Sunday, October 23, 2011

Field Guide to Revolution - I

Why add more words to the torrent on revolution? Two reasons.

One is that the works on revolution that are now recognized are getting old, and they look at old revolutions, while we live an an era where revolution is both everywhere, and nowhere at all. There has been little to look at even the revolutions that came with the fall of the Soviet Empire in a larger context, because the people of that moment were busy declaring the “end of history.” Let alone the new wave of revolutions that are here because of the end of the era of cheap oil. If the last third of the 20th century was largely defined by the coming of a “Green Revolution” that applied oil to farm production around the world, and staved off famine and for many, hunger, bringing with it a “Great Complacency,” the ending of these features brings with it a new and different kind of revolutionary spirit, and new revolutions.

Two is that most works on revolution are polemical, that is synthetic, they are for or against revolution, or the are for or against this or that revolution, and thus, construct a definition of revolution which is designed to forgone conclusions. This only has use in repeating history: the next revolution will be different.

This is a brief field guide to the kinds of political revolution, it does not delve deeply into the use of the word to describe a way of being, as in “industrial revolution,” or “green revolution,” because these follow from a very specific, synthetic, reading of the word. They are revolutions we want to have, does anyone call the rise of slavery the “chattel revolution?” One could: the introduction of forced labor into the European economy in the 1750-1870 period, including more broadly serfdom in Russia, dramatically altered the possible means of capital exploitation, and was a key part of their expansion into the new world. But it is not written of that way, because as a way of being in a post-malthusian world, revolutions are supposed to be at least equivocally for the long term. We are supposed to embrace them, because progress requires that we be willing to abandon old notions, rapidly if need be.

However revolution can also be a analytic word. A definition of an event from what is visible at the time, which does not pre-suppose that it will work out for better or for worse. Synthetic definitions are hindsight: they sanctify what we profited from, but they are poor predictors of the future. The noble intentions at the beginning of an uprising, can become pogroms by the end, while successful political revolutions have come from very bastard desires, such as the ability to continue to smuggle tea. So the popular, synthetic, definition of revolution in our age, which elevates it and debases it at the same time – donuts, storage bags, footwear are all called “revolutionary” – is a poor field guide to the messy business of overthrowing a government, whether that government is good, bad, or otherwise, whether the result is good, bad, or as is often the case, both at once.

The analytic definition requires some base or foundation, one cannot have a notion of revolution without its constituent parts: the state, society, change, meaning. Most importantly, one has to be able to separate revolution from other kinds of changes of government, hence the words “coup” and “succession” are used here. Succession is when a new leader comes to power by the means that before that rise are considered ordinary, and makes not significant changes to the scope and meaning of government. Louis XIV of France, came to the throne, and regency, entirely normal, was in put in place. While this lead to a dramatic change in who held the hands of power, it did not change the state. When Louis XIV declared his majority and took to governing on his own, he did not need to change the nature of the French monarchist state. Violence can even be included in this definition, if violence is expected.

The other word, is coup. A coup is a rapid blow to the centers of power, that brings no fundamental change in the constitution or mandate of government as such. It is important to distinguish between succession, coup, and revolution, because the essential analytical quality of revolution is the fundamental change. A synthetic revolution is in the name: “the revolution itself” is the act that creates the change, it is the declaration of it, as much as the act, which makes it a revolution. The “Glorious Revolution” was different from Bosworth Field, in no small part, because the people there wanted not merely a new monarch, but a new relationship to the state, and were willing to say so, and wanted their descendants to say so.

Thus, at the center of every revolution, is at least one coup – one blow to the state as it existed, and often several in succession. But the coups themselves are not the revolution, merely the means by which power is taken and then channelled. So succession is seen as normal, coup is seen as abnormal, and revolution is change, whether by succession or coup, and often both. The practice of a revolution, is to look for moments where succession would occur, or where power would be held, and decide when and how to direct the blow of a coup at it. But to be a revolution, the turn must take: the wheels must spin. A constant series of coups, is a failed state, literally anarchy. The test of a revolution is whether, like the stage magician, it can pull the tablecloth off the table, without disturbing the dishes.

Thus to look at revolution analytically, as first: what was the coup? When did the forces of revolution start to dictate, against which other forces would have to positively act? And second, ask if there was actual change, what was possible before that is not now? What is possible now that was not before?

Consider for example the bumpy road to the throne of Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov, called Peter the Great in English. First he was not the highest in line for the the throne, and so on the death of Alexis in 1682, the Boyer Dumas, a parliament of nobles selected Peter, over his brother Ivan, who was known to be sick, blind, and mentally incapable of even the simplest of tasks, let alone being an autocratic ruler. Sophia, the sister, led a revolt of the palace guard, and installed Ivan as the senior Tsar, with herself as, very literally, the power behind the throne: she would sit behind the throne and tell the two young Tsars what to say. It would be 8 years before Peter would take power, again, in a violent uprising, but power first passed to his mother, though not title, and it was only in 1694 that Peter took control personally, a period of 12 years. There were both moments of succession, and coups, the two key coups being Sophia's revolt in 1682, proving that the Boyer Dumas could not make their decision stick, and then Peter's counter-coup, but these are bracketed by succession, and by the use of ordinary means to dispose of unwanted people: Sophia was sent to a convent.

This is almost exactly contemporary with the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, but it is not called one, because Peter brought no change in the relationship of government to the public or the state, and remember that the government and the state are not one and the same.

The first step to having an analytic definition is accomplished: a political revolution is a rapid change in government, whether accomplished by ordinary or unusual means, that rests on at least one blow to the old order, and which brings a new order after it. Or more precisely: a revolution is rapid change to the meaning of the state, brought about by overt means. This sense is not new, Machiavelli, though he did not use the word revolution, which was centuries in the future, talked quite a great deal about “reform” of a state. Before revolution gained its ascendancy, reform was a far more powerful word, or at least had far more far reaching possible meaning. Now dramatic reform would, synthetically, be called “revolution,” but then, revolution was not the word. However, he talks about establishing a new order, and through violence, and that is what we would now call revolution.

Analytically, revolutions come in a spectrum, one that runs from a constitutional revolution, through political and social revolutions, and ends in the violent revolutions that attend civil war, or invasion. Revolution comes from both within and without: at the very least a revolution must always be able to deter other forces and states from intervening, and often must either defeat or enlist them. Lenin's Russian Revolution, and the French Revolution both had to raise armies to defeat invaders almost as soon as they took shape. The American Revolution of course required French aid.

Thus, while this guide is largely going to be focused on new revolutions, it should not be thought of as discontinuous with what we already know about revolution, because the fundamental problem was stated by Machiavelli almost 500 years ago: that creation of a new order requires sound laws, and the prophet of that new order has the most difficult of enterprises before them, with strong enemies who have profited from the past, and only weak friends who might profit from the future.

In this field guide revolutions will be classified by the nature of the coup that brings them to the position of power, even though, as can be seen from the examples, revolution is never in a single step, but is often undergirded by many others. These precursors are essential, but only when the coup occurs is the new party in the position of proposing and daring other forces to dispose.

Constitutional Revolution

A constitutional coup is the revolution that dares not be named, precisely because either it is so banal as to be almost not worth mentioning, or because it is an unspeakable black hole in a constitutional system which everyone wishes to avoid talking about: it is a failure of design.

The banal kind is the succession of one government or leader to another, where there is some intervening action. In the days of monarchies, many monarchs had to be at least affirmed, if not elected by some other body, such as the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Often these moments were expected to be pro forma, but were used as a means to prevent unacceptable alternatives, such as the Boyer Dumas in Peter the Great's case.

In parliamentary systems, constitutional coups are relatively banal: the opposition party or parties maneuver a vote of confidence at a time when they expect victory in the coming election. It is so much a part of business, that no one remarks on it. This is a feature of Democracy, to have legal, if not always orderly, means to accomplish ends that might otherwise require greater turbulence, or even violence.

However, even in term based Presidential systems, there are doors to constitutional coup. For example, in the United States, the impeachment and removal process is, in effect, a constitutional coup, and has been used as such: the act designed to dislodge a President from power, even if outright removal is not possible. In American history there have been four times when articles of impeachment were readied to for floor: John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and William “Bill” Clinton. In each case, the other party took power afterwards. While none resulted in removal, though Andrew Johnson held on only by one vote away from removal by the Senate, and Nixon resigned before house debate.

The more important kind of constitutional coup, or even counter-coup, is when failures in the election system are exploited to change the outcome of an election. No Democracy likes to advertise the weaknesses in its process, even though they are often there for all to see.

Another reason for the dearth of writing on constitutional coups is that the term is so often used as mere political smearage of ordinary government, taking a census in a way that supprters don't like, or appointing a judge. In fact, it is conservative forces that use the term far more often than liberalizing forces. This makes sense: conservative forces are generally those in place, or those that have the sympathy of those in place, going back to Machiavelli, they have a passionate attachment to what is, because they profit from it. Hence, any disruption to the status quo, particularly one where the interpretation of the details is essential, leads to cries of a constitutional coup. The term is almost in danger of becoming one of those phrases that polite people do not utter, and appears instead only in screeds marked by SUDDEN OUTBREAKS OF CAPITAL LETTERS about the DEFENSE OF OUR FREEDOMS against NEFARIOUS and DAMAGING forces under the control of INVADERS FROM ANOTHER PLANET.

However, this is, again the problem of the synthetic rearing its ugly head. Analytically a constitutional coup is the direction of parts of the established process in a way that is in contradiction with other parts, and daring the opposition to prevent the grinding out of the altered process.

In old American history, there were several outbreaks of this that were generally recognized. One was in 1796, when the poorly designed mechanism of the electoral college, which gave the Presidency to the winner, and the Vice-Presidency to the second place finisher collided with the political reality that winners wanted their duly designated successor to be of the same political stripe. The system had each person cast two votes, therefore, to make sure the right person won, one elector or more, would have to not vote for the Vice-President of their party's choice. However, if too many did this, it opened the door to the other party's Presidential nominee to being Vice-President, and this is what happened: John Adams took 71 votes, but his preferred Vice-President took 59, however, Jefferson received 68, and was Vice-President under his most bitter opponent.

However, this provision was not done making mischief, as in 1800 Jefferson ran with Aaron Burr. Anthony Lispenard, a man who is otherwise obscure, wanted to cast a secret ballot, hoping to vote twice for Burr, however, this attempt at Constitutional coup was stopped but the result, was a tie between Burr and Jefferson. Burr, seeing a chance to grab the brass ring himself, contested the election in the House, and the defeated Federalists continued to vote for him for 35 ballots. Finally, wilting under pressure, enough relented to allow Jefferson to take the Presidency. The 12th Amendment was ratified to prevent this from occurring again.

These examples, and the election of 1824, point to the crucial weakness in the American Presidential system, and that is that if the Electoral College system breaks down or fails to produce a clear winner, then the vote is thrown to the House, and by states. This means that parties that control a majority of state delegations in the House have every reason to allow the system to meltdown, and then win by consent of the governing, what they could not get as the consent of the governed. Hence, the bias towards conservative forces both for accusing the other side of a constitutional coup, and the bias for using it, for example in 1876 in the United States.

Another kind of constitutional revolution is the plebiscite, at first this might look like it is a political revolution, since the key moment would seem to be the holding of a ballot on a new constitution or constitutional change, however, this is illusory. Almost no constitution can be changed by a simple vote, most placing sequential requirements in the path of any would be reformer. Thus it is the ability to call such a plebiscite, and get it enforced, that is the coup itself: the moment when one party is facing a downhill battle to what they want, and the other side must take affirmative actions to stop it.

One classical example is that of the Second French Republic. In 1848 France, as with many countries in Europe in 1847-48 experienced strikes, mass uprisings, and violence. The political change occurred in three waves that year: the February Revolution which drove out the Orleanist monarchy, the bloody “June Days” where the people employed in the National Workshops rebelled against conditions, the army was called out, and over 4500 people were killed. Then in Decemeber Louis-Napoleon won election as the President of the new Republic. So far, a popular, though violent, revolution.

However, what makes it a constitutional revolution is that the preparations for the coup were all, in themselves, legal and within the reach of the Presidency of the Republic, even though aimed at an illegal end. He appointed a minister of War, a chief of Paris police. When insurrection against the dissolution of the National Assembly and arrests broke out, it was a losing effort. Crushed at the barricades, the opponents of the coup were arrested, killed, or driven into exile, including famous novelist Victor Hugo. The army quelled rebellions in the departments of France, and thousands were deported to Algeria, or imprisoned. On 20-21 December 1851, a plebiscite was used to overwhelmingly approve the new result, the new Constitution gave the President power for 10 years, but even this was not enough, and Louis-Napoleon submitted a second plebiscite to the people of France, and on 7 November 1852 they approved his being made emperor. The Second Empire would run until toppled in war in 1871.

The other side of this is that the National Assembly was stacked with monarchists, many of whom were openly plotting the return of the monarchy. Thus, at the same time that Louis-Napoleon was plotting to either gain a second term, or to take power, and pressing for suffrage laws that would aid in this, the National Assembly was passing laws that would restrict voting, and thus allow a future Assembly to have the majorities needed to return the monarchy. This is often the case in revolution: there is not one revolution, but several, and with all sides seeing the status quo as unacceptable, and thus rushing to do by extra-legal, or unusual, means what they cannot accomplish by consensus within the present framework.

A recent example comes from the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Previously Venezuela had had a political arrangement between the main parties called the Punto Fijo Pact of 1958. It shared power among the parties and created a static democracy which was committed to a single program of government. In effect it created something closer to a one party state or election machine, than to a multi-party democracy. The origin of the system was from a period when Venezuela's government was beset with challenges from both the left and the right, including foreign intervention. However, by the early 1990's it's adherence to a closely bound range of policy had brought dissent from both left and right that it deteriorated beyond Democracy.

Chavez won election in 1999, overwhelming the fragile consensus, again, as with Taiwan, dissent from within the status quo led to an opening. In this case the original front runner, Mayor Irene Saez faded, and the two parties of the puntofijismo system, the Copei and the Acción Democrática, rushed to unify behind another candidate. Chavez won handily, campaigning on a platform of changing the Republic. In this sense, it was a political revolution. However, he campaigned, not on change within the system, but in changing the constitution itself. His opening address called the old constitution, “moribund.” The election was not the coup then, but, instead, the the plebiscite. We know this because in his first two years, Chavez, like Louis-Napoleon governed conservatively, though not as a conservative. He remained overtly committed to capitalism, re-appointed the head of the state oil company from the previous regime, and attempted to stay on good terms with the US.

It was only after winning an overwhelming 88% of the vote in the referendum of 25 April 1999, that the opposition was in no position to oppose. In rapid succession, his supporters won the new constitutional assembly elections, taking 125 seats to 6 for the opposition. Thus empowered, he began the process of abolition all old institutions, and setting a new constitution before the voters. While there was greater and greater dissent and opposition, in each case the opposition was in the position of having to take direct action, which they did not do until a coup attempt in 2002, which was put down.

The change part is obvious: Chavez' Venezuela is different in almost every respect from the old order, but in identifying the constitutional use of power, to re-architect the formal laws on the basis of successful referenda, it shows that the center of his power, and the defining act of the Bolivarian Revolution that he led, and leads, was the use of constitutional change, not merely winning elections personally.

The more banal kind of constitutional revolution is not all that old: that of the motion of no confidence. While Lord North tendered his resignation after being defeated in a motion of no confidence, quite likely the first, in 1782, it was not until 1841 when it was understood constitutionally in Britain that the Prime Minister would have to resign after such a vote, and eventually it was understood that this would mean that the there was a choice between appointing a new Prime Minister, and dissolving Parliament. This choice gradually came to reside in the hands of the outgoing PM in effect, though in many nations the nominal head of state has the power to do so.

This kind of coup is more frequent early in a parliamentary system rather than later in most cases, however recent history shows how it can be used. In 1979, racked by high inflation and a seemingly impossible maze of demands from all sides, James Callaghan was not in a good position politically, Labour had won elections, but just barely, and had suffered dozens of defeats on whipped votes – which were not confidence motions, but did weaken the government – and had suffered through the "Winter of Disconent". Finally opposition leader Margaret Thatcher, taking the Liberal Party's offer of supporting a no confidence measure, waited as the minor Scottish National Party motioned for no confidence, then the former partner party Liberals did, and finally her own, debate and voting was on 28 March of 1979. It prevailed by a single vote, with support from socialist and liberal parties, who were then virtually wiped out in the general election of 1979. The vote was the coup, the election its ratification. Thatcher would go on to serve for over a decade, and then her conservative successor for 7 more years. It was called at the time "the last rites of Old Labour," and indeed, that version of the party would never again see power.

It was a coup, but was it a revolution? That is harder to decide, in some senses it changed the political landscape of Great Britain, and it certainly led to the dissolution of the state industrial system that had grown up in Britain over the previous 40 years, in these senses it was, but in the same sense as Andrew Jackson's 1828 victory: it changed politics, and it changed policy, but it did not remake all in its wake.

The elements of a constitutional coup are then: a mechanism for change which elites accept as definitive in deciding the mandate of government, wide discontent among elites with the established order, and a single group of elites who understand that a disruption of the ordinary course of business leaves them in control of the mechanisms of power. This means, in general, that there must be a "backstop," a mechanism which leads to opposition victory in everyone's eyes. The constitutional coup comes, paradoxically, because it keeps the issue in doubt longer, keeps the game alive.

For example, in 1979, when Thatcher's motion passed by a single vote for no confidence, Callaghan called an election, rather than allowing Thatcher to take power without one, this allowed her win a crushing election victory, rather than having to suffer with a minority government. He "took his case to the nation." In an effort to avoid immediate defeat, the losing side in a constitutional coup often suffers a more lasting constitutional defeat, as power slips from its fingers, and into the hands of those who are intent on changing more than name plates and signatures on paper.

Political Revolution

A political revolution is when the ordinary means of succession bring a new order to power, with the mandate to change not merely policy but principles of government as well. In a Democracy Franklin Delano Roosevelt termed his election “a revolution at the ballot box.” Was this hyperbole? Was it merely political rhetoric to forestall the fears of a revolution more of the kind that had occurred in Russia? Still fresh in people's minds, or Germany, where the “Machtergreifung” was happening exactly as FDR was taking office and had to immediately turn his attention to the banking crisis?

To be analytical is to have something to measure. In the case of revolution, there are two simple measures: what was impossible or very difficult in the old regime, which was possible in the new regime? What was possible in the old regime, that is made impossible or very difficult in the new? The more significant these acts are, the more one has evidence of a revolution in fact, over merely slogans.

One example out of many suffices to tell the story of how significant a change FDR's “New Deal” was.

Consider the resolution adopted by the House of Representatives on 26 April 1924:


Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age. Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.


Between then and 1937, 28 states ratified the amendment, while many that would seem to have been logical candidates, including New York state, where FDR was governor for 4 years, did not. Looking at the scope of 1933's National Industrial Recovery Act, which created the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, one can see why. The NRA was created to end “cut throat” and “unfair” competition, and one of the first acts was to call for a voluntary “blanket code” that would end child labor. In 1935 the Supreme Court struck down mandatory codes, including those that prohibited child labor, and this gave impetus to a new round of states ratifying the Child Labor Amendment. However, in the end, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 effectively allowed the Federal Government to regulate labor standards, and the Supreme Court had changed its mind about the reach of Federal Power.

In short, what took a constitutional amendment in the old regime, took only an administrative act in the new, once the new regime was, in fact, established.

This is the reality of revolutions, one can often only say that a revolutionary process is in play, but whether it sticks, is the telling reality. Many politicians have run on the platform of change, but on the reality of same. Some intended change, others did not, always believing they could campaign in poetry, but govern in pose.

Some elections, however, are political revolutions in themselves, when a one party state becomes a two party state, the key question is whether the election, itself, was the coup, or was it merely part of a larger process. The revolution in Poland against the Soviet backed government really began in 1980 at the Gdansk shipyard, and took 8 long years to finally force elections. It would be a mistake to think of the elections of 1988, or of 1990, as political revolutions, because the elections were ratification of a change in power that had been won by other means.

A recent example is the election of 2000 for President in Taiwan, of Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan had been governed for over half a century under virtual martial law by the Koumintang, or KMT, the party that had been founded under the Chinese Empire to bring about Democratic change, had ruled as a one party state. While the democraticizing of Taiwan had been a long process, including the creation of “outside the party” candidates and elections, the KMT did not really believe it would lose power in an election for a long time, and quite possibly would not have, except for a split in its own leadership which lead James Soong to form a more conservative “People First Party,” which also contested the election.

While his rule as President did not change the fundamental character of government or the state, and indeed continued with the comedy of corruption that has marked Taiwan politics since the establishment of the Republic of China there, that it happened at all constituted a “Revolution at the ballot box.”

The features of Chen Shui-ban's rise and fall are a reminder that political revolution has both preconditions and ramifications. In this case, the need to Democratize Taiwan, because the aging leadership of the KMT, many in power since before fleeing mainland China in 1949, could no longer effectively wield power, and the people who wanted to rise behind them did not want to submit to internal politics. In a conflict, people who know they will lose with one body of people making the decision, will often want to force a larger body of people, even if it means they only have a slender chance of winning. By submitting to an outside group, it is easier for all parties in a conflict to accept the result. Thus, in Taiwan, democracy came as the ruling party needed to renew itself, in addition to outside pressure.

As with many revolutions, there is a counter-revolution, as the KMT has won back power, and pursued a more conservative course in politics and economics, however, the operative word is “won.” It no longer has assured control of the levers of power, and must fight for votes, balance interests, and restrain its own members. It may well become an election machine, but the last two decades have been unkind to election machines: revolutions at the ballot box have overturned long running machines in Mexico where the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, was pushed out of power after 70 years of uninterrupted dominance, and in Japan ruled from 1955 with only a brief interruption until 2009. The election of 2012 is in doubt, with many of the charges against the DPP having been shown to be false, or grossly exaggerated, and the new Chair of the DPP is, for the moment, leading in elections.

The distance between Europe and single party electoral rule is not all that distant, in France the centre-right has held the Presidency for all but 8 years under the French Fifth Republic, even though it has more often lost the National Assembly. Indeed the 1965 election in France, between De Gualle and François Mitterrand was a kind of shove in the direction of two party politics in France, which was confirmed with his 1981 election victory, ending the tenure of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. But it is not a revolution at the ballot box in the same way, because while the centre-right has been dominant in French politics for 40 years, it has never had untrammeled power, and the theory of government was always multi-party.

A political revolution of this kind, from single to multi-party, then is led by a ruling party opening the door for power, often because it cannot resolve its internal conflicts internally, as was true of the KMT in Taiwan. Then the opposition movement attracts those candidates who have been pushed out, and takes advantage of the split within the factions to come to power. Since single parties must either suppress or buy off all other interests, they must constantly swerve in policies, and this leads to powerful failures. It must also shock both the theory and the practice of the system, and change the politics from that of a single bloc manipulating power, to multiple competing blocs.

In the United States, one can label the “Jacksonian Revolution,” as it has been called, or “Jacksonian Revolt,” as it is more often called, is an election of this kind. Between Jefferson's victory in 1800, and the election of 1824, the United States descended into being a one party state with the Federalist Party of Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams, withering away, except for the Supreme Court, where John Marshall held sway until his death. Instead of multiple parties, there were multiple factions. While labelled “The Era of Good Feelings” at the time and afterwards, in reality it was anything but, with vicious personal disagreements behind the scenes, and corrupt, raucous “King Caucus” Congress playing kingmaker. It was a time when Speaker of the House of Representatives was considered a launching point for a presidential bid.

At that time, many states appointed their electors to the Presidency by legislature, and many others had various restrictions on voting. Thus in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont there were no popular votes cast, and only 365,833 votes were tallied. This threw the election to the House of Representatives, where, then as now, the provision is that state delegations vote, and then the winner of the delegation of a state gets one vote. Thus large states are at a disadvantage. But interestingly, only three states, Kentucky, New York, and Maryland, had significant splits, and no state would have gone differently had the vote of Jackson, and the crippled William Crawford, been merged.

The result is that Jackson and his supporters careened around the country, campaigning for universal white male suffrage for the Presidency, and in 1828 only Delaware and South Carolina chose electors. Over 1.1 million votes were cast, and John Quincy Adams, the incumbent lost with over 500,000 – more than had been tallied in the 1824 election. It was a revolution at the ballot box, and in a profound manner, in that even though Jackson's Vice-President would win office after him, the anti-Jackson forces would coalesce into the Whig Party, and challenge the Democrats of Jackson for power until the entire apparatus collapse on the road to the Civil War.

The deeper kind of political revolution, however, has been in shorter supply in recent decades. Fundamental shift in policy has occurred, as with the elections of Thatcher, then Reagan, then Helmut Kohl to lead major Western democracies, however, it is difficult to point to a single clear case in the West of an ordinary election decided on fundamental alteration of the social contract, leading to direct change, in the last generation.

Instead elections, as with Poland, have been ratifications of a different kind of revolution, that of the popular revolution. Where the political revolution rests on an election being the coup, the popular revolution rests on a series of mass actions: strikes, demonstrations, non-cooperation, and visible support, to press power to the bargaining table.

Thus confirmation of a political revolution often requires some time to mature, power is taken, but the new powers do not have complete access to the levers of power, and often, do not want to disturb the checks and balances. Hence many political revolutionaries eventually turn to the plebiscite, an appeal to change the constitutional order.



Next Popular Revolution, Popular Uprising and Social Revolution, Violent Revolution, Civil War