Jack Goldstone defines revolution as a “forcible overthrow of the government, mass mobilization, the pursuit of a vision of social justice, and the creation of new political institutions.” Lewis Lapham reiterates the need for a change in political power as are requirement for revolution, but also remarks on how overused the word has become thanks to the rise of the capitalistic grip on Western culture. Both Lapham and Goldstone both define revolution based off of the event’s “success” and “effectiveness.”
In my own definition of revolution, I will focus on the terms “success,” “effectiveness,” and “violence.” Success in the context of of my definition of revolution means that the event achieved its goals directly after action was taken by those revolting. I define effectiveness as the way that a revolution is remembered. If an event is remembered as an act of terrorism or a period of violence and not as a period of positive change, then the event cannot be considered effective, because the motivation behind the event is clouded by negative memory.
However, the definition of violence can be manipulated in order to repress revolutions and deem them “ineffective” or to make a revolution seem more “acceptable” than how the public, media, and the government actually received the event at the time that it occurred. This manipulation of violence is very evident in the idolization of Dr. Martin Luther King. At the time of the Civil Rights movement, non violent demonstrations performed by Dr. King and the NAACP as well as other Civil Rights groups were deemed “illegal” and resulted in jail time, physical abuse, and even murder for demonstrators. Yet today, MLK and his movements are used as prime examples of non-violent resistance, in order to combat “violent” demonstrations that occur today for the same reasons that provoked the Civil Rights movement in the first place.
Actual violence during other revolutionary movements is condoned as “necessary,” in the contexts of wars started by those in power. However, when similar violence is started at a grassroots level like in the context of the RAF movement, the violence suddenly becomes associated with terrorism and revolutionaries turn into monsters. The Romanov Tomb Controversy involving modern Romanov descendants and the Russian Orthodox Church is a current example of how the memory of a revolution (Bolshevik) is being manipulated to aid in a new group’s attempt to gain power (modern Romanov descendants). In this case, Romanov descendants are trying to cover up the reasons for the Bolshevik revolution by shifting the focus to the violent murder of the Romanov family and the memory of Soviet totalitarianism.
Because the definition of violence can be manipulated to determine how “successful” or “effective” a revolution is, I define revolution as any attempt to overthrow or change structures of oppression that changes human evolution. This definition is in no way meant to condone actual violence against other human beings, but instead is itself an attempt to compensate for the way that memory and constructed memory affect what is deemed “acceptable” and “necessary” and what is deemed “violent” and “disruptive.”
The following images show the evolution of my revolution definition.