Our history is the story of revolution. Since the beginning of recorded history revolutions have been led by men and women who subsequently were enshrined in our collective memories as world changers. By their very nature, these revolutions changed the status quo, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Were they necessary? You be the judge. Here are 25 most famous revolutionaries of history.
As you read on, keep in mind that this list is in no particular order. We are not in the business of deciding whether Gandhi or Mandela were greater revolutionaries. Secondly, almost everybody on this list is loved by some and hated by others. This isn’t a popularity contest. If somebody is on this list it is only because their “revolutionary” status is a generally accepted historical fact. With that said, enjoy the most famous revolutionaries in history.
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A Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Trotsky is famous for being the founder and first leader of the Red Army.
The full name of this notorious Mexican revolutionary general was José Doroteo Arango Arámbula.
Meena Keshwar Kamal
Commonly known as Meena, she was an Afghan women’s rights activist who founded the Revolutionary Association of Women’s Rights. Meena was assassinated in 1987.
Officially recognized as the first president of the Philippines, he led his army against Spain during the Philippine Revolution and then against the United States during the Philippine-American War. He died in 1964 at the age of 95.
José María Pino Suárez
A Mexican statesman and revolutionary, he was assassinated in 1913. He had dedicated his life to fighting for democracy and social justice throughout the country.
A Hungarian poet, Sándor was one of the key figures of the Hungarian Revolution in 1848. Today he is a national hero.
Considered the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China, Sun is both controversial and revered.
Another Chinese revolutionary, Chen is significantly less well known than Sun. In spite of the fact that Chen and Sun both had similar goals, they disagreed on the methodology. Eventually they ended up fighting against each other and ever since the Communists came to power, Chen has largely began forgotten.
A French playwright and revolutionary, Pierre played a critical role in lobbying the French government on behalf of the American colonies when they were fighting for independence. Before his death he also had an influential role in the early stages of the French Revolution.
George Gordon Byron was an English poet who was forced to leave his country due to mounting debt and relationship scandals. He never returned to England and eventually ended up getting involved in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Today he is regarded as a national hero in Greece.
An American general during the Revolutionary War, George Washington went on to become president of the new nation.
A South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela eventually became President of the country and oversaw efforts to dismantle the system of institutionalized racism that had dominated for so long.
Born in Britain, Thomas emigrated to the colonies just in time for the Revolution. His pamphlet Common Sense was critical in inspiring the colonists to fight for independence. John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Francisco challenged Mexican president Porfirio Diaz for presidency in 1910 and played an instrumental role in sparking the Mexican Revolution.
Many of the revolutionaries and thinkers on this list would base their philosophies and ideologies on a foundation of Marxism. Without Karl, the world would be a different place today, for better or for worse.
Although the end of his life was less than enviable, Muammar began as a Libyan revolutionary who took power in a coup d’etat. A controversial leader, he oversaw sweeping changes in the nation both politically and economically.
A Chinese communist revolutionary, his ideas are collectively known as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Some have considered him an anti-imperialist hero while others have labeled him a brutal dictator. Either way though, he left his mark on the 20th century.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Spending a majority of her life under house arrest, Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition leader who has received numerous honors around the world including being the 4th person ever to be named an honorary citizen of Canada.
Coming to power in North Korea after the overthrow of Japanese rule in 1945, Kim laid the foundations for one of the most repressive and isolated regimes in the world. Today in North Korea he is worshipped and seen as the revolutionary founder of the nation.
Ahmed Ben Bella
An Algerian socialist soldier and revolutionary who eventually became president of Algeria, at his death Ben Bella was seen by many intellectuals as the last original Arab nationalist.
The preeminent leader of the Indian Independence Movement in British ruled India, Gandhi has come to symbolize non-violent resistance.
One of the most hated and loved person in the world, Fidel was undoubtedly an influential leader and revolutionary in Cuban politics. It was under his direction that Cuba became a one party socialist state.
Serving as Premier of the Soviet Union until his death, Lenin is famous for his contributions to Marxist thought which have come to be known as Leninism.
Josip Broz Tito
A Yugoslav Revolutionary, Josip was the leader of the Partisans, one of the most effective anti Nazi resistance movements in Europe. While some have criticized his presidency as authoritarian, others have labeled him as a benevolent dictator.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara, sometimes simply known as Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary who played a major role in the Cuban revolution. Today he has come to represent counter culture and rebellion.