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Revolution or Reform - attempts to improve the governing of societies.

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While there is no evidence of primitive stone-age human societies having anything in the way of government, as societies have progressed the size and complexity of their governing systems has tended to grow. Forms of government have varied greatly in different societies at different times in their history but mostly have involved some few ruling the many, often with one leader dominant for substantial periods. And while some forms of government at times have functioned better for some societies, all governments have involved significant social problems some of which they failed to address and some of which they helped worsen.

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These basic facts have given rise to many attempts in many societies to improve government - by 'revolution' or by 'reform' - involving different individuals and groups with different good intentions. Of course some with plain bad intentions also at times sought to govern, since governing a society has substantial advantages for anyone more concerned with their own personal wealth and power. The bad-intentioned taking over a society almost always worsens social problems, but the good-intentioned taking over a society has not always improved social problems or has improved things only temporarily.

Religious Revolution or Reform.

The earliest social good intentions were generally organised under various Religions, which have had major social impact in some societies. Of course in many religions their social views were secondary or incidental to a main aim of relating individuals to God. But often religions have had strong social concerns and have sought to improve a society by influencing government by revolution or by reform.

Religious revolution or reform has often been opposed to highly oppressive or exploiting government, but especially to government oppressing that religion. Unfortunately when a religion gains control over government it is normally not long before it itself begins oppressing those not committed to that religion, and often exploiting the weak who are. And in addition, religious people are often lacking in the kinds of skills needed for efficient government. They can lack skills in business, in dealings, in compromising and in handling opponents. So with the best intention, attempts at improving government by religions often achieves little actual good.

For a more detailed consideration of the social impact of religion see our Religion and Society section.

Political Revolution or Reform.

Political ideas perhaps really began with the development of philosophy, which emerged in ancient Greece with thinkers like Plato. Since then a wide range of political ideas have been developed, involving a wide range or ideas on how societies might be better governed. Of course some like Machiavelli also produced ideas on how rulers might best exploit government to advance their own personal wealth and power. Individual political ideas then often gave rise to political movements or parties.

Political revolution or reform has often emerged to oppose highly oppressive or exploiting government, and especially to government excesses in taxation or war failures affecting the majority badly. With some forms of government, reform pressures cannot make any impact so revolution may be seen as the only practicable option to improve government. But with other governments it can be possible to achieve at least some improvement by peaceful lobbying type pressure.

Unfortunately when government is subject to political revolution or reform, any real improvement is normally very limited and is often temporary only. Those newly in control soon find that they can achieve little, and are soon tempted by the great personal benefits of governing so that power corrupts them. This happens whatever form the new government takes, so even a new government of farmers will soon convert them into a governing class or elite who will lose interest in all ideas of improving government and will exploit the weak.

Reforming different forms of government.

Three basic types of government are generally possible (though these can take many forms) ;
1. Minority Governing. Most common now, this can vary to include one individual Dictatorships, one family Kingdoms and one minority class Oligarchy - and maybe Party-Representative Democracy and Majority-Party government.
2. Majority Governing. Less common now, this can vary to include Direct Democracy and Elected-Representative Democracy - and maybe Party-Representative Democracy and Majority-Party government.
3. All Governing or No Governing. Probably existing significantly only in stone-age societies that were small and isolated, this might vary to include perhaps Family Autonomy and Communal Tribalism. There have been some modern attempts to create communes of this type.
Of course any particular government may actually be of a form different to the form it appears to be, so a particular Kingdom may really be a form of Majority Governing or a particular Majority Governing may really be a minority Oligarchy.

Minority governing often involves more extensive oppression and exploitation, and will often attract more attempts to improve them - more often by revolution.
Majority governing often involves somewhat more limited oppression and exploitation, and may attract less attempts to improve them - more often by reform.
All Governing or No Governing might involve little oppression or exploitation, but its perceived military weakness will attract outsider attempts to take over that imposes some generally worse form of government.

Sometimes the good intentions motivating a revolution or reform does actually do a lot of real good, sometimes a little good or only temporary good and sometimes do more harm than good. This largely depends on how appropriate a current government is to the actual form and stage of development of the society involved.

In many cases attempts to improve government cannot have any success, but in other cases some pieces of government-improvement will succeed and persist if they are useful. That will generally be the case if a society has changed substantially while its government has not changed. So if a society of mainly farmers in villages progresses to involving mainly industry in cities, some change in government form will be needed and that may require and enable some successful revolution or reform government improvements. While such social changes in means of production will have this effect (as Karl Marx noted), other changes on society as from current global warming can also have such effects.

These change-generated pieces of government improvement may be considered by some to be substantial improvements, but others may see them as little or no real improvement - and both views may be basically correct. The question of can or will human societies progress to some ideal form of government perhaps remains still an unanswered question.

Attempted revolution or reform in different countries have at times been significantly concerned with poverty problems. While progress has certainly enabled the world generally to support more population increase, the existence of famine and hunger in the past and still today in many regions has involved excessive populations for that region and time. Some poor countries need moderate financial encouragement of smaller families, as by a child welfare payment for one or two children that does not rise for more children though this could take some time to work. See Ending Africa's Poverty Trap, FAO pdf 1.5 mb - allow up to 6 minutes for this to load !

1. One indicator of extreme worker exploitation is the continued abuse of child labour in many countries - for more see , see Child Labour, SARD/FAO pdf 426 kb - allow up to 2 minutes for this to load !

2. Perhaps surprisingly one of the biggest causes of world poverty now is undoubtedly low world food price terms of trade in poor countries, often helped by farm-subsidies in rich countries and free-food aid and other food dumping in poor countries. The large number of poor small-farm families in poor countries need somewhat lowered farmer costs or raised food prices - combined with money or food stamps for the poor to buy food at market prices rather than free-food aid, see Poverty Farming, FAO pdf 706 kb - allow up to 3 minutes for it to load !

3. To read one South American government's attempt at dealing with poverty, see Brazil Anti-Poverty Plan, FAO/IDB/WB pdf 170 kb - allow up to 1 minute for this to load !

4. The new green selected food crops are helpful in reducing poverty, but the new genetically modified food crops and their monopoly providers seem of little use to date ? See South Asia Land Management, SACEP pdf 1.5 mb - allow up to 6 minutes for this to load !

5. The new biofuel industry converting foods to fuel may seem very unhelpful for dealing with poverty, as only likely to increase food prices for the poor. But in some poor countries many of the poor are small-farm families for whom higher food prices might actually somewhat help, see Food To Fuel, ODI pdf 135 kb - allow up to 1 minute for this to load !

PDF source - Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations

Contact us by email :- vincent@social-exclusion-housing.com - or write - Vincent Wilmot 166 Freeman Street Grimsby N.E.Lincs DN32 7AT UK

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