Can a spontaneous revolution succeed?

Here’s some food for thought.  I was recently reading a piece by the Israeli philosopher and public intellectual Avishai Margalit, about the revolution last year in Egypt.  He was comparing it to the Russian Revolution, and specifically to the February revolution, by suggesting that both were spontaneous, rather than organized, uprisings.  He had this to say:

It is this conceptual bias—informed by an idea that a revolution can take place only along the lines of the organized October Revolution in Russia and neglecting the possibility of a diffused uprising like Russia’s February Revolution—that was responsible for the element of extreme surprise in Tunisia and Egypt. It is still an open question whether a diffused, February-like revolution could bring about a structural social change or whether such a revolution is a mere spectacle—nothing more than an uplifting momentary event. There is something disturbingly true about the Bolshevik idea: Namely, that spontaneous revolutions—or, rather, loosely organized revolutions—eventually tend to yield to organized forces that usurp the original revolution. Will a centralized force like the Muslim Brotherhood usurp the revolution and turn it into an October-like revolution? It is too early to tell.

We’ve talked at various points about why some revolutions succeed and others fail.  Margalit suggests a possible paradox: only organized revolutions can succeed in changing society, but organized revolutions are those most vulnerable to being hijacked.  In other words, the very conditions that make success possible also make failure inevitable.  What do you think, based on what we’ve studied?  It’s also something to keep in mind when we study Iran.

If you’re interested in reading it, the entire Margalit piece is here.

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One Response to Can a spontaneous revolution succeed?

  1. Sheena says:

    Margalit brings up a good point, but many unplanned revolutions have succeeded. Although these unplanned revolutions were effective, the time the took was a little longer than the planned revolutions. When a coup is staged, the results are immediate, and the insurgency is immediately put into action. The effectiveness of both, planned and unplanned, is equal even though the matter in which they are carried out is different. There are exceptions to this as well. For example, the Egyptian Revolution was unplanned but the change took place in under a month.

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