In Contention volume 5, issue 2, Benjamin Abrams interviewed the political theorist John Dunn on the topic of modern revolutions. In the interview, Dunn advanced the view that the “Epoch of Revolution” had ended by 1989 and that what many scholars called revolutions today were simply instances of regime collapse. The interview received a lot of attention from scholars and practitioners including Hugo Slim. Slim challenged Dunn’s concept of revolution in this issue, and Dunn responded defending his ideas. This article attempts to tease out the differences underlying the two scholars’ disagreement as to whether the Epoch of Revolution has truly passed. The article proposes that while processual approaches (such as Slim’s) conceive of revolution primarily as a political means, Dunn’s “programmatic” approach to revolution conceives of it as not only a means but also a political end. The article also considers the implications of Dunn’s theory of revolution, and the representative challenges of academic interviewing.
Processual and Programmatic Approaches to Revolution in the Epoch of Revolution Debate
An Interview with John Dunn
Benjamin Abrams and John Dunn
John Dunn, FBA, is emeritus professor of political theory at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His work on revolution began in 1972 with the publication of his landmark volume, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon. A second edition was published in 1989, and the volume has since been translated into several foreign languages. Alongside revolution, Dunn’s thought has examined questions of regime collapse, reconstruction, the political trajectories of modern states, and the emergence and significance of democracy. His work lies at the intersection of history, political theory, and sociology. In the interview, Dunn offers a categorization of revolution as a distinctly bounded historical phenomenon that has not persisted into the twenty-first century. “The Epoch of Revolution,” he argues, begins with 1789 and had definitively ended by 1989. After the Epoch of Revolution, Dunn argues, we now confront a more enduring and generic phenomenon: regime collapse.
More than a state ideology, the concept of 'Revolution' holds multiple meanings for Cubans. A historic moment, the government, the country, the people—Revolution is any one of these and all of them at once. How, then, do people experience a permanent Revolution in their daily lives? The interactions between biomedicine, alternative health practices, and the syncretic system of beliefs known as Santería have important implications for the socialist project of the Revolution. As a central concern of Revolution, health provides a particularly clear example of the interaction between revolutionary ideology and practice. This distinction elucidates the epistemological and experiential complexity of Revolution, providing the Cuban state with a powerful signifier that allows it to adapt to situations of crisis, continuously reinvent itself, and be in a permanent state of Revolution.
This essay reviews the revolutionary situations that recently emerged in the post-Soviet world, focusing on the 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan. Observers were quick to explain this revolution in terms of democratic resistance to authoritarianism. This view is particularly problematic given that Kyrgyzstan was among the 'fast reformers' in the region and made its name as an 'island of democracy'. Instead of assuming that problems started when the country digressed from the ideals of liberal democracy, this essay argues that democratic reform and market-led development generated both the space and motivations for revolutionary action. Democratic reforms created the possibility of political dissent, while neo-liberal policies resulted in economic decline and social dislocations in which a temporary coalition between rural poor and dissenting political leaders was born.
This article argues that the term “holy” (saint/sainte) was a key word in the French revolutionary lexicon during the Terror. Its use was comparable in frequency to the terms “glorious” and “useful”. Among the many things revolutionaries regarded as “holy”—for example, liberty, equality, the constitution, the laws, and the revolution itself—by far the most often cited was the “Mountain”. Historians have assumed that “Montagne” simply referred to the deputies who occupied the upper benches in the National Convention, but an analysis of the term “holy Mountain” shows that the real significance of the name came from its analogy to Mount Sinai. Revolutionaries venerated the Mountain as a source of divine laws and as a force with the godlike capacity to punish “impious” enemies. The concept indicates an authentic religiosity among the revolutionaries, who are otherwise seen as heirs to the Enlightenment, and therefore questions the traditional opposition between Enlightenment and religion.
Anti-corporate, Anti-militarist and Martyrdom Masculinities
Manal Hamzeh and Heather Sykes
This article examines the masculinities of Ultras football fans during and after the January 25th Egyptian revolution, within the interlocking systems of power of neoliberalism, militarism and Islamism. The Ultras' anti-corporate masculinities were strengthened through protests against satellite TV and the Egyptian Football Association, while they also developed anti-militarist masculinities as they protested business elites, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Central Security Forces. The Ultras developed martyrdom masculinities due to their shock over the Port Said stadium massacre and subsequent retribution protests. The Ultras may be reiterating hegemonic masculinities operating within the same patriarchal logic of the three regimes. Their grief and shock may be limiting their self-reflexivity and capacity to build coalitions.
Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild
Two of the earliest women's suffrage victories were achieved in the Russian Empire, in Finland and Russia, as a result of wars and revolutions. Their significance has been largely ignored, yet study of these achievements challenges the standard paradigms about the conditions (struggle within a democracy, geographic location on the 'periphery'), which favoured early suffrage breakthroughs. This article analyses the particular circumstances in Finland and Russia, which, in a relatively short amount of time, broke down resistance to giving women the vote. An examination of the events surrounding the February 1917 Russian Revolution, which toppled the Tsar, demonstrates the significant role of women in initiating and furthering the revolutionary momentum as well as fighting for their own rights. Both the Finns and the Russians pioneered in extending the legacies of the French and American Revolutions to include women.
Algeria and the French Revolution of 1848
Jennifer E. Sessions
This article examines the key role of the French colony in Algeria in the political culture of the Revolution of 1848. Eugène Cavaignac and other army officers with Algerian experience led the state's repression of radical unrest, and their colonial backgrounds became a central narrative trope in debates about political violence in France, especially after the June Days uprising. Following the closure of the National Workshops, legislators adopted a major scheme for working-class emigration to and settlement in Algeria to replace the workshops and resolve unrest. Throughout 1848, Algeria operated as a symbolic and practical field for the struggle between social and political revolution in France.
A Response to John Dunn
John Dunn’s provocative interview in Contention volume 5, issue 2 inspired an array of responses from the scholarly and practitioner communities. In the original interview, Dunn suggested that the era of modern revolutions has come to a close and that we are now witnessing a phenomenon better described as “regime collapse.” In this response to Dunn’s conception of revolution, Hugo Slim, an expert on non-international armed conflicts, challenges Dunn’s claims with examples of revolutionary liberation movements in Nepal, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Venezuela, as well as Islamist revolutionary movements in the Middle East.
Semantic Investigations of a Counterconcept during the French Revolution
After 1789, counterrevolution emerged as revolution’s first counterconcept in French political discourse. While scholars of the French Revolution commonly associate counterrevolution with a backward-oriented political program, often with the restoration of the ancien régime, this article challenges such a retrograde understanding. Drawing on a broad corpus of sources, it emphasizes the flexible and pluralistic meanings of counterrevolution during the 1790s. Rather than designating a political objective, counterrevolution first of all focused on the process of combating the revolution as such, which allowed for different political strategies and aimed beyond a return to the status quo ante. By discussing, next to the French case, examples from the Haitian Revolution, Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, this article also highlights the transnational dimension of the debate on counterrevolution. It concludes with a plea for rethinking counterrevolution as revolution’s asymmetric other in a more relational rather than dichotomous perspective.