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I asked in this question how I would achieve two rebellions for the same cause only to find out my basic premise was wrong and that having only one rebellion is the less likely of the two.

Going over this I now wonder how I could prevent the more likely option. How can I prevent more than 1 rebellion from forming?


To Molots request; I am dealing with an caste empire system, the lower caste citizens are widely unhappy with the system and I want a rebellion to form. The problem is that it is a vast empire, spanning oceans and thousands of miles. With no way to communicate, I find it unlikely that if multiple rebellions form, that they would unite. So I need a way for only one rebellion to form.

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  • $\begingroup$ I upvored, but could you import all important details here as well? You know, for convenience, so people could answer without reading two questions. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 3 '16 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ I want to write up a Cat's Cradle style answer where the Monarch and the Rebellion Leader(s) are covertly old friends, working together to fill their populations need for a hopeless rebellion... but I don't have time right now. If I did have time, I would use the friendship among the leaders as a method to facilitate communication between the rebel cells and unify their efforts, while simultaneously guaranteeing that the rebellion never actually succeeds. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 3 '16 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, maybe it's watching too much Hellsing Ultimate... but you want the rebellion to form as a writer, or part of a grand scheme within the world you're writing? $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Sep 4 '16 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Fayth85 kind of both, It's part of a grand scheme for the worlds timeline, but stories will be based in it $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 4 '16 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor That's brilliant, the Empire uses the "Rebellion" as way to beta-test new ideas on governance and ensure a happy population. $\endgroup$ – Salmoncrusher Sep 4 '16 at 4:14
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In case this hasn't been apparent yet, I'm a dark fantasy writer. So expect the 'bad guy' point of view in this answer.

Your starting point: a leader.

No rebellion, no revolution, no nothing ever starts without a 'visionary'. Someone with a silver tongue, that knows how to sway people -- the masses, preferably. This person will know the hardships of the people they want fighting alongside them. They'd need a compelling story to really stoke the fires of the people -- though not necessarily a verifiable one.

Example. Amon, from Legend of Korra. Or frankly, Trump. Bad examples, with arguably dark intentions, but people that speak to the paranoia of the people all the same.

Your rallying point: a common goal.

This part comes in two parts, true to history.

  1. First is the surface goal. This is what you tell the masses, what you allow everyone to hear and talk about. It needs to speak to the masses. So if they are oppressed? Freedom therefrom. If they are hungry? Food for them and their families. If they are poor? Equality and fairness, so that everyone can reap the rewards of their labours.

For Amon, it was freedom from benders. He played on the fears of those who couldn't bend, showed them what a renegade bender could do to people that couldn't bend -- and they are oh so arrogant, too!

For Trump, it's far more insidious. He plays on racial bias, the desire for "a great, Christian nation", and so many other things.

  1. The hidden goal. This doesn't always have to be bad, it could be simple lust for power. Or it could be something noble -- i.e. true freedom from oppression. But every movement has one. Even if it's as mundane as no longer wanting to work the fields anymore.

Your lieutenants: inner circle.

No matter how suave the figurehead, they need capable lieutenants to get the work done. After all, how many leaders fight a war on their own? Whether a battle with guns an spells, or a battle of wits in their palace among the noble you need to overthrow. You need a solid team backing you to get you in and out in one piece.

These are the people that need to balance your leader. If the leader is "a lover not a fighter", then the lieutenants need to be the best warriors available. If the leader is "the strong, silent type", he best be relegated to the housekarl and let the Thane take over (Skyrim reference, in case someone did't get it).

How to do it: the plan.

Start off small. If you are setting this in a city, start by recruiting in some neighbourhoods. Be sure to start off with the rambunctios ones. The idealistic youth is usually a good first target, though typically harder to control over long periods.

Gather a following. It doesn't matter how small, even if it's just your lieutenants at first. Then you start with the biggest issue:

  1. Funding. No rebellion/revolution can go unfunded. So you start off by acquiring the funds you need. Whether this the 'Robin Hood route' (rob the rich to feed the poor), the Salvation Army route (all donations are welcome, whether monetary, time, or materials -- we'll put it to good use) or lobbying like you're gearing up for an election. You need someone you can trust to handle this (it doesn't end well, if blackmarket weaponsdealers don't get paid as promised).

  2. Food. No one fights on an empty stomach. So make sure you keep yourself and your people (well) fed. And if they ever so much as catch wind that following you leads to a worse life than they currently lead, you'd best have one hell of a brainwashing scheme in play to keep them loyal to the cause.

  3. Arms. No war is fought without both pen and sword, you'll need both close at hand.

Get these three things, and more followers will follow. If only because you feed them, they will follow.

Size really does matter: Scaling up!

Once you have the basics (every step before this one), then you need to start getting strategic. However, this is the step that is most world/plot dependent. So a few plausible routes:

  1. Divide and conquer.

A house divided unto itself cannot stand. So create that divide in the enemy. Find out every possible division point amongst them, and drive a wedge in there. Stir up old rivalries, play on racial divides (but make it look like they are the ones doing all the dividing, you're the good guy after all!).

  1. The monster that goes bump in the night.

Nothing freaks people out more than the Eldrith. The monster you cannot see, the monster you cannot comprehend. So don't give them an enemy, or a note, or a sign that it's your group doing any of it. Let their imaginations run wild, and make sure you keep an ear to the ground to see what that is turning into.

But to make this effective, you need to make your hits big. Assassinations with no sign as to what happened. Stores getting robbed, but no one sees anything. Start small, let the panic simmer a little. Then hit bigger and bigger targets each time.

More than that, if there are other groups that are known for causing trouble, or simply groups you want to fall and hard: set them up. Make it look like it was them, let the autorities take them down, hard -- preferably violently. This weakens them, while it keeps you out of range.

The endgame? That depends on your plot. Maybe it doesn't have one. Maybe, like the Joker from DC, the anarchy is the endgame.

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The best way for this to happen would be for a rebel organization to have formed at the implementation of the caste system. One cell, probably in the capitol where we assume the caste system was first and most harshly implemented, gradually spread into the surrounding countryside, each new cell keeping in contact with its mother-cell, which kept in contact with its mother-cell, all the way back to the capitol.

This idea is based on the assumption that pre-caste-ian society was at least tolerably equal for the two emerging castes. When the system is first implemented, many people will be reluctant to accept it. People, as a whole, are slow to change their ideas, so especially in isolated areas far from the capitol, the upper caste will probably be slow to really squash the lower caste. This gives you a chance to get a rebel network set up before the lower caste actually begins to rebel. The capitol is the perfect place for the start of the network as the caste system is no-doubt strictly enforced from the beginning, meaning that the rebellious lower-casters actually have a reason to begin forming a rebel network. As the caste enforcement spreads out, the rebellious attitude will follow it, probably on the backs of the capitol cell's preachers/recruiters. By the time the caste is harsh throughout the nation, the rebel network will be in place, providing a perfect framework for an organized rebellion. This also means that you can focus on one cell, or on the rebellion as a whole, depending on the size of the group you want your characters to be in.

As the caste system becomes harsher, the lower caste will inevitably get fed up, but unless there was already some sort of network in place, they would simply form multiple, fractured rebellions.

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The Empire and Rebellion share the same enemies

While it seems difficult to make sure there's only one rebel group, it's easy to imagine a situation in which one rebel group is vastly predominant over other ones. In fact, there are many examples. For instance:

  1. Democrats v. Republicans -- The parties may be "at war," but they both agree that third parties such as Libertarians or Marxists in power would be far worse(I'm not taking a stance here about whether that is correct). Their combined influence and agreement on this is more than enough to effectively silence third parties(though if both parties' leaders are highly disliked, a third party may gain some traction).

  2. Catholics v. Protestants(in pre-enlightenment Europe)-- They may have considered each other heathens, but they both considered everybody else to be heathens as well. If there was ever a serious threat posed by a third religious sect, say Eastern Orthodoxy or Islam, they would have united temporarily(as Western-European Christians) to crush it.

  3. The Kuomintang v. Mao Zedong -- They were bitter enemies, but they were united in national identity. Considering the Japanese to be rebels against Chinese dominance of the east(which could kind of make sense in a twisted way), the KMT and CCP united temporarily to crush the third faction, and only resumed warring when it was deemed that the greater threat to their society was defeated.

To integrate this concept with your example, I would suggest that in your world there are really only two political ideologies that have any popular support with the commoners. The first is the caste system currently in place, of course. The second is unlikely to be something as radical as democracy or Socialism, or even a republic, and is more likely to take the form of a military dictatorship by a benevolent secular ruler, a theocracy, or some kind of fragmented city-state model. It could be that your world is young enough that only two forms of government have every really been tried, or it could be that the records of previous civilizations have been lost, or it could be that your society is extremely conservative. But for whatever reason, both the Empire and the Rebellion consider any third political ideologies to be far, far, more dangerous than they consider each other, and so will temporarily unite, for instance freely giving each other intelligence about third factions, just so they can be stamped out.

Starting a third rebellion would be really difficult, and not worth the expense

  1. Mac v. PC -- (This one is slightly different, and probably less applicable to your scenario). There's enough variation in consumer preference to keep people switching from Mac to PC, or vice versa, when one side slips up or has a breakthrough, but there's not enough variation in consumer tastes to justify the existence of a third for-profit competitor. Apple and Microsoft both have huge infrastructures dedicated to producing a quality product, and an upstart third OS company would not have the resources to create a product as good, and no realistic chance of gaining a large enough number of users to generate the necessary revenues to become a competitor. In essence, the market is only big enough for two, based on costs of production, and amount of variation in tastes.

Applying this to your scenario, it could be that most people don't care what replaces the current system, inasmuch as they really just want the current system gone. Hence, there would be little support for a third faction, as people would just see it as a subtraction of resources from the rebellion that could be used against the Empire(In the same way that people saw Ralph Nader as just a subtraction from Al Gore's votes). Because starting a rebellion is very expensive, and everybody thinks the current rebellion is working out for them, there wouldn't be enough interest to generate a third faction.

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Why would multiple rebel factions not communicate? You only need the tiniest thread of contact.

The situation you're describing is (though somewhat vague) similar to the declining period of the Roman Empire. The world's foremost military power had hired mercenary armies and tried to pay them with worthless, debased coins. The mercenaries rebelled and became bandits. Roman citizens fleeing heavy taxation also ran to the hills and became bandits.

The key is that the forces of oppression, the military occupiers, were thrown into chaos. That allowed rebel groups to communicate and consolidate. The same thing happened in the American Revolution.

I think you need to figure out what your Empire is doing wrong. Governments that rule through coercion always have some fundamental flaw because the resources they need to subjugate a population increase exponentially compared to the size of the government itself. This is why, for example, the Soviet Union starved even as its technology and infrastructure improved.

But back on topic. You only need one successful rebellion. This becomes more likely over time as the Empire expends resources putting down multiple uprisings around its territory. One successful rebellion can spread to adjacent territories. Then it becomes a question of what will be their strategy and tactics, and what kind of force and propaganda will the Empire use against them?

The key to a successful rebellion is a charismatic leader. A folk hero. The lower-caste citizens need someone they can believe in no matter what lies the Empire tells. Someone whose name becomes a rallying cry. That hero might be a tactical genius, but he doesn't have to be. He can win through attrition while the lower-caste commit innumerable tiny acts of sabotage. The tighter the Empire squeezes their grip, the more territories will slip through their fingers.

Muad'Dib. Spartacus. Dragonborn.

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There is something unique or distinctive about the far province where the rebellion actually takes root well enough to start spreading.

Maybe at the far edges of the empire there is more “feeedom” as in freedom from the overseer’s constant attention and sympathy among the general population of the annexed nation, but the system is being forced down from above by the new rulers.

What they didn’t count on was that the merchant class was already powerful, literate, organized, and connected, and was previously a middle class with high class mobility based on the individual’s own successes or failures.

So, being forced into an oppressed lower class pidgenhole will not go over well. These are the international traders and businessmen, and the upper crust of those are wealthy—the nouveau riche disrespected by the new regime, not the titled official rich endorced by the new government.

To summarize, the specific social condition in a far flug empire composed of diverse original cultures allows it to happen there.

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