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States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Canto Classics) Paperback – September 29, 2015
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"With lucidity and care, Skocpol has laid out a challenging comparison of three great revolutions ... Here is a book worth studying, refuting, testing, elaborating, and emulating."
"I am convinced that States and Social Revolutions will be considered a landmark in the study of the sources of revolution."
Lewis A. Coser, The New York Times Book Review
Theda Skocpol shows how state structures, international forces, and class relations combine to explain the origins and accomplishments of social-revolutionary transformations. Believing that existing theories of revolution, both Marxist and non-Marxist, are inadequate to explain the actual historical patterns of revolutions, Skocpol urges the reader to adopt fresh perspectives.
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Skocpol contends that external forces can lead to economic and military instability within a state. This instability weakens both the structure of the state, and subsequently the nation's societal structure. In turn, this creates an environment well-suited for social revolutions. Skocpol defines social revolution as causing two important changes which separate it from other forms of political upheavals: "societal structural change with class upheaval" and "the coincidence of political with social transformation" (5).
In order to discover similar phenomena common across states which lead to social revolution, Skocpol uses a method of comparative historical analysis. She seeks to establish relationships between "causal variables referring to the strength and structure of old regime states and the relations of state organizations to class structures" (35). Her analysis spans three revolutions: France 1789, China 1911 and Russia 1917. In looking for commonalities across state boundaries, Skocpol is using what she referred to in Bringing the State Back In as the Toucquevillian approach. In this case, Skocpol is using the Toucquevillian point of view to explore how "state structures and the activities of states" influence social revolution. Skocpol asserts that revolutions emerge from "political crises centered in the structures and situations of old regime states" (47). The author argues that in the cases of France, China and Russia, all regimes faced similar threats which affected state, and consequently, societal structures.
According to Skocpol, a number of transnational and internal events can lead to changes in state structure: threats of invasion, defeats in war, political dependency and economic inequalities. In discussing state failure, Migdal writes, "States crack when they are hit simultaneously by three sorts of crises - a state financial emergency, severe elite divisions, and a potential and propensity for popular groups to mobilize" (216). In Skocpol's historical analysis, all three old regimes suffered similar pressures.
First, pre-revolutionary regimes could not compete economically with their industrializing neighbors. All three old regimes experienced difficulty making the transition from agrarian economies to industrialized societies. This created economic inequality between states. As Skocpol writes, "Modern social revolutions have happened only in countries situated in disadvantaged positions within international arenas" (23).
In addition to economic disequilibrium, all three old regimes encountered military threats from abroad. These regimes were unable to compete militarily with their neighbors due to their economic disadvantage and lack of industrialization. These pressures lead to Migdal's second type of crisis, "state financial emergency."
Secondly, in response to these external pressures, the structure of the old regimes weakened, and conflict between the state and elites emerged. The international pressures began to drain the state economically. In France and Germany, wars with industrialized rivals nearly bankrupted the state (65, 81). In China, the Imperial court was unable to counter the intrusion of foreign powers and the successive changes imposed to the economic structure (74). This in turn placed pressure on the elites.
In France, the state faced bankruptcy due wars and the lack of an industrialized economy. The state attempted to impose tax reform which would have increased taxation for an elite deeply engrained in the state structure. The elites no longer felt that the state could adequately protect their interests, and began to seek a more representative regime. In turn, this call for more representation weakened the Crown, and coupled with a disillusioned peasant class, was able to change state structure. Similar events in Russia and Manchu China illustrate Migdal's "severe elite divisions."
Thirdly, the weakening of the state/elite relationship and divisions in the dominant class were not the sole catalyst for social revolution. Rather, Skocpol argues that in all three revolutions peasant rebellions against landed elites were necessary conditions for successful change in society's structure. In addition, specific organizational structures found in the peasant class were important in providing the revolutionary potential of the peasant (117).
Skocpol writes, "Rentier agrarian systems, where small holder peasant families possess and work the land on their own, are notoriously susceptible to peasant revolts" (117). Peasants under such a system find themselves economically tied together against landlords. In other words, the peasants suffer collectively under the yoke of the land holding class. As such, the peasants develop "some organized capacity for collective action against their exploitative superiors" (115).
The author uses the example of Russian obshchina as an organizational structure that provides a means to collective action and ensuing peasant revolution. The obshchina was a communal village which administered commonly held lands and disseminated the right to use among the villagers. In turn, the members of the obshchina were "collectively responsible for payment and labor obligations to service-nobles who possessed nearly exclusive jurisdiction over them" (128). Because of the closely knit relationships and responsibilities of peasants in the obshchina, the structure was conducive to collective action. Similar organizational structures of the peasant classes in France and Manchu China illustrate Migdal's "potential and propensity for popular groups to mobilize."
Skocpol's discussion in the book is based on Marxist class struggle revolution, combined with the consensus theories which explain revolution as response to disequilibum of social system. In the very beginning, Skocpol attended on a fundamental question on most revolutions happened in old-regimes: Why revolution occurred in predominantly agrarian countries? (refer to "Old-Regime State in Crisis") He clearly stated a logical development from the three cases. Revolutionary crises developed when the old-regime states became unable to meet the challenges of evolving international situations. Disintegration of centralized administrative and military machinaries had therefore provided the sole unified bulwark of social and political order. Skocpol concluded that in most cases the pre-revolution states were fully established imperial states. They had a proto-bureaucratic: some officers, especially at higher levels, were functionally specialized. State not in a position to control directly over local agrarian socioeconomic relationship. Before social revolutions could occur, the administrative and military power of these states had to break down. Finally, the old regimes to their downfall were not due to internal conditions alone. Intensifying military competition with nation-state abroad that possessed relatively much greater and more flexible power based on economic breakthroughs to capitalist industrialization or agriculture and commerce. Success in meeting this foreign competition depended on the ability of the monarchy suddenly to mobilize extraordinary resources from the society and to implement in the process reforms requiring structural transformations. France, Russia and China did mobilize to meet foreign competition in the nineteenth century, but avoiding social-revolutionary transformations.
It preserve a way to address a deeper analysis on the role of peasantry in the revolutions (refer to "Agrarian Structures and Peasant Insurrections"). Peasant revolts or mobilization for guerrilla warfare played a pivotal role in each revolutionary process. In agrarian countries where peasants are the major producing class. From Skocpol's point of view, without peasant revolts, urban radicalism in predominantly agrarian countries has not in the end been able to accomplish socio-revolutionary transformations. Peasant revolts against landlords were a necessary ingredient in France, Russia and China revolutions, whereas successful revolts by urban workers were not. According to Skocpol,the revolts weakened mainstays of the socioeconomic and political orders of the old regime. Together the extensiveness and anti-landlord focus of the revolutionary peasant revolts created decisive constraints at the societal level on the range of sociopolitical options available to elite contending for national power. Peasants participated in these revolutions without being converted to radical visions of a desired new national society, and without becoming a nationally organized class-for-themselves. Instead, Skocpol thought that they struggled for concrete goals-typically involving access to more land, or freedom from claims on their surplus. Political and cultural marginality and relative socioeconomic immobility, bears the burden of varying combination of taxes, rents, usurious interest rates, and discriminatory prices, peasants always have grounds for rebellion against landlords, states agents, and merchants who exploit them.
Skocpol then exploited the transformation process of the peasantry from local levels into a collective force capable of striking out against its oppressors by answering first, the relation of peasantry to the field of power which surrounds it, and second, class structure. For the first question, Skocpol did a great job by analyzing the degrees and kinds of solidarity of peasant communities, the degrees of peasant autonomy from direct day-to-day supervision and control by landlords and their agents, and finally the relaxation of state coercive sanctions against peasants revolts. He answered the second question from the view point of relations of direct producer to one another, to their tools and to the land in the immediate process of production, and relations by which an unpaid-for part of the product is extracted from the direct producers by a class of non-producers.
In the last part of the book, Skocpol asked what would be followed the revolution. (refer to "What Changed and How: A Focus on State Building") He answered this with flying color as well. He provided his idea with couple elements. First, the changes after revolution. According to Skocpol, the pre-revolutionary landed upper class was no longer exclusively privileged in society and politics. Second, new authority and emergent political leaderships were challenged by disunity and counterrevolutionary attempts at home, and by military invasions from abroad, to build new state organizations to consolidate the revolutions. Third, Skocpol pointed out that peasant and urban worker were more directly incorporated into national politics and state-run project after the revolution. Forth, Skocpol believed that new state leadership acted as state builders rather than as representatives of classes. Fifth, the old-regime states had once broken apart, fundamental political and class conflicts were set in motion, not to be resolved until new administrative and military organizations were consolidated in the place of the old. Revolts from below directly attacked the property and privileges of dominant classes, thus accomplishing changes in class relations. Last but not least, political ideologies probably functions nothing, but served the political reality and aim of leaders.
I apologize for focusing too much on the contents of the book. However, why I do it is because we can understand his contribution only if we go deeply into his ideas. Skocpol did a great job here. I gain a lot from reading "States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China". The book is a must for both politics and sociology students, or those have interest in the field.