Rebels & Rulers, 1500-1660: 1 — The concept of Revolution and the comparative history of Revolution in early modern Europe by Perez Zagorin

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There are at least two reasons that might be cited for undertaking the historical and comparative investigation of revolution. The first is the desire to make a revolution, the second is the desire to prevent it. Perhaps nearly everybody is susceptible to the one reason or the other, but there is yet a third reason that gives the study of revolution a compelling interest and significance, even though its appeal is doubtless much more limited. This is that the understanding of revolution is an indispensable condition for the fuller knowledge and understanding of society. Depending on how we define it, revolution may be common or uncommon, frequent or rare. But in the case of societies, nations, and communities that have experienced revolution, we cannot claim to understand them adequately without understanding their revolutions. In a deep and therefore a nontautological sense, it is true that every people gets the revolution it deserves and equally true that it gets only the revolutions of which it is capable.

Well over a century ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the best minds that ever devoted itself to the problem of revolution, stated the rationale for the comparative history of revolutions. “Whoever studies and looks only at France,” he declared, “will never understand anything, venture to say, of the French revolution.1 Tocqueville’s precept, however, has been honored far more in the breach than in the observance. Despite the general recognition of the need for systematic comparative treatment of revolution, work toward this end has remained the exception and relatively undeveloped. The most obvious explanation for this lack is the formidable difficulty of any comparative investigation and the risk of superficiality it entails. Thus it is understandable that historians in particular, with their keen awareness of the inexhaustible richness of events, have mostly preferred to concentrate on the close examination of individual revolutions rather than spread themselves thin in the attempt to encompass the phenomenon of revolution in wider comparative terms. To this consideration, however, the most appropriate reply is that, regardless of the danger of superficiality, as well as egregious error, the risk of comparative treatment should nonetheless be accepted in the hope that the result may contribute somewhat to the better comprehension of a subject of fundamental importance.

Apart from the inherent difficulty of any comparative investigation of revolution, there is at the outset another, almost equally considerable obstacle to such a study in the utter confusion surrounding the idea of revolution itself. Clearly no comparative historical account of revolution is possible even in a limited context without a prior theoretical determination as to what is to be understood by revolution; yet on this essential question one finds a striking absence of clarity, consistency, and agreement. There is first of all the sheer luxuriance of terminology: revolt, rebellion, insurrection, rising, internal war, civil war, sedition, coup — are these to be considered synonymous with revolution or distinct from it? Second, there is the sheer variety of developments to which the word revolution is applied: the industrial, commercial, scientific, and educational revolutions; the neolithic, urban, agricultural, and population revolutions: the intellectual, managerial, military, and computer revolutions. the revolution of cubism, of rising expectations, of modernization; the sexual revolution — what have these in common, and how, amid such diversity, is the field of revolution to be delimited?

Perhaps it may be supposed that the prevailing incoherence results mainly from uncertainties of a theoretical character or from incomplete knowledge, but to think so would be an error. It is primarily due, rather, to the vast symbolic significance and exploitative potentialities that the idea of revolution has come to possess in the modern world.

Revolution may well be the most powerful myth of our time, as it is certainly the most pervasive. Instead of serving merely as the name or description of a certain class of events, it is a symbol of identification and demand, a declaration of normative preference, a vague composite of images and sentiments suitable to manipulation for various purposes, a fashion, and even an opiate. (Like religion, revolution too may be the “opium of the people.”) Already in the French revolution, which first launched both the word and idea on their modern course, revolution became something to conjure with, a creed, a faith, a mystique.2 It seized the mind of many like a religion, loomed gigantically in Europe as a threat or promise, and rose in the sky as the sign announcing a new humanity and a new world. This was recognized at the time by the great conservative thinker, Edmund Burke, who pointed out that the French revolution was not like any previous political change in Europe. He could compare it only with the Protestant Reformation. “It is a revolution,” he said, “of doctrine and theoretic dogma. It has a much greater resemblance to those changes which have been made upon religious grounds, in which a spirit of proselytism makes an essential part,” and its principle is such as “by its essence could not be local, or confined to the country in which it had its origin.”3

Descending the decades of the long nineteenth century in Europe, with its frequent revolutionary outbreaks, the idea of revolution retained its grandeur. It spread to Spanish America, to Russia, and eventually to Turkey. Asia. and Africa. It stood as the supreme theme in the incalculably influential teaching of Marx, which aimed not merely to interpret the world but to change it. Innumerable groups arose consisting of men and women professionally dedicated to making revolution. Revolution became the myth of bourgeois nationalists, terrorist secret societies, communist sects, social-democratic parties, and anarchist movements alike. The victory of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 gave it a new access of strength and transformed it into a worldwide force radiating from Moscow. In 1930 an American communist writer proclaimed ecstatically in what must be regarded as a representative expression: “O workers’ Revolution, you brought hope to me … You are the true Messiah … O Revolution that forced me to think, to struggle. and to live. O great Beginning!”4 The legacy of 1789. of the nineteenth century, and of 1917 caused revolution to be seen as the redemptive act destined to liberate oppressed nations, classes, and all mankind.

Along with this glorification, though, this divinization of revolution, the term also proved to be infinitely expansible, a concept to be invoked by scholars and popularisers for any number of different purposes. Wherever it was sought to convey the impression of overwhelming progressive change or to place an approved stamp of novelty on something, revolution was seized upon as the most suitable description. When Arnold Toynbee in 1884 coined the phrase “The Industrial Revolution” for the title of his famous book, he had a serious scientific end in view and intended to designate changes that he regarded as a “single great historical event.” Inevitably, however, the more widely revolution was appropriated, the more it lost any precise meaning. Moreover, it was too rich in possibilities not to be adopted for exploitation by entrepreneurs and salesmen of every sort. Thus, by a process the reverse of that in which it symbolized something grandiose and total, the term revolution also became vulgarized, trivialized, and debased. It could be used in reference to a new product. a new reducing diet, a dress style, or a piece of music — anything at all that one wished to present as modern and advanced.

Already before World War I, Karl Kautsky, the German social-democratic leader and theorist, had recognized that “socialism is accepted in the salons, there is no longer need of any particular energy, it is no longer necessary to break with bourgeois society, in order to bear the name of ‘socialist.’ “5 By the 1920s, a similar fate had overtaken revolution. In 1926, the English writer Wyndham Lewis commented satirically upon the current modishness and respectability of revolution. “official revolution,” he called it, which in intellectual and polite society had become as obligatory as evening dress. “Everyone who has money enough is today a ‘revolutionary.’” By a paradox, he pointed out. only by being nonrevolutionary does one become an outsider.6

Since then, the degeneration and confusion in the idea of revolution have proceeded so far that today it has become unavoidable to speak of the banality of revolution. The last years have witnessed this condition at its most rampant in the prevalence of revolution as a fashion in the West adopted by a motley assembly of movements and individuals for diversion or profit. As a result, to hear anything described as revolutionary is a nearly certain sign that one is being offered a counterfeit. This state of affairs has been most incisively depicted by Jacques Ellul. Taken up in the consumer society, as he has noted, revolution exacts no price; it is a “popsicle,” chewing gum to while away the time. Everyone makes revolution, from artist to businessman. It is merely an aspect of one’s “life style,” the product of boredom.7 The observation of Tocqueville concerning Lamartine and 1848 in France — “se sont fairs revolutionnaires pour se desennuyer” — has a far wider bearing at the present time than when he wrote.8

The reigning confusion is strikingly visible as well in the political realm. When revolution began in France in 1789, it was partly inspired by the recent American war for independence, which caused the French to view the birth of the American republic as a new epoch of liberty. French rev-olutionaries of every stripe naturally conceived themselves, too, as the champions of liberty against despotism and vindicators of the imprescrip-tible rights of man. Thus the idea of revolution that spread from France over Europe seemed indissolubly linked with liberty — this indeed was a central feature in the revolutionary myth transmitted during the nine-teenth century. But if the nineteenth century did not succeed in doing so, the experience of the twentieth has made the relation between liberty and revolution entirely problematic. Fascist movements such as national so-cialism willingly described themselves as revolutionary, and the revolu-tion that carried Hitler to power in Germany led to the imposition of a brutal dictatorship, to genocide, and almost to the destruction of Europe’s independence and freedom. Similarly, in Russia, in China, and elsewhere, despotic new states have emerged from communist and “people’s war” revolutions whose rulers claim the revolutionary myth exclusively for themselves in order to build and extend their tyrannical dominion. All this not only has discredited the assumption that revolution and liberty go together but has subverted the once widely held belief that revolution is necessarily synonymous with progressive advance.



If the phenomenon of revolution is to be susceptible to historical-theoretical consideration, its definition and boundaries must be removed from the incoherence that besets them and given reasonable fixity and delimitation appropriate to their object. For this the first and main prerequisite is a break with the “spontaneous philosophy of the social world” that leads to the uncritical acceptance of “preconstructed objects” implicit in the usage spontaneously proposed by society itself. Historical agents, like people in their everyday lives, form diverse representations of things and relations, but the student cannot be content with these, lest he be induced to perceive reality merely as it “demands” to be. Precisely because revolution exists in the common vocabulary as the reflection of multiple and inconsistent conceptions and expectations, it is necessary to go beyond the latter in order to think about the phenomenon adequately. As a leading French sociologist has acutely remarked, if the inquirer submits to the given as such, negating himself “by refusing consciously to build his own distance from reality and the conditions for an adequate knowledge of it, he condemns himself to ascertain preconstructed facts which are imposed on him because he is not provided with the means of knowing the rules of their construction.”9

Pursuant to this methodological dictate, a scientific approach to revolution would cut through the mythological disguises that enfold it (and whose origin or “rules of construction” the history of the idea and terminology of revolution serves to make clear) in order to reduce it to its proper signification. Let us note some of the more common errors deriving from this mythology, which exercises its spell as strongly on the learned as on the layman. One is the charismatic view of revolution, which restricts its meaning to something total, grand, and monumental. This results in the exclusion of various kinds of revolutionary occurrences from the field of revolution because they are held to lack the requisite amplitude, although the standard for determining the latter is purely arbitrary in accord with the predilections of the observer. It also leads to pointless debates, which are all too frequent, as to whether some particular event or change is “really” revolutionary, again depending on the varying predilections of the observer. The charismatic view is particularly reflected in Marxism, although by no means confined to it alone, and underlies numerous conceptions of revolution. Thus in a well-known formulation, Siegfried Neumann defined revolution as “a sweeping fundamental change in political organisation, social structure, economic property control and the predominant myth, of a social order [thereby] indicating a major break in the continuity of development.” A similar description has been offered by S. P. Huntington: “A revolution is a rapid, fundamental and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, government activity, and policies.”10 There would be nothing wrong with these statements if they were merely intended to designate a particular type of revolution that is historically the rarest, but as they stand they are unacceptable because they define out of existence those types of revolutionary events that do not conform to the totality demanded. It is merely a prejudice, however, that would limit the conception of revolution in this way.

Often connected with the charismatic view is an implicit tendency of an ideological character to introduce valuational beliefs into the conception of revolution so that only changes deemed progressive are considered revolutionary. In consequence, movements like national socialism may be excluded by some students from the comparative or theoretical analysis of revolution. Thus Barrington Moore in his well-known work, The social origins of dictatorship and democracy (1966), treats Germany as a country in which revolution failed to occur (as would of course be true if one were referring to a socialist revolution) and is disabled by his progressive criterion from ‘recognizing that the history of nazism belongs centrally to the phenomenon of revolution in the twentieth century. For analogous reasons, and in accord with their own self-serving ends, contemporary communist regimes denounce internal resistance to their rule as reactionary or counterrevolutionary, but despite such negative labeling, a violent attempt to dislodge or change these regimes would certainly, in any objective account, come within the domain of revolution.

A further pertinent instance is provided in the recent study of counter-revolution in modern Europe by Arno Mayer. Having acknowledged his adherence to the conviction that revolution means advance or progress, Mayer sharply distinguishes between it and counterrevolution, to which category he relegates fascism. Yet he notes that fascism “built controlled mass movements and terror units,” gave dominance to a “distinct fascist political class,” and imposed a new elite “in the sphere of politics and ideas.” Moreover counterrevolution, he points out, “acquires a project and thrust that transcend the mere restoration of order and the status quo ante.” His analysis thus makes it apparent that in a theoretical context, revolution and counterrevolution may be structurally related or homologous.11 And, in fact, the latter is a species of the former, its precise content varying by historical cases, so that any attempt to dissociate them can be based only on arbitrary normative grounds. It follows as a general methodological conclusion that revolution must if possible be constituted as a descriptive category free of ideological commitments and prepossessions it some of its essential features or phenomenal forms are not to be arbitrarily extruded. 12

Undoubtedly, the most frequent confusion arising from the mythology of revolution is the identification of the latter with any large-scale change as such. Thus, for at least a hundred years, whenever historians or social scientists have wished to stress the significance of some particular change or development with which they have been concerned, they have usually denominated it as a revolution. In this way, an indefinite number of revolutions over the most varied fields have been invented, as the list of examples given earlier in this chapter illustrates.13 It is noticeable, however, that these revolutions are seldom presented according to any precise criteria or even with any specific chronological limits. They may be gradual or incremental, they may last for decades or longer, they may even manifest themselves politically as peaceable reforms, yet the temptation to term such changes revolution has been irresistible. To cite a characteristic illustration, the reviewer of a recent history of the Meiji restoration of 1868 in Japan, which brought back the ancient monarchy to primacy and marked the inception of Japanese modernization, declared that “so great a transformation warranted the name of ‘revolution’. ” And indeed, this statement reflects a general tendency in Japanese historiography to consider the Meiji restoration and its sequel a revolution.14 Hence Japanese modernisation, even though it occurred more or less peacefully and under the auspices of a traditional, undisplaced governing class, was nevertheless a “revolution” because it was a transformation. One might well think, of course, that a fundamental problem to be explained in Japanese modernisation is that it took place without a revolution. But to pose this question is necessarily to imply a different and more precise definition of revolution than mere large-scale change.

What is wrong with the conception of revolution as equivalent to major change or transformation is that it begs the question of when and under what conditions change becomes revolutionary. This constitutes one of the essential problems in the theoretical and comparative analysis of revolution.15 But this problem cannot even be raised if revolution is taken to signify change as such, for then no logical basis is available for distinguishing revolution from its alternative, reform, or revolutionary from nonrevolutionary change. It is easy to see, however, why this confusion between revolution and change exists and what perpetuates it. The great prestige that the symbolism of revolution has acquired since the early nineteenth century has magnetised the imagination of historians, and the impulsion to appropriate this symbolism as metaphor has worked to powerful effect. Accordingly, to describe something as a revolution is to bestow upon it the ultimate benediction of importance. The word serves, so to speak, as a coronation that anoints the process to which it is applied with the charismatic properties of the revolutionary event. This accounts for the proliferation and variety of revolutions to be found in the textbooks and popular sociology, and although it would be a substantial contribution to clarity if scholars ceased gratuitously multiplying revolutions and reserved the conception for a clearly defined, reasonably well-marked class of events, there is little ground to expect that they will do so.

As far as the mythology of revolution is concerned, no thinker or school of thought has added as much to its substance as Marx and the Marxists. To speak of Marx as a myth maker is in no way to deny the value of the theory-rich contribution that he made in the course of his life to historical and sociological understanding. But Marx’s formation took place during the 1830s and 1840s in an intellectual environment permeated by what Professor Talmon has called the “religion of revolution,” of which the vital common denominator was “the expectation of and preparation for some inevitable, preordained, total change in the social order.”16 And, in Marx’s mature thought, the result of a complex integration and transmogrification of Hegelianism, socialism, and political economy, revolution is envisaged as the driving force or “locomotive” of history and becomes a systematic principle of historical interpretation.17 Moreover, Marx conceives the whole progressive movement of mankind sub specie revolutionis — a movement destined to realise itself by means of the proletariat in an eschatological break-through to a new human reality free of social antagonisms.18

In implanting the conception of revolution with his own philosophical and ideological leitmotifs, Marx was responsible for further confusions and, paradoxically, even for a reductionist theoretical formulation of the nature of revolution. For if Marx saw revolutions as grandiose movements and epochal turning points, as a phenomenon he nevertheless identified them exclusively with the class struggle and the class transfer of state power. Furthermore, in the interest of the materialist conception of history that he developed, he could derive revolution causally only from deep preceding social contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production. It was these contradictions, according to him, that generated irreconcilable classes and class differences. Thus, for Marx, although revolution must finally express itself as a political act, it is in essence and of necessity social. Revolution is therefore understood in the Marxist perspective purely as social revolution, where social, moreover, as the exclusive and restricted meaning of class and class conflict. This meaning is of course also introduced into the Marxian definition of revolution as an implicit causal explanation.19

In 1848, in their Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels presented their most famous exposition of this view, in which they described the “more or less veiled civil war” of classes raging within society that then “breaks out into open revolution.”20 Nearly a century and a quarter afterward, the following exchange occurred between two of Marx’s latter-day disciples, the late president of Chile, Salvador Allende, and Regis Debray, a French Marxist philosopher. To the question, What is revolution? both returned the well-worn conventional answer. Allende: “It is the transfer of power from a minority to a majority class.” Debray: “It is the transfer of power from one class to another. Revolution is the destruction of the machinery of the bourgeois state and the replacement of it by another.”21 The same formula appears in a recent discussion of theories of revolution by a British Marxist who defines revolution as “a change in which decisive political, and economic power passes from the hands of a declining ruling class which has outlived its day, into the hands of a new advancing class.”22 But this, of course, merely repeats the orthodox doctrine previously affirmed by Marx’s great follower, Lenin, and by Lenin’s great follower, Mao Tse-tung. Thus in 1917 Lenin wrote, “The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the main, the basic principle of revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.”23 Mao in his turn, denouncing revisionism, similarly declared in 1960: “Revolution means the use of revolutionary violence by the oppressed class. This is true of slave revolution; this is also true of the bourgeois revolution.”24 Such statements illustrate the persisting core of the Marxist tradition from before 1848 to the present, in which revolution is understood entirely as a class-determined phenomenon.

Although this conception has had exceedingly great consequences in the deeds that compose the history of the modern world and its revolutions, it has also been the cause of serious error and misunderstanding. Nowhere, in fact, is the fusion between the theory and mythology of revolution and the influence exerted by the one upon the other more apparent.

The Marxian view reductively subsumes all revolution under the single category of class struggle. Because it narrows the conception of revolution solely to social revolution in this class sense, its explanatory strategy has no choice but to force the universe of revolutionary occurrences into the same mould. Besides the inevitable distortions that result even in the treatment of revolutions where class conflict may predominate, it cannot account for revolutions that present a different origin or character. There have been many of these in the past and our own time, including some of great magnitude in the early modern era, like the English Revolution of 1640. Referring to the problem suggested by the latter, Peter Laslett has asked “whether the word Revolution can justifiably be used of seventeenth-century England if anything of Social Revolution is intended.” Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, he points out, economic and social change was relatively slow and gradual and contained nothing that “would have led of itself to political crisis.” Hence he denies that class struggle is the necessary cause of revolutions and also contends that “revolution’ as meaning a resolution of unendurable social conflict by reshaping society as a whole” was “impossible in preindustrial times.”25 We need not accept this judgment in its entirety to recognize its pertinence and validity as a criticism of the Marxist position. The conclusion to be drawn, however, is not that there were no revolutions in preindustrial society but that Marx’s theory of revolution is quite inadequate to deal with them on its own terms.

Needless to say, I am not here attempting to deny the importance of class, which in some cases may be great. Rather, I wish to deny the assumption of its universality as a necessary explanatory principle in the theoretical and historical treatment of revolution, together with the further assumption that class and the social are identical; the’latter can also refer to other human formations and collectivities that may be much more relevant in the understanding of certain revolutions, like those of early modern Europe to be considered in this book.

Marx’s belief in the centrality of class originated partly in his interpretation of the French revolution, which he considered to be in essence a colossal conflict between feudal and bourgeois society. In forming this judgment, he was variously influenced — by Hegel, by the Saint-Simonians, and by post-1815 historians such as Mignet, Guizot, and Thierry, who had stressed class struggle in their writings.26 As a result, the French Revolution — the greatest so far to occur in Europe and the one with the strongest thrust toward universality in its principles and influence —acquired an exemplary or classical status in Marxist thought. It was elevated to the position of an ideal type or model of revolution and the revolutionary process,, even though Marx also held that, owing to its

bourgeois character, the French revolution merely enthroned a new class in place of the old and was destined to be surpassed by a future proletarian revolution that would end all class domination. Later, following the Paris Commune of 1871, certain of the latter’s features became exemplary as well both for Marx and then for Lenin.27 Nevertheless, the decisive role in Marx’s general theory of revolution of his historical interpretation and image of the French revolution is obvious and has had lasting effects. Engels acknowledged this fact when he wrote of himself and Marx that

as far as our conception of the conditions and course of revolutionary movements was concerned, [we] were under the spell of previous historical experience, namely that of France. It was, indeed, the latter which had dominated the whole of European history since 1789 It was therefore natural and unavoidable that our conceptions of the nature and the paths of the “social” revolution were strongly coloured by memories of the models of 1789-1830.28

Elsewhere he declared in the same vein:

France is the land where, more than anywhere else, the historical class struggles were each time fought out to a decision, where, consequently, the changing political forms within which they occur and in which their results are summarised have likewise been stamped with the sharpest outlines. The centre of feudalism in the Middle Ages, the model country of centralised monarchy since the Renaissance, France demolished feudalism in the Great Revolution and established the unalloyed rule of the bourgeoisie in a classical purity unequalled by any other European land.29

The canonical importance accorded the French revolution as forerunner and model was equally present among the Bolsheviks. Jacobinism was a synonym for the centralism of the revolutionary party demanded by Lenin before and after 1905.30 After 1917, the Bolsheviks had the image and lessons of the French revolution continually in mind. As one historian of the latter has written, there was a “permanent telescoping of the two revolutions in the consciousness of the Russian revolutionaries.”31 This is well seen in Trotsky, who referred repeatedly to France in his History of the Russian Revolution. It was also natural that Trotsky under the sway of the French revolution should have equated Stalin’s ascendancy with Thermidor, the symbol of Robespierre’s overthrow and of the betrayal of the revolution.32

Despite the theoretical significance that he attributed to the French Revolution, however, Marx never offered any adequate critical ‘justification for regarding it as the exemplary case or model. Nevertheless, the conclusions he drew from it became a part of the mythology of revolution. Marxists found in the French revolution a pattern applicable to the analysis of revolution in general. In its substance and stages as a class struggle it was thought to provide a morphological structure under which the explanation of other revolutions could, mutatis mutandis, be subsumed. Of course, Marxists have not been alone in adopting this procedure. The ideal-typical character ascribed directly or by implication to the French revolution, however differently the latter may be interpreted, has been a noticeable feature of a great deal of thinking about revolution.” Marxism has merely shared this assumption, albeit perhaps deriving the widest theoretical inferences from it. That such a view requires justification, however, or that the French Revolution with all its importance may not be the paradigmatic form of revolution to which other cases either approximate or from which they deviate, has hardly ever been seriously considered.

In Marx’s theory of revolution, there appears an intricate mixture of the factual-theoretical and the normative-ideological. To say that his thought was ever free of wish-fulfilling projections or ideological motives and prejudices would be wrong. All the same, full acknowledgment must be given to his claim that, in contrast to the ahistorical abstractions of German idealist philosophy, he based his own conceptions on the “real ground of history” and “actual social relations.”34 Furthermore, even if he regarded the French revolution as the classic and exemplary case, he nonetheless established his judgment of it by study of the historical materials such as were then available. In these respects, although his purpose was not only to understand revolution but to prepare men to make it, Marx may be said to have met the empirical requirements demanded of the theorist and historian.

What in Marx’s thought originally possessed the living force of a great intellectual achievement, however, has long since tended to harden into a sterile orthodoxy. Like the materialist conception of history with which it is associated, his theory of revolution has itself been converted through his influence and by many of his followers into an extrahistorical abstraction and metaphysical philosophy of history. Instead of being taken as a hypothesis subject to testing, correction, and disproof, it has been made, mainly for political purposes, into an a priori presupposition through which the entire problem of revolution is approached and resolved. As one philosopher has rightly commented, the Marxian doctrine is frequently advanced “as a necessary truth which no future experience could possibly confute.”35 In applying it to specific examples of revolution, Marxist historical scholarship has too often had to impose a mutilating pressure on the facts and in the face of recalcitrant evidence to resort to excessively ingenious methods of interpretation, which cause its procedure to resemble the addition of epicycles to the Ptolemaic hypothesis in order to “save the phenomena.” Insofar as it remains consistent with its own premises, however, the Marxist theory of revolution cannot overcome the reductionism inherent in its monocausal class explanation. For these reasons and in this sense, Marx’s conception belongs under the guise of science to the modern mythology of revolution in which it is perhaps the most powerful ingredient.



A divine right of names does not exist, and definitions of phenomena are to be judged entirely by their clarity, utility, and convenience. For the comparative study of revolution we need a definition that will serve to distinguish revolutionary from other kinds of events, that will be sufficiently inclusive of these events whatever their type, scope, or historical., period, and that contains no evaluative preferences or built-in causal theory. I therefore propose to use the following:

A revolution is any attempt by subordinate groups through the use of violence to bring about (1) a change of government or its policy, (2) a change of regime, or (3) a change of society, whether this attempt is justified by reference to past conditions or to an as yet unattained future ideal.

In this definition, government refers to personnel, such as monarchs and ministers; regime, to the basic form and institutions of government; society, to social structure and stratification, system of property control, and dominant values.36

Some comments on the corollaries and implications of this definition in relation to the purposes of a comparative historical study are desirable.

Far more revolutions have failed than succeeded, and, even when revolutionaries have gained power, they have rarely retained it for long or built durable regimes. Most of these cases have happened in this century, whereas the Netherlands revolt against Spain is an instance from the sixteenth century. Hence it is preferable for comparative purposes to base the concept of revolution on the occurrence of rebellion rather than exclusively on the nature of its outcome.

In connection with this problem, a recent analyst maintains that one of the essential aspects of revolution is a change of government, that is, a transitionary event at a specific moment of time. Without the latter, he believes, “no certain identification can be made of an earlier period of disaffection as ‘revolutionary. “37 This view, however, is only partially applicable at best. Some of the biggest early modern revolutions present a diffuse and episodic character as civil wars lasting many years. In these there may be no specific event of transition but instead the gradual assumption of governmental functions by rebels and the formation in stages of a de facto dual power. Other cases, like the English Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, take the form of rebellion on a considerable scale, which is then repressed after a few weeks or months. But in these instances, as elsewhere, the resort to organized forcible resistance to authority, irrespective of whether a change of government ensues, is evidence that we are in the presence of a revolution of some kind that may be pertinent to comparative study.

Violence as a means is a defining characteristic of revolution that distinguishes it from nonrevolutionary attempts at change.38 To speak of non-violent revolution is, as Chalmers Johnson has pointed out, a contradiction in terms.39 To be sure, the notion of violence is hard to define precisely. According to Johnson, it is any action running counter to stable expectations “that deliberately or unintentionally disorients the behavior of others.”40 This seems too broad. The central element in violence is force and coercion, including imminent threat. If these are lacking, violence cannot be said to exist.

With violence in this fundamental sense, however, we can also associate what may be called “symbolic violence” — blasphemies in gesture, speech, and writing that, in deliberate transgression and reversal of prevailing social norms, are intended to destroy the sanctity or prestige of ruling persons and institutions and to proclaim the equality or superiority of subjects, the inferior, or the oppressed. Hegel declared that “once the realm of the imagination has been revolutionised, reality can no longer hold out.”‘41 Symbolic violence in this sense is a common feature of revolutions. The Paris crowd’s contemptuous treatment of Henri III in 1588, which forced him to leave his capital, and the trial of Charles I by a court of his own subjects in 1649 are examples of symbolic violence. In the great wave of iconoclastic riots that broke out across the Netherlands in the summer of 1566, despite the actual physical attack on churches, the symbolic aspect was uppermost and formed the threshold to rebellion. Another notable instance is the behavior of Wat Tyler, the rebel leader, in his meeting with Richard II at Smithfield during the English agrarian revolt of 1381. According to the indignant monastic chronicler, Tyler took Richard’s hand and shook his arm, called him “brother,” and rinsed his mouth before the king “in a rude and villainous manner.” Then, after sending for a jug of ale and drinking down a great draught, he mounted his horse in the royal presence.42 Episodes like these, tending to corrode authority, show that symbolic violence can perform the disorienting function to which Johnson refers: In the words of a slogan posted in Paris during the student protest of May 1968, “L’insolence est une nouvelle arme revolutionnaire.” In revolutions, however, violence is always coupled in some way with the reality or imminent threat of force and compulsion.

The aims and goals of revolution vary widely and affect its magnitude and scope. In the conception of revolution given here, these goals are specified in ascending order, with a change of government or its policy as the lowest and most limited and a change of society as the biggest. Each goal of larger magnitude will as a rule also encompass the lesser ones. Thus, a change of regime is likely to necessitate a change of government, and a change of society a change of government and regime. The different types of revolution may also bear a relation to the goals sought. A coup d’état, for instance, most commonly aims at a change in the personnel or policy of government, occasionally at a change of regime, and only rarely at a change of society.

In attempting to delimit the field of revolution, the question arises as to the latter’s relation to riots as a lesser manifestation of collective violence, especially because historians of early modern revolutions occasionally confound the two. In his valuable study of the revolution of 1647 in Naples, Rosario Villari describes an earlier outbreak in 1585 in which the populace, provoked by a rise in the price of bread, lynched Giovanni Vincenzo Starace, a wealthy merchant and speculator.43 In treating this incident as a revolt, as well as in the political significance he ascribes to it within the prehistory of the events of 1647, Villari greatly exaggerates its importance; in reality, it seems to have been merely a riot of a type that was exceedingly common in preindustrial Europe and that all urban authorities had to anticipate as a possibility in times of scarcity unless they took measures to expand grain supply or reduce prices.44 Similarly, Professor Porchnev’s account of popular insurrections in France in the first part of the seventeenth century also confuses riot with rebellion in some cases.45 A French historian has used the term microrevolt for the small disturbances that were frequent in various regions of France at this period and were sometimes the forerunner to rebellion as well.46 The Normandy rebellion of the Nu-pieds in 1639, for example, was preceded by riots against tax officials in several towns, such as Rouen in 1634 and Caen in 1637.47 But this endemic agitation and ferment of popular discontent dissipated itself in ephemeral outbreaks more often than it led to actual rebellion.

Admittedly, when we contemplate the states and societies of early mod-ern Europe, in which subjects were still relatively unhabituated to the yoke of centralizing governments and the means for maintaining public order remained more or less exiguous, it may be difficult in certain instances to determine where small-scale rebellion as a manifestation of the general phenomenon of revolution shades off into riot. Nevertheless, theoretically and for comparative purposes the two should be distinguished. Moreover, this task is facilitated by the attention given in recent years to the historical investigation of crowds and riots, which has made it possible to understand them better.48 In general, riots differ from rebellion in a number of ways. First, they are mostly spontaneous protests in which planning and organization are nonexistent or at a minimum. Second, they are usually of very brief duration, lasting a day or two at most. Third, their targets are picked for their immediate visibility, and their aims, if any, are often nonpolitical as well as of the most present and restricted kind. Fourth, as spontaneous outbursts of popular anger, their expressive function tends to predominate over any instrumental purpose. Because of these characteristics, riots should be considered as an independent phenomenon that occurs both within and separately from revolution and whose connection with the latter is therefore indeterminate.49

The preceding discussion leads to a final topic of importance that must be confronted in the comparative history of revolution, and this is the relation of revolution to rebellion. One of the ablest contemporary students of revolution has referred to the “now universal distinction between `rebellion’ and ‘revolution’ ” yet is also forced to note the general confusion and uncertainty as to what is being distinguished.50 This confusion is illustrated in the diverse practice of historians with regard to the problem. A recent work on medieval revolutions, for instance, speaks interchangeably of revolution, revolt, insurrection, and so forth; a reviewer of this same work, however, complains of such indiscriminate usage on the ground that “revolution” is a word “much richer in content” than the others.51 A number of historians have stressed the need to differentiate rebellion from revolution in the context of early modern Europe. J. H. Elliott cautions against the danger of distortion in applying the concept of revolution to the revolts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.52 Roland Mousnier takes a similar view in his comparative study of French and other peasant risings of the seventeenth century and therefore characterizes these revolts as nonrevolutionary.53 An analogous opinion is expressed by another historian of early modern France, who contrasts “mere rebellion” to “true revolution,” the latter of which he considers to have been an impossibility in the early modern era.54 As against these assertions, a historian of sixteenth-century political movements does not hesitate to speak of “revolution” and “revolutionary parties” in connection with the French wars of religion and the Netherlands rebellion,” and a recent history of the Scottish rebellion of 1638 against Charles I describes this event as a revolution and points out the “artificiality of trying to draw a line between rebellion and revolution.”56

Not surprisingly, the terminology current in early modern Europe itself provides no guidance in adjudicating these differences or distinguishing between revolution and rebellion.57 Revolution at that period meant circular motion and was largely used in a cosmological context to describe the rotation (revolutions) of the heavenly bodies. When transferred to human affairs, the word continued to retain the idea of circularity and referred to the cycle of changes in states with its attendant upheavals. As yet, revolution was not associated with willed, conscious innovation or with progress. Not until the seventeenth century in any case was revolution much used in a political sense. The first rebellion in European history that actually became known to its contemporaries as a revolution was the English revolution of 1688; yet they still tended to conceive this revolution in cyclical terms as a restoration of a legal order that the deposed monarch, James II, had tyrannously violated. Other words for civil strife common in Western Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries all referred to forcible illicit resistance to authority and to the disturbances it provoked: thus, in France, for example, sédition, rébellion, émotion, émeute; in Spain, alteraciónes and sucesos; in England, rebellion, sedition, and also troubles.58

Obviously, the present distinction between revolution and rebellion is mainly intended to bring out certain features in revolutions after 1789 that are thought to have been absent or negligible in preceding centuries. Two such features frequently stressed are an ideology of innovation and progress on the part of rebels and their expression of a self-conscious will toward basic structural change and the creation of a new society. In contrast to these characteristics of modern revolutions, those of an earlier period of European history, it is held, lacked the aim of fundamental transformation and were dominated by conservative ideologies looking to the past rather than to the future and the goal of a new order. It is on such grounds that Ellul, for example, claims that “the phenomenon of revolution is without precedent in premodern history.”59

To be sure, there are significant differences between revolution before and after 1789 (broadly speaking) that it should be the purpose of comparative history to describe and explain. Although this may be so, however, these differences do not correspond to, nor are they illuminated by, the distinction between revolution and rebellion. Take the case of the conservative ideology previously cited, which I shall henceforth call the ideology of the normative past. In the first place, this is not the only sort of ideology to be found in premodern revolutions. The conception of a future new order as the goal and justification of revolution also sometimes appears, both in the religious form of millenarianism and in the secularised form of rationalistic and natural rights doctrines. In the second place, ideologies of the normative past, despite their backward-looking orientation, can lead both to innovative demands in rebel programs and to large-scale change. This is clearly shown by such cases as the sixteenth-century Netherlands rebellion, the English revolution of 1640, and the Castilian urban revolt of the Comuneros, about whose conservatism or modernity historians have argued.60

The truth is that the relation between conservative ideologies and innovation is much more complicated than is usually realised. An essential consideration to the understanding of this relationship is the fact of the unintended consequences of action, for demands and measures directed to system restoration or maintenance can unintendedly give rise to system innovation. As a theorist of economic development has remarked, “Efforts to maintain or restore a social organization or a way of life or a standard of living that is threatened or weakened have yielded unintended innovational change in modern societies.”61 The same observation applies as well to earlier societies and some of their revolutions. A further consideration in deciphering this relationship is the difference between manifest and latent function familiar from its use in functional analysis in sociology. Thus, to revolutionary actors, the manifest function of the beliefs they profess may be preservation or restoration; their latent function, however, even if the actors are unaware of it, may well be innovation.62 Such discrepancies between the motivations of behavior and its function are common in social life and help explain why the prevalence of a conservative ideology in revolution does not necessarily preclude the possibility of substantive change or novelty as its outcome.

The attempt to distinguish revolution from rebellion, notwithstanding that its aim may be to elucidate genuine differences, is misconceived because it is based on a logical blunder or category mistake.63 It would distinguish the whole from one of its parts (and an ill-defined part at that), as one might try, for example, to distinguish violence from war or mammals from whales. Such a procedure is clearly futile.

Moreover, this attempt may be seen as a further consequence of the modern mythology of revolution, whose influence has proved so difficult to escape. It grows out of the belief, uncritically presumed by many historians and theorists, that the charismatic “great” revolution aspiring toward totality is identical with revolution itself or “really” revolution. This belief is false: When the phenomenon of revolution is properly conceived as a problem for comparative history and sociology, it is recognised to manifest itself in a variety of forms rather than exclusively as the so-called great revolution. There is also a highly questionable teleology and finalism implicit in the attempt to set revolution apart from rebellion. It presupposes a historical progression in which rebellion is merely a stage evolving toward revolution as a goal. Rebellion thus falls short of, and is a condition of inadequacy relative to, revolution.64 It is difficult to see any justification for this presupposition. Obviously, societies with given social structures, economies, political institutions, cultures, belief systems, and so forth will produce certain kinds of revolution and no others. These revolutions should be examined in their own right and appropriately considered according to type, if possible. To view them as lower or higher stages in a sequence of progressive development is gratuitous and only means that the theorist or comparative historian has without realising it subjected his own thought to the thought and consciousness of the modern, post-1789 makers of revolution, who have been primarily impelled by motives other than intellectual understanding.

A preferable procedure that avoids these pitfalls is to accept revolution as the generic class containing all revolutionary occurrences of whatever kind. There would then no longer be any question of the superfluous distinction between revolution and rebellion but rather the task of working out the different kinds or forms of revolution in accordance with appropriate criteria. We are at present far from having an adequate typology or classification of revolutions. The type most commonly considered by students is that of the “great” revolution, which is the subject, for instance, of Crane Brinton’s well-known comparative study, The anatomy of revolution (1938). In this work, which he intended as a contribution to social science, Brinton examined four “great” revolutions, the English, American, French, and Russian. But the characteristics and related criteria constituting the class of “great” revolutions remain obscure and undefined in his account; notwithstanding the uniformities he claimed to observe among the group of revolutions in question, it is noticeable that the American revolution differs very considerably from the French and Russian, as does also the English revolution in some essential respects.65 If, therefore, all four belong to the class of “great” revolutions, it must be in spite of these differences. Brinton recognized that the sociology of revolution requires a careful discrimination of types, and in passing he mentions several, such as authoritarian, territorial, nationalist, colonial, and palace revolutions.66 Nevertheless, these are presented as no more than desultory suggestions and are not developed.

Despite the widespread currency of the conception of the “great” revolution, there appears to be no agreement as to what it is or how its essential typological features are to be determined. The suggestion, for example, that the “Jacobin-communist” revolution is the fundamental type of the “great” revolution does not remove the difficulty because a number of revolutions usually accepted as “great” in some sense, like the Netherands, English, American, Mexican, Algerian, or Turkish revolutions, can hardly be described as “Jacobin-communist.”67

On the whole, therefore, it seems neither illuminating nor useful to think of the “great” revolution as a separate typological category. To do so is as if an earth scientist set on studying the variety of the world’s mountains were to place certain of them in a class of “high” mountains irrespective of their geological history and structure. The result would be to overlook identities and differences to which height affords no key. An effective typology of revolution should take a number of criteria into account, and it might then be discovered that the “great” revolution, that is, the revolution of substantial magnitude and consequence, appears in more than one type.

In an adequate typology of revolution, moreover, the types sought would not be conceived as reified and static categories. Rather, they would approximate more to structures or models describing a set of possible relationships between the features constituting the type, which in turn give rise to a determinate kind of action within particular societies. The question may be raised, though, whether revolution can be said to possess a structure. That the answer is yes is suggested, for example, by T S. Kuhn’s well-known work in the philosophy, history, and sociology of science, The structure of scientific revolutions. Even if one should hold, as I do, that the conception of revolution properly applies only to political and not to scientific or knowledge-producing communities, Kuhn’s account seems nevertheless to confirm the possibility of envisaging a certain process of change as a structure appropriate to disparate empirical cases.68 With regard to revolution as understood in this book, despite the presence in every instance of the contingent and unforeseen, it is also permissible to speak of structures. Not only can no revolution transcend the character of the society of which it is part, but every revolution is somehow inscribed by the character and limits of its society. There may thus be structures of agrarian or provincial or elite-led kingdomwide revolutions in early modern society that typological investigation could disclose. In an effective typology, the types or structures would not be universal; they would be historical and designed to illuminate the nature, forms, and boundaries of revolutionary action in particular societies with whose fundamental characteristics they would be coordinated. The development of typologies of this sort remains one of the principal desiderata for a better historical and theoretical understanding of revolution.

The enterprise to which the preceding discussion has been a prologue seeks to make some general sense and even to discern a kind of order in the revolutions of early modern Europe. Its scope in space and time is explained in the following chapter. Its main perspective, however, is that of comparative history, of which a modern German practitioner, Otto Hintze, wrote: “You can compare in order to find something general that underlies the things that are compared, and you can compare in order to grasp more clearly the singularity of the thing that is compared, and to distinguish it from others. The sociologist does the former; the historian the latter.”69 This statement is unexceptionable, save for the division of labor it prescribes. I see no reason why the historian should not look for the general as well as the singular in the things compared. If doing so makes him a bit of a sociologist, so much the better.

In undertaking this comparative study of revolution, I have wanted to do justice to both the general and the particular within a certain spatiotemporal context. Revolution is an extremely complex phenomenon that has to be seen in light of the social and political order, economy, culture, and beliefs that shape it. A’s an act of revolt, it is also an elemental human fact, often moving and tragic, in which the capacities and passions of mankind are strongly displayed. It is essential for the comparative historian to keep both these views in mind and to strive to realize them both. In principle, I have endeavored throughout this work to avoid either excessive abstraction or overburdening detail. Although I have often alternated between the large and the small, macrocosm and microcosm, structure and event, my fundamental strategy has been to maintain a balancing middle distance as most appropriate for observing both general features and specific configurations in the interrelations between early modern society and its variety of revolutions.



  1. Cited in A. Gérard. La Révolution française, mythes et interprétations (1789-1790), Paris. 1970, 111.
  2. For a historical account of the idea and terminology of revolution with reference to the literature, see Perez Zagorin, Tbe court and the country, London, 1969, ch. I ; M. Lasky, Utopia and revolution, Chicago, 1976, esp. chs. 5-6 (a work replete with fascinating citations and interesting suggestions); and F. Gilbert, “Revolution,” Dictionary of the history of ideas, ed. P Wiener, 4 v., New York, 1973.
  3. Edmund Burke, Thoughts on French affairs (1791), in Works, rev. ed., 12 v., Boston, 1867, v.4, 318-19.
  4. Michael Gold, Jews without money, New York, 1945. 309.
  5. K. Kautsky, The social revolution, 1902, cited by Wyndham Lewis is, “The art of being ruled,” in Wyndham Lewis, an anthology of his prose , ed. E. W. F. Tomlin. London. 1969. 103. ‘
  6. W. Lewis, The art of being ruled, 1926, in Tomlin, 101-3 See the whole section, “The oppressive respectabiity of ‘revolution.’ ” in Lewis’s long war with intellectual orthodoxies, this was a regular theme (although it sometimes led him into dangerous and perverse opinions, like his flirtation with fascist doctrines). In 1952 he wrote, “A XXth century esprit libre would be a man who had liberated himself from the dead hand of the new” (The writer and the absolute, London, 1952, 153).
  7. Jacques Elul, Autopsy of revolution, New York, 1971. ch. 4.
  8. The quotation comes, I believe, from A. de Tocqueville, Souvenirs, Oeuvres complètes, v. 12, but I regret that I have lost the reference.
  9. P. Bourdieu, “Structuralism and the theory of sociological knowledge,” Social research 35, 4 (1968), 703, 697, 695. See also the theoretical-methodological observations in P. Bourdieu, J.-C. Chamboredon, and J.-C. Passeron, Le Métier de sociologue, 2nd ed., Paris, 1973.
  10. S. Neumann, “The international civil war,” World politics 1, 3 (1949), 333n.; S. P. Huntington, Political order in changing societies, New Haven, 1968, 264.
  11. Arno.Mayer, The dynamics of counter-revolution in Europe 1870-1956, New York, 1971, 2, 22-3, 45. See also the discussion in ch. 3 on counterrevolution as a heuristic concept, in which the resemblance of counterrevolution to revolution is obvious. On the subject of nazism, Raymond Aron has described the arguments among Frenchmen in 1933 in Berlin, where he was then studying, as to whether Hitler’s conquest of power was a revolution. How could such a noble term, some asked, be applied to events in Germany? In reply Aron inquires what more would be needed to qualify as a revolution than to have effected, as national socialism did, changes in ruling class, constitution, and ideology (The opium of the intellectuals, New York, 1962;38). Ernst Nolte (Three faces of fascism, New York, 1966) also demonstrates in an extremely interesting way the homology between fascism and revolutionary Marxism in spite of their radical opposition to one another.
  12. A contrary view is advanced by John Dunn, who declares, “there are necessarily ascriptive as well as descriptive components even in the very identification of a set of events constituting a revolution,” and “Revolution is an actor’s concept, not a purely external, naturalistic identification.” Hence he holds that “the value-free study of revolutions is a logical impossibility for those who live in the real world” (J. Dunn, Modern revolutions, Cambridge, 1972, ix, 226, 2). To this argument the best answer that can be given is that in the requisite sense the value-free study of revolution, although very difficult, is perhaps not altogether impossible and that every effort should be made to conduct the investigation on that basis. At any rate, there is no need for the student to consent to the self-conceptions and representations of the historical agents; for him the ideas of the agents are vital evidence, but they can never be the last word.
  13. See the preceding discussion in the present chapter.
  14. Review of W. G. Beasley, The Meiji restoration, Stanford, 1973, in Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 21, 1973, 1556.
  15. See. T R. Gurr, “The revolution—social change nexus: some old theories and new hypotheses,” Comparative politics 5, 3 (1973).
  16. J. L. Talmon, Political messianism: The romantic phase, London, 1960, 17-18. This work and its predecessor (The origins of totalitarian democracy, London, 1952) are indispensable to the understanding of the modern idea of revolution. See also the interesting remarks and citations in T Schieder, “Das Problem der Revolution im 19. Jahrhundert,” Historiscbe Zeitschrift 170, 2 (1950); and R. Koselleck, “Die neuzeitliche Revolutionsbegriff als geschichtliche Kategorie,” Studium generale 22, 8 (1969).
  17. K. Marx, The class struggles in France 1848-50, in Selected Works, ed. V. Adoratsky, 2 v., New York, n.d. v. 2, 283. In The German ideology, written 1845-6, Marx and Engels characteristically declared that “revolution is the driving force of history” (Eng. trans., New York, 1939, 29).
  18. I take the description of Marx’s world perspective as an “eschatology” from the sympathetic and well-informed study by S. Avineri (The social and political thought of Karl Marx, Cambridge, 1969, 250 ff.). For the same view, see also L. Kolakowski, Main currents of Marxism, 3 v., Oxford, 1978, v. 1, 309-10, ch. 16. This masterly work is now the best treatment of Marxist thought, both historically and philosophically.
  19. See Marx’s well-known statement of the materialist conception of history in the preface to A contribution to the critique of political economy, trans. from and German ed., Chicago, 1904. The first edition appeared in 1859; the second, published by Kautsky, in 1897.
  20. Marx, Selected works, v. 1, 217.
  21. R. Debray, The Chilean revolution: conversations with Allende, New York, 1971, 116, 81. The principal theme of these conversations is whether Chile can achieve a peaceful transition to socialism. Debray’s attitude is noticeably sceptical and appears to have been justified by the subsequent overthrow of Allende’s government in a military coup and the tragic death of the president himself. A curious aspect of the discussion is Debray’s intellectual condescension toward Allende.
  22. J. Woddis, New theories of revolution, New York, 1972. This work is a defence of the revolutionary record of the Communist parties and a critique of the ideas of Frantz Fanon, Regis Debray, and Herbert Marcuse. One of its main arguments is that these theorists either underestimate or have lost faith altogether in the leading role of the working class within the revolutionary process. The debate deals with the strategy and main forces in contemporary and future revolutions, not with the nature of revolution itself.
  23. V. I. Lenin, Letters on tactics, in Collected works, v. 20, The revolution of 1917, New York, 1929, 119.
  24. Mao Tse-tung, “Long live Leninism,” Peking review (April 1960), reprinted in Essential Works of Marxism, ed. A. Mendel, New York, .965, 545.
  25. P. Laslett, The World We Have Lost, 2nd ed., New York, 1971, 159-6o, 167, 171.
  26. See Marx’s letters to Wedemeyer and Engels referring to the importance of the French bourgeois historians in discovering the significance of class. He describes Thierry as the “father of the ‘class struggle’ in French historical writing” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected correspondence, New York, 1942, 56, 71). On the influence of these historians, as well as of Hegel and the Saint-Simonians, in the conception of the contrast between feudal and bourgeois society and the transition from the one to the other, see O. Brunner, “Feudalismus: Ein Beitrag zur Begriffsgeschichte,” in Neue Wege der Verfassungs — and Sozialgeschichte, and 2nd rev. ed., Göttingen, 1968.
  27. K. Marx, The civil war in France, in Selected Works, V. 2. For Lenin’s invocation of the lessons of the Commune, see especially State and revolution, 1917.
  28. See Engels, “Introduction,” written in 1895, to Marx’s The class struggles in France 1848-50, in Selected Works, v. 2, 173-4.

29 See Engels, “Preface” to the 3rd German ed., 1883, of Marx’s The eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Selected works, v. 2, 314.

  1. See Gérard, 80—I.
  2. F. Furet, “Le Catéchisme de la Revolution francaise,” Annales E. S. C., 26, 2 (1971), 259.
  3. See Gérard, 84. Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky’s biographer and a Marxist historian of Trotskyist persuasion, has contended that every step in the history of the Russian revolution must be seen “through the French prism” (cited in Gérard, 84).
  4. A well-known example is Crane Brinton’s comparative study of the English, American, French, and Russian revolutions (The Anatomy of Revolution, New York, 1938). The uniformities Brinton finds among these four revolutions strike me as largely extrapolations from the French case, without which it is most unlikely that he would have arrived at them. He explicitly refers to the French Revolution as “a kind of pattern revolution” (ed. 1957, 3).
  5. See The German ideology, 28., 29.
  6. W. H. Walsh, An introduction to philosophy of history, 3rd ed., London, 1967, 28.
  7. Various definitions of revolutions are available, but there is no need to review them here. Many seem to me to be too exclusive, although I am aware that critics may accuse the one given above of being too broad. I have based it on the conception adopted by Chalmers Johnson (Revolution and the Social System, Stanford, 1964; and Revolutionary Change, Boston, 1966) and on suggestions in a private communication from Ted R. Gurr.
  8. P. Calvert, A Study of Revolution, Oxford, 1970, 4-5.
  9. Violence may sometimes also be an element in reform. This is stressed by A. O. Hirschman, who observes that violence “has in part the function of signalling protest to the central authorities,” and that “an improvement in the signalling mechanism serves to increase pressure as much as an intensification of the problem” (Journeys toward progress, New York, 1965, 334, 335). As a means of reform, however, violence is likely to be quite limited, and its purpose is to secure the cooperation and compliance of elites and to accelerate the adaptive processes of the political system.
  10. Johnson, Revolutionary change, 7.
  11. Ibid., 8.
  12. Cited in Avineri, i38n.
  13. See the contemporary texts in R. B. Dobson (ed.), The peasants’ revolt of 1381, London, 1970, 164-5, 172.
  14. R. Villari, La rivolta antispagnola a Napoli: le origini (1585-1647), 2nd ed., Bari, 1973, 33-58.
  15. In his famous novel, I promessi sposi, A. Manzoni gives a masterly description of a bread riot in Milan in 1629, which is a representation in fictional form of one of the classic types of disturbance at this period. See ch. 5 for a discussion of such outbreaks in relation to early modern revolutions.
  16. See B. Porchnev, Les Soulévements populaires en France de 1623 à 1648, trans. from the Russian, Paris, 1963; the insurrections treated by Porchnev are discussed in chs. 7-8, dealing with agrarian and urban rebellions. .
  17. M. Foisil, La Révolete des Nu-pieds et les révoltes normandes de 1639, Paris, 1970, 138.
  18. Ibid., 141, 142; this revolt is discussed in chapter 9.
  19. See the broad survey by Charles Tilly, “Collective violence in European perspective,” in H. D. Graham and T. R. Gurr (eds.), The history of violence in America, New York, 1969. Among the principal historical studies are those by G. Rudé; see “The pre-industrial crowd,” in Paris and London in the eighteenth century, New York, 1973, for a general statement of some of his findings. He points out here that the food riot was the main type of disturbance in preindustrial society and believes that it occurred more often in villages and market towns than in cities. L. Tilly provides an analysis distinguishing several kinds of food riots in “The food riot as a form of political conflict in France” (Journal of interdisciplinary history 2, (1971]). E. Thompson (“The moral economy of the English crowd,” Past and present 50 [1971]) gives a vivid account stressing, as do other writers, the legitimating moral belief, such as “just price” or “just wage,” that actuated the crowd. Among numerous kinds of riots in early modern Europe besides food and tax riots were xenophobic and iconoclastic riots. The latter, important in relation to such sixteenth-century revolutions as the French civil wars and the Netherlands rebellion, deserves much closer study; for a recent account, see N. Davis, “The rites of violence: Religious riot in sixteenth-century France,” Past and present 59 (1973). Instances of both are discussed in Chapters 9, 10, and 11 in this book.
  20. It should also be noted that at some times and in some situations, as during recent years in the United States, riots may be connected with reform, to which they give an impulsion.
  21. Johnson, Revolutionary change, 135-6.
  22. See M. Mollat and P. Wolff, Ongles bleus, Jacques et Ciompi: les révolutions populaires en Europe aux XIVe et XVe siècles, Paris, 1970; and the review of V. Rutenberg, “Révoltes ou révolution en Europe aux XIVe—XVe siècles,” Annales E. S. C. 27, 3 (1972).
  23. J. H. Elliott, “Revolution and continuity in early modern history,” Past and present 42 (1969).
  24. R. Mousnier, Fureurs paysannes: les paysannes dans les révoltes du XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1968.
  25. A. L. Moote, “The preconditions of revolution in early modern Europe: Did they really exist?” Canadian journal of history 7, 3 (1972), 212, 215. See also R. Forster and J. Greene (eds.), Preconditions of revolution in early modern Europe, Baltimore, 1970, who speak in the introduction to this collection of essays of certain revolts as having the potentiality to become revolutions. It is worth noting that under the influence of Marx and modern historians, African anthropologists have used the contrast, revolution—rebellion, in reference to African tribal conflicts. M. Gluckman, who has studied these conflicts, distinguishes revolution from rebellion on the following basis, namely, that rebellion is concerned with alterations in the personnel of social positions, not with the pattern of these positions themselves, whereas revolution derives from deep contradictions in social structure that must lead to a radical change in the pattern (M. Gluckman, Order and rebellion in tribal Africa, New York, 1963, intro., ch. 3). See also P. C. Lloyd, “Conflict theory and Yoruba kingdoms,” in History and social anthropology, ed. I. M. Lewis, London, 1968.
  26. H. G. Koenigsberger, Estates and revolutions, Ithaca, 1971, ch. 9. The author does, however, distinguish rebels from revolutionaries in that the former aim only at capturing the existing state machinery, not at radical social change, as do the latter.
  27. D. Stevenson, The Scottish revolution 1637-1644, Newton Abbot, 1973, 315-16.
  28. For the history of this terminology, see Zagorin, The court and the country, ch. I; Lasky, Utopia and revolution, chs. 5-6; Gilbert, “Revolution.”
  29. For examples of the French terminology, see Foisil, 136-8; and R. Mousnier, Recherches sur les soulèvements populaires en France de 1485 a 1787: questionnaire (Centre de recherches sur la civilisation de l’Europe moderne), Paris, n.d., 6; for Spain, Diccionario historico de la lingua espanola (Academia española), s.v. “alteracion” and the contemporary writings on the revolt (“sucesos”) of Aragon in 1591, referred to in R. B. Merriman, The rise of the Spanish empire, 4 v., New York, 1918-34, v. 4, 571n., 605; for England, see, e.g., F. Bacon, “Of seditions and troubles,” in Essays (1625).
  30. Ellul, 38. In insisting on the difference between revolution and rebellion, Ellul also reveals his affinity with the antihistoricist humanism of Albert Camus’s The Rebel (New York, 1956). Rebellion, for Camus, beyond the specific historical content it may contain, expresses man’s capacity to pronounce a categorical “no” to oppression and to defy history and its supposed inevitabilities. Ellul in turn can thus contrast the professional modern revolutionary of the Leninist type, who has apotheosized the historical process as the guarantor of his acts, to the rebel, who lacks a futuristic consciousness of the new and represents the principle of rejection and spontaneous resistance. The contrast here in question, although valuable, is more philosophical than historical. The early modern era had its revolutionaries as well as rebels, even if the making of revolution had not yet become a vocation or the mythology of revolution in its historicist form a dominant belief.
  31. For the debate concerning the revolt of the Comuneros, see J. A. Maravall, Las comunidades de Castilla, and ed., Madrid, 970; and J. Perez, La Révolution des “communidades” de Castille, Bordeaux, 1970. Several other early modern revolutions have been the subject of a similar debate over their conservative or modern character. The issue is further discussed in Ch. 8 of this book in connection with the Comuneros.
  32. A. 0. Hirschman, A bias for hope: essays on development and Latin America, New Haven, 1971, 34-6.
  33. See R. K. Merton, Social theory and social structure, Glencoe, 1949, ch. 1, for an influential discussion of manifest and latent functions; and the more recent general account by M. J. Levy, International encyclopedia of the social sciences, v. 6, s.v., “Functional analysis.”
  34. For the notion of category-mistake, the misallocation of something to an inappropriate category, see G. Ryle, The concept of mind, London, 1963, 16 ff.
  35. “The anthropologist, M. Gluckman, has noticed the teleology of rebellion—revolution that is inherent in Marx’s theory of revolution. He declares that, to Marx, “rebellion was a step on the road towards total revolutionary class-consciousness and action, and was seen as part of a cumulative process” (Gluckman, Order and rebellion in tribal Africa, 10). The connection with the mythology of revolution is obvious.
  36. See for some of these differences, P. Zagorin, “Theories of revolution in contemporary historiography,” Political science quarterly 88, 1 (1973), 31.
  37. Brinton, The anatomy of revolution, 21-4.
  38. On the “Jacobin-communist great revolution,” see Johnson, Revolution and the social system, 45.
  39. T. S. Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd rev. ed., Chicago, 1970. The concept of a scientific revolution emerged in the eighteenth century as a borrowing from the political realm, which had in turn first taken the term revolution from science and cosmology; see I. B. Cohen, “The eighteenth century origin of the concept of scientific revolution,” Journal of the history of ideas 37, a (1976). Although the historiographic notion of scientific revolution has long enjoyed canonical status, Kuhn is the first historian of science, I believe, who has taken the idea of revolution seriously enough to try to give it literal application to the community of scientists. Thus, there is a parallel between the central importance he assigns to the paradigm and paradigm conflict in the scientific community and the role of ideology in revolutionary conflicts. The parallel between his account of science and the field of revolution proper is further seen in his discussion of the “incommensurability” of paradigms and in the use of such terms as crisis, commitment, and conversion-experience to describe the episodes of basic advance (“paradigm change”) in the growth of science. Such resemblances help to explain the vehemence of some of Kuhn’s critics among philosophers and historians of science, who decry his view of science as abounding in irrationalist and relativistic consequences; see I. Lakatos and R. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the growth of knowl-edge, Cambridge, 1970.
  40. Cited in The historical essays of Otto Hintze, ed. F. Gilbert, Oxford, 1975, 23.