** war and social upheaval: revolutions

Wars and Conflicts: Revolutions

Iranian revolution
Figure 1.--Here young people on April 1, 1979 demonstrate for Ayatollah Khomeini. After the departure of the Shah, a 2-day referendum was held. A huge majority of the Iranian people voted to change the regime from a monarchy to an Islamic Republic. Mewspaper accounts indicated 20.3 million people voted "Yes" for an Islamic Republic and 0.2 million people voted "No". Ayatollah Khomeini declared an end to millenia of monarchy and the beginning of a new era for Iranians.

The subject of revolutions is a fascinating one. By revilution we mean a revolt by subjects seeking to undertake a fundamental change in society. We do not know a great deal about revolutions in the ancient world. The best know such undertaking in the ancient world was the Roman Servile Wars. For more than a millenium after the fall of Rome, Europe was dominated by monarchy. There were conflicts between monarchs, but few successful challenges to the principle of monarchy. There were peasant rebellions, but they were supressed with great brutality. The primary exceptions were the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Venice. The first major revolution was the American Revolution. Actually revolution is not the best desription for what transpired in America. Over a century and a half, the English colonies through benighn neglect became largely self governing. TheRevolution was in fact the King and Parliament trying to change the system by reimposing rule from Britain. The other major revolution (France, Mexico, Russia, and China) were revolutions in a very real sence. They all resulted in enormous bloodshed that imposed regimes that did terrible damage to the countries involved. Only France ventually emerged as a Democratic state with civil liberties. Mexico may be headed in that direction. Both China and Russia today remain troubled, undemocratic countries without basic civil liberties.

Servile Wars (134-71 BC)

Roman experienced three major slave revolts which are known colectively as the Servile Wars. The first two occurred in Sicily, but documebntation is limited. They were supresed with considerable brutality. The third occurred in southern Italy and was kled by the gladiator Spatacus. It was eventually supresed by Crassus and Pompey with great cruety. The Spatacus Revolt was much larger and posed a real danger to Rome. It is better document than the other two slave revolts.

Peasant Rebellions

With the advent of agriculture more centralized government was required to carry out public works necessary to support agricultural production and maintain a productive economy, such as saving surplus production for periods of famine. This led in all instances to rule by a aristocracy and priesthood. The status of peasants varied over time. In many societie the peasantry were little more than slaves. Slavery was not important in many early civilizations in part because the peasantry was only minimally removed from slavery. In other instances the peasants were properous and had real rigjts. The leading societal groups often appropriated a large share of production in many instances impovershing the peasants which were the sourse of wealth. This led over time to peasant rebellions. Peasant rebellions have occurred throughout history, although most early such rebellions have been lost to history. Fear of the peasantry is one factor that prevented rich agricultural civilizations from sucessfully defending themselves from invasion by smaller often poor nomadic societies. The peasnts utimately throughout history were unable to sucessfully challenge rhe ruling classess who were normally well armed and trained in warfare. Some peasant rebellions, especially the more recent ones are are very well known. One of the earliest known peasant rebellion is the Chen Sheng Wu Guang Uprising (209 BC). One of the best known is the English peasants' revolt which challenged the youthful Richard II (1381). Another important rebellion was the German peasants war (1524-25) at the onset of the Reformation. Finally in the 20th century, peasant rebellions (Mexico, Russia, and China) did play a role in overturning often repressive central governments. The peasantry often did not play a leadership role and in each of these revolutions was unable to shape the nature of post-revolutionary regimes.

Dutch War for Independedence (1581-1648)

Spain and the northern provinces of the Netherlands negotiated a 12-year truce (1609-21). Spain was preparinfg a new offensive against the Dutch when the truce ended. The problem for Spain was how to support military operations in the low countries. The rise of a Dutch navy made it difficult to send troops and provisions by sea. Reach the Dutch by land was also difficult. France stood between Spain and the Netherlands. And the French were not about to permit Spanish troops to pass through their country. It suited French purposes at the time to have an independent Netherlands even though they were Protestant. Thus the Spanish would have to send their forces along a circuitous route from Spain to Italy by sea and then through the Alpine passes to the the Rhine River Valley. The Rhine than led to the Dutch. This was a very difficult march for any body of troops and needed equipment and supplies, especially given the nature of roads at the time. The key to the route was the Rhineland. This was a contested area. The Spanish hoped to acquire Alsace which Ferdinand had promissed for supporting his imperial candidacy.

Glorious Revolution (1688)

The Glorious Revolution is the term applied for William of Orange seizure of the English throne from Stuart monarch James II (1688). William landed a Dutch Army in England, but the Glorious Revolution was more political than military in character. The Glorious Revolution was not just a dynastic change on the English throne, but a far reaching shift in power relationships within the English constitution. It proved to an event of enormous significance, far more important than mamy major European wars which often only involved which monarchy gained control of a few provinces. The Glorious Revolution is often left off lists of revolutions, in part because it was so brief and so little bllod spilled. It was, however, the most important of all the great revolutions. The Dutch-English relationship was complicated by English religious/dynastic struggles. Protestant monarchs were favorably disposed toward the Dutch. Queen Mary, however, attempted to return England to Catholicism. And the Stuarts while heads of the Church of England were more desposed to France and Catholocism. Charles II converted on his deathbed and James II was openly Catholic. This eventually led to invasion by a Dutch Protestant army led by William of Orange which the English celebate as the Glorious Revolution (1688). Parliament forced King William to accept a constitutional monarcy--in esence the first modern monarchy. In return it financed what he wanted, a war with Louis XIV's France to oreserve Dutch independence--King William's War. This began a series of wars with France that did not end until Waterloo (1815).

American Revolution (1776-83)

The Revolutionary War was an astounding occurrence in a world sill dominated by kings. It established the first important republic since Rome in the middle of what at the time was a wilderness far from Europe. It was a war that the British could have easily avoided had King George and his advisors been willing to show the least flexibility. Many in Britain objected to the War and a minority of Americans wanted independence at the time the war began. It was also a war that the American colonists won by the slimmest of margins against the most powerful country in the world. The Americans succeeded in their struggle only because they were aided by a French king who was opposed to offering the same liberties to his people that the Americans were demanding from their king. The American Revolution is a struggle that has been somewhat lost as a result of the much greater scholarly interest in America on the Civil War. As a result, most American's view the war through simplistic primary school readings which obscure the tremendously complicated course of events that led to the War and creation of America. English scholars, perhaps because Britain lost the War, have given it almost no scholarly attention.

French Revolution (1789-99)

The French Revolution was a dramatic break with Europe's feudal past. As such it is the most important event in modern European history. The rise of the bourgeoisie in France signaled the deathnell for Ancien Regime, the old aristocracy. Unlike Britain and the new United States, the economically important bourgeoisie was denied any political role and support of the increasingly frivolous aristocracy imposed a great economic cost on France. Not only was the bourgeoisie denied any real political role, but the lower classess lived in increasingly deprived conditions, a situation intensified by the bankruptsy of the royal government. The increasing opposition to France's virtually feudal government suddenly ignited during a 1789 riot that exploded into open revolt. The Revolution was opposed by the other counties of Europe--all monarchies. A new Republic toppled the monarchy. A series of sporadically violent and radical civilian administrations rued France. The height of violence was reached in the "The Great Terror." King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antointte to the horror of Europe were uillotined. The execution of the King and Queen made any accomodaton with the Republic impossible. Foreign armies coverged on Paris again, but were defeated by Republican forces under the new tri-color flag. Eventually a remarkably capable and carismatic general seized control of the Revolutionary armies and the Republic merged into the new French Empire. The disorders and violence in France were to engulf all Europe in war, first with the new French Republic and then with Napoleon's Empire. The resulting wars and campaigns were the most significant in Europe until World War I (1914-18). The French Revolution have profound political, social, and economic influences. The dress of aristocracy came into question. Powdered wigs disappeared very quickly. Knee breeches endured longer as they were also worn by the bourgeoisie. The working class had already begun wearing long trousers. It was boys from well to do families that first began wearing long pants as part of a dress costume--usually a skeleton suit. I'm not sure why boys were the first to adapt this style.

Liberal Revolutions (1848-49)

Revolution swept Europe in 1848. The Revolutions of 1848 were a series of revolts caused by a heady mixture of rising nationalism mixed with the economic change resulting from the Industrial Revolution and political and social represson. The rising middle class created by the Industrial Revolution were demanding liberal reforms. An economic recession further heigtenened tensions. The major participants in the revolutions were the Czechs, Croats, Danes, French, Germans (including the Austrians), Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and the Romanians. Many of these nationalities did not yet have a country. The French monarchy fell. The Austrian monarch was forced to make concessions as did the Prussians. Other German monarchies introduced liberal reforms. In Britain he Chartists failed. Why did Britain prove less succetable to Revolution? Some have argued the Victorian penchant for constructive self criticism. [Wilson] The Revolutions of 1848 did overturn some regimes, although most were soon restored. Onlt the French monarchy was permanretly overturned. The revolutions did demonstrate that that popular unrest could overthrow monarchial government.

Mexican Revolution (1910-20)

Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. Francisco Madero became president after the Diaz tried to reverse the results in the 1910 election, eventually having to flee the country. Madero had received the support of the charismatic Emiliano Zapata who was conducting an uprising in the South. Madero did, however, last long as president. He was arrested and shot under orders of his own general, Victoriano Huerta. This launched the bloody phase of the Mexican Revolution. Huerta was forced to fight the Revolution on many fronts. He benefitted from a strong central position, but faced a formidable if tenuous alliance including Venustiano Carranza, General Álvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata (in the south) and Pancho Villa (in the north). These are many od the the most esteemed names in Mexican history and noth Carranza and Obregon went on the be presidents. The Mexican Revolution was the bloodiest period in Mexicam history since the Conquest. Huerta was eventually defeated. Carranza assumed the presidency. Both Villa and Zapata refused to recognize Carranza. They with their Armies of the North and South drove on Mexico City. Carranza and Obregon with their forces fled the capital. The Villistas and Zapatistas held racous celebrations after reaching Mexico City. They did not, however, have the organizational skills to organize an effective government. Carranza and Obregon retreated to Veracruz, Mexico's major port. There they reorganized and reupplied and launched a new offensive to retake the capital. In the fighting that followed, Obregon largely destroyed Villa's cavalry at Celaya (1915). Obregon lost his right arm, but won the battle. Celaya was actually a series of engagements which cnstitute the most massive battle ever fought in Latin America. Obregon commanded a modern force with artillery and machine guns. As Villa's calvlry was the major force of his army, Villa never seriously threatened the government again, although he was a continuing irritation in the North. Carranza called for a Constitutional convention (1916). He was elected the first president under the new Mexican Constitution of 1917. The Government finally dealt with Zapata. After a vicious anti-guerilla campaign weakened his forces, Zapata was lured into a trap by a government soldier and shot. Carranza tried to hold power by backing the election of a supporter (1920). When it became clear that Obregon would win the election, Carranza attempted a coup. Obregon escaped and organized a military campaign against Carranza. As Obregon approached the capital, Carranza fled, trying to reach the port of Veracruz where he could leave the country, the traditional route for failed Mexican leaders, There Obregon's forces arrested and shot him. A freustrated Villa in the North attempted to punish the United States for supporting Carranza. Villa killed several Americans in Mexico and then crossed the border to attack some U.S. towns. President Wilson ordered an incursion into northern Mexico to arrest Villa. This failed, but Villa finally decided to end his political career and became a rancher in Parral. He still had a following among the poor and was assassinated (1923). This meant of all the major figures of the Revolution, only Obregón still survived.

Russian Revolution (1917)

The Revolution of 1905 following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War had shaken the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened. The shooting of striking gold miners at the Lena field in Siberia resulted in a new wave of unrest (1912). Thus Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). The War was a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance og=f German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in St. Persburg. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power. The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coupd'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. Hecarrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for "peace, land, and bread" resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrigrad Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members if the Provisional Government theu could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets.

Chinese Revolution (1949)

China's experiece in the 20th century was the most turbulant of any great power. China at the beginning of the 20th century wasa backward almpst medieval society. The 20th century in Chima began with the Boxer Rebellion (1900) which exposed the weakeness of decadent Manchu dynasty. The European rescue force and the reparations and concessions involved descredited the Manchus and led to the overthrow of the monarch (1912) and estanlishment of the Chinese Republic (1913). The Guomindang led by Chaing Kai-check fought a campaign with war lords to unify the country (1910s). After World War I a civil war broke out with the Communists (1920s). Japan invaded China in the 1930s. The Japanese first seized Manchuria (1931) and then attacked China proper (1937). Some historians consider the Sino-Japanese War to be the beginning of World War II. The Japanese waged a war un unbelievable brutality, occupying much of the country. No country suffered more in World War II than China. The losses were enormous, even greater than Soviet losses. The enormity of the Japanese crimes in China still cloud their bilateral relationship. The Jspanese were, however, unable to defeat the Chinese. The war with Japan lasted until the Japanese surrendered to the Allies (1945). The Chinese Civil War began before the Japanese invasion and continued even longer, finally ending with the Communist victory (1949). The victory of the Communists meant massive social change. The Communists iniitated radical reforms aimed at bringing China into the 20th century. Some efforts were effective, others caused imense sufferung. Millions of Chinese died in the famine resulting from Mao's Great Leap Forward. Developments in China in fact involve much more than the War and thus require separate treatment. The Cultural Revolution is a case in point. School children and youth were both at the front of the Cultural Revolution and greatly affected by it it. China after the Cultural Revolution embraced free-market economic reforms. Modern China has embraced economic market reforms, but has not yet moved toward political liberalization. China by the end of the century had the world's fastest growing economy. The Communist Party has, however, continued to limit free expression and maintains a party dictatorship.

Bolivian Revolution (1952)

he Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) emerged as a more broadly based party in opposition to the forces that had seized power from the MNR (1946). The MNR ha been a pro NAZI right-wing party complete wuth viriolic anti-Semeriv sentiments. The resulting Sexenio was an unstable period. The Government lost much support when thy were unable to obtain higher tin prices from the United tates. Tun prices had increased because of the Korean War, but the United States refused to alter the existing contract. The MNR by 1952 had become a strange amagum of right-wing ideas and Communist Trotskites. The MNR had been denied its 1951 presidential elecoral victory by the Army. The 1952 Revolution started with a low-key hunger march through La Paz. The Bolivian military at the time was demoralized. The High Command called unsuccessfully for unity. Officers were divided. Many were sympthetic to the MNR. The MNR was plotting with General Antonio Seleme, the junta member in control of internal administration and the National Police (Policía Nacional). The MNR launched the rebellion in La Paz by seizing arsenals and distributing arms to civilians (April 9). Armed miners angered by the tin price dispute marched on La Paz as well as blocking troops on their way to reinforce Government forces in La Paz. Three days of street fighting fillowed. The army negan to desintegrate. After the loss of Bolivián Minister of Government, General Antonio Seleme and 600 lives, the Army capitulated, Paz Estenssoro who had won the 1951 electiom assumed the presidency (April 16). Bolivin politics are complicated, but an alliance of ultra right nationlists that had been pro-NAZI and Trotskites does border on the sureal. But even more unfathomble is the fact that the Truman Adminitrtion did not intervene. Here Cold War politics intervened. IUltra-ntionlists and Troyskites were both anti-Soviet. And the Eisenhowe Administration taking office (1953) provide considerable foreifn assistnce to the MNR Government.

Cuban Revolution (1959)

Cuba before the Revolution had been one of the most affluent Latin American countries, albeit with great social inquities. Castro and the Revolution suceeded in narrowing the inequities in Cuban society, but tragically for the Cuban people, he did it by empoverishing the entire country. Castro announced that he was a Communist and proceeded to recreate a Soviet planned economy in the Caribbean. Private enterprises were nationalized without compensation. It is widely believed that Castro's conversion to Communism was a largely tactical decesion to obtain Soviet backing. At the time, many in the third world were impressed with the Soviet Union and saw Socialism and economic planning as the way of rapidly developing their countries. Castro had no knowledge of economics, but appears to have blithely assumed this was the path to the future. It also had the advantage as perceived by other dictaors og giving him the mechanism of completely controlling Cuban life. The Revolution in fairness did address social inquities, but in the process made Cuba one of the poorest countries in the region. Revolutionary Cuba developed close relations with the Soviet Union and in exchange the Soviets provided billions of dollars in military and economic assitance. (Much of this assistance was in the form of loans that Russia has made futile efforts to collect.) Communist economics and mismanagemnt combined with Castro's erratic management style that the Soviet assistance meant to help Cuba develop has left it pooer than it had been before the Revolutuon. Private businesses nationalized by the state were put in the hands of political supporters who had no idea of how to run businesses. No attention was paid to production costs and acoounting. To Castro's suprise, productivity plummeted. And rather than allowing gradual improvement, Cuba remains one of the poorest countries in the region. Cuba's socialist economy is unable to fully provide even basic necesities like soap. No one goes hungry in modern Cuba, but because of an inefficent economic system, basic consumer goods are unavailble to the average Cunan.

Iranian Islamic Revolution (1979)

The Islamic Revolution in Iran is emerging as one of the primary issues of the early 21st century. Iran was on the perifery of world events until World War II when Iran became the primary route for American Lend Lease supplies to the Soviet Union. After the War Iran became more important as a najor oil producer. The Islamic Republic's persuit of nuclear weapons is the issue of greatest concern to the international community. The Islamic Revolution poses a variety of other issues, in particular its theocratic government, undermining democracy, support of terrorism, determination to destroy Israel, and its human rights record. Of primary interests is just what are the intentions of Iran.


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Created: 2:01 AM 3/10/2009
Last updated: 3:54 AM 8/14/2017