(What to Change)
In a revolution, depending on the sort and character of it, the military would have a pivotal role. In the first instance, the military is one of the arms of government with the monopoly of violence/force (along with the police) and the responsibility for maintaining the authority of the government. Both against foreign attack and against serious internal dissent or subversion. Ipso facto, revolution is an act of dissent and subversion. Specifically it is an attack on the institutions and laws of the State and the status quo. Consequently, a revolution must either defeat the military power of the State, or subvert it. Fail to do so is to be left open to being crushed by it. The military is a sworn service, the members of it have sworn an oath of loyalty and allegiance to the government, likewise with the police. There is a slight anomaly in NZ in that the oath is in-fact sworn to the Queen as the Head of State (an exploitable loophole?), but the government is recognised as her representatives and so the government is therefore the supreme authority in regards to where military loyalty and submission lie.
Also, the government pays the bills, so there is also the small matter of the golden rule (the person with the gold makes the rules). More technically, the sworn services have the right and the duty under the legal/constitutional structures of the state to uphold and defend the laws and institutions of the State by force of arms. As the supreme law body of the land, parliament and the government are the core of that relationship and the core responsibility of the defence forces.
In a parliamentary democracy, the people elect parliament, parliament elects the government and the government is responsible for establishing and maintaining military forces for the defence of the people and their way of life. Therefore the military should in theory serve the will of the people, although it doesn’t necessarily work out quite like that in practice. In general, a nation will have a core of common and shared values, beliefs and identity. From that core, parliament and the military should have the basis for establishing laws and strategies for what objectives to pursue and what institutions to defend. In general, western Anglo democracies do substantially have a commonality between the people, the government and the military. There is a consensus between all the parties of the rules, the objectives, and the values of the country. But there is no guarantee of permanence of that relationship. If the consensus breaks down for some reason, then one would expect that the structures and institutions will be forced to evolve and change in consequence.
That at least is the theoretical overview.
But people being people, the reality on the ground could be any number of possible permutations. Societies and nations are not monocultures. As often as not, countries find that the People, the Nation and State are not a synonymous entities. In fact, they never are, the only question is to what degree a consensus can be agreed or imposed. If a substantial majority consensus can be agreed then fine and good, dissent can be marginalised and effectively ignored or sanctioned. If there is something approaching an even split within a society and consensus is not possible then there exists real potential for civil strife and the necessity for the intervention of an armed force to quell dissent and impose a regime and settlement. Revolutions arise from this latter case and the dispute over what the rules are and who gets to make them. So, the Government is either solidly in one camp or the other, in which case the military will move to impose the decree or writ of law on any and all dissenters. Or, the government is as hopelessly split as the populace and is unable to direct the military to impose anything. In which case the military will end up sidelined while the battle for political power is settle by other means. Or the military might step in to establish a military government at their own discretion. Typically military governments have not been conspicuous success stories. They tend to be resented by almost everyone and are not particularly competent either in any areas outside their core skillset.
What they do have is discipline, unity, structure, mass and firepower. This is what gives the military the ability to seize power (if not necessarily the ability to exploit it productively). Interestingly, those are also the qualities that a revolutionary movement requires if it is to seize control and power. To a certain degree that requirement may only need to be met to a minimal level by a revolutionary movement, and the balance of the requirement can be met by co-opting the existing military structure in an environment where the political authority of the State is paralysed by divisions. Alternatively, a shadow State structure and military force can be accumulated and assembled that is eventually able to meet the De-Jure authority on the battlefield and contest for primacy. The SriLankan civil war was an example of one such contest. Interestingly enough, Russia has provided examples of both types of revolutionary conflict.
The Russian and Bolshevik revolutions 1917-1923, became a military contest on the battlefield between alternative State/military structures. In contrast, the 1991 revolution exploited the fractured consensus of the communist regime and allowed a third party to co-opt the military organs of the State and establish a new political regime. In that case the transfer of power was swift and practically bloodless. In the first revolution, the transition of power was an exceedingly violent affair which evolved over many years and cost the lives of millions of people. Even after the nominal establishment of a new regime from a decisive battlefield decision, securing complete civil control and compliance required much further time and blood. Other examples of a contested revolution can include America (1775-1783), France (1787-1815), China (1927-1950), Vietnam (1945[?]-1975). As can be seen from these examples, contested revolutions can be lengthy and brutal, and in general something to be avoided if possible.
While a conflict over politics can be prosecuted to completion on the battlefield, in actuality, the true objective is to assume political control, not to engage in a deadly conflict. In order to achieve as swift a transfer of power as possible, the existing forces for the defence and preservation of an established regime needs to be either sidelined or co-opted as quickly as possible. Anything else really rather reflects a failure of strategy, because one thing is for certain, no plan survives beyond the opening exchange of shots and the outcome is then thrown into the hands of chance. Quite aside from the fact that attitudes and actions also speedily set into virulent antagonism. The consequences of that will be felt for years, if not generations to come. Such a battle as may come should rather be one for hearts and minds. Militaries deal in force and violence, their power comes out of the barrel of a gun and extreme caution needs to be exercised in unleashing that force. Once unleashed it is a phenomena terribly unresponsive to control or recall, its true nature is toward escalation.
That may not be a significant consideration to a regime under imminent threat of extinction, but it should be a major consideration for a revolutionary movement. One that requires contemplation and planning well ahead of events, at least some-one needs to be thinking clearly. Yes a revolutionary movement will require an armed wing, for exactly the same reasons that any government requires armed forces, but very careful consideration needs to be given to how that is employed. Open and direct conflict with a large existing armed force is not rational, desirable or, frankly, intelligent. It would be nice to think that the purpose of a revolution would be to install a more rational and intelligent administration. If that could be done via sheer strength of reason then that would be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately when dealing with politics you are dealing with people, so stupidity will inevitably raise its ugly head. In light of that, protection and defences will always be required, be it the armed wing of a revolutionary movement, or the standing army of a Nation State, but it also needs to be under strict and clear control. Interestingly, such organizations have an innate tendency to align towards the clearest organ of authority. In order to deal with the organs of force of the State, it is eminently possible to co-opt them, even against their sworn loyalty, if there is no belief in the competence or righteousness of the nominal authority and the alternative provides a clear and credible choice.
So, if the revolutionary movement is capable of projecting itself as superior in competence and righteousness and can swing sufficient loyalties to itself to enable it to seize the reins of power, that is still only a beginning. Stabilising and securing that victory is another huge challenge in and of itself. The revolutions of 1848 proved that repeatedly. Failures to consolidate and unify resulted in the powers of Reaction sweeping back into power, and viciously at that. The Spanish civil war demonstrated what can happen to regimes that can’t get their act together and can’t get a competent military/defence organization fielded. It also demonstrated the degree to which outside powers are likely to stick their oar in if they think they can and there is utility in them doing so. Revolutions attract outside interference like bees to honey – or flies to shit (take your pick). Part of that is because inherent in the process of revolution is the creation of power vacuums during the transition process. You are not just changing the internal structures and relationships within the country, you are transforming them beyond your borders as well. That may not be at all welcome in foreign capitals and they may well investigate intervening. There will be personal and financial interests at stake and that is always a chancy ants nest to stir up. So the less time, opportunity and vulnerability that is left exposed the better.
The faster and easier a takeover can occur and the more of the existing military power that can be retained and assimilated the better. You WILL need to look to the securing of your borders, because they will be tested.
At this point, both the original armed forces and the armed wing of the revolution take on major significance. The old military, because it will be needed and can become a keystone part of constructing a new social zeitgeist by demonstrating its allegiance to the new regime. And the revolutionary armed cadre, because it will need to become the core of the new army around which the old military will be integrated and remodelled. Militaries are conservative forces, but they can be transformed, as long as they are given clear directions and political leadership. During the initial phase of realignment, the leadership of the military will need to be political. The existing top commanders will all almost inevitably need to be removed and replaced by revolutionaries. Long serving officers are intrinsically not best able to accommodate innovative thinking, particularly not in a social/political context. Also, they have been loyal all their careers to their oath of allegiance, that’s OK, they have done their duty and can now be pensioned off . The new broom will need to sweep clean, not just in some personnel but also in structures. It will need to be a “new model army”, obviously and quickly. And that’s OK too, because what we have at the moment is a bit of an abortion quite frankly. There are quite a few changes I would make to how our armed forces are structured and tasked.
I’ll examine that in my next essay.
PS. Just to be perfectly clear, one of the primary objectives of a revolutionary movement is to co-opt (subvert?) the nations military(specifically the army). The principal mechanism for doing that is to funnel as many supporters as possible into serving in the Territorial Army. This experience and presence in this volunteer reserve will give the movement a reservoir of trained fighters and intelligence and political influence within the army. It is much easier to sway the actions of the army if you are half of it already
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