Friday, November 02, 2018

Furthermore: Rebellion Vs. Revolution

Yeah, I'm still thinking about the second Daisey monologue on A People's History of the United States, though I'm going further afield as a result. Good theatere does this to me - it gets me going onto other things.

So here's the question: How does a revolution succeed? At what point does it stop being a bunch of angry people in the streets or the provinces and becomes a viable, hopeful, winnable conflict? Is there a pivot point that, looking back, it becomes obvious that it was all downhill from there for the powers who are about to be overthrown.

In Mieville's October, he describes a scene that fits that narrative. Protesters are moving in a mob down the street. The Cossacks are ordered to block the street by their (elite, noble) superiors. The Cossacks, the heavy leg-breakers of the Tsars, ride forward to block the street. And stop right there, making no move to attack. The protesters pick their way among the horsemen, unimpeded, and continue their march.

The Cossacks switched sides in that moment. They had had enough of their imperial masters, and while maintaining the letter of their orders but not its spirit, abandoned their traditional loyalty. In Mieville's narrative, it was all downhill from there. Entire units of the Russian Army were now switching sides, and the navy weighed in with the Revolutionaries. The local fortresses, the bastions of the establishment, were suddenly in the hands of the people. The Tsar left town (and in doing so, left the narrative).

Same goes for the French Revolution with the well known Storming of the Bastille, though I suppose a good case could be made for the capture of the Hotel De Invalides earlier. The Hotel, lightly defended, was being used as an armory, though a lot of the gunpowder had been earlier moved to the Bastille itself. The Hotel fell easily, and the crowd pressed on to the Bastille. What followed was miscommunication that turned into an assault, and the commander of the Bastille surrendered when he felt he could not hold out or expect support from other units.

Yes, the Bastille was used as a prison and was a symbol of tyranny, but at the time of the attack, there were all of seven prisoners there. The rebels were after the gunpowder. The mob got the advanced technology. And it feels that after that, it was over and done.

But then there was the American Revolution, the revolution that Daisey/Zinn doubts was a really a revolution in the traditional sense. And I can't point at a single similar point where, afterwards you could say - AHAH, after this, it was all over but the shooting. Bunker and Breed's Hills were early. Maybe Valley Forge, but only in the fact that Washington was playing rope-a-dope with the British- the Brits kept winning battles, but only by losing resources that could not easily be replaced. Yorktown was the final curtain, when an exhausted Cornwallis, suffering several days of shelling from French ships, surrendered and put our narrative period on the war itself.

At Yorktown, a British band played "The World Turned Upside Down". It is a pretty innocuous piece, notable more for its ironic title than its content. Perhaps a better song title would have been "The World Has Just Changed Hands".

Anyway, just some ongoing thoughts.

More later,