Political Anarchy, Civil War and Violence as Consequences of Social Movements?

A few weeks ago, a Libyan militia group kidnapped the Prime Minister of the country. The abduction followed shortly after two military operations that were carried out by United States commandos. The operations led to the arrest of two Libyan citizens who are suspected of terrorist activity. Many Libyans disapproved of the U.S. military operations, and blamed the Libyan government for having tacitly approved of them.

According to the BBC, a spokesman of the militia group initially claimed that the kidnapping of the Prime Minister was directly related to the US raids. Soon after this news release, the militia group however asserted that the arrest was unrelated to the American military operations. The group had allegedly apprehended the Prime Minister for questioning “on the orders of the prosecutor general”. The Justice Minister denied. But doubts remain about the involvement of political actors in the kidnapping.

The story illustrates the level of anarchy that exists in post-revolution Libya. The country is replete with militias. And in that sense, it is not unique. Various countries in the Middle East have seen the emergence of militias, political violence, and anarchy after popular uprisings. Such violence was not planned by the organizers. But it is certainly a consequence of the revolts: without the uprisings, the level of anarchy and political violence would, in all likelihood, have been much lower.

But does this mean that anarchy and high levels of political violence are always to be expected after revolts? No. The revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 show that the outcome can also be different. Popular uprisings can be followed by relatively high degrees of peace.

What causes this variation? Is it produced by differences in pro-active behavior by movement organizers? Does it depend on pre-existing divides in society? Or could it be that difference in pre-revolution cohesion of the armed forces is the critical factor? All of these issues may have produced or contributed to the different outcomes. But right now, we don’t know.

In recent years, CBSM scholars have paid increasing attention to outcomes and consequences of social movements (for overviews, see Giugni 1998; Amenta et al.2010 ). In studying these consequences, scholars have largely focused on policy outcomes in western countries. Manifestly less attention has been paid to the above questions related to political violence. The questions were indeed not as pertinent before as they are today. But with recent developments in the Middle East, the questions are becoming really important for social movements and CBSM scholarship alike. It would be great to see work that explicitly addresses these issues.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Political Anarchy, Civil War and Violence as Consequences of Social Movements?

  1. The revolutions in Eastern Europe 1989 show that the outcome can also be different. Popular uprisings can be followed by relatively high degrees of peace.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “relatively.” Beissinger’s work on nationalist mobilizations in Eastern Europe post-1989 show increasing levels of violence in those countries.

    • Daniel Blocq

      When you speak of Beissinger’s work, I assume that you refer to his book ‘Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State’ (2002). In that book, Beissinger discusses the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. When I speak of revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, I mean revolutions in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. These countries were not part of the former Soviet Union. That said, it would be interesting to include the former Soviet states in comparative analysis on post-revolutionary outcomes.

  2. Pingback: Add or blog what you see going on around you! | militarymovementwatch

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