“Passion is needed for any great work, and for the revolution, passion and audacity are required in big doses”
These were the words of famed Argentine Marxist revolutionary leader Che Guevara.
World history and global politics have over the course of time been shaped by many occurrences, revolutions have been at the core of this transformation. We examine some of the most dynamic revolutions in history that changed the face of global politics and re-wrote history.
1. American Revolution (1775-83)
The American Revolution, also known as the Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783 is amongst the oldest revolutions that changed the course of history and politics in America. This was a revolution sparked by the quest for freedom fueled by a lack of proper political representation, economic inequality, and oppression.
This heightened tensions between the residents of the 13 North American colonies that were under Great Britain’s rule and the colonial government. The drumbeats of war started beating when in 1765 the British government attempted to impose a new tax regime, notably the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Tariffs of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773. These new proposals were not only met with heated protest from the colonists but were also met with calls for political representation in Parliament and the demand for equal rights as British subjects.
2. American Civil War
The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 was mainly centered around slavery. It was a war between brothers, between the north and the south; a war between the south, which was heavily reliant on slave labor against the north that was reliant on immigrants. The south, whose economy was largely agriculturally based depended on slave labor to grow cotton for export. The north, on the other hand, did not depend on slave labor.
The impasse brought about divisions with the south declaring independence from the Union, which the political establishment could not accept and war was declared. However, as much as it was about the might and prowess of the military forces that brought about victory and the re-establishment of the Union, politics played a significant role to determine the end result. The north, after losing the first battle, sought out foreign support, a factor that turned the tide in their favor and the eventual re-establishment of the Union.
3. Lebanese Civil War
The Middle East is a hotbed of politics and religious passion. Religion, in the Middle East, is one of the most emotive issues that could spark a revolution in a heartbeat. No other region in the world has as much passion for religion as the Middle East.
The Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990 was driven mostly by ethnic and religious intolerance. Lebanon consists of two blocks of religious groups – Christians and Muslims. The Christians are a minority, but at the time of the war, dominated the government and other key positions, especially in the military.
The Muslims on the other hand aside from being the majority were literally barred from holding positions of power. The embers of war in Lebanon were fed when elements from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) came to the aid of the Muslim majority in Lebanon and the Christian minority could not give up power easily and decided to fight back.
The resultant war between the Christians and the Muslims went on to draw in almost every nation within the region that included Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Iran among others. The United Nations intervened to help bring about peace and a coalition government between the Christians and Muslims was established to help restore peace.
4. The Cuban Revolution (1952-58)
The Cuban Revolution of 1952 to 1958 occurred at a time of global political upheaval. This was at the heydays of the Cold War that was largely driven by politics of differing ideologies that were capitalism and communism. It was this revolution that changed the politics of Cuba, an island nation right at the doorstep of the United States, a global military and economic power and a champion of capitalism.
The United States seemed to have a hand in Cuban politics under the leadership of Fulgencio Batista, who was not popular with the people. Fidel Castro successfully waged a guerrilla war against the Cuban government, a revolution that transformed the politics of this island nation that quickly embraced communism to the consternation of the United States.
5. Iranian Revolution
The Middle Eastern region is a hotbed of political revolutions. The Iranian Revolution of 1978 to 1979 largely emanated from perceived meddling in Iranian politics by the United States. This came about when the Iranian religious leaders led by the Ayahtollah Khomeini fermented dissent within Iran against the rule of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.
The spark that fired up the Iranian Revolution occurred on what is now known as Black Friday when government forces fires on more than 20,000 demonstrators. Hundreds of students died, thousands more were injured. This led to more protests and attacks within Iran of symbols of western influence that included banks and government institutions. The revolution was on. It hit a crescendo when soldiers rebelled forcing the Shah into exile and the subsequent establishment of the Iranian state as we know it today.
6. Egyptian Revolution
The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 came about as a surprise. It changed not only regional politics within the Middle Eastern region but had a bearing on global politics. Political liberation seemed to sweep through the Arab world that has started in Tunisia and was quickly spreading across the region.
Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt enjoyed stability, however, the nation was literally under martial law, established immediately after the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat. Mubarak, who was loved abroad, but was disliked at home entrenched himself in Egyptian politics by not only consolidating power around him and his cronies but exercised autocratic powers that included a crackdown of religious fundamentalists in Egypt.
The revolution in Egypt was however largely bloodless and was brought about by large street demonstrations across major cities in Egypt including a massive demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
7. Bosnian Civil War
The Bosnian Civil War of 1992 to 1995 was largely sparked by ethnic hatred among its people. The war was sparked by when ethnic cleansing by Serbs of non-Serbians in Bosnia. This resulted in the Croats launching attacks on their former Muslim allies.
8. Kosovo Rebellion
Like the Bosnian Civil War, the Kosovan Rebellion of 1997 to 1999 was largely centered around ethnicity. This was between the Serbians and the Albanians, two ethnic communities that did not like each other at all.
9. Chechen Revolution
The Chechen Revolution of 1994 to 1996 came at a time of political realignment within the Russian Federation after the breakup of the Soviet Union. At the time, the Chechen government jumped onto the political bandwagon of breakaway republics under the former Soviet Union to declare independence. However, Russian military forces crushed the rebels and the Russian government established a puppet government in Chechnya.
10. The Intifada
The politics of the Middle East are largely dictated to by the happenings between Israel and Palestine. It has been one of the longest drawn out political situation that has forever been at the heart of global politics. On the one hand are the Palestinians who hunger for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and on the other are the Israelis who desire to protect their people and an independent Jewish state.
The Palestinians have over the years protested the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and parts of the Gaza strip. This culminated with the first Intifada of 1987 to 1993, in the form of civil disobedience and a protest against Israeli rule. This quickly turned from demonstrations to violent riots. A peace process ensued to help not only quell the animosity between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also bring about lasting peace in the region. Talks broke down under the Oslo agreement and this resulted in the second Intifada between 2000 and 2004.
It is evident that the leading cause of revolutions over the centuries is largely tied to a quest of social, economic and political freedoms. A desire to self-govern and also have an active voice in the politics of the day that in one way or the other will affect the people. Religion and ethnic identity are also a determinant. They somehow play a role in the interplay of the political affairs that either governs a nation and its people and could be the spark that lights up the flames to a political and/or religious revolution.