What is the difference between a revolution and a military coup d'etat?

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The major difference between a revolution and a military coup d'etat is that a revolution is the result of a mass uprising of the people. A military coup d'etat, on the other hand, is the result of a power grab by a small group of military commanders. The point of a revolution is often to impose vast and sweeping changes to a country, from the political institutions down to the very make-up of society. A military coup d'etat is more focused in scope. They usually just result in the transfer of power from a civilian leadership to a military one but leave most of the country's social and political institutions in place.

Furthermore, revolutions can be violent or peaceful. History provides many examples of both. A military coup d'etat is almost always violent and leads to harsh repercussions as the methods often employed by militaries are inherently violent.

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While a revolution can include a coup d’état, not all coups d’état actually result in revolution.  That is because a revolution must include a fundamental change in a society.

For example, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution were undeniably revolutions rather than mere coups.  The French Revolution took power from the aristocracy and monarchy and gave it to the Third Estate.  It made the society more democratic.  In Haiti, the Revolution abolished slavery and destroyed the system of white supremacy and white rule in Haiti.  These were true and fundamental changes and are therefore called revolutions.

However, other changes in government can simply be done because one faction in the elite of a society wants more power.  This faction does not really want to change society in any real way.  Instead, it simply wants to have power so that it can gain the benefits that come with having power.  This often happens in “Third World” countries where, for example, one military strong man overthrows another.  Such a coup leads to no fundamental change even though it replaces one government with another.

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