Grievances, Mobilization, and Mass Opposition to Authoritarian Regimes: A Subnational Analysis of East Germany’s 1953 Abbreviated Revolution

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Abstract

Mass opposition to authoritarian governments is caused by economic grievances and factors which facilitate mobilization. In this article, I explore these competing explanations of revolution with a county-level analysis of the June 17, 1953, uprising against the socialist dictatorship in East Germany. I argue that grievances can drive unrest, but only when they are disproportionately large and clearly attributable to a regime. Mobilization capacity is the primary driver of unrest outcomes, but depends on group structure and communications networks which are difficult to capture using cross-national indicators. Independent farmers with intense grievances attributable to the East German regime’s agricultural collectivization policies were associated with unrest despite significant obstacles to mobilization. Construction workers with strong mobilization structures and dense communications networks were significant instigators of unrest despite small numbers and moderate grievances. These findings raise important questions for both theoretical and empirical treatments of revolutionary threats to autocratic regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1594-1627
Number of pages34
JournalComparative Political Studies
Volume51
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018

Keywords

  • democratization and regime change
  • East European politics
  • nondemocratic regimes
  • political economy
  • social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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