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Science | Physical Education | Citizenship | PSHE

The people are revolting – and succeeding

Does people power always win? Spontaneous protests by football fans have ended British involvement in the Super League, showing how passion can triumph over formidable opposition. The Chelsea fans waving blue and white flags outside Stamford Bridge were jubilant. Just two days after the announcement of the Super League, the six British clubs involved had decided to withdraw from it. “Defeat of greed,” trumpeted the Daily Mail. “Super League crumbles as clubs bow to fan fury,” declared The Times. “Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!” shouted The Sun. Though the competition’s organisers insist that it will still go ahead, the withdrawal was a devastating blow to its prospects. Its lawyers had been confident that they could see off challenges by UEFA and the Premier League in court. But they had not reckoned with the anger of ordinary people who believed that the game and clubs they loved were being betrayed by those whose only concern was making money. In the 19th Century, Thomas Carlyle put forward the “great men” theory of history, which holds that the world had been shaped by extraordinary individuals. But it is equally possible to argue that a critical mass of men and women – and, as Greta Thunberg has shown, children – can have a decisive impact. There is no shortage of examples. In 1773, participants in the Boston Tea Party set the stage for the American War of Independence by throwing tea into the sea with cries of “No taxation without representation!” Sixteen years later, the French Revolution gained unstoppable momentum when a mob stormed the Bastille. At the start of the last century, the Suffragette movement in Britain won votes for women. In 1989 Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution was one of several uprisings that brought an end to Communist rule in Europe. On the other hand, many popular movements have ended in failure. The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 won promises of concessions from Richard II, only for him to go back on them and execute the leaders. The Luddites in 1812 failed to halt the Industrial Revolution by attacking the machines that threatened their livelihoods. The Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1989 were bloodily suppressed and changed nothing. The Arab Spring which began in 2010 has brought few of the improvements that those involved hoped for. According to the political commentator Robin Lustig, the success or failure of such movements is determined by two things: “the readiness of the old regime to deploy overwhelming military force… and the involvement of neighbours and regional powers.” But two American academics, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, take a different view. After studying 323 campaigns of civil resistance between 1900 and 2006, they concluded that once 3.5% of the population started to play an active part, success was inevitable. The examples they cited included the Velvet Revolution, which had 500,000 participants, and the People Power campaign which overthrew the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and attracted two million. They also found that nonviolent protests were twice as likely to succeed as violent ones. Does people power always win? Demos and democracy Some say, no. Even Chenoweth and Stephan acknowledge that nonviolent campaigns only succeed 53% of the time – and for violent ones, the figure is half that. If the authorities are willing to ignore world opinion – and kill people – protestors have no chance. Military force is key: though the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy, Napoleon was later able to install himself as emperor. Others argue that popular movements which initially fail often win in the long term. Though the Peasants’ Revolt was suppressed, it probably hastened the end of feudalism. The Luddites were a first step towards trade unionism in Britain. The Communist regimes that ruthlessly put down pro-democracy campaigns in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were eventually defeated by them. KeywordsBoston Tea Party - An incident in 1773 in which Americans protested a tax on tea by throwing 342 chests of tea into Boston harbour. It was a precursor to the American revolution.

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