5

REVOLUTION IN THE REAL WORLD

Bringing agency back in

Eric Selbin

In 1958, at a critical juncture in the struggle of the Cuban revolutionaries for political power, Fidel Castro made a consequential decision. In one of the most important military and psychological campaigns of the revolution, Castro paired his most charismatic lieutenants and sent Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos out to replicate the famous "incendiary" march of the Cuban War of Independence when national heroes Antonio Maceo and General Máximo Gómez lit up the sugar cane fields. This exploit was hugely successful, consciously evoking the link with Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain and capturing the popular imagination. Moreover, the ability of Guevara and Cienfuegos to rally the population to the revolutionary cause, along with their military skill, became important elements in Cuban revolutionary mythology as well as a component in the enshrinement of both Guevara and Cienfuegos as national heroes.

Symbolic politics, collective memory, and the social context of politics-all profoundly voluntaristic constructions-are central to understanding and exploring revolutionary processes. What I want to propose here is that ideas and actors, not structures and some broad sweep of history, are the primary forces in revolutionary processes. Revolutions are human creations-with all the messiness inherent in such a claim-rather than inevitable natural processes. The focus, therefore, needs to be on people, not structures; choices, not determinism; and the transformation of society, not simply transitions.

With apologies to Thomas Jefferson, it would appear that the tree of theory must be refreshed from time to time with at least the words of those committed to agency and structure. 1 While the patriots and tyrants may not be clear in this context, the saliency of Margaret Archer's claim is: "the problem of structure and agency has rightly come to be seen as the basic issue in modern social theory." 2 Certainly recent discussions and debates among scholars of revolution suggest that the issue remains alive and well.

Forrest Colburn and I have called for the return of people and their ideas to a place of prominence in understanding and exploring revolutionary

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Theorizing Revolutions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Agknowledgements x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - State-Centered Approaches to Social Revolutions 11
  • 2 - Structural Theories of Revolution 38
  • 3 - Agents of Revolution 73
  • 4 - Population Growth and Revolutionary Crises 102
  • 5 - Revolution in the Real World 123
  • 6 - Gender and Revolutions 137
  • 7 - Race and the Process of the American Revolutions 168
  • 8 - Discourses and Social Forces 203
  • 9 - The Comparative-Historical Sociology of Third World Social Revolutions 227
  • Bibliography 268
  • Index 289
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