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Scotland : birthplace of passive revolution

Davidson, Neil (2010) Scotland : birthplace of passive revolution. Capital and Class, 34 (3). pp. 343-359. ISSN 0309-8168

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Abstract

As far as the bourgeois revolutions were concerned, Antonio Gramsci used the term ‘passive revolution’ to contrast the form taken by the Italian Risorgimento and comparable ‘revolutions from above’ with that of the French Revolution, where the main dynamic had come ‘from below’.1 The key era of passive revolution in this sense lies between 1859 and 1871. From the closing decades of the 17th century, however, a different set of circumstances had already led to a comparable revolution in Scotland which, although little known, is one of the decisive turning points for the transition in Western Europe. The context for this transformation was the global inter-systemic conflict between England and France, in which Scotland was one of the main battlefields. The process had four key moments: first, a subsistence crisis at home and imperial failure abroad, the combined effects of which sent Scottish capitalist development into reverse. Second, and in response to the first, was the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, which dissolved the Scottish state while leaving the feudal jurisdictions of the Scottish lords intact. Third, the failure of a French-backed attempt at counter-revolution in 1745—6, which led to the military suppression and juridical abolition of feudal social relations north of the border; and fourth, the imposition of capitalist social relations in the Scottish countryside by an alliance of former feudal landlords, ‘improving’ tenant farmers and Enlightenment intellectuals, who then theorised the entire process in their discussion of ‘civil society’