the conflicts stated above are driven by economic forces (and really how many weren't) then perhaps it's high time you realize that social revolutions will continue to wither on the vine while economic ones will flourish. Certainly social justice is admirable and desirable you need more incentive to allow for change than simply feeling nice or not wanting to be hassled.

mikeridell carries a nascent point about the means of communication bypassing the old guard and while I agree, I must state that a technological revolution probably won't overthrow anyone. Did the Industrial Revolution overthrow anyone or did it just allow those with means exploit those without more efficiently? It does perhaps make our politicians more political- spinning themselves into a hysteria of hyperbole to keep up with the 24/7 news feed. We don't have open source government (wouldn't the communists, anarchists and libertarians be happy then?) we simply have more government without purpose and more screaming heads getting airplay.

Now as for adbusters...can't wait for more. This barely wets one's appetite for ideas to start one's day

Anonymous

I think you're all wrong about the coming revolution in that there will be no revolution.
Certainly we need more gender and ethnic equality but we also need more oxygen and more space travel (I want to see just one of the flying cars actually go somewhere) and less work.

If it's true that all the conflicts stated above are driven by economic forces (and really how many weren't) then perhaps it's high time you realize that social revolutions will continue to wither on the vine while economic ones will flourish. Certainly social justice is admirable and desirable you need more incentive to allow for change than simply feeling nice or not wanting to be hassled.

mikeridell carries a nascent point about the means of communication bypassing the old guard and while I agree, I must state that a technological revolution probably won't overthrow anyone. Did the Industrial Revolution overthrow anyone or did it just allow those with means exploit those without more efficiently? It does perhaps make our politicians more political- spinning themselves into a hysteria of hyperbole to keep up with the 24/7 news feed. We don't have open source government (wouldn't the communists, anarchists and libertarians be happy then?) we simply have more government without purpose and more screaming heads getting airplay.

Now as for adbusters...can't wait for more. This barely wets one's appetite for ideas to start one's day

Matthew Simmons

Very well said. I will disagree with you on one minor point-your first sentence. Well, at least partially disagree.
My perception is that there are small, isolated and ideologically at odds groups who all have revolutionary impulses in the grandiose sense. However, their end goals are all over the place politically from the far right to the far left and because of this I don't ever see them getting along to produce anything viable.
What I do see are more individuals and small collectives rebelling in their own ways, on their own time and at their own pace. Whether that be joining their local Tea Party (or whatever they're called now) or just dropping out and not participating in the machine that has taken us nowhere.
For example, I recently heard a piece on NPR about a collective of young execs, office workers, etc. who have given up their shitty jobs which they believed did nothing to better anything other than theirs and their bosses pocketbooks and have turned to working on farms and with their hands in a small attempt at a more meaningful existence.
It's not anarchy, nor is it a movement bent on removing a political party from power. But at its core I believe it is much more powerful as it does not conform to the examples already listed in this article or which will be listed in subsequent editions. From what I can tell it's dropping out, but in a (dare I say it) somewhat responsible manner. It harms no one except the corporations and politicians who rely wholly on a populace following a well worn set of principles.

Micro Revolutions.

Anyway....

Matthew Simmons

Very well said. I will disagree with you on one minor point-your first sentence. Well, at least partially disagree.
My perception is that there are small, isolated and ideologically at odds groups who all have revolutionary impulses in the grandiose sense. However, their end goals are all over the place politically from the far right to the far left and because of this I don't ever see them getting along to produce anything viable.
What I do see are more individuals and small collectives rebelling in their own ways, on their own time and at their own pace. Whether that be joining their local Tea Party (or whatever they're called now) or just dropping out and not participating in the machine that has taken us nowhere.
For example, I recently heard a piece on NPR about a collective of young execs, office workers, etc. who have given up their shitty jobs which they believed did nothing to better anything other than theirs and their bosses pocketbooks and have turned to working on farms and with their hands in a small attempt at a more meaningful existence.
It's not anarchy, nor is it a movement bent on removing a political party from power. But at its core I believe it is much more powerful as it does not conform to the examples already listed in this article or which will be listed in subsequent editions. From what I can tell it's dropping out, but in a (dare I say it) somewhat responsible manner. It harms no one except the corporations and politicians who rely wholly on a populace following a well worn set of principles.

Micro Revolutions.

Anyway....

Ken Vallario

the revolution is happening now...
it is the result of an unknown number of emergent phenomena, that are not directly under the control of human consciousness, but acts as an amalgamation of individual choices...
there are so many trying to stamp old political faces on this new body politic, but it is a waste of time...
technology and our rapidly dissolving sense of cultural cohesion is giving way to a new world order, and we have to hope that these automatic processes will serve our desires for sustainability, peace and equality...
rather than us spending time arguing about Marx or economic oppression, and other things we have no direct power to change, we ought to join one another in the development of communication that binds rather than separates...because masterful communication will define the 21st century citizen...as our world will depend upon the purity of information...
"you're wrong...i'm wrong..i disagree...we need to do this...you need to think more you moron...we ought to get those bastards...it's time to make some change..." these are the voices of our dying 21st century egos, being obliterated by the changing nature of history...
the revolution will be our surrender to one another, absolute refusal to be dragged into the emotional distance that fearful ideologies create...

Ken Vallario

the revolution is happening now...
it is the result of an unknown number of emergent phenomena, that are not directly under the control of human consciousness, but acts as an amalgamation of individual choices...
there are so many trying to stamp old political faces on this new body politic, but it is a waste of time...
technology and our rapidly dissolving sense of cultural cohesion is giving way to a new world order, and we have to hope that these automatic processes will serve our desires for sustainability, peace and equality...
rather than us spending time arguing about Marx or economic oppression, and other things we have no direct power to change, we ought to join one another in the development of communication that binds rather than separates...because masterful communication will define the 21st century citizen...as our world will depend upon the purity of information...
"you're wrong...i'm wrong..i disagree...we need to do this...you need to think more you moron...we ought to get those bastards...it's time to make some change..." these are the voices of our dying 21st century egos, being obliterated by the changing nature of history...
the revolution will be our surrender to one another, absolute refusal to be dragged into the emotional distance that fearful ideologies create...

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