Forwarded from Anthony (reply to Ed George)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Apr 23 07:02:02 MDT 2002

In our continuing discussion of 'bourgeois revolutions' Ed wrote (in a
recent reply to Domnhall),

"In one of Anthony's earlier posts he offered us the following definition:
'Revolutions, in the sense that Marx talked  about, involve mobilizations
of masses of people. When they are victorious, they result in the
destruction or transformation of state structures.' This is reminiscent of
a definition that Perry Anderson once came up with: 'Revolution is a term
with a precise meaning: the political overthrow from below of one state
order, and its replacement by another.' [Perry Anderson, 'Modernity and
Revolution', New Left Review 144 (March-April 1984), 112.] I find both of
these definitions a little impressionistic, and, in the sense that it is
necessary to have present 'mobilizations of masses' and/or 'political
overthrow from below' potentially dogmatic. For my part I am going to offer
a definition of a revolution as the replacement of one ruling class by
another: that the former ruling class is overthrown by another (normally
subaltern) one."

I wonder if Ed can offer one concrete historic example of a 'revolution' in
which "the replacement of one ruling class by another" took place without
mass mobilization and without the destruction and/or transformation of the
state apparatus?

Ed's definition is nice, but it doesn't include the possibility of
different types of revolutions - such as 'political' and 'social'
revolutions. His definition doesn't allow for a sharp distinction between
the February revolution in Russia - a political revolution in my view, and
the October Revolution - a social revolution in my view. In Ed's view the
whole process might have been a revolution, since the ruling class changed.
But what about social and political upheavals that change or transform
political institutions, but do not change the ruling class. For example the
American revolution, the recent revolutions in places like Haiti and the
Philippines. By Ed's definition they were not revolutions.

I think the word revolution should not be used to describe long historical
processes - although it is legitimate to talk of a revolutionary epoch, or
a revolutionary decade, etc.

Revolution should be used to mean a convulsive social or political overturn
caused by mobilization of masses of people- in the modern usage. If we
don't use the word this way, we will confuse most of our readers - who
understand it this way - and we will have to invent a new term for these
momentary convulsions that can so profoundly contribute to great historical

On the other hand, the bourgeois historians and ideologists would like
nothing better than to eliminate from our vocabulary any word that stands
for convulsive class struggle that destroys the state apparatus - because
they would like to eliminate that possibility both from human consciousness
and from historic possibility. Of course, they can not succeed at either
...  but then we should not make their job easier.

As far as my definition being impressionistic, I think it is not- I think
it is historically more precise and accurate than the one offered by Ed. My
definition fits all of the Chinese revolutions, and allows us to analyze
the differences - whereas Ed's conflates them all into one process. My
definition allows us to analyze the 1906 Russian revolution - which was
defeated and the Paris Commune, another defeated revolution. Ed's
definition doesn't give us anything to define a defeated revolution by -
except that (I guess) it would include any historic period in which one
ruling class did not replace another.

In other words, Ed's definition might be nice for an abstract academic
discussion of history, but it is useless for the development of
revolutionary politics.

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect
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