Class, State, and Revolution: Substitutes and Realities

  • Teodor Shanin
Part of the Sociology of “Developing Societies” book series (SDS)


The radical upsurge of 1968 and its aftermath were linked to and followed by a renewed debate between the socialists about the nature of revolutions and the tactics of revolutionary struggle. A search for the agencies of revolutionary change and an analysis of its impediments formed the crux of a threefold debate. The prospects of social revolution and the search for the revolutionary class of our time have provided the first focus. Those sneeringly referred to by their adversaries as “Third Worldists” opposed “Proletarianists” —to coin an equally ugly term. A second argument cross-cut the first, concentrating on revolutionary organizations and their relation to the classes or “masses”; the issue of a “vanguard” revolutionary party, of a guerrilla “foco,” etc.2 The third problem, the last to be confronted but not the least in importance, has been that of state and revolution, or more specifically of the nature of the state in societies where revolutions have been contained, of the states which revolutionaries challenge, and of the state within which a revolution becomes institutionalized.


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  1. 1.
    This paper is based on an earlier polemical paper published as “Class and Revolution: The Empirical Peasantry, the Hypothetical Proletariat, and the Evasive Intelligentsia” in the Journal of Contemporary Asia 1, no. 1 (1972). The first, second, and fourth sections follow it closely. Elsewhere considerable changes have been introduced or, in places, a completely new text and analysis offered.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dramatized by Régis Debray, Revolution in the Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Paul M. Sweezy, “The Proletariat in Today’s World,” Tricontinental 9 (1968): 33.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For example, Ernest Mandel, “The Laws of Uneven Development,” New Left Review 59 (1970).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    N. Harris, “The Revolutionary Role of the Peasants,” International Socialism (December/January 1969). See also a reply by Malcolm Cald-well, “The Revolutionary Role of the Peasants,” in the same issue.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    For example, an article by James Petras, “Revolutions and the Working Class,” New Left Review 111 (1978)Google Scholar
  7. J. Ennew, P. Hirst, and K. Tribe, “Peasants as an Economic Category,” Journal of Peasant Studies 4, no. 4(1977).Google Scholar
  8. Teodor Shanin, “Defining Peasants: Conceptualizations and De-Conceptualizatons,” Peasant Studies 14, no. 4 (1980).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: 1973), vol. 1, especially pp. 478–83.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    “Revolution from below” in the sense attached to the phrase in Isaac Duetscher, The Great Contest (London: 1960), i.e., when popular mass intervention plays a major role.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    We shall not go into the debate over definitions of what revolutions are. For a recent summary of a large range of different theories and definitions of revolution, see A.S. Cohen, Theories of Revolution (London: 1975).Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    V. Lenin, “Dual Power,” Collected Works, vol. 24 (Moscow: 1963–1968), p. 38.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    See, for discussion, Ralph Miliband, “Marx and the State,” Socialist Register 1965 (London: Merlin Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  14. The paper anticipated the further development of the concept of relative autonomy by Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes (London: New Left Books, 1973 [first published in 1968]).Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    See Hamza Alavi, “The State in Post-Colonial Societies,” New Left Review 74 (1972).Google Scholar
  16. Also John Saul, State and Revolution in East Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    For an illuminating discussion, see James O’Connor, The Corporations and the State (New York: 1974)Google Scholar
  18. who has also advanced the very useful analysis of the capitalist state, distinguishing its accumulation/legitimation and conflict-regulation, but has little to say about what we have called “state economy” in its “direct sense.” For work along similar lines, see C. Offe, “Political Authority and Class Structure,” in P. Connerton, ed., Critical Sociology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976).Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    The discussion follows an analysis presented in V. P. Danilov, L. V. Danilova, and G. V. Rastyanikov in Agrarnye Struktury Stran Vostoka (Moscow: 1977).Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    For discussion of the idea of “structural imperatives” see the preceding paper by Alavi. For the actual mechanism of economic interdependence, see Peter Evans, Dependent Development: The Alliance of State, Multinationals, and Local Capital in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    Consider C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: 1956) and its possible extension to societies with different social structures.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    See, for discussion, Rod Aya, “Theories of Revolution Reconsidered,” Theory and Society 8, no. 1 (1979).Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    For an exemplary discussion, see S. Ossowski, Class Structure and Class Consciousness (London: 1963).Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow: 1958), p. 166.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    Eric Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1969). A somewhat different approach to the issue of the revolutionary potential of different peasant substrata is taken by Alavi in “Peasants and Revolution,” Socialist Register 1965.Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Teodor Shanin, “Peasantry as a Political Factor,” Sociological Review 14, no. 1 (1966);Google Scholar
  27. reprinted in Teodor Shanin, ed., Peasants and Peasant Societies (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971). The concept of “classness” and the taxonomy of class actions discussed below were introduced there for the first time.Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    For example, the “lumpen-proletariat” as discussed by Bruce Franklin in Monthly Review 21, no. 8 (1970), and Peter Worsley, “Frantz Fanon and the Lumpenproletariant,” Socialist Register 1972.Google Scholar
  29. 26.
    Stalin’s speech on the constitution of the USSR in Problems of Leninism (Moscow: 1945).Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince (New York: 1968), pp. 129, 119–20, and 120–21.Google Scholar
  31. 28.
    C. Wright Mills, “The New Left,” in Power Politics and People (New York: 1963).Google Scholar
  32. I. Berlin, The Listener (May 2, 1968).Google Scholar
  33. For recent discussion of major relevance, see Eric Hobsbawm, “Intellectuals and the Labour Movement,” Marxism Today (July 1979).Google Scholar
  34. For another view see an old yet by no means outdated collection of J. Kautsky, Political Change in Under-developed Countries (New York: 1967), especially the papers by Shils, Benda, Matossian, and Watnick.Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    One cannot improve on the formulation by Marc Bloch: “The knowledge of fragments, studied by turns, each for its own sake, will never produce the knowledge of the whole; it will not even produce that of the fragments themselves. But the work of reintegration can come only after analysis. Better still, it is only the continuation of analysis.…” The Historian’s Craft (Manchester: 1954). p. 155. For a discussion of the epistemology involved see Shanin, “Defining Peasants.” For a different approach or stress, see the paper by Leys which follows.Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    For discussion see V. Lenin, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back-wards,” Collected Works, vol. 7, and Rosa Luxemburg, “The Role of Organization in Revolutionary Activity,” Selected Political Writings (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    M. Waltzer, “A Theory of Revolution,” Marxist Perspectives (1979). The earlier paper referred to is Luxemburg, “The Role of Organization.”Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1982

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  • Teodor Shanin

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