A Revolution’s Key Event

Some excerpts from Revolution and the Muslim World:

. . . Let’s consider the process of revolution for the moment, beginning by distinguishing a demonstration from an uprising. A demonstration is merely the massing of people making speeches. This can unsettle the regime and set the stage for more serious events, but by itself, it is not significant. Unless the demonstrations are large enough to paralyze a city, they are symbolic events. There have been many demonstrations in the Muslim world that have led nowhere; consider Iran.

It is interesting here to note that the young frequently dominate revolutions like 1848, 1969 and 1989 at first. This is normal. Adults with families and maturity rarely go out on the streets to face guns and tanks. It takes young people to have the courage or lack of judgment to risk their lives in what might be a hopeless cause. However, to succeed, it is vital that at some point other classes of society join them. In Iran, one of the key moments of the 1979 revolution was when the shopkeepers joined young people in the street. A revolution only of the young, as we saw in 1968 for example, rarely succeeds. A revolution requires a broader base than that, and it must go beyond demonstrations. The moment it goes beyond the demonstration is when it confronts troops and police. If the demonstrators disperse, there is no revolution. If they confront the troops and police, and if they carry on even after they are fired on, then you are in a revolutionary phase. Thus, pictures of peaceful demonstrators are not nearly as significant as the media will have you believe, but pictures of demonstrators continuing to hold their ground after being fired on is very significant.

This leads to the key event in the revolution. The revolutionaries cannot defeat armed men. But if those armed men, in whole or part, come over to the revolutionary side, victory is possible. And this is the key event. In Bahrain, the troops fired on demonstrators and killed some. The demonstrators dispersed and then were allowed to demonstrate — with memories of the gunfire fresh. This was a revolution contained. In Egypt, the military and police opposed each other and the military sided with the demonstrators, for complex reasons obviously. Personnel change, if not regime change, was inevitable. In Libya, the military has split wide open.

When that happens, you have reached a branch in the road. If the split in the military is roughly equal and deep, this could lead to civil war. Indeed, one way for a revolution to succeed is to proceed to civil war, turning the demonstrators into an army, so to speak. That’s what Mao did in China. Far more common is for the military to split. If the split creates an overwhelming anti-regime force, this leads to the revolution’s success. Always, the point to look for is thus the police joining with the demonstrators. This happened widely in 1989 but hardly at all in 1968. It happened occasionally in 1848, but the balance was always on the side of the state. Hence, that revolution failed.

It is this act, the military and police coming over to the side of the demonstrators, that makes or breaks a revolution. . . .

Revolution and the Muslim World is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Bolding added for emphasis.

Revolutions and counterrevolutions occur in the rest of the world as well. The attitudes of the forces of order and their understanding of where their duty lies is of critical importance, and, as energy prices skyrocket, The Greatest Depression deepens, and the social fabric unravels, gun-totin’, badge-wearin’ union members will get plenty of opportunities to harden or soften. Military Support to Civil Authorities will be requested by politicians, granted or denied on the orders of other politicians, and provided by citizen-soldiers or possibly even Regulars, many of whom will have had previous experience in dealing with masses of non-compliant Iraqis and/or Afghans.

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