The revolutionaries already look like Cossacks.
On an unusually cold March morning 92 years ago, thousands of Red Army soldiers left solid ground and charged across five miles of heavy ice to the fortress city of Kronstadt.
The citadel was held by the rebellious sailors of the Baltic Fleet, formerly the shock troop zealots of the revolution. During the 1917 uprisings, they'd executed their officers en masse and remained one of the Bolshevik's most reliable military forces.
But as Lenin and his crew centralized their power and became increasingly repressive, the sailors turned against them. They seized the fleet and issued their own manifestoes, declaring that "the hammer and sickle – has been replaced by the bayonet and the barred window."
The sailors were experienced fighters in a formidable position: they cut the Red Army down. Over 10,000 soldiers died during 10 days of fighting. But in the end, the government crushed the uprising. They finished devastating Kronstadt just in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune, destroyed by the troops of the fledgling French Third Republic.
In 1794, the leaders of the American Revolution called up their forces once again, this time to end a guerilla rebellion rather than start one. Western farmers had taken up arms rather than pay the whiskey tax that was part of Alexander Hamilton's plan to get the nascent national economy up and running without pissing off his mercantile allies too much. So President George Washington marched west at the head of 13,000 soldiers. There was no major bloodshed, but the message was completely clear: rise up and we'll destroy you.
Then there's the Irish Civil War, 13 Vendémiaire, the Satsuma Rebellion, the Hyderabad campaign, the Cultural Revolution, the 1993 shelling of Russia's parliament. It's a long, bloody list. Hell, in 1848 even Victor Hugo enthusiastically led troops to put down the same riotous Parisians who were his allies a few months before.
There's a mythology around popular revolution, one that informs what kind of politics we revere, that even determines what we consider possible in our wildest dreams.
This is its uncomfortable catalogue of heresies, an alternate timeline running parallel to the shinier canon of July 4, the storming of the Bastille, the Fall of the Iron Curtain. The same process happens across cultures, after violent revolutions and peaceful ones, perpetrated by regimes both tyrannical and democratic. Every time the troops crest the barricades, it poses a dirty little question: why do revolutions, based on the principle that rebellion is justified, end up ruthlessly ending rebellions?