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11111111 - Theda Skocpol States and Social Revolutions A...

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Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A comparative analysis of France, Russia and China (1979) Short summary: Skocpol’s theory of revolutions emphasizes 1) structure rather than purposive action, 2) the importance of international factors in producing revolutionary crises, and 3) the autonomy of the state. Longer summary: Social revolutions are "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." They are different from rebellions or (merely) political revolutions because political and social transformation happen together, and because large structural changes in society coincide with class upheaval. The definition is built to include only successful transformations, on the assumption that these emerge from different macro-structural and historical contexts than unsuccessful ones. Skocpol first summarizes and criticizes four types of theories of revolution: 1) Marxist theories view revolutions as the result of a structural contradiction between the technologies (modes) of production and the systems for owning property and appropriating and distributing surplus value (relations of production). Marxist theories are not completely structural in explanation because they rely on purposive revolutionary action by the newly class-conscious proletariat. 2) Aggregate-psychological theories explain revolutions by identifying the psychological motivations that prompt individuals to join opposition movements or engage in political violence - such as feelings of deprivation, anger and frustration (e.g. T. Gurr’s Why Men Rebel). 3) Systems/Value consensus theories explain revolutions as violent attempts to fix a mismatch between a society’s values and its environment (e.g. Chalmers Johnson’s Revolutionary Change). 4) Political conflict theories focus on conflicts between governments and other organized competitors for ultimate sovereignty (e.g. C. Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution). Skocpol is most sympathetic to Marxist and political conflict theories. Skocpol’s theory is different from the alternatives in three ways. First, it explains revolutions wholly from a structural perspective. The purposive image of revolutions is wrong because it assumes that a social order can’t last without the society’s consensus, forgets that revolutionary masses often act without guidance or a clear sense of direction, and falsely suggests that revolutionary processes can be understood in terms of the interests of the revolutionary groups.
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