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How to lead a revolution

In the last couple of months, a lot of things have happened. Not only has the world been plagued by Corona, but it has also seen several violent protests all over the globe. In Hong Kong, citizens still fight for their freedom and due to what happened with George Floyd in the US, people in many countries protest against police violence and racism. During times like these, it’s interesting to see what history can teach us about the present. What does it really take to lead a revolution?

1. The American Revolution (1765-1783)

During the period leading up to the American Revolution, the American colonies had to pay a very high tax rate to the British Empire. This, of course, led to discontent which only grew in strength as time moved on, and the desire to do something about it only increased. One who was especially displeased about the way the British treated the Americans was George Washington. On the 18th of May 1754, he wrote:

”I would rather prefer the great toil of a daily laborer, and dig for a maintenance, provided I were reduced to the necessity, than serve upon such ignoble terms; for I really do not see why the lives of his Majesty’s subjects in Virginia should be of less value, than of those in other parts of his American dominions; especially when it is well known, that we must undergo double their hardship.”

He didn’t comprehend why Virginians with the same rank were paid less than those with royal commissions. Eventually, he got tired of the unfairness and began to wonder what he could do about it. In 1769 he wrote:

“At a time when our lordly Masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something shou’d be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our Ancestors; but the manner of doing it to answer the purpose effectually is the point in question.”

The Revolutionary War began a few years later in 1775 and during it, Washington led the American military forces to victory. He didn’t actually win more battles than he lost, but he did defeat the British when it probably mattered the most. In spite of his lack of practical experience leading large and traditional armies, he proved the doubters wrong by being a strong and dependable leader. He showed that you don't have to be the one with the most extensive knowledge or the one who never makes a mistake to be a winner in the end.

2. The French Revolution (1789-1799)

Just like the Americans, the French were tired of a substandard way of living. Due to the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the American Revolution, the French state had incurred high levels of debt. This led to higher tax rates that were borne disproportionately by the lower classes. In combination with high food prices thanks to years of bad harvest, it became increasingly hard for the poor people in France to survive. When people are on the verge of dying, they have nothing left to lose. Situations like those are thus dangerous for the ones in charge.

The leader of this revolution was no other than Napoleon Bonaparte (who you can read more about in the article Napoleon - No such thing as luck). Influenced by the ideas spread during the Enlightenment, he decided that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette should no longer lead France. A change was needed.

As a person,  Napoleon was a skilled strategist and incredible at uniting people behind a common purpose. This made him popular among the soldiers and he could count on their support when he needed it the most. In the end, that’s what made him successful in the revolution. He showed the importance for a leader to not only be talented at what he or she is doing but also the significance of being socially intelligent. 

3. The Russian Revolution (1917-1923)

So why did the Russian revolution happen? Well, the main reason for it was the huge military losses the country had incurred due to World War I. The Russian soldiers were tired of war and a majority of them were even prepared to mutiny just to put an end to it. Wars are never cheap and the cost is often carried by the people. The Russian peasants were suffering. With aching hunger, they were finally prepared to revolt.

During this chaos, Vladimir Lenin saw his chance to act. Partnering up with Germany, he arranged transport to his home country. Since he was still a wanted man there, he had to keep a low profile. This made it very hard for him to arrange a meeting with his allies. He was a stubborn man, though, and in spite of the great difficulties, he managed to do what others thought was impossible. Apart from that, he also achieved his other objective - to convince his party to use weapons on the day of the revolt.

As most already know, Lenin managed to claim the position of power he so desired. The reforms he implemented after that should in no way be replicated, but we can still learn from his unfaltering resilience. Not only did he succeed in getting back to Russia by striking a deal with Germany, but he also overcame all challenges that were thrown his way. His story teaches us the gravity of believing in your ability and seizing opportunities that come your way.

Do you want to read more about leaders like Napoleon and Julius Caesar? Or perhaps learn more about leadership specifically during a pandemic? Or maybe you just want to improve your own leadership? Then click here!

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