Theories of Revolution

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Theories of Revolution

"What is a structural theory of revolution? How does a structural theory differ from explanations that emphasize the role of individuals, ideology, and culture? Assess the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches for understanding the origins and outcomes of revolutions."

Theories of revolutions come from many sources and involve informed decisions made by the reader. In order for one to come to the final realisation as to what the theories of revolutions are one must first answer the following questions: what is a structural theory of revolution? How does a structural theory differ from explanations that emphasize the role of individuals, ideology and culture? It also involves the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches being assessed in order to understand the origins and outcomes of revolutions. All of these questions will be answered in the following essay using many different sources in order to provide evidence.

The first question one must answer is what is a structural theory of revolution? Revolutions, depending on the critic, are composed of many structural theories, all of which are comprised of many components. Many structural theories include the factors such as the situation of the peasantry, the strength (or lack of) the economy, foreign affairs, the unemployment rate and strong opposition – capitalism versus socialism. These are all different concepts which must be taken into account when considering what a structural theory actually is. They are, however, usually composed of peasant rebellions which have become extremely defensive in order to protect the traditional lifestyles against increasing strains, which include the increase in population; “commercialization and market growth”; and the “dislocation among the elites that traditionally mediate peasants’ interactions with government authorities and the outside world”.[1]

From reading Charles Tilly’s paper “Does Modernization Breed Revolution”, there appears to be one prominent reason for revolutions – the “concentration of power in the national states”.[2] He explains that there are four conditions necessary for a revolution to begin: 1. “The appearance of contenders or coalitions of contenders, advancing exclusively alternative claims to the control over the government currently exerted by the members of the polity; 2. Commitment of those claims by a significant segment of the subject population; 3. Unwillingness or incapacity of the agents of the government to suppress the alternative coalition or the commitment to its claims; 4. Formation of coalitions between members of the polity and the contenders making the alternative claims.”[3] Even with these conditions others must also be taken into consideration which makes a revolution more probable. These include:

“contraction of resources available to the government for the meeting of its commitments, a shift in the direction of structural change within the base population such that not just new groups but new kinds of groups are coming into being, disappearance of the resources which make possible the membership in the polity, and the continuing collective life of some contender.” [4] However, war itself is also a structural component for the beginning of a rebellion, and thus, must be taken into consideration when discussing the structural theory for revolutions, especially when a country has been defeated. A government’s popularity decreases and its coercion is questioned when a war has been lost:

“Defeat in war is a quintessential case, for casualties, defections, and military demobilization all tend to decrease the government’s coercive capacity; the destruction of property, disruption of routines, and displacement of population in defeat are likely to decrease the efficiency of the effective coercive means; and the presence of a conqueror places constraints on the government’s use of coercion”. As Tilly also...
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