Revolutionary wave

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A revolutionary wave or revolutionary decade is a series of revolutions occurring in various locations within a similar time span. In many cases, past revolutions and revolutionary waves have inspired current ones, or an initial revolution has inspired other concurrent "affiliate revolutions" with similar aims. [1] [2] The causes of revolutionary waves have been studied by historians and political philosophers, including Robert Roswell Palmer, Crane Brinton, Hannah Arendt, Eric Hoffer, and Jacques Godechot. [3]

Revolution fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time

In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression or political incompetence. In book V of the Politics, the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described two types of political revolution:

  1. Complete change from one constitution to another
  2. Modification of an existing constitution.

Robert Roswell Palmer, commonly known as R. R. Palmer, was a distinguished American historian at Princeton and Yale universities, who specialized in eighteenth-century France. His most influential work of scholarship, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800, examined an age of democratic revolution that swept the Atlantic civilization between 1760 and 1800. He was awarded the Bancroft Prize in History for the first volume. Palmer also achieved distinction as a history text writer.

Clarence Crane Brinton was an American historian of France, as well as an historian of ideas. His most famous work, The Anatomy of Revolution (1938) likened the dynamics of revolutionary movements to the progress of fever.


Marxists see revolutionary waves as evidence that a world revolution is possible. For Rosa Luxemburg, "The most precious thing… in the sharp ebb and flow of the revolutionary waves is the proletariat's spiritual growth. The advance, by leaps and bounds, of the intellectual stature of the proletariat affords an inviolable guarantee of its further progress in the inevitable economic and political struggles ahead." [4]

Marxism economic and sociopolitical worldview based on the works of Karl Marx

Marxism is a theory and method of working-class self-emancipation. As a theory, it relies on a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

World revolution Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries

World revolution is the Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries through the conscious revolutionary action of the organized working class. These revolutions would not necessarily occur simultaneously, but where and when local conditions allowed a revolutionary party to successfully replace bourgeois ownership and rule, and install a workers' state based on social ownership of the means of production. In most Marxist schools, such as Trotskyism, the essentially international character of the class struggle and the necessity of global scope are critical elements and a chief explanation of the failure of socialism in one country.

Rosa Luxemburg Polish Marxist theorist, socialist philosopher, and revolutionary

Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist and revolutionary socialist who became a naturalized German citizen at the age of 28. Successively, she was a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

The phrase "revolutionary wave" has also been used by non-Marxist writers and activists, including Justin Raimondo and Michael Lind, to describe discrete revolutions happening within a short time span. [5] [6]

Justin Raimondo American activist

Justin Raimondo is an American author and the editorial director of He describes himself as a "conservative-paleo-libertarian."

Michael Lind American journalist

Michael Lind is an American writer.


Mark N. Katz [7] identified six forms of revolution;

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, United States. He researches and teaches classes about Russian politics and foreign policy, revolution, and the "War on Terror."

These categories are not mutually exclusive; the Russian revolution of 1917 began with urban revolution to depose the Czar, followed by rural revolution, followed by the Bolshevik coup in November. Katz also cross-classified revolutions as follows;

Central and subordinate revolutions may support each other militarily, as for example the USSR, Cuba, Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and other Marxist regimes did in the 1970s and 1980s. [9]

A further dimension to Katz's typology [10] is that revolutions are either against (anti-monarchy, anti-dictatorial, anti-communist, anti-democratic) or for (pro-fascism, pro-communism, pro-nationalism etc.). In the latter cases, a transition period is often necessary to decide on the direction taken.


There is no consensus on a complete list of revolutionary waves. In particular, scholars disagree on how similar the ideologies of different events should be in order for them to be grouped as part of a single wave, and over what period a wave can be considered to be taking place – for example, Mark N. Katz discussed a "Marxist-Leninist wave" lasting from 1917 to 1991, and a "fascist wave" from 1922 to 1945, but limits an "anti-communist wave" to just the 1989 to 1991 period. [11]

Pre-19th century

Revolutions of 1848 Alexanderplatz Berlin 1848.jpg
Revolutions of 1848

19th century

20th century

Protests against the Vietnam War in Vienna, Austria, 1968 Vietnam War protests in Vienna, Austria (Greyscale).jpg
Protests against the Vietnam War in Vienna, Austria, 1968

21st century

Potential revolutionary waves

Mark Katz theorises that Buddhism (in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indochina, Burma, Tibet) and Confucianism (to replace Marxism in China and promote unity with Chinese in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia) might be the revolutionary waves of the future. In the past, these religions have been passively acquiescent to secular authority; but so was Islam, until recently. [21]

Katz also suggests that nationalisms such as Pan-Turanianism (in Turkey, Central Asia, Xinjiang, parts of Russia), 'Pan-native Americanism' (in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay) and Pan-Slavism (in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus) could also form revolutionary waves. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

Marxism–Leninism political ideology

In political science, Marxism–Leninism was the official state ideology of the Soviet Union (USSR), of the parties of the Communist International, after Bolshevisation; and is the ideology of Stalinist political parties. As revolutionary politics, the purpose of Marxism–Leninism is the transformation of a capitalist state into a socialist state, by way of two-stage revolution, which is led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries, drawn from the proletariat. To realise the two-stage transformation of the state, the vanguard party establishes the dictatorship of the proletariat, which determines policy through democratic centralism.

Russian Revolution 20th-century revolution leading to the downfall of the Russian monarchy

The Russian Revolution was a pair of revolutions in Russia in 1917 which dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II and the old regime was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution of February 1917. Alongside it arose grassroots community assemblies which contended for authority. In the second revolution that October, the Provisional Government was toppled and all power was given to the Soviets.

Communist party Political party that promotes communist philosophy and values

In political science, a communist party is a political party that seeks to realize the social and economic goals of Communism through revolution and state policy. The term communist party was popularized by the title of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As a vanguard party, the communist party guides the political education and development of the working class (proletariat); as the ruling party, the communist party exercises power through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin developed the role of the communist party as the revolutionary vanguard, when social democracy in Imperial Russia was divided into ideologically opposed factions, the Bolshevik faction and the Menshevik faction. To be politically effective, Lenin proposed a small vanguard party managed with democratic centralism, which allowed centralized command of a disciplined cadre of professional revolutionaries; once policy was agreed upon, realizing political goals required every Bolshevik's total commitment to the agreed-upon policy.

Maoism Political theory

Maoism, known in China as Mao Zedong Thought, is a communist political theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong, whose followers are known as Maoists. Developed from the 1950s until the Deng Xiaoping reforms in the 1970s, it was widely applied as the guiding political and military ideology of the Communist Party of China and as theory guiding revolutionary movements around the world. A key difference between Maoism and other forms of Marxism–Leninism is that peasants should be the bulwark of the revolutionary energy, led by the working class in China.

Communist International International political organization

The Communist International (Comintern), known also as the Third International (1919–1943), was an international organization that advocated world communism. The Comintern resolved at its Second Congress to "struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state". The Comintern had been preceded by the 1916 dissolution of the Second International.

Tudeh Party of Iran Iranian communist party

The Tudeh Party of Iran is an Iranian communist party. Formed in 1941, with Soleiman Mohsen Eskandari as its head, it had considerable influence in its early years and played an important role during Mohammad Mosaddegh's campaign to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and his term as prime minister. The crackdown that followed the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh is said to have "destroyed" the party, although it continued. The party still exists, but has remained much weaker as a result of its banning in Iran and mass arrests by the Islamic Republic in 1982, as well as the executions of political prisoners in 1988.

Victor Serge Russian revolutionary and writer

Victor Serge, born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, was a Russian revolutionary and writer. Originally an anarchist, he joined the Bolsheviks five months after arriving in Petrograd in January 1919 and later worked for the Comintern as a journalist, editor and translator. He was critical of the Stalinist regime and remained a revolutionary Marxist until his death. He is best remembered for his Memoirs of a Revolutionary and series of seven 'witness-novels' chronicling the lives of revolutionaries of the first half of the 20th century.

Colour revolution Political term associated with democratization

Colour revolution is a term that was widely used by worldwide media to describe various related movements that developed in several countries of the former Soviet Union and the Balkans during the early 2000s. The term has also been applied to a number of revolutions elsewhere, including in the Middle East. Some observers have called the events a revolutionary wave, the origins of which can be traced back to the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines.

History of communism history of the ideologies based in Marxism

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Union of Iranian Communists was an Iran Maoist organization. UIC (S) was formed in 1976 after the alliance of a number of Maoist groups carrying out military actions within Iran. The group prepared an insurrection starting in 1981, but it was dismantled by 1982.

State collapse, breakdown, or downfall is the complete failure of a mode of government within a sovereign state. Sometimes this brings about a failed state, as in Somalia and the final decade of Yugoslavia. More often, there is an immediate process of transition to a new administration, and basic services such as tax collection, defence, police, civil service, and courts are maintained throughout, as in South Africa following the failure of the apartheid system.

Revolutions of 1917–1923

The Revolutions of 1917–1923 were a period of political unrest and revolts around the world inspired by the success of the Russian Revolution and the disorder created by the aftermath of World War I. The uprisings were mainly socialist or anti-colonial in nature and were mostly short-lived, failing to have a long-term impact. Out of all the revolutionary activity of the era, the revolutionary wave of 1917–1923 mainly refers to the unrest caused by World War I in Europe.

Communist revolution Type of revolution

A communist revolution is a proletarian revolution often, but not necessarily inspired by the ideas of Marxism that aims to replace capitalism with communism, typically with socialism as an intermediate stage. The idea that a proletarian revolution is needed is a cornerstone of Marxism; Marxists believe that the workers of the world must unite and free themselves from capitalist oppression to create a world run by and for the working class. Thus, in the Marxist view, proletarian revolutions need to happen in countries all over the world.

Anti-Stalinist left

The anti-Stalinist left comprises various kinds of left-wing politics critical of Joseph Stalin, of Stalinism as a political philosophy, and of the actual system of governance Stalin implemented as dictator of the Soviet Union.

Proletarian internationalism Marxist social class concept

Proletarian internationalism, sometimes referred to as international socialism, is the perception of all communist revolutions as being part of a single global class struggle rather than separate localized events. It is based on the theory that capitalism is a world-system and therefore the working classes of all nations must act in concert if they are to replace it with communism. Proponents of proletarian internationalism often argued that the objectives of a given revolution should be global rather than local in scope—for example, triggering or perpetuating revolutions elsewhere.

Far-left politics in the United Kingdom

Far-left politics in the United Kingdom have existed since at least the late 19th century, with the formation of various organisations following ideologies such as revolutionary socialism, anarchism and syndicalism. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution and developments in international Marxism, new organisations advocated ideologies such as Marxist-Leninism, Left Communism and Trotskyism. Following the 1949 Chinese Revolution, further international developments from the 1960s led to the emergence of Maoist groups. Political schisms within these tendencies created a large number of new political organisations, particularly from the 1960s to the 1990s.


  1. Mark N. Katz, Revolution and Revolutionary Waves, Palgrave Macmillan (October 1, 1999)
  2. Nader Sohrabi, Revolution and Constitutionalism in the Ottoman Empire and Iran, Cambridge University Press, 2011 pp. 74, 83, 87, 90, 94, 96, ISBN   0-521-19829-1, ISBN   978-0-521-19829-5
    • Colin J. Beck, Dissertation submitted to Stanford University Department of Sociology graduate Ph.D program, March 2009, "Ideological roots of waves of revolution," ProQuest, 2009, pp. 1-5, ISBN   1-109-07655-X, 9781109076554.
    • Note: Colin J. Beck also wrote The Ideological Roots of Waves of Revolution, BiblioBazaar, 2011, ISBN   1-243-60856-0, 9781243608567
  3. Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), quoted in Tony Cliff, "Rosa Luxemburg, 1905 and the classic account of the mass strike" in "Patterns of mass strike", International Socialism, vol. 2, no. 29 (Summer 1985), pp. 3-61.
  4. Justin Raimondo, The Revolutionary Wave: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen – is the West next?,, January 28, 2011.
  5. 1 2 Michael Lind, Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict, Simon and Schuster, 2002 p 37 ISBN   0-684-87027-4, ISBN   978-0-684-87027-4
  6. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p4
  7. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p13
  8. Mark Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p 86
  9. Mark N Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p12
  10. 1 2 3 4 Mark N. Katz , "Cycles, waves and diffusion", in: Jack A. Goldstone, The Encyclopedia of Political Revolutions, pp. 126-127
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Colin A. Beck, "The World-Cultural Origins of Revolutionary Waves: Five Centuries of European Contention", Social Science History, vol.35, no.2, pp.167-207
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilson, "What Makes a Revolution?", Ceasefire, 30 September 2014
  13. 1 2 Mark Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p 22
  14. Michael M. Seidman, The Imaginary Revolution: Parisian Students and Workers in 1968
  15. the term was first used circa 1932 and has greatly increased in use since 1980 according to Google ngram
  16. Christian Right Wikipedia article
  17. all founding dates from relevant Wikipedia articles
  18. Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, IB Tauris, 2000, chapter one
  19. Mark Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, chapter 4
  20. Mark Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p 138
  21. Mark Katz, Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves, St Martin's Press, 1997, p 139