Notion of Revolution in the Historical Context: Part 1

Photo credit: AK
Photo credit: AK

In April this year the military operations along the border of Artsakh and Azerbaijan had some serious consequences. It is logical and natural that after the active military actions, in the different layers of socio-political life the need to solve the emerged problems had become an immediate question, as the existing problems in the social life, because of the military operations, became more than evidential. It would be wrong to say that before the April events some steps had not been taken, though it is undeniable that the military actions, in that sense, accelerated the process. And it is due to the searching for some ways to solve these problems that at least in one layer of the society it is actively circulated the aspect according to which the only way to get out of the created situation is a political revolution.

Here, within the framework of this analysis, we will try to find out what is a political revolution, whether it is a fixed complex with some political processes or variations. If so, during the history how many variations of political revolutions have been till today, their similarities and differences. And we will try to project them to the Armenian reality as briefly as possible and to find out what consequences will have each possible implementation of them, and which one is the most appropriate to the current situation of our country and society.

What is revolution’

The term “revolution” was first used scientifically in the book of Nicholas Copernicus “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (“The rotation of the Heavens spheres”, 1543). In fact, the primary application of it was in the work of natural sciences, not humanitarian, and it was used to point out the circulation of the eternal transformation through which all the heavenly bodies and aerial sectors pass. This means that the term ”revolution” had not been described as a qualitatively creation of a new phenomenon, but quite the opposite, it had been described as a circulation within a predetermined cycle, where the birth of any new thing was originally excluded. Actually, during its initial application it had not had the present role and the scope of meaning. Saying revolution today, as in the socio-political and other fields of human activtiy, be it economic, cultural, social, scientfic, etc., we understand radical and qualitative changes, the transition from one state to a completly new and materially different one from the previous, moreover, in a short period of time and, most often, by using a force.

We made the object of this analysis so-called “revolution” in the socio-political sphere viewing it in the context of space and time. This political process at the conscious level has been standardized and acquired some mandatory properties and indispensable prerequisites. Thus, nowadays the phenomenon of political revolution logically involves such processes, which are required to assume:

  • popularity,
  • the use of violence,
  • the change of social status,
  • the resource allocation processes,
  • dividing lines in society on the economic, political, social, regional, ideological, relgious,
  • during the process, such tools, mechanisms and steps are taken that are not located in the political system and are out of legal limits considered by it as permissible,
  • replacement of the operating power by a new government, which is qualitatively different from the previous one.

In this case a question arises: when and under what circumstances this term has gained its present meaning, whether the political actions always have corresponded to the logic of revolution interpreted today by adopting various names at different times or they have been drown to a historical arena in a specific period and have recieved the classical semantic content.

To find the answer let’s move to the end of the 18th century in France, where in 1789-1794s such epoch-making significance processes had occured, which have left their indelible mark in the further centuries of the history of mankind.

The French model

The vast majority of the experts agree, that the term ”revolution”, with its classical-semantic content, has been generated at these times. However, there is a very important and noteworthy fact: such well-known figures as Robespiere, Danton, Saint-Zhyuste and others, who were in the origins of the French Revolution, at the begining had not had the farthermost ideas about the consequences of the ongoing processess. At the initial stage, the supporters of the French Revolution had not even thought about formulating a demand for the abolition of the old regime. They had stood up for restoring the traditions of old and good times, when they had been reigned by good and righteous kings. They had not thought to dethrone and, moreover, to have the king beheaded. The only thing that they had wanted was a people loving and living with their bothers royal power, which was supposed to ease their burdens. Though, as later Robespiere admitted, revolution began to accelerate with a breakneck speed and took into the vortex its sons. And already 3 years later, those who would not even dare to raise a hand against the king, put under a question the legitimacy of the king and, generally, the origin of a royal power. Such slogans were raised as equality, fraternity, freedom: qualitively new ideas for that period of time, which seriously transformed human consciousness during and after the revolution. The French Revolution had a tremendous impact on the history of humanity, bringing absolutely new ideas, systems, new visions of human existence, which, untill then, did not have their precedents. And we will separate the major achievements of the French Revolution:

  • the set of the idea of ​​people being born equal, regardless of sex, age, national origin,
  • the modification of the institute of social inequality: hereinafter, the social inequality was a result of human activity, not a providence. People had to be valued not according to the origin, ancestry courageness or the social status, but according to their abilities and personal qualities.

Agree that this was a really huge leap for human consciousness. Though, it should once more mention the fact, which was noted by Alexis Tokvile: the Frencհ Revolution in its initial phase pursued absolutely different goals, which had, it can be said, ambitions to restore past traditions of good times. It is not a coincidence, that further Thomas Payne, when it was already clear that the revolution had completely different consequences, suggested to give the French and American revolutions the opposite name antirevolution, taking into consideration that the socio-political thought of that time understood the term “revolution” as a movement, which was aimed to restore the best traditons of the past. And what had happened was exactly the opposite result.

But there was a semantic transformatiton in the language awarness. Over the years the term ”revolution” acquired a radical change, a meaning and creation of a new, classical-semantic content.

American model

Experts consider the American Revolution as another variational option. It is mentioned above, that Thomas Payne’s suggestion on nameing this historic term antirevolution concerned the american version as well. Why?  For the simple reason, that in America, as in France,  at the  begining of ongoing process no one had any intention to overthrow the existing regime, in the case of America, to get to the metropolia, out from British rule. Benjamin Franklin, one of the pioneers of the American Revolution, had testimonies about that fact. Here also, those ideas and goals, which had been set by the revolutioners at the begining had no connection with the overall results achieved at the end of the process.

But the American revolution, compared with the French one, had some significant differences. The first and the most important diversity in our opinion was that the so-called revolution here was accompanied by national-liberation struggle.  Second, political commotions began in America not because of the internal contradactions, as it was in France, but because of the coplaints by the metropolia, which were against the exploitation. That is true, further all this had the result, that in America almost at the same time, even earlier, such ideas were put forward as freedom, equality and, what is important, the right to be happy, which should be given to everyone, regardless sex, age, national or religious affiliation.

These prerequisites and cirumstances that led to the American Revolution were completely strange to the European and other continets’ countries’ reality. But it was also due to the fact that the American society had a completely different structure: it was disunited into different nationalities, religious groups, poitical representatives, there was no obvious dominant etnic group and, what was the most important, interclass struggle was new, and it did not have the history of a century and the extreme tension, which was typical to the European countries. And then, let’s not forget the fact that even for the American society it was demanded quite a long time to have everything digested, which was created in a relatively short period of time, and for which not only the internal preconditions were intentions. The proof of this is the fact that in the country, which had stated liberations, continued to exist such inhuman phenomenon as slavery. Hence, we are tend to the opinion that the revolution begun during the liberation war and going under the second plan ended only in 1861-1865, this time being developed as a civil-war.

However, we share the opinion of experts, that the French and American Revolutions are the typical examples of classical revolution.

British model

Now let us turn to another variation of the classical revolution, the British model. While speaking about the British one, it should again be stated that during the Glorious Revolution it has acted as a restoration movement [this is proved by the fact that in 1688 the English throne, after the revolution, was taken from the Stewarts and surrendered to William III of Orange and Queen Mary II]. However, the format of the British Revolution differentiates fundamentally from the French one, that if the French did not restrict themselves only by taking restoration steps and continued fighting in the streets, the British were satisfied by the restoration in the initial stage.  And the successes and, even more, that the French recorded in the streets at the cost of life of thousands of people, the British acquired through evolution, preferring parliamentary reforms from the street struggle. Some may claim that this version does not correspond to the scope of the classical revolution and it is closer to the concept of top reforms. Maybe they are right, but we will consider it as a variation of revolution as well. And as a justification we will bring the argument, that at the final result of these reforms a fundamental change took place not only in the database, but literally in different aspects. The result was the transformation of a monarchist-feudal England into the capitalistic parliamentary one, which, thanks to the exceptional ability of transformation, nearly two centuries maintains the status of the world’s powerful marine state and today is also one of them.

German model

Another variation of revolution is the German model. The peculiarity of this model was that the revolutionary processes were going under the absence of the central government in German environment. The impact of the French revolution was widely developed in the German social and political scope. And what is the most important, unlike England, where the revolution was held and regulated by the state, and France, where everything was happening at a dizzying speed, where both the state and the society were equally involved, in Germany revolution started from schools. German philosophical, political and economic thought reached unprecedented heights, and all the representatives of the categories of German society conceived the idea of creating a unified Germany. Thus,  experts noticed rightly, that a unied Germany first of all was born in the public consciousness and only then de facto. It is no coincidence that Otto von Bismarck, who was standing in the origins of German Empire creation, toasted in honor of German teachers calling them the founders of the German Empire at a party dedicated to the creation of the German Empire in Versailles. As a result,  instead of the dismembered, more then a dozen of feudal governments, a complitely new geopolitical entity was established which was the capitalistic Germany at the federal principiles.


Thus, in the framework of the analysis we presented the term “revolution” and the semantic transformations of the phenomenon and the scopes, also discussed several variational options. The questions put forward at the begining of the analysis, which are about the revolution and other social-political phenomena as rebellion, revolution, reformations, their differences and similarities, we will refer in the second part. Also, we will try to project each of them to the Armenian reality and to find out, which of them whould be safer and more productive for the implementation in our case.

To be continued



  1. Hannah Arendt. On revolution, 1963.


  1. Аптекер Г., История американского народа. Т. 2. Американская революция 1763 ”
  2. Манфред А.З. Великая французская революция, М., 1983.
  3. Токвиль А.Старый порядок и революция.СПб.: Алетейя, 2008.
  4. Токвиль А. Демократия в Америке, М.: Прогресс, 1992.


Author: Hayk Paytyan. © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Lilit Kzhdryan.