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Russian History

Yahoo China-encyclopedia


20th Century China and Russia: A century of revolution and reconciliation with the West

By Tom Wheat

What makes a revolution? This is inherently a political contention that involves an amalgamation of processes without clearly defined functional modes of analyzing revolutionary activity, its escalation and ultimately articulation of revolutionary change. According to Goldstone there are three historical theories for revolution, the first involving resistance in response to too much state oppression, the second involves a crisis of state management involving either its ability to respond to civil emergencies, fiscal crisis’s or its collective impotence rendered such by the presence of abundant factionalism in its bureaucratic ranks. The third factor, which posits the structural conditions necessary for revolution to take root, is the growth of radical ideas fueled by technological advancement, and acculturation. Revolutions also require the politicization of different class groups as well. All revolutions stem from sort of societal modernization process that effects or creates either new modes of production effecting market consumption interest or pressures exerted by increased population. Often states respond to late to revolutions rather assisting blindly in them.


Revolutions, are typically elite centered and this requires an elite group of partisans, reformers, (moderates, radicals) and status quo hardliners (pro-regime) or some sort of fractious divide among the elite classes so compelling as to threaten the social order of stability will permit these individuals to mobilize other classes in opposition to the current regime. Essentially all revolutions have required elites, and those that have been attempted without them, i.e., solely peasant populist regimes, have rarely ever been successful.

Revolutions begin when the state is no longer capable of dispensing effectiveness of justice, when in essence the political organs of the state cease to be able to conceal the system of patronage and corruption of government. This causes the alienation of elite support for the current regime, in that a crisis of authority undermines the macro economic rotational structure of the class regime when social mobility is unreasonably excluded. Alienation is typically caused by declines in wages, employment, food access, land, rent, etc., and propels the elite to mobilize the masses to overthrow the regime. The other key important factor is the effect of foreign hegemony in inciting local nationalistic revolutionary aspirations, either by rite of direct imperialist practices of occupation, or through regional economic manipulation which tends to involve the willing acquiescence of counter-revolutionaries and ruling hardliners, polarizing the populace to view the government as an internal graft of an external foe, further capitulating the demise of the pre-revolutionary state.

My thesis is that revolutions are made possible by the degree to which there exists a social ventricle that sustains the intellectual and philosophical elements of a civil society and to the degree to which the state has a legitimate hold on authority is ultimately defined by that polity, as that polity exists to act as the intermediaries of regional authority and the state as a central authority built on the principles of core civil values.


The state itself relies on 4 types of power to reasonably monopolize the process of social accumulation. These 4 methods are 1.) By its ability to regulate use of economic resources and modes of production, 2.) Its ideological affiliation and platform toward progress, 3.) Through the use of military force to quell opposition, and 4.) The fourth form of functioning state power is the necessary reliance on the elite view that the state legitimately exercises political power for the benefit of the collective state. This type of state structure existed in the USSR until 1970 when the Soviet state itself declined in economic power, due to US trade and détente policies and increasing reliance on foreign loans and grain imports to supplement an economy where industrialization was high and spare parts and quality goods were scarce.


Russia’s civil society stepped in to fill the void left by the antiquarian revolutionaries of the early 20th century, the Bolsheviks and paved the way for economic integration with the west. Russia proved to be somewhat more accommodating to liberal change then china and the reason stemmed again from the nature of power relations and the degree in which the same civil society had had the tactical freedom to mobilize along multi-class lines rather than peripherally motivated by individual class and status interests, demonstrates that China’s civil society was in decline or eclipsed by a more conservative revolution of Chinese global market integration, by party leaders, and an opposition force of proletarians and intellectuals and occasional peasants bound to the system of progress by which the party has set the standard for revolution and not the people. Deng’s consumerist socialism wins out over Gorbachevs accommodation, in terms of the maintenance of state power, and the smooth regime changes China has encountered after Mao posit that revolutions from China come usually from above due to the nature of the peasantry, and that Russian leaders had to contend with a much more developed and organized urban civil society then china signaling its success and possibly china’s long-term failure.

Pursuant to the scope of this assignment this paper will analyze the Chinese communist revolution of 1949, and the tianamien 1989 uprising and the East German soviet revolutions of 1989-1991.


The 20th century marked an epochal shift in China’s legacy as one of the enduring traditional dynastic cores of Asia and a civilization endowed with historical continuity of imperial rule from antiquity. That century saw the rise of revolution first beginning in 1911, with the republican Tongmeng hui republican movement, that managed to overthrow the Qing dynasty with the help of the counter revolutionary, Yuan Shikai who later installed himself as emperor. Yuan Shikai’s reign was brief ending with his death in 1915. The imperial troops subsequently revolted and the Nationalist party was installed in power with its top general Chiang Kai Shek as Generalissimo. Mao Tse Tung a middle peasant from Hunan and former librarian at Beijing University was a leading member of the Kuomintang Executive Bureau and one of the key founders of the Chinese Communist party. China’s tradition of nationalist protest centered on the method of remonstrance, centered on the principle of the Confucian bureaucratic duty to state as involving the right of reminding the sovereign of his sage duty to emulate heavenly order according to the various Confucian analects.


opium warsChina's experience with modernity has been a mixed blessing. After the 19th century legacy of rapprochement from the west via, the opium wars, ensuing establishment of western treaty ports, cantons and enforcement of western spheres of influence in china by gunboat diplomacy, and extra-territoriality, dramatically changed the modality that sustained the intellectual process of protest and nationalist remonstrance into outright revolution. The students of china’s 1920’s may 4th movement, sought to radically define nationalism as the process of loyalty to the state based upon its ability to function more so than the divine mandate of the Chinese sovereign. Accordingly they came to view themselves as a great civilization made backward by western imperialism and china’s lack of knowledge in the sciences. Extraterritoriality gave china’s emerging civil society the tactical freedom necessary to mobilize and culminated in the overthrow of the imperial regime.


RenXiongTenMyriads.jpgChina during The 1920’s saw the rise of warlords, due to the earlier methods of militarization of the countryside as a method to quell rural unrest. Gradually Chiang completed his consolidation of provincial chiefs under his authority. This period was also characterized by Nationalist counter insurgencies against Mao’s emerging bands of communist peasant guerrillas. The 1930’s marked the beginning of the Japanese imperialist phase when in 1933 Japan seized Manchuria, and installed the deposed emperor Pu Yi as the puppet ruler of a Japanese protectorate, state newly named, Manchukuo. Further Japanese expansion occurred throughout the southern and coastal portions of china throughout the 1930’s prior to the intervention of the US in WWII.


In 1937 the Japanese sacked and razed the capital city Nanjing provoking international condemnation. The British and FDR respond by imposing a steel embargo cross-cutting vital Japanese steel imports from Manchuria which ultimately led them to decide to bomb Pearl Harbor, as a strategically defensive sucker punch. During 1937 a brief nationalist communist alliance was established, with Mao installed as the commander of the communist 8th route army. American intervention in the war led to the expulsion of the Japanese from China, and the development of a strategic alliance between the US and Chiang’s KMT party. This alliance proved to be costly failure in terms of US diplomatic and foreign assistance objectives being compromised by Nationalist bureaucratic corruption and misappropriation of funds for their own personal aggrandizement. Mao’s communists defeated The Nationalists, in 1949 and established the PRC. The initial communist offensive was made possible by their seizure of Japanese-Manchurian armaments after the war and the subsequent brief Soviet occupation of Manchuria tipped the military edge in favor the communists.


Despite millions of dollars of US aid the nationalists were unable to defeat the communists. The reasons for the fall of the KMT, stemmed from the fact that the Communist's could claim numerical superiority, via mobilization of the rural peasantry, into brigades of cadre led communes, and militias, and in its ability to dispense regionally the maintenance or the appearance of national government in the face of a crisis, corruption and disorder in Chiang’s regime. This was marked by a military elite exodus and disassociation from the KMT regime.

According to Charles Tilly revolutions require a multiplication of polities and power status groups competing for authority, in which a single polity or party assumes a majority and control over the coalitional process. Secondly, revolutions require the commitment of the subject population and when this is not possible due to coalitional breakdown at the elite level haphazarding the state’s institutional role as the resource allocator of public works projects, then the opposing force that fills the vacuum becomes the instrument of the revolution, and becomes viewed as the legitimate dominant contender as an alternative polity to the current regime, by the merging of elite and peasant consensus centered upon nationalist survival. “This analysis veers from Huntington’s especially in denying the significance of a discrepancy between the overall rates of mobilization and institutionalization, in attaching greater importance to conflicts over claims, duties, privileges and conceptions of justice embedded in particular contenders for power and in drawing attention to the important possibility that the crucial contenders will be disaffected members of a polity rather than newcomers to power.’(Goldstone, Revolutions, 50

Mark Seldon argues that the communists were successful due to tactical and logistical superiority in dealing with the Japanese while Chiang’s military command structure divided its authority between extermination of the communists and gradual escalation of resistance to Japanese expansion. Secondly by the communists’ defeat of the KMT saw the end of the foreign treaty ports, a historically ascribed cause for the institutional decay of imperial civilization. For the masses in China It seemed that the communists had history on their side. Furthermore after the victory, in 1949, the PRC legitimized its revolutionary and ideological claim to power by instituting a policy of rural land reforms. Furthermore Seldon argues that China during 1949 was undergoing a period of economic hyperinflation brought on ostensibly by the corruption of the KMT regime. Furthermore it was faced with a population crisis, a process that had first began to develop late in the 18th century and assumed pre-imminent influence in the breakdown of the earlier Qing state, in that the population had come to evolve beyond its current social institutional structures of support. The end result was revolution, which finally culminated after a long tortuous process of 100 years of petty revolts resulting in a communist victory. 

Theda Skocpol argues that in imperial china the landed classes were able to resist the state bureaucrats and their efforts towards modernization. The Qing state was a bureaucratic monarchy that existed outside of colonialism and then later became incorporated and struggled under the experience of colonialism. This struggle between nationalism and national unity has made possible by china’s experience of western rapprochement, and according to Skocpol, “China’s vulnerable international situation has always encouraged centralization and bureaucracy.”(68) This radically redefined the traditional Chinese view of legitimate sovereignty, as involving the authority of the state in redistributing the wealth however it was not a matter of question of whether authority should be centralized or decentralized the alternative was considered to be irrational and evoked memories of china’s feudal warlord past.

The reasons for the Chinese communist success at revolution involved their ability to mobilize the peasantry. Eric Wolf argues that peasant rebellions are defensive attempts to maintain traditional lifestyle from the pressures of population growth, commercialization and growth of market activity and finally the breakdown in local government handling of farm and disaster granaries. In order for peasants to be able to revolt requires that they have tactical freedom, enough autonomy on lands outside of the central authority of the state or local landlord. Generally it is the middle and rich peasants that have enough of a surplus to legitimately possess tactical freedom, i.e., freedom from compulsory labor and also it may include independent peasant communes. However, Wolf argues that in order for a peasant revolt to be successful it requires elite support. So the peasant revolution in china is a stark contrast with Marx’s view of an urban proletarian socialist revolution. 

Wolf further argues that peasants are difficult to organize and this stems from the competitive nature of each peasant’s relations to the factors and forces of production. Peasant economic and political outlooks become acutely aware and sensitive to tyranny of landlords and production schedules in eroding the power for a peasant to own a piece of land. The system is further complicated by a system of extensive kinship lineages in which the wealthy rich peasant landlord can be related to the poorest of poor peasants. Peasant interests then can cross cut class alignments.


Essentially mass population increases along with the ensuing commodification of wage labor (stemming from the monetization of the Chinese economy beginning in the late 18th century British traders flooded the Chinese market with a steady influx of silver, with the ensuing result culminating in inflation and rising food prices. This trend would continue throughout the 19th and 1st half the 20th century) essentially created an international agenda to local market relations thereby disrupting the sanctity of the peasant village universe. Hence the displacement of the rural peasantry and increased population and urban growth rendered whole peasant villages as tributaries and subsidiaries of the market. This loss of traditional autonomy involved the confiscation of traditional peasant rates of surplus by raised rents or by coercive seizure and or increased tax rates. “This is perhaps best seen in Russia, where successive land reforms threatened peasant access to pastures, forests and plowland…equally evident in cases where commercialization threatened peasant access to communal lands (Mexico, Algeria, Vietnam), to unclaimed land, (Mexico, Cuba), to public granaries, (Algeria, china)…commercialization disrupted rural life it also created new and ecological niches in industry…Increased instability in the rural areas was thus accompanied by a still unstable commitment to industrial work”(57) Generally peasants are conservative andtheir rebellions are generally an anachronistic response to industrialization.


China's economic mode of production relied mostly on traditional methods of agriculture and land tenancy, in which the modern industrial sector only accounted for 7% of national income, whereas 19% of national income was derived from rural property owners. Equally important was China’s transportation infrastructure, which lay in shambles after the Japanese attempts at occupation. Ultimately, with the victory of the PRC in 1949 culminated in a Naval blockade of China by the US, a boiling point only resolved after China’s intervention into the Korean War. “The party’s leadership of the peasant based anti Japanese resistance demonstrated the capacity of the peasantry to organize, to mobilize, and to grow in the context of a movement which respected its subsistence needs and which attempted to locate the foundations for change on such common practices as rural mutual aid and the cohesiveness of village structures.”(194) The land reform program of the 1950’s centered on uniting of the party interest with the middle and poor peasants against the wealthy landlords, which often involved the expropriation of the latter’s assets and redistributing the assets locally on the basis of need. The outcomes in themselves where not always ideal and many villagers used the PRC’s land reform program to showcase their own internal feuds between neighbors or local officials. 

China’s leadership came to now increasingly rely on soviet assistance for economic planning and development of industrial infrastructure. Between the periods of 1953-1958 saw the creation of heavy industrial production plants and consolidation of peasant communes into centralized districts of state directed enterprise. The Great Leap Forward however was a disastrous failure of the state’s attempt to turn mobilized labor into industrial capital in that production was heavily geared towards manufacturing when the primary focus had been agriculture, ostensibly resulting in mass starvation and the deaths of 30 million people. “In short, the central promise and central contradiction within societies engaged in the transition to socialism center on the role of the state which can serve at once as a vehicle for advancing and concentrating the interests of the direct producers in a socialist society and as a roadblock for preventing the expression of those interests.”(196) According to Seldon, China would not recover from the effects of the land reform movement until 1978. Despite the modest gains in personal income gained by the peasants during the early years of land reform resulted in an overall decrease in peasant incomes. (198)


However, China continued a steady process of industrialization from 1952-1978 in which industrial output grew by 11.2% whereas agricultural output remained steady at 3.2% rate of growth. Also China’s rates of investment into industrialization, from 24.2% (1953-57) to 39.6% at the height of the great leap forward, 1958, and from 1970-78 it devoted 33% of material output into research and development. (199) Since 1980-2000, China’s economy has grown at a rate of 8-10% annually. After the failure of the Great Leap Forward, China disbanded its soviet economic advisors, in 1960 and the growing Sino-Soviet divide later provided the leveraged basis of America’s détente diplomatic tactics in the 1970’s.

In 1966 Mao launched the Cultural Revolution as a bid to reclaim party power for himself from Liao Saochi and Deng Xiaopeng, the so called, ‘capitalist roaders,’ whom he purged later resuscitating Deng as his heir apparent. Mao encouraged students and workers and peasants to organize as Red Guard Brigades where they would expose intellectuals, bureaucrats, and production managers with supposed rightist tendencies. Seldon argues that the ideology of the Cultural Revolution did manage to radically redefine Chinese expressions towards age and authority, bureacratisim and statisim. “Proponents of uninterrupted revolution and continued class struggle did in fact develop a cutting critique of the dangers of bureacratisim, of statist tendencies to monopolize and abuse power.”(200) The Cultural Revolution ended in chaos and in the deaths of some 60,000 people when the PLA finally stepped in restored local order. Indeed after Mao’s death in 1976 many began to refer to the Cultural Revolution as the age of the cult of Mao. 

Deng Xiaopeng emerged as the new leader of China and embarked on a radical departure from Maoist collectivism, to state directed economic liberalization and development of a private sector. Essentially Deng planned to merge capitalism, with Chinese socialism, a major departure from previous polices of isolation from the west to one of direct economic engagement. In 1980 Deng begun the partial privatization of enterprise, resulting in the rise of the southern and eastern coastal cities as commercially powerful sectors leading china to eventually dominate the global export trade and freight business due to its cheap commodity labor supply. The CCP still had a monopoly on political power that increasingly called into question its own ideological affiliation to socialist cradle to grave policies of maximum full employment, replaced by what the western liberal capitalists designated as economic liberalization, resulting in the CCP’s bid to extend privatization and export led development policies resulting in the laying off of 10’s of millions of workers from formerly state owned factories. These contradictions according to Seldon constituted the volatile ‘combustible material’ that embodied China’s economic transition from state directed market socialism to gradual integration into a global economic market structure. “The Market then appears as a necessary but dangerously volatile instrument in the socialist transition. Its dual nature constitutes one of the many contradictions that socialist countries face in the transition process.”(201)


Many would argue that while china experienced vast economic growth in the 80’s as a result of foreign and state directed private sector investment, the widening disparities between wealth, income, status, rural and urban classes, as well as corruption in the CCP undermined this whole transition process, and culminated in the 1989 tianamien uprising. Revolution comes to china gradually in waves of uprisings culminating from decades of struggle amongst the competing entities of the Chinese cultural universe, the forces of traditionalism, capitalism, and Socialism. Rather revolution represents a transfer of power from one regime to the next, and arguably China searches to employ her past legacy of dynastic continuity as an image of constancy to mold the process of its social evolution and social change and also it is an attractive sell to western multinational capital seeking to do business with a 'stable autocratic regime' such as China has proven itself in its successes in quelling the 1989 uprising, but not necessarily the issues that movement sought to address. 

Whereas China’s 1949 revolution involved a long complex transfer of power from regime to regime the Russian revolution happened rather rapidly and the socialist state soon consolidated its hold over all of Russia quickly. Tsar Nicholas II the last Romanov ruler of Russia governed that nation according to the dictates of royal precedents extending back to Ivan Grozny the first autocratic Muscovite ruler. In the late 19th and early 20th century Russia as a nation under tsarist autocratic rule underwent a process of industrialization, reorganization of peasant land communes, and also the formation of the Duma, the people’s assembly. In each case these measures where direct responses to popular revolts and an attempt by the state to wield greater authority, and eventually resulted in the overthrow of the regime itself.

            The Tsarist government consisted of ministries with the two most powerful ministries, Finance and the Interior vying for control amid the tsar’s own autocratic authority. These Bureaucratic organizations were effectively undercut by the system of autocracy in that rule by authority of personality superseded the authority of an institution. Russia between 1890-1914 initially embarked upon a path of industrialization and agrarian reform because it wanted to compete with the west. The modernizers led by Sergei Witte, the minister of Finance, financed their industrialization programs by increasing the rates of taxation on the peasantry. The Russian Government also subsidized or exempted entrepreneurs from taxes and also encouraged foreign capital investment.

Despite the efforts of Witte, Russia still trailed Italy and Spain in terms of industrial development. However, there was a major increase in the proletarian class, beginning in 1867 after the liberation of the serfs, at 35,000 workers and increasing to 200,000 proletarians by 1913. The Population's Literacy rate doubled in this period as well to 40% of the total population. Despite the rises in industrial wage earners, Russia remained predominately a peasant nation with a total of 1/2 of European Russia organized under peasant communes. On these communes all taxes were paid in kind and land redistributed according to family size and productive capacity. Tim McDaniel argues that the system of collective ownership created a low incentive on the part of the peasants to agriculturally innovate. However, a system of demographic upheavals would result in 1916 with fully one half of the Russian peasants being displaced from communes or otherwise landless vagabonds.

            Tsarist Russia's earlier attempt at agrarian land reform, in 1906 began the process of privatization of peasant communes. Led by the Prime minister Peter Stolypin these reforms did little to quell the growing revolutionary sentiment in the minds of the Russian people. During 1905-1906 Japan fought and won a war with Russia setting the precedent of the first Asian power to defeat a European power in the modern age. Against this backdrop was the growing exploitation of the Russian proletarian worker, and on January 9th 1905, 60000 workers petitioned the tsar for better working conditions. The Tsar refused to the see the workers and instead sent Cossack troops to gun down the insurrectionists. As mentioned before the Stolypin reforms were a failure and the end result was the government's withdrawal of a land reform plan, which in turn led to an increasing development of village solidarity on the communes. McDaniel describes the bureaucratic structure of the Russian government and why the twin towers of the tsar's domestic policy, privatization and modernization indicated that his royal authority and the monocratic bureaucracy associated with it had become outdated. "..The regime staked its success of its modernization program on private initiative, but its authoritarian nature stifled it. In the case of some groups the regime smothered their initiative quite consciously out of fear of overt opposition. For example the tsar had no intention of permitting an independent trade union movement even if its suppression entailed worker disaffection both in the factory and in the society at large."(187) In fact this disaffection would be felt in the urban centers and with the rise of Marxist ideology a unified national class-consciousness began to be established, linking peasants with proletarians. During WWI Russia suffered a number of disastrous defeats until the Americans entered the war. This demonstrated that the modernization reforms had been null, and that the security of apparatus of the state was more bent on repressing the populace then actually protecting it from foreign invasion. In October, 1917 a national revolt was launched in Moscow and St. Petersburg and the tsar was forced to abdicate by members of the Russian Duma of whom the Bolsheviks had sizable majority after defeating the moderate mescheniks.

            Lenin's thesis proposed a rural revolution of the countryside. The agriculture was predominately based on the medieval three-field system. Only in the frontiers and in Siberia could villagers claim mixed success as opposed to the whole of the Russian masses mired in economic stagnation and rising currency devaluation. essentially poverty stemmed from corruption and overpopulation and in Russia's case this had created a declining class of rural elites and overall poverty in the countryside. The new Provisional government composed of moderates, liberals and socialists essentially had no social base of support in the countryside their primary focus being increased industrialization. Bolshevik ideology was willing to accommodate both the proletarian and the peasants endowing them with a politicized view of class consciousness that had never before been articulated as a mass whole by the Russian people and  that  ideology of revolution  defined class struggle and nation building as the transhistorical mission of the Russian people. However, McDaniel argues that the system of autocracy was passed to the soviets, in that the land reform was revolutionary, however, essentially there was a recapitulation of the Tsarist bureaucracy under Lenin and later Stalin's rule. "In Russia, autocratic control of society meant that critical knowledge vital to rational decision making on the part of individuals and social groups was masked. Workers had no real sense of what support for the Bolshevik party implied."(190) Hence socialist revolution created a  Soviet privileged class of the intelligentsia.

            Revolutions against Soviet communism would first occur in the soviet client states of East Germany, Hungary and Poland.  Goodwin argues that the reasons for these revolutions against socialism were due to the closed autonomous economic sphere maintained by the Soviet Union and her client states and republics, and that ensuing fiscal problems in the late 1970's and 1980's were due to commerce being dependent upon foreign capital investment. The polish steel workers strike sounded off the demise of communism, and soviet regional economic state directed planning. However, none of the more so dramatic events occurred when Gorbachev was elected President and he proved to be liberal moderate accommodating the forces of change and revolution again, by passing the torch of soviet collectivism to free market Russian capitalism. Gorbachev's rejection of the Breznev doctrine--direct soviet intervention into rebellious client states to enforce the soviet line, was met by his later acknowledgement that through the years of government party statist control, Russia had an underdeveloped 'civil society.' Essentially an elite exodus had occurred because of breznev's hardline or what Goodwin calls an elite reaction to the decline of an 'overextended imperialist power.'(257) Gorbachev’s reform years, 1985-1989 paved the way for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and spurred on a smoldering national movement to create independent states out of the former soviet republics. In 1991 while Gorbachev was vacationing in the Black Sea the communists attempted a coup, however, they were defeated by Gorbachev’s ally, Boris Yeltsin. Since Yeltsin had effectively control of the soviet army, he assumed the Presidency of a new Russia no longer communist.

The unique feature of the East German revolution of 1989 was that it was rather a peaceful revolution compared to other revolutions of the past.  Goldstone compares the E. German revolutions (Poland Czechoslovakia, and east Germany) with the third world revolutions of (Mexico, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran and Nicaragua). Essentially he views these revolutions as a response to 2nd world totalitarianism, evolving into 3rd world authoritarianism. Goldstone argues that the regime similarities are pronounced in their connections to neopatrimonial, personalist dictatorships and former tactics of colonialist rule were all embodied in the soviet tributary regional state security structure. Also in the post Stalin years there were also a lack of quality consumer goods, and this problem became especially acute in the (1970's-1980's) when innovation came to be increasingly undermined by the politicized nature of state socialist economies. During this period of economic stagnation the Soviet Union also began to borrow heavily from the west and had undergone limited attempts at political and economic liberalization. However, the reforms were undercut or otherwise impeded by state socialist bureaucracies. (259) Furthermore political and economic liberalization threatened the elite power of the enterprise manager, who had essentially made a cult of no work and opportune access to government graft as their carrot and the stake in maintaining the decaying soviet state.

The opposition movements of Eastern Europe involved five features. First it was a multi-class movement, and secondly this movement featured widespread discontent with government. Thirdly this phenomenon erupted into nationalism, with the growing opposition of soviet client states to Moscow’s attempt to exercise centralized control. Fourth these movements all featured radical forms of leadership, and finally they all featured quasi utopianist ideologies. These opposition movements were comprised of peasants, workers, intellectuals, professionals, and disaffected members of the state enterprise boards. Essentially since the state owned everything and was in charge of distribution, the communist party came to be called into question since there were shortages and lack of quality in production.

A similar logic of opposition existed in the third world in response to neocolonialist regime reform measures, and in each case when elite regional power was threatened even if their office was the adoptive measure of reform proved ultimately incapable of reform. The potential loss of authority for the nomenklature like 3rd world neopatrimonial dictatorships made reform an insurmountable barrier to development in that political and economic favoritism, corruption and cronyism were the natural politics of developing nations. Revolutions only came to the third world when colonial empires found the costs of empire to great to bear after long years of counterinsurgency campaigns against opposition native guerilla forces. Goodwin argues that the Soviets themselves ultimately were bankrupted by the attempts to maintain a neocolonialist empire. A series of policies focusing on ‘progressive attrition’ and negotiated revolutions in (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, E. Germany) resulted in a series of mass popular protests that brought about the collapse of authoritarian socialism in E. Europe in 1989-1991.

Accordingly with the thesis of this paper Gold Stone argues that revolutions involve a series of conjunctions involving an amalgamation of trends. Revolutions involve a decline in state effectiveness and fiscal solvency, increased alienation and conflict among elites due to impeded social mobility and an ensuing increase in mass mobilization of the populace by declining living standards and increased urbanization. (262) In the 1970’s this problem was not as acute, Communism was on the rise and indeed it was the West and the US that looked ineffectual after Vietnam. The communist party institutionalized its control over society replacing gulags with cronies of the party.  In terms of the standard of living, the period between 1958-1971 saw soviet infant mortality rates halved from 40.6 to 22.9 deaths per 1000 infants. Indeed after WWII The Soviet Union economy grew at an average rate of 6% a year. However, after 1970 economic development began to stagnate and while the Soviet Union was committed to heavy industry while it could not begin the transition to an emerging 'high tech' economy that had begun to evolve in the west. While the USSR attempted to increase production yet it lacked spare parts and came to be increasingly dependant upon foreign trade in raw materials. USSR economic growth fell to 5.5% between 1971-1975, and then fell to 2.7% between 1976-1980, and then 1.9% from 1981-1985. Soviet manufacturing began to lose its foreign market demand and hence exports declined as well. “Perestrokia simply disrupted production and led to severe shortages of goods.”(264)

While Gorbachev was seen as a liberal reformer his policies almost bankrupted the USSR. The Budget deficit climbed from 15billion to 18 billion, 1980-1985 and rose to 80 billion dollars 1988-1989. The USSR also lost a number of its Middle East regional client states, in which in 1975, Egypt shook off its soviet alliance for an American foreign aid and development leaving only Syria as the USSR’s principle ally in the Middle East. Also in 1979 the Soviets undertook what would be a long disastrous decade long counterinsurgency campaign against Afghanistan mujahadin guerillas. This war further exacerbated soviet deficit fiascoes. Perhaps the single-handed most ideological blow to Leninist soviet communism came during 1986 during the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. The radiation fallout around the Ukraine was 80times the fallout at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet leadership failed to warn the populace about the disaster. Kiev the nearest major city, 75 miles away saw mortality rates climb back to world war levels.  Inherently these factors brought about the alienation of elites  in opposition to the soviet state. During the 1960’s-1980’s there was an explosion of Soviet engineers and scientists however, they were more or less indentured to enterprise managers who disliked innovation when it conflicted with their graft ethic. These intellectuals came to reject the communist party and were later instruemental in securing Yeltsin’s ascent to power.(267)

The Soviet unions last gasp toward mass mobilization came with glasnost and this inevitably brought about the collapse of the communist regime. “While Gorbachev apparently envisaged popular action by soviet citizens, he failed to realize that local organizations would follow preexisting lines of local organizations created by the USSR which emphasized the national identity of the constituent republics.”(269) Inherently the Soviet Union believed class mobilization could overcome nationalism and ethnicity as primary measures of concern; rather they unified all three measures together unknowingly. In 1989 Russia had an urban population of 188 million double what it had been in 1959. This urbanization consolidated tensions and became the focus for popular mobilization. Between 1989-1991, 400,000 coal miners went on strike along with steel workers. The revolution represented the conflicting lines of control, authority and legitimacy in the modalities of Soviet elite authority in a period of increased economic stagnation prompting the state to attempt reforms, perestroika, glasnost, that essentially while intended as reform measures opened up the view that the communist party was no longer fallible.

Book suggests Chinese leaders were split over Tiananmen crackdownMartin King Whyte argues in his essay, “The Social Sources of the Student Demonstrations in China, 1989,” that Deng’s economic reforms, the push for private limited property ownership made inequality in escapable part of life for modern Chinese socialism. Initially a group of Chinese students from prestigious universities and some workers from the major cities met in Beijing at Tiananamien Square to push for greater reform in the CCP, and party accountability to the principles of socialist democracy. However, in 1989 China was in a better economic position then Eastern Europe. Deng’s ‘open’ policy allowed western style goods to flood Chinese markets, and some temples destroyed during the Cultural Revolution were restored. Also there was a revival of Confucianism and an effort to retrieve cultural practices repressed under the Mao years. The roots of popular discontent can be traced to three groups, the ‘not far enoughs,’ ‘the too fars,’ and ‘the satisfied.’ In reality Deng’s reforms had stalled since the mid 80’s and there was a growing surplus of entrepreneurial, and intellectual talent along with skilled labor rendered irrelevant by the newfound prosperity. The Chinese demonstrations of 1989 were a repeat of demonstrations held in 1987, 1981, and 1979.


Essentially the demonstrations in the spring of 1989 involved these aforementioned groups reminding the party leadership of its promise that this form of elite would have a voice in shaping china.  In reality the state was investing little in into its educational institutions and so students had little market demand for their skills, since their individual expertise and talent had to contend with the social norms of career limited opportunities due to cronyism and corruption. “All though the specific ways in which the ‘not far enough’ sentiment was felt by these groups varied, they were united in their anger at the hypocrisy involved in the meritocratic vision of the reforms. A few individuals were benefiting disproportionately even though they had done relatively little to merit such benefits.”(275)

The argument for true reform centered upon the debate between equity versus equality. The ‘not far enoughs’ looked to china’s may 4th revolution for a time when they saw that intellectual opinion was valued.  These marginalized elites attempted to provide a critique of china’s traditional legacy (imperial feudalism) and the modern evolving nature of Chinese bureaucratic socialism. Generally, it was only the progeny of high-ranking communist officials who received first access to new markets and positions of newfound economic autonomous power. The group who comprised the ‘too fars,’ of the majority were predominately industrial workers, low-level bureaucrats, party officials, PLA and the police. For the workers, the loss of job income security was a return to capitalistic exploitation and a sellout of socialism. Equally important was that during 1988-1989, failing Chinese state firms began to be turned over to private contractors, not only did layoffs increase dramatically afterward, enterprise managers began laying off women as well.


Among the low level bureaucrats, party officials, soldiers and police the argument centered on their small fixed salaries and the threat of increased economic engagement with the west as construing a threat to their power. “The ‘too far,’ groups vision of the good society was decidedly not one which party bureaucrats would be replaced at the top of the social pyramid by meritocratic experts…They saw precious little of such benevolence in the policies and pronouncements of the reform era leadership and many feared the elitism and arrogance of China’s intellectuals.” (277) The ‘too fars’ thought that the ‘not far enoughs’ program of westernization was a fatally flawed solution in that greater economic contact with the west inevitably grafted western economic ideas into the traditional Chinese economic landscape once sanctified by socialism. On the flipside the peasants, or ‘the satisfied were content with the reforms. There were increases in rural income despite the imposition of the ‘one child policy’ in 1979, and the peasantry traditionally sanctified bribery. Hence though there was some spillover unrest in the peasant population during the uprising, the lack of a coalitional consensus provided a situation unlike what befell East Berlin roughly at the same time.

Zhao ZiyangThere was also a generational transition in China with the Red Guard coming of age with many beginning to advocate multiparty rule. (280) Zhao Ziyang was a high-ranking bureaucrat who favored increased reforms, and sought to compromise with the protestors on how to deal with corruption and inflation. Hunger Strikes were launched in Mid May as means to step up the moral pressure on the party leadership to accept a legitimate form of intellectual remonstrance cognizant with china’s historical past. To some extent this tactic was successful and slowly it seemed the protesters had begun to galvanize popular support, and with Party Secretary Zhao’s position a party leadership split was created in the upper echelon of the CCP. Many provincial towns and cities would unknowingly host similar demonstrations.  The imminent consequence was the ouster of Zhao Ziyang and the installation of Jiang Zemin, the former mayor of Shanghai, as Party Secretary. He quickly began a program to reduce enrollment in china’s national universities, and saw to it that all expressions of dissent were totally suppressed.  In June 1989, with the order of Première Li peng, PLA military troops were called into the square resulting in the approximate deaths of 1500 Chinese. The 1989 Chinese student democracy movement was effectively repressed.

Daniel Chirot argues in his essay, “The Crisis of Leninism and the decline of the Left,” that there are connections between the revolutions of 1989 to the French revolution of 1789, and the Bolshevik, 1917 revolution along with the Chinese 1949 revolution. He argues that social revolutions constitute large-scale social experiments conducted during the collapse of formerly stable state structure. The collapse stemmed from economic decision-making being subject to political ideology along with artificially fixed prices for goods producing inefficient production. “The aim of curtailing the power of market forces was achieved but an inevitable side effect was that under these conditions it became impossible to measure what firms were profitable and what production processes were more or less efficent..there were no real prices.”(4) 

Chirot argues that there have been five industrial ages to capitalism. The first involved the cotton-textile age dominated by England from 1780-1830. The second age was the rail and Iron Age also dominated by England during the 1840’s-1870’s. The third age was the steel and organic chemistry, electrical mechanization age dominated by Germany and the US during the 1870’s to 1914. The Fourth Age, the automobile and petrochemical age began in 1910- and continued to 1970. The final age of capitalism was the electronic age, 1970-present, dominated by the US, Japan, Korea, and China. Essentially Chirot argues that during the 1970’s the Soviet Union was stuck in the 3rd age of capitalism. “By the 1970’s the USSR had the worlds most advanced late 19th century economy, the worlds largest and best, most inflexible rust belt. It is as if Andrew Carnegie had taken over the entire United States, forced it to become a giant copy of US Steel, and the executives of the same US Steel had continued to run the country into the 1970’s and 1980’s.”(6) Each transition phase between one capitalist age to the next one is marked by economic depressions and political turmoil. After WWI colonial acquisitions precipitated a massive European arms race between Germany and England. WWII was the result of an inconclusive peace reached at Versailles in WWI and the second war was also triggered by global economic depression. The Leninist Stalinist model did work somewhat in Manchuria for the Chinese and in backward areas of Eastern Europe. However, the growing policy of détente, trade with the west and foreign loans led to the raising of prices in Poland and Hungary. The reasons for the CCP’s success in quelling this global revolutionary wave stemmed from the Chinese initially decollectivizing agriculture in 1976, and then promising not to resocialize existing land relations. “This remains of course the advantage of the Chinese communists. They can still entirely rely on a vast reservoir of peasant indifference and respect for authority along as agriculture is not resocialized.”(11)

For the USSR the revolutionary precedent came in 1968 with the Breznev policy of reform through blackmail. “In any case arbitrary, ‘petty tyranny’ becomes the only model of proper authoritative behavior.”(11) Chirot’s essay argues that this may explain Stalin’s purges of the 1930’s and the Chinese sentiment during the Cultural Revolution. These changes and crisis’s in government authority had more of an effect on the urban population because of the politicized nature of their social relations. Timothy Garton Ash argues that Poland’s response was to create alternative social structures during the 1970’ s-1980 due to the growing perception of the erosion of Soviet legitimacy. The Soviets had appeared strong in the mid 1980’s during their Afghan war and subsequent crushing of the Polish solidarity movement. However, the common theory for the Soviet’s fall was that NATO had developed a tactical edge in the automated delivery of conventional missiles and the promise of A Star Wars like missile defense program that if proved real would render soviet first strike capabilities dead in the water.


Furthermore the industrial ineptitude of the Chernobyl disaster further added to the growing malaise of popular discontent. For Poland things changed with the election by the Vatican of a Polish pope that essentially created the solidarity movement. Initial Soviet difficulties at repressing these movements stemmed from the unreliability of local client state armies and an increasing reliance on secret police and soviet military to enforce order in the republics.  Gorbachev fearing the worst arranged for talks with polish workers in November 1988, he also pulled Russian troops out of Afghanistan the following year. Soon Afterwards Hungarian officials opened up their border with Austria creating a massive exodus of eastern Europeans into Western Europe. “East Germany was no China, despite Honecker’s claim that it would be. It had no reserve of ignorant, barely literate peasant boys to bring into the breach; and its economy was far to dependant on the West German connection to risk a break.”(15) November 9th the Berlin wall came down.

There was a growing feeling in Eastern Europe that hegemony under the USSR had created deprivation of the masses in relationship to the west. It was as if the moral basis of communism had vanished and elites began to lose confidence in government. Essentially the urban public was educated enough to read between the lines of elite-intellectual dissent and ineffective government structure. Overall, the swift transition was only made possible by Gorbachev’s willing acquiescence to compromise. Chirot concludes his essay by noting that the Soviet Union was to formalistically dependant on Marxist inspired social science models and its imitation of an outdated mode of industrialization was the essential reasons for the Soviet collapse. However, the most important factor was that eastern Europe had a better mobilized, professional urban class then China and it is essentially this group, the ‘civil society,’ that Chirot argues sets the tone for all revolutions that have come and gone.

In conclusion this essay has sought to explore the contrasts and parallels between the Chinese and Russian revolutions. Dominant features of both revolutions have involved breakdown in legitimate state authority, in response to foreign encroachments, resulting in alienation of the elite from the regime, and their mobilization of the populace through existing village structures to bring about a regime change. Successful revolutions have required a developed civil society and a connection between rural and urban elites and commoners to achieve legitimacy, and this explains the Russian success in 1989 and the Chinese student demonstration’s failure lack of cohesive connection to the peasantry. The Chinese succeeded in their 1949 revolution because the Japanese invasion forced the gradual centralization of power into the CCP’s hands due to the corruption and lack of connection to rural sentiment evinced by the corrupt KMT regime.


The question that remains is whether modern western modes of communication and warfare can prevent the outbreak of further revolution in the second and third world since it has effectively prevented the outbreak of major social transformative revolution in the west since the 1960's? The West has monopolized the revolutionary ideal through conquest and through the maxim of Kipling. This maxim of the West has framed the modalities of modernity, development as economic industrial progress whereupon it now faces globalization a theory that subsumes a rational crest for revolution and diversion of state power into the sphere of market control. The sentiment of national state authority has replaced sovereignty with multinational market managerialisim in the face of a decapitated 'invisible hand' of atomistic competition vanquished before oligopoly.


Jack A. Goldstone, ed., Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Studies,
(Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 2003).
William G. Rosenberg and Marilyn B. Young, Transforming Russia and China: Revolutionary
Struggle in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Eric R. Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
Marifeli Perez-Stable, The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course and Legacy (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993).
Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest,
Berlin and Prague (New York: Random House, 1990).
Robert V. Daniels, The End of the Communist Revolution (London: Routledge, 1990).