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Ken Jowitt, Revolutionary Breakthroughs and National Development: The Case of Romania, 1944-1965


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Ken Jowitt, Revolutionary Breakthroughs and National Development: The Case of Romania, 1944-1965

            In the first chapter of his book, after dealing with a theoretical approach to nation-building strategies, Kenneth Jowitt creates a pertinent comparative analysis of the profiles of different nations during their revolutionary breakthroughs, either at the beginning or at the middle of the 20th century. He then tries to identify the conditions for a successful breakthrough and aims to convince his readers that a reformist approach to change is not desirable.

            As mentioned above, in the first part, the author shapes the theoretical framework for his future comparative analysis. According to Jowitt, nation-building consists of breaking through and political integration, where the first one means the decisive alteration of values, structures and behaviors that the revolutionary elite perceive as obstacles. There are two strategies of breaking through: revolutionary and reformist. The author clearly disapproves the latter, while he is an adept of the revolutionary breakthrough, making use of power and coercion. The reformist strategy is also called the “reconciliation system”.

            According to the author, political parties play a vital role in a system undergoing change, the type of these units differing according to the type of strategy that is or is to be adopted. Therefore, the exponent of a reformist nation-building is the “party of representation”, while the revolutionaries make use of the political party as “organizational weapon”.

            “Commitment” is another key notion in Jowitt’s analysis, explaining a situation in which an elite finds that its involvement in social organization had constrained its future activity. Therefore, a revolutionary elite is close to a decisive breakthrough only if the number of commitments it made is significantly low. In Jowitt’s opinion, reformist elites find themselves in a network of commitments, making it impossible for them to achieve the flexibility the revolutionary elites had achieved. Once again, we can notice the author’s approval for the use of violence and coercion, as a means to undergo change.

            Before, starting his analysis, the author explains the main concepts and indicators he will use. He groups the factors in three headings:

            Organizational factors:

Ø      Ideologies, which can be:

·         Consensual- demand shared perspectives and the abolition of differences

·         Cooperative- tolerant of differences

Ø      Leadership, which can be exercised by:

·         Middle class elements

·         Déclassé elements

·         Professionally organized revolutionaries

·         Military leaders

Ø      Party structure, which involves the composition of the personnel, the competence of the organization, the nature of commitments

Situational factors:

Ø      Social disorganization and disintegration, referring to the viability of institutions such as family, market and the military. Some indicators of a high level of disorganization/disintegration are: high divorce rates, children slavery, high use of the black market, desertion and mutiny in the military sector

Ø      Resource level refers to the existence of educated cadres of all sorts

Ø      The modes of coming to power are usually coup d’etat or militarized mass insurrections

Ø      The level of development refers to the extent and character of industrialization

The historical factor refers to the level of domestic and international autonomy a political system had enjoyed until the breakthrough

Next, the author makes an analysis of the cases of the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Turkey, Cuba, Ghana and Egypt, looking for the indicators mentioned above and trying to draw some conclusions related to the conditions for the achievement of a “decisive breakthrough”. Among these nations, Jowitt finds the Soviet Union and India as polar types, as well as China and Ghana, being defined by opposite indicators. The greatest similarity can be found between China and Yugoslavia. (see the tables below)

The Soviet Union


Organizational factors


-consensual ideology→ oriented towards the achievement of a decisive breakthrough

-in 1928, a second revolution started, breaking the earlier commitments by the use of violence

-radical ideology

-the goal of “transforming man”→ the Bolsheviks were faced with the post-revolutionary “recalcitrant reality”- the resistance of the peasants

-the goals and the constituency of the Soviet regime were compatible with a policy of rapid industrialization and control of the peasants

-Marxism-Leninism: the sense of urgency

-cooperative ideology→ reformism, assimilation, bargaining

-the commitments made during the forging of a comparative nationalist movement still persist

-policy of shifting alliances

-far from being radical

-nationalist regimes usually have more limited goals

-nationalist ideology does not circumscribe a specific social class

-they did not feel that immediate industrialization is highly necessary

-change is generally perceived in less urgent terms


-professional revolutionaries

-socialist intellectuals


-journalists, politicians, lawyers

-peasant base newly awakened by Gandhi

Party structure

-“organizational weapon”-emerged from the civil war, with “deployable agents”

-radical party structure

-the Congress Party: a coalition organization representing different social and ideological bases

Situational factors

Extent of social disorganization or disintegration

-totally disintegrated environment

-post-wars (civil, international) political and social chaos

-industry and agriculture: ruined


-disorganization rather than disintegration

-the lack of disintegration facilitated a reformist/participative strategy

Resource level

-technical and bureaucratic cadres formed prior to the World War

-high resource level, for an underdeveloped nation→ significant number of Western-educated Indians

-there was an Indian press, building up the national cause

Mode of coming to power

-coup d’etat plus a successful internal war

-mobilization against the British

Level of development

-very low industrial production

-low level of development

-the costs resulted from the avoidance of a revolution are experienced through the ineffectiveness of economic policies

Historical factor

The degree of domestic and international autonomy


-prior to 1947, for approx. a century, India was a British colony




Organizational factors


-a model of clarity

-a clear set of principles designed by Mao during the period of struggle so that it can be applied immediately

-coherent and transnational in character, permitting a greater degree of violence

-consensus ideology

-nationalist ideology, combining elements from Marxism, Leninism and Christianity

-diffuse pragmatic nature

-Nkrumah’s ideology lacked in coherence

-revolutionary in intention and reformist in action


-Party-led Revolutionary army

-professional revolutionaries, formed in a 4-year war against foreign invaders and domestic opponents

-the leadership of the Convention People’s Party was formed of déclassé nationalists

Party structure

-the Chinese Party: military aspect

-the role of “organizational weapon”

-party-led guerilla army

-well-articulated “organizational weapon”

-very heterogeneous

-far from being an “organizational weapon”

Situational factors

Extent of social disorganization or disintegration

-very high level of disintegration, mostly in rural areas

-disintegration of the traditional economic system

-loss of value for Confucianism

-political, economic and social disintegration after the invasion by the Germans in 1941

-little disorganization or disintegration existed when Ghana asked for independence, as it was a British colony

Resource level

-mixed resource level: greater supply of party cadres than technical cadres

-educated personnel, oriented in radical and revolutionary directions

-much better than in the rest of Western African countries

-however, the personnel was inadequately trained

Mode of coming to power

-intense revolutionary struggle, followed by a period of isolation, before coming to power

-during this period, Mao built a homogenous leading staff

-attempted to make a decisive break through- somehow failed due to the modes of behavior that were internalized in the population

-the Partisans assumed power with a set of tested programs and organizations designed to bring order out of chaos

-“accepted revolution”- amicable relationship between Nkrumah and the British officials

Level of development

-very low level of development

-underdeveloped economy, predominantly agrarian, exporting food products and raw materials and importing machinery and finished goods

-limited to the production of cocoa

-no major structural change had occurred in economy

Historical factor

The degree of domestic and international autonomy

-semicolony for the control of which “many imperialistic powers were contending” (Mao)

-neocolonial context

-lack of domestic political coherence

-the gap between the formal claim to sovereignty and the actual limitations to sovereignty which was held by Germany and Italy

-British colony





Organizational factors


-“root-and-branch” ideology

-not aiming to reform, but to redefine

-Castro wanted to directly change the political community

-adopted Leninism only to secure Soviet aid and protection

-aiming at a decisive breakthrough

-nationalist ideology

-aiming to defeat corruption and nepotism, the monarchy and the power of the landlords

-consensual breakthrough ideology

-initially diffuse ideology

-then, they adhered to the doctrine of Arab Socialism

-focused on national independence

-“differentiated cooperation”: compromise only on certain issues

-shifting alliances and diminishing alliances

-no systematic social and economic program

-mixed ideology

-revolutionary and consensual in matters of national autonomy

-reformist and cooperative in social, economic and domestic political issues



-déclassé revolutionaries

-minimized commitments, by using violence and manipulating alliances

-military leadership

-heterogeneous leadership

-still, the military leadership and Ataturk dominated

-mixed: military men, bureaucrats, landowners, middle class elements


Party structure

-lack of an organizational weapon→ considerable efforts to create one

-officers of humble social origin, called the “Free Officers”

-manageable plurality within the unique party

-created a “party of representation”, before achieving the decisive breakthrough

-within the Partido Revolucionario Institucional- conflicts between the revolutionary and the reformist branches

-pluralistic structure

- created a “party of representation”, before achieving the decisive breakthrough


Situational factors

Extent of social disorganization or disintegration

-disorganized social system, but not disintegrated

-disintegrated, close to bankruptcy

-significant disintegration after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War

-the country was disorganized and almost bankrupt, after 13 years of continuous warfare

-social disintegration


Resource level

-advanced in comparison with the rest of Latin America

-low resource level: the elite was educated in foreign schools, without having any sympathy for their fellow countrymen

-developed resource level

-political cadres, defense of rights movements, bureaucratic personnel

-very low resource level


Mode of coming to power

-revolutionary means, more intense in urban areas

-revolutionary, comprehensive nationalist-military movement

-the Revolution of 1910


Level of development

-advanced in comparison with the rest of Latin America

-very small range of industries

-low level of development

-the only meaningful achievement: the construction of railroads

-widespread destruction of capital equipment

-low industrialization


Historical factor

The degree of domestic and international autonomy

-neocolonial context

-political life was always shaped with reference to the United States


-even though the Ottoman Empire was independent, it was constrained by the great powers of Europe in both domestic and international spheres

-continual fighting with Spain, France and the US for national sovereignty


During the comparative analysis of the sample profiles, Jowitt introduces the concept of neocolonialism, as a factor that plays a major role in the shaping of the revolutionary or reformist ideologies, demanding decisive break-through. There are three aspects that characterize the neocolonial context. Firstly, a threat can be sensed as coming from a powerful nation-state to a less powerful state. Moreover, the control exercised by the more powerful nation-state is diffuse. The third aspect is latitude, which refers to the area within which the “dependent” country can act independently. Finally, in a neocolonial context, one can easily notice the tendency of the dominated country to adopt the cultural and social norms of the more powerful nation. This is usually an indicator of a weak political community in the dominated country. Jowitt argues that in a neocolonial context, the ideologies will tend to be more virulent, heading towards the comprehensiveness of the nature of the threat coming from the dominant country.

Jowitt separates his conclusions in two sets, the first one bringing once again to our attention the conditions for a “decisive breakthrough” and the other dealing with the negative effects of different types of nation-building. The author identifies four main conditions for a “decisive breakthrough”:

Ø      The Chinese model taught us that a period of struggle and formative isolation can be indispensable for the emergence of a renewed political organization, serving as a period of high indoctrination of the cadres

Ø      An ideology with transnational goals, even “mystique” (see Marxism- the commitment to the dialectical laws of history) is more likely to achieve a “decisive breakthrough”

Ø      The chances for a “decisive breakthrough” to be achieved significantly increase in disintegrated and disorganized environments

Ø      Reformist elites can usually achieve at most a “partial breakthrough”

From the possible negative consequences of nation-building strategies, especially reformist, Jowitt enumerates three of them:

Ø      A reformist approach to nation-building can lead to the reduction of the overall level of power within the system

Ø      Reform-oriented elites control a limited share of resources of all sorts, because of their restricted autonomy over social forces

Ø      The reformist nation-building process usually leads to a low level of political, economic and administrative integration.

In these first pages of Jowitt’s book, it can be easily noticed that the author is an adept of the use of violence as an engine for political and administrative change. He does not sympathize with the “peaceful”, reconciliation methods that had been used by some political actors, during time, when attempting to redefine or reconstruct the existing political backgrounds. Moreover, he seems to consider that such a reformist strategy is a waste of power resources and not only. Indeed, history shows us that violence and coercion are the only ways in which a system can be totally restructured; if these methods are not used, one may either fail to achieve the goal or get only partial results.

Politica de confidentialitate



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