Excerpt from “The Factors that Determine What Makes a Revolution Violent or Nonviolent”
What is a Revolution?
A revolution is described as a distinct form of change, whether it be social or political and takes place within a brief time span. Many elements are involved in defining a revolution and are debated by many theorists. For the purpose of this paper, a revolution is defined as a fundamental change in the social and political structure of a current government and/or society that takes immediate effect within political, societal and economic structures. A mere exchanging of politicians or political parties is not sufficient to be considered a revolution, but rather a complete overhaul of politicians, laws, regulations, economic rationalization and societal stipulations must take place. A revolution must affect all parts of society inclusively, including the youth, children, adults, elderly, men and women. It must not exclude race, sexuality, religion or any other minority part of society.
There are many methodologies that explore how revolutions begin, are executed and structured. There are micro and macro revolutions, as well as political, societal and socioeconomic revolutions, as well. Also taken into consideration is whether a revolution is sparked by internal or external sources.
“A social movement can be defined as a persistent and organized effort on the part of a relatively large number of people either to bring about or resist to social change.” Although few social movements fit into the categories of being either a “change-resistant conservative revolution” or a “change-oriented liberal revolution,” benefits arise in understanding the goals and motives of such movements. Furthermore, reducing a category to being either revolutionary based or reform based. A reform movement is oriented around changing existing policies, whereas revolutionaries seek the complete upheaval and replacement of the system at hand. Within the scope of revolutionaries, there are further categories of Rightest revolutionaries and Leftist revolutionaries. Rightist revolutionaries seek a return to “traditional” values and institutions, preferring to put aside social equality in favour for social order “through institutional change,” whereas, the Leftist revolutionaries’ goal is to:
…change major social and political institutions in order to alter the dominant economic, social, or political relationships within a society. Usually involved is a redistribution of valuable resources between the rich and the poor, with more equal access to educational opportunities, medical services, higher wage levels, or in the case of a predominantly agricultural society, land, a stated goal.
Although sociologists attempt to categorize social movements, social movements have the ability to be rooted in a combination of conservative and liberal change, just as revolutions can be not completely liberal or completely conservative, but have a mixture of characteristics.
What Causes Revolutions?
Revolutionary movements develop for a number of reasons, differing from country-to-country and society-to-society. Below is a list of elements in no specific order of essential factors in the development of revolutions:
- Mass frustration resulting in popular uprisings among urban or rural populations: A large proportion of a society’s population becomes extremely discontented, which leads to mass-participation protests and rebellions against state authority. In technologically limited agricultural societies, the occurrence of rural (peasant) rebellion or at least rural support for revolution has often been essential (Foran 2005, 2006; Goldfrank 1994; Goldstone 1991; 1994; 2001a; Greene 1990).
- Dissident elite political movements: Divisions among elites (groups that have access to wealth or power of various types or are highly educated and possess important technical or managerial skills) pit some elite members against the existing government (Foran 2005; 2006; Goldfrank 1994; Goldstone 1991; 1994; 2001a; Greene 1990).
- Unifying motivations: The existence of powerful motivations for revolution that cut across major classes and unify the majority of a society’s population behind the goal of a revolution (Foran 2005; 2006; Goldstone 1994; 2001a; Greene 1990).
- A severe political crisis paralyzing the administrative and coercive capabilities of the state: A state crisis occurs in the nation experiencing or about to experience development of a revolutionary movement. The crisis, which may be caused by a catastrophic defeat in war, a natural disaster, an economic depression or the withdrawal of critical economic or military support from other nations, or by any combination of these factors, may deplete the state of loyal personnel, legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and other resources. The state then becomes incapable of carrying out its normal functions and cannot cope effectively with an opposition revolutionary movement (Foran 2005; 2006; Goldfrank 1994; Goldstone 1991; 1994; 2001a; Greene 1990).
- A permissive or tolerant world context: The governments of other nations do not intervene effectively to prevent a revolutionary movement from developing and succeeding in a given nation (Foran 2005; 2006; Goldfrank 1994; Goldstone 2001a).
Milestones of a Revolution
Once these factors are in place, a revolution has the ability to blossom and take place. Although in the event, a revolution lacks any of these factors, a revolution is more prone to failure. A revolution’s success is not only measured in the overthrowing of a power, but also in the construction of a new social/political/economic order.
Once a revolution begins to take place evident progress occurs in a series:
- A society’s intellectuals, most of whom in the past normally supported the existing regime, turn against it;
- The old regime tries to save itself from revolution by attempting reforms that ultimately fail to protect the old order;
- The revolutionary alliance that eventually takes power from the old government is soon characterized by internal conflicts;
- At first, the post-revolutionary government is moderate;
- Disappointment with the failure of moderate revolutionaries to fulfil expectations leads to more radical revolutionaries gaining control;
- The radicals take more extreme actions to fulfil revolutionary aims, including the use of coercive methods against those whom they perceive resist or threaten the fulfilment of revolutionary goals;
- Eventually, more pragmatic moderate revolutionaries replace the radicals.
Revolutions have the ability to divide a group of people in two- the first being those who oppose the old order and those who prefer to side with the old order; something being experienced in Libya today and to a much less degree in Egypt. “Needless to say, if the structural change is a slow one, an evolution, then there will be sufficient time to adjust and absorb so that the changes will become less threatening.”
Revolutions can be sub-categorized into internal revolutions and external revolutions:
The external revolution may be successful or not, accompanied by a regular war or not, but the goal is usually clear: autonomy in decision-making. Precisely because that goal is so clear, such a national revolution is often not accompanied by any social revolution. Instead, it becomes an achievement in its own right.
The internal revolution is a social revolution and a much more complex phenomenon involving a change not only in the structure relating the country to the outside but also in the internal structure. It is difficult to see how this can be brought about without some positively formulated goal, some relatively clear-cut idea of the alternative to domination is freedom from domination; for the internal revolution the matter is more open-ended and more complex. Since it is more complex it is often simplified, and one mechanism of simplification is to see an automatic link between the two types: if only the external revolution can be achieved the internal revolution will come almost by itself.
“Between 1900 and 1999, the world produced about 250 new wars, internal or civil, in which battle deaths averaged at least two-thousand per year… Those wars caused about a million deaths per year.” Here, Tilly indicates the great influence of armed conflict on battle deaths, but what is an armed conflict or an internal war?
“Conflict” can be defined as the state of relations experienced when two or more parties have mutually exclusive goals… Internal wars involve violent conflict, but they may fall short of the levels of violence that we typically associate with wars. Included in this category are the following: coups d’etat, whereby one elite seeks to replace another elite element in the government; revolutions, which are mass movements aimed at removing the government; and insurrections.”
Although there is no clear and universal definition of the criteria of what constitutes a war, Keith Krause, an expert in Human Security in World Politics describes the main characteristic differentiating a war from an armed conflict is that wars occur between nations and armed conflicts occur within nations.
In similar fashion, the definition of nonviolence is also debated, but in contrast, Kurt Schock describes eighteen misconceptions of nonviolence in attempt to define what violence is.
- Nonviolent action is not inaction (although it may involve the refusal to carry out an action that is expected, that is, an act of omission), it is not submissiveness, it is not the avoidance of conflict, and it is not passive resistance… The term passive resistance is a misnomer when used to describe a non-violent action. There is nothing passive or evasive about nonviolent resistance, as it is an active and overt means for prosecuting conflicts with opponents…
- Not everything that is not violent is considered nonviolent action. Nonviolent action refers to specific actions that involve risk and invoke non-violent pressure or nonviolent coercion in contentious interactions between opposing groups.
- Nonviolent action is not limited to state-sanctioned political activities. Nonviolent action may be legal or illegal. Civil disobedience, that is, the open and deliberate violation of the law for a collective social or political purpose, is a fundamental type of nonviolent action.
- Nonviolent action is not composed of regular or institutionalized techniques of political action such as litigation, letter writing, lobbying, voting, or the passage of laws… nonviolent action is context specific. Displaying anti-regime posters in democracies would be considered a low-risk and regular form of political action, whereas the same activity in nondemocracies would be considered irregular, would involve a substantial amount of risk, and would, therefore, be considered a method of nonviolent action…
- Nonviolent action is not a form of negotiation or compromise… and should be distinguished from means of conflict resolution.
- Nonviolent action does not depend on moral authority, the “mobilization of shame,” or the coercion of the views of the opponent in order to promote political change…
- Those who implement nonviolent action do not assume that the state will not react with violence…
- The view that suffering is central to nonviolent resistance is based on the misguided assumption that nonviolent action is passive resistance and that nonviolent action is intended to produce change through the conversion of the oppressor’s views (Martin 1997)…
- Nonviolent action is not a method of contention that is used only as a last resort when the means of violence are unavailable…
- Nonviolent action is not a method of the “middle class” or a “bourgeois” approach to political contention. Nonviolent action can be and has been implemented by groups from any and all classes and castes, from slaves to members of the upper class (McCarthy and Kruefler 1993)…
- The use of nonviolent action is not limited to the pursuit of “moderate” or “reformist” goals. It may also be implemented in the pursuit of “radical” goals.
- While nonviolent action by its very nature requires patience, it is not inherently slow in producing political change compared to violent action (Shepard 2002)…
- The occurrence of nonviolent action is not structurally determined. While there are empirical relationships in geographically and temporally bound places and time periods between the political context and the use of a given strategy for responding to grievances.
- The effectiveness of nonviolent action is not a function of the ideology of the oppressors…
- Similarly, the effectiveness of nonviolent action is not a function of the repressiveness of the oppressors…
- The mass mobilization of people into campaigns of nonviolent action in nondemocracies does not depend on coercion.
- Participation in campaigns of nonviolent action does not require that activists hold any sort of ideological, religious, or metaphorical beliefs…
- Similarly, those who implement nonviolent action do not have to be aware that they are implementing a particular class of methods…
The Middle East and North Africa region has been the site of early civilizations and empire expansionism for centuries. This, involved migrations of people and as empires fell or new civilizations started, minority populations—those left behind by previous empires remained and became engulfed in their new surrounding societies. We would now categorize these areas as Arab nations. There are many ethnic minority groups in the MENA, some of which had been living in the region before the emergence of Islam. According to the Islamic Human Rights Council, as of 1990, there were approximately thirty million minorities living in Arab nations out of the 220 million overall populations. As of recent statistics, there are more than 340 million Arabs in the MENA region, this number, however, includes the many ethnic minorities that do exist in the area, including the Kurds, Armenians, Aramaeans, Chaldeans, Turkmens, Cherkess, Turks, Zangians, Nubians, Berbers, Banyans, Haratins, Gnawas, Tauregs, Chechens, Romanis, Ajamis, Moors and Assyrians.
Bahrain being one of the more prominent nations in the news concerning the Arab Spring is home to the Ajamis and Banyans. The Kurdish population is very much concentrated in the regions of Iraq and Syria, whereas the Armenian population extends out into Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. It is estimated that 15-20% of the Iraqi population is Kurdish and 5% are Turkmen, with sizeable populations of Cherkess, Armenians and Chechens. Lebanon and Jordan’s non-Arab population is estimated to be around 5%, respectively. Kuwait’s expatriate community makes up slightly less than half of the total Kuwaiti population, which played a major role in the protests that erupted in Kuwait. Aramaeans and Chaldeans are estimated to account for more than 100,000 citizens of the Arab population. Many Moroccans, Algerians and Libyans are of Berber descent and genetic testing in Morocco further supports the theory made by Berberists that despite the conquest of North Africa by Arab nations and the predominance of the Arabic language, the population remains ethnically Berber.
Johan Galtung, A Structural Theory of Revolutions. (Rotterdam UP, 1974), Introduction.
Galtung, Op. Cit. 19.
James DeFronzo, Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2007), 9.
Charles Tilly, The Politics of Collective Violence. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 55.
Rye Schwartz-Barcott and Carolyn W. Pumphrey, Armed Conflict in Africa. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2003), 4.
Keithe Krause, “Human Security in World Politics. ”Human Security in World Politics Lecture Notes”, (The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland 2011) accessed 20 June 2011.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission, “IHRC – Minorities in the Arab World”, Islamic Human Rights Commission [web document] (27 January 2004) <http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=989>, accessed 17 July 2011.
CIA World Factbook, “Bahrain”, CIA World Factbook [web page] (2007) <Cia.gov>, Accessed 17 July 2011.
Human Rights Watch, “Syria”, Human Rights Watch [web page] (1996) <http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1996/Syria.htm>, Accessed 17 July 2011.
Armenian Diaspora, “Armenian Population in the World”, [web page] News from Armenia, Events in Armenia, Travel and Entertainment. <http://www.armeniadiaspora.com/population.html>, 17 July 2011.
CIA World Factbook, Op. Cit. Iraq.
CIA The World Fact book, Op. Cit. Jordan.
CIA The World Fact book, Op. Cit. Lebanon.
CIA The World Fact book, Op. Cit. Kuwait.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission, Loc. Cit.
BBC News, “Africa | Q&A: The Berbers.” BBC News, 12 Mar. 2004, 23, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3509799.stm>, accessed 17 July 2011.
N. Harich, et al., Classical Polymorphisms in Berbers from Moyen Atlas (Morocco): Genetics, Geography, and Historical Evidence in the Mediterranean Peoples. (Annals of Human Biology 29.5, 2002) 473-87.