Debating the Principles that Govern Revolutions – A Review
Sean Ong Zhi Han (Class 3A)
Revolution Revisited: The Structuralist-Voluntarist Debate by Mehran Kamrava
Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 32(2) (Jun., 1999), pp. 317-345
Revolutions have always remained the fascination of many academics. Studied and exploited in a wide variety of forms for an even larger range of reasons, by both dictators, historians and sociologists alike, the framework through which revolutions are analysed and broken down, as well as the principles of revolution, has evolved over the years as a greater number of ‘revolutions’ began to occur, with increasingly divergent characteristics. Much debate has ensued, largely focused on the different types of revolutions, the role of structure versus human agency, how ‘revolutionary success’ can be measured and defined, and whether or not revolutions must solely be studied in context and hence greater comparative and generalising statements cannot be effectively drawn from the study of revolutions.
A 1999 article by Professor Mehran Kamrava posits three different types of revolutions – spontaneous, planned and negotiated. For each, both human agency and structural factors play important roles in initiating revolutionary action. In spontaneous revolutions, structural weakness leads to the state’s decline in power and results in a power vacuum that is filled by revolutionary elites wishing to exploit the situation. By contrast, planned revolutions involve revolutionaries that “deliberately create the circumstance that cause the regime to weaken” . The entire revolutionary process is thus shaped by decisive action on the part of these elite individuals. In the middle lie negotiated revolutions, which occur when neither structural nor human forces are strong enough to “tilt the uneasy and precarious stalemate that has emerged between state and society” . Nevertheless, both state and society are still very much driven their own agenda and situations in the crafting of a negotiation.
Kamrava also defined a revolution as “an event that qualitatively changes the nature and composition of the state, the way it relates to and interfaces with society, and the larger political culture within which various types and levels of interaction between state and society take place” . Hence, the principle of a revolution is change. Whether the change that occurs is for the good or bad of society is unfortunately indeterminate and the outcome rests solely upon the ideologies of the revolutionary elites, and the amount of violence surrounding the upheavals.
 Kamrava, 1999, p. 323
 ibid., p. 325
 ibid., p. 318