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Revolution strategy

How to start a revolution
4 min read
Last update: Feb 3, 2024

In this guide, we will discuss how to develop a strategy to start a revolution. We explain what a revolution is, and how to identify the stages of a revolution.

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What is a revolution?

A revolution is not something that belongs in a history book. It is a radical social transformation that is the result of the hard work of many individual activists such as yourselves working together.

  • A revolution can happen tomorrow. Social change is often not linear. It can build up slowly, until in a sudden movement big changes happen. Your work as an activist may seem meaningless, but it might very well be possible that you are contributing to the conditions that are nessesary for a revolution to happen.

  • A revolution must happen tomorrow, if we want to keep our planet livable. Continuing on the current path is a definite death sentence to humanity as we know it. Technological innovations alone are not going to save us. We need a radical redistribution of power if we want to survive.

  • Some* argue a revolution is bound to happen. A stable climate has provided humanity with the conditions to thrive, and all of that is disappearing right now. Extreme weather events will cause crops to fail. Supermarkets will be empty and people will be fighting about food. People will become angy, and states will increase repression to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. Violence leads to more violence. Populists will scapegoat refugees, queer people, intelecuals, and anyone who disagrees with them. Fascists will be elected, and they will break down democracies. The world we will live in in 50 years will be very different to the one we are in right now. There will be radical social change, and unless we build people power now, it will not make the world a nicer place to live on.

*Such as Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and various other climate action groups in the UK

A revolution is like building a rocket, but more complex and less predictable. To launch a revolution succesfully, we need social science. We do not just want to put a bomb under society, let it explode and see what happens. No, we want to go about it strategically. We need to build people power, so that our rocket flies into the direction we want, instead of blowing up into pieces.

What is a revolution strategy?

A revolution strategy differs from a campaign strategy. A campaign is something a single organization can design and execute. Revolutions are started by social movements that consists of many activist groups. You alone cannot design a revolution. But you can make a meaningful contribution to makt it happen.

Phases of a revolution

Various theories exist on what stages you need to go through to create social change. Below we outline a few of them:

Six stage campaign planning framework – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This framework assists groups to think ahead and plan as the campaign builds. The starting point is framing the group’s issue, then the following stages:

  • 1.    Gather information;

  • 2.    Do education and leadership development;

  • 3.    Negotiate with target;

  • 4.    Increase motivation and commitment for the struggle ahead;

  • 5.    Direct action;

  • 6.    Create new relationship with opponent. which reflects the new power reality.

Based on Martin Luther King-related campaigns in the Deep South of the U.S. Read more from the American Peace Test Nonviolence Trainer’s Manual.

Five stage revolutionary movement framework – George Lakey

The five stages are presented in sequence which shows how each preceding stage builds capacity for the next stage – but in reality the stages overlap and are cyclical.  The five stages are:

  • 1.    Cultural preparation;

  • 2.    Organization-building;

  • 3.    Confrontation;

  • 4.    Mass noncooperation;

  • 5.    Parallel institutions which can carry out the legitimate functions formerly carried out by the Old Order (economic, maintaining infrastructure, decision-making, etc.)

For more see George Lakey’s chapter in Globalize Liberation, edited by David Solnit; and the articleon History is a Weapon.

Eight stage reform social movement framework – Movement Action Plan, by Bill Moyer

Moyer’s framework relates to change in liberal democratic societies, and is based on experience and research of many social movements. A number of case studies are included in Doing Democracy and online. Moyer’s ‘four roles of activists’ is also a valuable contribution, and the Movement Action Plan MAP shows how different roles are key at different stages. The stages are:

  • 1.    Normal times

  • 2.    Prove the failure of institutions

  • 3.    Ripening conditions

  • 4.    Social movement take-off

  • 5.    Identity crisis of powerlessness

  • 6.    Majority public support

  • 7.    Success

  • 8.    Continuing the struggle

Read Bill Moyer’s excellent book, Doing Democracy; and the introduction to MAP and case studies on the History is a Weapon site.

Four stage model for Counterpower: Making Change Happen by Tim Gee

Gee states :

The power of any regime rests three main things –ideas (the ability to persuade us of their right to rule), economics (the ability to extract land, labour and capital from us) and physical coercion (the ability to punish us if we do not obey). If a movement can seriously challenge those facets of power, then elites will give away whatever concessions that they have to in order to maintain their rule – and so campaigns are won. If the movement is strong enough it can topple regimes altogether – hence the argument that a successful campaign is an unfinished revolution. The ability to remove the power of elites is our Counterpower.

The four stages:

  • 1.   Consciousness is the stage of realizing that there is a problem and creating the conditions for Counterpower.

  • 2.   Coordination is the stage of building Counterpower through a movement to challenge the problem.

  • 3.   Confrontation is the stage when Counterpower is used most intensely, as the movement challenges the target’s power outright.

  • 4.   Consolidation is about maintaining Counterpower, adjusting to the new balance of power following the Confrontation Stage, and ensuring that it turns into real-life change.


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