"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
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.
open/close all folders
- Parodied in this advert for supposedly sophisticated vodka.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: This is basically Rossiu's character arc after the Time Skip. While Simon's a popular figurehead, Rossiu is the one that gets things done. When the plot restarts, his Heroic Resolve starts to buckle under the weight of The Chains of Commanding, and his decisions rapidly come to resemble those previously made by the Spiral King. He keeps making unpopular decisions until he reaches the Despair Event Horizon and attempts suicide. Luckily, he's shaken out of it by Simon through a time-tested technique given to him some years earlier.
- Code Geass has an interesting subversion. By the end of the series, Emperor Lelouch has become an even worse evil overlord than his social Darwinist father. But that was the point, to unify the world through its hatred of him and arrange it so he was overthrown at the last minute, thereby giving the good guys the opportunity and public support necessary to rebuild the world's various monarchies and dictatorships as democracies instead. Prince Schneizel's plans to overthrow his father, however, would most likely have been a case of this played straight.
- In Saint Beast, Zeus overthrows the tyranny of The Old Gods and subsequently becomes a tyrant in their place leading to another (failed) rebellion by the protagonists.
- 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.
- 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 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, 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 turns into the same brutal oligarchy it had rebelled against. (It is, of course, leavened with Jack Chick's usual biases, particularly concerning Catholicism.)
- 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.
- 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 the 2012 film adaption of ''Les Misérables'', 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.
- 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?"
- 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.
- 1984: 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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'."
- 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.
- This became a moot point in Legend of Korra, where the Equalists seek to overthrow and eliminate every bad bender who oppressed and wronged them. Firebenders killed Hiroshi Sato's wife, the bending triads extort non-benders, the White Falls Wolfbats openly cheated during a Probending match, and to top it all off, Councilman Tarrlok betrayed Republic City's freedom by imposing a curfew on non-benders, and launched a False Flag Operation that would lure out all the non-benders out just so he could arrest them with extreme prejudice and label them all as Equalists. Once the Equalists, take over, they're just as worse as every bender who wronged them.
- 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.