This essay deals with one of the most fascinating subjects in social and political sciences – revolutions – and focuses specifically on the causes of these dramatic episodes in human society. John Dunn (1989) believes that the questions of what causes revolutions to occur and what revolutions mean cannot be separated from one another. Hence, before addressing their causes, it is necessary to first clarify the meaning of revolutions. In this essay, instead of formulating a new scholarly definition of ‘revolution’, I will use this term to refer to the large-scale movements which lead to changes in power relations on both the political and social levels, i.e. political revolutions and social revolutions. With this in mind, it is also necessary to specify the spectrum of ‘causes’ of revolutions that will be covered in this essay. Among the many scholarly approaches to revolutions or social movements, some paradigms (e.g. psychological analysis, political-opportunity) seem less convincing than others (e.g. the general structural analysis), when explaining what causes revolutions to occur. This is partly because scholars can mistakenly equate the ‘causes’ of revolutions with their ‘conditions’, neglecting the nuances between the two things. As a matter of fact, the causes of revolutions should be distinguished from their conditions as specifically indicating what gives rise to revolutions, the things that directly lead revolutions to take place, whereas ‘conditions’ often merely play a supportive rather than decisive role in the revolutionary process. The political-opportunity approach serves to show the difference between the causes of revolutions and their conditions. According to Eisinger (1973: 25), the political opportunity of revolutions refers to the ‘degree to which groups are likely to be able to gain access to power and to manipulate the political system’. Indeed, the more likely groups are to be able to exert power on the political apparatus, the more possible they are to launch revolutions. However, this political opportunity can only help increase the possibility of revolutions (or more precisely, their success), while cannot answer the question of what causes these groups to want to launch revolutions in the first place. Thus, to better explore the causal relations leading to revolutions, this essay will only focus on the factors that are potent and destructive enough to create the sprout of revolutions, with no reference to the facilitating mechanisms like political opportunity. Kimmel (1990) suggests exploring the causes of revolutions in three dimensions. While the preconditions refer to the ‘longer-run, structural shifts in the social foundations of the society’, the precipitants indicate the ‘shorter-run historical events’ allowing the structural forces to ‘emerge as politically potent and mobilise potential discontents’, and the triggers are the specific events that ‘set the revolutionary process in motion’ (1990: 9-10). Agreeing with Kimmel’s configuration, this essay will privilege the precipitants dimension. First, I will begin with a brief review of the thesis of two classical theorists – Marx and Durkheim – to lay the theoretical foundations of my arguments: Marx’s theory of class/power struggles and Durkheim’s thoughts on disequilibrated social system. Then, focus will be given to two of the main approaches of revolution studies – structural analysis and the agency-based paradigm. By critically evaluating and integrating these two approaches, I will then discuss three main sources of revolutions: the de-legitimation of regimes, disequilibrated power struggles, and the role of revolutionary elites. I will argue how and why these three lines of analysis can help us to better understand the origins of social-political revolutions. Classical Theorists on Revolution
Karl Marx and Marxism
The essence of the Marxian approach to revolution lies...