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Social Revolutions and Mass Military Mobilization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Theda Skocpol
Harvard University


Despite their limited accomplishments in promoting economic development, the authoritarian regimes brought to power through social-revolutionary transformations—from the French Revolution of the 18th century to the Iranian Revolution of the present—have excelled at conducting humanly costly wars with a special fusion of popular zeal, meritocratic professionalism, and central coordination. Revolutionary elites, whether communist or not, have been able to build the strongest states in those countries whose geopolitical circumstances allowed the emerging new regimes to become engaged in protracted and labor-intensive international warfare.

Research Article
World Politics , Volume 40 , Issue 2 , January 1988 , pp. 147 - 168
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1988

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1 , Borkenau, “State and Revolution in the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, and the Spanish Civil War,” Sociological Review 29 (January 1937), 4175Google Scholar, at 41.

2 , Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 266Google Scholar. Chapter 5 in its entirety is also relevant.

3 See Skocpol, Theda, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, and China (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 161CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 This characterization comes from Gouldner, Alvin, “Stalinism: A Study of Internal Colonialism,” in Political Power and Social Theory (research annual edited by Zeitlin, Maurice) 1 (1980) (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press), 209–59Google Scholar.

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7 Thorough elaboration and documentation of this conclusion appears in Adelman, Jonathan R., Revolution, Armies, and War: A Political History (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1985)Google Scholar, chaps. 3–11.

8 For fuller discussion and references, see Skocpol (fn. 3), 174–77.

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10 Adelman (fn. 7), chap. 3; Ropp, Theodore, War in the Modern World, rev. ed. (New York: Collier Books, 1962)Google Scholar, chap. 4; Vagts, Alfred, A History of Militarism, rev. ed. (New York: Free Press, 1959)Google Scholar, chap. 4; Ellis, John, Armies in Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974)Google Scholar, chap. 4.

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14 Adelman (fn. 7), 139.

15 lbid., 144.

16 Ellis (fn. 10), chap. 5.

17 Background for this analysis of Stalin's “revolution from above” comes especially from Bernstein (fn. 12); Cohen, Stephen F., Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1973)Google Scholar; and Lewin, Moshe, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power, trans. Nove, Irene (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968)Google Scholar.

18 An insightful discussion of the different phases of nationalist mobilization in Russia and China appears in Rosenberg, William G. and Young, Marilyn, Transforming Russia and China: Revolutionary Struggle in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982)Google Scholar.

19 Adelman (fn. 7), chaps. 4–7.

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21 For useful overviews, see Wolf, Eric R., Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1969)Google Scholar, chaps. 1, 4–6; Dunn, John, Modern Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)Google Scholar, chaps. 2, 4–8.

22 Alternative modes of peasant involvement in social revolutions are analyzed in Skocpol, Theda, “What Makes Peasants Revolutionary?” Comparative Politics 14 (April 1982), 351–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Huntington (fn. 2), 315–24, discusses the postrevolutionary Mexican regime. See also Hamilton, Nora, The Limits of State Autonomy: Post-Revolutionary Mexico (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Hansen, Roger D., The Politics of Mexican Development (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971)Google Scholar.

24 On the Mexican Revolution and its relations with foreign states, see Wolf (fn. 21), chap. 1; Dunn (fn. 21), chap. 2; Katz, Friedrich, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981)Google Scholar; Goldfrank, Walter, “World System, State Structure, and the Onset of the Mexican Revolution,” Politics and Society 5 (No. 4, 1975), 417–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Womack, John Jr., Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969)Google Scholar.

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29 My account of the Bolivian case draws upon Huntington (fn. 2), 325–34; Alexander, Robert J., The Bolivian National Revolution (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1958)Google Scholar; Useem, Bert, “The Bolivian Revolution and Workers' Control,” Politics and Society 9 (No. 4, 1980), 447–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Kelley, Jonathan and Klein, Lawrence, Revolution and the Rebirth of Inequality (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981)Google Scholar.

30 My account of Nicaragua draws upon LaFeber, Walter, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983)Google Scholar; Christian, Shirley, Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family (New York: Vintage Books, 1986)Google Scholar; and Shaefer, Lawrence, “Nicaraguan-United States Bilateral Relations: The Problems within Revolution and Reconstruction” (Senior honors thesis, University of Chicago, 1984)Google Scholar.

31 See, for instance, Wolf (fn. 21), chap. 4. For a discussion of alternative perspectives on the Vietnamese peasantry, see Skocpol (fn. 22).

32 Dunn (fn. 21), chap. 5; Khanh, Huynh Kim, Vietnamese Communism, 1925–1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982)Google Scholar; McAlister, John T. Jr., Vietnam: The Origins of Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1969)Google Scholar.

33 The following discussion draws on Skocpol, Theda, “Rentier State and Shi'a Islam in the Iranian Revolution,” Theory and Society 11 (No. 3, 1982), 265–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar. It also relies heavily on Ramazani, R. K., Revolutionary Iran: Challenge and Response in the Middle East (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986)Google Scholar, and Bakhash, Shaul, The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (New York: Basic Books), 1984Google Scholar.

34 Ramazani (fn. 33), chaps. 13–14; Bakhash, Shaul, The Politics of Oil and Revolution in Iran (Washington, DC: Staff Paper, The Brookings Institution, 1982)Google Scholar; and “Oil Revenue Lifts Iranian Economy,” The New York Times, Friday, July 9, 1982, pp. D1, D4.

35 Ramazani (fn. 33), chap. 5; Hickman, William F., Ravaged and Reborn: The Iranian Army, 1982 (Washington, DC: Staff Paper, The Brookings Institution, 1982)Google Scholar.

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