El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution

By Hugh Byrne | Go to book overview

1
Strategy and Revolution

Rebellions against systems and rulers perceived as unjust have taken place throughout recorded history. In the last two hundred years, particularly since the French Revolution, the phenomenon of social revolution—the rapid and fundamental transformation of socioeconomic and political structures and relations brought on, at least in part, by revolt from below—has become an object of close study and examination by historians and social scientists, as well as by political organizers and actors seeking to achieve or prevent fundamental social change. Attempts to understand the phenomenon of revolution have focused on different variables to explain revolutionary situations and outcomes. Some have focused on the cohesiveness and general health of social and political systems and the types of societies most susceptible to revolutionary change. Others have emphasized the psychological orientations of major participants and the conditions that generate changes in these orientations. Yet others have highlighted a society's social and economic structures, particularly the relationship between major social classes.

This work stresses the importance of human agency—people and the choices they make—in revolutionary processes. It is framed largely within a debate that focuses on socioeconomic and political factors as key variables in explaining revolutionary processes and outcomes. I seek to contribute to an understanding of these processes through the study of revolution and strategies of insurgency and counterinsurgency, using El Salvador's civil war as the example.

The conventional wisdom regarding revolution emphasizes the importance of certain economic conditions and relationships (particularly in the countryside) and/or political conditions and developments (e.g., the weaknesses of regimes, the role of political crises) to explain why revolutionary situations arise and their likelihood of success or failure. What is largely left out of the reckoning is the importance of key choices, or strategies, made by insurgents and incumbent regimes that can be critical to the success or failure of revolutions. Even Marxist revolutionaries who have, in practice, put much time and

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