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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Passive Revolutionary Route to the Modern World: Italy and India in Comparative Perspective

  • Author(s): Riley, Dylan J;
  • Desai, Manali
  • et al.

Most scholars argue that states are central to modernization in countries lacking a classic bourgeois social revolution. Through an analysis of Italian fascism and Indian nationalism, this essay explains a form of non-social revolutionary transformation that we call passive revolution, in which parties rather than states are the driving agents of change. We argue that India and Italy shared two conditions that led to a passive revolutionary route to the modern world: weak old regimes, and peasant and working class insurgency. The absence of a strong old regime coupled with a real or perceived threat from below, led agrarian and industrial elites in these cases to establish nationalist mass party organizations that mobilized against the state, while remaining conservative in their aims. We further contrast the cases in terms of the dominant tactic used by the mass party. In Italy the tactic of the fascist party was paramilitary violence, while in India the dominant tactic of Congress was non-violence. We argue that the timing of national selfdetermination with respect to worker and peasant mobilization explains these different tactics. Where national self-determination was achieved prior to mass mobilization, the nationalist mass party failed to incorporate peasants and workers. Paramilitary violence became the main technique for dealing with the challenge from below. Where, in contrast, national self-determination coincided with worker and peasant mobilization, the nationalist mass party was able to establish a popular base. Here non-violence became the main technique of passive revolution.

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