Examination Of Factors That Begin Revolutions

3250 words - 13 pages

Revolutions have been the means of providing some of the most significant political and social changes the world has ever seen. The communist revolutions in China and Russia changed the face of the world order and ushered in a period where nuclear arms races between the great powers could have brought the world to an end. Some revolutions have brought with them a period of profound social and political change. In both France (1789) and England (1688) the outcome of their revolutions was a more democratic regime through the removal of sovereignty from autocratic monarchs. The American revolution of 1775 meant an end to British colonial rule, now an independent America has become the greatest power on Earth. Revolutions cause historic change, but why do they occur? Why do some states experience revolutions when others do not? In this essay I will attempt to identify the circumstances in which revolution is likely to occur and attempt to explain the question of why there is variance in revolutions.

So what exactly is a revolution? Peter Calvert (2002: 303) describes revolution as `violence plus political change: it brings about a fall of government or a change of regime'. However the revolutions of Eastern Europe in 1989 dispute this definition as in some cases no violence was used. The defining feature of revolution is in its desired outcome, political change. Huntington (1968: 264) believed that revolutions were extraordinary political events, and described them as `a rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and government activity and policies', however in many cases of revolution Huntington's definition becomes strained. Other theorists suggest the relative normalcy of revolutions; Aya (1990: 52), adapting Clausewitz, describes them as `merely the continuation of politics by other means'. One of the leading theorists on revolutions Theda Skocpol (1979: 4) defines revolution as `rapid, basic transformations of a society's state and class structures; and they are accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below'. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, revolutions have been fundamental in shaping the modern world. The revolutions of 1989 in the Eastern European states spelt the end of the Soviet Union and the demise of one of history's great superpowers, whilst the American Revolution gave independence to the most powerful state on the planet.

Many theorists believe that there are two distinct types of revolution, political revolution and social revolution. A political revolution changes the character of both state power and personnel, whereas a social revolution is a much rarer event and produces both political and social change. A distinction should be drawn between a revolution and a coup d'etat, Hague and Harrop (1998: 91) state, `a coup simply involves the forcible replacement of one set...

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