10 Lessons From Real-Life Revolutions That Fictional Dystopias Ignore

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Esther Inglis-Arkell lists 10 lessons from real-life revolutions that fictional dystopias ignore:

The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Not Your Friend. And even though smugglers who deal in that contraband may seem to oppose their government, they’re actually part of a stable system.

The Top Guy Isn’t Always the Problem. There were, and are, plenty of dictators who brutally check every attempt at reform. There have also been kings who supported the cause of justice and attempted reform, only to be stopped by a large group of people who had enough power and wealth to topple the monarchy more quickly than peasants could.

Sometimes Making Concessions Leads To Rebellion. Authors are concerned with making dictators frightening, rather than frightened. Remember that sometimes a “reasonable response” is not actually a reasonable response. Dictators are morally wrong — but they might be, practically speaking, right not to compromise.

Two Downtrodden Groups Will Usually Be Fighting Each Other. Both the Union and the Confederacy passed conscription acts. Exceptions to both conscription acts were contingent upon wealth.

Never Neglect the Practicalities. Women rioting for bread got the ball rolling on both the French and the Russian revolutions.

New Regimes Come With Crazy Ideology. Sometimes these radicalization plans are horrific, like China’s Great Leap Forward. The program was meant to modernize the nation, but was planned and executed by non-experts. As a result the modernization plans included asking farmers and urban neighborhoods to make steel in “backyard furnaces,” build aqueducts with no training, and kill every sparrow. The resulting insect plague and irrigation disaster caused a food shortage that resulted in between 18 and 45 million deaths.

Revolutions Take Place on a World Stage. When Americans rebelled against Britain, they didn’t do it alone. The French enacted devastatingly effective naval warfare against the British, committing 32,000 sailors to the cause. They also contributed soldiers, supplies, and money. Which made it awkward when France underwent its own revolution, and both the royalists and the republicans expected the United States to be on their side.

Violent Conflicts Keep Cropping Up From Within. Every revolution starts out by employing the “we are all brothers and sisters” ideology to get people on board.

Fear Alone Can Precipitate the Explosion. The French revolution was exported from Paris to the provinces because peasants, coming off a bad harvest and looking forward to a good one, were worried that their local nobility would sabotage their food supply in retaliation for the goings-on in Paris. Terrified, they took to the country houses, demanding food, cash, and rights. They took the Revolution nation-wide not because any particular event sparked retaliation, but because they feared it soon would.

Afterwards There Will Be Mythology for the Losing Side. There are very few regimes so terrible that they can’t be romanticized. This is especially true after they have been defeated. It’s easy to be sentimental about something when nobody has to deal with it anymore.

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