0 Days Left to Support a Troper-Created Project : Personal Space (discuss)

Full-Circle Revolution

The first and last panels from "Fat Cats"... in which Jack Chick pretty effectively says it all.

"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

They call it a revolution for a reason.

This trope refers to when a revolution loses revolutionary zeal and just repeats the pre-revolution business as usual, via bureaucratic inertia. Names and rhetoric change, the injustices stay the same.

This generally happens, and for just the same reason that the phrase "The Revolution has been betrayed!" is such a cliché: egalitarian rhetoric is well and good, especially among those outside the establishment, but once an erstwhile egalitarian gets a taste of real power and discovers how sweet it is, he tends to get very willing very fast to remove, "by any means necessary", whatever obstacles stand between him and that power. This occurring not in a vacuum, but in competition with other revolutionaries who are making the same discovery at about the same time, the result generally is a multi-cornered dogfight in which the most ruthless bastard is extremely likely to be the last left standing — which tends to have unfortunate consequences for the masses, from whom said bastard will have risen, and which might just elevate someone else to supplant him lest he ensure their loyalty.

On a less ideological note, this often happens because of a clash of what to revolutionize - do you want to alter an obsolete system of government and change the economy so that it favors the poor over the wealthy and privilege this over all other issues? (Russia, Communist Revolutions generally), establish representative democracy while leaving socio-economic issues as a bridge to cross on another day? (American) or do both at the same time? (French) or in the case of Independence and Anti-Colonial revolutions it can simply be Occupiers out of Our Country and self-determination (India, Algeria, Egypt). Ultimately, revolutions become civilized or un-civilized based on clarity of immediate short-term interests, and they become violent when one, two or five factions clash on who's left and who's more right on a given issue and how pressing said issue is with the people.

Compare Reign of Terror; that, in fact, can naturally lead to this. Bloodbaths tend to make people lose fervor even when, in the case of the Terror, the bloodbath was demanded and enabled by popular fervor to start with.

See also Meet the New Boss, for when the new villain doesn't even bother pretending to be any better than the one he's just deposed. Sometimes the trope plays like a large-scale version of He Who Fights Monsters. For when the revolution was intended to place a new tyrant on the throne from the start, see Staged Populist Uprising. Revolving Door Revolution is when the new government is deposed by another, which is deposed by another ad nauseam. The Horseshoe Effect is when two individuals or organizations claim to be ideological opponents, but in fact have a great many beliefs in common, and can be an underlying cause of this trope.

This trope has very strong Real Life connotations. Famous mathematician and physician Pierre-Simon de Laplace, who lived through The French Revolution, coined the term parabola of Revolution: it began with the reign of the Bourbons, ascended like a parabola through constitutional monarchy, republic, reign of terror and pinnacled at Napoleon's empire; then it descended again through military defeats, restoration of the Bourbons, the 100 days' empire and Waterloo, and descended back to the reign of the Bourbons, just like a parabolic arc. In the ensuing decades, the arc would again shift, until finally settling into a Republic.


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  • Parodied in this advert for supposedly sophisticated vodka.


    Board Games 
  • 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 
  • 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 imprisoned 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 their 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 at 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, running this straight into Revolving Door Revolution territory.
  • There is 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 overthrow 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.
  • "Fat Cats", the Chick Tract pictured above, in which a communist revolution in a Banana Republic gives rise to a brutal oligarchic dictatorship very much like the unspecified despotism against which it originally rebelled. (Jack Chick includes his usual pet causes, of course: note the crooked Catholic priests depicted blessing the dictator in each panel.)
  • One Wolverine story concerned Wolverine going to a Central American dictatorship because their state super-soldier program was based on haunted cocaine, and this worried him. By the end of the story, the dictator is dead and rebels are in power - but they ship the scientists of the super-soldier program off to the US in exchange for the CIA owing them a favor. As Wolverine is barging in to tell them off, the ruling council is discussing ways to be better than the old dictator, and shooting down every one because the country is too fragile.
  • Inverted in Kingdom Come in a sequence in the compilation where Superman goes to visit his old pal Orion for advice and finds him sitting on his father Darkseid's throne and fretting about how the downtrodden slaves refuse to free themselves. Orion explains that soon after he overthrew his cruel tyrant of a father, he instituted free elections in an effort to get the people of Apokolips to govern themselves democratically. Instead, they promptly elected him to be their new monarch. "Such was my reward."
    • For extra emphasis, Orion has started to look quite a bit like his father.
  • Sillage has one, where Nävis helps overthrow a government that uses widespread slavery. She comes back years later to find her revolutionary friends doing quite well for themselves, except for the whole rebellious uprising thing (of, you guessed it, freedom-hungry slaves).
  • Arsenal from Red Hood and the Outlaws was a victim of one.
  • According to Volthoom, had Atrocitus' homeworld not been destroyed by the Manhunters, he would have led one of these, overthrowing the planet's corrupt leadership only to become such a tyrant that his own son eventually would have assassinated him.
  • Persepolis, both the comic and the film adaptation, presents the Iranian revolution as this, with the Shah, a tool of western oppression, superseded by The Fundamentalists, a tool of national oppression.
    • A New Yorker cartoon published around the time of the revolution had a more satirical take on this: "OUT WITH THE DICTATOR! IN WITH THE DICTATOR!"
  • The relaunch stories of Paperinik New Adventures reveal that Corona's oppressive regime is the end result of two revolutions coming full circle:
    • As explained by Moldrock, Corona used to be a desertic world ruled by warriors where the two cities of the planet fought each other and oppressed the lesser villages, whose weak people were cast away in the desert. This ended when Moldrock himself, one of such weaklings, stumbled on the Black Beam and its awesome power. With it, Moldrock turned the people of his village in an invincible army, personally obliterated any obstacle on the way to unification and peace, turned Corona into a paradise world... And then had the scientists create warships so Moldrock and his Horde could conquer new worlds.
    • As also explained by Moldrock, this came to an end when Everett Ducklair and the scientists of Corona rebelled and used their technology to imprison Moldrock and his Horde in the Pentadimensional World, where the Black Beam was weakened. Everett freed the worlds conquered by Moldrock and stepped down... And after that came to power a matriarchal regime ruled by the mightiest ESPers of the planet with an iron fist.
      • In an interesting variant, each regime was better than the previous one: Moldrock turned a desert world into a paradise and effectively brought an end to the endless wars of Corona, and the matriarchs, who genuinely believe they're doing the right thing, are not trying to expand their rule over other worlds.
  • In Violine, this is implied to be a regular occurrence in Zongo:
    Villager 1: That was last Friday. And he said, "Let's turn this country into the best democracy in all of Africa!"
    Villager 2: Poppycock! I give him two days before he turns into a tyrant like the others!

    Fan Fiction 

  • Woody Allen's Bananas parodies this; upon taking power, the leader of the revolution immediately starts making a series of ridiculous decrees. His underlings get rid of him and make Woody Allen dictator.
  • At the end of Sleeper, a sort of Spiritual Successor to Bananas, the protagonist has deliberately facilitated a communist takeover but fully expects a follow-up revolution.
  • Duck, You Sucker!: A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western — also known as A Fistful of Dynamite. The story focuses on an ex-IRB demolitions expert who goes to help the revolution in Mexico. His accomplice, a bandit named Juan, has a much more cynical outlook on revolutions:
    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.”
  • In the “Look Down” number from Les Misérables (2012), Gavroche laments that although the people overthrew the oppressive monarchy during The French Revolution, the current government which replaced it is equally as unjust. This is what drives most of the plot of the film’s second half, which is based off the real-life, ill-fated June Rebellion of 1832.
    • More than one of the film’s songs allude to this feeling of repeated injustice:
    “It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again…”
    “Red, the blood of angry men; black, the dark of ages past; red, a world about to dawn; black, a night that ends at last…"
  • In Mean Girls, Janis frames their smearing of Regina as "bringing down a dictator", and sure enough all they do is replace one Queen Bee with another one.
  • Lampshaded a few times in Blood Diamond, summed up as "T.I.A". (This is Africa.) Which means the government is going to be bad and corrupt, the rebels are going to be worse, (and corrupt) and the Mega Corp. and mercenary companies playing both sides so that they win no matter what happens are possibly the worst of all. (And corrupt.) Sure enough, when the RUF rebels take over, they make the previous government look downright good in comparison. Anti-Hero main character Danny Archer also mentions this happening in his backstory, when he was a child and watched rebels overthrow the government of Rhodesia and turn it into Zimbabwe.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, it's quite obvious that this is what would have happened if Coin had taken over. It's her proposal to stage a "revenge Games" using the children of Capitol leaders that convinces Katniss she's just as bad as Snow and would have become a dictator in her own right, thus pushing Katniss to assassinate her.
  • One of the main themes of The Leopard: the Sicilian aristocracy aligns themselves with Garibaldi to ensure they maintain power, even after the monarchy is overthrown and Italy unified. Count Tancredi, who actually joins Garibalid's army, remarks that "In order for everything to remain the same, everything will have to change."
  • Another Italian film, Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn!, features Marlon Brando as a British agent inciting a slave rebellion on a Portuguese-held island in the Caribbean circa 1800. Brando convinces the island's planter class to join the revolution, usurping power from the slaves. Within a few years, the island is a British protectorate whose government has reinstated slavery. Brando's character is recalled, this time to suppress a slave rebellion led by the same rebels.

  • One Soviet-era joke describes Leonid Brezhnev being visited by his mother and showing off his vacation dacha, his collection of luxury cars, etc. Noticing that his mother seemed troubled, he asked what was wrong. She replied, "I'm glad that you're doing so well, but I'm worried... what will happen to you if the Communists ever come back?"
  • Another Soviet joke wryly observed this trope in action:
    Q: What is the difference between Capitalism and Communism?
    A: In Capitalism, man exploits man. In Communism, it's the other way round.

  • 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.
    • When the Audobon Ballroom gets an opportunity to get a planet of their own, W.E.B. du Havel (head of the political wing) quickly realizes that there is a serious risk of this - sooner or later he will end up in a serious disagreement with Jeremy X (head of the militant wing), at which point Jeremy and/or his supporters will consider using violence to get their point across, a fight which Du Havel would pretty much be guaranteed to lose. He then proposes a system in which supreme authority is vested in a third party respected by both wings of the movement, who can hopefully keep the peace between them long enough for them to develop ways to resolve their disputes without tearing themselves apart. So far it's been working, but then again, Torch hasn't been independent for all that long.
  • 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 could function, this is pretty much the entire point.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • The ruling Targaryen dynasty is ousted by an alliance of powerful nobles and replaced by a Baratheon king. The new king doesn't kill people for amusement, but he's otherwise just as bad at ruling the kingdom, leaving it to his advisers and the feudal lords. His supposed son and heir is just as homicidal as the old king.
      • And just as inbred as the old king as well.
    • Daenarys Targaryen conquers Astapor, frees the slaves and installs a new government. Almost the moment she leaves, the government is overthrown by former rebel slaves, who support a new autocrat that reinstates slavery on the former ruling class. And after that it gets worse: the city of Yunkai, which had previously surrendered to Daenerys, rises up again and attacks Astapor, and the city begins a downward spiral into bloodshed and disease-ridden chaos, and the slaves Daenerys freed are worse off than when the old masters ruled.
  • 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 Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy, Garm Bel Iblis is convinced that Mon Mothma taking more control during the Rebellion means she plans to make herself dictator once the Empire is defeated. He thus hides out in the Outer Rim with his personal fleet to get ready. It takes five years after the New Republic is set up for it to finally dawn on Garm that Mothma isn't going to do this and just felt no one else should shoulder the burden of leadership.
  • 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.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation And Empire, a Trader from the Foundation references this trope to explain why he doesn't mind if the Empire wins the war against the Foundation. Of course, he is a spy sent to find out as much as possible about the Empire, so it makes sense he said anything to gain the confidence of the Imperial general.
  • Mistborn has some extremely odd cases of this. After the first book, a constitutional monarchy is instituted, with a high-ranking noble who sympathized with the revolutionaries as king. Then he gets voted out by the assembly and replaced with a different high-ranking noble, then the original king becomes a theocratic emperor thanks to the same person who killed the original theocratic emperor. There's also a large segment of the population that wants to go back to the old system because, while it was extremely oppressive and they could literally be killed at any time for any reason, it was more successful at providing food.
  • In Urth of the New Sun, Severian refuses to assist in deposing Typhon, considering that killing a bad leader is considerably easier than replacing him with a better one.
  • In Crossed, the final book in the Matched trilogy, various characters note that the Rising and the Society have a lot in common. It turns out that this is because the Society had infiltrated the Rising so deeply that by the time the rebellion actually occurred, it was simply the Society changing their name and then going about business as usual.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune, Paul has successfully led the Fremen in overthrowing the old Padishah Emperor, and controls the flow of spice. In the sequel, the Fremen are running rampant across the galaxy in a massive jihad to bring all worlds to Paul's control; Paul had foreseen it, but is helpless, as even though he is the most powerful man in the universe, he can't stop the slaughter being carried out by his own people.
  • The Resistance Trilogy by Clive Egleton, set in a Soviet-occupied Britain. In the final novel the Soviets are pulling out of Britain due to war with China. This should be a time of victory, but instead the 'moderate' wing of La Résistance forms an alliance with The Quisling government to track down and eliminate their hardline members (including the protagonist). The novels end on a former Resistance member, now Minister of the Interior, announcing new anti-terrorist measures to counter 'subversion'.
  • Hard to Be a God recounts how this has happened frequently in the past, including several times in this generation. Avoiding it is the main reason for their Alien Non-Interference Clause.
  • A variation in Harry Turtledove's Colonization trilogy, in which France has remained under Nazi occupation for several decades instead of only a few years. After the Race finally forces the Nazis to pull out of France, turning France into a Race protectorate, the people quickly realize that being under the jackboot for so long has forced the new leaders to adopt similar methods of rooting out former collaborators to those used by the Gestapo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): The Cylons, after Season 2's "Downloaded".
  • Revolution: In the space of episode 19 and the first season finale, Tom Neville successfully takes Sebastian "Bass" Monroe's place as head of the Monroe Republic. Unfortunately, he proves to be just as bad, if not worse, than Monroe very quickly, because though he's not mentally ill like his predecessor, he has a severe case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, and he's already breaking his word too many times too quickly.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The title character used her magic to turn the Alpha Bitch Libby into the kind of awkward nerd Libby always mocked, but Libby-the-nerd adapted far better than Sabrina imagined she would and led the school geeks to social power, and they became just as vicious as the cheerleaders and jocks were.
    Libby: Let me tell you about power - how to get it, how to keep it.
  • Stargate Atlantis: The tendency of revolutions to install just as tyrannical governments is mentioned after the Atlantis Expedition helps Radim take over the Genii. His regime is a bit less hostile to the Expedition though.
  • The Twilight Zone: In the episode "The Mirror," a revolutionary leader had just overthrown his country's dictator. Not long afterwards, he becomes paranoid, kills his acquaintances left and right, and soon becomes an even more ruthless and stab-happy dictator than the last one.
  • Young Indiana Jones: The History of Mexico from about 1860 to 1930, as summed up in the episode "Spring Break Adventure", where Indy gets caught up with the Mexican Revolution:
    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.
  • The conclusion to Scream Queens (2015). Thanks to the murderous (literally) antics, the Kappas' ruthlessly conservative and bigoted leadership is overthrown...and replaced by a left-leaning one that bans any conservative members or thinking and whose leaders turn a blind eye to how it took a murder spree to get this going. In short, it's just as corrupt, just in the opposite political direction.

  • This was a theme of the song "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who; the most famous line is "Meet the New Boss, same as the old boss".
  • Also a major theme of A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris, by Pig With The Face Of A Boy. No matter what, the blocks continue to fall.
  • The storyline of Holy Wood: In the Shadow of the Valley of Death by Marilyn Manson is this. An oppressed man orchestrates the revolution all on his own, ends up just as bad as those he overthrew. Some theories suggest he commits suicide upon realizing this as the final track treats us to the sound of a gun being loaded (but no gunshot). Considering it's only one of three interconnecting storyline albums, the plot and chronology of which are heavily debated and have never been officially explained, nobody really knows the consequences in this case.
  • As implied by the title, the basic message of "Revolution Roulette" by Poets of the Fall is that "easy" solutions after a revolution lead to these.
    Everybody has the perfect solution,
    It's just hard to resist the sweet seduction.
    There ain't no trick to winning double what you bet.
    Welcome to revolution roulette.
  • Strange World by Gamma Ray even calls this "A never ending circle":
    Another rider crying revolution... yeah.
  • Dream Theater's epic song entitled Octavarium deals with this trope.
    Stumbling all around
    Losing my place
    Only to find I've come full circle
  • Such a revolution is detailed in Gentle Giant's album The Power and the Glory. In particular, the Dark Reprise, which ends the album, of the initial song changes the lyrics "Things could change, things could stay the same/I can say, I will make my claim" to "Things must stay, there must be no change/Anyway, time to rearrange". Also, "Cogs in Cogs" complicatedly revolves around the change in power itself.
  • Genesis' "The Knife" is about how violent revolutions end with a dictator in charge again.

  • 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.
  • In Les Misérables, the song "Turning" is about this, after the failure of the students' revolution.
    "Nothing changes, nothing ever can / Round and round the roundabout and back where you began"
  • The Soviet play The Dragon by Evgeny Shvarts is all about this. It features a town that suffers from the despotic rule of the Dragon, but don't particularly want to be saved, since they've come to view the Dragon as the only way to be governed. After the protagonist, the knight Lancelot, vanquishes the Dragon and later returns to the town, the townspeople turn out to have returned to largely the same oppressive ways by themselves.

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands, a man describes the town Jaynistown run by and named for his brother Jaynis as a "Wretched Hive of scum and villainy" and tasks the player characters with killing Jaynis and his followers. After Jaynis is dead, the man claims that he will rename the town to Taylortown after himself and be its new leader. You are informed by the leader of New Haven, the primary city for the protagonists, that Taylor is known for being even worse than Jaynis and you are then tasked with cleaning up your own mess.
  • StarCraft
    • The only real difference between the Confederacy of Man and the Terran Dominion is that the latter regime doesn't bother pretending to be a democracy. James Raynor neatly summarizes it as follows:
      "It's funny... it seems like yesterday Arcturus was the idealistic rebel crusader. Now he's the law, and we're the criminals."
    • 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).
    • And then we get a Meet the New Boss in the form of the United Earth Directorate, who are worse according to the manual. Worth noting, the folks who formed the Confederacy were partly exiled political dissidents from the United Powers League, which preceded the Directorate.
    • Averted in II Legacy of the Void when Valerian Mengsk becomes the new ruler of the Terran Dominion, he rebuilds it into a new just government. Without his fathers oppressive rule and dark secrets. It probably helps that he was largely raised by his mother and kept in secret until Arcturus became emperor, so he's a lot more cultured than his father and doesn't have the same gritty life experiences. For example, he considers himself an amateur archaeologist and collects antique swords.
  • 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, 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.
  • The Ninja Warriors Again ends on this depressing note:
    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 overthrowing 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.
  • 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 A.I.L.A. 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.
  • In the Ghaldring ending of Geneforge V, after killing the Shaper Council the drakons become as bad as the Shapers ever were, oppressing the human and creation rebels who fought the Shapers beside them and forbidding them from learning Shaping. Greta (who had seen this coming in the last act of the fourth game) and the main character lead another rebellion against the ascendant drakons in the epilogue to finally establish some peace and equality.
  • Dishonored: The Loyalists start out as direct servants of The Empire, seeking to overthrow the non-royalty Chancellor and put the princess on the throne. However, the moment he dies, something snapped in Havelock, prompting him out of formerly suppressed ambition and paranoia to become a dictator like the chancellor.
  • One of the endings in The Republia Times follows this exactly.
  • Bitterly mentioned in Shin Megami Tensei IV. The Alternate Timelines of Blasted and Infernal Tokyo gave themselves up to either God's will (Law) or unbridled anarchy (Chaos). In both worlds, a man named Akira is seeking power to change the world into a better place. They start by, respectively, giving up on empty ceremony and embracing the demons as the embodiments of human desire, and regulating the supply of Neurishers to establish the foundations of an ordered society. It's the very true argument the White use to convince you to Mercy Kill the universe: since Neutral is merely an interregnum between Law and Chaos, which themselves shall always devolve into the other in the end, what is the point in seeking either continuity or renewal?
  • The Golden Path in Far Cry 4 turn out to be this. While Kyrat chafes under the tyrannical rule of Pagan Min, the Golden Path seems like freedom fighters. Cue the Golden Path winning, and whichever one of the two leaders you support more ends up killing the other, and instituting a rule that's just as bad if not worse than Pagan's, with one killing anyone that he deems a "heretic" after years of enforced atheism (which is basically everyone) in a bloody religious purge, and the other recruiting Child Soldiers to boost the group's ranks while also turning Kyrat into a country-sized opium den. Much like the Borderlands example above, you either end up having to clean up your own mess and kill the surviving leader that seized power, or leave them alone.
  • Becomes a discussed trope in Dragon Age: Inquisition: Solas is baffled over how, despite causing the noble classes a lot of difficulty, Sera and The Friends of Red Jenny never make any serious attempts at overthrowing the noble classes in a revolution. After giving her disconcerting advice about how they could go about undertaking an actual revolution, talking about her "forces" as if they're a formal army, Solas confesses that her lack of desire for a revolution confuses him, and Sera responds that there would be no point to it if the people replacing the nobles become just as bad. Solas does concede that she has a point, and apologizes.
    • This becomes Fridge Brilliance in the light of the revelations in Trespasser: Of course Solas would know. He led a revolution before! And after he imprisoned the elven "gods" in the Fade, all it achieved was paving way for a new group of power-hungry mages — the Tevinter magisters — to bring ruin to the world. And in a massive case of Genre Blindness he admits that he's planning to do something similar again- in fact, the events of Inquisition were due to his attempt and failure (thanks to Coripheus's immortality) to do so with his Orb. Some people apparently never learn.
    • Dragon Age seems to have a hard-on for this trope in general. Thedas history can pretty much be summed up as: "Yesterday's oppressed became today's oppressors." After Solas sealed away the Evanuris to free the elves, Tevinter sprang up and enslaved all elves and most of the known world. After Andraste broke Tevinter's back, her most devout followers eventually formed the Chantry and the Empire of Orlais, both of which just went around forcibly converting and conquering their neighbors in her name, and oppressed mages and elves as badly as they claim Tevinter oppressed them, just without the word "slave" attached to it. What's more, the Player Character of all three games must protect what they know are corrupt and oppressive systems from crumbling note , either to form an Enemy Mine alliance against a greater evil or because other characters tell you you can't try to change too much too quickly since The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and Better The Devil You Know.
  • The first chapter of Heroes Chronicles details the rise of a Barbarian named Tarnum, who is inspired by the tales of the last surviving bards to overthrow The Magocracy of Bracaduun and restore the Barbarian people to their former glory. He starts out with good intentions, but, partway through, he grows paranoid from the constant attacks and assassination attempts by the Wizard-Kings, eventually snapping and poisoning all his generals for fear of betrayal. After overthrowing the wizards, he forms a Barbarian empire and becomes just as ruthless as them, crushing all opposition and sending his forces to rape and pillage towns of the former wizard empire (he later finds out that his soldiers nearly killed his long-lost sister, who was saved by a former Bracaduun knight named Rion Gryphonheart, who would later marry her and found the Kingdom of Erathia). He is finally killed in Combat by Champion by Rion Gryphonheart (who averts this trope by being a just ruler), only to be sent back by the Ancients to atone for his misdeeds. In an ironic twist, he finally redeems himself by helping another young Barbarian do pretty much the same thing many years later but without the same pitfalls.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Capricorn galaxy of Imperium Nova has a reputation for these. Most often the new emperor starts a new era of peace, then some of the other houses get bored and one of the major houses starts conquering planets, either rousing the others from their stupor or allowing them to take over.
  • The Arc Words, and a major theme, of Look to the West: "At the end of the day, 'revolution' also means 'to go round in circles'."

    Western Animation 
  • Megatron is usually this in Transformers, most explicitly in Transformers Prime. He starts out a revolutionary fighting the unjust, corrupt, tyrannical Autobot establishment with a goal of making a better society, and a combination of the issues he raises, the idealists he inspires, and the killing of the unjust rulers at his hands actually succeeds in causing reform for the better in the Autobots... but by then, he's gone mad with power and wants control instead of change, and ends up even worse than the corrupt regime he started out fighting - a regime which is now exactly where he was originally, in the position of "underdogs with the moral high ground".
  • In one episode of Duckman, Duckman accidently overthrows the despotical regime of a Cuba analogue that he won a vacation to by scalding himself with searing hot coffee, and after becoming the new El Presidente, proceeds to succumb to power corruption and greed, something that is lampshaded by Cornfed several times before it actually happens. In the end, he is overthrown by a rebellion that intends to recoup the state defecit Duckman racked up by holding his execution on an extravagant pay per view.
  • Implied and Played for Laughs in an episode of Wakfu. The heroes have successfully deposed a tyrannical governor who ruled a city with an iron fist. At the end of the episode, after the heroes have left, the new ruler claims that the time of despair is over, and that the time of happiness has come. By which she means that the city's guards now wear slightly different uniforms, and that Happiness Is Mandatory.
  • In The Legend of Korra, the Equalists are revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the oppressive bending establishment and punish those who abuse their powers. Though they start out by targeting corrupt benders, they ultimately become no better than the benders they rail against when they have control of the city, outlawing bending entirely and removing the powers of benders en-masse without regard to what they may or may not have done.
  • An episode of American Dad! where Roger impersonated a Latin American dictator ended with a line suggesting that the guy who deposed him ("The Dancing Butcher") turned out even worse.

    Real Life 
  • 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. Obote then took power again, and ended up killing more of his own people than Amin did.
  • 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 Oliver Cromwell were a result of religious conviction. 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. And the circle did indeed became completely full as Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump Parliament, essentially the same kind of act as Charles I had performed and thereby caused the rebellion against him in the first place. 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 his son Richard succeeded him, this seemed to effectively start another dynasty, so they decided to stick with the old one and restored the Stuarts to the throne.
  • 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 bloody rebellion against U.S. occupation that dragged on for 11 years, and was pretty much the Afghanistan war of the early 1900's. In fairness to the Americans, they ruled with a much lighter hand than the Spanish had, and over the course of 20-30 years the US gave the Philippines a large measure of representative government and in 1935 implemented a plan to ease the Philippines into independence over the course of ten years. Then Japan invaded and things got much worse. The US did leave after World War II though, in 1947.
    • To say nothing of practically every presidential administration since independence. Here's how it goes:
      • Candidate runs for president and promises to end the corruption of the sitting administration.
      • Candidate is elected President.
      • New President, in seeking to stay in power, pursues actions that could be construed as corrupt or incompetent (often both, never neither).
      • New Candidate arises and runs for president, promising to end the corruption of the sitting administration.
      • And so on ad nauseam.
    • This, in fact, is what happened during the People Power "Revolution" in 1986—the Marcos regime was ousted from office after fourteen years of martial law, but in some ways this was like a restoration of the old, pre-1972 order—almost all of the post-Marcos politicians belong to the same families that occupied the government before Marcos took power. A good analogy would be if the dispossessed Russian oligarchy overthrew Stalin via ostensibly peaceful means—and reinstated the Tsarist autocracy in Moscow.
  • This trope even exists in healthy democracies, where the ballot is meant to stand in place of the bullet. Many times, an immensely unpopular government has been swept out by an opposition whose rhetoric plays into a mass popular desire for genuine reform, only for the former opposition, once empowered, to maintain their predecessors' policies without substantial change.
    • Some conspiracy theorists claim that this is the result of secret societies maintaining the façade of free elections while making sure that the status quo is preserved. For example, in the US, it's claimed that the two-party system and the Electoral College are two such mechanisms of control.
  • 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 80% of the 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, although that term existed before Díaz).
  • 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 or a nasty series of natural disasters and famines). Following this, the people would rise and a new empire would begin, and the whole thing would happen all over again.
    • There is a proverb in Chinese, roughly translated as "only a madman celebrates the accession of a new dynasty", implying that nothing will change and it will be oppression as usual.
    • 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!
    • New dynasties were pretty good about trying to rectify the problems of the former dynasty, rebuilding the charitable granaries, lending support to farmers, and making the land bloom so everyone could have big, happy families and what not. It worked great... for about the 250 years or so it took for the country to become terribly overpopulated, then it was Malthusian crises all over again. Oops.
    • Mao Zedong was aware of this trope, and took steps to try and defy it. Unfortunately, his ideas of how to renew the revolutionary spirit of early Red China included the Cultural Revolution, which led to catastrophe.
  • Since The French Revolution, France has had several governments — Five Republics, Three Kings, Two Emperors and Marshall Petain with three revolutions in the 19th Century alone (the July Revolution, the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871). Indeed, some historians consider the period between 1789 and the birth of the Third Republic to be one single extended revolutionary laboratory, where France experimented and shifted with many different forms of governments, and its citizens gained diverse experiences with power and protest. The Third Republic lasted for 70 years, surviving World War I until it was toppled by the Nazis in WWII. After the war, France had a Fourth Republic that became divided on the Colonial issue of Algeria and the insurrectionary pieds-noirs and this led to calls for war hero Charles De Gaulle to be dictator. He instead gave Algeria its independence, established the Fifth Republic and preserved representative democracy, although by creating the office of President in the Fifth Republic, DeGaulle arguably created a powerful executive position that some liken to be more akin to Louis XIV than anything in the old republics.
  • 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".
  • The 2011-2013 Egyptian revolution has spun around a few times, and may be approaching the ultimate example of this, with three examples as of this writing. Starting with a military-dominated, corrupt dictatorship led by Hosni Mubarak. Protests erupt in 2011, leading the military to get rid of Mubarak, and to promise to transition to a more democratic government. Over the next couple of years:
    • Transition starts to take place, with a parliament elected late 2011 and president elected late 2012. However, at the same time as the election, parliament gets dissolved and the military gives itself most important legal powers.
    • The president (Morsi, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood) fires a bunch of military leaders, but also gives himself a large number of powers. Also starts working on a new constitution, which appears to give his own group too much power in an attempt to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
    • In 2013, in one of the purest examples of this trope in action, protests lead to the military overthrowing Morsi, arresting numerous Muslim Brotherhood leaders, violently (with hundreds of deaths) attacking protests, and other repressive measures, essentially bringing back roughly the same system that the country had started with in 2011.
  • Fidel Castro became just as much of a usurping despot as his predecessor Fulgencio Batista, who overthrew the ineffective Carlos Prío Socarrás. In fact, he has killed and driven out far more than Batista ever did.
  • During one of the (future) Decembrist gatherings, a clever guy once asked how they can be sure one of them won't become a dictator after the revolution. The person asked really hurried to change the subject...
  • On a similar note, the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin commented on this, saying "If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar." He warned, presciently, that a "people's state" was likely to be no different than the ones that came before it.
    • And Stalin agreed. He reportedly had this exchange with his mother, Ketevan Geladze:
    Ketevan: Josef, who are you now?
    Stalin: Do you remember the Tsar? I'm like the Tsar.
    • Stalin's mother also took note of this, saying he was now Tsar.
  • Thomas Jefferson believed that, to avert this trope, every nineteen years America needed to repeal every law on the books and hold a new Constitutional convention in order to adapt to the times and avoid becoming ossified.
  • George Washington averted this trope when some suggested that he should become king of the fledgling United States, noting that he had not overthrown King George the Third simply so that he could become King George the First. Likewise, he did not run for re-election after serving two terms as President, following the example of Cincinnatus.
    • That said, it must be noted on a social level, there wasn't a great deal of difference pre-and-post Revolution America. Votes were restricted to property owners, women were denied the vote, slavery continued for nearly another hundred years, though some of the states in the post-Revolutionary period abolished slavery within state lines and the slave trade was itself abolished. Changes happened gradually after that step-by-step. Some historians have considered the American Civil War the "Second American Revolution" because it changed American society far more comprehensively and decisively than the first Revolution, namely in the manner in which it solidified and preserved the Union, likewise implicitly codifying America as a national ideal on a broader scale.
    • However, the 'alien and sedition' act, and the 'crush of whiskey' rebellion had this.
    • It was also called the "Second American Revolution" when power was first peacefully handed over from one party to another when Thomas Jefferson was elected, again averting this trope. It is quite possible that the reason why the US did not devolve into a full-scale example of this trope is because of its unique federal system, where the vast majority of laws were enacted at the state level, which allowed the different groups (the pre-Industrial North, the agricultural South, and the merchant ports of New York and Philadelphia) to make a majority of the changes that they each thought the Revolution was about and only have those changes affect that particular group. Thus, they didn't have to fight over every little thing among themselves (not that that stopped them on the national level). They were able to live with their differences until a few hot button issues (taxation and slavery) became too much to ignore.

Alternative Title(s): The Thermidor, The Revolution Changed Nothing