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What is revolution?

A thousand years ago only the words of priests and kings counted for anything. But with advent of the printing press in 1440 people learned to spread ideas quickly among large numbers, and revolution quickly followed. However, only a small group of people controlled the presses, which meant there was little change in the distribution of power among the roughly 350 million people that lived on Earth in that time. Communication happened in the form of letters delivered on horseback or sea-faring ships.

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s proposal to use the device later named after him for death penalties came in October 1789, at the dawn of the French revolution. At this time, a small circle of aristocrats—kings, priests, merchants, and landowners—still ruled the 900 million inhabitants of the world. Louis XVI was beheaded in January 1793. The Jacobin constitution, implemented shortly after his death, was meant to bring suffrage to all adult males in France. But an actual vote was not carried out until 1848, after a second attempt at the same revolution. Despite all these efforts, still less than half of the world’s population could vote by the time the first telegraph wire across the Atlantic was put to use in 1866.

When radio waves were discovered by Heinrich Rudolf Hertz in the 1880s, revolution quickly fanned up again. In the decades that followed, a much larger portion of the population learned how to read through state-enforced education. War based on nationalism and women demanding the right to vote followed—not to suggest any correlation. By the end of the 1910s, once the former had played out, the latter was achieved in large parts of the western world. In the years after these revolutions, financial inequality was finally in a flux. It took another world war before the level of inequality stabilized at its lowest point in history. For a short while.

By now, we have returned to the same level of inequality as before the world wars. While economic and social equality between genders has been much reduced in the past 100 years, the overall the distribution of assets has remained extremely lopsided. “Revolution” has never truly succeeded in addressing this fundamental division in society. Rather than technology allowing for a more equal distribution of assets, technology has shifted towards encouraging centralization of assets.

Liberation, stagnation

The history books from every age
Have the same words written on every page
Always starting with 'Revolution'
Always ending with 'Capitulation'
Always silenced by the truncheon
Or bought out with concessions
Always repetition...
Repetition... repetition... repetition...
We're kept apart by philosophies
And moral stances, and policies
We'll be stuck in our own little ghettos forever
'Til we start to work together
Fighting for total change, or working for concessions?
Do we take what is ours, or ask that it be given?
Are we stealing it together, or asking for permission?
Even though we disagree we share a common enemy
Our methods may not be the same
But together we can break the chain
Different aims, different means, with
common ground in between
Don't sit back, it's time to act
This life is ours, let's snatch it back
The time has come to make a choice
Stop taking orders from His Master's Voice!

From Revolution↗ by Chumbawamba, published in 1985.