The delicacy of army dependence

Throughout the year, we have been talking about what is necessary to have a revolution. Many of us have struggled to explain the Indian Revolution when all the other ones we see seem to be based in large part upon force. So we ask ourselves to what extent having an army is necessary for a successful revolution. In Iran and Libya, we see how the army changed the tide of the revolution and allowed the revolutionaries to emerge victorious.

I’m writing my history paper about the German Revolution of 1918. In the revolution, the pro-republic social democratic factions come to rely heavily on mercenary groups known as Freicorps derived from the German army that fought in World War I. These Freicorps,  after spending time fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia and then communist groups at home, came to be dangerously conservative. The unrestrained armies, under the command of the old officers, quelled uprisings violently and without remorse. The Social Democrats reliance on these Freicorps would come to haunt them; these groups evolved in the National Socialist party. This situation makes me realize the true extent that an army’s power goes. While it is possible in unique circumstances to win a revolution without the support of an army, as Gandhi did in India, I think for most revolutions it is certainly necessary to control the army to emerge victorious. And that reflects a power that can have dangerous and unpredicted consequences, such as the emergences of the Nazi party in Germany. By looking at revolutions, we gain an insight into the true power and danger that armies who for years have been the result of a country’s all-in efforts to fight and win can pose. By creating an army, countries may be taking an unpredicted risk. If they lose the loyalty of that army, they could be creating their own enemy.

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2 Responses to The delicacy of army dependence

  1. Dr. K says:

    This is an interesting post, Ryan. I like how you bring in so many different revolutions. It’s interesting, I think, that in many of the successful revolutions we’ve studied, the revolutionaries created their own army: the Red Army in the Soviet Union, the People’s Liberation Army in China, the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. Even in Libya, there was, essentially, a new, revolutionary army. By contrast, in Germany (and also today in Egypt), the old army stuck around. That caused (and in Egypt, continues to cause) problems.

    At the same time, it’s worth noting that those three “successful” revolutions I mentioned all ended as repressive dictatorships. Likewise, the Directory in France depended on the army to keep it in power, and was eventually overthrown by a leading general, Napoleon. By contrast, India, the revolution carried out without an army, did not end in a dictatorship (the same is true, we’ll see, of eastern Europe in 1989). So it looks like, revolutionary army or not, reliance on any sort of army makes it more likely you’ll end up with a dictatorship after the revolution. Do you think that is correct?

  2. jkleinabaum2014 says:

    I think the correlation between the use of armies as a means of successful revolution and a dictatorship as a result of these means is interesting. In response to you’re question; I don’t believe that relying on an army makes it more likely you’ll end up with a dictatorship after the revolution, just that a revolution which is willing to rely on an army will create a dictatorship. An army’s purpose in a revolution is to take power by force. Therefore it seems inevitable that a revolution which allows this practice would rule with the use of force. It is due to a revolutionary party’s ideology that it accepts the use of an army to gain power. Because this party’s ideology accepts the use of force for the gaining of power, it only seems inevitable, army or not, that this revolutionary party would rule as a dictatorship as dictatorships are kept in power by armies.

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