Why Revolutions Fail

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By Robert Wilkes – Senior Correspondent, Divided We Fall

Except for the successful American Revolution of 1776, almost all revolutions are failures. Thus, while there is revolution in the air today in America, it will also fail. Allow me to explain.

A Brief Overview of Revolutions

Human beings have an enduring proclivity to confront injustice (see Anatomies of Revolutions by George Lawson). As long as this remains true, revolutions will always be with us.

Revolutions seek to reorder the socio-political order under a new government. Revolutions are fought to depose a dictator; level economic inequality; release the iron grip of state repression; take political or economic power from a small number of elites and give it to the people; end racist policies; end endemic corruption; or, in the case of some Islamic revolutions, to “purify” the world of infidels.

Many revolutions succeed in deposing the head of state but cannot be called a success. The French Revolution was violent, fanatical, and murderous, especially if you were an aristocrat, a cleric, or a Catholic in the Vendée. Although the revolution ended the monarchy and established the First Republic in 1792, the Republic gave way to a dictator in 1804. And after Napoleon was defeated by a coalition of European states, the French reinstituted the monarchy. While the Revolution gave the world the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Napoleonic Code, it is universally considered a failure. The monarchy prevailed in the end and they were back where they started.

Many revolutions follow a similar pattern. For example, in Ukraine the Orange Revolution changed the head of government several times, but Ukraine remains a corrupt patrimonial state with enormous wealth in the hands of a few. The economy of Ukraine continues to be depressed and marked by economic hardship for the masses. Similar entrenched interests ensured the failure of the Arab Spring protests in states such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the last three evolving into civil wars. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, which overthrew the aging dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and eventually instituted democratic elections, is the exception. The Tunisian revolution is tentatively considered a success to the credit of the Tunisian people.

The Tragedy of Utopian Revolutions

If the vision of the revolution is to remake society and remake man, terror against those who the revolutionary state considers “traitors” to the cause will unfailingly result. Examples are the French Revolution, just described, and those in Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba, and Venezuela, just to name a few. In the religious version of utopian madness, ISIS is the result of radical Islamists who have a Manichean view and feel called to conquer non-Muslims and establish a caliphate to rule the world. Whether Marxist or Islamist, utopians feel obligated to ruthlessly wipe out any threat of counterrevolution, including entire segments of society they distrust. One third of the population of Cambodia was murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Marxist utopias are economic disasters. Chronic food shortages have caused the average Venezuelan’s weight to drop 24 pounds.

A revolution must not merely depose the existing regime; it must put a functioning government in its place and defeat competing power centers of authority. That is the problem.

Positive Aspects

Nevertheless, revolutions, even as failures, can and do bring positive change. The Haitian slave revolt of 1791 to 1804 was turning point in world opinion against slavery. The heroic but ill-fated Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968 failed but alerted the world that countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain still yearned for freedom and independence. These efforts inspired the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the 1980s Solidarity Movement in Poland that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Additionally, in recent decades, there has been a trend toward nonviolence. Revolutions consist of protest demonstrations with unifying colors, songs, or symbols, but are generally non-violent. Academics refer to them as “negotiated revolutions” and predict that more will come. Counterrevolutions may also be nonviolent.

The New American Revolutions

Revolutions happen when certain conditions are in place. The question arises: Do revolutions occur because revolutionaries start them, or do circumstances create the revolutionaries necessary for a revolution? The answer is a little of both. Conditions create revolutionaries to be sure. But Utopians don’t need conditions. Internal subversive tactics range from propaganda, disinformation campaigns, financial support to radical groups, and long-term infiltration of the education system; all to destabilize our society, undermine our love of country, and create conditions for revolution. Additionally, external foreign powers have long targeted the US with subversive strategies.

Alarmingly, we have all three conditions for revolution in the United States. We have revolutionaries, revolutionary conditions, and destabilizing foreign influences.

The New American Revolutionaries

There is no shortage of groups with public websites we can all visit that seek to overthrow the US Government (see itsgoingdown.org and sub.media). Antifa and similar groups are dangerous Marxists/anarchists who travel to cities in crisis, blend in with protestors, and in the late hours of the demonstration engage in and incite others to violence. They are proud of the destruction they have caused, as seen in this promotional poster.

Black Lives Matter was founded by committed and trained Marxists. Susan Rosenberg, a convicted terrorist associated with the Weather Underground and other terrorist groups, served 16 years of a 58-year prison sentence. Her sentence was commuted by President Clinton on his final day in office. She sits on the board of Thousand Currents, the fundraising arm of Black Lives Matter.

These groups openly desire the destruction of our capitalist free-market economy and our republican government until there is nothing but a nebulous, unstructured, lawless utopia they can only obliquely articulate. But anarchists are not without organization and funding, as seen in this slick, high production video.

In addition, American terrorists have adopted Che Guevara’s writing on foquismo, often shortened to foco, meaning focus. The theory is that small, fast-moving paramilitary groups can provide a focus for discontent that will lead to a general rebellion. Antifa, and before them the Weather Underground, operate under Che’s theory of foco.. And you thought it was just a T-shirt.

After the rioting, looting, and lawlessness of 2020, counterrevolutionaries have unsurprisingly appeared on the right. This includes the Proud Boys, QAnon, the Wolverine Watchmen (implicated in the attempted kidnapping of Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan), the Boogaloo Boys, and individual actors, some armed. In addition, conservative citizens may be motivated to march in counter-protest in support of law and order, especially when their own policing authorities are ordered to stand down amidst continuing mayhem. When protestors and counter-protestors converge, violence is inevitable.

Divided We Fall is dedicated to civil discourse and non-violence. We deplore violence and implore Americans to settle their differences in civil debates and at the ballot box. Although those prone to violence are a tiny fringe of society, their actions are magnified by media attention. If it bleeds, it leads.

Revolutionary Conditions

It should not surprise anyone that many of our young people are unhappy with America and predisposed to socialism. Bernie Sanders would have won the nomination without a concerted effort by the Democratic establishment to replace him with the anodyne Joe Biden. College professors have been teaching from Howard Zinn’s anti-American book, A People’s History of the United States, since the 1960s. The 1619 Project’s narrow framework also distorts history. The hyperventilated White Privilege movement creates self-doubt in the moral goodness of America such that even some in our congress, our national leaders, take a knee in supplication.

These attacks on our values and virtues have roots outside America in the Soviet Union, where Leon Trotsky advanced the concept of permanent, worldwide revolution. Howard Zinn is alleged to have ties to the American Communist Party and Moscow. The Soviets realized in the 1950s that they would not be able to keep up with us economically or militarily, so they made the decision to destroy our moral authority by attacking our history. To an alarming degree, their plan has succeeded.

Why Revolution Will Fail Again

If there ever was an entrenched establishment, it is in the US. The starry-eyed revolutionary socialist idealism of young people will moderate as they get jobs, buy a home, and have children. Our “flyover country” is still patriotic and getting more so after four years of a populist president. And finally, does anyone think the armed forces would defect to the side of the revolutionaries? Not a chance.

This is a passing phenomenon that has its moments, then fades. The unrest during and following the Vietnam War has returned in the cause of Black Lives Matter. But just as the country moved on then, it will move on now.

The underlying causes that have enflamed the revolutionaries are more symbolic than real. America has problems, such as the growing wealth of billionaires and stagnating incomes of the middle class. We need to address that, and the incredible bias and ethical lapses of the media. But America is not a racist country. With the exception of a deranged few, no white cop wants to harm a Black person. He just wants to go home after his shift and see his kids.

America is a great country, and American values are admired around the world. We are not going away. Those who seek the defeat of our society should be careful what they wish for. Revolutions kill their own revolutionaries in the terror that follows.

In Response

By Joe Schuman – Editor-in-Chief, Divided We Fall

Thank you Robert, as always, for your comments on revolutions and the “new American revolutionaries.”  What a timely topic to discuss.

Let’s start where we agree. I agree that revolutions fail because they are more destructive in nature than constructive. It is easier to tear down a barn than to build one up, as the saying goes. I concur that revolutions have many causes, both foreign and domestic, and we must protect against both. I agree with your calls for civility and tranquility, and I too condemn incivility and violence on the Left, amongst Antifa and other anarchist organizations, that result in riots, looting, and lawlessness.

Now, to our disagreements: Your article focuses solely on revolutionaries on the Left. You briefly mention so-called “counterrevolutionaries” on the Right and, despite conceding that they some have been armed and violence in inevitable, assert that they support law and order as a general matter. I do not believe this claim is based in fact. Right-wing revolutionaries and terrorists are all too prevalent from the Charlottesville car attack that killed one and injured 19, to the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting that killed 11 and injured 7, or the Charleston Church shooting that killed 9 and injured one. In the past months, we have seen stabbings by the Proud Boys in Washington, DC and the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor by the Wolverine Watchman, part of the Right-wing boogaloo movement. These are only a few examples. Look at the data. Right-wing terrorism has constituted the majority of terrorism in the United State for most of the last decade. These people are not merely counterrevolutionaries; they are thugs, rioters, murderers, and terrorists. They are not patriots. They undermine everything that our country stands for. They deserve our unabashed condemnation.

Nothing could drive this point home more than the tragic and horrifying events that transpired in our nation’s capital today. Let’s be clear. On this day, January 6, 2021, thousands of Right-wing rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in order to prevent the certification of the duly elected President Joe Biden. This was nothing less than a coup attempt, inspired and incited by President Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and in the media who have sown doubt in a free and fair election without any basis in fact. (Don’t take my word for it; listen to the judges and Justices Trump appointed who have rejected his lawsuits and the elected Republicans who reject these conspiracy theories.) Today we witnessed domestic terrorists using violence and intimidation to overturn the results of a democratic election. What could be more revolutionary than a literal insurrection? This Right-wing mob damaged property, trespassed, and harassed police. They do not believe in law in order. Denying these truths do not change the facts. I urge you to condemn these actions and all such revolutionaries on the Right as you have done on the Left.

In closing, I would like to note that the only other time in United States history that the U.S. Capitol was invaded was during the War of 1812. Not even during the American Civil War was the U.S. Capitol under such an attack. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln ensured that construction and renovation of the Capitol Dome continued during the Civil War, recognizing the important symbol that it represented. We would do well to remember Lincoln’s wisdom today. Revolutionaries and terrorists on all sides should be condemned, and I implore you to do so.


If you enjoyed this article, you can read more op-eds here.

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Robert Wilkes
Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall

Robert Wilkes, Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall, is the former president/creative director of Wilkes Creative, a national branding and marketing company. Robert flew 100 combat missions in Vietnam as a Navy attack pilot. He spent ten years in engineering and marketing at Boeing, where his writing skills were called upon for technical papers, marketing assignments, and speeches for Boeing executives. As an activist in pro-Israel politics, he lobbied with AIPAC for 15 years where he met many congressmen and senators from both parties. Robert loves history, enjoys the craft of writing, and has a passion for civil debate. He resides in Bellevue, Washington.

Joseph Schuman
Editor-in-Chief at Divided We Fall

Joe Schuman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Divided We Fall. He works to set the vision of the organization and to build the team to meet that mission. Joe works as a civilian for the Department of Defense promoting innovation and emerging technology. Joe is also an Officer in the Air National Guard and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his spare time he can be found reading non-fiction, playing piano, and running triathlons.


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