What is the difference between rebellion and revolution? These two words seem almost the same, except that rebellion is generally more distasteful.

Dictionary.com lists definitions of rebellion:

re·bel·lion   [ri-bel-yuhn]

1. open, organized, and armed resistance to one's government or ruler.
2. resistance to or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.

and those of revolution:

rev·o·lu·tion   [rev-uh-loo-shuhn]

1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.

  • Voting to close as "general reference". I don't see anything will be added to the dictionary definitions beyond off-topic sociopolitical comment. Feb 23, 2012 at 3:52
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    Depends on whether it’s finished. People who took part in a failed rebellion aren’t considered rebels; they’re considered traitors.
    – tchrist
    Feb 23, 2012 at 5:12
  • 2
    If you liked it, it's revolution, if not, rebellion.
    – Kris
    Feb 23, 2012 at 7:55
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    Rebellion doesn't have enough syllables, well you know, and it doesn't rhyme with "real solution". Also, "the peasants are rebelling" isn't nearly as good as a bon mot. Feb 23, 2012 at 8:31
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    "Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us."
    – Sam
    Feb 23, 2012 at 14:33

7 Answers 7


I think the dictionary says it all.

A revolution can be bloodless, without rebellion.

And rebellion being an organized armed resistance may or may not lead to a revolution. Even the aim of a rebellion may not be a revolution at all: it may be for example to get certain privileges from the government, such as changed taxes, lifting ban on a certain worship, secession of a region, removal of a notorious minister or resignation of the current king without ending a dynasty.

That said, a revolution is not necessarily a successful rebellion.

  • I like this answer much better than the other one so far. :-)
    – Hellion
    Feb 23, 2012 at 3:32

A revolution is a successful rebellion.

If the rebellion fails, then it becomes a quenched rebellion. If it succeeds, then it becomes a revolution.

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    Yup. The American Revolution and The Whisky Rebellion are cases in point. Remember, it's the winners who write the histories. Feb 23, 2012 at 0:36
  • There was recently a revolution in Libya, but (at least so far) only a rebellion in Syria.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 23, 2012 at 1:59
  • See my different view.
    – Anixx
    Feb 23, 2012 at 3:22
  • +1 for beating me to my answer
    – user14070
    Feb 23, 2012 at 5:10
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    Some successful rebellions are still called rebellions. The US Civil War was a rebellion, but would never have been called a revolution even if it succeeded in seceding. Feb 23, 2012 at 8:33

Another distinction is in how "complete" the intentions of the uprising are. A revolution aims to take over the institutions they are revolting against essentially unchanged but with a complete transfer of power to the revolters. For instance the French Revolution aimed to overthrow the monarchy and rule the whole of France in a different way, not to carve out "commune France" and leave "monarchy France" in a different part of the country.

A rebellion can be more localised geographically or have specific aims short of regime change. For instance the South of the US rebelled in an attempt to split from the North, and Dhofar rebelled in an attempt to split from Oman. The various rebellions against Bolshevik rule after the Russian Revolution weren't intended to overthrow the government, but to change aspects of its policy. They still violently usurped political power in individual cities, but never with the intent of seceding from Russia or taking over the whole country. Wat Tyler's rebellion aimed to remove the unpopular parts of the government and Tyler went out of his way to make it clear that the King was to stay no matter what (a unfortunate, painful and ultimately fatal error on his part).

I disagree that the name is based on the success. There are plenty of examples of failed revolutions. There are some uprisings known as rebellions which have been successful, although they're rare - possibly because if they don't completely take over the old government it never gives up fighting. The most recent example is the South Sudanese rebellion which ended in them gaining independence.

In short, I think the defining factor is whether the uprising aims to take over an existing polity and replace the rulers, or change policies or borders without taking over the reins of power as they originally existed.

That said, the two terms are essentially synonymous, and any difference is of inference not definition. There are plenty of counter-examples - off the top of my head, the Belgian Revolution meets my definition of a rebellion as it left the rump Netherlands under the original regime. The 1905 Russian Revolution changed the policies and methods of the regime, but left the form and leadership of the Empire mostly unchanged. The various rebellions in Japan during the samurai era usually aimed to take the reins of power in toto, which is how I've defined a revolution. As with anything where politics and history overlap, the words used are more a matter of rhetoric than exactitude, and the name in the history books is usually chosen by the winners.

For amusement, I refer you to the New York Times of August 27, 1861 which considers the difference between the American Revolution (the good guys) and the Southern Rebellion (the bad guys).


"Revolution", as defined generally in this context by Merriam-Webster, is "a sudden, radical, fundamental or complete change". In the context of socio-political change, it is a fundamental change in a society's structure, including how and by whom it may be governed, and who benefits most and least from it.

"Rebellion" is generally 1) "Opposition to authority or dominance", and more specifically 2) "an open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government". A rebellion is a violent uprising of the masses against their leadership, as opposed to "resistance" in general which can be armed or unarmed and for any goal including marginal OR complete change to a system of government.

Rebellion may cause revolution, but one does not necessarily indicate the other. A leader may for instance abdicate his position of his own free will, and the people, in absence of a leader, may form an entirely new system of government, or may simply choose another person to lead them under the current system. Revolution can also happen by a fundamental change in technology; Eastman Kodak, which invented the digital camera, ironically became the victim of its own invention as the upper management didn't want to cannibalize their extremely profitable film sales. International Business Machines was originally in the business of making typewriters, and the CEO at the time swore that IBM would never make a computer. Luckily for IBM, the upper management saw the error of that way of thinking, and that statement became a humorous byline in the history of a now very successful global computer company, instead of its epitaph.

Rebellion, on the other hand, does not necessarily cause revolution, and as stated in the definition it often doesn't; the violent uprisings that didn't establish a new world order are generally the ones called "rebellions" or "civil wars", while the ones that did are called "revolutions". The French and American Revolutions of the late 1700s were successful rebellions; the subsequent Indian Nation uprisings in the United States were unsuccessful "rebellions".


Replace a king with a king, and you have a rebellion ("open, organized, and armed resistance to one's government or ruler")

Replace a king with a democracy and you have a revolution ("an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed")

Revolutions may need to be kickstarted with rebellions, or not.


Rebellion is the act. Revolution is the outcome of a successful rebellion

  • Hello, James. I assumed that you'd omitted a preposition, but have decided that you've omitted two full stops instead. We shouldn't have to guess. Oct 10, 2014 at 21:54

Rebellion is the struggle for freedom from outside control or generational chattel slavery, e.g. Chinese Taiping rebellion against European power. American/Virginia black slave Nat Turner who led a slave rebellion, but also inspired violent slave abolitionist John Brown to attempt another rebellion.

Revolution is the overthrow of a form of government and/or social system, e.g. the American revolution overthrew the aristocratic system, for the democratic system or the 18th century industrial revolution overthrew the agricultural system.

Insurrection is the armed,v iolent struggle to force a government and/or dominant group (majorty or minority), to give equal rights to another group or minority. Insurrection may seek to change an unjust law. The insurgent fights for insurrection.

Usurpation is violent struggle for power within a government or social system. The usurpation doesn't want to change a system but the usurpation wants to gain power or control. All of these conflicts lead to change.

  • 2
    You’re going to have to write using the standard conventions of written English, not txtspk, if you hope for people to read you. Please edit your posting.
    – tchrist
    Apr 15, 2013 at 23:09

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