Revolutions: Three Different Kinds

tags: French Revolution, American Revolution, Russian Revolution, Rex Wade, Turkish Revolution



Rex Wade has taught Russian and Soviet history at George Mason University since 1986.

Alyssa's posting, like Peter Stearns' earlier, implicitly touch on the questions of leadership and revolutionary stages. Perhaps in any discussion of revolutions it may be worth keeping in mind that those who begin revolutions rarely are the ones who finish them. (The American Revolution, perhaps better called by its other common term, the War for Independence, is an anomaly that perhaps misleads Americans about revolutions.) In comparing revolutions and leadership, perhaps several variants are worth keeping in mind:

1) Places where the revolution “succeeds,” in the sense of the old regime being swept away, but successive leadership changes and even mini-revolutions and regime changes occur before things are stabilized in a new order, as in France after 1789 and Russia in 1917.

2) Those (rare?) instances where the original revolutionaries successfully sweep away the old regime and replace it by something genuinely new that is reasonably stable and permanent, such as Turkey with Ataturk.

3) Instances where revolutionaries have temporary success but the old regime soon reconstitutes itself in slightly altered form (“Revolution of 1905” in Russia, 1848 in Central Europe).

And, of course, one would need to provide for “hybrid” cases where elements of each type exist, as well as distinguish between what defines a revolution as against a coup d’état. I suspect that the many political upheavals around the world of the past few decades fit into one or another of these categories. It does raise the tantalizing question of whether Egypt today is a case of a revolution being followed by a military coup d’état or some other combination of types?


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