Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (1979).

Summary: Skocpol argues that peasant revolutions against landlordss are more important historically than urban movements.  However, while peasant uprisings are normally isolated and relatively unimportant, when they occur in the context of a weakened military, they have the potential to be major.  Argument of the book is divided in two parts: 1) why revolutions occur; and 2) whatthe end result will be. Both are dependent heavily on international and external variables.  As to 1), Skocpol argues that a revolution requires a crisis of state, once this occurs, the patterns of class domination within society help to determine what group will exploit the revolutionary situation. As to 2), the specific revolutionary regime that is put into place is shaped heavily by the context which brought the previous regime down – hence her different cases have different outcomes. Skocopol argues that (of course) the state is of primary importance as its form determines whether or not a revolutionary situation will actually arise, and it must shape society in such a way that class based revolution becomes viable.



Important Insight: Basic cause of regime breakdown, and the created opening for peasant revolution, is due military breakdown due to unsuccessful efforts to expand military capacity



Methodology: Examines three cases: France, China and Russia







* Social Revolution = The collapse of an old regime and the successful building of a new one which is better able to handle the problems the old could not handle.

** Mobilization of the population is key


Key Historical Generalizations

* 1) Peasant insurrections against landlords played a more important role than urban movements

* 2) The prerevolutionary government’s inability to cope with foreign enemies was a necessary cause for its collapse and the subsequent onset of revolution



* Importantly, it is not ‘relative deprivation’ that matters – peasant revolts would have been isolated incidents if the government hadn’t weakened the power of the landlords

* Why did they do this? Military necessity / ambition (direct parallel here to the Peloponnesian War)

* Skocpol’s point is to get people to take social institutions more seriously



* Revolutions are not caused by economic contradictions, rather new economic organizations are likely to arise as the result of successful revolutionary transformations

* Main causes of revolutions are political

* For Skocpol, the members of the state constitute a social class

* Revolutions are not possible as long as the military holds

* Why do they fall? Mostly international factors

* For revolutions to be major, they must be accompanied by the breakdown of internal factors. Internal pressures – especially mass movement from below – are key

* Skocpol also asks why revolutionary reconstruction is possibly after breakdown