If you follow our news media, it's easy to get the impression that revolutionaries and even protesters are extremists and trouble makers. They're ignorant. They're failures. They're complaining because they're not good enough or hard-working enough to make their own way. Actually, it's not that simple. In fact, "revolutionaries" and protestors seldom start revolutions at all.
George Washington certainly counts as a revolutionary, a real one, and an extremist ( I mean, fighting a war is pretty extreme). But George was a financial success. In fact, he was probably the richest man in the colonies; and he was certainly the largest slave-owner. Despite the Hollywood image of the American revolution, many of the leading American revolutionaries were quite wealthy people. (Nor did they believe all people are created equal. People who believe that don't keep slaves, and give women lesser rights than men.)
In the Guatemalan revolution of the 1950s, the revolutionaries were backed by wealthy Americans who wanted a dictatorship. The same was true of the recent Haitian revolution in which president Aristide was overthrown.
As well, many "revolutions" are sponsored and even organized and equipped by the leaders of other countries. We've seen that in Libya, Egypt, Syria - and we're going to see a lot more of it. And leaders like Blair and Bush and Cameron and Obama are certainly not the poor and the ignorant and the failures in life.
There is another kind of revolution, one that actually comes from the general public. But the people we usually call revolutionaries generally are not the cause of such revolutions.
Leon Trotsky, a leading figure in the Russian revolution of 1917, the founder of the Red Army,later assassinated by Stalin wasn't even in Russia when it began. When he tried to get to Russia to join it, he was stopped and imprisoned next door to Moncton in Amherst, Nova Scotia.
Who knows? He could have stayed there for the whole war, perhaps settling after the war in a nearby city (Moncton springs to mind), and maybe have built a fortune on the oil business. The Rusian revolution would still have happened - just without him.
But the Canadian government let Trotsky out after just a month, and he caught the next boat for Europe.
Trotsky and Lenin were certainly revolutionaries. But they didn't start the Russian revolution. The Tsar and his goverment of aristocrats did that. And that is often the case.
In 1917, Russia was one of the most backward and inefficient countries in the western world. That condition went back long, long before there were any people we would call revolutionaries or even protesters. It went back to centuries of rule by people who had power not by talent, not by general consent, but simply by birth. Your father was Tsar with supreme power over life and death? Then, even if you were hopelessly retarded, brutal and demented you became Tsar with supreme power over life and death.
The people who ran government departments were "chosen" in the same way. Daddy was a minister of state because he was a count? You became a minister of state when you succeeded him as count. Again, no credentials, abilities or work habits were necessary. (One such aristocrat was the last Tsar's minister of education. His name was Ignatieff and, yes, there is a connection.)
For centuries, Russians suffered from the greed and brutality of their ruling classes. But they didn't revolt. The breaking point came when a badly trained and poorly equipped army led by dolts who were officers only because of their social class were slaughtered by an invading German army that was smaller - but better equipped and more intelligently led.
That's what caused the revolution in Russia - excessive power in the hands of people who had power not because of any ability or even usefulness, but only because they inherited it. They had held power all those years largely with brutal punishment of anyone who questioned them (exactly as the communists under Lenin and Stalin would do.)
The cause of the Russian revolution was not the poor or the protestors or "the people" as some communists like to imagine. It was the stupidity, greed and incompetence of the ruling class.
The western world is in just such a revolutionary danger today. Our daily news gives no sense of the extent of social breakdown and suffering. In Greece, the official unemployment rate is 20% - which means it's really at least twice that. Parents are giving up their children because they simply can't feed them. Many can't even feed thsmelves.
Over one and a half million children in the US are homeless, the highest percentage of homeless children in American history. In Britain, the income gap between rich and poor is even worse than it is in the US.
And, yes, we do have a governing aristocratic class. Like the Russian one, it is there largely because daddy was there - and maybe even daddy's daddy before him. Brains and/or hard work have nothing to do with it. They're self-serving, socially inefficient. They rely, as Tsarist Russia did, on constant expansion of secret police. (Did you know know you can end up on a suspect list for being a feminist? An environmentalist? An advocate of organic food? A protester of any sort? Seriously. It's happening now.)
Revolution is not really a very good way to go. The USSR was not what the Russian people had in mind. The dominance of the Communist Party in China has been wonderful for a handful of billionaires. It's been an extended hell for most of the Chinese.
Change through democracy and more equal distribution of wealth would be far better. But, thanks to the ignorance of the pampered brats who are our new aristocracy, that is not likely to happen. Look closely at what is happening in Greece, Spain, Britain, Ireland, the U.S....and even here in Canada.
We are heading into dangerous times. In fact, we're well into them. We're very close to 1917. The threat doesn't come from a young man sitting in a tent though the winter. It comes from well-fed and warm executives sitting in comfortable offices. It doesn't come from a women carrying a sign through the street. It comes from a corrupt and dishonest press that charges you to read its propaganda.
If we're smart, we'll try to bring back real democracy. Of course, that effort will get your name put on a list. Be proud to be on the list.