The Nature of Revolutions
"A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past."
Fidel Castro, 1961
What is a Revolution?
WHAT IS A REVOLUTION?
The course of study you have chosen is described by just one word: Revolutions. This familiar word calls up dramatic images of heroic leaders urging the revolutionary crowd to take the violent action that will bring down the existing political system, and introduce a new one.
Cultural historian Raymond Williams warns us that the word revolution is quite complicated. It suggests a major change in human affairs, but we have to ask what changes did actually occur as a result of the revolution we are studying. We cannot assume that everything changed or, for that matter, that the changes were all for the better.
Williams also points out that revolution is closely associated with two other words, revolt and rebellion, reminding us that in most cases – not all – revolution involves a violent rejection of existing authority.
Revolution therefore means something much more serious than reform. Reform can also mean quite considerable political and social change, but
it is often carried out peacefully and within the existing system. We are studying a process that involves violence, which in turn causes loss of life and destruction of property. We will need to understand the nature of this violence, and the ways in which it was used.
Political historian Pater Calvert has suggested that the three main features of a revolution are the successful overthrow of an existing political order, but adds that to be more than just a rebellion there needs to be two more elements: the change must occur quickly – otherwise it is just reform or revolution – and it must usually be implemented by the use of revolutionary violence, which is essentially targeted violence.
Sudden and complete change? In theory, the occurrence of revolution implies that the old order will be overthrown, and that a new society will be created.
For Raymond Williams, the first and foremost aspect of a revolution is political change. The course asks you to investigate more than this, because a revolution might be expected to change a number of aspects of a given society. A revolution might change:
political structures: how a country is governed, and who governs
civic and legal structures: how people’s rights are defined
diplomatic structures: how the country relates to other countries
social structures: how society is divided into classes, and who is
economic structures: who owns the means of production
cultural/psychological; structures: how people understand
themselves in society, how they feel different in a new social order
gender structures: how male and female roles are defined."
Understanding revolutions (n.d.) Retrieved 9th April, 2014 from http://www.distance.vic.edu.au/samples/pdf/hi13301.pdf