Do Revolutions Create Good Governments?

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Much has been written, voiced, and tweeted in eager support of the revolution that took place in Tunisia, and the movements currently fomenting in Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, and even Yemen. The prospect of democracy in places where it has been denied is undeniably exciting. But one only needs to look at revolutionary movements of the past to understand that they don't always lead to favorable or their purported outcomes. In fact, there's a long and varied history of revolutions in the world producing leaders equally if not more repressive than those they deposed, creating governments no more democratic than whatever was in place before. See the cases of Mao in China, Castro in Cuba, or Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in France.

Often the new rulers end up inciting a few violent uprisings of their own in the classic case of revolution-turned-regime. Thus, a few observers are urging caution. You shouldn't always "favor people in the streets," says Nicholas Thompson at the New Yorker, linking to a David Remnick article that notes that Lenin himself came to power by dissolving a democratically-elected government. Technology can help both sides, he says, and Twitter support isn't everything:

The other thing to worry, or at least wonder, about is how revolutions inspired by the Internet will change their countries. Movements that center around [Twitter] hashtags often don’t center around leaders. Who is the Václav Havel of Tunisia? Headless movements have advantages: are the charismatic people who are best at leading protests really the people you want to lead your country after the government changes? But they also have disadvantages: if a government falls, who, then, will run it?

Leslie H. Gelb brings up Russia's example as well at The Daily Beast. "In rotten regimes that fall to street mobs, the historical pattern has been moderates followed by new dictators," he says. "Just remember the model of the Bolsheviks, a tiny group of extremely well-organized communists, wresting control away from the great majority of discontented and disorganized Russians in 1917."

The message: it doesn't matter if the revolution will be televised, g-chatted, or tweeted--it matters what the long term results will be.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.