The Challenge of Revolution: Russia at the End of the 20 Century

Publication date
Wednesday, 28.03.2001

V. Mau I. Starodubrovskaya

Oxford Univ. Press, 2001

What has happened with Russia in the last decade of the twentieth century? What is happening with Russia now? Is it something unknown, unique, dangerous? The answer of the authors is the following one: in the end of the century Russia faced a challange - a challange of Revolution, well-known in history. The challenge, which is old and new at the same time. But this is not only challange for Russia and Russians. It is also a challenge for research community. As contemporary Russian revolution changes a lot in our understanding of the problems of revolution in general. One can see many new aspects of English Civil war, Great French Revolution, Bolshevik takeover if one looks at them fr om the perspective of the crash of Communism. What can contribute the theory of revolution to the understanding of contemporary Russian events? What can contribute Russian experience to the thory of revolution? The book is amed to discuss these issues. To feed the thoughts of all those readers, who are isterested in past and present.


In the Introduction the subject of the book and the methodology used by the authors are described. The recent Russian revolution presents new challenges to revolutionary theory, as it happened in absolutely different conditions and at an absolutely different stage of development of society than all the other known revolutions. Existing Western theories of revolution failed either to predict the modern Russian revolution (even in 1989 the social systems of the United States and of the Soviet Union were considered by some of them as equally stable) or to explain, how it fits the existing theoretical approaches. In considering the existing theories the authors identify the necessity to elaborate a general framework for the analysis of revolutions which can cope with a wider range of events than revolutions in agrarian monarchies or underdeveloped countries. This framework cannot be based on specific inter-class or inter-group conflicts (landlords and peasants, capitalists and workers), as the social structures of traditional and modern societies are absolutely different. But a scheme based on contradictions between new demands brought by economic and social progress, on the one hand, and the rigidity of institutional structure, on the other hand, reflects features which are quite common to any period of rapid development and can be applied not only to modernising, but also to post-modernising societies. The authors discuss the applicability of this scheme for the analysis of revolutions and its scientific potential.

Based on the background described above, the main goals of the book are identified. The book has to answer two main questions. First: what can the experience of the modern Russian revolution contribute to general theories of revolution? In the of view of the authors, Russian experience can contribute a lot to the analysis of the role of violence in revolution, and to the definition of political and social revolution, of revolution from above and revolution from below. It can also be actively used in the discussion about the causes of revolutions.  Second: what can the analysis of current Russian events in the framework of the theory of  revolution explain about Russian realities of the last decade? With the aid of examples it is explained that the analysis of Russian events as a revolution - in contrast to analysis based on the logic of evolutionary development - can greatly contribute to the explanation of many aspects of recent Russian events which otherwise are hardly understandable.

In their conceptual approaches the authors are not tied to one specific school of thought, as most of the current scientific schemes are very poorly equipped for the analysis of dynamic revolutionary change. The elements of several of them are combined to elaborate a general model of the beginning, process and end of a revolutionary period. The authors also reject the typical approach of comparative analysis of several revolutionary cases. Though information on different revolutions in human history is actively useed, our purpose is not to compare the modern Russian revolution with any specific revolutionary case in the past but to understand more about the Russian revolution itself, its place in world history, its theoretical and practical implications.

Chapter 1 describes the general framework for the analysis of preconditions of revolutions, applicable to different times and countries. Basic preconditions for revolution are developed when society is confronted with new challenges, but lacks the ability to adapt adequately because of in-built constraints. But this situation alone does not make revolution inevitable. Constraints can be removed not only by revolutions but by other means: reforms, specific type of revolutions “from above” or foreign invasion. However the analysis demonstrates that very similar set of actions can remove constraints and prevent or delay revolution in some situations and only contribute to the beginning of revolutionary process in the others.

The reason can be found in the social structure of pre-revolutionary society which typically experiences rapid economic development in several pre-revolutionary decades followed by severe depression. Such a sequence of events leads to the emergence of a fluctuating social structure which does not harmonise with traditional social hierarchy. Pre-revolutionary society thus appears fragmented, with mixed, old and new, lines of division and sharp distinctions and clashes of interests. Such fragmentation makes it impossible for the existing regime to obtain solid support either for maintenance of status quo or for any program of transformation: the alliance “against” always appears to be wider than the alliance “for”. The state is fatally weakened and this makes revolution inevitable. Weak state power as a result of fragmentation of society is a fundamental characteristic of revolution which determines many aspects of its beginning, course and results. Only when a new elite as the basis for strong government is formed from the revolutionary process, is the revolution coming to an end.

As the forces involved in revolution are very heterogeneous the final outcomes are mixed. Certain constraints are removed, while others are defended by those sections of the population which have an interest in their preservation and which are called in the book “rebellious constraints”. Sometimes new constraints can be created by the revolutionary process  itself; or else post-revolutionary order may create favourable short-term conditions for further development but hinder long-term progress.

Analysis undertaken in the first chapter demonstrates the impossibility of using class struggle as an explanatory framework for revolution. Not well determined class forces but very fragile and unstable alliances of different groups of the elite and the population form the basis for revolutionary struggle and determine the dynamics of the revolutionary process.

Chapter 2 concentrates on the origins of challenges, an issue was left vague in Chapter 1. In contrast to those theories which consider revolutions to be a result of cyclical forces, we argue that there is a strong relationship between revolutions and patterns of economic growth. Economic growth itself is a highly conflictual process. However at certain points the level of tension rises to a crescendo and forces societies to confront new challenges and seek new ways of adapting to the consequences of economic dynamics.

Three phenomena of this type are identified, and treated as crises of economic growth. The first can be called “the crisis of early modernisation”. It occurs in the process of formation of preconditions for self-sustained growth and the early stages of growth itself. Countries pass through it at different times, associated with the achievement of a certain stage of economic development (per capita GNP of 1200-1500 US dollars of 1990).The second instance is the crisis of developed industrial society which covered the first several decades of 20th century. Though it originated in highly monopolised societies of the most developed countries, it assumed a global character because of World War I and the Great Depression.The third type of crisis marks the beginning of transition to a post-industrial, post-modernising world and can be called “the crisis of early post-modernisation”. It also in part acquired a global character because of the economic watershed of the earlier 70ties, though not as clearly so as in the previous instance.The above classification means that the time and forms of the  “crisis of early modernisation” plays a crucial  role in the determination of the future fate of a country. If it coincides with some other crisis (for example, by occurring in the first decades of the 20th century) the contradictions and complexity of adaptation greatly increase.

In this conceptual framework the development of different sets of countries is analysed. Following the approach proposed by A.Gershenkron, three categories are identified: early modernisers, moderately backward and deeply backward countries. In each the types of challenges and constraints have been different as well as the ways by which they were removed. However, by the time of the third crisis most of them had developed sufficient adaptation capabilities to pass it in an evolutionary manner.

The case of Russia is different. The main constraints on modernisation were actually removed by the revolution in 1905 and the reforms undertaken by the tsarist government in response to it. Subsequent development might have followed the route of Germany after the failed revolution of 1848, but this was prevented. Russia had to go through one more great revolutionary explosion, which placed it on a different path of development.The participation of Russia in World War I is usually identified as the main cause of the Russian revolution of 1917. The war was indeed important as it simultaneously sharpened three types of contradiction in Russian society: 1) contradictions related to modernisation; 2) contradictions related to late modernisation; 3) contradictions typical of the second of our three types if crisis which were accelerated by the formation of the “war economy”. As a result of the Russian revolution of 1917, the main short-term constraints upon rapid modernisation were removed, but it was done in a form which created new in-built constraints that manifested themselves beyond the modernisation period.

Chapter 3 identifies preconditions for the contemporary Russian revolution on the basis of the  approach developed in the two previous chapters. Russia as part of the USSR inherited from the modernisation period an institutional structure which was not able to cope either with the problems of a mature industrial economy or with the challenges of post-modernisation. We explore two possibilities of adjustment of the centralised planned economy to the new demands - the mobilisation model and the decentralisation model - and show the limits of adaptation capabilities of the social system in each case. After the abortive attempt at reform in 1965 the failure of the evolutionary way of adaptation was obvious. Russia began to move towards the first post-modernising revolution in the world history.

However the preconditions for revolution were not formed until traditional centralised structures had been considerably shaken and fragmentation of elite and society in general had occurred. It was not economic growth and subsequent depression that brought on revolution in Russia, as had happened in many previous cases. Instead it was the oil boom and subsequent sharp decline in oil revenues which played the decisive role in forming the preconditions for revolution. This period seriously undermined the stability of the established Soviet institutional structure. Oil money increased the redistributive capabilities of the state and facilitated fragmentation and competition among different sections of society for available resources, in both producer and consumer goods. Intensified interaction with the West through its demonstrative effect sharpened contradictions between traditional and more open-minded parts of the elite. Those sections of the elite and other segments of society which gained from the oil revenues appeared to be increasingly interested in legalising their wealth. The stage for revolution was set. The subsequent sharp decline in oil revenues in the middle 80ies as well as the unpopular war in Afghanistan further weakened the state power, but initially this process was pushed by the multiplication of conflicting interests associated with the oil boom.

At the end of the chapter the possible consequences of revolution for further post-modernisation development are analysed. Two contemporary positions on this matter are distinguished: a negative assessment viewing the Russian revolution as (part of) a process destroying Russian industrial and scientific potential, and a positive one which stresses the removal of constraints upon development in the course of the Russian transformation. It is still too early to reach a final verdict, as post-revolutionary development will be determined by the interests of new elites which are still currently in process of formation.

Chapter 4 describes the process of revolution comparing the English, French and 1917 Russian revolutions. The authors use the formal framework elaborated by C.Brinton, identifying three main periods of revolutionary development: the rule of moderates, the rule of radicals and thermidor. However, the substance of the analysis is quite different, being based not on a simple quest for similarities but on the logic of social struggle.

The authors identify several main pillars for this analysis: 1) economic trends matter in the process of revolutionary development (though the “revolutionary economic curve” itself is described in another chapter); 2) as pre-revolutionary society is highly fragmented the dynamics of the revolutionary process cannot be analysed in terms of class struggle, instead micro-social analysis is necessary to understand the logic of revolutionary transformation; 3) weak state power is the essential element of any revolutionary process; 4) four main elements determine the behaviour of any revolutionary government: ideology, the need for social support, the need to find means of financing revolution and the experience of previous revolutions.

The rule of moderates can be divided into several sub-stages: initial unity against the old regime, fragmentation according to positive programs and polarisation in two directions: radical and conservative. Unlike Brinton, the authors consider the process of “dual sovereignty” as a confrontation not between moderates and radicals but between conservatives and radicals, while moderates lose more and more ground to these two extremes. The moderates go under, because they cannot overcome the limits of the type of action determined, first, by their self-image as the most popular government based on national unity and, second, by their ideology of combination of all the best features of the old and new orders.

The rule of radicals, in our view, is shaped by the need to keep together a highly fragmented society in conditions which are extremely dangerous for the revolution. Three main instruments are usually used to achieve this objective: forcefully imposed ideology, terror and manoeuvring among social groups to maintain a pro-revolutionary coalition sufficient for radicals to preserve their power. The role of ideology at the radical stage of revolution is usually overestimated. We illustrate the predominantly practical and pragmatic nature of radicals’ actions by means of several examples. Rather then viewing the radical period as “the reign of terror and virtue”, we see the main determinants of government activity at the radical stage as being the search for sources of funding and for social support. These two goals are often at odds, and the balance between them which is finally achieved is determined by specific features of different revolutions. Experience of other revolutions also plays a substantial role, sometimes more important than ideology itself.

Thermidor is the period shaped by active processes of new elite formation and stratification. It consists of two sub-stages. In the first one, the process of social manoeuvre continues and the government is still weak and vulnerable, as it has to balance the interests of several competing groups in the newly forming elite. The population at large plays a diminishing role in this stage but intra-elite conflicts continue to be sharp and destabilise the situation. But as soon as one of elite groups is strong enough to dominate political life or several of them form a strong alliance, a new authoritarian regime based on the interests of this group (or alliance), is established. It means that the revolution is coming to an end.

Chapter 5 shows the applicability of the scheme elaborated in the previous chapter to contemporary Russian events which actually follow the same logic. The current Russian revolution shows similar stages in the economic, social and political area as the other “great revolutions”, which is demonstrated by the authors in detail. The rule of moderates lasted from 1987-1988 to August 1991. The radical period was completed by the end of 1993. However, several aspects complicate the process in Russia's case.

First, during the Gorbachev period in 1987-1988 there was actually a shift from reform to the first stage of revolution. It seems to be the only case when this change occured without a new political regime coming to power. We analyse the reasons for this with the help of interview material with the leaders of moderates in the current Russian revolution. Gorbachev used the opportunity afforded him by the fact that he started reforms in a society wh ere the preconditions for revolution were in place to keep power and to fight the most reactionary part of elite which was ready to dismiss him.

Second, the use of violence has been so far very limited. As a result, from three main instruments typically used in the radical stage only one was still attainable to politicians. In the absence of terror and of the possibility of imposing official ideology by force in order to retain power and implement a reform programme, the reformers had to concentrate on manoeuvring among various social forces. Voucher privatisation gave them an excellent mechanism to achieve this goal. However it inevitably had negative impact on subsequent stages as financial gains as well as the possibility of finding genuine and effective owner for enterprises were sacrificed.

The current stage of the Russian revolution is identified as the first stage of thermidor. In this period the policy of the government is reflecting more and more the interests of the new elites. The process of formation of these elites is described. Rather then the origin of the wealth, it is primarily the type of ownership that is critical to an understanding the current interests of different elite groups and the relations between these interests and the development of governmental policy. These relations are demonstrated through several examples (problem of internal market protection; fuel and energy prices, etc.). On the basis of this analysis, a forecast of possible alternatives of the end of revolution is made.

Chapter 6 is based on the authots’ interviews with leading figures of the recent Russian revolution: two moderates (M.S.Gorbachev and A.N.Yakovlev) and two radicals (E.T.Gaidar and G.E.Burbulis). Each interview lasted from one to two hours. The interviews show assessments of current Russian events, and the reasoning involved in the decision-making process. They help to support the findings of earlier analysis: on the relations between modernisation and revolution, on differences between the leaders of moderate and radical phases of revolution, and on the role of experience of previous revolutions in shaping the policy of revolutionary governments.

 At the same time these interviews afford some insights into characteristic differences between the revolutions of the modernisation and the post-modernisation period. All the leaders of the Russian revolution, moderates and radicals alike, accept the revolutionary substance of Russian transformation but reject revolutionary means, violence first of all. Though all of them were aware of the possibility of more radical alternatives to  their actions, they tried not to accelerate revolution but to be as “evolutionary” as the situation allowed. In this respect they differ radically from the leaders of previous revolutions of the modernisation period, who often considered violence and terror as useful instruments to achieve their goals and pushed hard to intensify the revolutionary process.

Chapter 7 deals with the revolutionary economic cycle, consisting of the following phases: a preliminary phase - dynamic economic development which destabilises the existing balance of economic and political forces; the first proper phase - rapid deterioration of the economic situation and the beginning of  revolution; second phase - temporary improvement (in some revolutions); third phase - acute economic crisis and increasing political struggle, radicalisation of the regime; fourth phase - continued deterioration of economic situation during the rule of radicals; fifth phase - acute economic crisis at the end of radical rule and the beginning of the thermidor;  sixth phase - gradual stabilisation and reversion to evolutionary economic development. The patterns of revolutionary economic cycle are illustrated in by the experience of major revolutions: English, French, Mexican, Russian 1917. Abundant statistical material is presented.

Special attention is paid to the development of the budget crisis during the revolutionary period and governmental attempts to cope  with it. One of the main symptoms of government weakness during the period of revolution is its inability to collect taxes. So other financial instruments have to be used. A common feature of revolutions is the creation of government bonds (vouchers) representing the value of confiscated lands which are then used as means of payment by the impoverished government and sometimes wholly replace money. Inflation of these bonds led to decreasing land prices and speculative boom around these transactions. The economic aspect of aggressive wars  which were typical on the final stages of some revolutions and were directly related to the budgetary arrears to the army is also stressed.

Revolutionary economic crisis is compared with other types of economic difficulties. Unlike the “normal” economic crisis it is directly related to the crisis of the state and chronologically coincides with it. Among the main features which determine the depth and the relatively long duration of the revolutionary economic crisis are: long period of weak state power; general uncertainty in rules and perspectives; lack of protection for persons and property; sacrifice of the needs of economic development in the struggle for political power by different revolutionary forces; serious structural changes in demand for goods and services which accompany revolutionary transformation. Economic crisis determined by political factors other than revolutions (for example, political situation of “weak dictator”) is also shaped in different way than revolutionary economic crisis. This is illustrated with examples from Latin American.

Chapter 8 contains special analysis of the revolutionary economic cycle in contemporary Russia. Sharp and prolonged economic crisis first in the USSR, than in Russia after the failure of Gorbachev attempts for economic reforms is widely discussed with different reasons proposed by various groups of scientists. However, it appeared to be impossible to understand all the patterns of this crisis without analysing it in the framework of revolutionary cycle.

This scheme of analysis is readily applied to the recent upheaval in Russia. Initial economic difficulties were among the reasons which pushed Gorbachev from traditional type reforms to first revolutionary steps. As usual many decisions of this period contributed to the aggravation of economic situation, and from 1989 economic crisis started to be the key issue of power crisis and further revolutionary development. While the government demonstrated complete inability to cope with economic problems, different programs how to overcome crisis and stabilise the situation started to be formed. On the one side, radical acceleration of market oriented reforms was proposed by the group of well-known economists, including Gaidar and Yavlinski. On the other side, administrative stabilisation similar to Chinese or Vietnamese approaches was articulated. Victory of radical forces in August 1991 decided matters in favour of the first option.The economic consequences of the radical stage (August 1991 - December 1993) were not as catastrophic as in the other revolutions because less administrative coercion was used. However the radicals appeared to be unable to overcome the economic crisis and curb inflation. Being a weak government, they had to manoeuvre and could not implement a consistent economic policy. In the absence of radical dictatorship, radical steps were followed by more conservative approaches which reflected the lobbing power of different economic groups. Similar fluctuations also marked the first stage of thermidor (1994 -1997).

The dynamic of well-being also reveals common pattern with other revolutions. The most striking similarity is the sharp negative trend and the first stage of thermidor when wage arrears started to be a common phenomenon.Budgetary problems also resembled those seen in other revolutions. The governments faces with severe problems of tax collection. The possibility of the inflation tax ceased with the radical decrease in inflation rates by the fall of 1995. With the end of radical stage it was possible to increase the role of privatisation as a source of budget revenue. However the government faced many problems similar to the sale of state assets in other revolutions: underevaluation of property, speculative boom around privatisation deals, etc.

So far the economic cycle of the Russian revolution has not been completed as well as the Russian revolution itself. As the economic crisis of revolution is a consequence of weak state power, the end of this crisis and return to normal, evolutionary economic development can be considered as an important indicator of the end of revolution, which is accompanied by a strengthening of the state. This indicator can be used in further analysis of Russian events to identify a plausible termination of the Russian revolution.

Chapter 9 discusses a number of specific aspects of economic policy of the revolutionary governments. The economic crisis cannot be reduced to a particular general trend that economic development will take in revolutionary conditions. There is also a series of typical economic problems which will arise in any revolution.

The main economic problems faced by a country in revolution are financial instability, particularly budgetary and taxation crises; changes in property relations; and a depression and/or slump in production. However, the relationship between these problems, and their roles, have varied greatly in different revolutions. The financial crisis may precede the revolution, but may remain latent, developing fully only as the revolution proceeds. A budget crisis and a transformation of property relations are necessary components of the revolutionary process, and they generally become especially acute in the radical and post-radical phases. Finally, a major slump in production has featured particularly strongly in the revolutions of the twentieth century, as was showed in Chapter seven.

The authors demonstrate how the financial crisis of a revolution develops and what is its role in the further development of revolution. Attempts of the government to overcome financial problems are based not only on traditional methods of supplementing of the state budget (taxes and loans). There are unconventional mechanism, which become typical for any revolution: printing press (inflation) and privatization.

The authors discuss the role and limits of the usage of the printing press by the revolutionary governments, which are typical for any week governments. Less typical are the mechanisms of redistribution of property rights, mostly privatization. Privatization may pursue three main goals: fiscal (budget revenue), political (support of the leading interest groups), and economic (increasing economic effectiveness). And the week revolutionary government put the emphasis on the political role of privatization, and later - on the fiscal one. Only when the revolution is completed and the power is restored the economic function of privatization is moving at the first place.

The authors demonstrate links between monetary emission and redistribution of property. Beginning from Cromwellian England it was typical for revolutionary governments to use the state bonds based on the property under redistribution as the legal tender by which it pays the debts. This forms the mechanism of rapid and cheap redistribution of property, quite often blamed as unjust.

The authors analyze the role of slumps of output, which becomes typical only in the revolutions of the XX century.

Chapter 10 revisits different definitions of revolution in the light of the Russian experience. Two main issues are analysed. First, whether violence can be considered as a criterion of revolution. The discussion of this issue has quite a long history. The Russian experience strongly contributes to the position that not violence but rapid systemic transformation forms the essence of revolutionary process. Different forms of violence in revolutions are analysed by the authors, who show that none of them can be clearly attributed to all the revolutions known in history. As studies of violent episodes show, violence occurs when other ways of expressing grievances and dissatisfactions are blocked for the people. In modern societies complicated institutional mechanisms of interaction between power and different strata of society were established, which facilitate non-violent processes of transformation. At the same time a high level of education, urbanisation and general ideology and psychology of non-violence among both elites and the population at large, which seems to be quite typical for countries in transition to post-industrial society, contributed to the low degree of violence in the Russian revolution.

We distinguish between revolutionary and evolutionary transformation. Evolutionary changes however radical are implemented by existing authorities under their control and with foreseen results. A Revolutionary process is spontaneous and occurs when  state power is weak and unable to control the patterns of change. There is no need for a special definition of “peaceful revolution” for the Russian case, as the specific feature of revolution is not violence itself, but the uncontrolled, spontaneous character of development. Violent actions from below are only one of the possible forms of this development.

The second issue is to define criteria for distinguishing “revolution from above” and “revolution from below”. Two main features are usually considered as necessary for a social revolution : 1) mass upheavals from below; 2) radical changes in property rights which undermine the position of the former ruling classes. If the first feature is absent, the process is described as “revolution from above”. If both features are absent and only political and constitutional issues are tapped the revolution is considered as political. But, as the English revolution in the 17th century as well as current Russian events show, neither of these criteria are very clear.

On the one hand, besides such forms of transformation as spontaneous riots and rebellions from below and revolutionary actions of elite groups from above, one more form can be identified, which can be called “institutionalised pressure from below”. Unlike typical riots, this activity is not spontaneous, but institutionalised. At the same time, it is a form of action “from below”, not “from above”. The example is the New Model Army in the English revolution, which absorbed the active part of the population and formed the basis for the activity of the levellers. In contemporary Russia there have been various forms of institutionalised actions “from below”, which put steady pressure on the authorities.

On the other hand, a change in the nature of property rights is not the same as a change of owner. It is possible to argue that changes in property rights in the English revolution were no less significant than in the French revolution, even though far more former owners actually survived in the English case. In both cases there was a transition from semi-feudal to fully private ownership of land (in England - in favour of big landholdings, in France - in favour of small ones) and protection for private property in general was guaranteed. The same situation is typical now for Russia: not too much change in personalities but tremendous transformation of ownership rights. Thus, social revolution appears as a phenomenon of a more complicated nature, with more possible variations than is usually admitted. It is argued on the basis of this analysis that both the English revolution of 17th century and contemporary Russian events can be considered as social revolutions.

Chapter 11 contributes to the discussion of Marxist revolutionary theory with special reference to recent Russian events. Explanation of the current Russian revolution in terms of Marxist revolutionary theory is now quite common among Russian scholars. However, it’s impossible to understand such an approach if Marxist theory is reduced only to class struggle and the final victory of the proletariat. We present an analysis of economic aspects of this theory which are often neglected by Western scholars. The contradiction between an increasing level of centralisation, organisation and monopolisation of the economy on the one hand, and uncontrolled private capitalist ownership on the other hand, which Marx attributed to capitalist society was real enough and played an important role in the deep crisis of mature industrial societies associated with World War I and the Great Depression. However, the result of this crisis was not the socialist revolution but different types of deep reforms and revolutions “from above”, varied from Roosevelt’s New Deal to the establishment of fascist dictatorships in several countries.

The authors analyse in detail the reason for the failure of the Marxist prediction of socialist revolution in developed countries. First, Marx failed to take into account the in-built stabilisers of capitalist society, such as the interest of large producers in a broad internal market - which finally contributed to the trend of increasing well-being of the working class (when cut-throat competition was reduced). Second, even more importantly, Marx reduced the functions of the state to that of defending the interests of the capitalist class, which prevented him from understanding the role of the state in the conflict resolution process in society. This part was critical in the resolution of the crisis of first decade of the 20th century. The increasing role of state intervention fulfilled the function which Marx prescribed for socialist revolutions.

The process took different form in different countries. In some of them transformation was highly conflicting but still passed in a peaceful way. In others it included an extra-legal change of power and resembled a revolutionary process. The reasons for these differences is the next issue discussed by the authors. On the basis of a detailed comparison of USA and Germany it is demonstrated that the degree of removal of in-built constraints in the process of modernisation played a critical role. The USA was able to overcome the crisis in evolutionary form while Germany experienced the so-called “nazi revolution” - the most obvious example of revolution in mature industrial society. This type of revolution is compared both with the radical stage of previous revolutions and with Stalin’s revolution “from above” in Russia. Hence a special class of «mobilisation revolutions» (in contrast with «liberalisation» ones) is identified.

After World War II the trend of capitalist development which was described by Marx started to erode. Wider internationalisation of markets, new technologies and transformation of production patterns reduced monopolisation and enforced more decentralisation. This process especially intensified after 1970. Thus the potential for totalitarian regimes declined. According to the development of productive forces (using Marx’s terminology) new revolutions have again to be in the direction of liberalisation - a conclusion fully supported by Russian recent experience.

In Conclusions, on the basis of the analysis undertaken in the book several factors affecting the long-term consequences of the modern Russian revolution are identified. The issue of successful revolution is the tricky one. Analysis shows that those revolutions which at first sight seem to be the most radical often didn’t create favourable conditions for further economic and political development, while more mild and even abortive revolutions sometimes succeeded more in solving this problem. Two rationales explaining this phenomenon can be offered. First, revolutions which are more radical in their means have to be less selective in their search for supporters. They inevitably rely heavily on “rebellious constraints” and have to take into account the interests of these groups in the final settlement.

Second, the more uncompromising is the revolutionary struggle, the greater is the probability that the newly emerging elites will be uniform not only in their political but also in their basic economic interests. However preservation of a situation of competing economic  objectives among different elite groups  (protectionists  versus free-traders, for example) is more favourable for further development. It allows the government to keep a certain independence and to be more rational in its policy, while competing elites have to demonstrate economic successes to make their demands eligible. Monopolisation of power by one interest group leads to the reverse situation. Not economic development but “political rent seeking” appears to be its main incentive. The state in this situation can hardly acquire relative independence and put the requirements of economic progress ahead of the interests of elites.

The Russian revolution cannot be considered very radical in its means - which enhances the probability of favourite conditions for further development. So far one can observe the formation of several elite groups with competing economic interests, as described in Chapter 5, which have, for example, conflicting positions on further dynamics of energy-prices. At the same time, such traditional Soviet demands as high protectionism and soft budget constraints for enterprises have little impact on government economic policy in the current phase.

The Russian revolution has one more positive feature important for further development. Unlike most other revolutions, the process is developing in democratic way and has a high probability of being completed through democratic mechanisms. However the experience of post-revolutionary development in other countries shows that formal democracy (for example, universal suffrage) is not as important as the establishment of the rule of law,  and personal and property rights protection. This problem has not  yet been fully solved in contemporary Russia, and further development in this direction will play a  critical role in the determination of  economic  prospects.

However, not all the critical conditions for development are formed or even influenced by revolution. The geographical position of the country, its ability to obtain external markets, the international situation in general, the level of education of the population and many other variables are exogenous to the revolutionary process and can be influenced by it only indirectly. So, revolution can establish some conditions for economic and social development of  a country, but can by no means fully determine the speed and specific features of further progress, which should be taken into account in assessment of Russia’s future.

Table of Content

Introduction. Revolutionary challenge in theory and practice.

Chapter 1. Why Revolutions Happen
1.1 The study of revolution
1.2 Challenges and constraints
1.3 Mechanisms for removing constraints
1.4 Economic development and social fragmentation
1.5 Social fragmentation and revolution
1.6 The results of the revolution and post-revolutionary development
1.7 Other ways of removing constraints

Chapter 2. Revolutions and Economic Growth
2.1 Connections between revolution and economic growth: general approach
2.2 The past: crises of early modernization and mature industrial society
2.3 The present: crisis of early post-modernization
2.4 Removing the constraints: various patterns
2.5 Russia’s “special route” to modernization

Chapter 3. Preconditions for Revolution in Present-day Russia
3.1  Soviet system and the contradictions of early postmodernization
3.2 Limitations of adaptation mechanisms: mobilization and decentralization
3.3 The Rйgime becomes unstable.
3.4 The results of revolution: will the crisis of early postmodernization be overcome successfully?

Chapter 4. The Revolutionary Process
4.1 Regular patterns in the revolutionary process
4.2 The power and powerlessness of the moderates
4.3 The radicals’ quest for money and coalitions
4.4 Thermidor, and mechanisms for ending the revolution

Chapter 5: The Revolutionary Process in Contemporary Russia
5.1. Revolution in Russia: pro et contra
5.2. Gorbachev: “Reforms from above”
5.3. Gorbachev: “Revolution from above”
5.4. The radical phase: general and specific features
5.5. New йlites and the Thermidor
5.6 Has the Russian revolution been completed?

Chapter 6. The Leaders of Russian Revolution Speak...
6.1 The personal factor in the revolution
6.2 The nature of the transformation: modernization and revolution
6.3 The role of historical experience
6.4. Moderates and radicals: different types of leader

Chapter 7. The Economic Cycle of Revolution
7.1 The concept of the revolutionary economic crisis
7.2 Economic problems at the outset of the revolution
7.3 Aggravation of economic crisis, intensification of political struggle
7.4 The economy of political radicalism
7.5 Economic problems of the end of the revolution
7.6 The revolutionary economic cycle: general trend and national peculiarities

Chapter 8. The Economic Cycle of  Revolution in Russia
8.1 The USSR: economic reform and economic crisis.
8.2 The final attempt at reforming the Soviet economy and the beginning of the revolutionary economic crisis
8.3 The radical nature of the post-communist economic reforms

Chapter 9. Economic Problems of Revolution
9.1. The role of finance and budget in a revolution
9.2. Traditional methods of supplementing the state budget during a revolution - taxes and loans
9.3. The printing press and its role in revolution.
9.4. Financial crisis and redistribution of property
9.5. The financial and budget crisis and the end of revolution
9.6. Slumps in production during revolutions

Chapter 10. The Russian Experience: Theoretical Interpretation
10.1 Defining revolution: the role of violence
10.2 Defining revolution: spontaneous development and the weakness of the state
10.3 The classification of revolutions: the role of mass movements
10.4 The classification of revolutions: changes in forms of property, classes and ?lites

Chapter 11. Marx’s Theory of Revolution and the Revolutions of the Twentieth Century
11.1 The inevitability of revolution: theory
11.2 Reforms and revolutions in the period between the two world wars
11.3 Marxism and the recent Russian revolution

1. The theory of revolution through the contemporary experience of Russia.
2. Contemporary Russia through the theory of revolution.




This book is English version of  "The great revolutions. From Kromvel till Putin", published in publishing house "Vagrius". For more information see the website of publishing house "Vagrius"

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