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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a regressive social process that is the direct opposite of revolution. It represents the reaction of the overthrown class (or, the class to be overthrown) to the social revolution and aims at the restoration or preservation of an obsolete social and political order.

Inasmuch as the ruling class never voluntarily surrenders power, counterrevolution in one form or another inevitably accompanies every revolution. K. Marx observed that by its very development, revolution engenders counterrevolution (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 7). The antagonism between revolution and counterrevolution is an objective law of the class struggle in the period of its culmination. The outcome of this antagonism is far from univocal or predetermined in every instance. Rather, it depends on the balance of the forces of the rivals and their ability to outstrip each other in mobilizing all resources and in using them skillfully.

Sometimes counterrevolution gains the upper hand, and revolution is defeated (for example, the Revolution of 1848–49 in Germany, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the democratic revolution of the 1930's in Spain). However, in some cases a temporary restoration of the old order cannot do away with the profound transformations effected by the revolution. (This was true of the Stuart restoration in 17th-century England, the victory of the Thermidorean reaction, and the subsequent Bourbon restoration in France.) When the reactionary forces are routed after a bitter struggle, the revolution triumphs completely (for example, the Great October Socialist Revolution and the socialist revolutions in a number of European and Asian countries and in Cuba).

There are various forms of counterrevolution: armed resistance, civil war, mutinies, conspiracies, acts of sabotage, subversive activity, foreign intervention, and blockade. If the new system wins a decisive victory, counterrevolution, lacking the power for open resistance, assumes covert forms. History shows that by adopting ideological methods and relying on revisionist and nationalist elements, the counterrevolution can pose a serious threat to the new system. (This was the case in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.) But counterrevolution also learns from history and tries to find more refined forms of struggle against the forces of revolution. Sometimes it resorts to preventive means of struggle against the ripening revolution. The establishment of fascism, which acts as the counterrevolution's shock detachment, is one of the instruments of counterrevolution. In Italy, Germany, and Spain, for example, the advent of fascism was followed by the establishment of the most reactionary terroist counterrevolutionary dictatorships.

The social basis of the counterrevolution is primarily the reactionary exploiting classes, who lose power and privileges as a result of revolution. Obsessed with a passion to recover “paradise lost,” they are the inspirers and organizers of counterrevolutionary activities. However, the reactionary exploiting classes make up only a minority of a society. In order to withstand revolution, they heed a more or less broad mass base. Therefore, the first goal of the counterrevolution is to split the ranks of the oppressed classes by any means, including deceit, promises, intimidation, blackmail, slander, and demagogy. Counterrevolutionary forces also try to win over the politically backward, narrow-minded, vacillating strata of the population and to set them against the vanguard of the revolutionary classes. Thus, during the Great French Revolution of 1789–94, feudal reactionaries exploited the cultural backwardness and ignorance of the peasants of the Vendee for counterrevolutionary purposes. In many societies fertile ground for the spread of counterrevolutionary attitudes is provided by certain strata of the petite bourgeoisie, which, as V. I. Lenin emphasized, “vacillates between revolution and counterrevolution” during the period of the exacerbation of the class struggle (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12, p. 341). Bonapartism—a specific dictatorial form of counterrevolution—maintains its equilibrium by taking advantage of the contradictions between the interests of various classes.

The counterrevolution has certain other sources of pressure— “reserves of combustibles,” as Lenin put it (ibid., p. 57). Among them are the reactionaries' international connections, their valuables and wealth, and their ties with the most skilled experts in industry, administration, and military affairs. In addition, the counterrevolution exploits the errors of the revolutionary classes and parties, particularly the extremist actions of leftist elements and groups, in order to frighten certain social strata away from revolution.

In order to win, the revolutionary forces must deprive the counterrevolution of its sources of influence and isolate it from the masses. These objectives may be achieved by decisive, bold actions aimed at eliminating hotbeds of counterrevolution, by implementing profound revolutionary transformations that meet the vital interests of the broad masses, and by successfully fulfilling the creative tasks of the revolution.

Bourgeois sociologists (L. Edwards, G. Pettee, and C. Brinton in the USA) assert that there is a fatal “Thermidorean law”: every revolution inevitably develops into counterrevolution and ends in the restoration of the old order. Regressive movements are indeed characteristic of the concluding stages of classic bourgeois revolutions. F. Engels observed that by virtue of the active participation of the masses, the bourgeois revolutions went considerably beyond the goals set for them by the bourgeoisie. This “excess of revolutionary activity” was followed by “the inevitable reaction” (Marx and Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 22, p. 309). Often, the bourgeoisie joined the overthrown feudal lords in efforts to check the revolution, reverse its development, and keep it within the narrow confines of the bourgeoisie's class interests. This tendency encounters powerful resistance with the emergence of the working class, which is interested in the most radical outcome of the bourgeois revolution—that is, in its development into a socialist revolution.

The Thermidorean law is even less applicable to socialist revolution. However, Lenin pointed out the real danger of a Thermidorean counterrevolution after the conquest of political power by the working class, particularly in countries where there is a high proportion of peasants—that is, of the petite bourgeoisie. If petit bourgeois-anarchist spontaneity is not defeated, Lenin said, “we shall slide down as the French Revolution did” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 43, p. 141).

From a broad historical perspective, counterrevolution is doomed, for it opposes historical necessity. However, it can cause considerable delays in social progress, as well as zigzags and steps backward in a country's development, imposing additional hardships and, sometimes, bloody tragedies on the oppressed classes. As a rule, counterrevolution is accompanied by brutal terror. There is clear evidence for this generalization in the bloody orgies brought about by the supporters of Versailles after the fall of the Paris Commune of 1871, in the mass executions of workers after the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia, in the white terror following the suppression of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, and in the barbarous extermination of Communists and revolutionaries in Indonesia in 1965–66. The “cost” of revolution—that is, the human sacrifice and the material and moral costs of the struggle, about which bourgeois sociologists write—is the result, above all, of counterrevolution, which does not shrink from any crimes in its drive to suppress the revolutionary movement of the masses.

Counterrevolutionary forces usually rely on the support of the international reaction. To obtain this support, counterrevolutionary forces conclude international alliances such as the Holy Alliance, which was established by the European monarchs in 1815 after the victory over Napoleon. The forces of imperialist reaction are the bulwark of the world counterrevolution in the modern epoch. In its struggle against the revolutionary movement, imperialism shamelessly resorts to exporting counterrevolution. The socialist countries and the world communist movement are waging a determined struggle against the imperialist export of counterrevolution and are offering many types of support to the peoples who have become the victims of armed aggression.


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