Why hasn't there been a revolution in Britain?

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Zonder Vlees
Joined: 26-02-08
Nov 10 2010 21:54
Why hasn't there been a revolution in Britain?

This is not a flame honestly, I'm not a communist or an Anarchist, although there are tenets of Anarchism that I feel fit my world view more than most. Most people on this site might consider my views somewhat pedestrian.

My main view however is that I am distrustful of extremist positions and calling for revolution seems to me to be an extremist position. Revolutions tend to overthrow dictators but also lead to power vacuums, it appears to me those vacuums just get filled by other dictators who need to keep control of a confused populous.

So why has there been no revolution in Britain in the last 100 years?

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Joined: 5-10-07
Nov 10 2010 22:21

Without being flippant, a hierarchical revolution (one led by a party or around a personality) is going to re-create hierarchy post-revolution.

Anarchists often talk about being prefigurative--the organizations we build to fight capitalism should mirror the future society we want to create, i.e. they should be directly democratic and non-hierarchical.

As to why there hasn't been a revolution....capitalism is incredibly resourceful. It can use outright force to crush working class power or it can recuperate ostensible challenges to it. (For example, turning the trade unions into 'relief valves of class struggle' and ultimately into organs of capitalist management. The same trajectory is true for the social democratic parties.)

thegonzokid's picture
Joined: 23-07-09
Nov 10 2010 22:51

too much good stuff on telly

Boris Badenov
Joined: 25-08-08
Nov 11 2010 14:11

This is a complex question without much of a clear answer imo. For one perspective on why historically Marxism, for example, did not inspire a large working class movement in Britain, see Ross McKibbin's article "Why was there no Marxism in Great Britain?". You can find it online.
The fractured nature of British industrial capital (meaning the lack of large factories and the predominance of small enterprise), as well as a strong tradition of parliamentary reformism amongst working-class radicals are two contributing factors.

waslax's picture
Joined: 6-12-07
Nov 12 2010 05:55

As you say, revolution is an extremist position, and extremist positions are very rarely if ever taken up by the majority, especially in modern liberal democratic societies, such as the UK, where most people, like you, choose to position themselves somewhere close to the warm, comfortable 'middle of the road'. That in itself should be sufficient to answer your question.

Of course, it is a simplistic answer. There are, I'm sure, many valid answers, and some of them have already been noted. Another would be that the working class has yet to be able develop its revolutionary political consciousness sufficiently. But of course this begs the question of why that is. No easy answers there. Another answer, and one which some would link to the previous one, would be that capitalism has yet to enter into a sufficiently severe economic (and political) crisis that would compel the working class to rise up and overthrow the capitalist class.

I agree with you that attempts at revolution so far (Russia, Germany, Hungary and Spain) have not gone far enough, and thus resulted in a power vacuum, which gets filled by one or another dictator or dictatorial clique. As long as we don't maintain the collective power that we forge in our struggle for revolution, it will be usurped by a minority, possibly even coming from within our own ranks, which will form the nucleus of a new ruling class, and we will then return to our exploited, oppressed position within the 'new order' that is formed. There has yet to be an actually successful revolution against the ruling capitalist class.

Mike Harman
Joined: 7-02-06
Nov 12 2010 06:19

By definition there can't be a successful (communist) revolution without it being an international one and successfully repressing all capitalist reaction. This is unlike the bourgeois revolutions which were fine happening in one country and only had to replace the ruling class rather than abolish the working class (or the peasantry for that matter).

The 20th century revolutions, or attempts at revolutions are all on a scale. Russia and Spain were the most far-reaching, Hungary was more of an uprising (although it did have long term political effects). We can add to these Paris '68, Italy '69, Portugal '74-'76, Poland 1980, East Germany 1953 - while these were major, they didn't necessarily make any fundamental (even in capitalist terms) political changes to society.

So I think it's more useful to look at those events on a continuum with those that are less well known/ on a smaller scale - for example the Winter of Discontent in the UK, wildcats in the US auto industry in the late '60s, 1926 General Strike, the rice riots and strikes in Japan in 1918 - there are countless examples. Many of these have similar characteristics to the 'revolutions' - particularly when they reached a national scale/across industries and extended for several weeks or months, and often occurred alongside other international trends (i.e. just after the first world war, late '60s), but of course also didn't go far enough.

Generally conventional history is only interested when events force a change of government - but we know that a change of government only happens in these cases when a different faction of capital takes power on the back of the overall movement (this would describe both Russia 1917 with the Bolsheviks and Poland 1980 with Solidarity for example).

We're not really interested in that kind of 'success', so it's just as important to look at those movements where rather than installing a new leadership, they were crushed instead, or failed to gain enough momentum and fizzled out. There's just as much to learn from those experiences as well.

mikail firtinaci's picture
mikail firtinaci
Joined: 16-12-06
Nov 12 2010 08:32

but there was a revolution in Britain right?


Of course that was not a proletarian revolution, but when there was a revolutionary movement escalating around the world after 1917, Britain might also have come close to something like a revolutionary process; 1926 general strike etc.?

Joined: 29-07-05
Nov 12 2010 13:29

The British ruling class made sure that the rifles of the British Expeditionary Force were taken off soldiers as they came back to Blighty after WWI. The red flag was raised on the Clyde, northern towns like Sheffield were in ferment, as London and the south. The proletariat in Britain were part of the revolutionary wave after WWI and the General Strike of 26 was aimed primarily against it confirming that the trade unions had gone over to the ranks of the bourgeoisie.

I agree with the above that a potentially successful revolution has to be an international one and this is a very important point. I also agree above about the weight of reformism on the working class in Britain and the fact that this was the first country to have a real revolution - a bourgeois one backed by the nascent elements of the working class.

Another significant fact that shouldn't be underestimated is the involvement of the working class in Britain in the massive proletarian upheavals of the 1970s and 80s, tending towards self-organisation and extension. A movement that came to an end in this country - with major international ramifications - with the corporate prison of the NUM and the union division of major sectors of the working class in the 84 miners' strike.