Why are revolutions worth the trouble?Why are revolutions worth the trouble?

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lrwilliams's profile pic

lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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I am not sure you can say that revolutions are worth the lives that are lost during the revolution. I would agree that all peaceful avenues of change should be attempted before violence. I think the only people that can truly answer if it is worth it are the people that are involved in the revolution. 

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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On some levels, revolutions might be inevitable.  The Russian Revolution was "worth the trouble" because there was a general and real feeling tha the Czar's autocratic ways needed changing.  The Russian entry into World War I and the immense casualty count, the impoverished condition of the Russian people, and the perception that the Russian Royalty was not in touch with the condition of its citizens all convinced the body politic that a revolution was worth the trouble.  Indeed, as the previous post indicated, it did successfully remove the old regime.  Some would argue that it did meet the second objective in its establishment of a new regime.  This order might not have been successful, in retrospect, but was dominant for most of the 20th century.  It is the animating spirit to bring forth what should be into the realm of what is that makes most revolutions as being worth the trouble.

The initial Russian Revolution was carried out by reasonable people (leaders of society) making reasonable changes.  But following close upon its heels was the Bolshevik Revolution.  It was carried out, not by the people, nor even the leaders of society, but by a small, highly organized cadre of fanatics and power seekers who used mass terror to bring about their revolution.  By their revolution, they installed a government designed only to give satisfaction to their lust for power.  Stalin killed millions of Russians who opposed his tyranny.  The Bolshevik Revolution was not worth any of what resulted.  The people were not made better off by the Bolshevik Revolution.  Did the initial Russian Revolution by Russian leaders set the stage for the Bolshevik Revolution or was the Bolshevik Revolution inevitable?  If, instead of a revolution, the leaders of society had chosen to work slowly within the existing government, for small changes, could the horror of the Bolshevik Revolution have been avoided? 

I do not know whether most revolutions animate the spirit to bring forth what should be in place of what is, but I do know the Bolshevik Revolution did not.  I think I recall reading that most revolutions are begun by leaders persuing reasonable goals and end up in the hands of radicals persuing power or fanaticism.

Similar questions and comments could be made about the French Revolution.

As for the American Revolution that gave birth to the United States:  Was war necessary to achieve change?  For all the changes that were achieved, maybe, but were all of those changes necessary?  Might not peaceable work for a few changes at a time have had just as good results without death and destruction?, and maybe within the same time--that war lasted a long time.

geosc's profile pic

geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Why are revolutions worth the trouble?

Why are revolutions worth the trouble?

Governmental revolutions, strictly speaking are only a change of government; the changes need not be violent to qualify for being called revolutions.  Here is an example.  When the United Kingdom has a national election, every national elective office is voted on.  The entire government is reelected. Therefore, whenever the U.K. has a national election, it has a revolution because the government is changed (unless the voters vote for the same party that is already in power, in which case the election would not result in a revolution).

By way of contrast, in the United States, our national elections never result in a revolution, because we never vote on all elected officials at one time; some of our elected officials have 2-year terms, some 6-year terms, and one a 4-year term.

The U.S. has had one violent revolution in government.  It occurred when the Republican Party decided to use military force to subdue its political enemies, and after subduing them, enacted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which made big changes in our form of government. 

The U.S. has also had peaceful revolutions.  The first was the adoption of the Constitution of 1787 in place of the Articles of Confederation.  That made a big change in our form of government.

Other changes in American government have been slow, and only a little bit at a time.  Some of the changes brought about by U.S. Supreme Court decisions have, over time and one decision at a time, brought about changes in U.S. government that amount to a revolution.

Many conservative commentators cite Edmund Burke's belief that changes in social and political institutions (family is a social institution; government is a political institution) should be small and slow. 

My comments do not answer your question, but they do give some context for help in understanding the answers that you do get.

geosc's profile pic

geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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The French Revolution.  In reply to #4:I question much that is said in this post. 

That the present French government exists because of the French Revolution seems questionable to me; I would rather suspect that the present government exists inspite of the French Revolution. 

The growth of liberal democracies did take place in the shadow of the French Revolution, but is that a good thing?

That growth never comes without pain, I absolutely deny.  The pain of the French Revolution came from those who coopted it and then used force including mass executions to impose on the people what the people did not want.  It would be understandable if the resistance had been by members of the old regime and they merely pushed aside (or imprisoned and executed only if they committed criminal acts in their resistance).  The old regime always opposes change, even just and needed change.  But the executions of the French Revolution were many and not of criminals but of good people who opposed the injustice of the French Revolution.  They occurred because a few fanatics wanted their vision for mankind forced upon mankind, but mankind could see that the fanatics' vision was neither just nor needed.

The French Revolution was not necessary, at least not in the form that it took.  To justify its carnage by saying "growth never comes without pain" is very callous of human life, of human rights, and of American ideals of liberty.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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On some levels, revolutions might be inevitable.  The Russian Revolution was "worth the trouble" because there was a general and real feeling tha the Czar's autocratic ways needed changing.  The Russian entry into World War I and the immense casualty count, the impoverished condition of the Russian people, and the perception that the Russian Royalty was not in touch with the condition of its citizens all convinced the body politic that a revolution was worth the trouble.  Indeed, as the previous post indicated, it did successfully remove the old regime.  Some would argue that it did meet the second objective in its establishment of a new regime.  This order might not have been successful, in retrospect, but was dominant for most of the 20th century.  It is the animating spirit to bring forth what should be into the realm of what is that makes most revolutions as being worth the trouble.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is another revolution that was momentous:  The French Revolution.  While it was, indeed, a bloody one, it was certainly a revolution that produced positive results, just as the American Revolution produced positive effects, as brettd points out.  French people who were peasants were taxed into dire poverty, they were starved, they were desperate.  Against the oppressive Louis XIV they had no power to effect reform; consequently, after his death when his weaker grandson became king, the people revolted in their desperation.  And, as the first post explains, a better government does not come about for a long time.  There were two more revolutions before France settled upon the form of government that it has today.  Still, the modern era unfolded in the shadow of France's revolutions with the growth of republics and liberal democracies.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Those are two very sorry examples if you want to prove that revolutions are worth the trouble.  I would argue that both of those examples show revolutions that were not worth the trouble.

In both cases, the revolutions did not, I would argue, result in any real net benefits to the people who were supposed to be helped.  In the Russian Revolution that brought the communists to power, it is very hard to argue that the regular people of Russia got to be better off (short or long term) because of the revolution.  The same goes for Animal Farm.

In order for a revolution to be worth it, you can't just dump the old system -- you have to come up with a better one.  Neither of these examples did.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Well, revolutions often aren't as there are two stages that must be successful: Removal of the old government and replacement with a new one that is more just.  Both of these stages are difficult.

In the Russian Revolution of 1917, it took a seven year civil war and hundreds of thousands of lives for the Bolsheviks to gain full control of Russia. While they were pursuing a communist ideal, and wanted to create a classless society, a corrupt and power hungry dictator, Josef Stalin soon consolidated his power and ran the Soviet Union with an iron fist.  His policies and his incompetent defense of the USSR during World War II were responsible for the deaths of 40 million of his own countrymen.

In our revolution, it took 6 years to achieve victory, and another eight years after the war to establish the Constitution and an effective government.  As revolutions go, we have done well in our history.  They are usually not this successful in either stage.  So for us, I would say it was certainly worth the trouble.

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Continued healthy development of any society requires stability as well as change. Stability provides societies with tested and proven methods of functioning with predictable results and some degree of acceptance by all. Without stability there will be too much uncertainty and too much wastage of energy in working out and agreeing every small and big task to be accomplished by people concerning each other. On the other hand change provides the society to bring about improvements along with improving capabilities of people, their increasing aspirations, and changes in the environment.

Unfortunately, stability and change are opposed to to each other, and sometimes only way to introduce is to rebel against the established systems and change them in a rapid and sometimes violent revolution.  Of course a lot of sufferings may be caused during the course of revolution it self, but the long term positive gains of a revolution make the short term suffering and losses make it worthwhile.

The benefits of revolution become evident when we look at some successful revolutions such as the American war of independence. But what about apparently not so unsuccessful revolutions like the the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. If you examine carefully that in spite of some set back in the initial progress made by Russian Revolution, by way of initial formation and later break up of USSR, the economic, industrial and technological development of Russia and other former members states of USSR cannot be denied. But the greatest gains of French and Russian Revolutions are not limited to these respective countries. These two revolution have fired the imagination of people and inspired them to achieve more just societies all over the world, including in countries that claim to be strongly opposed to the concept of communism. These countries were also forced to make their societies to more just and equal to fend of the pressure of communism.

It is difficult to talk about the gains of a fictitious revolution like the one that is described in Animal Farm. This story has been conceived with the apparent objective of describing a failed revolution. Still we can find some positive signs in this story also. For example, the the status of at least some animals (that is pigs) has improved in comparison to those of humans. This a small but a definitely positive step in direction of achieving greater equality and justice for all animals.

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