Revolutions…What is the cause?

 

King Louis XVI helped triggered the French Revolution by attempting to avoid bankruptcy.

What is a revolution? Most people see revolutions as a forcible overthrow of a government or social system in favor of a new set up.  The big question that ponders most theorists is “What causes these revolutions?” Theorists such as Theda Skocpol sees revolutions as a rapid transformation of a society’s class and structure while political scientist Jack Goldstone sees revolution as a state breakdown which only happens when a government becomes weak. Sure, there’s numerous causes revolution; but out of all of those causes, which ones matter the most?

It is very important to point out all the possible causes of the various revolutions that have happened throughout history. Although it may be difficult to find a common factor between the varieties of revolutions, it becomes increasingly important to point out that revolutions are not always caused by class struggle. Class struggle can be one of the causes of a revolution, but in most cases class struggle is not the only causing factor. As stated above, both Skocpol and Goldstone see beyond class struggle as the primary causes of revolutions, because class struggle comes from something much deeper than a supposed alienation or unhappiness of lower classes in compared to the hierd9f3e6ec37cf9e5b292719bd4a43db40.jpgarchy. Both Skocpol and Goldstone see politics as a major cause of revolutions.

Skocpol theorizes that political crises are the trigger points to launch revolutions, and the political groups in turn become the social forces of a revolution. She makes this point with this quote “The political-conflict groups that have figured in social-revolutionary struggles have not merely represented social interests and forces. Rather they have formed as interest groups within and fought about the forms of state structures. The vanguard parties that have emerged during the radical phases of social revolutions have been uniquely responsible for building centralized armis and administrations without which revolutionary transformations could not have been consolidated (29).” This part of Skocpol’s revolution theory is important to examine because it does speak about social forces, because even Skocpol can agree with that there are more causes of revolutions than just class, or social, problems but class struggles can be added to the formula of what makes up a revolution. Goldstone also sees political aspects of being some major causes of revolutions. Goldstone theorizes that revolutions are because of forcible political change because of elites of attacking a weakened ruler or government instead of aiding the situation. Goldstone also sees politics partaking in the causes of revolutions because rulers spreading new ideologies, such as enforcing beliefs to justify that person’s rule and heavily forcing it upon the common population. This is also another scenario where another theorist states that although class struggle may not always be a primary cause, it is more certainly an underlying factor of the formula of what makes up a revolution.

With all the changes that come within a state such a political: change in power from one person to the next, or change in economics: people losing jobs or inflation, these changes will almost always effect the social aspects of a state. From the problems that are created, and the unrest of a state, class struggle will likely come out of the problems because those with the least will be the most impacted. It is important to discuss that class struggle is not the only cause of revolutions because class struggle usually is a result of a much bigger problem; there are many more contributing factors to revolutions than just unhappy citizens, because there is always something to make the citizens unhappy.

The media image of the graphic organizer web of the causes of the French Revolution clearly states what has been said all along, that there are several causes of revolutions much bigger than just class struggle. This organizer describes that the French Revolution was a product of five major problems: the age of Enlightenment, France was an absolute monarchy with a weak monarch, France sent troops and supplies to aid the revolutionaries in America, financial difficulties in France, and lastly, the population being divided into three states. All these causes of the French Revolution were all equally important and all had equally important impacts to the creating of this revolution, much more than just a problem of class struggle within France. Revolutions are much more complicated than citizens unhappy with the way they are being treated, revolutions are a result of citizens doing something about both the economic and political state of their country.

 

Work Cited:

Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China (Cambridge: CUP, 1979), 29.

7 Comments

  1. It is clear that theorists alike and this class all can say with confidence there is no one clear cause of a revolution. This blog post summarizes distinct ideas we covered in class and through the readings. The causes of a revolution will constantly be argued for importance and I am sure with the study this course has us focused on we still won’t completely agree as to the one main cause of the French or Haitian revolution; the causes are plural and all have different influence priorities!

  2. Very nice job on this post. I really liked the connected pieces between Goldstone and Skocpol. The idea of the web also helps bring out their ideas for multiple causes. Revolutions are never caused by just one thing, and being a visual learner, the web helps portray the theories.

  3. I think you do a great job connecting all the pieces of her somewhat complicated ideology. I think the quotes pulled connect the main point of her theory, especially this one, “The political-conflict groups that have figured in social-revolutionary struggles have not merely represented social interests and forces. Rather they have formed as interest groups within and fought about the forms of state structures. The vanguard parties that have emerged during the radical phases of social revolutions have been uniquely responsible for building centralized armis and administrations without which revolutionary transformations could not have been consolidated (29).”

    I think this is a solid argument, but I’m still in the mindset that revolutions are mainly caused by class inequality and organization.

    • I mean, I understand that there are realistically a multitude of issues which lead to revolution, but I feel like the underlying cause is always reflective of class struggle.

  4. This post raises the point that class is not the only factor in a revolution but that there are instead many different circumstances that could contribute to a rise of a revolution. I agree with all these points and really like your comparisons between Skocpol and Goldstone. The fact that social issues are usually factors I feel is very important. What I am unclear on is the point made about different factors being equal. This seems unlikely since if that were true then these events would have to happen in equal amounts to have equal influence and I just don’t see that happening.

  5. I appreciated how Goldstone was incorporated into this post with Skocpol’s theories on revolution. I agree that it takes many, if not all, of the aspect that Skocpol pointed out in order to cause a revolution. After all, a peasant class cannot over throw a government that is not weakened and they cannot do so without relative deprivation persuading the elites to designate support and resources towards the revolution. I am unsure as to the amount of each that it requires to have a successful revolution. I think of it sort of as a pie chart, it ultimately has to equal a whole, but the pieces inside may vary. Lastly, I really liked the paragraph on political crisis to trigger revolution because that seems to be a factor in many cases.

  6. I enjoy how you try to synthesize all the different factors that worked together in the case of the French Revolution. Yet you say that all of these causes had equal importance. What makes you say that exactly? Is there one specific factor that, comparatively at least, was more important than any other?

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