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