Both a survey of modern revolutions and an attempt to explain the driving forces behind them (the book's subtitle being "On the Origins of Third World Revolutions"), this book, written in 2005, provides a valuable summary of the principal factors in revolutionary success, failure, and outcomes over the past century. The book's world-systems perspective, as well as its emphasis on "dependent development" as a key requirement for revolutionary opportunity, helps to explain the relative political and social stability of Global North states, as well as why revolutions do not necessarily happen in the most impoverished countries. Foran's conclusions (written from a post 9/11, post-Soviet vantage point) are not always in line with his analysis, as he tries to steer away from some of his more uncomfortable findings (that there have been no long-term social revolutions coming out of electoral success) in favor of optimism in "democratic" revolutionary processes. His theory's emphasis on cross-class, broad-based revolutionary alliances is interesting in considering today's revolutionary movements - under his model, fully Marxist-controlled movements, like those in the Philippines, India, and in the past Peru, have little chance of success, especially considering the quasi-democratic nature of the states they operate under (what could be termed "managed democracies", usually with very solid Global North political support). However, his theory also has scant evidence for an electoral road to revolution, as these revolutions were reversed without fail after coming to power. The most effective revolutions studied (from a communist perspective) would thus be the (non-electoral) revolutions in which communists and socialists played a large, even leading role in the revolutionary coalition while managing to avoid alienating key class allies, at least before the seizure of power. Of course, this contributing role can also lead to a situation like Iran, where non-communist factions ultimately win out and repress communist forces, foreclosing the possibility of more thoroughgoing social transformation. Finally, his hopefulness about the end of the Cold War opening up space for revolutionary change seems, with even more hindsight than was possible in 2005, completely misguided. Instead, we can see that the USSR and China's counterweight to US hegemony was what opened the door to some of the revolutions discussed (for example in Vietnam, he acknowledges their support for the North Vietnamese dissuaded the US from further escalation). Reading US counterrevolutionary activity as strictly a Cold War strategy to fight big-C Communism also seems simplistic - US hostility to even the more moderate developmentalist regimes is better explained by the need to secure complete economic and political dominance over the Global South. Taking this perspective allows us to explain the recent US offensives against Venezuela, Bolivia, and other Pink Tide governments, and also the promise of multipolarity in creating more "world-systemic openings" for twenty-first century revolutionary movements to exploit.
Part One: Perspectives
Chapter 1: Theorizing Revolutions
Foran first introduces his methodology (boolean analysis using a set of 5 factors), and briefly surveys previous theories on why and where revolutions occur.
He introduces his borrowed definition of social revolutions (the primary focus of the book as compared to solely political revolutions) here:
"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 . . .
What is unique to social revolution is that basic changes in social structure and in political structure occur together in a mutually reinforcing fashion. And these changes occur through intense sociopolitical conflicts in which class struggles play a key role."
This definition, which I shall adopt in full as my own, represents an advance in linking political and social changes and in identifying the importance of large-scale participation. In this we find an echo of Trotsky’s famous formulation: “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events . . . The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” The salience of these three factors – political change, structural transformation, and mass participation – allows us to dissociate revolution from violence per se and to explore the revolutionary potential of such strongly reformist democratic movements as those of Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Michael Manley in Jamaica, and Salvador Allende in Chile, each of whom aimed at serious transformation of their society.
Skocpol’s definition has the drawback of not telling us how much political and social transformation is required to qualify a case as a social revolution; nor does it define “rapid”; nor, finally, does it stipulate how long a revolutionary government must remain in power to constitute a “successful” case. These are judgments for which observers will have different answers.
Briefly presents some prior theory, and notes the drawbacks of an entirely mechanical approach:
The problem of agency is posed by its conceptual absence in the structural approaches of Skocpol and others. Skocpol, in particular, was reacting to theories that relied too much on revolutionaries’ conscious control of events, arguing instead that revolutionary crises are not the product of intentional activity and that outcomes were often quite unintended in their consequences. While valid and useful observations in themselves, the claim that “no successful social revolution has ever been ‘made’ by a mass-mobilizing, avowedly revolutionary movement” errs in the opposite direction, leaving a gap at the center of revolutionary events. Teodor Shanin cautions us against neglecting this moment of subjectivity and agency:
"Social scientists often miss a centre-piece of any revolutionary struggle – the fervour and anger that drives revolutionaries and makes them into what they are. Academic training and bourgeois convention deaden its appreciation. The “phenomenon” cannot be easily “operationalised” into factors, tables and figures. Sweeping emotions feel vulgar or untrue to those sophisticated to the point of detachment from real life. Yet, without this factor, any understanding of revolutions falls flat. That is why clerks, bankers, generals, and social scientists so often fail to see revolutionary upswing even when looking at it directly.
At the very centre of revolution lies an emotional upheaval of moral indignation, revulsion and fury with the powers-that-be, such that one cannot demur or remain silent, whatever the cost. Within its glow, for a while, men surpass themselves, breaking the shackles of intuitive self-preservation, convention, day-to-day convenience, and routine."
As Trotsky admonished, “Let us not forget that revolutions are accomplished through people, though they be nameless. Materialism does not ignore the feeling, thinking and acting man, but explains him." Social structure may illuminate both crises and outcomes, but past human actions, however much conditioned they may be, also help explain social structures, as Karl Marx argued in The Eighteenth Brumaire, and Michael Taylor has reiterated. Neither individualism nor structuralism is the “ultimate” (only) cause of social change.
Introducing his 5 factors for explaining a revolutionary success, and his concept of "dependent development":
Elsewhere I have argued that five inter-related causal factors must combine in a given conjuncture to produce a successful social revolution: 1) dependent development; 2) a repressive, exclusionary, personalist state; 3) the elaboration of effective and powerful political cultures of resistance; and a revolutionary crisis consisting of 4) an economic downturn; and 5) a world-systemic opening (a let-up of external controls). This model is represented schematically by Figure 1.1, with the addition of repressive colonial and non-repressive, open polities to the type of state that is vulnerable. Let us briefly examine each of these factors in turn.
We begin with a conception of Third World social structure as the complex result of both internal and external developmental dynamics. The world-system, as theorized by Immanuel Wallerstein, generates the external pressures – economic, political, and military – that emanate from the powerful capitalist core nations to the Third World periphery. Here they encounter the pre-existing modes of production of Third World societies, a process which creates over time a new complex of pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production. I am not here arguing that “The West caused everything,” but rather, following F. H. Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, that Third World social structures are the products of the complex intermeshing of internal and external dynamics. The result, in many Third World countries, is an accumulation process which can be called one of dependent development, essentially one of growth within limits. This refers to the fact that certain Third World economies, at certain moments in their history, do undergo both rapid development – as measured by increases in GNP, foreign trade, and industrial or agricultural output – combined with the negative consequences of this process in the form of such problems as inflation, debt, growing inequality, or overburdened housing and educational infrastructures, among many social ills. This historically specific process defines in each case a changing social structure that creates social and economic grievances among diverse sectors of the population, ranging from the urban working, middle, and underclasses, to rural peasants, farmers, and workers, and crossing gender and ethnic lines as well. The argument, then, is that a country’s historical insertion into the world economy on dependent terms vis-a-vis core powers significantly shapes its social structure, a view shared with Wallersteinian world-system analysis
His view on which types of states are more vulnerable to revolution is quite narrow, but includes what he calls an "open democratic polity", which the reader may have some doubts about:
Conversely, collective military rule, or rule by the military as an institution, especially when given a veneer of legitimation through regular elections, however fraudulent, tends to elicit more elite support and provide a less vulnerable target for cross-class social movements. Similarly immune to revolution are what William Robinson terms “polyarchies” – elite-controlled, formally democratic polities which effectively exclude radical challengers but are open enough to channel grievances into electoral channels and dissipate them. A much rarer regime type is the truly open democratic polity, where left parties are allowed to organize and elections are not completely controlled by elites. It is a major – and paradoxical – finding of this study that such states, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from dictatorships, are equally vulnerable to revolutionary challenge through the election of revolutionary parties, as happened in Chile in 1970, or more recently, in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Revolutionary political cultures can be created from many different sources and ideological viewpoints, but in his view the most successful cultures are those that hold cross-class appeal (at least in carrying out the initial capture of state power):
To move toward revolution from the structural determinants of the grievances produced by dependent development and the repressive, exclusionary, personalist and colonial state (or channeled into electoral success in the open polity), broad segments of many groups and classes must be able to articulate the experiences they are living through into effective and flexible analyses capable of mobilizing their own forces and building coalitions with others. Such political cultures of opposition may draw upon diverse sources: formal ideologies, folk traditions, and popular idioms, ranging from ideas and feelings of nationalism (against control by outsiders), to socialism (equality and social justice), democracy (demands for participation and an end to dictatorship), or emancipatory religious appeals (resistance to evil and suffering).
Finally, his concept of a world-systemic opening:
This let-up of external controls adds to the crisis of the state, and creates an opening for the activity of revolutionaries. I consider it world-systemic in that it tends to originate in the relation between core and peripheral states or the impact of war or depression on both.
Part Two: Revolutionary success
Chapter 2: The great social revolutions
This chapter surveys various social revolutions of the 20th century and tries to fit them to the 5 factor model already established. Notes here are taken on interesting revolutionary variants or modifications to his basic theory.
On the Mexican revolution:
What did the revolution accomplish, and how should we evaluate it? In many respects, it is debatable whether it was fully-fledged social revolution, and the most radical workers and peasants (not to mention the women and indigenous fighters in the popular forces) were without doubt defeated. This thesis of defeat is argued most cogently by Ramon Eduardo Ruiz: “Mexico underwent a cataclysmic rebellion but not a social ‘Revolution’.” Womack concludes: “The difference the so-called Revolution made to the country’s modern history was . . . not a radical transformation but simply a reform, accomplished by violent methods but within already established limits.” Other eminent historians from Arnaldo Cordova to Jean Meyer and Francois-Xavier Guerra concur in various ways, with emphases on elites as the main actors and the continuity of post- and pre-revolutionary regimes.
Yet it was something more than a political revolution that removed the Diaz dictatorship. Knight and Hart, in many ways at odds with each other, agree that there was a social revolution, with tremendous mass participation that had consequential impacts on the lives of those who made it. The 1917 constitution, though not anti-capitalist, was “the most progressive law code of its time.” A strong and broadly legitimate state arose in the 1920s and 1930s. Though far from democratic, it claimed significant peasant and worker support in its institutions, and forged a single party, eventually and tellingly titled the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Two decades after the revolution, Lazaro Cardenas made good on the promise of oil nationalization in 1938 and distributed significant land back to the communities. It was only after 1940 that this state was definitively turned to the elite project of national capitalist development, resuming the rhythms of dependency that would lead to a new revolutionary movement in 1994.
On the weakness of the Chinese Nationalists and their state:
The GMD ruled through the coercion of execution, assassination, arrest, threat, and censorship. Lloyd Eastman concludes that the hold on power by the GMD “depended almost wholly on the army. It was, in fact, a political and military structure without a social base, inherently one of the least stable of all political systems.”
On CPC political culture, which was able to almost "start from scratch" under the leadership of Mao, as opposed to other revolutionary political cultures which may have older roots or a greater amount of ideological diversity:
But in the process Mao had emerged as the undisputed communist leader and the party had deepened its relationship with the peasants of China and fashioned a strong political culture of opposition out of elements of nationalism and anti-imperialism, popular participation (or at least mass mobilization) in politics, and social and economic justice. Skocpol maintains this successful match of revolutionary leadership and the peasantry had “little to do with revolutionary ideology and every- thing to do with the ‘peculiarities’ (as seen from a European perspective) of the Chinese agrarian sociopolitical structure.” By this she means that peasants, lacking land and other resources, had no alternative but to respond to the communist overture. Such a view accords little agency to either party, and gives no credit to the skill of the Red Army and CCP in articulating a message of hope that was readily understood and embraced by a considerable part of the rural population. Let us pause then and look at the political cultures of opposition that helped make the revolution a possibility. Political cultures of opposition were just starting to develop by 1911 (and were largely confined to middle-class urban circles), and communist thought did not exist, but by 1949, Mao’s army and party had won the battle for ideological hegemony with Chiang’s GMD, especially in the countryside, having wrested from them the mantle of nationalist defenders of the country during the world war. In at least two senses, the CCP quite literally created its own political culture of opposition, more so than in most revolutions: that is, the Long March itself and the subsequent experience in Yanan (termed the “Yenan Way” by Mark Selden) formed the content of a founding legend, and Mao articulated an ideology – Mao Zedong Thought, or more loosely, Maoism – that represented an astute Sinification of classical orthodox Marxism.
A sharp picture of dependent development in Cuba:
Underlying this social structure and shaping its dynamics was another almost textbook case of the process of dependent development. It is not always recognized that Cuba in the 1950s ranked as “one of the four or five most developed nations in Latin America, and the most developed tropical nation in the entire world.” Numerous indices of this development, based largely on sugar monoculture and a half-century of ties with American capital, can be found. Per capita income at $400–500 a year (depending on the estimate) was higher than all but Venezuela and Argentina within Latin America. Seventy pounds of meat were consumed annually per person, twice the level of Peru. Industry, which employed 22 percent of the labor force, had embarked on a proto-import substitution phase after 1927 during the Machado regime, and had grown by 47 percent from 1947 to 1958. Cuba ranked fifth or sixth in Latin America in generation of electricity and production of cement, key items for industrial development. In terms of quality of life indicators, Cuba was second in hospital beds per person to Uruguay, had the lowest death rate in the Western hemisphere, and was fifth in literacy in Latin America. The key to this growth, of course, was sugar: Cuba had been the world’s largest producer since the early 1900s, and provided more than half the world market in sugar, amounting to 80 percent of Cuba’s exports. The health of the sugar sector determined the pace of development in industry, transport, banking, and trade, and the state of the economy generally.
Among the most developed of Latin American nations in conventional terms by the 1950s, Cuba was at the same time a society marked by enormous disparities of wealth and power, for behind the positive statistics lay the dependent aspects of Cuban development. The United States had $1 billion invested in Cuba in 1958 (up from $657 million in 1952), second only to its investments in the Venezuelan oil industry and representing one-eighth of all US investments in Latin America. American companies employed 160,000 Cubans, owned nine of the ten largest sugar mills (and twelve of the next twenty), produced 40 percent of the sugar, held one-quarter of all bank deposits, ran the telephone system, refined all oil, and (with the mafia) controlled much of the hotel, gambling, and drug businesses. The US Congress determined how much sugar Cuba could export to the US (around 60 percent of Cuban output). The US provided 80 percent of Cuba’s imports, at low tariffs. This sweeping control was the legacy of fifty years of expansion following US intervention in the 1895–98 Spanish-Cuban war, control of the party system into the 1920s, and support for Batista’s rise in 1934 and 1952. The notorious Platt Amendment in 1900 had given the US the right to intervene in Cuba’s politics, external borrowing, and foreign affairs
The internal impact of this dependent development was likewise dramatic. Estimates of income inequality suggest that the poorest 20 percent got between 2 and 6 percent of income, the richest 20 percent taking 55 percent. In terms of land tenure, the largest 9 percent of landowners had 62 percent of the land, while the bottom two-thirds had only 7 percent. In the countryside, as a consequence of land concentration and proletarianization of the labor force, two-thirds of the population lived in thatched huts, 42 percent were illiterate (versus 12 percent in the cities), 60 percent were undernourished (this was 30 to 40 percent in urban areas). Only 4 percent of farm workers ate meat regularly, 2 percent ate eggs, 11 percent drank milk. During the “dead season” in the countryside, which could stretch to eight or nine months, “families ate roots and bark to stay alive, hunted locusts, lived in woods, in caves.” Unemployment affected one-third of the population at some point during each year, reaching much higher in rural areas.
The lack of visible communist leadership in the July 26 movement helps create world-systemic opening for Cuba (this has interesting implications for communists - what would have happened if they had won leadership of the revolutionary movement earlier?)
Meanwhile, the July 26 Movement was well-financed by exiled, local, and American sympathizers, with some help from the Venezuelan interim revolutionary government of 1958, and US diplomats saw no conclusive evidence that it was “Communist-inspired or dominated . . . if we had had conclusive information to this effect, our attitude towards the Cuban situation would have been altered considerably.” An eleventh-hour attempt to convene Latin American governments in the Organization of American States in December 1958 met with a lukewarm reception around the continent (with the exception of dictatorships in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic): Latin American public opinion favored Castro and governments wanted no outside intervention. Though American weapons continued to reach Batista through Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, loss of support from the country with the greatest stake in Cuba crippled his ability to survive in office, providing a world-systemic opening for the July 26 Movement, whose swift final victory took the United States by surprise. This aspect of events suggests that perceptions of withdrawal of support loom large on all sides (regime, revolutionaries, and the various US actors) and that even slight shifts are significant, because the usual state of affairs is a relatively unproblematic, strong support from the core power (almost always the US).
Cuba as a case of revolutionaries managing to create their own economic opportunity (downturn), exacerbated by the outsized role that sugar played in the economy:
But, 1956 – the best year for the economy since 1952 – was not a good moment for Castro to launch a rebellion, and most economic indicators were satisfactory in 1957, at least by Cuban standards. However, 1958 started with large losses to tobacco and banana crops due to storms. The progress of the guerrilla war thereafter created its own political-economic dynamic. In the spring of 1958, US losses due to the destruction of the sugar crop by the rebels amounted to $1.5 million. Rail transport began to be interrupted in Oriente province. World conditions now turned unfavorable too, as recession hit the US market and the price of sugar dropped 20 percent. The failure of the April 1958 general strike provided a temporary pick-up through the summer and Havana, in particular, was kept relatively insulated from the turmoil. In the early fall, though, the economy went into an irreversible free fall as the rebels opened new fronts; industry, mining, sales, transport, and tourism all felt the effects of political disruption. By December, economic activity outside Havana had come to a virtual standstill and the coming sugar harvest was in serious jeopardy. Havana itself now was affected by inflation and unemployment, and tourism collapsed. The US embassy reported: “In effect, Castro is creating a general strike in reverse. By playing havoc with the economic life of the country, he is forcing business and industry to shut down and thus shove workers into the streets.” The downturn, in the case of Cuba, was unique in that the sugar economy was vulnerable to political unrest. As rebellion spread this meant that the rebels could in some measure create the downturn needed to destabilize the government and enlist the population in a struggle for change (this situation was seen to a degree also in China and will be again in Nicaragua and Iran, but in these cases there were prior downturns as well). The theoretical implication is that rebels may start an uprising in the absence of an economic downturn, but popular support and success follow only with its eventual presence.
A picture of the cross-class revolutionary coalition Foran sees as necessary for initial revolutionary success, in Nicaragua:
The Sandinista social base ultimately came to include a wide spectrum of aggrieved social groups and classes, then, spanning small-holding peasants, rural wage earners and squatters, the urban underclass (including recent rural migrants), artisans, students, and radical Christian activists. That they were centered in rural and urban zones where Sandino had been most active and popular in the 1920s and 1930s and where memories of his struggle were kept alive is further evidence of the significance of political cultures of opposition. The Nicaraguan revolution, in sum, reposed on a vast national multi-class coalition of social forces created or adversely impacted by dependent development from the 1950s to the 1970s, unified by Sandinista values and leadership into a broad-based opposition to the Somoza dictatorship.
In Iran's case, a somewhat subjective factor (Jimmy Carter's purported concern for human rights, but also friendliness with the Shah) creates instability:
Jimmy Carter would upset this alliance in subtle ways after 1976, providing the world-systemic opening for revolution. As a candidate he criticized American arms policy toward Iran. As president, he announced his intention to base US foreign policy in part on respect for human rights abroad, instructing the State Department to work with human rights organizations to moderate the shah’s repression. The shah took all of this quite seriously, reportedly remarking to an aide, “It looks as if we are not going to be around much longer.” Despite this, Iran was too important strategically and economically for the special relationship to be abandoned. The flow of arms continued despite some obstruction by Congress. Improbably, Carter developed a strong personal rapport in his meetings with the shah, toasting him in Tehran on December 31, 1977, just one week before serious clashes broke out: “Iran under the great leadership of the Shah is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership, and to the respect, admiration and love which your people give to you.” As late as May 1978 US Ambassador William Sullivan cabled home that Iran was stable and there were no serious out- standing issues between the two countries. In September, Carter himself made a much publicized phone call of support to the shah right after the Bloody Friday massacre of demonstrators. The shah, however, now ill with cancer, continued to doubt that he had full American backing in the crisis.
[...] Carter was ultimately paralyzed by this conflicting advice and his feelings toward the shah, lending “moral” support long past the point of no return (and thus inflaming the opposition), but not enough clear counsel or material support to the shah to deter the revolution.
This non-action of the key world power in the Iranian equation opened the door to the full play of the internal balance of forces, and this helped the revolution from its earliest to its final phases, just as the special relationship of America with the shah from 1953 to 1978 undermined his legitimacy in the first place. The world-system conjuncture, therefore, was favorable to the success of the revolution in the sense that the core world power did not aggressively intervene to prevent it. One may plausibly contend that the revolution would have succeeded regardless, but the cost in human terms would surely have been higher, and unforeseen historical alternatives might have opened up (coup, intervention, different internal coalitions, and so forth).
Foran turns to the leaders of the Iranian revolution and their wide-ranging appeals (different ideas or aspects appeal to different social classes):
Ayatullah Ruhullah Musavi Khumaini (1902–89) emerged as the leader of the revolutionary movement in the course of 1978. He had made his reputation as a critic of the government during the agitation over the shah’s land and other reforms in 1963, speaking out against “the political and economic exploitation by the West on the one hand . . . and the submission of the regime to colonialism on the other . . . The regime is bent on destroying Islam and its sacred laws. Only Islam and the Ulama can prevent the onslaught of colonialism.” From exile in Iraq he issued his 1971 work on Islamic government, an ideological bombshell in that it challenged the legitimacy of monarchy and advocated direct rule by qualified Islamic jurists. Much better known than these ideas were his many criticisms of royal corruption and dictatorship, Western domination, and the economic problems of Iran. Khumaini’s militant brand of Islam may also be characterized as populist since it combined progressive and traditional elements and appealed to diverse social strata. With a primary social base among lower-ranking ulama, theology students, and sectors of the bazaar, Khumaini’s anti-imperialist bent attracted secular intellectuals, leftists, and workers as well, while his religious idiom appealed to the marginal urban and rural populations whom he extolled as the mustazafin (the dispossessed masses). He had the organizational support of a fiercely loyal network of students and ulama in and outside of Iran, including the clerics who were members of the Ruhaniyuni Mubariz (Organization of Militant Ulama), many of them rising to prominence after the revolution. Together with his uncompromising opposition, personal integrity, and political astuteness, these advantages helped Khumaini emerge as the leader once the movement began.
In Iran, small, effective armed groups were complementary to the revolution but did not necessarily make the revolution:
More radical and effective in the anti-shah struggles of the 1970s were the left-wing guerrilla organizations, most notably the Islamic Mujahidin and the Marxist Fada'ian. The Mujahidin grew out of the Liberation Movement in the 1960s, dissatisfied with peaceful methods. Linking Islam and revolutionary activity, they declared their respect for Marx- ism in 1973 and split over this issue in 1975, with the Islamic wing influenced by Shari’ati retaining the name Mujahidin. Engaging in assassinations and bombings, severely repressed by the regime, the Islamic Mujahidin lost seventy-three members killed after 1975, and the Marxists thirty, including almost all of the original leadership. The Fada’ian was a Marxist-Leninist counterpart that left the Tudeh and like the Mujahidin was based among university students. It too split in 1975–77; it too lost many leaders, and 172 members in all, at the hands of the regime. It was influential in the Iranian Students Association in the United States and had some 5,000 members and many more supporters on the eve of the revolution. Through the Mujahidin and the Fada’ian, many students and intellectuals, and some workers, came to embrace revolutionary and socialist ideas, and provided a small nucleus of armed fighters to staff the final uprising in February 1979.
Chapter 3: The closest cousins: the great anti-colonial revolutions
Foran turns to another set of revolutions, this time uprisings against external colonizers, which he sees as being explained by the same basic factors.
His first task to explain how dependent development still applies in the colonial context:
I believe, however, that in a certain sense, colonialism – especially settler colonialism – produced a distinct variant of dependent development: namely, development for the colonizers, dependency for the colonized. It thus resulted in a segmented society, one part resembling nothing so much as a wealthy, urban, industrialized First World nation, the other nothing more than an impoverished, rural, agricultural Third World one. The two societies coexisting in such close proximity – particularly in the urban shantytowns that arose as pre-colonial social structure was dislocated in the countryside – generated an explosive potential as time passed.
On the class makeup of the Algerian revolutionaries:
Who had made the revolution? Kielstra has done one of the most carefully reasoned analyses of this question, concluding:
"Both logical inference and the available evidence point to the fact that the Algerian Revolution was initiated and led by a political network of people of urban (lower) middle class origin, while it was fought mainly by young, unemployed men from the rural proletariat."
Thus, in his view, the Algerian revolution was not a “peasant war,” but drew on the fact that “in the colonial period at least, about half of the population proletarianized,” some in the cities (but with links to the countryside), some in the countryside itself. Lyotard notes that the urban strikes and demonstrations involved “on the one hand, all the wage earners (domestics, blue- and white-collar workers in the private and public sectors, functionaries, teachers, etc.) and, on the other hand, the shop- keepers and artisans – consequently, the quasi totality of the Muslim population of the cities.” The FLN forces included 10,000 women, some as fighters, some as couriers, most in support roles as nurses, cooks, and launderers. The first great anti-colonial social revolution of the twentieth century was built on these powerful social bases and it triumphed by virtue of the same causes as had the great social revolutions.
Discussing Portuguese defense of their colonies, Foran points out the ultimate futility of military superiority in solving a the colonial political problem:
Unlike the French in Vietnam, whose lessons (and mistakes) they studied, the Portuguese state fought an effective counter-insurgency war, based on recruitment of Angolan troops, astute use of intelligence, and flexible tactics. Portugal’s problems were more political and economic than strategic: “while Portugal fought an imaginative campaign to retain its colonies in an anticolonial era, no amount of military verve could overcome the political problem of Portugal’s legitimacy in Africa.” This brings us to the nature of the world-systemic opening that occurred in the mid-1970s.
The rebellion involved the British government more directly in the affairs of the colony, now called Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes. The Africans were pushed onto poor land, and European settlers moved in to take the best farms; there were thus significant numbers of whites – including working- and middle-class people – settling in the country, as in South Africa, a pattern different from most of the rest of colonial Africa, administered by far fewer white bureaucrats, businessmen, and soldiers. In 1922 the settlers voted not to become part of South Africa, but rather to be a self-governing British colony, a sign that the white settler population of Rhodesia would hang onto its privileges fiercely, against both the African population and the British government.
Revolutionary cultures which are more flexible and incorporate important prior cultures triumph over "orthodox" Marxist groups:
ZANU ultimately emerged as the leading nationalist party, in large measure because of the appeal of its vision of a revolutionary political culture. Its army, ZANLA, recruited more effectively in the rural areas than ZAPU’s army ZIPRA, which drew its rank and file from more urban working-class groups and had a more rigid, Soviet-inspired structure and approach. ZANU’s forces astutely tapped the historical currents of resistance in Zimbabwe, including the use of Shona spirit mediums and shrines to fashion a cultural nationalism based on an indigenous spirituality.
An extreme example of dependent development in Vietnam:
Land reform came belatedly in 1969 when the US and the Thieu regime (1965–75) finally concluded that southern peasants were supporting the communists because of this issue: Duiker judges the “Land to the Tiller” program a success by 1975, yet the war and strategic hamlet campaign had already driven four million peasants – one quarter of the south’s population – to urban shantytowns. The ravages of war and urban poverty fed each other and rose in tandem; Stanley Karnow observed the two societies created by dependent development in the 1960s: “For grotesque contrast, no place to my mind matched the terrasse of the Continental Palace Hotel, a classic reminder of the French colonial era, where limbless Vietnamese victims of the war would crawl like crabs across the handsome tile floor to accost American soldiers, construction workers, journalists and visitors as they chatted and sipped their drinks under the ceiling fans.” As Le Minh Khue, a journalist and novelist from the north said after the reunification of the country: “People in the North always thought the cities in the South must be big and well equipped and luxurious, but when I walked around Danang I soon realized it was merely a consumer city. It lived on goods, so when the products were gone, it was just another impoverished city.”
In sum, under the US condominium, the social structure of the south was riven by a new phase of dependent development, no better in its mitigating effects than earlier ones. As Bernard Fall put it early in the 1960s: “without American aid to Vietnam’s military and economic machinery, the country would not survive for ten minutes.” In LeVan’s well-turned phrase, all the US aid succeeded in creating was “an appearance of prosperity in the southern cities.”
In the Vietnamese case, the incorporation of the upper classes into the colonial state (which may have initially been an advantage for the French in governing effectively?) precludes development of a less radical nationalism:
The new upper classes, meanwhile, were too identified with the French and later the Americans to inspire such allegiance, and no non-communist nationalism could take root. Of those that tried, the strongest was the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (VNQDD), which utterly lacked peasant backing, and was crushed ruthlessly by the French after a 1930 uprising. When the Indochina Communist Party faced a similar level of repression, it survived, and indeed, attracted new adherents among workers and peasants.
On world systemic opening for Vietnamese victory:
Duiker notes that the north consciously adopted the strategy of influencing international public opinion, as it had earlier in the struggle against the French; the “objective was not to win a total victory on the battlefield, but to bring about a psychological triumph over its adversaries, leading to a negotiated settlement under terms favorable to the revolution.”
Equally importantly, China’s support for the north probably deterred US policymakers from a course of total destruction, lest the US find itself confronting China, or even the USSR. Finally, since South Vietnam had become completely dependent on US aid to keep going, we see how the economics of dependent development and the geo-politics of the world-systemic opening can be conjoined, and turn into the economic downturn that followed the peace accords and the phasing out of US aid.
Part Three: Revolutionary Failure
Chapter 4: The greatest tragedies: reversed revolutions
Foran introduces "fully democratic polities" as revolutionary targets, although the explanation of what he considers "fully democratic" is somewhat lacking:
Jeff Goodwin, for example, explicitly argues that “neither open, democratic polities nor authoritarian yet inclusionary (for example, ‘populist’) regimes have generally been challenged by powerful revolutionary movements.” In my view this is a mistake, for each meet Skocpol’s criteria for social revolution: these governments were engaged in radical projects of political and economic transformation, supported by mass movements from below. That they came to power through elections does not make them less revolutionary than our previous ten cases (or the three others in this chapter): violence is definitely not a feature of the definition of social revolution used in this study. To include these cases enriches the sociology of revolution, for they allow us to discern a third type of vulnerable regime; in addition to the exclusionary, repressive, personalist and colonial states of Chapters 2 and 3, we now have four cases of fully democratic polities in which progressive forces had a fair chance to come to power through elections. The emphasis on “fully” democratic polities is important: Goodwin’s claim is true of what Robinson calls “polyarchies” – those imperfectly democratic governments that are the norm. The “fully open democracy” is a much rarer type. These cases also suggest the existence of another modality of struggle, for one might even argue that the extremely rapid takeovers of power in Bolivia and Grenada constituted the functional equivalent of an election in the sense that they did not involve the organization and maintenance of an armed struggle, with its inevitably clandestine means and hierarchical command structure (nor, for that matter, did Iran in 1978–79).
Part One: the rise to power of revolutionary movements
I would argue that this constellation of a liberal political system and strong left oppositional parties paradoxically constitutes in causal terms the “functional equivalent” of a repressive state and effective underground political cultures of resistance. That is, a truly democratic polity undergoing the changes wrought by dependent development is open to revolutionary electoral strategies, and constitutes its own variant of the type of regime that is vulnerable to revolution, even though it is the diametric political opposite of a repressive, exclusionary state.
The above statement is interesting in that it posits the fully open state as open to revolution, even though the revolutions in question were all reversed by extra-legal power (in essence other parts of the state that cannot be conquered with electoral victory).
Summarizing the reversal of fate on each factor:
In terms of social structure, dependent development, once set in motion, cannot be done away with overnight: each government ran into the constraints this posed even as reforms brought about some gains. In this sense, the daunting resilience of dependency acts as a break on the revolutionary impetus to development. Six of the seven governments ruled democratically, and the seventh, Bishop’s in Grenada, was widely popular and likely would have won elections in the period of its rule. Progressive political cultures thrived everywhere, but at the same time, internal right-wing oppositions grew in the space opened up by democracy and societies polarized politically. Conjunctural factors also worked against the new regimes: all experienced economic difficulties as the programs they put in place dislocated previous production and distribution systems, while the unleashed demand for consumption and the need for productive investment worked at cross purposes. In the end, all faced serious overt or covert intervention from the United States, designed to create counter-revolutionary governments. This was the outcome in all seven cases, through violent CIA-sponsored coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, direct and indirect military intervention in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and the election of Edward Seaga’s Labour Party in Jamaica. In some sense, then, the persistence of the same factors that brought revolutionaries to power worked in reverse to unseat them, a process whose causes we now set out to investigate.
Part Two: falling from power
Bolivia here is an interesting case of the US using the "carrot" of international aid to reverse a revolution, instead of coercive pressure. When is this strategy employed vs that of coercion/sanctions/isolation?
Phase two of the reversal of the revolution came when the MNR concluded that it had to seek aid from the United States to weather the economic crisis. As Klein puts it: “The Bolivian government astutely obtained massive assistance, despite the existence of a hard-line anti- communist government in Washington, but they had to pay a heavy price for it.” This reliance on the US closed the world-systemic opening of the early 1950s. The first $9 million in aid came in late 1953, and by 1958 the US had provided $78 million and accounted for as much as one-third of the government’s budget, with Bolivia the largest per capita recipient of US aid in Latin America between 1952 and 1964. With unusual foresight, the US saw this aid as the best mechanism to reverse the revolution, challenged as it had been by the Guatemalan revolution in the early 1950s and the Cuban to come at the end the decade. Conservative scholar Robert Alexander noted “that more could be gained by going along with the Bolivian regime, and trying to convince it of the necessity of modifying policies considered extreme in Washington, than by opposing it.”
Foran discusses the Chilean case and the weaknesses of Allende's coalition:
Politically, Allende did not control the entire state machinery – he did not have a majority in Congress, the support of the judiciary, the loyalty of the entire civil service, nor that of much of the army high command, which had been trained in the United States. The upper classes owned most of the mass media, and used it against him (the CIA also gave money to conservative newspapers and radios to do a vicious smear campaign playing on fears of communism).
Faced with these difficulties the UP convened a high-level strategy conference at Lo Curro in June 1972 to try to elaborate a strategy capable of maintaining the momentum of the revolutionary process. At this meeting, a significant difference of opinion emerged, underscoring the weight of political cultures for the success – or failure – of revolutions. The Communist Party, Allende’s wing of the Socialist Party, and the Radical Party wanted to slow things down and try to rebuild an alliance with the progressive wing of the Christian Democrats, thereby regaining the support of the middle classes, a strategy known as the “consolidation line.” This group wanted to dampen the pace of nationalizations, especially the spontaneous ones that were going on in some factories, in order to rebuild trust with the private sector; maintain payments on the foreign debt to appease the United States; and call for a “battle of production” appealing to workers to hold down wage increases in order to reduce inflation and shortages. Politically, this meant rebuilding an alliance with the progressive wing of the Christian Democrats, to bring the middle classes back into support for the process of change, and to win a stronger electoral plurality, or even a majority. Once this political base was consolidated, it was argued, the transformation of Chilean society could proceed on a more solid footing.
Against this view, much of the Socialist Party, the MAPU, and the MIR called for more activism and mobilization of the working class (since the MIR was not formally part of the UP coalition, it was not directly represented at Lo Curro). This “mobilization line” wanted to enlarge the Area of Social Production both legally and by encouraging worker and peasant seizures of factories and land; to suspend payments on the foreign debt to retaliate against the blockade; and to implement rationing of basic goods to fight speculation and combat the shortages. Politically, this meant mobilizing the working class and peasantry for even more radical (but still largely constitutional and legal) changes. By building a deeper base among the working classes of Chile, both electoral gains and the political will for radical changes could be preserved.
One other option also hung over the deliberations – the MIR’s proposal for sharp class confrontation and eventual armed struggle against the right and the repressive forces of the army and police. According to this logic, the whole process was in grave danger because the right-wing opposition would not play by the rules of the constitutional game. Therefore, the left should prepare for a direct seizure of power, and above all, take away the army’s ability to end the revolution with a coup.
Although the formal outcome of the meeting at Lo Curro was the adoption of Allende’s “consolidation line,” in practice, both strategies were carried forward at the same time – the government tried to build bridges to the Christian Democrats and the middle classes, while grassroots activists carried out land seizures and factory occupations.
The lack of political repression on the part of Allende provides an opening for the right:
This outcome meant that the UP’s enemies could not get the two-thirds vote needed to impeach Allende and remove him legally. The rightwing opposition therefore hardened its tactics. In May the copper miners – at least those organized by the Christian Democrats and the white collar sector of the work force – went on strike against the government, a somewhat incongruous situation of workers opposing an elected socialist government. On June 29, 1973 there was an attempted military coup with assistance from the fascist, or extreme right-wing civilians of Patria y Libertad, which failed when part of the army remained loyal to the government (again, showing perhaps the residual strength of a hard-won democratic political culture, even within the army). On July 29 came the second truckers’ strike, combined with much rightwing terrorism against people and trucks, buses, gas stations, pipelines, and trains. Chile’s inflation rate for the period from October 1972 to October 1973 peaked at over 500 percent. Amidst an intense economic downturn, Chile’s population was bombarded by anti-communist messages in much of the media, perfectly free to say whatever it wanted.
The army was the main maker of the coup, and certainly the US gave ample encouragement, material aid, logistical support, and swift diplomatic recognition to the junta. Inside Chile there was support from fascist and anti-communist groups, large landowners, industrialists, and owners of the mass media. But all of these groups together would not have had much of a social base despite their material resources. A key social force behind the coup, then, was Chile’s middle classes, economically hard hit by inflation and shortages, and politically close to the Christian Democratic Party, the centrist party that ultimately chose the extra-legal right over the parliamentary left. Groups like professionals, small shop owners, truck drivers, and others, who all had their own associations much like workers have labor unions, provided an atmosphere of public support for the military coup.
On Nicaragua and the US strategy towards it:
The reasoning behind US pressure was that the Sandinistas probably could not be overthrown in this way, but by embroiling them in the mire of what is euphemistically called a “low-intensity conflict,” the Nicaraguan model could be weakened and made less attractive for other countries. This was indeed the case, on a number of dimensions – politically, militarily, and economically.
Again summarizing the reversal of fate in the revolutionary factors:
The pattern can be interpreted as follows: revolutions have been reversed when they continue to be subject to the effects of dependent development (which is impossible to undo in a short period of time, if ever), when they have open, democratic institutions (see the discussion below on the reasons for and implications of this), when the revolutionary political cultures that brought them about are attenuated due to internal differences of opinion or the difficulties of continuing to effectively engage their broad coalitions (compounded by the fragmenting effects of the opponents of the new government, internal and external), and when the world-systemic window that opened to permit their coming to power closes, as can happen in a variety of ways detailed below. These four factors, in conjunction, are found in all seven cases, and the revolutions were reversed regardless of the presence or not of an economic downturn (in fact, such a downturn was found in five and perhaps six of the cases, so it lent its weight as well).
Our comparison also suggests that there has been a pattern for the reversal of democratic revolutionaries by the United States – a coordinated program of counter-revolutionary destabilization that combines the following factors to bring about either electoral defeat or military coup: 1) a closing of the world-systemic opening that facilitated the revolutions, by a) attacking the political legitimacy of the revolutionary states making full use of their democratic natures in utilizing covert and overt propaganda to undermine the regime in the eyes of the population, and b) giving substantial material aid and assistance to opposition parties, military officers, and/or counter-revolutionary armies, combined with 2) an assault on the economic success of the revolution, playing on both the legacy of dependent development and the potential for economic downturns through a wide variety of actions, including economic blockades, cut- ting off sources of external funding and trade, and working with internal forces to disrupt production and distribution. The combination of these measures goes a long way toward weakening the political cultures that sustain a revolution, leading to internal splits, disaffection of the social bases of the revolution, and the acute political polarization necessary to sustain a coup or defeat a revolutionary government through elections.
The problem was not, therefore, the “unsuitability” of democracy as a form of revolutionary governance, but its vulnerability in the context of the cold war. I would suggest that since this condition no longer obtains in the early twenty-first century, we should not draw hasty conclusions that democratic revolutionaries will fail as they ostensibly have in the past, an argument to which I will return in the conclusion to this book.
The suggestion here that the end of the cold war opened up MORE possibility for democratic attempts at revolution seems completely wrong - instead, the largely uncontested power of the Western imperialist countries has managed to choke any democratic attempts at social revolution (eg Venezuela).
Chapter 5: The great contrasts: attempts, political revolutions, and non-attempts
On El Salvador:
While liberation theology played a major role in El Salvador as in Nicaragua in the 1970s, and there were reformist, trade unionist, and other broadly-based oppositional currents, the political culture of the emerging left-wing revolutionary coalition was Marxist, anti-imperialist, and class-oriented, a stance not calculated to mobilize the broadest coalition of social forces. The Christian Democrats siphoned off support among peasants, workers, and the middle classes, while the business sector was solidly on the side of the military. A difference with the Nicaraguan case, then, throughout the 1970s, was the lesser breadth of this incipient coalition in class terms, its more radical socialist orientation, and its separation into various oppositional organizations.
Misery is not enough:
These crisis-like conditions, however, were painfully “normal” throughout the 1970s; a partial difference with successful social revolutions then was the stable nature of crisis in the domestic economy. Conditions, already terrible, may not have perceptibly worsened, although this would provide little consolation to the victims of dependent development.
On the PCP and it's explicit rejection of any collaboration with other class forces:
Far more than the Marxism-Leninism of the revolutionaries in El Salvador in the same period, this ideology was not calculated to appeal to broad segments of the population, and never achieved a hegemonic claim even on the left. Even at its height around 1989, therefore, the movement failed to attract sufficient cross-class support to build a broad populist coalition for revolutionary, extra- constitutional social transformation in Peru. Indeed, it never sought such an alliance, a fatal flaw in its vision. Instead, explicitly targeting the traditional left, represented in the person of President Alan Garcia (and to his left the optimistically named Izquierda Unida, as well as Peru’s other armed revolutionary current, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement – the MRTA), Sendero had alienated its natural allies on the political spectrum by the mid-1980s.
Nor was the regime vulnerable in the classic sense: Peru maintained a functioning democracy in the 1980s under the left-oriented government of Alan Garcia, and while Alberto Fujimori later dissolved Congress, he was careful to obtain military and a surprising amount of popular support. Despite intense military repression and the autogolpe (self-coup) of April 5, 1992 by Fujimori that concentrated unusual (but not unlimited) discretionary powers in his hands, the political institutions of Peru never approximated an exclusionary, personalistic dictatorship.
Foran identifies the same weakness in the Maoist insurgency in the Phillipines (although the CPP seems to have a broader base of support and more cross class appeal than Sendero ever did):
The reasoning is broadly similar to the cases of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru: Aquino represented the most democratic, and hence unassailable, government of all four cases, an image enhanced by the contrast with the Marcos dictatorship that had just been overthrown. The radicals, mean- while, while enormously energetic in organizing many sectors of society in both town and village, and across gender lines, still suffered from the ability of their critics to label their political culture communist, thereby reducing its cross-class appeal.
meaning that despite the presence of dependent development, rebels could not succeed when the states they faced were not repressive, exclusionary dictatorships (or genuine democracies), their political cultures did not facilitate broad cross-class alliances, and outside powers supported rather than abandoned incumbent regimes. These factors cluster together logically as well, for regimes that allow some political participation make it difficult for cross-class alliances to coalesce and can often attract outside military and economic support, which is even more likely to be forthcoming from the United States when the oppositional culture is, or can be labeled, Marxist-Leninist.
A look at political revolutions
On Haiti and why it did not go beyond the political revolution that overthrew the Duvaliers:
In development terms, the island is more a case of sheer dependency and underdevelopment than dependent development, as it has ranked at the very bottom of all countries in the Americas on most indices of development and social welfare. On the other hand, the state under the Duvaliers, pere et fils, was a quintessentially repressive, exclusionary, and personalistic police state, its stability guaranteed by the feared paramilitary known as the tontons macoutes. Under these conditions, the opposition had little chance to organize more than a very rudimentary resistance culture, drawing on relatively weak liberal democratic and liberation theology currents. Crisis economic conditions brought out largely unorganized street demonstrations against Jean-Claude Duvalier between 1984 and 1986, and the regime’s crackdown led the United States to withhold further aid and to encourage conspirators in the army to stage the February 6, 1986 coup that ended the Duvalier dynasty. The outcome, however, was a new elite-military alliance that stymied further attempts at reforms, radical or otherwise, marked by the political turmoil of the 1990s and the 2004 US-backed removal of democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As in China, the limits to social revolution seem to lie in the combination of a less differentiated class structure than that of a mature dependent development and the formidable difficulties of organizing a political culture capable of social revolution in a highly repressive polity (while this was accomplished in other places, such as Nicaragua, the effects of dependent development facilitated the presence of the types of social actors necessary to bring this off).
On the ANC turn away from socialism:
In analytic terms, the conditions favorable for a social revolution were dependent development and a repressive, exclusionary state (both of the colonial type), powerful political cultures of resistance articulated through and around the ANC with democratic and social justice strands, a relatively biting economic downturn, and eventually a world-systemic opening brought about largely by political pressure on Western governments to withdraw support from the regime.
Why, then, the political outcome? In part, this followed from an inter-national conjuncture after the collapse of the East Bloc that rendered the ANC’s socialist economic alternative decidedly unfashionable by the time it took power. Related to this was the shift in the nature of the white minority state from exclusionary and repressive to genuinely open to the election of its opposition, the ANC. This required the ANC’s transformation from guerrilla movement to political party, and had a dampening effect on its program once in power, as did the end of the socialist model after 1991 and the internal guarantees of white privilege tied up in quasi-colonial dependent development.
A summary of why some revolutions do not go deeper:
The two reduced expressions that cover all five cases can be factored to the Boolean equation Bce (a + d), suggesting that social revolutions did not occur in these cases due to the limits of their political cultures of opposition and lack of a world-systemic opening conducive to far-reaching change, combined in the cases of Zaire, China, and Haiti with very limited development, and in the Philippines and South Africa with relatively less severe economic downturns. Political culture and world-systemic opening thus act as powerful deflectors of revolutionary movements and brakes on social transformation after they take power.
No attempt: the reasons why
Strong political culture or non-personalistic states as protection against (counter)-revolution:
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, itself the product of a revolution against the shah (see the analogy with revolutionary Cuba below), the political economy remains as definite an instance of dependent development as it was under the shah since the early 1960s: the country has been and remains a regional economic giant with heels of clay. Urbanization, rising GNP, and oil-fueled growth continue to produce only hardship for much of the urban and most of the rural population. The regime, however, has created a set of sturdy political institutions that have successfully outlived the charismatic Ayatullah Khumaini, who even as supreme religious authority from 1979 to his death in 1989 could not qualify as an exclusionary personalist ruler. The political system opened further in the 1990s, permitting the election of liberal-minded Islamic reformer Muhammad Khatami as president in 1997. The rules of the political game restrict wider ideological competition, at the same time involving enough of the population in the process to make widespread extra-legal opposition difficult.
The question today, and the one on which the future of the Cuban revolution would seem to hinge, is how much remains of this effervescent support for Castro and Cuban socialism inside the country, and how well it will outlive his inevitable passing from the scene and the inexorable spread of capitalist globalization from above? Somehow, Castro retained a basic level of public support through the crisis of the 1990s, though how much is difficult to say. As one grocer put it: “To put up with things is a national custom.” Economic change has come in the form of increased tourism, biotechnology, joint ventures with foreign companies, and the ebb and flow of small private enterprises, but the very intensity of the US animosity toward Castro institutionalized in the successive tightenings of the embargo undertaken by US politicians Robert Torricelli, Dan Burton, Jesse Helms, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush has been turned thus far by the regime to political capital, as it taps the wellsprings of Cuban nationalism and pride in their revolution. To date, Cuba showcases the advantages of political culture for sustaining revolutions (and thereby preventing counter-revolution), even in a globalizing world.
Concluding thoughts on the failure of revolutions
That is, attempted revolutions and political revolutions failed to become full-fledged social revolutions as their political cultures were limited in some way and the world-systemic opportunity was not present, and one further factor – a vulnerable state, economic downturn, or dependent development – was absent. We may note the similarity with societies in which revolutions were not attempted, even with some of the factors present, as long as powerful political cultures were not sufficiently articulated and no world-systemic opening was present
We might interpret this result as suggesting that the causes of failure were the combination of problematic political cultures, an unfavorable international conjuncture, and any one of the other factors in the model. Among the conclusions to be drawn from this exercise is a further demonstration that all five factors are needed for a social revolution to occur and succeed, and that the absence of any of the five factors is sufficient to block a social revolution from succeeding. Most notably, two of the five factors – political cultures of opposition and world-systemic opportunity – may be the single most salient reasons for failure, underlining the sheer weight of the world system, and the wisdom of our return to the subjective realm of culture.
Part Four: Conclusions
Chapter 6: The past and future of revolutions
The author offers his thoughts on how his theory might be used to predict future revolutionary outcomes, as well as how changes in the world system might change the possible routes to revolution. He also summarizes his analysis up to this point, and discusses the Zapatista model briefly.
This pattern suggests a possible theory for reversals of revolution: revolutionaries fall from power when political fragmentation and polarization, economic problems (often, though not always, including economic downturns), and outside intervention occur together. The apparently negative causal role that was played in the reversal of revolutions by fashioning or maintaining democratic institutions was a troubling finding that opened up a discussion of the relationships between democracy and revolution that will be resumed later in this conclusion.
The use of Boolean techniques to simplify the patterns yielded the formula Abce as the common pattern in the movements’ failures, meaning that despite the presence of dependent development, rebels could not succeed when the states they faced were not repressive, exclusionary dictatorships (or genuine democracies, if the movements were mainly non-violent in nature and/or pursuing an electoral route to power, as in China, Algeria, and Chiapas), their political cultures did not facilitate broad cross-class alliances, and outside powers supported rather than abandoned incumbent regimes.
To the question, why do most attempts fail, or not result in social revolutions, and why do most countries not experience revolutions at all, we have found several answers. The reversed social revolutions in Iran, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Jamaica, Grenada, and Nicaragua suggested that the continued effects of dependent development and an economic downturn, coupled with schisms in the unity of the revolutionaries (at least in part due to political cultures), the vulnerability of relatively democratic revolutionary regimes, and external pressures have combined to overturn revolutions in progress. This is a contribution to a theory of revolutionary outcomes, for it identifies at least some of the factors which have undermined revolutionaries even where they have achieved a firm hold on power.
We should perhaps therefore not rush too quickly to conclude that the classic revolutionary goal of seizing state power is no longer relevant or viable. For Jeff Goodwin, “Rather than uniformly diminishing states, in fact, globalization has been just as likely to spur attempts to employ and, if necessary, expand state power for the purposes of enhancing global competitiveness . . . There is no reason to believe, in any event, that in the future people will accept the depredations of authoritarian states and shun revolutionaries on the grounds that state power ‘ain’t what it used to be’.” At the same time, new revolutionary movements like the Zapatistas have questioned this goal, reflecting their subtle understandings of the workings of political power in conditions of globalization: that creating democratic spaces for the free discussion of political, economic, and cultural alternatives to globalization is a more suitable goal for revolutionaries than direct seizure of state power, and that linking the national liberation struggle to both local needs and global concerns might be the most effective – if an even more daunting – coalition-building project for deep social transformation. The global diffusion of democratic polities since the 1980s means that at least some Third World states will be genuinely open to the rise of the left through elections.
The "global diffusion of democratic polities" does a lot of work here - especially since elsewhere, Foran refers to "polyarchies" as formal democratic states that are in reality controlled by a small ruling elite (but he does not seem to subscribe to the full Leninist explanation of bourgeois democracy and its illusions).
How might the revolutions of the future have better end(ing)s?
Our theoretical and empirical study of the origins of Third World social revolutions suggests some of the lessons that lie hidden in the revolutionary record. Let me try stating a few in propositional terms:
◦ revolutions have usually been driven by economic and social inequalities caused by both the short-term and the medium-run consequences of “dependent development” – a process of aggregate growth by which a handful of the privileged have prospered, leaving the majority of the population to suffer multiple hardships
◦ they have typically been directed against two types of states at opposite ends of the democratic spectrum: exclusionary, personalist dictators or colonial regimes, and – more paradoxically – truly open societies where a democratic left had a fair chance in elections
◦ they have had a significant cultural component in the sense that no revolution has been made and sustained without a vibrant set of political cultures of resistance and opposition that found significant common ground, at least for a time
◦ they have occurred when the moment was favorable on the world scene – that is, when powers that would oppose revolution have been distracted, confused, or ineffective in preventing them – and when economic downturns internally have driven a critical mass within society to seek an alternative
◦ finally, they have always involved broad, cross-class alliances of subaltern groups, middle classes, and elites; to an increasing extent women as well as men; and to a lesser degree racial or ethnic minorities as well as majorities.
Once in power, a series of related difficulties have typically arisen, which result from the continued significance of the patterns above for revolutionary transformation:
◦ dependent development has deep historical roots that are recalcitrant to sustained reversal, however much the material situation of the majority can be improved in the short and medium run
◦ truly democratic structures have been difficult to construct following revolutions against dictators, while those revolutionaries who have constructed democracies have been vulnerable to non-democratic opponents, internal and external
◦ the challenge of forging a revolutionary political culture to build a new society has generally foundered rapidly on the diversity of subcurrents that contributed to the initial victory, compounded by the structural obstacles all revolutions have faced
◦ few revolutions have been able to withstand the renewed counterrevolutionary attention of dominant outside powers and their regional allies
◦ given the above, the broad coalitions that have been so effective in making revolutions are notoriously difficult to keep together, due to divergent visions of how to remake society and unequal capacities to make their vision prevail; meanwhile women and ethnic minorities have consistently seen at best limited reversal of patriarchy and racism after revolutions.