Are socio-political revolutions the best way to shape a country?

[1] Vive la France! Vive la patrie! We have seen many revolutions in the world, but is it really the best way to shape a country?
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Look at the French flag. Look at the American flag. It is painted blue, white and red. The true colours that connotes symbols of liberty and the nation itself. Here stands the people, the toppled monarchy and the blood we have spilled to reach here… Throughout history, there has always been a revolution that shaped the country both positively and negatively. I will use many different types of revolutions throughout history to analyse this subject; the American Revolution of 1775-83, the French Revolution of 1789-99,the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1949 and more recent revolutions especially those of the Eastern Bloc under Gorbachev’s democratic reforms. Apart from more socio-political sense of revolution, it is fundamental to consider Marxist revolution as well. As usual, any comments for improvement are welcome.

Before we commence with the analysis of various revolutions, it is important to understand the term revolution itself. There are two senses of the word itself, and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it is either “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system”, or rather in Marxist terms, “the class struggle which is expected to lead to political change and the triumph of Communism”. [2]

Now that we have briefly comprehended the term itself, let us ease into the revolutions themselves. I have dissected the revolutions into specific sections – ideological early modern and modern to make my point easier to understand. I have also tried to go all around the world to try and emphasise my point further. Let us start with the nucleus of the revolutionary idea within Marx and Engel’s ideological philosophy.

1) Ideological

[3] The Marxist theory envisioned by Marx and Engels revolutionised the way society is and was structured.
1.1) Proletariat revolution – Marxist

Apart from discussing socio-political factors of revolutions throughout history, it is also important to consider the ideological side of revolution itself under the guidance of the two German greats – Marx and Engels. On the basis of Marxist theory, social revolution will take place, where the dictatorship or dominace of the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeoisie, essentially transforming society, forcing the elites to fuse into the working class as well [4]. There is an argument that a social class is necessary, as once the elites are eradicated, another one would take its place. This is key, as this would mean a pendulum swinging between a centralised or decentralised government on who and which class is the dominant force, ultimately in socialism or democracy [4]. Moreover, this would question the social relationship between us human together, as it is difficult to achieve democracy and equality together as you could see in my previous post about whether celebrities deserve to have astronomical amounts of salary.

2) Early Modern

[5] One of the most iconic paintings depicting the American Revolution with Washington at the Americans’ command.

2.1) The American Revolution

With the American Revolution, this was essentially a battle internally and externally – one amongst the Loyalists and the Revolutionaries, and the other against the British Crown under King George III. There were different motives, but perhaps the nationalist sentiment was overwhelming under the tutelage of the Founding Fathers of the United States – John and Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Under George III’s reign of the Thirteen Colonies, there was much debate over his reliability as ruler. Many politicians locally in Britain were concerned with George III’s relaxed and nonchalant attitude, who lacked the political shrewdness that his predecessors left the sub-continent. [6] This was significant, as this meant major policies were out of his control and left to his advisors – namely Lord North. This was significant, many strict policies, for example the Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Tea Party, Coercive Acts, were all “touched off [with] a heavy flurry of pamphleteering” [7]. This discussed many Anglo-American differences in vain and anger, which encouraged for a reconstruction of a new government.

More importantly still, however, the Americans were helped politically and militarily aided by the French government under Louis XVI and Marquis de Lafayette. With the defeat at the Seven Years’ War, France wanted to revenge against Britain for the losses in colonies and in prestige. This was significant, as this meant a heavy collaboration amongst the Franco-American forces, effectively to weaken the British influence in North America. After allying themselves together, the Franco-American forces under General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau agreed to collaborate in Chesapeake Bay against the British forces under Lord Cornwallis’ command. With heavy bombardment and stranding of the British commander, this was significant, as the British government hesitantly signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, effectively granting independence to the Americans [8].

Despite the fact that America was now independent, it was still very much under political turmoil particularly under the Article of Confederation. There was a key divide within the American government over the problem of slavery. On the one hand, the Quakers were favouring a more sympathetic role and acted decisively to abolish the commerce altogether in areas like Rhode Island and Vermont. This anti-slavery sentiment was fundamental, as it encouraged the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Society later in 1831. [9] Nevertheless, this did split the northern and southern states even more, as the north required increasingly more people to work in newly industrialised areas, whereas the south was far more reliant on agricultural production. [9,10] This conflict over slavery continued under Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army against the Confederacy army was significant, as this implies how revolution could be hapless and a long process of struggle on a country showed in a country. However, it must be noted that despite the act of slavery, the black population continued to struggle socially and politically until the 1960’s, in acts of equal human rights in the South. Thus, this questions the true significance of a revolution and its positive impact within a country, particularly if it leaves a nation in an eternal struggle as shown here and in many cases hereafter.

2.2) The French Revolution

Despite the success that France had brought to the United States in making it an independent country, this greatly affected itself economically and socially. Tables were turned – from success plunging into failure. According to many sources, the French government was now heavily bankrupt. This was significant, as King Louis XVI and his advisor Necker continued to tax the peasants, and favoured the aristocracy within the social and political domains. Consequently, this ended in social unrest and a lot of revolts throughout the nation. For example, one of the first and most significant revolts against the Bourbon monarchy was the Women’s Revolt to Versailles. The women demanded the “Baker, the Baker’s wife and the Baker’s son”, as an attempt to protest for more bread or food from the monarchy. This was key, as this meant that showed the discontentment from the local people, and the ineffectiveness of the government. This social chaos did force the King to be evacuated with his family, and to have the National Guard to try and repress the peasants. [11]

The political situation intensified under the role of Robespierre and the Great Fear. Robespierre had a prominent role within the National Convention, prompting the execution of the Bourbon monarchy under Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. This was significant, as in spite of the eradication of tyranny and a declaration of France as a republic, Robespierre and the Jacobins became the dominant forces in France [12]. Unfortunately, however, Robespierre abused that power and became the tyrant himself, spreading the ‘Reign of Terror’, essentially putting any anti-revolutions like Danton at the expense of the guillotine. This was key, as there were increasingly more conspiracies to assassinate Robespierre, where on 27 July 1794, after a struggle, the mastermind himself was critically injured by a gunshot and was executed subsequently [12].

This revolutionary sentiment found in a nucleus exploded throughout Europe, primarily under Napoleon’s influence and the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout Europe, there were countless political and military battles between pro-monarchy and anti-monarchy countries (which were few and far between)! This included Prussia, Austria, Russia and Great Britain all favouring their monarchical forms of government, whilst the likes of France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands were on the opposing side. Despite Napoleon Bonaparte’s best efforts to restore a competitive stance against Great Britain, the Wars of the Sixth and Seventh Coalitions proved to be overwhelming. This was significant, as the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium had shown the grandeur of Europe against Napoleon himself, forcing him to surrendering on 15th July, 1815 [13]. Thus, Napoleon was exiled in Saint Helena as we know, and the Bourbon Monarchy under Louis-Philippe or Louis XVIII was restored, despite parity in France and further revolutions in the 1830 Revolution to again overthrow the monarchy. This was key, as this shows the instability and chaos that revolutions can cause to a country and with many conflicts internally and externally within France, due to colonial and governmental problems. It was not until after the Bonaparte legacy after Napoleon III was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, that Adolphe Thiers was the first statesman to take over the socio-political scene in France, and restore relative stability over the French people [14].

3) Modern

[15] The rapprochement between then US president Reagan and Russian president Gorbachev, was another significant event in history.
3.1) Communist China

We now turn our attention to Asia, where a fundamental revolution can be found in the Cultural Revolution of 1949 in China. After the victory against the Nationalists or the Guomintang (GMT) in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Communists gained control of the entire Chinese country, forcing the GMT to reside in Taiwan. As a result, China was renamed as the People’s Republic of China or PRC. [16] This was significant, as the Communists had a lot of control and influence from the peasants across the country, which previously was corrupt with bribery under the reign of the Chinese Generalisimo or Chiang Kai-shek.

With this monumental support from the peasants, the Communists started to capitalise on this domain – reshaping the Chinese social and political fronts. For example, under the Cultural Revolution, Mao had introduced what was known as re-education, where many people, including “counter-revolutionaries” and the bourgeoisie were sent to the countryside to be “de-educated” or publicly humiliated by the general public. This was significant, as this was paradoxical because it destroyed the intelligentsia as the main social class, so critical in any country’s development socially, politically and economically. [17] Consequently, the country stagnated in effective economic policies, as the Great Leap Forward clearly showed. Certainly, Mao wanted his people to be industrially self-sufficient against the rising powers in the United States and Germany at the time, but without true expertise to guide the peasants to find and manufacture key resources, the whole process was a failure.

3.2) Eastern Bloc – glasnost and perestroika
After succeeding Khruschev, Gorbachev was a far more liberal leader in the Russian Communist Party. Compared to the iron fist that was imposed by Khruschev and Stalin, Gorbachev worked more freely and cooperatively with his American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, in what was called the rapprochement process. Gorbachev realised, unlike his predecessors, that if the USSR were to compete against the US and the world, it must go through the ‘democratisation’ transition. [18] This was significant, as through the two main policies – perestroika and glasnost, the main problems of poor standard of living and lack of freedom from a strict centralised government were to be rectified. Perestroika was to restructure the economic issues and to rely more on market forces, whilst glasnost was to enforce a more decentralised forms of government and higher ‘democratisation’ within the USSR and beyond in the Soviet controlled Eastern Europe [18]. For this reason, this time of ideological change or revolution introduced by Gorbachev can be seen as positive, as it made the Soviet people freer and more inclusive and aware within the society as a whole, striving towards a more democratic rather than Communist ideal that was previously championed by Khruschev and more predominantly by Stalin himself.

Therefore and in conclusion, if we apply the Marxist idea of a controversial replacement of the ruling class or elites within society as part of answering the question, let us break down each of the revolutions individually. Essentially, there has been a recurring pattern throughout all the revolutions – they were all against the elite class or patriarchical figure in a dictator, tyrannical or monarchical rule.

Thus, this was significant, as there were more incentives to struggle for the national independence, striving towards autonomy, self-determination. This was key, as this could be seen as a positive effect in a revolution, where take the US as an example, allowed it to have more freedom and more inclined in its national and foreign policy since the Independence Wars against Great Britain. In the same positive light, Gorbachev had introduced two main policies – perestroika and glasnost, as a form of socio-political revolution. This was significant, as it enforced and reformed a more democratic, individualist, liberal society for the Russian and former Soviet republics, effectively allowing it to fit more appropriately in the global scale against its American and Western counterparts.

However, a revolution could also leave a country continuingly in socio-political chaos, unrest and instability, as France had shown with many transitions between a Republic and a monarchical rule, throughout its history with the French Revolution and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. This was key, as without time as a factor, the country could still be in a negative transition and to be an adult country by itself. Similarly, in the case of China and the Cultural Revolution, this completely altered and left a legacy in which the way people are behaving, as there was an incentive to ‘de-educate’ the intelligentsia or the ruling bourgeois class by public humiliation or by re-educating fields. This was significant, as this shows how revolution is not effective, as it forced the Chinese nation to struggle when Mao introduced the Great Leap Forward, lacking critical expertise to successfully compete against the industrial superpowers found in the US and Germany.

Effectively and what must be noted, is that every country, be it young or old, will go through this transition of revolution if needed to struggle for more autonomy and self-determination from the general public. However, to effectively function on a global scale, it needs time to recover and to restabilise itself. For example, the West has reasonable amount of time with around 150 to 200 years since its last major revolution, whereas younger countries found in the Arab, African or Eastern European countries do not have time on their side as they are recently struggling or in transition of a revolution. Consequently, these types of countries need it to grow and recuperate from the effects of revolution itself. That is it from me, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed your read again. Thank you very much for your support! Bye now 🙂



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