Revolution checklist

"The Storming of the Bastille", Visi...

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The Arab Revolt presently convulsing various countries is following a familiar script, albeit one with local variations: it has been refined in turn by England (1640 – 1660), France (1789 – 1800), Russia (1917), Ethiopia (1974 – 1977), Iran (1979) and many others.  Here’s the standard timeline.

1  The people groan under the rule of a despot: both the poor who are starving and the bourgeoisie who feel alienated by the system and want to change it, mostly to their own benefit.

2  The despot gets old and sick and makes critical mistakes: spending ostentatiously, for example, rejecting petitions, turning troops on demonstrators, imprisoning revered religious leaders or allowing his offspring maximum opportunities to make themselves rich, feared and detested.

3  As the situation worsens it becomes unsustainable, so a trigger – a foreign or natural event or defeats on the battlefield or even a single suicide – is enough to pitch it past its tipping point: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (Yeats)

4  A lone assassin kills someone important, or the mob carries out some heroic outrage which defines the revolution’s start date (the Bastille phase).

5  The bourgeoisie overthrows the despotism (which the military fails to support), and imprisons the deposed dictator.

6  The bien-pensants, including liberal generals (eg Lafayette) and other community leaders, convene an interim democratic structure and start rewriting the constitution according to high-minded liberal principles.

7  Outside pressure, such as threats by other countries, fears of invasion etc, and internal ones, such as soldiers returning from the wars, starvation and the collapse of state structures, causes difficulties for the new administration.

8  Factionalism now weakens the new elite, extremists split from the governing consensus and the first anti-government agitators appear and are listened to.

9  The first arrests are made; the deposed dictator is tried and executed (beheaded, smothered to death or shot) but the people remain unsatisfied and increasingly fearful

10  Weakened from within, threatened from without and undercut by its own incompetence, the democratic government is overthrown by the extremists, citing ‘threats’ to the security of the state and the well-being of the people; leaders of the democratic regime are rounded up, imprisoned, guillotined, shot etc (eg Danton, Aman Andom). A new people’s republic is proclaimed.

11  The first state psychopaths appear, claiming authority from the new regime to seek out traitors, holdovers from the old regimes and so on, torture them and kill them.  The Terror (France, 1793) or Red Terror (Ethiopia, 1977), driven by second-wave, nothing-to-lose  revolutionaries, junior officers etc, descends into a bloodbath: another unsustainable situation.

12  The desperate survivors, frenzied with panic and fatalism, manage to overthrow the crazies and kill them; a new authority is created with ‘powers’ which, crucially, have the support of the army.

13  From amongst the members of the new authority, a strongman emerges and establishes himself as the only feasible guarantor of the republic (eg Julius Caesar); survivors of the turmoil reappear and fight each over for positions of power in the new order and the favour of the new Big Man.

14  The new leader cracks down on dissent, imprisons or executes both Right and Left, and defeats the people’s external enemies; a grim, exhausted peace descends upon the nation. A new cycle in its historic existence begins.

Let us hope that the Middle East does not have to undergo the whole of this Calvary.

About rimboval

Writer, thinker and proud grandfather
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