The flip side of what Matt Yglesias is saying here, “Successful political transitions to democracy generally take place through exercises of non-violent “people power”‘ is that revolutions almost never end happily when the army won’t stand down. In virtually all the cases he cites – the American South, the Philippines, Chile, certainly East Germany – “people power” was only successful because the official military eventually refused to shoot nonviolent protesters when told to do so.  In the South, of course, the US Army was finally called on to protect key civil rights against the desire of the state National Guards. The People Power revolution of 1986 in Manila happened when key air force squadrons defected with little violence. And 1989 was mostly nonviolent in East Germany because the East German army refused to take on demonstrators. Chile is a weirder but similar case.

All this is to say that the ultimate driver of whether or not a revolution is bloody, and thus likely to end in some semblance of democracy, is outside the demonstrators’ control. The state determines this. When the army thinks it has little to gain from letting the protesters win, things are going to be nasty. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this kind of political determinism because I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we should be writing off revolutionary movements as “not going to be democratic” the moment the army starts firing on them.

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