On my first day as a Davidson student, the other Humanities students and I were thrown on a bus and taken into to the Black Mountain Center to attend an orientation. My first memory from this experience was being given a free t-shirt with the word Revolution sprawled across the front, once right side up and once inverted upside down. As a very nervous first year student with other things on my mind I didn’t take any note of the design of the shirt. Nearly 8 months later this t-shirt design is going to help me and act as a metaphor for what Revolution is.
Revolution, to me, is a change in how the public views an aspect of the status quo, that can be traced to a movement with a set of ideals. A revolution is a movement that forces the public to abandon or view the status quo in a completely different way than they did before the revolution. This relates to the t-shirt design above, because in my metaphor the right side up is the status quo and second upside down Revolution is the resulting public view after a revolution. Furthering this metaphor the previously innocuous letters “evol” when flipped spell “love”. However, I know my definition of Revolution is broad at the moment so according to Dr. Robb’s definition primer I am going to add some necessary qualifiers that must occur for it to fit the definition of Revolution. However, I still want my definition to capture the full scope of scientific, political, and artistic revolutions.
The change must become widely accepted or influence the works of others. My definition portrays a revolution as a changing societal lens and for that to be true the event must be accepted by a majority of the population. The event or movement must be something that alters how a significant part of the effect population view an aspect of everyday life. For example, in Unit 1 we read the “Second Treatise of Government” by John Locke. Locke’s theories about the consent of the governed and absurdity of divine right became accepted throughout Europe and other parts of the world. This demonstrates his theories had an impact on a previously held social norms. Before his writings, no one questioned the legitimacy of divine right. Locke was able to change public view and create change in the this aspect of society. Additionally, his work inspired fellow writers of Voltaire and Rousseau to build off his ideas. Additionally, in Unit 8 we explored the revolutionary group RAF. In the view of history the RAF is labeled as both a terrorist group and a group of revolutionaries. How can a group be labeled both? The RAF fought against what they saw as the prevalence of former Nazi officers in the current West Germany government. And while the majority of the population didn’t condone their violent actions, their actions forced the German population to acknowledge their beliefs. Most RAF members were jailed for terrorism but however today the ideals they fought for still exist and leader such as Meinhof are treated as martyrs.
The action/theory etc. needs to have the purpose of creating change. Must be purposeful/intentional. In Unit 2, during the first plenary Prof. Thompson talked about the changing conceptual schemes from geocentric to heliocentric model. Copernicus created the heliocentric model because he felt that it didn’t accurately match up to movements he was seeing in the sky. In Unit 3, we saw the example of the Hutus who intended to create a Hutu Pure country. The government spread propaganda expanding upon historical narratives of class differences between Hutus and Tutsi. 800,000 Tutsi aren’t slaughtered in the span of a little under a 100 days if there isn’t the intent to inflict change. As a reading through the Revolution Edition of Laphams Quarterly I stumbled across some quotations from Mao Zedong on what a revolution is. Zedong claimed, “This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom doesn’t reach, the dust will not vanish.” Zedong was part of the revolution that overthrew the dynasty system in China and put into place the People’s Republic of China. He claims that revolution is created by forcible action by a movement. He claims that when the people don’t take action the “dust will not vanish”.
However does this mean violence is a necessary aspect of revolution? In many of the revolutions, we have examined throughout this course the element of violence has been prevalent. In fact in another quote from Zedong says, “But war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.” Zedong is clear that he believes an essential element of revolution is violence. He uses the irony that to abolish war, you have “take up the gun.” However, is Zedong correct? In my definition, I will leave out the element of violence because according to Dr. Robb’s definition primer adding this stipulation excludes any nonviolent uprising that meet all the rest of my qualifiers. An example that would be excluded is the abstract revolution within art that we discussed in Unit 6. Artistic such as Jackson Pollack and Joan Mitchell purposefully but nonviolently broke from artistic realism. They began to paint to portray how they view reality not how it actually appears. Given the fact that violence is not prevalent in every revolution, a more common thread throughout all revolution is intent.
The status-quo must be resistant to the change. A revolution doesn’t take place if the status-quo easily concedes to the changes desired by a movement. People who benefit from the status-quo are not going to easily relinquish power. Examples of the stubbornness of the status quo are evident throughout the Humanities curriculum. For instance, perhaps the most resistance is the white population in America. For centuries, since the beginning of the slave trade, whites have benefited off the labor and oppression of African Americans. In Unit 4, Dr. Wills demonstrated that leaders like Martin Luther King sought to use nonviolent protest to begin to chip away at the superiority complex of white America after years of oppressing African Americans. Another example is from Unit 7 and the successful Bolshevik Revolution. In 1917, the Bolsheviks rose up against the Tsar status quo and successfully established a new communist government. When Joseph Stalin took over he unleashed a Great Terror throughout the USSR. He arrested anyway he believed to be associated with the previous Tsar elitist class. Through he use of power to kill or send away any of his opponents we can see how those in power are always resistant to change.
The change doesn’t need to be immediate. This is where my definition may slightly vary from others. Revolution is a changing of the perception or interpretation of something within society, this means that the change can be gradual as long as the effects can be traced by that event. For, example in Unit 2 the heliocentric conceptual scheme as defined by Copernicus was not widely accepted until he was backed up by the observations and analysis by Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Additionally, in Unit 4 the nonviolent protest of the civil rights moment still to this day haven’t completely altered the way all of the American public views African Americans and their inherent rights. However, bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and marches all worked because they forced the American public to view blacks within a lens they had never used before…. as equals. As people just like them fighting for a cause.
I believe that my definition along with its qualifiers are the common threads between the revolutions that we have explored in this class. However, these are only the threads that I have perceived through my experience. In an dance performance of Black Girl Linguistic Play, the main actor, Camille A. Brown, when asked what the meaning of her dance, she always posed the same question, “what do you think?” As I seen throughout this course, revolutions take many different forms and only historians get the final say on what is called a revolution or not. And if I have learned anything from this Humanities class, history is not always as black and white as the archive makes it appear.