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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


States, Ideologies, and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of Iran, Nicaragua and the Philippines
Misargh Parsa

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000
336pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 37.50; ISBN 0-521-77337-7. Pb.: 13.95; ISBN 0-521-77430-6



This book is a comparative study of the revolutions in Iran, Nicaragua, and Philippines and as such appears to be almost unique . The author seeks to explain why there were differences in the capacity of elites to mobilise sections of the population into revolutionary activity. Drawing critically on the different models of revolution set out in the first chapter, Parsa aims to develop an analysis of revolution that is not rooted exclusively in the Marxist tradition. Parsa rejects the thesis that a high level of working class mobilisaton and an ideological shift against the capitalist class is necessary. Indeed, it is suggested that the failure of the revolutionary activity in Nicaragua and the Philippines in the 1970s was down to the absence of capitalists from the coalition of students and workers.

Parsa makes the claim that where there is a high level of state repression the focus of attacks by students and workers is the state as such rather than simply the capitalist class. In the absence of a repressive state there is evidence that the focus of peoples attentions is on the capitalist class. In Nicaragua the second phase of the revolution involved the imposition of martial law by the Chamorro regime. The result was the redirection of energies towards the regime itself. Consequently the involvement of the capitalist class contributed, according to Parsa, to the success of the revolution. Elsewhere the reversal of this situation, a less repressive state, impeded class coalitions.

Importantly in this work, the key factor which unites all of the examples cited by Parsa is the role of the upper class. Rejecting Theda Skocpol's thesis that the defection of the upper-class from the regime presented opportunities for mobilisation, Parsa argues that such a defection was not the overriding factor in the cases cited. Primacy cannot be given to upper class politics because, argues Parsa, their politics are affected not only by the state but by their relationship with the working classes. The role of the working classes and in particular, their politics, crucially affects the upper class's role in an insurgency.

This book is a key text for those interested in the comparative study of revolutions. As a comparative study it is strong. Solid in theoretical analysis and empirical research the book is ambitious but effectively argued.


Robert Grant



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