Ahhhh, so you've decided that its time for a change have you?

Come in, come in. Please sit down. Some tea? Of course, coffee it is then.

So, let us begin. You've decided to overthrow the government then? Wonderful, a superb choice if I may say so. But let us now discuss how you're going to do it. You see there are many ways.

Disclaimer: Plotting to overthrow a government is a serious business for serious people. Please don't try it "just for a laugh", if you fail you might find that there are some very pissed people looking for you afterwards....

So let us now look at the various ways in which we could presume to overthrow a government, with historical examples of course.


Revolution n. 1 a the forcible overthrow of government or social order, in favor of a new system. b (in Marxism) the replacement of one ruling class by another; the class struggle which is expected to lead to political change and the triumph of communism.

One of the marks of a revolution is that it comes from the people as an uncoordinated popular uprising. It is a popular term due to this veneer of being an effort of the masses, even if it was actually an orchestrated effort by a few plotters. It should also be noted that a revolution is, by is nature, generally a leftist form of takeover.


  • Most respectable form of revolution as it's the people's uprising.
  • The People will be less likely to depose you later - after all they are the ones who put you into power.


  • Unorganized, difficult to orchestrate.
  • The people can be unpredictable.
  • Conditions (oppression, class struggle etc.) need to be right first.

Famous Revolutions

  • French Revolution - 1789
    Briefly Successful - People overthrew the monarchy, executed Louis XVI in 1793. Failed to produce a stable government and was in turn overthrown by Napoleon in 1799.
  • Bolshevik Revolution - 1917
    Successful - The Bolsheviks overthrew the Tzars in 1917 heralding a new age of perfect, communist, governance. Lasted until Yeltsin changed his mind about communism in the 1990's.

Civil War

Civil War n. war between citizens of the same country.

The civil war has rather gone out of fashion as a way of overthrowing a government (or other ruling party). Civil wars tend to start as a popular uprising with the backing of parts of the military. Unfortunately the rest of the military tend to disagree, leading to fighting between the two opposing factions.


  • (Some of) the Army supports you.
  • More likely to stay in power if you win due to the existence of some popular support.


  • You might lose.
  • The rest of the Army really doesn’t like you.
  • Half the country really doesn't like you.

Famous Civil Wars

  • English Civil War - 1642-49
    Limited Success - The parliament opposed the monarch of the time (Charles I). Parliamentary forces won in 1646 and executed Charles I in 1649. All fell apart when Oliver Cromwell (head Parliamentarians) died and Charles II was restored to the throne.
  • Spanish Civil War - 1936-39
    Successful - Nationalists rose up against the left-wing government. Eventually the Nationalists, led by Franco, won in July 1936. (Yes I am well aware that it was far more complicated than that, its just an example...)


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The pronunciamiento is Spanish and Latin American concept. In a pronunciamiento the government is overthrown by the armed forces as a whole. This contrasts with a putsch where the overthrowing body is a faction of the armed forces rather than the whole. The concept of the pronunciamiento was developed in the 19th century and is a ritualized process. Firstly there is the trabojos where the opinions of officers were sounded out. Then there came the compromisos which is when negotiations would take place within the army as to what was being promised and the commitments that were going to be made. Finally there would come the call to action and the appeal to the troops to follow their officers in overthrowing the government.

Initially this used to be a fairly left-wing affair, since the army was fighting for the will of the people, but it gradually became more right-wing. This was due to the army's gradual move towards the right as the Spanish governments of the time moved to the left. This lead to the justification for the action moving being a neo-liberal "upholding of the national will" to a neo-conservative "upholding of the real will" of the country, the "real will" being an intangible form of national sprit that had been "entrusted" to the army to protect, even if against the government or the people. In this manner the pronunciamiento is lead by a senior officer in the name of the army as a whole. In more recent times this form of overthrow has also moved to Africa.


  • You've got whole army behind you!


  • You've got to lead that army first.

Famous Pronunciamientos

  • The Spanish Civil War - 1936-39
    Successful - The Spanish civil war started as a result of a Pronunciamiento issued by General Franco in the name of the officers of the Spanish army. Unfortunately the army misjudged how the people of Spain would react to their national will being upheld.


Putsch n. an attempt at political revolution; a violent uprising.

The putsch is a relatively new concept of overthrow. Strictly a putsch is an uprising by a faction within a nation's armed forces. This differs from the Pronunciamiento in that they are not representing the views of the armed forces as a whole, but merely that of a portion of the armed forces.


  • You've got part of an army.


  • If the rest of the army is loyal to the government then they're going to be pissed and you're going to be screwed.

Famous Putsches

  • Libya - 1969
    Very Successful - On September 1st 1969 King Idris was overthrown by a group of junior army officers. A twelve man Revolutionary Command Council was set up with Colonel Moammar Gaddafi as its leader. Gaddafi subsequently got a surprising promotion and is still in power to this day.


Liberation n. the act or an instance of liberation; the state of being liberated.

This would perhaps be best put in a more ironic node, "How to liberate the people by installing your own oppressive regime". In this case the liberating is being done by a foreign government who kindly offer to use their own military or diplomatic powers in the case that you say no.


  • Your country grows significantly.


  • 'They' might not have wanted to see their country turn into a province and might try that revolt thing.

Famous Liberations

  • Russian Liberation of Hungary - 1947
    Very Successful - In 1947 Russia made Hungary a kind offer of military force if King Michael decided not to make the 'right' choice of cabinet. Unsurprisingly, due to the slight disparity between the might of the Russian Army and that of Hungary's, King Michael decided that maybe the Soviet choice wasn't quite so bad has he'd first assumed. Russian influence ended in 1989 when the Communist system was abandoned.

Coup d'Etat

Coup d'Etat n. a violent or illegal seizure of power.

The coup is really the ultimate form of overthrowing the ruling powers. It combines the thrills of the revolution and the striking blow of the putsch with a media friendly image. If you felt that liberation and revolution were too left-wing for you, or that the putsch and pronunciamiento were a bit too nationalist then the coup is for you. It really is the deposing technique of the new millennium.

The essence of the coup is that it can be started with relatively few people and its uses the power of the government against itself. It exploits the predictability of the government to seize control of a small, yet vital, part of the governmental machine, which it then uses to overthrow the government and take control. Because of this the coup tends to be swift and decisive.


  • None of that "will of the people" crap.
  • Only needs a comparatively small number of people to pull off.
  • Swift, has minimal effect on the rest of the populace.


  • Gives other people ideas. They must be crushed.

Famous Coups

  • Syria - 1966
    Fairly Successful - The ruling Ba'ath Party was overthrown by an extreme leftist faction headed by Salah Jadid. The coup was successful, largely due to a series of wise moves Jadid made in creating a puppet government. Jadid was overthrown in 1969 by Assad although he was still influential up until his arrest by Assad in November 1970.

So there we have it. A variety of ways in which you can overthrow your government. Make your choice wisely and live free.

Edward Luttwak - Coup d'Etat; Harvard University Press, 1968
Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary; Oxford University Press, 1991
Pears Cyclopedia (ed. Chris Cook); Pelham Books, 1991

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