States and Social Revolutions - Synopsis - Chapter 4: What Changed and How: A Focus On State Building

Chapter 4: What Changed and How: A Focus On State Building

While Part 1 of the book analyzed the causes of societal crises, Part 2 proceeds to show what changed in the French, Chinese, and Russian Revolutions and why those changes emerged from these social revolutionary situations. The second part of the book is titled Outcomes of Social Revolutions in France, Russia, and China (161-173) and explains shared patterns across all three Revolutions as well as key variations among the Revolutions. The second part of the book is divided into four chapters. Chapter 4, What Changed and How: A Focus on State Building, is the first chapter within the second part of the book. This chapter analyzes the processes and outcomes of the Revolutions by focusing on the struggles surrounding the creation of new state organizations within the social revolutionary contexts. Each Revolution is examined from its original crisis of the Old Regime to the created sociopolitical patterns of the New Regime. These changes are followed according to the emergence and consolidation of new state organizations and the deployment of state power in each revolutionized society.Why is this approach taken to analyze the outcomes of the Revolutions? The reason for a focus on state building is because as Samuel P. Huntington writes: “A complete revolution involves...the creation and institutionalization of a new political order” (163). The Revolutions were only fully achieved when new state organizations were created among the conflicts of the revolutionary situations. Social revolutions not only affect social and cultural life, but also make changes in the structure and function of states. Therefore, an emphasis is placed on state building because of the importance of political consolidation and of state structures in determining revolutionary outcomes.

Main Points of Chapter 4:

  • Social revolutions affect structure and function of states

-State building within the social revolutionary contexts determined revolutionary outcomes

-Revolutions only fully achieved when new state organizations were created

  • Similar patterns of change between Chinese, French, Russian Revolutions (164-168)

-Revolutionary ideologies were key to the nature of all revolutionary outcomes (169-171)

-Peasant revolts

-Landed upper classes lost control of peasants

-State-building leaderships

-New state infrastructure is more centralized and rationalized

--> Greater popular incorporation into state-run affairs

--> More effective in society and more powerful against international competitors

  • Differences between outcomes of Revolutions (164-168)

-France and Russia

--> Professionalized and hierarchical state


--> Professional-bureaucratic state

--> National markets and capitalist private property

-Russia and China

--> Rise to party-led state organizations

--> Development-oriented party-states

--> Control over national economy


--> Highly centralized and bureaucratic

--> Party or army organizations asserted control over all society and state administration

Chapter 4, Section 1: Political Leaderships

A short and concise chapter, Chapter 4 is only divided into 2 subsections. The first subsection is titled Political Leaderships (164-168). Skocpol views the political leaderships primarily as state builders rather than as representatives of classes. Social-revolutionary crises aroused the political and class struggles of France, Russia, and China, ultimately leading to structural transformations. All three Revolutions shared important patterns of change. Agrarian class relations were transformed through peasant revolts against landlords, bureaucratic and “mass-incorporating” national states replaced autocratic and proto-bureaucratic monarchies, and the prerevolutionary landed upper classes no longer retained exclusive privileges in society and politics. Under the Old Regimes, the special privileges and institutional power bases of the landed upper classes were considered hindrances to full state bureaucratization as well as to direct mass political incorporation. Political conflicts and class overthrows removed these hindrances. The landed upper classes lost control of the peasants and shares of the agrarian surpluses through local and regional quasi-political institutions. During the same time, political leaderships started to emerge and were challenged to build new state organizations to consolidate the Revolutions. Because these emerging political leaderships could mobilize lower-class groups that had previously been excluded from national politics, such as urban workers or the peasantry, these leaderships were able to successfully meet the challenges of political consolidation. Thus, in all three Revolutions, the landed upper class lost out to both the benefit of lower class groups and to new state infrastructure. In each New Regime, there was much greater popular incorporation into the state-run affairs of the nation. The new state organizations produced during the Revolutions were more centralized and rationalized than those of the Old Regime. Therefore, they were more effective within society and more powerful against international competitors. Yet, of course there were also variations within the outcomes of the Revolutions. The Russian and Chinese Revolutions gave rise to party-led state organizations and resembled each other as development-oriented party-states. These organizations asserted control over the entire national economies of the two countries. In France, however, a professional-bureaucratic state coexisted with national markets and capitalist private property. The Russian regime though, exhibited some important similarities to France. Both Revolutions gave rise to a professionalized and hierarchical state aligned to the administrative supervision of social groups. In China, a state was generated that was highly centralized and in some ways thoroughly bureaucratic. Unlike in France and Russia, the Party or army organizations served not only as means of control over the state administration and society, but also as agents of popular mobilization. The most striking contrast to France and Russia has been the mobilization of peasants for rural development. In sum, the revolutionary leaderships that were produced during the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions were state-building leaderships. They created administrative and military organizations and political institutions that replaced the pre-revolutionary monarchies.

Chapter 4, Section 2: Revolutionary Ideologies

The second subsection within Chapter 4 is titled The Role of the Revolutionary Ideologies (169-171). By examining the role of revolutionary ideologies, this subsection aims to answer why revolutionary leaderships ended up creating the specific kinds of centralized and bureaucratic state structures that they did. It is often argued that the ideologies to which revolutionary leaderships are committed to provide the key to the nature of revolutionary outcomes. It is further believed that ideologies also reveal the strategies that revolutionary leaders followed as they acted to produce the outcomes. Revolutionary ideologies and people committed to them were necessary ingredients in the social revolutions of China, Russia, and France. In short, existing structural conditions have greatly limited ideologically oriented leaderships in revolutionary crises. Thus they have typically ended up accomplishing very different tasks and producing quite different kinds of new regimes from those they originally ideologically intended.

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