Political Spectrum

  • France, 1789

    Revolutionaries storm the Bastille for “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Four years later, Jacobin radicals gain control and begin their Reign of Terror, beheading thousands. Soon despotism returns not in the form of the king, but Napoleon.
  • Russia, 1917

    The popular Aleksandr Kerensky replaces the overthrown czar. But with the nation exhausted by World War I, Kerensky and his fellow democrats cannot hold off an uprising by totalitarian Bolsheviks led by Lenin, soon to be followed by Stalin
  • India, 1930

    Mohandas K. Gandhi’s “salt march,” in protest of the English salt monopoly in colonial India, becomes a model of successful passive resistance. But eventual independence means the tumultuous, sectarian breakup of British India. Gandhi is later assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.
  • Egypt, 1952

    King Farouk is driven into exile, but democracy is thwarted by the officer caste behind the uprising. For more than half a century, Egypt remains a military dictatorship in civilian garb
  • Cuba, 1959

    Fidel Castro, backed by a middle-class movement disgusted with corruption and repression, overthrows the American-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. But Castro’s regime soon nationalizes property, drives the upper and middle classes into exile and turns ordinary Cubans into informants. Firing squads do a brisk business.
  • Iran, 1979

    The American-backed shah flees for his life, and the urbane Mehdi Bazargan becomes figurehead leader — for a few months. Then radical followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini take over, and mass executions ensue. The Islamic regime remains in place 32 years later, having shaken off a peaceful uprising in 2009.
  • Nicaragua, 1979

    The leftist Sandinista movement, in coalition with disenchanted members of the middle class, ousts the American-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. But the Sandinistas are opposed by “contra” guerrillas backed by the Reagan administration, and accused of abuses and corruption. Still, after falling out of voters’ favor, the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, is re-elected president in 2006.
  • Philippines, 1986

    The “people power” or “yellow” revolution ousts the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and, with American backing, installs as president Corazon Aquino, widow of a beloved, slain opposition figure. The outcome is hailed as a modern exemplar of peaceful revolution.
  • South Korea, 1987

    Unrest over the torture death of a student forces the military leader, Chun Doo-hwan, to yield to democratic rule, which continues to this day.
  • Lebanon, 2005

    The “cedar revolution” breaks out over the assassination of a former prime minister, a killing believed to have been instigated by Syria. The protests force Syrian troops to withdraw from the country and the pro-Syrian government to disband. But in January 2011, the Syrian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah ousts the slain leader’s son from the prime minister’s job and becomes the government’s dominant force
  • Eastern Europe, 1989

    As the Soviet Union loosens its grip on its satellites, Warsaw Pact nations like Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia break free peacefully. But after the Soviet Union itself splinters, many of the former Soviet republics, Russia among them, find it hard to shake old authoritarian ways
  • Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other Arab nations today

    Upheavals in these countries raise anew the question of whether radicals, elements of the old order or democrats will ultimately prevail.