Revolutionary Situation

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Revolutionary Situation


a political situation preceding a revolution and characterized by mass revolutionary ferment and the involvement of broad strata of the oppressed classes in active struggle against the existing system. A revolutionary situation serves as an indicator of whether sociopolitical conditions are ripe for a revolution, for the attainment of power by the progressive class.

A revolutionary situation has three basic symptoms. (1) A “crisis of the upper classes,” that is, the ruling classes find it impossible to maintain their domination in unchanged form. The crisis in the policies of the ruling class creates a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes pour. For a revolution to take place, V. I. Lenin noted, “it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that the ‘upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way.” (2) “When,” Lenin continues, “the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 218). The exacerbation may result from a deterioration of the economic position of broad strata of the population, from social inequality and the deprivation of the masses, from a sharp intensification of social antagonisms, and from other conditions stemming from the contradictions in a given system (for example, the threat of war, and the offensive of reactionary forces). (3) A significant rise in the level of political activity among the masses (ibid.). Militant attitudes grow swiftly, and the masses are literally obsessed with politics.

Underlying the revolutionary situation is a conflict between productive forces and production relations. The conflict is refracted, however, through the prism of a complex system of sociopolitical class relations. The contradictions in the mode of production determine a revolutionary situation only in the final analysis. Its immediate cause is the relationship between classes.

The point in time at which a revolutionary situation emerges, the forms it takes, and its rate of development depend on the entire system of sociopolitical relations: the condition of the state machinery, the stability of the ruling class, and the strength of the revolutionary class, its ties with other strata of the population, and the political experience it has accumulated.

A sharpening of the contradictions in social and political life and of the contradictions between the ruling and oppressed classes—these are the factors that directly determine the emergence and development of a revolutionary situation.

A revolutionary situation is marked by a growing dynamism. As it develops, it passes through a series of stages, beginning with clear signs of mass ferment and ending with a nationwide crisis that develops into a revolution. The higher the stage of the revolutionary situation, the more important is the maturity of the subjective factor—that is, the capacity and readiness of revolutionary classes to carry out pressing reforms and to overthrow the power of the ruling class—in the further development of the situation. During the period of the nationwide crisis, the role of the subjective factor becomes decisive. Not every revolutionary situation reaches the highest stage and becomes a revolution. Examples include the revolutionary situation of 1859–61 in Russia and the revolutionary situation of 1923 in Germany. If for one reason or another the progressive classes are not prepared for aggressive, organized actions, the revolutionary situation declines, the mass revolutionary excitement dies out, and the ruling class finds means of retaining power.

The concept of revolutionary situation is extremely important for the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary workers’ movement. Historical experience has shown that efforts to overthrow the ruling classes in the absence of a revolutionary situation end in failure. A precise definition of the beginning of a revolutionary situation makes it possible to establish the moment when all revolutionary forces must become actively involved in the immediate struggle for power.


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