Top 10 Revolutionaries | Policy
It is not for nothing that the image of Che Guevara has remained a hallmark of the revolution and of any expression of democratic and radical dissent in the 21st century. Behind the image of the T-shirt hides the reality of a man whose vision of liberation was at once romantic, ruthless, personal, poetic and compassionate. Born into a middle-class Argentine family in 1928, Guevara explored the poverty of Latin America on his motorbike while training as a doctor, vowing to fight and change what he saw, and organizing revolution. Cuban as a vision of the world. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Lifea biography of Jon Lee Anderson, the man who located Che’s body in Bolivia, portrays a complex but total revolutionary, as undogmatic as he is committed.
Among the historical figures whose names the French have given to boulevards and squares, one is inexplicably rare: the father of their republic and of all modern revolutionary politics. History has given Robespierre a bad name for his role in what it calls the Terror. A great orator with a brilliant mind, but an ascetic man, Robespierre led the great French Revolution, opposing the revolutionary Girondin factions which disastrously declared war on the rest of Europe. Wars, and betrayal by others, compelled Robespierre to defend this revolution with a device proposed with his friend Joseph-Ignace Guillotin as a humane alternative to the breaking wheel, after the couple had tried in vain to abolish the death sentence. Robespierre was guillotined without trial after a coup on July 28, 1794.
The story happens, but fair. What would the 20th century have looked like if the German leftist uprising of 1918-19, in which Luxemburg played its part, had succeeded? No Hitler? No Stalin? A naturalized German of Polish Jewish descent, she co-founded the Spartacus League, which opposed World War I and later became the Communist Party of Germany. Luxemburg took a passionate stand against Bolshevik authoritarianism and failed reformism and charted a course that has inspired others since, and criticized the violence of the second uprising in 1919, after which she was arrested, tortured and shot. .
Gandhi became the guru and inspirer of nonviolent resistance, having deployed his tactics and principles to lead India’s independence from Imperial Britain. Coming from a Hindu family, he first experienced nonviolent resistance in South Africa, before returning to India to organize peasants and workers against land taxes and subjugation. Gandhi’s vision was political peace as an expression of personal peace, fasting and self-purification. Imprisoned in series, he set an example of resistance to British rule and triumphed, despite rejecting the partition of Pakistan and India, of which he is considered the founding father.
Haiti may have been one of the most desperate places on earth in recent times, but its proud origins are those of the greatest revolt against slavery since Spartacus, the original gladiator and revolutionary, escaped to march on Rome. Toussaint was the leader of the remarkable 1791 revolt in the then French colony of Saint Dominic, for which he was nicknamed “Black Spartacus”. Toussaint, himself a free black man and a Jacobin, led the revolt before revolutionary France abolished slavery in 1794. He devised a new constitution for the colony in 1801, and although he be arrested before declaring independence, Napoleon Bonaparte sent troops to restore French control. Toussaint is arrested and deported to France, where he dies.
It is strange to think that a century ago the United States was a hotbed of radical unionism. Mother Jones, known as ‘America’s Most Dangerous Woman’, was a teacher and seamstress, driven from County Cork by famine in Canada, before moving to Chicago. She lost her husband and children to yellow fever and became an organizer for the United Mine Workers union before co-founding the group Industrial Workers of the World. An irrepressible brand, she fights against child labor and coordinates strikes by miners and silk workers. As a woman organizer of men, she was denounced in the US Senate as “the grandmother of all agitators”.
Connolly is acclaimed as one of Ireland’s founding fathers, but is not sufficiently regarded among the great European revolutionaries of all time; no one intertwined the politics of labor and national liberation like Connolly. Born in Edinburgh in 1868 to Irish parents, he served in Ireland for the British army, towards which he harbored a lifelong hatred, and deserted. He founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and, returning to Ireland in 1910, joined Jim Larkin in organizing the transport strike of 1913 which led to the Easter Rising three years later. His Irish Citizen Army was part of the uprising, after which Connolly, along with 14 other rebels, was executed by the British.
Hero, along with Francisco Villa, of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Influenced by the anarchist communist writings of Prince Peter Kropotkin, Zapata was a warrior for peasant land rights; his Map of Ayala is the historic model of democratic land ownership. Zapata’s Southern Liberation Army continued to struggle against the landowners even after the revolution installed its political leaders in power. From his base in Morelos, modeled on his revolutionary ideals, Zapata also opposed the power of the federal army, which trapped him to his death by feigning defection. His ideas inspired the neo-Zapatista movement in southern Mexico in the 1990s.
Born in 1925 in Martinique and descended from slaves, Fanon was a psychiatrist and philosopher who arrived at his revolutionary humanism through a living experience of French colonialism in Algeria. He fought in the French Resistance during World War II, but was “whitewashed” with other non-whites after hostilities ended. He studied medicine and psychiatry in Lyon, then worked at the psychiatric hospital of Blida in Algeria. His books Black skin, white masks after that Les Miserables of the Earth are founding texts on all colonial violence and inspired the struggle for the independence of Algeria and subsequently all anti-colonial liberation movements. Fanon was sentenced to deportation, but fled to Tunis, later dying of leukemia in America in 1961.
Trotsky was the architect, with Vladimir Lenin, of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, victim and symbol of the transformation of this revolution into Stalinism. Born Lev Bronstein to a Jewish family in Ukraine, Trotsky spent much of his youth as an agitator in exile, returning to join the 1905 uprisings and the 1917 revolution. He took command of the Red Army in 1918 With Stalin’s accession, however, Trotsky became a member of the Left Opposition, coming into conflict with Stalin over, among other things, his commitment to world revolution against the authoritarian “socialism in one country” of Stalin. Increasingly marginalized and eventually expelled from the Central Committee, he fled first to France, then to Norway, finally settling in the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City. In 1940 he was found in the city and murdered by Stalin’s agents.