'The Impact of Revolutionary Actors in Civil Wars: The Marxist Paradox'

This is a past event
12:30 pm
Seminar Series:
Nuffield College Political Science Seminars
Stathis Kalyvas

Research on civil wars has neglected a key dimension of political identity, revolution, choosing to focus primarily on the distinction between ethnic and non-ethnic actors and wars. We correct this error by examining the impact of revolutionary socialist (RS) or Marxist-inspired rebels. In doing so we connect current research on civil wars with an older research stream that focused on revolution, replacing its focus on structure and process with an emphasis on agency. We find that despite ideological and contextual differences, revolutionary socialist rebels emerge as a coherent, “high capacity” actor in civil wars. Civil wars whose main rebel actor were socialist revolutionary group, tended to be irregular or guerrilla wars; they lasted longer and produced more battlefield fatalities on average. Yet, and contrary to our expectations, we also find that despite their generally higher capacity, RS rebels failed to produce positive war outcomes: they were defeated at a higher rate compared to other rebels--hence a “Marxist Paradox.” We explain this outcome by pointing to the dynamic and word-systemic nature of civil wars: revolutionary challenges engendered successful counter-revolutionary reactions. An interesting implication is that during the Cold War, revolutionary civil wars had a state-building rather than state-failing effect.

*Please note the Political Science Seminars will be held at lunchtime (12.30pm), with sandwiches provided.