Armed Revolt

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Armed Revolt


an open armed uprising of certain social groups or classes against existing political power. Along with armed revolts, which bear a mass character and pursue revolutionary purposes, there are other types of armed revolts, including rebellion—a spontaneous, unorganized uprising of the masses without a clearly realized aim—and putsch—an uprising prepared mainly by officer groups for the purpose of establishing a military dictatorship. In Soviet literature, armed revolts that pursue reactionary purposes are usually termed mutinies (for example, the Kronstadt anti-Soviet Mutiny of 1921).

Marxist theory particularly singles out the armed revolts that take place with broad participation of the popular masses (or with their active support) and that represent one of the means for the revolutionary seizure of political power. Armed revolts arise in the course of the class struggle, when the ruling classes attempt to retain power by violent measures. They usually appear as a response to the coercion of the ruling classes. In a number of cases, armed revolts are not directly connected with social revolution (the Spartacus revolt and numerous peasant revolts in the medieval period, for example). But revolution often begins with a popular uprising (the storming of the Bastille, the October armed uprising in Petrograd). Armed revolt occurs not infrequently in the course of a revolution (the December armed revolt in Russia in 1905). In these cases armed revolts are a component part, a stage, of revolution.

There is no antagonistic class society that has not experienced armed revolts. The main forces of the revolts in precapitalist formations were slaves and peasants (the peasant armed revolt of S. T. Razin and E. I. Pugachev in Russia, the Jacquerie in France, the Taiping Rebellion in China). With the entry of the working class into the historical arena, armed revolt has become a tool of its struggle against capitalism and one of the means for gaining power. Generalizing the experience of proletarian armed revolts in 1848-49, the founders of Marxism created the theory of armed revolt, and F. Engels expounded its major elements in his work Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany. “Insurrection is an art, quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding, which when neglected, will produce the ruin of the party neglecting them. … First, never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to go to the very end. … The military forces opposed to you have all the advantages of organization, discipline, and traditional authority; unless the revolutionaries bring strong odds against their opponent, they are defeated and ruined. Second, once the revolt has begun, act with the greatest determination and on the offensive. The defense is the death of every armed rising. … Surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering; prepare new successes, however small, but daily; keep up the moral ascendancy that the first successful rising has given to you; rally to the revolutionary side those vacillating elements that always follow the more powerful. … Force your enemy to a retreat before they can collect their strength against you” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 8, p. 100). The defeat of such proletarian armed revolts as the Commune of Paris of 1871 and the December armed revolt of 1905 can be explained to a significant degree by insufficient consideration of these principles.

The theory of armed revolt received further development in the works of V. I. Lenin. In the beginning of the 20th century he considered armed revolt as the most probable instrument for the working-class conquest of power. According to Lenin, armed revolt is the most important and energetic, although not in all cases obligatory, means of struggle for socialism. Contrary to the reformists’ affirmations, armed revolt was not made obsolete by the development of military technology. Undoubtedly, this development confronted revolutionaries with new tasks, particularly that of working with the army and winning it over to the revolutionary side. Lenin worked out a detailed tactic envisaging the rejection of a passive barricade struggle and emphasizing a bold and decisive offensive to seize power in the important centers of the country. Lenin assigned great significance to the question of preparation, organization, and leadership of an armed revolt. He spoke out against the Menshevik theory of passivity, according to which an armed revolt is a purely spontaneous process. Such a theory is based on a confusion of armed revolt and revolution. “A popular revolution cannot be timed. … But if we have really prepared an uprising and if a popular uprising is realizable by virtue of the revolutions in social relations that have already taken place, then it is quite possible to time the uprising” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 9, p. 259).

In the execution of an armed revolt, a huge role belongs to the proletarian revolutionary party whose organizational activity allows the revolt to be carried to victory. The party explaining the necessity of armed revolt must provide a thorough elaboration of its military-technical aspects (the availability of a detailed plan, the training of military groups, the arming of the people, and so forth). Lenin demonstrated the basic distinctions of the Marxist formulation of the question from Blanquist and other left adventuristic views that identify armed revolt with revolution and consider it possible to implement a revolt at any time, without considering the degree of maturity of objective and subjective prerequisites of revolution. “To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning point in the history of the growing revolution, when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted, and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism”(ibid., vol. 34, pp. 242-43).

The classic prototype of the armed revolt was the October 1917 armed revolt in Petrograd. Armed revolts can be victorious only when they take place in the conditions of a direct revolutionary situation or in the course of a developing revolution. Every attempt to organize an armed revolt in the absence of a revolutionary situation is doomed to failure and can only cause damage to the revolutionary movement.

The historical experience of the 20th century testifies that armed revolt remains a most important means of struggle against reactionary regimes and for the conquest of political power. It has been used by the workers against capitalistic power (the Hamburg revolt of 1923, the Asturian revolt of 1934), for national liberation and against fascism (the revolt of Aug. 23, 1944, in Rumania; the revolt of Sept. 9, 1944, in Bulgaria; and the Prague revolt of 1945), and is a component part of national liberation revolutions (Egypt in 1952, Iraq in 1958, and Zanzibar in 1964). In connection with essential changes in the internal structure of capitalism as well as in the relation of forces between the two world systems, the possibilities of the working-class conquest of power by peaceful means, without armed revolt and civil war, have significantly increased under contemporary conditions. This conclusion, offered at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU (1956), is shared by a majority of Communist and workers’ parties. Marxist parties repudiate the views of the Chinese and other theoreticians of leftist tendencies, according to whom “power comes from the barrel of a gun” and armed revolt and civil war are the only means of revolutionary struggle. Marxists regard armed revolt as one of the most important methods for winning political power in those cases when the peaceful conquest of power is excluded and the reactionary classes resort to violence.


Engels, F. “Vvedenie k rabote K. Marksa Klassovaia bor’ba vo Frantsii s 1848 po 1850 gg. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. . “Chto delat’?” Poln. sobr. Soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. . “Dve taktiki.” Ibid., vol. 9.
Lenin, V. . “Dolzhny li my organizovat’ revoliutsiiu?” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Revoliutsionnaia armiia i revoliutsionnoe pravitel’stvo. ’ Ibid., vol. 10.
Lenin, V. . “Dve taktiki sotsial-demokratii v demokraticheskoi revoliutsii. ’Ibid., vol. 11.
Lenin, V. . “Revoliutsiia uchit.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. . “Zadachi otriadov revoliutsionnoi armii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. . “Uroki moskovskogo vosstaniia.” Ibid., vol. 13.
Lenin, V. . “Partizanskaia voina.” Ibid., vol. 14.
Lenin, V. . “K otsenke russkoi revoliutsii.” Ibid., vol. 17.
Lenin, V. . “Marksizm i vosstanie.” Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. . “Sovety postoronnego.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. . “Pis’mo k tovarishcham.” Ibid.
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu, i sotsializm. Moscow, 1961.
Mints, I. “Marks o vooruzhennom vosstanii.” Istorik-Marksist, 1933, no. 2, pp. 61-88.
Grunt, A. la. “‘Novaia barrikadnaia taktika’ i vooruzhennyie vosstaniia 1905 i 1917 godov.” Voprosy istorii, 1966, no. 11, pp. 20-31.
Krasin, lu. A. Lenin, revoliutsiia, sovremennost’. Moscow, 1967. Pages 281-306.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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