A revolution may only occur once in a lifetime, that is, if we are privileged enough to witness one. Sometimes it does not occur at all, but like life it is a fact of our existence. Without revolutions we would be mere drones, hurrying to and fro without feeling. During revolutions all of our most volatile emotions come to the surface; love, anger, frustration and yes, even hate. When such turbulent and fast-paced times do descend upon humanity, a select few individual figures arise from the rabble of the masses to chart a course of the latter’s feelings, hopes and dreams. Most are tragically cut down in their prime by reactionary forces seeking a return to the bygone era of conservatism, or by the very people and institutions they sacrificed so much to help. Like the ideals of a revolution, the central figures themselves are often betrayed, their idealism trampled on and forgotten in the post-revolution race for power and prestige.
5. Michael Collins
Michael Collins was the father of the modern Irish Independence movement. Born in 1890 to a well to do family, Collins quickly distinguished himself as an intelligent and caring individual. As Collins entered adulthood his native land of Ireland was going through a tumultuous period in its history. Although a part of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Irish never submitted to British rule and resisted whenever possible. By the time WWI dawned on the continent and the British were overstretched in dealing with a costly stalemate against Germany, the people of Ireland decided to rebel in 1916, known as the Easter Uprising, due to the time of year it took place. Although the uprising was put down by ruthless and brutal methods, Collins’ star among the rebels skyrocketed. A skilled orator he galvanized the crowds and as an even better skilled negotiator he got the various warring factions of the independence movement to unite and fight for Ireland. What cemented Collins’ legendary status was that of spymaster for the IRA during the War of Independence, successfully infiltrating and thwarting several British Intelligence operations directed personally against him and the movement. A post-WWI world saw the British Empire weakened and in 1922, after three years of war in Ireland, the British decided to give in….with a catch. Northern Ireland was to remain a part of Britain. Always the pragmatist, Collins agreed to the deal knowing 90% of Ireland independent was better than nothing, subsequently angering the more radical factions of the IRA. On the night of August 22, 1922 Michael Collins while travelling by car with several companions was ambushed and killed. While his death was quite mysterious, and with no autopsy performed, suspicion lay with the extremist factions of the IRA, angered by Collins’ decision to negotiate with the British.
4. Ahmad Shah Massoud
The next person on the list is legendary Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud cut his teeth battling the Soviets in the 1980’s rising to the status of revered commander and statesman. Massoud was born in the Afghan province of Panjshir, just north of Kabul to a relatively wealthy family, his father a Colonel in the Royal Afghan Army. Massoud attended the prestigious Lycée Esteqlal in Kabul and then went on to study engineering at Kabul University. By the time the Soviets invaded Massoud had distinguished himself from the other factional warlords of Afghanistan as an educated and rational young man. His military prowess was put to the test in his home province as the Soviets sent divisions of men and tanks to crush him only to be met with abject failure every time. Over the decade of Soviet occupation, Massoud rose up in the ranks of the resistance, commanding respect and authority, even from commanders of the rival Pashtun heartland. Once the Soviets retreated in 1989, Massoud tried to modernize and democratize Afghanistan, only to be thwarted by the Pakistan backed Taliban. Although the Taliban ended up controlling close to 90% of the country, Massoud retained his hold on his home province in the north. The disparity in governance was clear. The Taliban’s puritanical stone age beliefs clashed with Massoud’s democratic and progressive governance. Although Massoud warned the world of the dangers of ignoring the threat the Taliban posed, his call was not heeded until it was too late. Ahmad Shah Massoud, dubbed The Lion of Panjshir was assassinated on September 9th, 2001, two days before 9/11 by a suicide bomber. This tragic loss for Afghanistan was the Taliban’s insurance policy of depriving the incoming American forces of the most valuable ally in the fight against terror.
3. Nikolai Bukharin
One of the most revolutionary movements in history was that of Communism. Though it promised much, it delivered almost nothing but the opposite. In the midst of the revolutionary fervor of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s arose an individual by the name of Nikolai Bukharin. Born in 1888, Bukharin became a dedicated Marxist from an early age, often being arrested and imprisoned by the Tsarist police, only to escape and begin his revolutionary activities anew. Once the Czar was overthrown in 1917, Bukharin joined the newly formed Bolshevik government of Vladimir Lenin, even being dubbed “The Golden boy of the Revolution” by the latter for his steadfast dedication to the cause and for his unquenchable idealism, sometimes verging on the naive. It was this naivete that future Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin would use against Bukharin during the Moscow show trials of the 1930’s. After Lenin’s death, the Politburo split into various factions, with Bukharin trying to play peacemaker with everyone and still clinging on the ideals of the revolution. In this power struggle Stalin emerged supreme and began purging all the old revolutionary Bolsheviks, saving Bukharin for last. What made the fate of Bukharin(executed in 1938) tragic was that he was the youngest and most idealistic of all the Old Bolsheviks to be killed and unlike Trotsky, was not lucky enough to get the lifeline of exile abroad.
2. Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi’s name has become synonymous with non-violent resistance. Born in 1869 Gandhi had a rather unremarkable childhood, being a shy and average student in school. Because his father had been a barrister, his family sent him to London to study Law. After having failed to establish a law firm in Bombay, he went to work in South Africa as a legal representative for Muslim businesses in the colony. There he witnessed and suffered the brutal racism of the South African regime, often being treated as a second class citizen because of his skin color, despite his upper class profession. This injustice would propel Gandhi to take action and for the next twenty four years he would agitate and protest peacefully in civil disobedience campaigns for equal rights of Indians and all people of color in South Africa, facing beatings and imprisonment several times. After WWI began, Gandhi moved back to India permanently, having cemented his reputation as a Civil Rights leader to be reckoned with. Gandhi’s revolutionary ideals of equality among all people, of all races, ethnicities, nationalities and even sexes, was met with harsh hostility by the reactionary forces of British occupation in India. Eventually, through decades of tireless work, Gandhi was able to see the independence movement succeed in 1947. Tragically, his life was taken one year later by a Hindu extremist, opposed to the partition of India and the subsequent newly formed state of Pakistan.
1. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. is another prominent figure to achieve Civil Rights victory through non-violence. Inspired by the aforementioned Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King shook the very foundations of society in America with his campaign for equal rights for the African American community. Born in 1929 in Atlanta Georgia, King began his studies in theology to become a reverend just like his father, and was afterwards ordained. He gained prominence in 1955 when Rosa Parks grabbed nationwide attention with her civil disobedient act of not giving up her seat in the front of the bus for a white passenger, in strict violation of the segregationist Jim Crow laws of the South. This prompted King to start a wider campaign of urging African Americans to boycott the public transportation of Montgomery Alabama. As the case gained nationwide traction the buses of the city were de-segregated and King tasted his first political victory. This would galvanize the Civil Rights movement and would place King at the helm. His progressive and revolutionary views of equality and brotherly love ran counter to the prevailing conservative and often narrow minded views in the nation. King reached his apex in 1963 with his march on Washington and “I Have a Dream Speech” and a year later in 1964 winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent efforts at ending racist segregation, becoming the youngest person in history to do so. Like most firebrand revolutionary figures, King’s life was tragically cut short on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee by a sniper’s bullet. What that bullet of hate could not take away tough were his ideas that were cemented into law, into the psyche of the people.