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revolution,in a political sense, fundamental and violent change in the values, political institutions, social structure, leadership, and policies of a society. The totality of change implicit in this definition distinguishes it from coups, rebellions, and wars of independence, which involve only partial change. Examples include the French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and Iranian revolutions. The American Revolution, however, is a misnomer: it was a war of independence. The word revolution, borrowed from astronomy, took on its political meaning in 17th-century England, where, paradoxically, it meant a return or restoration of a former situation. It was not until the 18th cent., with the French Revolution, that revolution began to mean a new beginning. Since Aristotle, economic inequality has been recognized as an important cause of revolution. Tocqueville pointed out that it was not absolute poverty but relative deprivation that contributed to revolutions. The fall of the old order also depends on the ruling elite losing its authority and self-confidence. These conditions are often present in a country that has just fought a debilitating war. Both the Russian and Chinese revolutions in the 20th cent. followed wars. Contemporary thinking about revolution is dominated by Marxist ideas: revolution is the means for removing reactionary classes from power and transferring power to progressive ones.
See H. Arendt, On Revolution (1963); J. B. Bell, On Revolt (1976); R. Blackey and C. Paynton, Revolution and the Revolutionary Ideal (1976); S. N. Eisenstadt, Revolution and the Transformation of Societies (1978); B. Turok, Revolutionary Thought in the Twentieth Century (1980); J. A. Goldstone, ed., Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Studies (1986); A. Yarmolinsky, Road to Revolution (1986); J. B. Rule, Theories of Civil Violence (1988); M. S. Kimel, Revolution: A Sociological Interpretation (1990); L. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution (1997); S. Dunn, Sister Revolutions (1999).
- (political and social) ‘the seizure of STATE power through violent means by the leaders of a mass movement where that power is subsequently used to initiate major processes of social reform’ GIDDENS,1989). This distinguishes revolutions from COUPS D’ÉTAT, which involve the use of force to seize power but without transforming the class structure and political system, and without mass support. The 20th century has seen revolutions occurring not in industrial societies but in rural peasant societies like Russia (1917), China (1949) and North Vietnam (1954). Various theories exist to try to explain revolutionary change, of which the most influential have been Marxist. An example of the application of MARXISM in an actual revolutionary situation is provided by LENIN in the context of Russia. He argues that a revolutionary situation is created when three elements come into play: when the masses can no longer live in the old way, the ruling classes can no longer rule in the old way, and when the suffering and poverty of the exploited and oppressed class has grown more acute than is usual. But the revolution will only be successful when the most crucial condition is fulfilled: the existence of a VANGUARD PARTY with the necessary Marxist programme, strategy, tactics and organizational discipline to guarantee victory. In her comparative study of revolutions Skocpol (1979) criticizes Marxist theories of revolution and argues for a state-centred approach. Specifically, she views international pressures such as wars or upper-class resistance to state reform as key factors leading to the breakdown of the administrative and military apparatus which in turn paves the way for revolution. See also MOORE, REVOLUTION FROM ABOVE.
- (social) any major change in key aspects of a society which leads to a change in the nature of that society. This may refer to economic transformation, as in the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, to changes in individual behaviour, as in the concept of a modern revolution in sexual behaviour’, or to a revolution in knowledge, as in the 'scientific revolution’ in 17th-century Europe, which laid the basis for all later developments in modern SCIENCE. Usage in this second sense tends to be highly variable, and may refer to comparatively long periods of time.
One important issue in the study of revolutions (in sense 1 or 2) is whether they form part of a more overarching ‘evolutionary’ or ‘developmental’ sequence in human affairs (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY, EVOLUTIONARY SOCIOLOGY) or should receive only a more EPISODIC CHARACTERIZATION.
a profound qualitative change in the development of a phenomenon of nature, society, or knowledge, for example, the geological revolution, the industrial revolution, the scientific and technological revolution, the cultural revolution, and the revolution in physics and philosophy. The concept of revolution is most frequently used in describing social development. (See.)
The concept is an integral aspect of the dialectical conception of development. It reveals the internal mechanism of the law of the transformation of quantitative into qualitative changes. Revolution means a break in gradualness, a qualitative leap in development. It differs from evolution—the gradual development of a process—and also from reform. Between revolution and reform there exists a complex correlation determined by the concrete historical content of the revolution and the reform.