History’s revolutions have taken on a distinct sha Essay

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pe. Crane Brinton points out this particularpattern inherent to national revolutions in his book Anatomy of a Revolution. Brinton uses a

wheel to describe the common cycle that most revolutions share. Brinton claims that the starting

block of most revolutions is the societal problems brought forth by the “Old Regime”. Brinton

continues his cycle with the isolated and spontaneous events of dissatisfaction that mark the

overthrow of that “Old Regime”. Brinton claims this to be the “first stage of revolution”. The

“rule of the moderates” is next in line according to Brinton as a “honeymoon” develops with the

formation of the new government. This government is however overthrown once again by the

extremists in the “accession of the extremists” phase of the revolution. A coup d’tat is generally

the method used as a new ruler grows in authoritarianism. A loss of individualism ensues in this

“new society” and often a violent and excessive government is formed. The final stage of the

revolution according to Brinton is “the Thermidor”. This final stage is marked by a return to

normalcy under the protection of a “strongman” and a gradual reestablishment of a “society in

equilibrium”. Crane Brinton’s theories concerning revolutions are easily seen when taking a close

look at the English Civil War of the 17th Century, the French Revolution of the 18th Century,

and the Russian Revolution of the 19th Century. By analyzing each revolution according to

Brinton’s method one can come to see the both the similarities and differences of those three

historical European revolutions.

English tumults arose with the death of Elizabeth and the arrival of a new Stuart dynasty

with James I in 1603. When James inherited a nearly bankrupt England he began to tax the

nation without much consent from Parliament fueling anti-absolutist feelings in Parliament for

years to come. When Charles I took on the English throne, the country took to an even more

downward spiral. Problems with Scottish revolts led Charles to request money from Parliament

to pay a standing army. When Parliament refused, Charles obtained as many loyalists and

peasants as he could to squash the revolts. England was in a state of disarray and conflicts

between a parliament bent of ultimate power and kings seeking absolute power were to blame.

France’s Revolution began much the same way as the English. An Old Regime was

ineffective and forced out. The French Estates General had last met in 1614 when Louis XVI

took the throne in the late 18th Century. The national debt was four billion livres. The privileged

(bourgeoisie and nobility) were exempt from many taxes as the peasants were forced to pay a

taille, or direct tax. When Louis XVI’s director of finances Calonne suggested a flat tax on all

landowners, an abolition of internal tariffs, and the confiscation of some church properties, the

Parlements of Paris rejected them. Louis was so frustrated with the state of the economy and the

refusal of the rich to do something about it that he liquidated the Parlements. When Louis needed

money again, the Parlements agreed to provide it if the Estates General was allowed to meet

when Louis refused, violence ensued. However, when Louis did agree to let the Estates General

meet in May of 1789, the bourgeois boycotted leading to a six week deadlock. France’s Old

Regime was very much unable to handle the crisis it faced. French society was in debt, hungry

from famine, and unemployed. Louis was unable to raise the money he wanted, and such was

the case of Charles in England. And much like Charles could do nothing to prevent England from

warring amongst itself, Louis XVI could do nothing to stop the events to follow

With World War I well on its way, the Russian government led by a country gentleman

named Tsar Nicholas II needed better leadership. Nicholas wished to maintain the absolute and

supreme royal power that the Tsar was traditionally given. The Duma, Russia’s lower house, was

a more moderate group that wished to share some of the power. When Nicholas instead relied

on bureaucratic traditions rather than sharing the political power with the Duma, varies political

parties called for a new form of government. Russia was in disarray as Nicholas disband the

Duma proclaiming that he was headed to the front lines to lead his troops. The Old Regime had

already been through a revolution in 1905 and it was on the verge of another as Nicholas

essentially fled the situation leaving his wife Alexandra in charge of a government deep in conflict

as to whether to move to popular involvement or absolute rule. Nicholas was not necessarily in

search of funds like Louis and Charles, but Nicholas was in search for absolute power like

Charles and Louis before him. Much like England and France, the Russian regime had left much

to be desired to the peoples of the country.

Brinton’s pattern serves to show that following the Old Regime begins the “First stage of

Revolution.” England’s first stage of Revolution came in 1629 when Parliament required Charles

to sign the Petition of Right if he wanted any funding. The Petition required Parliament to meet

every three years. It put an end to all imprisonment without just cause, and it also required

Parliamentary consent for the levying of taxes. After signing this agreement, Charles decides to

disband parliament for eleven years. When Parliament is allowed to reconvene in 1640, a “long

Parliament” ensues vetoing everything Charles proposes. A bitter war developed between the

Cavaliers (king’s supporters) and the Roundheads (middle-class, some parliament members, and

many Puritans) in 1642. When the kings forces were defeated, Charles was captured, tried, and

beheaded by the new “Rump Parliament” created out of Thomas Prides purging of Roundhead

opposition in Parliament. The first stages of Revolution were over in England as the Old Regime

had literally lost its head in the matters at hand.

Just as England’s civil war met the pattern of Crane Brinton’s wheel, so did the French

first stages of Revolution. On June 17, 1789 the Third Estate of the French Estates General

declared itself a “National Assembly” and on June 20 they met on a tennis court to draft a

constitution. This new National Assembly assumed full sovereign power claiming no legal

authority. It was proclaimed that whenever members were together, the national assembly was in

existence. Louis’s counter proposals to disband this new assembly were too little to late. Much

like the English, the French eventually turned violent. On July 14 a mob of Paris citizens asked

the Governor to remove cannons from the Bastille. When the Governor refused, the mob

stormed the castle assaulting and killing national officials. Louis implored the National Guard to

protect him from the madness. Louis’s power was gone. The Old Regime had fallen to a revolt

much the same way Charles’s government had fallen. While a civil war was not the case for

France, a peaceful attempt at getting parliament involved did erupt into full scale violence that left

France with out a king.

Russia, extremely similarly to England and France, began with the first stages of

revolution according to Brinton’s wheel. With Nicholas gone to war, Alexandra and her most

trusted advisor Rasputin ruled the government. When rumors spread that Rasputin was having

an affair with Alexandra, three aristocrats murdered Rasputin. Morale went downhill from there.

A great food shortage sparked women to riot for bread in Petrograd. These riots spread to

industrial sights and eventually the rest of the city. Russia was falling apart. Nicholas, still fighting

at the front lines of World War I, sent troops to try and stop the chaos but the troops eventually

joined the revolution. Nicholas had no power. The Duma declared a provisional government on

March 12, 1917 and Nicholas abdicated the throne shortly thereafter. The Russian Revolution

fits quite nicely into Brinton’s anatomy but a little different than England and France did. Small

revolts stemming from hunger and passion sparked much larger ones and the Old Regime quickly

lost all control. Nicholas, Louis, and Charles were, however, all seemingly helpless when the

nation rose against them.

England’s next move follows hand in hand with Brinton’s wheel. A “rule of the

moderates” took hold following Charles’s removal from the throne. In a period known as the

“interregnum” Oliver Cromwell headed up a new Commonwealth and Free State that was to be

the new England. The government was a republic with Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector.

Parliament continued to meet with the greater good in mind. Cromwell introduced a new

constitution was proclaimed the sovereignty of both the legislative and executive branches of

government. This “Instrument of Government” was the first Constitution in Europe since the

Greeks. Things, however, soon changed under Cromwell. In 1653 he dismissed Parliament and

took a dictator role. The rule of moderation was over as the moderate government was

overthrown by a power hungry Puritan.

The French, very much like the British, took on a Rule of the moderate as well. With the

basic disappearance of Louis XVI from the role of king, the new “National Assembly” took

control. The new legislature filled mainly with the bourgeoisie of France issued a Declaration of

the Rights of Man which brought forth ideas such as the rule of law, the equality of citizens, the

sovereignty of the people, and the general rally cry of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It further

allowed for all people to be eligible for public office, for a due process of law, for taxation by

common consent, and for a separation of powers. The ideas expressed in this Declaration were

the collective philosophies of people such as John Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire.

The new assembly further issued a Constitution in 1791 granting voting rights to males over 25 as

well as creating a unicameral legislature and a constitutional monarchy. This new constitution did,

however, favor the middle class as opposed to the peasants. The constitution allowed for

negotiable bonds called “assignants” as well as the selling of all property thus making it difficult for

peasants to obtain land for cheap. The guilds were abolished and replaced with trade unions

which were not allowed to strike. This constitution obviously didn’t solve the problems of the

working class sans culottes nor the peasants of the nation. The next step of the moderate

government took place with “the Convention” which established a republic in France. The radical

Mountain mix of Jacobins and sans culottes stepped to the forefront of the convention. A Paris

Commune then established itself as the Revolutionary Municipal Government usurping the

powers of the National assembly and forcing universal male suffrage.This new radical

movement led to what is now known as the Utopian Phase of the Enlightenment because of the

movement to remove any opposition to the revolution by any means necessary. Things were

getting chaotic in France. Louis XVI was taken hostage and executed despite the Brunswick

Manifesto of 1792 warning that if any harm was done to the royal family, Prussia and Austria

would invade France. With the chaos and war that ensued, the radical Robespierre moved to

the head of the Mountain faction which ruled the Convention. With France in political

unsteadiness, Robespierre took hold as an extreme leader thus moving France further into

Brinton’s wheel of Revolution. Cromwell was to England what Robespierre was to France…the

extreme believer in the cause that stepped forward to take charge of situation turning ugly.

The Provisional Government of Russia served as the moderate power of Brinton’s wheel.

As Lenin had promised the people, Russia became one of the freest countries in the world. The

provisional government established equality before the law, freedom of religion, freedom of

speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to unionize and strike, as well as the many other typical

freedoms associated with liberalism. Social revolution, however, was not a main concern as the

provisional government rejected the idea of dispersing land among peasants due to a great fear

that such dramatic changes in peasants landholding would only disperse the peasant army which

was vital to the war effort. The provisional government instead issued Army Order No. 1 which

gave committees of common soldiers orders to protect the revolution from counter-

revolutionaries. The effort failed as the army went into total chaos. The peasants in the army

then began to return to their farms and began seizing other lands in an agrarian madness. The

country began leaving the control of the moderate hands. With anarchy lurching forward, the

Bolsheviks, or “majority group” led by Trotsky and Lenin took both military and political control.

Trotsky convinced the Petrograd Soviet (the major competition to the provisional government

which was made up of approximately two to three thousand workers, soldiers, and socialist

intellectuals) to form a revolutionary military committee and place him as head. Trotsky then

took his troops to major political buildings and seized members of the provisional government.

Much like France and England, anyone in opposition to the beliefs of the extremists were brought

to death. The congress of soviets which had a Bolshevik majority then declared that all power

lay with the soviets and Lenin was their new leader. The moderate government enjoyed by

Russia was gone. The extremist Lenin had come back from exile to rule a society that needed

order. Lenin rid the country of the “honeymoon” rule much like Cromwell and Robespierre did

to England and France. Armed with socialist ideals and Marx’s book, Lenin led the new Russia

into even more chaos.

The Accession of the Extremists is Brinton proclaims to be the next step in the anatomy

of a revolution, and that is what came to be in England with the dictatorship of Cromwell. A new

society was created based on the Puritan ethics which Cromwell so radically embraced.

Cromwell was as harsh as Charles. He closed all theaters. Placed a curfew on the people, and

banned all dancing and drinking from his country. He was as intolerant of the Anglicans as

Charles was the Puritans. Oliver led a military dictatorship that did no more good than the Old

Regime. The budget was inflated and trade had decreased. A government that had begun in

moderation with an attempt at peace had led to a military dictatorship that England never wanted

to see again. With the death of Cromwell in 1658 England began a new change as turned to

restoring the monarchy it had for so long cherished.

France too went into a period of extremism. As Robespierre took control, a “Reign of

Terror” ensued. Robespierre created a “Committee of Public Safety” headed by two members

of the Convention which were to be re-elected each month. This committee held revolutionary

courts executed nearly 40,000 people the majority of which were peasants and sans culottes.

The Committee proclaimed a national conscription or levee en masse, recruited scientists to work

on armaments and munitions, instituted economic controls, controlled gold export, instituted price

and wage controls, and even confiscated specie and foreign currency from French citizens.

Robespierre furthered his excesses by creating military academies for boys and prohibiting

revolutionary women’s organizations. Robespierre had succeeded in alienating every major

political, social, and economic group in France. His extremists ways had cost thousands of lives

and gotten the country nowhere. Much like Cromwell in England, Robespierre had just angered

everyone. Robespierre, however, had caused much more bloodshed than the Puritan from

England. France was dissatisfied with the political and economic restrictions placed upon them

by an authoritarian government stripping them of their individualism. Robespierre was eventually

outlawed by the Convention, captured, and executed during July of 1794 thus ending the two

year “Reign of Terror” that plagued the French community.

Russian extremism lay with Lenin. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks became an

exclusive group of “provisional workers’ and peasants’ government.” Lenin and his Bolsheviks

promised a Constituent Assembly to create a new constitution for the country. When free

elections held to determine the members of the assembly failed to give the Bolshevik party more

than a quarter of the members, Lenin declared the assembly null and void. With the help of some

military force, Lenin created a government run by one party…his party. A civil war was eminent.

By the summer of 1918 approximately 18 regional governments had been set up to conflict with

the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Lenin and his troops, however, were able to triumph over the

disunited “White” armies. Lenin’s Red Army triumphed because of Trotsky’s newly and strictly

disciplined fighting force as well as the “war communism” set forth by Lenin which took grain

from peasants, nationalized all banking and industry, required every person to work. Lenin also

brought back the secret police known as the Cheka which killed thousands of supposed enemies

to the Red Army. Lenin’s one party government was intent on keeping control at any cost and it

did keep power at an extreme cost. By 1920 drought and war caused between 50 to 90

percent of the population in the seventeen provinces to be in starvation. Lenin’s New Economic

Policy proposed in 1921 was the only saving grace for the Bolshevik leader as the policy created

a grain tax and encouraged peasants to buy as much as possible from private producers. The

economy made a reasonable recovery just before Lenin died in 1924. His extremist policies had,

much like Cromwell and Robespierre, left thousands dead. Violence and war had spread

throughout his rule, and Russia turned to a new, stronger leader to bring some normalcy back to

their lives.

The Thermidor is the final stage in the anatomy of a revolution according to Brinton and

England fits very well into the category. The death of Cromwell left a bitter taste for military

dictators in the mouths of English citizens. The previously exiled Charles II was returned to the

English throne in the Restoration. Charles didn’t want to lessen the power of the monarchy in

England but he did respect the Magna Carta as well as the Petition of Right. Charles respected

the rights of Parliament to do their duty. Charles’s intelligence it letting things get done the way

the majority wished made him a key factor in England’s return to normalcy.Charles created the

“cabal” to act as a sort of cabinet in assisting with decision making. Charles agreed to let

Parliament meet if Parliament agreed to provide sufficient funds, but when Parliament didn’t

provide enough revenue, Charles went to France to seek funds from Louis XVI. Parliament

protested once the secrets of this Treaty of Dover became known, but Charles dissolved

Parliament thus proving that the king still had power in England. An amiable relationship between

king and parliament were also essential in a return to normalcy for England. Charles was “the

thermidor” that England needed to move forward towards the restoration of their sacred

constitutional monarchy.

France’s Thermidor came in the form of Napoleon. Unlike Charles in England,

Napoleon became an absolute dictator following his coup d’etat of the Directory which had been

established after the execution of Robespierre. Napoleon was a military dictator much like

Cromwell except that Napoleon wanted an empire for France. Napoleon created an extremely

efficient dictatorship with religious as well as economic unity. Napoleon claimed Catholicism to

be the national religion but did allow for freedom of religion. He balanced the budget, created

the Bank of France, saw an increase in employment, saw a lowering in food prices, increased

agricultural improvement, standardized weights and measures, built commercial and military road

system, and increased exports. Napoleon created a legal code proclaiming male equality for the

law as well as the abolition of serfdom. Napoleon restored order to what had become a chaotic

society unsure of which government style to turn to. While England went back to its

Constitutional Monarchy, France sought the strong dictator to keep order while also expanding

the empire. Napoleon brought France back from internal ruin while also creating an international


The Thermidor in Russia came in the form of Joseph Stalin. With the death of Lenin in

1924, Stalin allied with enemies of Trotsky (Stalin’s main competition for ruler) to eliminate him

from the spotlight. Stalin succeeded in ridding the country of Trotsky when Trotsky was exiled in

1929. In December of 1927, Stalin had won the support of the party congress when they

declared all “deviation from the general party line” set by Stalin to be wrong. Stalin was then the

supreme dictator of Russia. In 1928, Stalin began a series of what were to be called Five-Year

Plans. These plans were to eliminate capitalism while strengthening heavy industry; creating

power sources from coal, oil, and electricity; and turning out heavy duty farm machinery on a

large scale. The first of the Five-Year plans proved successful in increasing industrial production

as well as the production of electricity and machinery. Collectivization in farming was also

reached at a high cost as the dictatorial rule of Stalin sent troops to those who refused to follow

orders and either forced them into collective farms or kill them. The second and third Five-Year

Plans each concentrated on furthering industrial production and collectivization as natural

resources were further developed and transportation was improved. Stalin also did not want any

opposition in his approach to unification in Russia, and his power was evident in the 1930’s as he

wiped out thousands of those who were felt to be in opposition to his beliefs in what came to be

known as the “Great Purges”. Stalin also approved a new constitution for Russia in 1936 which

allowed for universal male and female suffrage of those over eighteen. Stalin believed that he had

eliminated any opposing forces to his movements through collectivization and thus every citizen

should be able to vote. Stalin was the sole dictator of Russia until his death in 1953 and his

power was not only political but cultural and social. The constitution approved by Stalin

approved freedom of religion as well as anti-religious propaganda despite the Bolshevik

(Communist) parties basic belief that religion was the “opiate of the people”. The Communists

sought to educate the people and did so by building more schools and training more teachers.

Stalin had his own personal influence on the education as well as most were indoctrinated with

ideas that Stalin was a great man and “capitalist” nations were not progressive like the Soviet

Union was. Music, literature, and art were also influenced by Stalin as Composers were

“supposed” to write music to inspire the people, authors were supposed to promote

Communism, and painters were expected to praise Communisms within their works. Stalin was

the strongman Russia needed to return to order. He eliminated the rebelling parties while

stimulating Russian economics, social life, and even culture. Stalin was the dictator to Russia that

Napoleon was to France. A constitutional monarchy was not in the plans of the cunning Stalin.

Brinton’s wheel concerning the anatomy of a revolution can be seen when analyzing the

English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. Each revolution, while

differing in specific events, fits Brinton’s pattern in almost every way. The Old Regimes of

Charles, Louis XVI, and Nicholas II were not enough to keep the countries together. The chaos

of the Petition of Right, the Tennis Court Oath, and the Petrograd bread riots were the first

stages of revolution to sprout forth from these pitiful old regimes. The moderate “honeymoon”

and formation of new governments took the form of the Interregnum in England, the National

Assembly in France, and the Provisional Government in Russia, but once these proved ineffective

the extremists such as Cromwell, Robespierre, and Lenin took hold of each country. These

extremists were violent and excessive for the most part and each left a permanent mark on their

respective country, but each was also replaced with a person who would bring stability back into

the government. Charles II, was that man for England. Napoleon was that man for France, and

Stalin was that man for Russia. The cycle of revolutions that Brinton so thoroughly discusses in

his Anatomy of a Revolution easily fits the dramatic revolutions faced by England, France, and

Russia from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

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