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Sociologists explain success of communist revolutions

Posted June 23, 2014
Picture: Butter Week. Picture depicting rural Russia during the timeof Revolution Year: 1919 Author: Boris Kustodiev Source:

Picture: Butter Week. Picture depicting rural Russia during the timeof Revolution. Year: 1919. Author: Boris Kustodiev. Source:

Communist upheavals in Russia and China were enormously important historical events. But why were they successful? Scientists Pavel Osinsky and Jari Eloranta provide a compelling answer to this intriguing question. “The peasantry became the political force whose aggregate choice tipped the power balance in favor of the revolutionary contenders,” the sociologists say.

They claim that communist victories can be understood as the outcome of participation in the international conflicts and deep social and economic divisions in the rural areas.

It is often said that the success of Russian and Chinese revolutionary movements was guaranteed by the successful involvement of a peasantry. “Peasants’ contribution to the revolutions in Russia and later in China became possible under two historical conditions: breakdown of state authorities during the mass mobilization wars and existence of an unresolved agrarian problem in the countryside,” the scholars argue.

On the one hand, participation in wars, which involved large number of citizens had detrimental effects for national economies, created various new divisions within these societies and triggered civil unrest. On the other hand, involvement in these wars militarized peasantry in both countries. “Large revolutionary armies, integrated by the centralized command, military discipline, and political guidance, were able to defeat the counterrevolutionary forces,” the scientists explain. They show that communist revolts failed, when this condition was absent. Finish and Spanish governments were not weakened by transnational wars and had resources to suppress civil resistance.

Another major factor, which fueled the communist rebellions in the first part of the twentieth century, was the allocation of land. “If distribution of land was manifestly inequitable, there would be a strong potential for redistribution of land and peasants’ support for a revolution,” the sociologists think. This was the case in Russia, China and Spain. Otherwise, peasants, who were majority of the population at that time, would not have any incentive to join civil war. For instance, Finnish revolutionaries were not able to attract the rural population because a large proportion of them already was land-owners.

Article: Osinsky, P. and Eloranta, J. (2014), Why Did the Communists Win or Lose? A Comparative Analysis of the Revolutionary Civil Wars in Russia, Finland, Spain, and China. Sociological Forum, 29: 318–341. doi: 10.1111/socf.12086, source link.

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