Political Revolutions

The Nature of Political Revolutions

An often-overlooked aspect of the modern political economy is the capacity for change and renewal that is inherent in the way modern democracies work. Despite reversals of democracy where world over we are witnessing the retreat of democracy, there have been notable exceptions to the norm wherein some social and political movements have succeeded in effecting change from below.

The term “change from below” is important, as many political scientists believe that true political revolutions are those that change the system from within and below. For instance, the recent Arab Spring of 2011 resulted in the toppling of several dictatorships in the Middle East and Northern Africa as social and political movements rapidly gained strength leading to the powers that be conceding the demand for change posed by these social movements. Of course, this is not always the case where social movements succeed as we have seen with the Occupy Movement in the United States that petered out without securing its objectives.

Institutional Support is Vital for Political Revolutions to Succeed

The point here is that for social movements to succeed in effecting political revolutions there has to be support from the institutions like the Army, Judiciary, and Bureaucracy. Unless these key stakeholders concede the demand for change, it is impossible to succeed as then the ruling dispensation can either use force to quell the revolution or use official channels to deny what is being demanded. For instance, the call for Total Revolution given by the late mass leader, Jayaprakash Narayan in India in the 1970s failed because there was no support from the institutions.

Similarly, the recent protests against corruption have lost steam because though there was popular support, there was no institutional support. Of course, the protests against violence against women succeeded to some extent in forcing the authorities to implement new laws since there was broad based support from the political and bureaucratic establishment. Hence, the implications for political revolutionaries are that they must lobby the institutional powers to get them on board for their change agenda and along with them; they must use the media effectively.

The Indian Independence Movement and its Relevance to Contemporary Times

No discussion on political revolutions is complete without the example of the Indian Independence movement that was led from below and succeeded in actualizing its objective of gaining independence from the British. This movement is a stellar example of what happens when people power is hard to ignore and when large sections of the bureaucracy and the police forces support the aims of the political revolutionaries. On the other hand, many political revolutionaries argue that revolution can happen only through armed means.

However, history is replete with examples of failed revolutions that relied only on armed insurgency and nothing else. Hence, the conclusion here is that political revolutions are best actualized when mass movements are led by charismatic figures, have the support of the majority of the people, and include institutional actors in their agenda.

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Political Science