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The success of populist politicians and the emergence of social justice movements around the world, and the recent demonstrations against police violence in the...

The success of populist politicians and the emergence of social justice movements around the world, and the recent demonstrations against police violence in the United States, demonstrate a widespread desire for fundamental political, economic, and social change, albeit not always in a leftwards direction. What can movements and parties that hope to bring about fundamental social change learn from the past?

In Anatomies of Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2019), George Lawson analyzes revolutionary episodes from the modern era (beginning with the Glorious Revolution of 1688) to discern how geopolitics, transnational circulation of ideas and people, organizational capabilities, and contingent choices come together to shape the emergence of revolutionary situations and the trajectories and outcomes of revolutions. He also explains why more moderate negotiated revolutions have been more common than far-reaching social revolutions since the 1980s.

Finally, he suggests that the key for social movements to take advantage of systemic crises that could provide openings for revolutionary situations to emerge is the ability of opposition groups to form cohesive political organizations without succumbing to the authoritarianism and the “ends justify the means” logic that turned revolutionary forces into violent, authoritarian regimes in the past.

George Lawson is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics.