Why join a revolution? This was a question covered extensively by Marcos Perez in his lecture. What he revealed is that joining a revolution isn’t so simple as just wanting “change”. Change is obviously a necessary outcome of a successful revolution, but the causes of revolution are much broader than many might think.
Some revolutions are irrational, carried out for anarchic purposes. Some people might classify the French Revolution as “Anarchic,” as it was done to eliminate the state apparatus. It turned into much more than that, but the roots of this revolution were anarchal in nature. Some revolutions are rational. The 1960’s civil rights movement was carried out with a plan and purpose mind – Non-violent protest with the goal of achieving racial equality. Because of that blueprint, it is easier to judge the success of rational movements.
But why join any revolution – rational or irrational? A cost-benefit analysis would show that joining a revolution hardly pays off most times, and could often lead to imprisonment or death. Also, the revolutionaries aren’t always the ones to profit off of the change they inspired, as the fruits of their labor might come much later. A revolution carried out ‘before its time’ is not really a revolution – it is a squashed attempt at insurrection. Revolutionaries, especially the ‘irrational’ ones, likely don’t weigh the costs and benefits of their actions. Revolutionaries acquire at some point a rabid drive for their respective cause. Revolutionaries look at risks like a man trapped in the Sahara looks at a murky bottle of water – it is a necessary part of their survival, of their identity.
Also important to consider is the very human ‘mob’ mentality of any movement, revolution or otherwise. People generally want to be involved with something bigger than themselves. This runs the gamut from religion to cults to political parties. Once someone is committed to defending a way of life, a specific view, or the merits of a revolution, there is really no convincing that person otherwise.
Some revolutions can even be considered as revolutions to revolutions! An added emphasis on identity politics and the contemporary social movements therein can spur an equal reaction from nationalists. A political revolution establishing a communist regime might be met with an immediate capitalist or democratic reaction in the form of a coup. Are these revolutions, or are they returns to the status quo? Can a revolution move “progress” (and whatever label we give to that) backward?
So, is ‘revolution’ a symptom of a problem in society, or purely the outcome of human nature? That is, are revolutions legitimate in most cases or forced by groups refusing to see otherwise or accept the ‘status quo’? There are multiple examples to fit both definitions. As with almost any social construct, the context of the place and time period and population defines what revolution really is and if it has true merit. Additionally, the reasons for why someone might join a revolution are pliable and need parsing out beyond what can be done in 500 words.