22 September 2015
The typical revolutionist
By Mike Smith
23rd of September 2015
When you ask people to describe the typical revolutionist, it conjures up pictures in their minds of a bearded Che Guevara, or serious looking Lenin or Mao.
In a South African context it brings up pictures of mass demonstrations and necklace murders in townships to MK terrorists planting limpid mines and storming into churches with AK 47’s. Just the mere thought of a revolution brings up negative connotations, as if it is something that “WE” do not do…Mass action, boycotts, strikes, etc. are all “what Communists do” or “what blacks do”… Today people feel as if revolutions were OK for whites back in history, but somehow not today. We are civilized, we just don’t do that kind of thing anymore.
However when you look at how revolutions start, who drives them and how the “typical revolutionist profile” looks like, then we see that in fact it is indeed “us” and not “them” that are the best and most efficient revolutionaries.
The revolution in England in the 1640’s, the American and French Revolutions in the 18th century, the Voortrekkers who trekked away from the Cape Colony, the Boer Guerillas, the Bittereinders and the Maritz Rebellion, were all done by white people and had very little to do with Communism rather the attempt to realize an idealistic dream of a better world.
Further, if you take a look at revolutions of the 21st century, especially the successful ones of Serbia (2000) and Iceland (2008) and you see the people who planned and drove it were just “normal people”…They were not “communists” and certainly not “rabble” and “riff-raff”.
Don’t be surprised. This is nothing new and nothing strange. We see the same theme all throughout revolutions from the times of the Greeks and Romans all the way up to today.
People today think that the French Revolution was driven by peasants. However this is false.
The social standing of the revolutionist
From 1789 to 1795…62% of the revolutionists were upper- and middleclass, 29% were working class and only 9% were peasants. The revolutionists were in the upper tax brackets and well above the average one. The Jacobins were neither all noblemen nor all beggars, but almost everything in between. They represented a complete cross section of the population. The same can be said of the English Revolution, The American Revolution and the Russian Revolution.
In England when the New Model Army took the field in 1645, of the 37 chief officers, nine were of noble birth, 21 of gentle birth, and only 7 not gentlemen by birth. The peasants and English lower classes stood aloof from the conflict.
In America it was the merchants who first organized opposition to the crown. This was then echoed by the planters in the southern coastal plain and very respectable yeoman farmers of the Piedmont. Even the Boston Sons of Liberty who did most of the actual work of violence there were recruited from working men.
In Russia, it was the February Revolution (not the October Revolution) that got rid of the hated Czar. Almost everyone, liberal noble, banker, industrialist, lawyer, doctor, civil servant, kulak, and workingman, was glad to co-operate in giving the Czarist regime its final blow.
Even the radical Bolsheviks in the October Revolution were far from “rabble” and “riff-raff”. They were recruited chiefly from the more enterprising, able and skilled workmen in the factories of Petrograd, Moscow and specialized industrial centres like Ivanovo-Vosnessensk or the Don basin. Their most important leaders were largely drawn from the middle class.
Compared to modern times…It is as if our present day Rotarians and Lion’s Club members were revolutionists.
What we need to understand is that on the whole, revolutionists do not represent the dregs of society. Even Marxist theory recognizes that the “Lumpenproletariat” is not revolutionary. The idea that the very oppressed and the poor are important as initiating and maintaining revolutions is a myth and frankly, rubbish.
When you look at the leaders of the revolutions, you see that they come from the same rank and file as the rest of the ordinary revolutionists. In France you had lawyers in large numbers leading the revolution (Camus, Robespierre, Danton,etc) as well as men of science (astronomer Bailly, chemist Lavoisier, mathematician Monge, etc). You also had journalists like Marat and Desmoulins, publicists like Brissot…even noblemen like the King’s cousin, The Duke of Orleans, Comte de Mirabeau, the Lameth brothers and the Marquis de La Fayette.
In America, of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 33 held college degrees in an age when few ever went to college. Only four of the signers had little or no formal education. There were five doctors, eleven merchants, four farmers, twenty two lawyers and three ministers. Twelve were sons of ministers. Nearly all were affluent.
In England and Russia it was almost identical as far as the social origins of the revolutionaries are concerned. Amongst the Bolsheviks you had educated men like Trotsky and Kamenev; Felix Dzerzhinsky, of noble Polish-Lithuanian stock; Sverdlov, a chemist; Kalinin, a farmer, Stalin (Born Djugashvili) of Georgian peasant-artisan stock, destined by his mother for the priesthood and for sometime a student in a seminary.
Further there was nothing sudden or brand new about these revolutionists. All of them seemed to have gone through a long political awareness, an awakening apprenticeship and involved in pressure groups.
Neither are they precociously young. These leaders are usually in the middle age, the thirties and forties. The young men, the St. Justs, the Bonapartes, the Serbian Otpor boys in their twenties are the exception, not the rule.
As Dr. Crane Brinton wrote: “Bums, hoboes, the mob, the rabble, the riff-raff, may be recruited to do the street fighting and the manor burning of revolutions, but they emphatically do not make, do not run revolutions – not even proletarian revolutions.”
The character of the revolutionist
A contented man cannot be a revolutionist. Therefore revolutionists are discontented men who lead other discontented men on a crusade for a better world. They have come to struggle for God’s kingdom on earth.
They are, at least in the beginning, kind at heart, sensitive people and sincere idealists. They have a keen sense of right and wrong.
They refuse to accept the pessimistic and pragmatic realities of the world around them. They see and dream the possibilities of a more Utopian world.
They are heavily influenced by the writings of intellectuals. They begin to feel acutely the differences from their fathers and grandfathers. They are of a new generation…a generation in revolt. A generation that want change.
Many of these revolutionary men would never have been heard of under normal conditions. They might even be thought of as “Losers” or “failures” by the rest of a subjective society who only see their failure in a trade or profession not their success as revolutionists.
Some, like Sam Adams whose brewery he inherited went bankrupt, can indeed be classed as abject failures. Jean Paul Marat in France was a self educated physician, political theorist and scientist with a string of fake degrees and honorary distinctions that he awarded to himself.
However…both men are known for their radical, but excellent propaganda and albeit hate filled, revolutionary journalism against those in power.
Sam Adams did become the governor of Massachusetts (1794-1797) so one can argue that he eventually did become successful outside of the revolution.
Thomas Paine, the atheist and seditious writer was another founding father of the USA. He was involved in both the American and the French revolutions, but before the American Revolution he amounted to almost nothing. He was a stay maker by trade making rope stays for sailing ships. He served at sea as a privateer for a short while, before starting a business in Sandwich, Kent, which failed. Then served as a customs officer, but was fired for flogging his inspections. However, with his pamphlet “Common Sense” he inspired the rebels to declare independence from Britain.
English revolutionary, country gentleman and religious fanatic, Oliver Cromwell, the regicide who signed the death warrant of King Charles I, achieved almost nothing for the first forty years of his life.
Along with his brother Henry, Cromwell had kept a smallholding of chickens and sheep, selling eggs and wool to support himself, his lifestyle resembling that of a yeoman farmer.
The revolution changes men.
During the so called “reign of terror” of a revolution, some of these gentlemen amongst the extremists do show signs of psychopathy and they are found in every society. Under normal circumstances they would not even be noticed, but during the “reign of terror”, they come to the fore.
Robespierre was a lawyer and once opposed the death penalty and war with Austria. He became the soul of the “reign of terror” in France.
Jean-Babtiste Carrier, the son of a farmer who attended Jesuit College and eventually became a country lawyer was known for his cruelty during the French Revolution, especially to the clergy.
Originally he set up the Revolutionary tribunal at Nantes to give prisoners “a fair trial”, but the jails were too full and the guillotines moving too slowly, so he put large numbers of prisoners on board vessels with trap doors for bottoms, and sunk them in the Loire River. Men and women were stripped naked and tied together in what he called “Revolutionary Marriage” before they were drowned. He also lined up hundreds of prisoners in fields and called the National Guard to shoot them down one by one.
These horrific executions, especially of priests and nuns, as well as women and children, known as the Drownings at Nantes (Noyades) along with his increasing haughty demeanor, gained Carrier a reputation for wanton cruelty.
In more modern times, the most famous revolutionary, Che Guevara, came from an educated liberal and middleclass family. He always wanted to help his fellow man, especially the poor and studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. He was a keen Rugby player who played fly half for the University. During this time he also undertook two motorcycle journeys through South America where he witnessed severe poverty and exploitation of the poor. In 1953 he completed his doctorate in medicine, but did not practice. He gave it all up to become a revolutionary. This man would become a guerilla leader known for his summary executions of informers, deserters and spies.
If you have to single out one kind of person as the perfect revolutionist, then it is not the bloodthirsty lunatic, the embittered failure or the envious upstart. It is the idealist… and there are several categories of idealists.
Idealists of course are in our own times the cement of a stable normal society. It is good for us all that there should be men of noble aspirations. Idealists dream of a world as it might or should be. Idealism should not be confused with “wishful thnking” or “ignorance”. Idealism based on a solid foundation of social and political realism is a sign of intellectual maturity. However, idealism needs action. Without rolling up your sleeves and making it happen, idealism will stay a dream and a vision.
In normal times such men do not seem to occupy positions of power and responsibility. Like we have seen they might even be failures. In revolutionary times, the idealist at last gets a chance to try and realize his ideals.
The first type of revolutionary idealist is a theorist like Phillipe Buonarroti, the Utopian Socialist and Freemason from the French Revolution who could be said to be the father of Communism and the inspiration to Marx.
He envisioned a world moving from a monarchy to liberalism, to radicalism and finally Communism. Although he made a career out of planning and preaching revolution, he was never a major factor in actually producing one. Karl Marx and the American revolutionary theorist, Gene Sharp, also fall in this category.
Next you have the Revolutionary Orator, the man who can hold crowds spellbound. During the French revolution, Camille Desmoulins blossomed into revolutionary vigour on the day that he called the mob to arms in the gardens of the Palais Royal. Only then did his talents as a writer and rabble-rouser emerge. Up to this time he was miserably poor.
During the American revolution you can take Patrick Henry's "liberty or death" speech and George Washington's appeal to mutinous army officers as examples. In Russia you had the great orator, Grigory Zinovieiv. In more modern times we think of Martin Luther King Jr., Hitler, Ghandi and even Mandela as revolutionary orators.
The next type of Revolutionary Idealist is the practical man, the man of action anxious to get the practical tasks of government carried out.. Often he is a “fanatic”, “embittered”, “demonic” and inhumane idealist. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Marat the neglected scientist, Hitler who failed as a painter. Robespierre who failed as a student of essay and verse. Lenin, the ambitious philosopher who thought he could do better than Marx. Mussolini the self taught scholar and wannabee intellectual all fall in this category.
Revolutions are extraordinary periods and all kinds of men will rise to the top that would in normal stable societies not have achieved these positions. These are men who go beyond the chronic complaining and actively work and share ideas about the revolution.
They are of above average social standing, above average intelligence, often gifted, creative intellectuals and idealists ostracized by society who do not appreciate them…a pragmatic society that think their dreams of a better world are useless wastes of time, but revolutionaries know in their hearts that they were always destined for bigger things. They crave the revolution. They fanatically pursue it and when it finally comes, they are in their element. It is like coming home after a long journey…Finally they have found their place in life, in the Revolution.