Why revolutions fail – and should continue to do so

Come the demos, comes the demagogue. Either the people shut their doors in fear, as Londoners did when the Earl of Essex tried to launch an uprising against the aged Elizabeth I…

… or they are abused by clever manipulators. Stalin and his protege Mao only succeeded and endured because the regimes they destroyed were nothing like as ruthless as those they themselves subsequently instituted to ensure that there would be no second revolution.

The mob will always be led, and therefore misled. When the system wanted a referendum on Europe, it fed the people lies through the media to get their assent; when our rulers grudgingly permitted a vote on AV because it was a pet project of their pet partner Clegg, they told us lies through the media to maintain the status quo.

Cyber revolution? People”s voice? Newton”s second law of motion applies to technology in the service of democracy. Look at BGT and the growing suspicion that vote-fixing rumours were actually a PR ploy; look at Ben Douglas” “I am not going to name him… I have no desire to destroy his career” expert “ah well, since the Twitterati have, much against my wishes, outed him…” roasting of James Brown. The pressing of social media into the unwitting employ of private projects is an inevitable adaptive mutation.

It has long been so. In the modern age of picture press and TV, Harold Wilson stubbed out his cigar and grabbed the pipe when he strode out of Number Ten; Tony Blair… let”s move on; sinister rhino Ken Clarke casino ensures he”s always caught with a drink, a smoke (bless BAT) and incongruous shoes. John Major prided himself on being able to talk to the common man in a four-ale bar while slipping us further into the EU, and lecturing us on moral back-to-basics while hiding the fact that he used to slip into Edwina Currie when he was a government whip (in a way, considering what he faced, it makes one proud to be British; hard pounding, gentlemen).

There will be no revolution. The people will not rise up. And thank goodness for that, because what follows after is almost always worse than what came before (I except the American Revolution, but maintain that it is misnamed and was really a colonial revolt with geography and the French on its side. Further, it was officered by English gentlemen who insisted on the rights they would have enjoyed in their increasingly free and democratic parent country).

What we are, if we”re lucky (or unlucky, seeing the personal histories of those involved), is something like the London Corresponding Society, ultimately one of the historical elements influencing structural political change decades after its suppression.

Freeman radicalism is doomed – it would only work for Alexander Selkirk, who had no neighbours – and so is the rigid constitutionalism that harks back to foundation documents long since modified or rescinded by law and custom. It is only the utter stupidity and stiffness of the Stuarts that managed to split the country, with truly devastating effect; the absolutist Celtic kingship model doesn”t work here in the land of the Witan and its descendant, the Privy Council. Long before 1789, our government had learned the lessons of popular revolt and, like Aesop”s reed, saw that survival required a blend of temporising suppleness with enduring roots.

Calling for the right to unrestricted self-intoxication is no rebellion at all, and seems rather to form part of the counter-revolutionary plan of our masters (listen to the black people who say, as a number have said to me, that drugs are a way to keep their children down). Turn on, tune in and drop out of the contest; the poor do not have the recovery resources of their rich, famous and almost law-proof superiors. How well it would suit our masters to syphon tax from more of the self-destructive pleasures of the lower classes, as they did in 1933 when they repealed Prohibition to supply the deficits of the Wall Street Crash. Perhaps, as with the “Noble Experiment”, liberation is not with drugs, but from them; not with chemical re-enslavement, but with the assertion of freedom, even against some of our own impulses. “Just say no” to the Revolution, and the blue-hazed, nose-powdered counter-culture that spawned our strange, cool-chameleon tyrants of today.

Instead, let us make our argument about unfashionably sober and pedestrian reform, especially in the representation of the people”s will and the conduct of public affairs in their interest.

7 comments for “Why revolutions fail – and should continue to do so

  1. Voice of Reason
    June 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I admire consistency and integrity. I loathe hypocrisy, which is why I can’t stand most politicians.

  2. Sue
    June 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Wow, You’re a real firecracker aren’t you?

    Sit back in your chair, put on your slippers and smoke your pipe. Nobody is going to make you open your door.

    • June 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      To do what? Reform, not revolution. The latter is a fantasy here.

      • Sue
        June 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

        Reform is for wimps, it takes far too long and sometimes you have to shout and scream for what is right. The only fantasy here is the “pen is mightier than the sword” cliche.

        I still have some life in me, thank goodness.

  3. June 8, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Sue, that’s democracy for you, it’s a pain in the but it’s better than the alternatives. Those who are interested in revolution have already joined Common Purpose and other secret/ive organisations.

  4. June 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Pretty depressing point of view there, Sackerson. I can agree with some of it but forgive me if I say that there still seems to be an element of collectivism in the conclusion. “Representation of the people’s will?” As a libertarian and an individualist that sounds somewhere between undesirable and downright fucking terrifying. It has been through that that I and everyone I know have been legally robbed at metaphorical gunpoint for all our working lives, and it is also through it that our liberties are eroded on an almost weekly basis. The people’s will is as much to be feared as it is to be respected Sober and pedestrian reform has been tried, and of course many are still advocating it, only to find that there is no appetite for it. Equally I have to admit that I have no appetite for bloody revolution either, and I very much doubt that enough people do. To be honest I feel the most likely agent for change now is that eventually the status quo will be impossible to sustain any longer and the whole rotten edifice will come crashing down. I’m not sure if I hope to be alive to see it or not and would probably give you different answers on consecutive days, but I believe that the longer it takes to happen the more painful it will be. On the other hand the more painful the experience the more likely the lesson will be learned for the future: freedom is unquestionably worth having but democracy is just a thief in freedom’s clothing.

    • Sackerson
      June 12, 2011 at 9:19 am

      You may be right in fearing that the whole structure will collapse one day, and that is my fear also. Revolutions are presented as exciting and good but history shows that they are so awful that for many ordinary people it would usually have been better to put up with the status quo. In fact revolutions aren’t started by the masses anyway, so have a good look at the leaders and why they do what they do.

      Even if the attempt is bound to fail, and I’m not convinced of that, I think we’re obliged to try to modify the existing system to make it more workable. How can there be complete freedom when we live and work with other people? The best we can have is compromise, mutual accommodation and live and let live.

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