Revolutions are Messy

Revolutions are Messy

There are many sayings about revolutions, but my favorite is simply, “Revolutions are messy.” This seems to sum up the majority of the world’s revolutions, despite who wins or loses. The problem for Americans is that our Revolution was easy compared to most, so we tend to think all revolutions are as easy. If you lined up all the world’s revolutions in order from most radical to least, America would be pretty close to the least radical side. How much did we really change? We replaced the British aristocracy with American aristocracy. The Constitution allowed for representation, but only for white men with property who voted only for the House of Representatives. The British had the same right with the House of Commons.

Now the French and the Russians, they know how to throw a revolution. Whereas our Revolution was really top down, the French and Russian revolutions were bottom up. They turned everything on its head, getting rid of every type of institution imaginable, even religion. The masses took to the streets in what became more mob actions than political movements. It is telling that the symbol of the French Revolution became the guillotine, which was actually invented during the revolt to speed up the process of decapitating the rich and noble. Basically everyone associated with the crown was rounded up and separated from their heads. The royal families in both the French and the Russian revolutions were all assassinated quite violently. There is no such example in the American Revolution.

The other problem with most revolutions is they do not end with just one revolution, but instead spin off counter-revolutions or even more revolutionary movements. The Russians had a revolution in February 1917 which overthrew the Czar but was followed up with a second revolution in October of the same year that brought the Bolsheviks to power. They then fought a bloody civil war between the Whites and the Reds until 1923. As for the French, their first government of the Revolution was the National Assembly, created in 1789 and followed by the Legislative Assembly in 1791. The First Republic took power in 1793 and instituted the Reign of Terror only to be ousted by The Directory in 1795. Finally, Napoleon took over in 1799, bringing some stability. With both the Russians and the French, each regime change brought a great deal of bloodshed.



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