The Citizens Handbook
Conditions for a Successful Revolution


James DeFronzo

The factors that can influence the development of revolutionary movements include the extent of inequality and impoverishment within a society's population; degree to which the population is divided along ethnic lines; perception of corruption of governmental officials; level of armament and degree of loyalty of a government's military forces; cultural traditions of violence or nonviolence as means of protesting perceived social injustice; physical size of a country and nature of its terrain, and proximity and level of involvement of other countries that either support or oppose the development and success of a revolutionary movement. But of all possible factors, five stand out as critical and if occurring simultaneously appear to come close to constituting necessary and sufficient conditions for the success of a revolutionary movement; according to the appraisals of leading academic scholars on the phenomenon of revolution. The order of development and relative importance of these elements differ from one revolution to another.

1 Mass frustration resulting in local uprisings
A large proportion of a society's population becomes extremely discontented; which leads to mass-participation protests and rebellions against state authority. In technologically limited agricultural societies; the occurrence of rural (peasant) rebellion or at least rural support for revolution has often been essential.

2 Dissident elites
Elites (groups that have access to wealth or power of various types or are highly educated and possess important technical or managerial skills) pit some elite members against the existing government.

3 Powerful unifying motivations
The existence of powerful motivations for revolution that cut across major classes and unify the majority of a society's population behind the goal of revolution.

4 A severe crisis paralyzing state administrative & coercive powers
A state crisis occurs in the nation experiencing or about to experience the development of a revolutionary movement. The crisis; which maybe caused by a catastrophic defeat in war, a natural disaster; an economic depression; or the withdrawal of critical economic or military support from other nations; or by any combination of these factors, may deplete the state of loyal personnel; legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and other resources. The state then becomes incapable of carrying out its normal functions and cannot cope effectively with an opposition revolutionary movement.

5 A permissive or tolerant world context
The governments of other nations do not intervene effectively to prevent a revolutionary movement from developing and succeeding in a given nation.

Excerpt from Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements, James DeFronzo, Fourth Edition, 2011, Westview Press.

Revolutions Podcast: A great collection of free audio programs describing in detail the events leading up to past revolutions.

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