“In the last 12 months, we have seen the full force of revolution. From the revolution in Libya, to student tuition fees protests, to national riots: the news has been consumed by political and social unrest. So, is revolting the most effective way to generate change?”
“Revolutions may not always achieve their end goals of remarkable, historic change”
– Katerina Grassi
From the English revolution of the 1600s, to the recent uprisings now referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’, revolution has always been a dominant factor in political histories, but can we see any real advances made as a direct result of these, or any other, uprisings in the past?
The answer is simple — yes we can — and no, I’m not simply uttering another Obama rhetoric. I really do mean it. Revolutions may not always achieve their end goals of remarkable, historic change; the Bolsheviks didn’t manage to install Lenin’s vision of communism, nor did the IRA claim victory over a united, free Republic of Ireland, yet no one could argue that either of these revolutions failed to accomplish change.
If you are one of the many who argue that revolutions have very little tangible effect, then I urge you to consider one huge area that they always impact on: the human psyche. Laugh all you want but consider this — in what country has any positive political or societal change been actualised without the widespread support of the people? Exactly none. The fact that Egypt, Tunisia and Libya actually achieved change after their uprisings is just bonus to the fact that the Arab world recognised such huge cries for change under governments that in some cases don’t allow opposition parties to exist. Revolutions might fail to achieve changes in constitution or undermine the government of the day, but more often than not they allow the public to discover their rights; their rights to opinion, their rights to choice and most importantly their rights to change. If the psyche of the people isn’t an effective mechanism for change, then I don’t know what is.
“Only when the revolutionaries are knocking on their door do leaders take notice”
– Megan Ballantyne
Throughout 2011 hardly a week has gone by when some sort of protest hasn’t dominated the news. It appears people suddenly feel protest is an effective way to achieve regime change.
Protest is not a new phenomenon; throughout history people have used it to achieve institutional change. Undoubtedly though, there is a new energy in the idea of protest. People have been mobilised by social networking sites and inspired by other protest movements. But how effective have these revolts actually been?
Of course it depends on what you deem effective. With the London riots there was no apparent goal; they instead seemed to be about some kind of emotional self-expression, but other protests this year have had a focus and therefore more potential for success.
Undoubtedly the Middle Eastern uprisings have successfully overthrown several repressive leaders, but still the question remains whether the revolutions will actually achieve civil liberties for the people. History suggests that when violent revolution removes one tyrannical leader it is often replaced with another. In countries like Libya and Egypt it is obviously too soon to say whether real change will reach the everyday lives of its citizens.
Violent protest to overthrow a regime has clearly been successful this year, but what of single-issue protest, within a regime? Is protest ever actually listened to by government? Should governments bow down to mob rule anyway? In Britain it would appear that the government doesn’t listen. The student protests were bigger than anyone had anticipated. It was the most mobilised young people had been in a generation. Yet tuition fees are still set to rise from September 2012.
It seems that protest is effective when government can no longer ignore it. Only when the revolutionaries are knocking on their door do leaders take notice. Other than that, rightly or wrongly, politicians like David Cameron seem to view protest in the way the rest of us view The Jeremy Kyle Show; irritating but still on TV.
In the next issue we will be debating….
“Following the recent developments of the Euro and the European Union, the government is split over whether it is in Britain’s main interest to remain part of the EU. It has proven to be a divisive issue, with the Prime Minister backing the continuation of our affiliation with the European Union and with as many as 80 Conservatives taking the opposite stance. Should Britain remain part of the EU or is it time we forged our own path?”
Please send your answers to [email protected].