Full-Circle Revolution

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"Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."
"Why Independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"
Jose Rizal

A Full-Circle Revolution happens when a revolutionary government loses its zeal and just repeats the pre-revolution business as usual, via bureaucratic inertia. The leaders change, but the injustices stay the same. The word "revolution" comes from the Latin for "turn around"; these are revolutions that turn around 360°, back to where they started.

This trope is sadly Truth in Television, because simply replacing the leaders of a country does little to resolve its underlying social problems. And if the new government doesn't have technical expertise to actually govern, they end up repeating the same mistakes as their predecessors. See the Real Life section below for many examples.

Contrast Reign of Terror, when revolutionary zeal is causing tyranny and blood-letting. One can be the consequence of the other: the people are so sick of the Reign of Terror that they will put up with the old injustices just to be done with the revolution. See also Meet the New Boss, for when the new villain doesn't start out different and goes straight to being the same. Full-Circle Revolution happen anywhere, but tends to happen more often in Banana Republics.

Examples of Full-Circle Revolution include:


Anime[edit | hide | hide all]


Board Games[edit | hide]

  • Junta, a satirical look at politics in The Most Serene Republic of Los Bananas, has a military coup occur approximately once every two turns. Of course, this just leads to one oligarch being shot by the firing squad and replaced by his cousin, and possibly a new Presidente and a reshuffling of cabinet posts among the oligarchs.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Tintin:
    • Executed subtly in Tintin and the Picaros: during the course of the book, the heroes help Tintin's friend General Alcazar overthrow the despotic General Tapioca from the leadership of San Theodoros (mostly because said despot imprisioned Madame Castafiore and sentenced Thomson and Thompson to death). However, the penultimate panel of the book is almost a carbon copy of an earlier one (showing soldiers patrolling a slum filled with starving people), only a sign now reads "Viva Alcazar" instead of "Viva Tapioca" and the police's uniforms are slightly different, hinting that nothing important has changed.
    • Also, Alcazar wants to execute a whole lot of people, starting with Tapioca of course, and is only kept in bay because Tintin is his Morality Pet, showing that Alcazar and Tapioca are as bad as each other. Tapioca actually consoles Alcazar over being stopped -that is, the man who just overthrew him and wants to shoot him. Similarly, the only reason Tintin became Alcazar's friend in the first place was because he ended up as his lieutenant. A few hours of slippage and he could have ended up as Tapioca's lieutenant just as easily.
    • Earlier books such as Broken Ear would depict Alcazar and Tapioca committing multiple coups on a daily basis against each other.
  • I remember an Incredible Hulk story where the Hulk (technically Bruce Banner who controlled his body as Hulk) was taken to a planet where a green race was enslaved by a red race. The Hulk helped the green people overtake the rulers and before leaving asked them to live peacefully together. Looking through a telescope as he was getting far off he saw the red people enslaved by the green ones and wept.
  • This Chick Tract.


Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

Juan: I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can't read the books, the poor people, and say, "We have to have a change." So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They're dead! That's your revolution. Shhh... So, please, don't tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same fucking thing starts all over again!

  • Land of the Blind - La Résistance, after taking power, become just as bad or worse, prompting a restoration of the old regime.
  • Lord of War: Discussed by Yuri Orlov. "I guess they [African militants] can't own up to what they usually are: a federation of worse oppressors than the last bunch of oppressors. Often, the most barbaric atrocities occur when both combatants proclaim themselves freedom-fighters."


Literature[edit | hide]

  • William Butler Yeats' poem "The Great Day": "Hurrah for revolution and more cannon shot!/A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot./Hurrah for revolution, and cannon come again!/The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on."
  • Subverted in Mockingjay. The President of freedom-fighting District 13 appears to be going the way of the old President, complete with a continuation of the Hunger Games which the old regime used to keep the populace in line, but Katniss assassinates her before she comes to power.
  • Honor Harrington has two fictional governments of this kind: the Committee of Public Safety (modeled exactly on the historical French dictatorship), which self-destructs spectacularly, and the restored constitutional Republic of Haven, which is mostly getting its act together but is still plagued by internal corruption.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • As noted in Night Watch, revolutions usually end up simply replacing one set of bastards with another set. "That's why they're called 'revolutions' -- they always come round again."
    • And previously to that, in Interesting Times, when Rincewind refuses to help the communist rebels against the Agatean Empire, one of the things he points out is that their plans amount to setting up exactly the same government that they're trying to overthrow, just with different names.
  • George Orwell:
    • Animal Farm was all a big allegory for how it went down in Russia. One ominous sign is at the gruesome scene of The Purge, where the animals consider that this is not what they had hoped to see after the revolution, and spontaneously start to sing the old revolutionary anthem "Beasts of England," only for the official propagandist Squealer to declare "Beasts of England" abolished. By the end of the tale, the pigs have become practically indistinguishable from their former human masters.
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four: Emmanuel Goldstein describes society as being in a state of continual successful but inconsequential uprisings, with the middle class of the time using the masses as pawns in its (often successful) attempt to trade places with the ruling class, and the process repeating every few decades/centuries. The extraordinary repression in Oceania is partly an attempt by the Dangerously Genre Savvy Party to prevent it from happening to them (largely, of course, they are just doing it For the Evulz).
  • L'Engrenage by Jean-Paul Sartre is about a country whose reactionary government is overthrown by a revolution, but before long the new regime realizes that it is unable to fulfill its promises, and goes back to the previous one's methods. Eventually it is itself overthrown by a new revolution, and the cycle starts anew.
  • Les Justes by Albert Camus, about a group of idealistic students who engage in terrorist acts in order to overthrow a despotic regime, features the famous quote "One begins by desiring justice, and one ends up setting up a police."
  • Mirror in the Mirror by Michael Ende contains a short story from the point of view of a tyrant who used to be one of these, while being chased through his crumbling palace by the men seeking to overthrow him.
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin: Apart from showing how an anarcho-communist society would function, this is pretty much the entire point.
  • In the Backstory of A Song of Ice and Fire, the ruling Targaryen dynasty is ousted by an alliance of powerful nobles and replaced by a Baratheon king... but most everything else stays pretty much the same. The old king was too busy being insane to bother ruling the actual kingdom, the new king too busy getting drunk, hunting, and conceiving bastards on anything with a pulse and a uterus. Under both monarchs, the day-to-day running of the kingdom is largely done on the local level by feudal lords and on a national level by an appointed council of advisers, some half to 3/4 of whom are consistent between dynasties in both cases.
  • In the X Wing Series novel Starfighters of Adumar (part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe), Wedge confronts a New Republic diplomat who's willing to do whatever it takes to get an independent planet to join the NR, even adopting the methods of the Empire. Wedge declares this is the same as having the Empire back in power, just with different faces on the credit notes.
  • In Michael Flynn's Up Jim River, Zorba discussed how he rescued a wannabe Doomed Moral Victor on the grounds that the revolt would only lead to this.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

Old farmer: Listen, years ago I rode with Juárez against Emperor Maximilian. I lost many chickens but I thought it was worth it to be free. When Porfirio became President, I supported him – but he stole my chickens. Then came Huerta and he stole my chickens. Then it was Carranza’s term, and he stole my chickens too. Now comes Pancho Villa to liberate me and the first thing he does is steal my chickens!...What makes one different from the others? My chickens don’t know. All over the world revolutions come and go. Presidents rise and fall. They all steal your chickens. The only thing to change is the name of the man who takes them.

Libby: Let me tell you about power - how to get it, how to keep it.


Music[edit | hide]

Oh, such a strange world
A never ending circle

Here come the riders of the revolution
Another rider crying revolution... yeah.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • In Pippin, Pippin leads a revolution, overthrows his father, is crowned king, and promises his subjects a reign free of the slavery and bloodshed that distinguished his father's. He resolves to give their petitions the hearing his father denied. To the poor he distributes money, grants land to the peasants, abolishes taxes on the nobles, and dismisses the army. But the Infidel attacks in the East, murdering thousands of Pippin's subjects. Unwilling to supply the Hun with his head on a pike-staff, Pippin decides to rescind his reforms, and starts repressing the people just like his father did. When Fastrada praises Pippin for maintaining the same kind of rule his father did, he considers that maybe sticking a knife in his father's back wasn't such a good idea.


Video Games[edit | hide]

It's funny... it seems like yesterday Arcturus was the idealistic rebel crusader. Now he's the law, and we're the criminals.
James Raynor, neatly summarizing this trope.
    • In the novel Starcraft: Ghost: Nova, it's mentioned that Emperor Arcturus I is even less tolerant of rebels and dissidents than the Confederacy, sending Nova after a group of rebels who were previously on his side (they are, actually, the ones responsible for the murder of Nova's parents).
  • The premise of Red Faction: Guerrilla: The story takes place fifty years after the first Red Faction and revolves around the fact that the Earth Defense Force (EDF), who helped save the day in the original game, have become cruel oppressors as bad as Ultor, leaving your character to join a resistance movement to liberate the planet.
    • Red Faction II has this in a single game. You play as a member of a nano-enhanced squad created by the tyrant Sopot, whom he later tries to kill. You fight on the side of the Red Faction to depose Sopot, which you end up doing by locking him in with a launching missile. Then you come back to the Red Faction HQ to see your commander killing the entire leadership of La Résistance, declaring himself the new chancellor. Before you can say anything, he declares you a traitor for no good reason, forcing you to fight him for the rest of the game. If anything, he's even worse than Sopot.
  • Armored Core: For Answer:

The leader of the reactionary force called ORCA is named Maximilian Thermidore. He aims to secure humanity's future by destroying the assault cells which prevent humans from leaving Earth. Willing to sacrifice millions of lives to achieve his goals he proves as brutal as the regime he is fighting against. He pilots the NEXT Unsung and holds rank one both within ORCA and within Collard. However, his methods, his targets, and his ideology are all different from the corporations, making him not exactly a perfect example of this trope.

Bangar was defeated by the three androids. It was a great victory for the opposition force. A few months later Mulk became the new president and created a fresh government. ... The development of the androids progressed, and these powerful weapons of Mulk's new government became far stronger than Bangar's old forces. The people seeing this said "History repeats itself."

  • Baldur's Gate 2 has Mazzy Fentan telling a tale about this kind of revolution to Rebellious Princess Nalia in an attempt to curb her idealism about revolutions towards the noble class of Amn.
  • Red Dead Redemption: About midways through the game, John Marston, the Player Character, travels to the unruly Northern Mexico, and soon realizes that he must help the ambitious Rebel Leader Abraham Reyes and his army with overthrown the dictatorial local government in order to further his own goals. In the epilogue, Reyes moves on to attack Mexico City and manages to overthrow the president, after which he becomes a tyrant and doesn't change Mexico for the better in the slightest, which really is not that surprising, considering that he was already an egomaniac obsessed with personal glory when John met him.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: One of the possible endings can be interpreted as this. If you utilize Yes-Man and liberate New Vegas, you replace Mr. House as its leader - and Yes Man takes your place as the resident right-hand man. He even notes that he's "found" some upgrades to make himself more "assertive", implying he'll pull a similar stunt on you...
    • Word of God claims that this isn't the case: the "assertiveness" upgrade simply fixes his programming that until now forced him to obey the orders of anyone, meaning you some random raider can't just walk up to Yes Man and take over Vegas himself.
  • This seems to be the central conflict of Fable III. Your brother, the King, rules with an iron fist and taxes his subjects brutally. Then you overthrow him... and find out the reason he was throttling the country was because an Eldritch Abomination is making its way towards Albion, and he needs the treasury fully stacked to make sure the army is well-prepared for its arrival. This gives you the option of either going back to his style of government (the "Evil" option) or instituting reforms for the subjects that will empty the treasury and divert money from the army, resulting in lots of death when Mr. Nasty shows up (the "Good" option). Needless to say, many players Take a Third Option and grind professions and/or invest heavily in real estate to fill the treasury themselves.
  • Two of the endings in the original Alter AILA follow this pattern. In the Rebellion ending, White becomes President and quickly proves to be just as evil as Kugar ever was. In the Independent ending, Gold averts the trope during his government, but is assassinated shortly afterwards and replaced by yet another dictator. Meanwhile, the Imperialist ending is more a case of Meet the New Boss, as Red pulls a Starscream and overthrows Lian for the hot seat, but that's no revolution at all.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Truth in Television: Sadly, the modern history of several countries, especially unstable African countries, can be defined as "Same problems, new leadership". The Last King of Scotland is a notable example, with the movie beginning with Obote being replaced by Idi Amin, who of course falls himself in the end, after being even worse.
  • The Real Life English "Revolution" following the execution of Charles I had a bit of this going on. Most of the radical actions taken by the top figures such as Cromwell were a result of religious conviction, not a desire for societal change. Cromwell himself caught plenty of stick for not wishing to execute the King before the Second Civil War changed his mind. Following the execution, various radical schemes offered by true reformers were tried, but eventually, as more and more people were brought back into the government structure, they began to drift back to pre-war forms, even offering the crown to Cromwell. In the end, they had returned to a monarchy in all but name, with Cromwell as Lord Protector, assisted by successive toothless legislatures. And after Cromwell kicked off, they restored the Stuarts to the throne.
  • The European Revolutions of 1848 were like this. Pretty much every European country had a pro-democratic revolution, but things only really changed for the better in two small nations: Denmark and the Netherlands. Europe as a whole didn't become democratic until well into the twentieth century.
    • That's not quite accurate. Yes, the Year of Revolutions was a bust. But by the turn of the twentieth century, every European country except Russia, the Ottoman Empire and a few others had some form of parliamentary democracy. In fact, World War I actually snuffed out some democracies.
      • Also, the Netherlands did not have a revolution in that year at all. The liberals tried to put in a new constitution which limited the king's (already limited) power. The king, seeing what was happening abroad, agreed.
  • The Philippines suffered from this after the U.S. helped them overthrow Spain, which had colonized them a few hundred years before. They then had to endure being a colony of the U.S., along with enduring a blood rebellion against U.S. occupation that dragged on for 11 years, and was pretty much the Afghanistan war of the early 1900's.
    • American occupation brought progress the Philippines wouldn't have achieved had it stayed a Spanish colony.
    • Then Japan invaded . It Got Worse.
  • This trope even exists in healthy democracies, where the favoured form of revolution is by the ballot and not by the bullet. There have been many, many times where an immensely unpopular government was swept out by a new and somewhat over-idealistic opposition promising radical change, only to continue their predecessors' policies once they sat down to effectively govern.
  • This is what happened with Iran: the US-supported brutal monarchy of the Shah was overthrown by a revolution that brought immense hopes of independence and justice. Then the Islamists came out on top of the revolution and imposed Sharia law.
  • That South East Asian Country's 8888 Uprising. The military took control on September 18, and pledged elections, which occurred in 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won 392 seats, which the military junta recognized at once and Burma became a free, prosperous nation. Oh wait, no it didn't; the military denied the results, and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, imposing their own dictatorship on the Burmese people.
  • The same thing happened in Mexico after the supposedly liberal Porfirio Díaz took power. The old aristocracy was simply replaced with an even more brutal plutocracy, and while the cities became modern, small towns were squeezed out of existence and their former denizens became de facto serfs living with inescapable debt in haciendas (they were even called peons).
  • Ancient China actually had a name for this trope: the "Dynastic Cycle." Essentially, it was the idea that an empire would rule until it became disapproved of by the gods, who would show their disapproval by some cosmic event (say, a lunar eclipse). Following this, the people would rise and a new empire would begin, and the whole thing would happen all over again.
    • It all makes sense if you believe in "intercalendary" dynasties.
    • There were also other signs of "losing the Mandate of Heaven" that are suspiciously indicative of bad governing. Starvation (from poor irrigation policy), foreign invasions (from poor diplomatic policy), and even peasant revolts were all grounds for overthrowing the dynasty... if you pull it off. Which, in turn, is a clear sign that you possess the Mandate of Heaven!
  • Nineteenth century France arguably went through this... more than once. The French Revolution establishes a republic that turns into an imperial monarchy more authoritarian than anything that existed under the old monarchy. After Napoleon is finally defeated for good, Louis XVI's brother, Louis XVIII, becomes king and brings with him a more constitutional government than what existed before the Revolution. However, he's succeeded by his reactionary brother, Charles X, leading to another (but much less violent) revolution that brings in King Louis-Philippe, whose government is something of a monarchy-republic hybrid. He became more reactionary over time, leading to yet another revolt, which brought in the Second Republic of France, although that soon ended when Napoleon's nephew was elected President and quickly set about making himself Emperor Napoleon III. Already long story short, it wasn't until 1870 that France got a government, the Third Republic, that broke the cycle by simply lasting.
  • Cuba. Batista was certainly not a nice guy, but Castro did little to improve Cuba, which has somehow became progressively poorer under his rule, not to mention the installation of prison camps for "counter-revolutionaries" and sham trials of "Batista war criminals". Meet the New Boss indeed...
  • Incredibly common in Ancient Japan. Their government could be boiled down to "current dynasty becomes corrupt -> a revolution is formed to overthrow the dynasty -> leader of the revolution becomes the new leader and creates a new dynasty -> current dynasty becomes corrupt".
  • There is a legend that Dionysius, the cruel and disliked tyrant of Syracuse, once heard an old woman praying for his health. When he inquired about that, she said "I have outlived three tyrants already, and each was worse than the one before him".