Review of the social revolution: the “mafia” hypothesis

By • Jan 31st, 2012 • Category: Azterketak eta Azalpenak

In this brief essay, I will refer to the state as a ‘mafia,’ as actors who monopolize fear and violence and who distribute public goods and services in a given territory. The mafia will never be able to appease everyone. However, if the upper or middle classes are negatively affected, then a revolution begins and the classes seek allies within and outside the state. The argument of this paper is as follows: different ‘mafias’ are under construction and deconstruction. The alliance and effective articulation of a mafia against the other mafia makes possible episodes of contention. The loss of legitimacy and the structure of political opportunities open make possible a social revolution. The violence is a result. The transition from the old mafia to the new one ruling party is a phenomenon called social revolution. For all of that knowledge (information) has to be present, at least in the initiation of a revolution.

Clarification against the Immutable Theories

The crisis of the domination system is a broad public participation, the replacement of the authorities, the ability to exercise power, and the construction of a new order are basically the outcomes of political revolutions processes but do not explain the question of why happens revolution. According to Skocpol “Marx understood revolutions not as isolated episodes of violence or conflict by as class-based movements growing out of objective structural contradictions within historically developing and inherently conflict-ridden societies” (Skocpol, 1979:7). The central issue is who rules and why or what is produced, how and for whose is the benefit. In this case, if the actions are successful the result is the destruction of social order and the beginning of the new one and these are what the researchers called revolutions.

a. Crisis of the domination system

Revolutions occur when the dominant sectors are struggling to continue to exercise their power. This may be the result of struggles within the company and / or a defeat in armed conflicts with foreign states.

b. Broad public participation

This participation is to be led by some individuals with leadership and organization of the revolutionary groups. Every revolution has a small group of leaders driving and organized actions against the old order.

c. Replacement of the authorities.

The actions culminated in the dismissal of the authorities of the old order and its replacement by others, from the revolutionary groups.

d. Ability to exercise power.

Once they are replaced with the authorities questioned, the revolutionaries have the resources to impose a final decision on forces that oppose them.

e. Construction of a new order.

The triumphant revolutionaries undertake the transformation of the central aspects of society and by profound economic, political and social, began the construction of a new social order.

The results without cause and without further explanations don’t explain much why and how revolutions happen.

As we mentioned above (a,b,c,d,e) are the outcomes of political revolutions processes but do not explain the question of why happens revolution.

According to Skocpol three principles of analysis has be taken in an account:

1. An adequate understanding of social revolutions requires that the analyst take a nonvoluntarist, structural perspective on their causes and processes.

2. Social revolutions cannot be explained without systemic references to international structures and world-historical developments.

3. In order to explain the causes and outcomes of social revolutions it is essential to conceive of states as administrative and coercive organizations – organizations that are potentially autonomous from (though of course conditioned by _ socioeconomic interests and structures. (Skocpol, 1979:14)

Political Order and Legitimating: Losing the Monopoly

Social science researchers use the term crisis to describe the processes, which depend existing tensions or conflicts in the social order. In times of crisis, the dominant groups often carry out reforms in order to maintain or preserve social order. For its part, the affected social groups or sectors may attempt actions to change the situation. According to Skocpol, Charles Tilly argues that no matter how discontented an aggregate of people may become, they cannot engage in political action (including violence) unless they are part of at least minimally organized groups with access to some resources (Skocpol, 1979:10). As multiple groups unite against the mafia, they look to available resources in order to aid their mission. When the changes introduced by subordinate groups manage to impose themselves and become the substance of the social order, the crisis is resolved in a revolutionary way.

Competences and War between Different “Mafias”

The paradox of revolution is that the revolutionary movement plays a different order is still in the parameters of the modern state. Movement that is up in arms and political violence occurs when competing for the monopoly of violence, using the same logic of the old order in the following sense: Change the rulers, change the political order, change the relationship of classes but not changed control functions and provides services to a given territory an X population. One of the main outcomes of revolution is the destruction of the existing order and the beginning of the construction of a new one.

“Mafia” as Patriomonialism of Politics and Re-Conception of the State

Mafia is a worldwide used term to refer to a special kind of organized crime, spread from its origins in southern Italy to any organized crime group with similar characteristics regardless of origin or place of action. Born in Sicily, where was called Cosa Nostra or Mafia, and originally dedicated to the protection and independent exercise of the law (vigilante justice) and later, to organized crime.

The modern state has got some similarities to the mafia organization. It has got monopoly of the fear, the monopoly of violence, monopoly of the wealthy distribution all of this concentrated in a given territory. The states give protection and rights to their citizen in his territory. Similar features are found in the concept of Weber’s patrimonial politics and functioning of the family within the Mafia.

Taking in account the Tilly’s perspective of European state building, in the sense of war is the fact that makes development to happen. Competences and war between different “mafias” had been a basic premise to development. Modernization processes as Huntington states has make possible that political violence happen.

The question that follows this whether or not the state plays an important role as and autonomous entity or variable of political dependent order, change in the class cleavage and its relations and change in the direction on Political Legitimacy on the old order. According to Skocpol “ Gurr argues that political violence occurs when many people in society become angry, especially if existing cultural and practical conditions provide encouragement for aggression against political targets. And people become angry when there occurs a gap between the valued things and the opportunities they feel entitled to and the things and opportunities they actually get – condition known as “relative deprivation” (Skocpol, 1979 :9).

Revolutionary Social movements & nationalism

In most of the time it has tended to analyze the events of the war policy in terms of cost benefit from the perspective of rational choice and exactly the prisoner’s dilemma has been one of the most acclaimed in academic circles. Varshney distinguishes between two types of Nationalism (Varshney, 2003:86):

-Nationalism of exclusion, a dominant group within a society seeks to impose its values or to exclude other groups from the portals of power.

-Nationalism of resistance, a dominated group opposes such a move and seeks to preserve its identity.

However to explain the nationalism of resistance, rational analyzes are not the best paradigm for understanding what scholars call the ethnic movements. Recognition as a movement and notions of social justice has their explanations untapped capacity to the fullest. For example as Vasherney (Varshney, 2003:85)argues that a focus on dignity, self-respect, and recognition, rather than a straightforward notion of self-interest, is a better prism for understanding ethnic and nationalist behavior, although self-interest is not entirely absent as a motivation in ethnic conflict. Revolutions are a particular form of social movement, by which some subordinate sectors seek to destroy the central aspects of the existing order, which they consider unjust, to build a new one. Since the beginning of the situations of social demands emerge from the sociological and psychological perspectives of the notions of recognition by the state, these nationalist movements and positions presented concerning social justice are now the primary basis for a movement to emerge from the working class.

“Knowledge& information” as a the independent variable

The picture of revolution is complicated by theoretical notions of interdependence existence within a state and because of the relationships that each state with other states and the transnational system. So the big interest groups are instigators of social revolutions when they get enough legitimacy to compete with the state. The political leaderships involved in revolutions must be regarded as actors struggling to assert and make good their claims to state sovereignty (Skocpol, 1979: 164). Two sets of considerations help to account for the fact that political leaderships in all of our social revolutions came specifically from the ranks of educated marginal elites oriented to state employments and activities (Skocpol, 1979:167)

Scholars such as Skocpol or Huntignton (Huntington, 2006:303) and stressed the need for an initiation of revolution intellectual elite largely prepared for universities. From here we can draw the conclusion that access to knowledge and information to find the essential element of a population determined context. It is not easy by any means the articulation revolutionary movements.

The structure of political opportunity

One of the major concepts that come into play here is the structure of political opportunity. This is related with revolutionary movement (in the time of irruption) and the level of repression of the political order.
The political order as a tool of analysis is correct when the state and the individual relationship becomes war. Normally social revolutions have claims that are entitled to various elites and usually tend to have allies in power to get first hand information of the state.

The repression is an important variable as the closure of the system to collective and individual rights are concerned. However “Some goals-national liberation, racial equality, ethnic self-respect-may be deemed so precious that high costs, quite common in movements of resistance, are not sufficient to deter dogged pursuit of such objectives.” (Varshney, 2003:95)

Inhibitors to prevent revolutions

One of the hypotheses that can be done in the recent revolutions is that they open the door to Western democracy but at the same time close the door to future revolutions still have not met any social revolution in Western countries. The form of divide et impera Nicole Machiavelli with the additional with panem et circenses in the form of large shopping centers, where social ties are fed with buying and selling is difficult to foresee any social revolution while university also increasingly in the hands private and market interest.

The only plausible social revolutions that probably emerge is the stateless nations. Here the articulation of cooperation between different classes is still possible. The door of history remains open despite professor Fukuyama says the opposite. The best answer to Fukuyama would the Wendell Phillips: “Revolutions are not made; they come.” Particular vision of the nation-state: highly organized, centralized, stratified, and controlled (penetrated) by large institutions (both public and private), is not the end of history. China is showing that the western political order “Formula” can be improved.

• The principle Divide et impera: as a the stability element. Atomized society and maintained divided hard-won cooperate when the differences between different strategies are more significant than the joint strategies.

• Elite rotation or circulation. The refreshing system by spreading the opportunities for change by voting systems provides an opportunity for different elites to articulate their own interests. The spread equal opportunity to compete for power in a given system is the basis for maintaining a stable political order. For example, China is ready to make the rotation of elites controlled. The United States two-party system that gives stability to the state is other formula to make possible the rotation of elites to prevent revolutions.

• Universal rights and freedoms. The battle of universal rights and freedoms is not a particular battle is a struggle along the history between the equivalence and the battle of differences. The battle of competition or cooperation, the battle for private right and collective rights, the battle between horizontality and verticality, the struggle between particularities and universalities. Competition and cooperation between different organizations explains better the dynamic of revolutions than the classic analyzes of revolutionary results and outcomes do.

• Elite’s reproduction (university) control system. Taking good care of the elites and giving them power to contribute to the system. It is one of the most important tasks of the state. It is essential (with the help of the market) to direct the reproduction of elites within the state. Preserve the meritocracy system make possible to control the intelligentsia by the state.
• Maintaining highly specialized bureaucracy. The system provides vertical values meritocracy, hierarchy and domination, specialization of the bureaucratic elite. This organizational model makes its functions with each particular application but not the collective demands of universal values as a function is not to meet the particular demands action lawsuits but with highly individual responses.

Paradoxical role of inhibitors: they could play a revolutionary game

Mentioned inhibitors may play a catalytic role if the political order is unable to properly control each variable. Dynamic reality is more like a video than a static picture.

In summary it is important to make some assessments. The maintaining and dismantling the political order is a priority for stability or a political revolution. The second would be that this system is not static and isolated, but the context and intra-national issues must be taken into account to analyze the dynamics revolutions. The third would be the catalysts and inhibitors of the political system make revolutions occur or fail them. Mechanisms such as divide et impera, the bureaucratization of the state apparatus, intelligentsia control, and the general citizenry is indispensable for maintaining a stable order. As an interesting conclusion is the appreciation that makes Theda Skockol when she said that the historical and structural comparison is a theoretical base to help better understand the speed if you make a good use of them.


In this work have been away from the superficial generalizations about social revolutions, the objective has been to determine why they occur. It has been argued that social revolutions are three at the same time, structural, psychological and political. And above all, cooperation or collaboration, the common interests of different social classes may lead to a revolution, taking into account the resources they have. Resources may be the leadership, intelligentsia, alliances with the rulers, military power and political expediency. But the central argument of this study was to identify the key variables, which are information and knowledge. Without these requirements there are possibilities to revolution. It would be interesting to focus the analysis on the revolutions of the past and focus on the elite and their educational characteristics. Education and knowledge are a key variable for success of a particular revolution.


Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. “Explaining Interethnic Cooperation.” The American Political Science Review 90, no. 4 (1996): 715 – 735.
Horowitz, Donald L. Ethnic groups in conflict. University of California Press, 1985.
Huntington, Samuel P. Political order in changing societies. Yale University Press, 2006.
Skocpol, Theda. States and social revolutions: a comparative analysis of France, Russia, and … Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Varshney, Ashutosh. “Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Rationality.” Perspectives on Politics 1, no. 1 (2003): 85 – 99.

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