Monday, November 21, 2011


Why have most of the revolutions that taken place during the 20th century been in the Third World. Your essay should discuss how the term ‘revolution’ has been treated in the literature. You may use case studies to illustrate your argument.


Since ancient times governments have been changed by force and intensive mass protests, Plato and Aristotle commented historically on the changes in the governments of the Greek states from aristocracies and tyrannies to democracies. Also in the Third World these changes occurred in form of revolutions. Revolutions in the Third World fought primarily by the peasants during the 20th century were in the promise to resolve the problems of underdevelopment, ending colonial dominance, ending political; and economic dependency and uphold national sovereignty; this essay will elucidate why most of the revolutions took place during this period and explain how the term revolution has been treated in literature.

How the term ‘Revolution’ has been treated in literature

A revolution is the destruction of an independent state by members of its own society and its replacement by a regime based on new political principles. A revolution is more than just a rearrangement of the administrative apparatus or the replacement of old elite. Instead, a revolution creates a new state resting on different social groups, new social and political in- situations, different legitimating myths, and novel conceptions of the political community. It also excludes cases where the ruling elite leave office voluntarily, as in the restoration of civilian control after a period of military rule (Davies 1966:326).

Many scholars have come up with various definitions of the term revolution but there isn’t any precise agreed definition but the most renounced definition is that of Huntington who defines the term as a rapid, fundamental and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of society in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and government activity and policies which he distinguishes revolutions from insurrections, revolts, coups and wars of independence (Handelman 1966: 156). This definition has widely been used to explain the term revolution in literature but the existence of wide range of other scholars like Goodwin who recently conceptualised revolutions not as events, but as processes that typically span many years or even decades (2001;4). The definition of Huntington although it is considered a rigorous definition of the term other scholars like Theda Skopol have argued that wars of independence and wars of national revolutions are considered as social revolutions, she argues that social revolutions are set aside from other sorts of conflicts it is envisaged with two coincidences of societal structural change with class upheaval and the coincidence of the political with social transformation (Handelman 1966: 157).

Revolutions in Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Algeria, Mozambique, Angola, Vietnam, Libya, Egypt and Iran according to Skopol forms part of social revolutions because the revolutions resulted in the transfer of political and economic power rather than just change of leadership. The arguments on the use of the term by most of the scholars have created some form of confusion to the use of the term most have complied limitations with their definitions. Skopol classifies a revolution as any insurgency that brings about comprehensive political and socio-economic changes either class struggles or war on national liberation like that of Mozambique and Algeria as long it overturns the critical political and economic institutions and changes the country underlying power structure. These diverse dilemmas underpinning the defining of the term by different scholars has brought major classification of revolutions that have occurred in the world and major contestations in political and social discourse to what can be classified as ‘revolutions’.

Revolutions posses a common ideological element a self conscious commitment to epochal change but in definition of the term has consistently changed over the years. Some scholars have defined in the term as a new creation which seeks new beginning, Richard Price derived his meaning from the American Revolution regard the term that it “opens a new prospect in human affairs and begins a new era in history of mankind’ (1784:2) Scholars have argued on the strict definition of the term since each revolution comes up with its own definition, scholars that have studied the American and third world revolutions all pronounced different meanings of the term. Some continue to regard the term in its broadest sense as non legal, non democratic, or violent overthrow of government while Peter Calvert offers the most open definition which he simply regards revolutions as ‘simply a form of governmental change through violence (Handelman 1966: 156).Revolutions are episodes of violent conflict between governments and politically organized groups that seek to overthrow the central government, to replace its leaders, or to seize power in one region

Why have most of the revolutions that taken place during the 20th century been in the Third World

Revolutions may be based upon war as an agent of change, as a factor in the growth of domestic discontent, as a factor in the weakening of governmental legitimacy and strength, or as a factor in the changing resource base of opposition groups. According to Skopol the primary factor contributing to revolutionary transformation is not the revolutionaries’ strategy, tactics or zeal but rather the internal rot of the decaying old regime (1979). Old regime is overturned by modernizers according to Huntington revolutions are likely to occur in societies which have experience some social and economic development have lagged behind and the process of social and economic change (Boix and Stokes 2007:400). In Cuba and Nicaragua prolonged dictatorships which had become obscenely corrupt which weakened the regime, Fulgencio Batista become the Cuba dominant leader in 1933 but since then corruption infested government ranks and destroyed the regime support of the people of Cuba. A weak regime automatically results in a weak state according the Boix and Stokes the immediate cause of revolution is supposed to be the discrepancy between the performance of the regime and the demands being made upon it (2007:400).

Decaying of the old regime maybe propelled by the decline in its legitimacy in the case of Cuba and Nicaragua both dictatorships under Batista and Somoza’s dynasty both lost legitimacy due to their subservience to the United States and their violations of national pride. The combination of rampant corruption and blatant affronts to nationalist sensibilities resulted in the unification of people across classes from peasants and students to powerful business to turn against their government. The lack of commitment of the Batista regime led to the rise of Fidel Castro’s small guerrilla force. Revolutionary crises developed when the old regime states become unable to meet the challenges evolving international situations (Skopol 1979:49)

I ascertain that most of the revolutions in the Third world occurred due to state modernization which was a recipe for revolution. State modernization resulted in the centralization and bureaucratization of political authority, an initiative to transform the military using the most up to date techniques and a programme to accelerate economic growth using tools of the sate and the deployment of techniques allowing the state to gather information about and potentially suppress social and political activities taking place in a wide range of social trends and geographical localities with the polity ( Boix and Stokes 2007:404) The Mexican Revolution is perfect example of the state modernization, the President Profirion Daiz had initiated a series of reforms that the historian Fredrick Katz christened the ‘Porfirian Road to modernization’ (Katz 1986;64) . State modernization entailed the Mexican regime to modernize the army, increased bureaucracy, centralization of political power, suppression of the opposition, press under control and a national ruling class that ran a strong centralized regime. State modernization resulted in revolution as most people became in contact with modernity and become attached to the states, they began to ask for accountability, transparency and support from the government, the failure of President Profirion Daiz to provide political, economic and social incentives resulted in the Mexican Revolution.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 is yet another example of an ambitious state modernizer paving road to revolution. Revolutions likely to occur when the economy deteriorated, standards of living declined and the government is unable to meet the long standing economic responsibilities to its population to avoid these ramifications Third world leaders focused on state modernization. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlari was the architect of the modernization programme his army had modernized weapons and technologies his vast bureaucracy managed such diverse functions and enterprises as the oil industry, steel industry, roads, ports and the atomic energy. The Iranian Revolution was a political struggle set in motion by centralization and modernization of the state the revolutionaries were not reactionaries a broad base of opposition to Shah were ‘bazaar merchants, the tribes, the intellectuals, the technocrats, students, civil servants and in the end even a segment of the armed forces Boix and Stokes (2007:406).

The same state modernization played an important role in the Cuban revolution Fulgencio Batista’s vulnerability stemmed in the large part from his desire to de-professionalize the army. Batista was a quick modernizer his recipe for political survival included promoting economic growth which he fostered in part by state development banks (Dominguez 1998;25). Batista who had emerged as Cuba’s leading political figure in 1933 had developed an immense state bureaucracy in which one in nine Cubans were employed by the state compelled with intense arm of political repression 20000 Cubans may have been killed by the state between 1952 and 1959 (Foran 2005:60). The Cuban revolution although it can be classified as a result of state modernization it was purely concentrated on the autocratic and brutal leadership of Batista Fidel Castro rose to power offering an alternative vision of Cuban modernization. State modernization in the entire cited examples above was the necessary step on the road of revolution, it brings people into contact with the state, and modernizing states tend to create vast new centralized bureaucracies, tax collectors, local governors, postmasters, secret police and government institutions. This new contact with the state in everyday life encourages those whom national politics was previously distant and largely unimportant to care deeply about the state’s ideological and political direction (Boix and Stokes 2007:407).

The other phenomena that led to revolutions in the Third world is the ever increasing population, the twentieth century saw exceptionally rapid population growth due to rapid fall in death rates, due to progress in vaccination and sanitation combined with a continued high birth rates and large family size(Kriger ed 2001:732). The increase in population size results in government’s failure to provide basic amenities, increase in competition among elite groups for positions and power and peasants seeking jobs and adequate land. This leads to what Handelman challenge from below, revolutionary movements can only succeed against discredited or weakened governments but to win they must amount a well organized and politically coherent challenge from below (1966: 162). Huntington maintains that the probability of mass upheaval is measured by the balance between the capabilities of state political institutions on the other hand the extent of political and social mobilization (Handelman 1966: 156). Due to increased population, capabilities of the states in the third world was relatively affected hence revolutions were invertible as peasants, proletariat further demanded land reform and better working conditions.

Lastly one of the reasons why revolutions in the 20th century in the Third world were so rampant was the erratic international intervention. Erratic international intervention from the 1940s to the 1980s the Soviet Union later aided by the Cuban military supported, sponsored revolutionary movements around the world (Kriger ed 2001:732). Cuba, Vietnam, the Democratic republic of Korea and Afghanistan revolutionary communist regimes took over power with the aid of Soviet military, Cuba helped Angola and Mozambique. States that experienced a "revolutionary" regime change (defined as any violent change of the governing system) are nearly twice as likely to be involved in war in the initial period following the change as are states that emerge from an "evolutionary" political process (Davies 1962:326). This has caused more states to be underdeveloped and are now relatively weak economically, politically and socially the recent revolution in North African countries for instance Libya demonstrates the erratic international intervention NATO’s support of NTC helped to remove Gaddafi regime and also kill him.


I argue that the origins of revolution are to be found in the state that begins with an old regime, a modernizing program that makers the old regime into a modern state this contrasts with Huntington’s view that revolutions are unlikely in political systems which have the capacity to expand their power and broaden participation within the system. Revolutions in the Third world despite the old regime decay, population growth and state modernization as variables for their trigger an important aspect to the cause of these revolutions is the erratic international intervention, International hegemonic powers have instigated revolutions through their regime change agenda as to remove national liberation parties that are conservative and make way for new political elites that provides mechanisms for the plundering of resources in the Third World.


Boix C and Stokes. S.C 2007 The Oxford Handbook of comparative politics Oxford University Press

Dominguez J 1998: The Batista Regime in Cuba pp133-31 in Sultanistic Regimes ed H.E Chahabi and J.J Linz Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Faron J 2005 Taking Power: The origins of the Third World Revolutions: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Goodwin, J 2001 No other way Out. Cambridge: Cambridge State University

Katz. F. 1986 Mexico: restored Republic and Porfiria to 1867-1910 Ch 1 in Cambridge History of Lation America, Vol . ed L. Bethell Cambridge. University

Krieger. J (ed) 2001; The Oxford Companion to politics of the World. 2nd edition New York: Cambridge Univesity.

Price. R. 1984 Obsevations on the importance of the American Revolution. London

Skocpol . T . 1979 State and Social Revolutions New York Cambridge University Press

Davies. J. C 1962Towards a Theory of Revolution: American Sociological Review, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb., 1962), pp. 5-19 American Sociological Association: .Accessed: 23/10/2011 14:30