Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Field Guide To Revolution - IV

Violent Revolution: Uprising, Civil War and Wars of Independence

Violent revolution involves the use of force directly against civilians who are not functionaries of government, and the deployment of force against force in conflict not associated with demonstration. The battle is the demonstration. The dividing line is seldom unclear for long, when the signs are swept away, and there is melee, popular revolution has disintegrated into civil war, or an attempted coup has collapsed in its attempt to deliver a short sharp blow, and has become a war.

There are, however, two distinct families of violent revolution: uprising, and war. An uprising uses violence to grease the wheels of change, and in this resembles a series of micro-coups. In this form of revolution, low level functionaries and front line enforces of the regime are targeted: police officers, judges, tax collectors, customs officials, and all of the other people who stand in the way of the rebels view of what should be their free activity or rightful property.

Within the kinds of wars of revolution, there are three further types: one is the war of independence, when one body of forces are arrayed against another body which is directed from outside of the political unit, the second is the conflict for control of the same government, and the third is a war of liberation, which has elements both of a war of independence, in that the opposition becomes constructed as an occupier and as foreign, and of a civil war, in that it is fought by brother against brother, carrying with it the exacting horror of internecine, as well as intestine, conflict.

There are many demonstrations, but few popular revolutions, there are many coups, but few lead to revolution. But, almost unavoidably civil war brings with it a new order. Unlike the word revolution, which is of Renaissance provenance, the term civil war is from antiquity. While the distinction between a civil war, and all of the other internal conflicts grows murky in many circumstances, it's intrinsic quality, that there are two sources of sovevereignty, allows it to be distinguished from wars of succession.

Violent revolution then is complex, because once invoked, violent forces shape more than they are shaped. This comes from the nature of violence, and especially of extended violence. The new order must come to terms with the reality of logistics even before it has the mandate and power to formally levy taxes, create courts, pass general laws, and in other senses act as a state. It becomes a state in flight, rather than coming to both the burdens and powers of a state only after it has disposed of the old state.


An uprising is a revolution that proceeds by the violent replacement of the front line functionaries of the old order with new ones. The classic example is the 1774-76 period in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where tar and feathering, murder, beatings, and threats, were used to chase out the magistrates of the royal government, and install instead local officials. The uprising resembles, and sometimes begins as, a popular revolution, it also is in constant threat of sliding into more generalized violence, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, and civil war. However, its original aims are generally more limited: to supplant the hierarchy, often without supplanting the actual order, it is a struggle of people.

Where is the dividing line? Again, the question is whether the forces pursuing change are able to invert the flow of power by uprising alone. If they are not, then the revolution was an uprising, even if it must pursue civil war to maintain power. The relatively few revolutions which require more than a coup, but less than a civil war, shows how small the odds of disposing of abusive officials violently, without also having to dipose of those who appoint them, and the means of their appointment. No state can long stand if it allows a consistent pattern of removing its apparatchiks, even if, from time to time, it allows signature individuals to be removed without harsh repercussions.

The other reality of uprising is that it exposes weakening in the ruling order, and hence opportunity for either a coup, or a popular revolution. One thing, as they say, leads to another. Uprising, then, because it is to a great extent a temporary solution, is anarchic. It is difficult to have a society other than a criminal one, where the normal means of succession to a post is by violence, hence, violent uprising is self-limiting, until it proposes an orer to supplant the old one, it's future is limited. Uprisings are frequent features in dictatorial or despotic systems, where there is no other means of removing officers, nobles, or officials, and a frequent pattern before a war of independence has taken on coherent political form.

However, uprisings frequently lead to a de facto state of independence, with areas where the government's writ ceases to function. This is associated with long running guerilla movements, and with failed states, and is a feature of ongoing civil war. Localized uprisings against existing arrangements are seen in American history in the early 19th century, two of the most prominent examples are the Anti-Rent Wars, in upstate New York against old grants of rents, and Bleeding Kansas, including the activities of John Brown.

Uprisings then, are like micro-revolutions, or localized revolutions, where there is an adherence to the protection afforded by the national unit, or the belief that the national unit provides no such protection worthy of mention, but without a larger sense of state formation. This makes it more frequent in places and times where the state is dysfunctional.

One type of uprising in the last half of the 20th century, is exemplified by the Maoist uprising, where the removal of state control over a locality by making it too expensive or difficult to maintain control. This includes the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, the Nepal Civil War, and non-maoist examples of drug based insurrections. The uprising then, often rests on their being a subsistence or single commodity export economy – blood diamonds, drugs, high value minerals such as gold, which would in due course, be taxed or coöpted by the state, or by those with favors from it.

Hence, peasant uprisings, slave rebellions, and other forms of rebellion are common, but their acting as the blow that creates a revolution, is far rarer. Indeed, the record of the last generation has been the reverse: that violent separatist movements must either turn to seeking a more explicit political or military mandate, or be defeated, as the Irish Republican Army, the ETA guerillas from the Basque region, and the end of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka demonstrate.

The war of independence is distinguished by the expression of, or creation of, a national division between those taking up arms and those directing the state order. Often, very often, there are nationals on both sides. What is, in English, called the Sepoy Rebellion, or the Indian Rebellion, was a series of uprisings and wars of independence. Many Anglo-English speakers have come to refer to this 1857-58 conflict as the “First War of Indian Independence.” While neither term is wholly accurate, the term War of Independence is far more accurate, than the diminutive idea of rebellion. In fact, as is often the case, there were two revolutions in collision: the old order had fallen, and even though the armed rebellion did not cast off the yoke of British colonialism, that yoke was only maintained by federalizing the political structure and creating the Raj, converting it into an imperial administration.

Wars of independence have come in waves, including recently the collapse of 19th century imperialism in Asia and Africa. The post-colonial collapse of European empires in the wake of World War II provides a vast array of examples of the variety of violent revolution. Notably, how long the violence can go on. In the Sudan, the co-dominion agreement between Egyp and the United Kingdom was to grant independence to the entire administrative unit of the Sudan, which contained a primarily Islamic northern area, and a Christian and Animist south, tensions over the decision began even before independence on 1 January 1956, and a guerrilla movement took root in the early 1950's in the south and it boiled over into rebellion in the defense forces in 1955. Even with the suppression of overt mutiny this denied the regime in Khartoum control over the south. This continued for years with the “Anyanya” army gradually coalescing out of resistance of former army officers, and new recruits from civilians in Southern Sudan: uprising, had become civil war, as the guerrilla army took the field and began overtly contesting control of the South. This phase continued until what amounted to an armistice in 1972. When fighting began again in the 1980's it metastasized through the entire country, a war of separation, had become a civil war. The entire conflict ended only with a peace agreement in 2005, and a vote on independence for the south in 2011. However, it is unclear whether even this will be enough.

Thus in one country a war of independence spawned an uprising, then a war of separation, then a civil war, and the process continued over the course of over 65 years.

Such long periods of conflict are not abnormal historically. One of the first modern examples of a war of independence is the Eighty Years War between the Dutch and their Spanish Hapsburg overlords, which began in 1568 and was only concluded as part of the larger European peace in 1648.

The view of the war of separation, independence, or revolution of same as a long process, stands in contrast to the image of such wars as short, decisive and heroic. The older view was cast, to no small extent, by the American Revolution, and by the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the New World, as well as by a particular reading of how Europe was reconstructed along nationalist lines in the late 19th century, and in spasms at the end of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.

This heroic narrative de-emphasizes the long periods of armed instability, and emphasizes the rapidity that once a rebellion reaches political and military organization often achieves its ends, while the contemporary view emphasizes the long disruption of ordinary life that is involved.

This leads to an important division between theorist of revolution from the early modern period, and contemporary social organization.

The modern state arose out of the need to create centralized capital, and its ability to wage war was from the ability to rapidly raise and mobilize manpower. This stood in sharp contrast to the highly craft and practiced armies of the late feudal period: the base of their power came from shock cavalry and massed bowyers, both of which took years to produce. The new army that rose out of what is now called a “military revolution” was based on rapid to train, equip and raise forces, first of “pike and shot” which took large squares of men and waddled them across a battlefield, and cavalry that shot and sword, rather than lance, armed. This in turn was dramatically altered by the introduction of faster firing arms, culminating with the flintlock.

This mobilization army then led to a mobilization theory, not just of armies, but of politics. The democratic election is a demonstration of mobilization: to raise an army of voters on a given day, directed to a single purpose. Mobilization theory then can be said to rest in the idea that a mandate is not merely counting of supporters, but the ability to activate them to an end. Hence mobilization equipped theorists, such as Crane Brinton, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Jefferson, and even Edmund Burke, radically disagreed on virtually everything, but agreed on the central point that small armed groups of violence were unable to produce change.

In distinction to this were the theorists of the Vanguardism as revolution. These were almost never democratically inclined, but instead argued that only a minority could produce the necessary change in to propel a state or nation into the future. The premire example of this is Che Guevara. Marx and Lenin had both stated the need for a vanguard party, as had Adolph Hilter. However, the difference between a mobilizationist view, and the vanguard view, is seen in the contrast between Lenin, and Hitler. For Hilter, and for others, the mass will never be conscious or capable of leadership, whether for intellectual, religious, or racial reasons. This idea is not without precedent in antiquity, Plato's Republic is ruled by philosophers who are by their nature different from those that they rule for and over.

The mobilization view in the post-war era has given way to the consumer theory. In the consumer theory it is not the creation of capital that supports a military, in a model made explicit by mercantilism and then as capitalist ideas of Smith, but that the support of capital by demand represents the state itself.

In the mobilization view, previous struggles represent a backdrop, origin, or source to the final flexing of mobilization, in the consumerist view, these disruptions of the ordinary course of life are a continuous deprivation, and represent the failure of both the established order and its counter-orders to create the conditions of stability. This shift in view, from heroic mobilization in the face of crisis, to the belief that stability represents the normative moment, also attends a shift in what is seen as the model of revolution. For the mobilizationist view, armed revolution is revolution. Of the four examples in Brinton's The Anatomy of a Revolution all are armed struggles of the most violent kind: the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution.

The consumerist view in fact has more in common with the “whig” narrative of revolution espoused by Burke: that revolution was an upwelling of propertied and generally privileged people against abuses of the central state, not in the creation of a new kind of order, as he famously declared in the Reflections on the Revolution in France, the wild air is a short phase which should settle out. The consumerist view then makes the popular revolution its central model: it is the expression of the consumers of government against the producers of government, not a mobilization of a popular will.

Thus the mobilizationist took demonstrations, protests, and other expressions of popular discontent as either a warning for reform, or as a prelude to violence, and presented political revolution as the prescription to avoid the disease. The consumerist sees popular revolution as a more democratic moment than an election. The conflict between these two views is on display even today.

As examples have shown failed surgical violence often is the spark for popular action: either because it is the last visible act of the older order failing to resolve itself, or because it is the last act of the old order attempting to prevent a process of revolution. Beyond such narrowly focused ranges lies the long slog of civil war, which often only resolves after decades.

How to distinguish between the long phases of uprising, and the almost always shorter periods of civil war? The answers lies in the difference between guerrilla activity, where opponents of the regime do not take the field, do not tend to wear uniforms, do not answer to a central command or authority on coordination of activities, and do not hold territory. A good example is how the American Revolution's character with the election of George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, followed shortly by the Battle of Bunker Hill, about which it is de rigeur to note that the main part of the battle occurred on Breed's Hill. On 17 April 1775, what had been an uprising, was shown to be a war of independence.

In recent years, as one would expect, civil war as the edge of revolution has been less successful than popular revolutions, the signature examples of such revolution are in Yugoslavia, the Congo and the Lakes Region in Africa, Chechenya, and Eritrea and the Sudan. These examples are often filled with crimes against humanity: massacre of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands - mass atrocities including organized rape of targeted populations. The long disruption leads to warlordism, and progressive failure to develop. In this, the power of a world in the lock of a centralized resource flow, particularly oil, and a centralized capital and capital knowledge flow, the possibilities for local development without access to external capital are far smaller than they were in the early 19th century, when charcoal, iron, and other fundamental resources were in sufficient supply in a far wider range of places, thus allowing for the sinews of the basic industrialized mass mobilization war.

Or to put it another way, there are few places in the world, where one cannot build a musket or breach loading rifle, but few places in the world where one can build an advanced micro-electronic device, to power a modern aircraft or tank, with oil. Hence the long death struggle nature of civil wars in the Post World War II period: the ability to import weapons sufficient to cause disruption is easy: the world is awash in automatic weapons, but it is far harder to lay hands on air power.

The recent civil war in Libya provides an instructive example: infantry to infantry, the rebels were able to master, and defeat, the forces of the regime consistently, however, without outside air support, the regime was able to contain, and then push back the rebels. Tanks and helicopters are the great regime levers that crush dissent, but they have much lesser utility in controlling minds, and hence are able to burn revolt back to the uprising stage, but not below it, while the rebels, armed with modern means of production and dissemination of information, including internal combustion engines, phones, and faxes, have a difficult time overwhelming military weaponry with paramilitary means, even though they are able to produce the presence of a new state in the minds of their adherents.

This is a point that will rise again when reaching the effect of digital inter networking in the second division of this field guide.