The Revolution Betrayed

By Mumia Abu-Jamal, M.A.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of three books: Live from Death Row, Death Blossoms, and All Things Censored. A biography, On A Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, details his life.

Is it possible to succeed without any act of betrayal?
—Jean Renoir (1894-1979) French Filmmaker

Buy this book at! When one speaks of revolution, the very notion, the very mention, reveals the interests of all participants.

No one is neutral in a revolution, and even the pretension of neutrality is but inaction in favor of the status quo, and therefore, anti-revolutionary in effect.

Most folks think of the American Revolution, or the French Revolution; some think of the Haitian Revolution, or the Russian Revolution. Most see these revolutions as rare epoch in history; as earth- shattering as comets plunging from the heavens.

Revolutions (despite what you were taught in history class) were rife in world history, and were successful in some ways, but unsuccessful in others.

What will no doubt surprise many readers is the long history of revolutions across Europe. They were religious, nationalist, and social-economic in character, yet they were revolutions nonetheless.

For millions of Americans, the names of these European revolutionaries (although of their various ethnic backgrounds) are virtually unknown. John Ball (England), Jan Hus (Czech), the Taborites, Prokop Holý (Czech priest), and the like, were all revolutionaries (or, at least, committed radicals) who rallied popular discontent against a rich, and foreign, clergy and aristocracy.

There can be no discussion about these revolutions, without the acknowledgement that these revolutionaries fought in Revolutions that were ultimately betrayed by their erstwhile allies, for self-interest, gain, or a false, elusive “peace.” Bohemia’s brilliant Jan Hus (ca. 1419) sparked a revolution that raged for 18 years, while the betrayal of the Hussite revolution came from those who professed allegiance, yet practiced treachery, like the well-to-do and wealthy Masters of the University at Prague.1

The brilliant revolutionary historian, C.L.R. James, in his little-known A History of Pan-African Revolt (1938/1995) tells us of the attempt of Toussaint L’Ouverture to betray Haitian freedom to the French colonists:

…[W]hen the French Government sent Commissioners who boasted of the armed forces (quite imaginary) which were on their way, the Negro leaders [Jean-François, Biassou, and Toussaint] sought to betray their followers. They wrote to the Commissioners promising that in return for the freedom of a few hundred they would cooperate in leading the others back into slavery and would join in hunting down the recalcitrant. [James, 40.]

Toussaint’s failed deal shows us how deep is the instinct of betrayal, not just in “Negro leaders,” but in the very heart of the Revolution itself. Let us learn from our radical and revolutionary history, for, in so doing, we are neither surprised nor dismayed by betrayals of revolution. We expect it.

What this history teaches us is that some revolutions, if led by the people, and not the bourgeoisie, will even succeed despite treachery.

They spring, not from the brains of the bourgeoisie, but from the guts and hearts of a people on the move.

A true revolution can be betrayed, but if it lives in the hearts of the people, it can’t be stopped.

Original Publication Date: 03/04/01

Text ©2001 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

To communicate directly with Mumia write to him at:

Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370

End Notes

1 See C. H. George, 500 Years of Revolution: European Radicals from Hus to Lenin, (Kerr, 1998)