The delusions of revolutionary violence

The delusions of revolutionary violence
Comment: Revolutionary violence does not guarantee the achievement of revolutionary objectives, especially with the existence of other pathways to change, writes Khalil al-Anani.
3 min read
09 Sep, 2015
There is a difference between arming a revolution and revolutionising a society, writes Anani [Anadolu]

Some argue that revolutions are not successful without the use of violence, or that confronting repressive and authoritarian regimes cannot be done without resorting to arms and imposing a new reality.

Those people cite examples where revolutionary violence was a primary tool in achieving change, such as the case of South Africa, or the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, or the Iranian revolution which employed a degree of violence in its protests against the Shah's regime.

In reality, there isn't a singular explanation to the relationship between the success or failure of a revolution and violence, as it depends on the particular conditions and circumstance of every revolution, according to experts on the subject.

Further, the level and scope of violence and society's ability to deal with it and pay its price also plays a role.

     Political violence is not necessarily revolutionary

Types of violence

Political violence is not necessarily revolutionary, as it might be the result of a struggle for power or control, therefore it is delusional to view every violent action as being in the interest of the revolution or capable of achieving its long term goals.

Resorting to violence when other avenues to change exist could be the death of a revolution - and we've seen how violence had catastrophic consequences in a number of Arab countries over the past few years.

While repression and authoritarian violence comes at a very high price, entering into an open war with repressive regimes does not guarantee the success of revolutions and the achievement of the desired change - as is clear from Libya and Syria.

In Libya for example, the rebel violence after Gaddafi's fall and the inability to reach an agreement on the how to administer the country's transitional period is a principal reason for the Libyan revolution's failure to achieve its objectives - and why many people have been repelled by the revolution.

The same thing happened in Syria, which has been transformed into a civil war even before the ousting of its dictator.


The delusions of revolutionary violence seem clear when people believe that society will rise up at a certain point and decide to join the rebels to get rid of authoritarian regimes, after the regimes reach a point of unbearable economic, social and political failure.

This view reflects a revolutionary and political naivete, as those who hold it do not realise that every segment of society might have political calculations that wholly differ from those of the rebels.

     Syria has been transformed into a civil war even before the ousting of its dictator

The demand for freedom and an end to repression among all of society might not equate to the demand for stability, employment or for things to remain as they are.

In other words, there is a vast difference between arming a revolution and revolutionising a society and mobilising it against repression, corruption and authoritarianism.

Therefore, counter-revolutionary forces in the region have used the violence-stability dichotomy in order to foil the Arab Spring - as stability was and remains the demand of large segments of people across the Arab world, who may want change, but are not willing to pay the price.

Khalil al-Anani is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.