I believe words are defined by the way we use them. I use the word revolution to mean a drastic change or upheaval. A revolution can be as small as one person changing the way they think about a single issue, or as large as the destruction of an entire system of government. A revolution can be an completely new and unheard of idea, or it can be a reversion back to an old way of doing things. What unites all these different circumstances under the umbrella of revolution is their capacity for change.  For my working definition of revolution I have decided to examine how various people use the word revolution to better demonstrate the meaning of revolution as change.


A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.  -Fidel Castro

This point is interesting because it both goes along with my definition of revolution as change, and against it. I find the struggle between the future and the past as a means to change the present in order to move forward into the future. Although this might seem like Castro’s quote goes against my point that a revolution can be reverting back to the past, I reconcile this in that the past is not necessarily antithetical to the future, and elements of the past may reemerge as a part of the future. Overall, I think Castro and I agree that this struggle between the future and the past is a struggle to create and spread change from the problems of the present/current system.


No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution… revolution is but thought carried into action. -Emma Goldman

Goldman’s idea as all substantial change stemming from revolution is similar to my understanding of revolution, but different in that my argument is that all revolution is change, not that all change comes from revolution. Goldman’s point also seems more aimed at large-scale societal change as opposed to the potential personal revolutions my understanding also includes.


If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. -Mao Zedong

I don’t know if I agree with the second part of the quote, that to understand revolution you must be a part of one, but what I am interested in is the idea that to eat the pear you change it. To take part in a revolution is to change it, which unites the large scale effects of a national revolution and the impacts such change would have on the everyday people who are affected by it.


You say you want a revolution/ Well, you know/ We all want to change the world… -John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney argue that to make a revolution is to change the world. I agree that it can be that, but I don’t completely agree that the change has to be as large as to change the world. In the context of this song, the late sixties were an era of large geopolitical conflict, it makes sense that the song talks about revolutions in this wide-scale way. This definition of revolution is a good example of what revolution would mean during the culture of the 1960s, but I feel it is a little bit too narrow to encompass everything revolution is.


The American Revolution, from which little was expected, produced much; but the French Revolution, from which much was expected, produced little. -Charles Caleb Colton

I think Colton’s quote supports my understanding of revolution in that the success of these revolutions are being judged on the criteria of how much they have changed. Since the impacts of the American Revolution were much larger than the long term impacts of the French Revolution, the American Revolution is regarded as more successful in this view.


You want a revolution, I want a revelation/ so listen to my declaration… -Lin Manuel Miranda

This use is particularly interesting to me because it directly contrasts revolution with another concept. The distinction between revolution and revelation, in the context of the American Revolution, implies that revolution is large and revelation is personal. I agree that revelation and revolution are not synonymous, but if a revelation leads to a change in a person, either in their thoughts or actions, it can be a revolution.


You cannot make a revolution in white gloves. -Vladimir Lenin

This quote depicts revolution in a pretty traditional light. A violent, bloody political revolution is what many people think of when they hear the word revolution. I feel like the idea that revolution has to be violent, or in some way will leave blood on your hands, is too limiting. Drastic change does not need to be violent, but I do agree that bloody political upheavals are revolutionary.


Art is either plagiarism or revolution. -Paul Gauguin

I agree with Gauguin that the only way to revolutionize it to change what you are doing or how you are doing it. These types of changes are very apparent through art mediums, as you can clearly see what has changed and what hasn’t. I am also intrigued by the idea that if Gauguin’s quote is applied to my understanding of revolution wholly, to not change would be to plagiarize. Is this a fair characterization of non-revolutionary actions? Is revolution and change the only way forward, and everything else is holding back the future?


The Beatles. “Revolution.” The Beatles, 13 July 1968.

Colton, C. C., and George J. Barbour. Lacon, or, Many Things in Few Words: Addressed to Those Who Think. Melrose, 1820,

Deutscher, Tamara. Not by Politics Alone: the Other Lenin. L. Hill, 1976.

Goldman, Emma. “ Anarchism: What It Really Stands For.” Anarchism and Other Essays, 1911,

Johnston, Chris. “’A Revolution Is Not a Bed of Roses’: Fidel Castro in His Own Words.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Nov. 2016,

“Paul Gauguin.”, A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017,

“The Schuyler Sisters.” Hamilton: An American Musical, 2015.

Tse-Tung, Mao. On Practice. International Publishers, 1966,