What Causes Revolutions?

The fundamental premise of a revolution is that the existing social structure has become incapable of solving the urgent problems connected with the development of a nation.

- Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (1933), III

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in February the French monarchy fell; and within a few months Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy had all been overtaken by revolutionary fervour. Only a few countries, notably Britain and Russia, were spared.The rebels were fighting for nationalism, social justice and civil rights, and were prepared to fight in the streets down to the last man. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives; but little of lasting value was achieved, and by the end of the year the liberal revolutions had been soundly beaten.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on 1848: The Year of Revolutions

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Revolutions can be short and bloody, or slow and peaceful. Each is different, though there are recurring patterns - including some that were on show in Egypt.

Trotsky once remarked that if poverty was the cause of revolutions, there would be revolutions all the time because most people in the world were poor. What is needed to turn a million people's grumbling discontent into a crowd on the streets is a spark to electrify them...

Continue reading Mark Almond's article: How Revolutions Happen: Patterns from Iran to Egypt

Further Reading

The moral issues posed by revolutions are both practically important and theoretically complex. There are also interesting conceptual questions as to how to distinguish revolution from resistance, rebellion, and secession, all of which also involve opposition to existing political authority. Unfortunately, the recent renaissance in just war theorizing focuses implicitly on interstate wars and thus has largely ignored the morality of revolution, at least as a topic worthy of systematic theorizing in its own right....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Revolution by Allen Buchanan

Related Topics

 Civil DisobedienceFreedom | JusticeNationalismSociology | Violence | War

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