Throughout the history of human society and governance, various forms of protestations by the governed have characterized disagreements between the governor and the governed. These differences between the rulers and their subjects usually lead to a need for negotiations, and subsequent governance changes in order that the society might continue to exist peacefully.
However, when the rulers in such a situation ignore the usually genuine demands of their subjects, the outcome is usually a form of protest and demonstration by the governed in order to express their views more powerfully. Such protests take various forms, and the outcome may be concessions that assuage the demands of the protesting governed or increased control and continued recalcitrance by the rulers and governors concerned. Revolutions are borne out of such stalemates.
Dictatorship/autocracy, poverty/inequality, and a desire for personal and communal liberty have characterized the demands of most revolutionary quests throughout history, and this commonality of demands can be seen in the demands of revolutionary masses of the 17th Century Glorious Revolution, as well as, the present day Arab Spring revolutions.
In this paper, a historical analysis of crucial revolutions in different countries and eras – beginning with the Glorious Revolution in England and ending with the Arab Spring revolutions of recent days – will be undertaken. The causes, characteristics, and outcomes of these revolutions will be analyzed. The commonality of the revolutions and their importance in a socio-historical context will also be provided in the conclusion.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688
The Glorious Revolution in England, in 1688, toppled the then English King James II. King James II’s moderate religious views, and the general excesses of the English Monarchy, stoked the fires of the revolution.
The Glorious Revolution in England is significant because many of its sociopolitical and religious outcomes extend to contemporary times (Miller 58). Although the King’s religion of Catholicism was a crucial factor for parliamentarians’ opposition to his reign, a general dissatisfaction with the King’s aristocratic reign and accompanying monarchical powers attracted opposition.
As a Roman Catholic, William II began a series of maneuvers that were meant to grant Roman Catholics in England more political voice, despite the majority of citizens in England being protestant. The English King also had a strained relationship with Parliament, and he frequently used his powers to usurp the role and functions of the legislature. Naturally, these actions earned him few friends amongst the English ruling class and citizens.
Matters became intolerable when James II’s wife gave birth to a son, who as the heir, apparently meant that Catholicism in the monarchy would continue through him, and more importantly, the reign of unchecked aristocratic powers. English legislators thus began fomenting a rebellion, and after striking a deal with the Dutch King (William of Orange), the latter attacked England with a view to toppling King James II.
In England, the invasion was successful in short order. Widespread dissatisfaction with the policies and actions of the King ensured that the masses offered little support to the King and thus did not fight him. King William of Orange and his wife Mary were subsequently enthroned as joint monarchs over England, Scotland, and Ireland.
The Outcomes of the Glorious Revolution
One of the leading and most serious consequences of the Glorious Revolution was the vindication of parliamentary democracy over monarchical rule in England. Because King James II had, many times, acted unilaterally and rendered parliament irrelevant, the leaders in England were keen to ensure a repeat of such actions never occurred. Thus, the role of parliament as a law making body was established, with the King having no power to inviolate laws enacted by parliament, as James II was wont to do.
Catholicism as a religion was also banned from the Monarchy, with the monarchs now forbidden from marrying Roman Catholics too. More importantly, the Glorious Revolution led to the drafting of the Bill of Rights, a blue print for many subsequent democracies and republics keen on ensuring that the citizens enjoyed a broad-based number of inalienable rights enshrined in law.
The American Revolution (1776-1783)
The American Revolution was the war waged by the then thirteen colonies of America against the British Empire with the aim of severing links with Britain. The colonies desired to chart their on social, political, and economic paths outside of the direct influence, ruler ship, and domination of Britain. The American Revolution/war of independence from 1776-1783 was caused by various socio-economic and political factors.
Chiefly, the leaders and masses in the colonies were opposed to the reign of Britain over them, and desired to establish a union of independent states connected at a federal level each with its own government (Creviston 465). The economic causes of the American Revolution were many and varied. A series of unpopular taxes imposed by Britain fuelled the Revolution. The Townshend Act, which placed taxes on a number of essential goods like paper and tea, was particularly unpopular, leading the colonists to boycott British goods.
The Stamp Act, which required many commodities to be certified with a stamp in the colonies, with the amount for the Stamp being the tax, was also hugely unpopular and fanned anti-British sentiments in the colonies. The taxes levied went directly to Britain hence had no economic benefit for the colonies, yet they were forced to pay them. The British also enacted laws forbidding the colonists from trading with other nations besides Britain, which was economically disadvantageous to the colonists.
One of the foremost political reasons that led to the American Revolution was the fact that, the American colonists were subjected to the authority of the British laws, yet they had no representation in the British parliament. Decisions directly affecting the political and economic structure of colonial America were being made in Britain, thousands of miles away from the playground.
This prompted the then thirteen states to unite and declare independence from the British Empire in 1776, which they accused of several acts of injustice, and these acts in their view had rendered Britain an illegitimate government, as far as the affairs of the colonies were concerned.
In a similar fashion to the Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution was carried out via military wars and actions. The colonists engaged the British army at various points/locations in the American continent, and after a protracted 7-year Revolutionary War, the British granted independence to the United States.
Outcomes of the American Revolutionary War
Economic and political independence from Britain was the ultimate aim of the American Revolution, and these aims were achieved when the British granted the colonies independence. More importantly, the Revolution led to the establishment of the United States of America, a nation later to become a world power, and leader in democratic ideals throughout the globe.
The ideals of the revolutionary fighters, as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, have served to inspire many other independence seeking groups and fighters throughout history.
The French Revolution (1789-1799)
The French Revolution came soon after the end of the American Revolution, and paragons and accomplishments of the American Revolution served as inspiration for the French masses when they began their own revolution. Widespread poverty, high-handed aristocratic decrees by an Absolute Monarchy, profligate spending by the monarchy-leaning ruling class all contributed to the French Revolution (Hunt 7).
As indicated earlier, inspiration also came from the successful American Revolution, where the contents of the Declaration of Independence formed indispensable reference for the French revolutionaries. King Louis XVI’s reign had been widely unpopular, and the perceived excesses of his wife Marie Antoinette, in the face a bankrupt economy, served to turn the anger of the starving masses towards the ruling class.
The French Revolution was carried out by the masses in the cities and peasant in the rural areas, mostly led by left wing liberals who loathed aristocracy and embraced the ideals of democracy (Griffith). The masses attacked various government and monarchical establishments, most times massacring the guards and tenants they found in these buildings (Orczy 1).
A few years into the revolution, the Jacobins (the de facto leaders of the revolution) declared a France a republic. King Louis XVI was guillotined in January 1793, while his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, was similarly executed in October of the same year. Reign of terror followed, where the zeal to get rid of the traces of French aristocratic and Monarchical past led to the execution by the guillotine of most members of France’s aristocracy class and the monarchy, together with their perceived supporters.
Outcomes of the French Revolution
The French revolution led to the abolition (although it was later briefly re-established) of the Monarchy as the supreme ruling power in France (Thomas). The Church, with Catholicism as a veritable state religion, had a limited state role after the revolution. The declaration of the rights of French citizens in the document known as The Declaration of The Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which served as a liberty guide for the masses engaged in the revolution, enshrined rights to the masses that they were previously denied.
The French established a republican style of governance, which under Napoleon Bonaparte become highly militaristic. Given that the church and the ruling class in pre-revolution France owned the largest share of land, after the Revolution, French citizens were able to exercise more property and land ownership rights after the limiting of the powers of these two entities (Betros 17).
The Russian Revolution (1917)
The Bolsheviks, who led the masses in violent demonstrations against the rule of Tsar Nicholas II, instigated the Russian Revolution. Under Tsarist autocracy for centuries, the Russian masses had grown weary of the excesses of Tsarist rule.
When the First World War began, the economic repercussions experienced of the war by the masses created a sense of dissatisfaction in Tsar Nicholas II’s rule. The war meant that the masses had to receive rationed quantities and had to forgo the luxury of utilities available during peacetime. While the masses suffered, the ruling autocratic class continued to live a luxuriously, and the dissent against these inequalities culminated in a revolution that began in March (Ross 22).
The transitional leadership similarly failed to live up to the expectations of the masses; consequently, it was subsequently toppled by communist Bolsheviks in November of the same year. Violent demonstrations and battles characterized the Russian revolution, and after assuming the reigns of leadership under Lenin, the Bolsheviks had to fight several wars in order to maintain their hold on power in Russia.
Outcomes of the Russian Revolution
The Bolsheviks ended centuries of Tsarist rule and established Communism in Russia. Tsar Nicholas and his family were subsequently executed in the aftermath of the revolution, symbolizing a bloody end to autocratic rule in Russia.
The Russian revolution also led to the establishment of the Soviet Union whose communist agenda throughout the world created a new centre of power in Europe in the struggle for worldwide economic, social, and political influence against the west, especially the USA (Kowalski 32). Under Stalin, the Soviet Union experienced rapid industrialization, although such economic advancements were stained by Stalin’s dictatorial stance, where millions of those opposed to his policies were summarily executed or exiled.
The Arab/Middle East Spring Revolutions
The revolutions in many Arab countries, which began in December 2010 and are still currently ongoing in some Arab nations, were triggered by several factors. It is worth noting that most Arab state of present day are ruled by Kings, dictatorial leaders or leaders who have consolidated political power after having ruled for comparatively long periods (Anderson 5).
The common causes of the revolutions are dictatorship by respective regimes/leaders, widespread unemployment, economic inequality, corruption, political intolerance and a general opposition to existing governing structures. The revolutions involve demonstrations and protestations of varying degrees.
In Libya, the revolution became a full-blown Civil war where the revolutionary fighters were aided in their quest by a coalition of Western powers under the aegis of the UN. In Egypt and Tunisia, violent demonstrations that paralyzed the operations of government characterized protests. In Syria, such demonstrations involving tens of thousands of citizens have led to the deaths of a high number of civilians and law enforcement agents, but the President is yet to cede power.
In Bahrain, similar protests and demonstrations have led to a few economic concessions by King Hamad, but protests demanding the removal from power of the monarchy are still ongoing. Similar stalemates are found in Jordan, Yemen, and Syria where the political and economic concessions by the rulers have not assuaged the anger and demands of the protesters.
Outcomes of the Arab/Middle East Spring Revolutions
The capitulation of the long-serving regimes of both Presidents Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak by February 2011 under the wave of protests sent a strong message across the Arab world. For citizens planning or inspired by such demonstrations, the resignations of both long serving leaders was hugely inspiring.
For leaders in other Arab countries, the defeat of these leaders due to the wave of protests meant that they had to soothe the citizens of their own countries or face a similar fate (Marquand 9). By April 2011, protests had begun in the following countries: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.
Therefore, the demonstrations led to socio-political and economic changes in many of these Arab countries. Besides Tunisia and Egypt, President Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in August when he fled the capital Tripoli. On October 20 2011, the revolutionary forces captured and killed Colonel Gaddafi in the outskirts of the Town of Sirte, signaling the end of his 42-year-old rule. Political concessions aimed at saving some Arab rulers similar (and perhaps less violent) fates occurred in various countries (Macfarquhar 4).
Constitutional changes in Morocco limited the powers of the King. In Sudan, President Bashir promised not to seek re-election for a third term. Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq also made a similar promise of stepping down at the end of his current term, while provincial governors resigned to allow for reforms. In Bahrain, King Hamad began negotiations intended to draw minority Shias into power positions and opportunities within government.
King Hamad also ordered the release of political prisoners. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos granted more law making powers to the legislature. In Algeria, a 19-year state of emergency was lifted, while MPs from the ruling party in Yemen all resigned to allow for political reforms.
Economically, various governments acceded to the demands of protesters, especially concerning wage increases and reduction of inequalities (Hitchens 29). In Lebanon, general wages were increased by 40%, while, in Saudi Arabia, the King announced plans to increase the wages of Saudi nationals. Sultan Qaboos announced similar measures in Oman.
From the Glorious Revolutions to the Arab Spring Revolutions: Dictatorship, Economic Inequality/Poverty, and Personal Freedom as Common causes of Revolutions
Dictatorial/Autocratic Regimes as Harbingers of Revolutions
The common factor with the leaders and regimes in all the countries that have experienced revolutions discussed above is their tendency to ignore the political plight of the masses. King James II and King George of England, during the Glorious and American Revolutions respectively, repeatedly enacted laws that emasculated and muzzled the political voice of the masses under their rule.
King Louis XVI of France during the French Revolution and Tsar Nicholas II during the Bolshevik Revolution both exercised absolute power over their subjects. Similarly, all leaders in countries that experienced the Arab revolutions are guilty of concentrating political power amongst themselves, and their ardent supporters.
Repeated demands for inclusive political reforms by the revolutionary masses were repeatedly ignored in all the revolutions above, which led to revolutionary acts that many times led to the deposition and death of the leaders.
Marie Antoinette is famously said to have advised revolutionary masses protesting about the unavailability of bread to try cake instead. Such a discord and discrepancy between the lifestyles of the ruling monarchy and their subjects was a chief agent in stirring revolutionary demonstrations and wars.
Widespread poverty and economic inequalities in pre-revolution France, Russia and many of the Arab nations mentioned earlier led many citizens to the streets in desperate final attempts of overthrowing their rulers in order to attempt different economic policies that may effect change and herald better tidings for them.
Personal Freedom and Rights of Citizens
Dictatorial regimes, widespread poverty, and economic inequality, naturally rob the citizens a sense of personal and communal freedom to act according to their will. The American Declaration of Independence contained the famous phrase dictating a citizen’s right to the pursuit of happiness.
The French similarly espoused a citizen’s right to liberty and freedom during and after the revolution. The Arab spring has been characterized by online activism that offered a platform for exchange of ideas amongst citizens never before experienced in restrictive Arab countries. Citizens go to extraordinary lengths to gain personal and social freedom, including undertaking revolutions.
In a period spanning over four centuries since the Glorious Revolution in England to the present day Arab spring Revolutions, the demands of the revolutionary masses remain spectacularly similar. The masses fight against the political repression of autocratic and dictatorial rulers, poverty, and inequality, which go unchecked by these rulers, and against a tendency to eliminate their individual inalienable rights of life and liberty (Claeys 303).
The revolutions provide a study on how to avoid such confrontations and protests in present day nations. Despite the ultimate noble aims of revolutions, the accompanying loss of lives, property, and stability in nations that undergo revolutions is sometimes impossible to recoup (Sabatini 2). Therefore, democracies and republics provide suitable forms of governance for pre-empting revolutions.
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