Trevor Stone (flwyd) wrote,
Trevor Stone

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Disaster is the Catalyst of a Revolution

The relationship between disaster and revolution has seldom been explored, though it crops up throughout the history of revolutions. Catastrophic weather across France in the summer of 1788 brought on the crop failures and bad harvests that led to the rising bread prices, shortages, and hunger that played a major role in triggering the French Revolution the following year. The 1870–71 siege and occupation of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War brought on the sense of daring and solidarity that made possible the Paris Commune—several weeks of insurrectionary self-government Kropotkin and anarchists everywhere have cherished ever since. Belli spoke of Nicaraguans feeling after the earthquake that since they could lose their life, they wanted to make it means something, even if that involved risks. Disaster and crisis can stiffen resolve… Sometimes they work by making a bad situation worse to the point of intolerability; they create a breaking point. Sometimes they do so by making obvious an injustice or agenda that was opaque before. Sometimes they do so by generating the circumstances in which people discover each other and thereby a sense of civil society and collective power. But there is no formula; there are no certainties. Leftists of a certain era liked to believe that the intensification of suffering produced revolution and was therefore to be desired or even encouraged; no such reliable formula ties social change to disaster or other suffering; calamities are at best openings through which a people may take power—or may lose the contest and be further subjugated.

— Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster

Although I've been making slow progress (distracted by 2020!), A Paradise Built in Hell was an excellent book choice for 2020.

I've also been listening to Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast for the last several years, too[1]. I've noticed a theme that what history knows as the big moments that made a revolution seem inevitable were often a surprise or a minor event at the time. When the social order sits atop a rotten and rickety structure, it's anyone's guess what will happen when a piece of that edifice gives way.

[1] The series will end after the 1917 Russian revolution and it's currently taking a break after the 1905 Russian revolution, so if you start binging now, the last episode should be available by the time you're ready to listen.

This entry was originally posted at – comment over there.

Tags: book, disaster, podcast, revolution
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