Niagara Gazette — The Beatles’ hit of 1968, “Revolution,” somewhat ironized on that phenomenon, which in a badly-split America of the period, and other parts of the western world, nonetheless seemed possible.
It still feels possible, but authentic revolutions generally bring pain, though often commencing in a festive manner (think of hopes initially aroused by the Arab Spring). Illusions proliferate at the start of such upheavals, but then comes an increasingly horrid, violent reality.
Napoleon once said that people forget what revolutions are like (that is, when they try to create new ones); and he was correct. True revolutions — I don’t include America’s struggle to separate from Britain — end up ever more extreme, with dictatorial violence ultimately causing much fear and misery, as new tyrants (in pure “Animal Farm” style) take over.
An old book, “The Anatomy of Revolution,” by the late Crane Brinton, remains relevant — there’s indeed, a common anatomy to real revolutions, including in warning signs and stages, as formerly secure “freeway lanes” (my term) disappear. You keep edging over and the screws keep tightening, until ruthless toughies at the top take over fully (think of Cuba’s Castro showing true colors, or China’s bloodthirsty Mao).
Brinton discusses the English Civil War, which got rid of a king and ultimately brought a puritan dictator, Cromwell; the French Revolution, ending in a Reign of Terror under guillotine-happy Robespierre, followed by interminable Napoleonic wars; and the Russian Revolution, spawning a tyrannical Lenin and an even worse Stalin, whose gulag became gorged with millions during the ‘30s, almost all ending up under the snow there. (We’re still lucky to have Solzhenitsyn’s great little book on it, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”)
Why then should common warning signs and stages of revolution, along with results, interest us? Because sticking with warning signs alone, we have ‘em all up the yin-yang! Resembling rays circling the sun, they’re little different from ones that converged before earlier revolutions noted here.