Showing posts with label Bolshevik Revolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bolshevik Revolution. Show all posts

23 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution - Part 2

by Eve Fisher

Where we left off two weeks ago, was with the collapse of old regime governments and the rickety nature of the moderate governments that take over.  That rickety nature is because, as I said last time,
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes (the radicals) because
  • the moderates must maintain government, want to maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it.
The Extremists 

Revolutions work in stages:  from moderates to extremists, until finally the lunatic extremists take over.  Now the lunatic extremists are always a minority, and such a tiny minority that everyone discounts them, because obviously they don't speak for the majority.  But the extremists are willing to do ANYTHING to get into power, including attending all those boring committee meetings that everyone else ignores, where they quickly become the secretaries, treasurers, and chairmen.  This means they run the bureaucracy of the revolution:  they control who gets elected, who gets jobs, who gets money.  And, as the extremists' candidates start winning elections, they change the voting rules - the electorate is shaved down, elections are rigged and eventually elections are eliminated, because the extremists have to stay in power in order to "maintain the revolution."

And then comes the Reign of Terror.  Ideological purity is made the touchstone of everything, which makes it increasingly dangerous to be different - and the lunatic extremists keep changing the goalposts, making ideological purity not just harder and harder to achieve, but impossible to achieve. Nobody is ever pure enough.  Let me repeat that point, and please remember it, because it's a dead giveaway, then and now and in future:  Nobody is ever pure enough for the extremists.



The Reign of Terror (and there always is one)

The Revolution has been very busy killing off its enemies:  the obvious Royalists, White Army, capitalists, bourgeois industrialists, or feudalists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Huguenots, and whatever other category they deem dangerous.  But now it starts eating its own.  The last thing to be in a revolution is one of the first revolutionaries, because you are going to get killed:  Danton is guillotined; Trotsky gets it in the head with an ice axe; Liu Shaoqi - former President of the People's Republic of China - dies naked and alone in a windowless cell.  Robespierre, Stalin, and Mao all killed almost everyone who used to be their comrades in arms, as well as thousands to millions of innocent citizens.

The other fun things about the Reign of Terror are:
  • Individual liberties are suppressed, if not made illegal, especially free speech and the right to dissent.  As I said earlier, elections are either obviously rigged or banned outright.  
    • NOTE:  This is actually not hypocrisy.  The extremists know that they have the true answer to how men should live, and so any opposition must be wiped out for the good of the country, perhaps even the good of humanity.  To oppose them is to oppose God (or whatever term the extremists use).  
  • Virtue is enforced.  They ban every vice, from gambling to drinking, whoring to theater, and a lot of stuff that just seems like it might be fun, like dancing or reading.  And it doesn't have anything to do with religion:  although some revolutions have been religious in basis (the English Civil Wars were quickly taken over by extreme Puritans, among others), even atheist revolutions (Mao's Cultural Revolution) are extremely ascetic.  
  • Robespierre guillotining the
    executioner after having
    guillotined everyone else in France
    • NOTE:  This is why George Orwell's Big Brother banned sex; as Julia says to Winston, "When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?" 
    • FURTHER NOTE:  Quite a few leaders of the extremists, like Robespierre and Thomas Paine, are Pure Young Men, which only increases the push for extreme virtue and terror, because nobody is ever pure enough for a Pure Young Man, who will, if pushed, kill maniacally in his cause.   For a definition of a Pure Young Man, see yours truly's article in SleuthSayers http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/06/emergency-pure-young-men.html.  For an example, watch the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Peter O'Toole's Lawrence starts shooting everyone in sight, with great bloody joy.
  • Extraordinary courts and special revolutionary police are set up - no evidence needed, no lawyer provided, just a quick snatch off the streets, and a rubber-stamp of "guilty - condemned" for all who are unfortunate enough to be hauled before them. 
  • There are mass exiles, imprisonments, and executions.  Endless executions.  Sometimes it seems if the extremists want everyone dead.  Sometimes they do.
  • War is common, indeed necessary:  War is used to spread the gospel of revolution abroad and as a distraction from how bad things are at home under the extremists.  (Sometimes it's imaginary - North Korea's been battling the United States in its own mind for almost 70 years - but it's still effective.)  
The End of Extremism

Here comes the good news:  flesh and blood can only take so much, and eventually the extremists are ousted.  For one thing, the common man and woman just can't take being forced into early sainthood, and fear will not work forever, even if it seems like it.  Some, like Robespierre, call for one too many deaths and are executed themselves. Others, like Mao and Stalin, die of natural causes, and afterwards their supposed followers can't move fast enough to lighten things up.  In China, they arrested the Gang of Four, led by Mao's last wife, Jiang Qing, and blamed them - especially her - for everything; shortly thereafter, Deng Xiaping declared "To get rich is glorious!"



In France, once Robespierre was dead, people opened the bars, pulled out the wine, and women started dressing sexy again, which is how Josephine Beauharnais nabbed Napoleon.  It's a giddy time - everyone is free, free, free!

Madame Recamier, by David, bringing sexy back
Return of Absolutism

And then comes the Restoration.  Literally in England, with Charles II.  Brezhnev in Russia.  Calles in Mexico.  A brief empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and then the Bourbons returned.  (Talleyrand said of them, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing," which is why the restored monarchy only lasted until 1848.)  The Chinese Communist Party clones, president after president.

      

And yet, something has changed.  Just as nobody survives a deadly disease without some change to their psyche, so no country survives a revolution without some changes to their society.  Not habits:  human habits are hard to change, or at least were before mass media required us all to mimic Hollywood images. But ideas did change, took root; civil rights were expanded; there was some redistribution of wealth and/or land.  In France, the Revolution left behind a secularization, universal education, the metric system of weights and measures, and governmental centralization that is still in place, and, thanks to the Napoleonic Empire, was spread all around Europe.  In both China and Russia, the peasants got land and permission to engage in some capitalistic behavior, in exchange for which the Party was allowed to stay in power.  What were once revolutionary symbols - the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - become the national liturgy.  And each revolution "proves" that revolution can work - if you just get it right, so maybe next time...

And the memory of the Great Revolution is enshrined, if not downright embalmed in holy incense, as a sacred time when people were unified and pure.  Or as a time of amazing excitement and brotherhood, such as never has been known since.  It is a Golden Age.  Except, of course, to the families of those who were killed.  But who's listening to them?  After all, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs" - that came out of the French Revolution, too.

09 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution, Part 1

by Eve Fisher

As well as a writer and omnivorous reader, I'm an historian by trade, and I love patterns in history. Searching down and matching up cross-cultural, cross-chronological patterns is my specialty.  And there are a lot more patterns than people are aware of, because (1)  we always like to think that we (our generation, country, tribe, religion, etc.) are unique and (2) we often get the pattern wrong.  And we generally get it wrong because we're trying to get the pattern to match a predetermined belief system.

For example:  There's an illusion that revolutions are started by the poor and downtrodden masses, who have finally had enough and Rise Up! against the oppressor, and all hell breaks loose.  Sorry. That's not how it works.   As Leon Trotsky once said, "The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection:  if it were, the masses would always be in revolt."

Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Nor do revolutions erupt when societies are at their lowest, economically/socially/morally.  Actually, when things are at their worst, no one has time for revolution.  Survival takes up everyone's time and energy. Instead, revolutions occur just as things are, finally, getting better.  And they are launched not by the masses, but by a thin wedge - actually many thin wedges - of which the most common are intellectuals (sometimes, but not always, of the upper classes, socially and/or economically), grumbling property owners, radicals, and extremists who - SPOILER ALERT - would not be satisfied if God came down from heaven and gave them everything they claim to be their heart's desire.

Crane Brinton (1898-1968)
Back in 1938, Crane Brinton, a history professor at Harvard University, wrote a book called "Anatomy of Revolution".  He revised it in 1965, and I only wish he had lived long enough to incorporate the Chinese Cultural Revolution in it as well.  Basically, he compared the English Civil war of 1642-1651, the American Revolution of 1765-1783, the French Revolution of 1789-1799, and the Russian Revolution of 1917-1922, and found significant patterns that ran through all of these.  He compared revolution to a fever, and he wasn't far wrong.  I'm not going to use all of his jargon, and I am going to simplify some things and add others, but here's the general run-down, in case something strikes you as familiar, or potential, or possible.  Personally, I find predicting revolutions far more practical, although much less hilarious, than predicting apocalypses.

The Pre-conditions of Most Major Revolutions:

In every revolution  (Britain, Colonial America, France, Mexico, Russia, and China), the economy was actually improving before the revolution.  BUT as things got better, people felt more discontented than they did when they were starving to death and could only focus on food.  Now they had food, and they started wanting more.  They were hopeful for the future, but they felt they were forced to accept less RIGHT NOW than what they hoped for.  And (sorry if this comes as a shock) they always blamed it on the government in power.

Brinton said that, in each case, the Old Regime was:
  • Economically weak - the government had deficits and/or debts and had to enforce taxes, which everyone hated.  
  • Louis XVI of France
    • NOTE:  In most countries, taxes were paid almost entirely by the poor, even though, throughout pre-revolutionary history the 5% wealthy/middle class owning 95% of the wealth was the norm. One of the purposes, and major achievements, of revolutions was to change those statistics significantly.  For one thing, today we EXPECT there to be a substantial middle class, and are worried when there isn't.  Thank the American and French Revolutions for that one, folks.  
  • Politically weak - the government was ineffective and could not enforce policy.  
    • NOTE:  this was especially true in governments that were based on hereditary royalty, which almost always eventually run out of steam, not to mention genetic material. 
  • Intellectually deserted - the intelligentsia (scholars, thinkers, some artists) gave up on the way their society operated and joined the reformers, speaking out against the government, often (especially in France and Russia) sawing off the branch they were sitting on.  
  • Riddled with class antagonism - there was a growing bitterness between the social/economic classes, with the classes closest to one another being the most hostile to each other.  (Basically, the poor don't have the time to hate the rich, they're just trying to survive; and the rich can easily ignore the poor, because they hardly ever see them.)
The Revolution Begins

Zapata in Cuernevaca
So all this is stewing away, and then a symbolic action rallies the people against the old regime.  The Boston Tea Party; the taking of the Bastille; the Petrograd strikes in February, 1917; Viva Zapata!; the Guangzhou Uprising in China of 1927; the mass rallies of the Cultural Revolution.  These are followed by planned "spontaneous" revolts (usually carefully orchestrated by the intellectual elite), and the government can't repress the rebellion without a level of violence that they fear will lead to total revolution. But total revolution happens anyway.  And the government... succumbs.

Change to Moderates

Charles I on trial for his life in 1649
In France, the Legislative Assembly ruled until 1792; in China, in 1911, the Qing Dynasty fell and Sun-Yat Sen became first President of the Republic; Charles I of England was held prisoner by Parliament, which ruled the country; Francisco Madero, a wealthy reformer, became President of Mexico; in Russia, Alexander Kerensky took over the Provisional Government.  In all of these and more the moderates quickly took over the mechanism of government.  Everyone celebrates!  "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" (Wordsworth)  Everything is changing!  New constitutions!  New institutions!  Sometimes a new war!

BUT there's always somebody who isn't happy, whether you want to call them radicals or extremists or what ever other name is popular. Two VERY important facts:
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes because
  • the moderates want to/must maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it. (Or at least the radicals want to destroy the moderates' government.) 
The honeymoon period is brief, sometimes as brief as a heartbeat.  In Mexico, President Madero was assassinated by his generalissimo successor Huerta, who claimed that the former President had gotten caught in an accidental crossfire; In 1911 China, Sun Yat-Sen was ousted by the old warlord Yuan Shi-kai in a matter of days.  (Sun Yat-Sen, no fool, resigned rather than stick around to be killed.)  In 1917 Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks got rid of Kerensky's government within months. In France, Robespierre took over the Committee of Public Safety...

And in all cases, any members of the former royal house still in the country get imprisoned and/or executed.

And now the Extremists, self-righteous, self-assured, irreproachable, illimitable and insatiable, are coming...

More next time.