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Ellen Kay Trimberger

Queens College, The City University of New York

his paper attempts to conceptualize a

unique type of political revolutionthe elite revolution-through historical study of the Meiji Restoration (1868)
in Japan and the Ataturk Revolution
(1919-23) in Turkey. These two revolutions, which marked the overthrow of a
traditional regime in violent civil war,
abolished the economic and social base of
the old order, and created a modern
nation-state committed to rapid industrialization, were unusual in two respects:
(1) the revolutionary leaders were themselves members of the ruling stratum,
holding high status and office in the old
regime; and (2) revolutionary conflict and
change were contained primarily within
elite institutions and did not involve mass
participation. The parameters and implications of such elite revolutions will be
specified through analysis of: (1) the
gen.-sis of revolutionaries in Japan and
Turkey; (2) the tactics and organization
they developed to overthrow the government and initiate revolutionary change;
and (3) the political, economic, and social
results of their revolutions.
Although the pattern of elite revolution elucidated here cannot be exactly
duplicated today, it is relevant to study
of the prospects for anti-imperialist
revolutions from above in industrializing
countries, particularly in the Middle East
and Latin America. Moreover, study of
this unusual type of revolutionary action
provides insights into more universal

problems of revolutionary change. Specifically: (1) Contrary to the social theories

of Weber, Michels, and others, an analysi.
of elite revolutions indicates that under
certain conditions bureaucrats may become revolutionaries, and that a social
stratum of officeholders is more conducive to the genesis of revolutionaries
than is a social class with vested interests
in private property. (2) Study of the
tactics used by elite revolutionaries indicates organizational methods that permi t
a revolutionary takeover of power and
the initiation of fundamental social
change while minimizing the amount of
violence, terror, and social upheaval
invohed. (3) Analysis of the change
generated by elite revolution indicates
some of the costs of limited mass
involvement in revolutionary action.

Elite Revolution in Japan and Turkey

Upon fITst consideration it might
appear that there is no basis for comparing a revolution in 1868 in Japan with
one in 1919 in Turkey. Indeed; Turkey in
the 1860s (and afterward) comprised the
ruling center of a large empire; Japan was
a small semifeudal state. Turkey could
look back on centuries of war and
maneuver with Western
Europe; Japan had been isolated for two
centuries (until 1853) from all but
minimal contact with the West. The
Ottoman empire contained a myriad of
diverse national, ethnic, and religious



groups; the Japanese were a racially,

religiously, and culturally homogeneous
people. Yet, despite these structural
disparities and even greater cultural
differences, there are striking similarities
in the attributes and origins of the Meiji
Restoration and Ataturk Revolution.!
The immediate motivation (and ideo
logical basis) for revolution in both Japan
and Turkey was nationalism inspired by
the direct threat of Western domination
and takeover. Moreover, in both Japan in
1863 and Turkey in 1919 it was civil and
military bureaucrats, dissatisfied with the
ineffective and vacil\ating policy of
dynastic leaders (Shogun and Sultan) in
dealing with the West, who launched
unauthorized nationalist movements. AI
though these movements soon developed
the objectiYC of seizing power from the
government, they did not at first envision
maior social, economic. or even political
ch~nge. ~lany traditionalists who came to
support the antiWestern movement did
not expect (or desire) the revolutionary
measures which resulted.
In both countries, radical nationalist
leaders were drawn from top military and
civil officials with high status and office,
but without direct decision-making power
in the central government. In Japan, it
was civil and military bureaucrats from
the large, semiautonomous domains in
western Japan who initiated extraordinary action; officials in the central Tokuga~"a bureaucracy for the most part
supported the status quo. In Turkey, high
military officers commanding provincial
armies, in coalition with party bureaucrats of the local branches of the major
political party, took the radical initiative.
Legislators in the central parliament and
many governors and provincial administrators joined them, but the civil and
religious bureaucrats in the capital gen-

1. The 50-year time lapse between the

revolutions is the easiest distinction to explain.
Revolutions failed in Turkey in 1878 and 1908
because of the greater centralization of the
Ottoman empire which permitted absolutistic
repression by the Turkish Sultan.

erally remained conservative. In both

countries, bureaucrats who became radicals were more likely to have been
recruited by merit and by their possession
of Western (modem) skills; conservatives
were most often those officials who had
gained high office through traditional
status and/or traditional education. But
in another sense, radical bureaucrats were
also more committed to traditional values. Their nationalism reflected their
identity as an historical ruling elite,
committed to the preservation of a polity
with a long and venerable tradition. The
conservatives were more concerned with
preserving their own personal positions
and prerogatives (Craig, 1961; Jansen,
1961; Kinross, 1964; Rustow, 1959; E.
Smith, 1959).
Yet these attributes of nationalistic
bureaucrats in japan and Turkey do not
differentiate them from their peers in
other Asian and African countries who,
under Western pressure, did not become
revolutionary but capitulated (overtly or
covertly) to Western demands. It must be
explained. therefore, why bureaucrats in
japan and Turkey were willing and able
to adopt revolutionary measures-to overthrow the old regime, displace their
fellow elites, abolish their own status
stratum, and initiate rapid modernization-in order to thwart Western domination and maintain their own power and

Genesis of Elite Revolutionaries from

Within a Bureaucratic Ruling Stratum
It was because the Japanese and
Turkish ruling elites were political bureaucrats without vested economic interests, who had rationalized their internal
structure while maintaining a moral
cohesion through a long history of
reform, that some of them could meet
the Western threat with the dynamism of
a revolution.
The distinctive quality of the rulers of
the Ottoman empire and of Tokugawa
Japan (at least from the beginning of the
18th century until 1868 in japan and
1919 in Turkey) was that they were truly

elites and not an aristocracy or ruling
c13.5s. In 19th-century Japan and Turkey
there was a small aristocracy based on
kinship and wealth-the family of the
Sultanate in Turkey; the Tokugawa
family and 280 feudal lords in Japan-but
this aristocracy had lost effective control
of the State. They retained status and
prestige, but both their power and moral
authority had eroded. In both countries
the political rulers, and the primary
guardians of effective social values, were a
group of civil and military bureaucrats
appointed to specialized offices (Ward
and Rustow, 1964; Gibb and Bowen,
1967, vo\. 1; Dore, 1965; Hall, 1955).
Although these bureaucrats were most
often recruited from a small number of
families with hereditary social status,
they were not a ruling class: (1) While
ruling classes have historically derived
their political power from control of
economic resources, the elite families in
Japan and Turkey were not landlords or
entrepreneurs. 2 Insofar as they were
wealthy, they derived their income from
long association with State offices-from
political power and not from economic
activity. (2) Political and military State
offices were not hereditary, and their
incumbents were recruited to some
degree on the basis of education and
merit from within the highest social
stratum. Both Tokugawa Japan and
Ottoman Turkey also possessed institutionalized means to recruit a few officials
from outside the highest status groups.
Thus, the Japanese and Turkish rulers
were elites whose prestige was based on a
combination of functional expertise,
power derived from control of organizational resources, and moral eminence
resting on a cohesive set of social values. 3

2. In both Tokugawa japan and Ottoman

Turkey, the majority of land was owned by the
State-by decentralized political units in japan
and by the imperial structure in Turkey.
Peasant worked the land but paid taxes directly
to representatives of the State rather than to
private landlords.
3. In contrast to T.e. Smith's (1960) influential view, tht" present study postulates that the

It was both the bureaucratic character
of the prerevolutionary ruling elites in
Japan and Turkey, and their ability to
redefine traditional values in order to
maintain moral cohesion, that were basic
prerequisites for their revolutionary transformation from within. From the 17th
century on, segments of the Japanese and
Ottoman elites in civil administration
became increasingly bureaucratized. The
rise in power and prestige of these
administrative officials led to polarization
of the traditional elites into three social
groups: a hereditary status aristocracy, a
bureaucratic elite, and a lower elite-of
traditional military officers (and also
religious officials in Turkey) who lost
status, privileges, and productive work to
the new administrative elite. The increasing dissatisfaction of these declining elites
led to organized conflict which threatened the power and authority of the
bureaucrats, but also produced reformers
from within the bureaucratic stratum. It
was the success of these reformers in
increasing the power and rationality of
the bureaucracy that further distinguishes
the Japanese and Turkish ruling elites
from other traditional aristocracies or
ruling classes. Because these reforms
legitimized the utility of change, and
made the Tokugawa and Ottoman bureaucracies more open to talent, they also
laid the foundation for a creative response to the subsequent threat of
Western intervention. Moreover, the penetration of Western influence in the 19th
century led to the early. development of
nationalistic ideologies which tried to
combine traditional and Western values.
These ideological developments were essential to the reform and revitalization of
elite values, and served to maintain an
elite coherence that made possible the
genesis of a cohesive revolutionary movement from within the bureaucratic
stratum (Davison, 1963; Lewis, 1962;

japanese establishment could make a revolution

precisely because it was not really an aristoc
racy bu t a bureaucratic elite.



Mardin, 1962; Earl, 1964; Sansom,

1950). Thus, in both Japan and Turkey
successful and basic reform in the bureaucracy was a prerequisite to, and not a
deterrent of, revolutionary change.
This summary analysis of the prerevolutionary elite structure of Japan and
Turkey leads to the hypothesis that the
following conditions are necessary, and
perhaps sufficient, to generate revolutionaries from within the ranks of State
1) It is only when a bureaucratic elite,
or a significant segment of it, form an
autonomous stratum independent of the
economic means of production, that
there will be a possibility of their
overthrowing the established regime in
order to initiate revolutionary change. An
autonomous bureaucratic stratum is one
that gains its status, power, and wealth
primarily from office and not from: (a)
external economic interests in land,
commerce, or industry; or (b) dependence upon an economically dominant
class of landowners, businessmen, or
industrialists. Such bureaucratic autonomy is most likely to occur when there is
no consolidated class of landlords or
industrialists or when such a class is in

2) An autonomous group of bureaucrats will be impelled to organize a

revolutionary movement and countergovernment only when the regime they
serve is under an extreme external threat
to national sovereignty. Bureaucrats decide to become revolutionaries only when
their own power and status is directly
threatened by the possibility of foreign
takeover. Under such conditions, civil and
military bureaucrats do not have the
option of staging a coup with the limited
aim of replacing the top personnel of
government, for the mere takeover of the
existing regime would not provide the
requisite strength to stave off the foreign
enemy. Like the classic French and
Russian revolutionaries, elite revolutionaries have to build political power and
forge a new legitimacy in order to rule.
Yet, being bureaucrats with organizational experience and positions of some
political power, they also have certain
tactical skills and options not available to
other types of revolutionaries or nationalists.
3) Even under the impact of such an
extreme external threat, autonomous
bureaucrats will be able to mobilize a
revolutionary movement, only if they
develop a strong normative cohesion.
Ideological unity is necessary to overcome the hierarchical and technical

4. Gillis (1970:362) documents how severe

political conflict between conservatives and
reformers within the State administration
preceded the French Revolution and the
Prussian Revolution of 1848. He says: "The
most notable thing about the pre-revolutionary
political movements in both countries is that
they were largely the creation of members of
the bureaucratic elites themselves. This may
help to explain why in both France and Prussia
the initial programs of the revolutionaries were
so little concerned with the problems of the
businessman and the laboring poor." But in
contrast to the japanese and Turkish case,
bureaucratic reformers in France and Germany
failed to win greater mobility for talent, more
bureaucratic efficiency, and improved normative coherence. As Gillis (1970:357-8) says: "In
both the French and Prussian cases there is
evidence that those at the top of the hierarchy
became less flexible, and even actually corrupt,
as the extra-organizational pressures mounted.

They were either unable or unwilling to give up

their powers to a more highly adaptable system
of government." Thus, while in japan and
Turkey radicals in the bureaucracy were able to
move up and eventually use their position and
power to make a revolution, in France and
Germany "a significant minority of the bureaucracy, mainly younger, lower-ranking members,
defected temporarily or permanently to the
liberal and radical opposition movements,
leaving those loyal to the old bureaucratic
absolutism in a state of confusion and despair"
(Gillis, 1970:359). Yet in France and Germany,
as in japan and Turkey, "it is not surprising to
find that many of the programs of the
revolution were not the declarations of wildeyed ideologues, but the work of patient
bureaucrats, plans retrieved from the desk
drawers of the old regime, where they had lain
useless in the previous decades" (Gillis,


separation of specialized bureaucrats, and
to mobilize elite support. Nationalism is
the predominant ideological appeal in an
elite revolution. Because bureaucrats (unlike other types of revolutionaries) hold
important positions in the old regime,
traditional values will play an important
role in their nationalist ideology. Yet it is
only to the extent that their ideology also
incorporates new political values and
social and economic appeals, that elite
revolutionaries maintain the potential for
revolutionary change after a seizure of

Tactics and Organization


of an Elite

The structural conditions which gen

erate elite revolution make possible the
use of tactics and methods of revolutionary organization which minimize the level
of social upheaval, violence, and destruction in the revolutionary process, while
maintaining, and in some respects enhancing, the possibility of constructive revolutionary change.
Revolution in Turkey began with the
organization by Mustafa Kemal s of a
resistance movement in rural Anatolia
after Turkey's surrender to the Allies in
1919. His movement was directed both
against the impending invasion by the
Greek army and the capitulation of the
Sultan to the Western demands for the
partition of Turkey. Kemal, sent to the
interior by the Istanbul government to
maintain order, united organized units of
the regular army, irregular tribal bands,
and local defense movements into a
coordinated resistance. The core of this
movement were the local defense committees built on the organization of the
former Union and Progress Party, and led
by local elites of officials, teachers,
lawyers, etc. Soon, defectors from the
central army, bureaucracy, and parliament came to join the defense movement

5. Turkey's most famous general, who later

was called Ataturk, father of the Turks.

and helped found a countergovernment

(the Grand National Assembly) in the
hills. Civil war followed.
In Japan, revolutionary civil war was a
direct result of Western military intervention in 1863 on the side of the central
government to subdue two dissident
provinces which objected to Western
trading concessions. Humiliated by the
fact that Western military might had to
be used to chastise internal dissidents, the
central Shogunal government subsequently organized a military campaign
against the province of Choshu. This
move propelled the most radical bureaucrats in several provinces (especially
Choshu and Satsuma) to reject the
authority of the Shogunate and to
organize an alternative 'government based
on provincial military and administrative
organs and claiming legitimacy for the
traditional (and for 250 years, purely
ceremonial) emperor.
The establishment of an alternative
center of authority in Japan and Turkey,
controlled by some of the highest
officials of the old regime, mobilized
around traditional organs of the government, and claiming legitimacy on the
basis of a nationalism partly derived from
traditional values, precipitated civil war.
But the duration and social upheaval of
these revolutionary wars were limited in a
number of ways.
1) Because the revolutionaries controlled bureaucratic and military resources of the old regime, they did not
seek to mobilize mass support. Some
commoners participated in both the
revolutionary and conservative armies in
Japan and Turkey, but only under elite
control. In Japan, the unorganized masses
remained neutral. In Turkey, spontaneous
mass violence was inspired by the Sultan's
appeal to traditional religious fanaticism,
but this communal killing was unorganized and apolitical, and violence quickly
petered out.
2) Even more important than the
neutrality of the masses in mitigating
social upheaval was the fact that a
majority of the elite refused to take up
arms to support either the revolutionaries



or the regime in power. Their refusal to

fight in support of the traditional dynasty
was often explicitly motivated by the
rebels' appeal to nationalism in a time of
intense foreign threat. The use of traditional political organs and symbols by the
rebels also produced confusion as to
whether they were really illegitimate or
revolutionary. Hence, the existence of
large numbers of neutral elites gave de
facto support to the legitimacy of the
rebels and their usurpation of part of the
government and army.
3} Violence was also mitigated in the
Turkish and Japanese civil wars because
there was never a complete military
showdown between the conservatives and
revolutionaries. In Turkey, the Sultan's
army was defeated in one battle with the
nationalist forces in 1920. This battle was
not decisive, but further confrontation
was suspended because of the invasion by
the Greek army. After the nationalist
armies defeated the Greeks, both the
strength and prestige of the nationalists
was so high that the Sultan fled the
country without taking another armed
stand. Likewise, the two Japanese civil
wars-in 1864 and 1868-involved only
two or three large batties, and in 1868
the Shogun voluntarily surrendered his
power (although some of his followers
held out). Violent confrontation was
limited not only because the conservative
supporters of the old regime in Japan and
Turkey failed to stand and fight, but also
because the rebels did not pursue their
military advantage to impose a decisive
military victory. In neither the Meiji nor
the Ataturk revolutions did the old
regime simply collapse after the rulers
abdicated. Rather, the old regimes were
terminated by political maneuver of the
rebel countergovernments. It was both
the character of radical bureaucrats and
the unique strength and quasi-legitimacy
of the alternative regimes that permitted
the radicals to abolish the old regimes
through political and nonviolent means.
Analysis of the organization and
tactics used by radical bureaucrats to
bring down the government in Japan and

Turkey enable one to make certain

generalizations as to how the process of
such elite revolutions differs from other
types of revolutionary action.
The strategy used by elite revolutionaries to overthrow the old regime differs
significantly from that used in spontaneous mass urban or guerrilla revolution. In
an elite revolution, there is no mass
uprising which triggers the collapse of the
old regime. Nor is there the anarchy and
social upheaval which results from competition among antagonistic revolutionary
groups (as in the French, Russian, and
Mexican revolutions). Rather, rebel bureaucrats (like guerrillas) vie with the old
regime for power and legitimacy by
establishing a countergovernment in the
hinterland. Revolutionary bureaucrats,
however, are able to organize much more
quickly than guerrillas, for they can
preempt organs of the established regime
(not only military units, but also bureaucratic and legislative organs, party structures, and monetary resources) and exploit the symbols of the establishment.
Such tactics not only directly undermine
the power and legitimacy of the government, but they also minimize the need
for a broad base of mass support.
The high status and official authority
of rebel bureaucrats, along with their use
of nationalistic appeals which incorporate
traditional political symbols and values,
enable them to mobilize a small core of
elite supporters (bureaucrats, legislators,
party officials, military officers, etc.) and
to neutralize the rest of the elite. Elites
are most likely to be neutralized when
they are confused or unsure about the
revolutionary potential of the rebels in
the hills, and when they fear national
disunity at a time of intense foreign
Because they can organize a revolutionary movement based on officials and
organs of the old regime, elite revolutionaries need not mobilize mass support.
Insofar as the revolutionaries need to
recruit soldiers and obtain food from the
immediate population, they usually have
the resources to pay and/or the authority

to obtain them voluntarily. What the
revolutionaries do need, at a minimum, is
some assurance that the peasants will not
voluntarily aid the regime or willingly
(without coercion) take up arms against
the revolutionary forces. Such neutralization of the rural masses is easiest to
obtain where the political forces of the
old regime are concentrated in the capital
city with only minimal control over the
countryside. 6 But even where the regime
has more control, tacit support of the
masses is often assured by limited foreign
intervention in the conflict between
rebels and the government. The collaboration of loyal government officials with a
foreign power increases the nationalistic
appeal of the rebels, as does a military
stand by the revolutionaries against
foreign troops. Under such conditions,
elite revolutionaries have no need or
incentive for the selective use of terror
commonly employed by guerrillas. If the
revolutionary threat, however, triggers
massive foreign intervention, the revolutionaries will be forced to mobilize mass
support for a conventional civil war or for
a guerrilla movement. In this case, an elite
revolution changes into some form of
mass revolution and the level of violence
The establishment of a revolutionary
regime before the overthrow of the
government is thus facilitated by the
special qualities and resources of revolutionary bureaucrats. But the process of
mobilizing a rebel movement also politicizes and radicalizes these bureaucrats.
Civil and military officials who take to
the hills to organize a countergovernment
are not likely to take with them a
comprehensive ideology or even a clear
conception of, and commitment to,
revolutionary change. Yet the immediate
problems created by establishing a rebel
government destroys the bureaucrats'

6. Neutralization of the masses is also easier

in a country without a large urban proletariat
or lumpenproletariat.

commitment to-and identity with-sanctioned political values and familiar procedures of rule. The intense interaction
among a small cadre of rebels also
stimulates a search for new organizational
forms and novel political values. Moreover, the process of consolidating dissident officials and factions into a
revolutionary government turns bureaucrats into political organizers. 7 Hence,
when bureaucrats, who by training and
position tend to be moderates, defect to
create a countergovernment, they are
likely to be radicalized to the point of
favoring complete abolition of the old
regime and the creation of a completely
new political system.
Unlike radicals who arise outside the
structure of the old regime, radical
bureaucrats have politico-administrative
experience and control of administrative
and military resources. This experience
and control permits such radicals to
retain a stronger position vis-a-vis moderate elites 8 than is true in other types of
revolution. In contrast to the French and
Russian revolutions where moderates
took power after the fall of the monarchy, moderates in the Meiji and Ataturk
revolutions were always subordinatr to
the radicals. Because the moderates were
never a political threat, radical bureaucrats in Japan and Turkey could concentrate on trying to radicalize them to
support complete abolition of the old
regime. The methods used to win and
coerce such moderate support were the
means to destroy the old regime politically, rather than through military or

7. A major weakness of most coup leaders is

their lack of experience and ability as political
8. Moderates in a revolutionary situation can
be defined as those who favor only reform of
the old regime by forming some sort of
constitutional monarchy, and those who stress
the importance of civil liberties, preservation of
elite prerogatives, and only gradual social and
economic reform.



mass violence. Such means were: (a)

extensive discussion and negotiation with
moderates;9 (b) bureaucratic controls to
manipulate moderate support; and (c)
tactical timing to eliminate the structure
of the old regime and its conservative
supporters in gradual stages.
Rebel bureaucrats are most likely to
consolidate moderate support and gain
their consent to increasingly radical
substantive change if they break with the
old regime in rapid but incremental steps.
A countergovernment which initially advocates only political change-by first
presenting its opposition to the incumbent personnel of the regime, and only
later trying to undermine the socioeconomic base of the government-can
retain the support of moderate elites
which are attracted by the nationalistic
appeals of the rebels but are in no sense
revolutionaries. This strategy is particularly effective when each political reform
of the countergovernment is linked to
especially pernicious acts of the established authorities and/or to explicit needs
of the nationalist movement. Through the
use of such incremental methods, the
revolutionary leadership in japan and
Turkey was able to consolidate a new
form of government without initially
challenging the social and economic
position of moderate-or even conservathoe-elite groups. It was only later, when
the radical bureaucrats, having consolidated their political position in a new
nation-state, set out to abolish the
samurai elite in japan and to suppress the
imperial-religious elite in Turkey that
conservative and moderate elites organized to oppose the new revolutionary
regime. But by this time, the conservatives had lost their only base of powertraditional bureaucratic and military

office-and the radicals had consolidated

their bureaucratic control. Thus, counterrevolutionary movements were easily
crushed by the new governments with a
minimum use of force. lo Moreover, the
strength of the radicals permitted them
some compassion; they gave monetary
compensation to the conservative elites as
they removed them from their traditional
political, social, and economic positions.
Hence, conservatives in japan and Turkey
were removed and then reconciled to the
new regime without the use of purge,
persecution, or emigration, and without
the organization of totalitarian controls
by the revolutionary regime.

9. In the countergovernments in the Turkish

and Japanese hinterland, the fate of Ottoman
institutions of 600 years duration and of the
Shogunal government established for 250 years
were debated in committees and assemblies.

10. Strong counterrevolutionary movements in

Russia, China and Mexico were organized by
conservative elites who retained social control
over segments of the rural population and
mobilized them against the new regime.

Initiation of Revolutionary Change

The radical bureaucrats in japan and
Turkey, once they had nominally consolidated their political control, initiated
rapid and profound economic and social
change to promote industrialization and
economic development. In both countries, the primary motivation for such
revolutionary change was to achieve
political, economic and military sovereignty vis-a-vis the West. It soon became
evident that such national development
necessitated the destruction of the socioeconomic base of the traditional elitethe warrior (samurai) elite in japan and
the stratum of imperial-religious officials
in Turkey-in order to create modem
economic and social structures, drastically different in organization and
values from those of the traditional
society. It was their ability to sanction
and carry out destruction of traditional
elite institutions blocking modernization
that differentiates the Ataturk and Meiji
revolutionaries from earlier elite reformers in japan and Turkey, and from many
leaders of nationalistic movements or
military coups in third-world nations

today. It was not that the Meiji oligarchs
or Ataturk envisioned such destruction
beforehand, but that when it became
necessary within the logic of their radical
action, they were willing and able to
execute it.
An important tactical prerequisite to
the ability of radical bureaucrats to
mobilize enough resources and support to
destroy traditional elite institutions was
that they had not attempted to stage a
coup d'etat, but had actually mobilized
elite support for a political movement. It
was in the organization of a rebel army, a
countergovernment, and later, a revolutionary regime, that the radical military
and civil bureaucrats formulated their
programs of change and developed elite
support to implement them. Moreover,
the building of a revolutionary political
organization conditioned these bureaucrats to take risks that they would not
have taken under ordinary circumstances.
Later when faced with a direct conflict
between the requirements for economic
and military development of the new
State (upon which their own power and
status now rested) and the social and
economic interests of the traditional elite
from which they had come, they invariably chose the former.
Yet the pragmatic and instrumental
style of these bureaucratic revolutionaries, their elitism, and their continued
commitment to some traditional institutions and values also minimized their use
of destruction and coercion in the process
of economic and social change_ In the
Ataturk and Meiji revolutions, deliberate
social destruction was a pragmatic decision, its execution was in stages, and all
destruction was linked to concrete plans
for positive reform (Frey, 1965; Kinross,
1964; T.e. Smith, 1955; Silberman and
Hartoonian, 1966; Iwata, 1964).
The decision by the leaders of the
Meiji Restoration to abolish the traditional samurai elite and all its privileges
was not an ideological decision, but was
directly connected to the needs of
industrialization. As such, the progressive,

step-by-step destruction of samurai prerogatives and institutions was directly
linked to specific steps to promote
economic development and military expansion. For example: (1) the need to
stimulate commercialism and free trade
led to the abrogation of feudal prohibitions on the sale of land and on peasant
commerce. (2) The need for industrial
entrepreneurs and a labor force led to the
abolition of samurai restrictions on occupation. Samurai were now encouraged to
engage in all occupations, and a standard
education was given to all children5amurai and nonelite alike. (3) The need
for a technical, efficient, and inexpensive
army led to the abolition of samurai
monopoly of military service. The new
government could not afford to equip,
feed and train a force of the size that
would incorporate all the traditional elite.
(4) The need for government revenue to
finance military reform and to stimulate
industrialization through government investment led directly to the most drastic
reform-the abolition of the traditional
samurai stipend and its compulsory
commutation into government bonds on
which the government paid only a small
interest. Yet, as the traditional elite was
displaced from its political, economic,
and social positions, the revolutionary
government sought to propel progressive
members of the ex-samurai into business
and managerial occupations, by providing
both material and ideological incentives
for such transformation. While the
majority oC samurai failed to make the
transition necessary to achieve an elite
position in the new industrial society, the
vast majority of industrialists, businessmen, and financiers in Meiji Japan were
recruited from former samurai. Thus, the
traditional samurai elite were both the
main victims and the primary beneficiaries of elite revolution in Japan.
Likewise, the decision by the leaders
of the Ataturk revolution to suppress the
traditional religio-imperial superstructure
of the Ottoman empire, and hence
destroy the politico-economic hegemony



of the traditional elite,l 1 was directly

linked to needs of modernization. Because Islamic institutions had dominated
not only the political organization of
Turkey, but also its education and legal
system, it was necessary to abolish the
religious head of state and all religious
officials, as well as religious sects, schools,
courts, and customs in order to develop
the secular legal and commercial infrastructure necessary to mobilize capital,
land and labor for economic development. As in Japan, however, the destruction of traditional institutions was carried
out in a pragmatic manner so that each
act of destruction was clearly linked to a
constructive reform. Thus, the closing of
all Islamic schools and courts in Turkey
was correlated with the establishment of
their secular counterparts. The abolition
of the Arabic script (used only by the
educated elite), was linked to a national
campaign to Turkify the language and
substitute Turkish words for Arabic and
Persian ones. The attempt to suppress
popular Islamic customs-the fez, veil,
religious clothing, etc.-was part of a
campaign to introduce a modem and
secular life style. These cultural reforms
directly transformed the class base of the
political regime, for they destroyed the
institutional foundation for the power,
wealth, and status of the traditional elite,
and were a necessary prerequisite for
recruiting a new industrial, managerial,
and commercial elite.
The step-by-step correlation of destructive and constructive innovation in
Japan and Turkey meant that only those
traditional institutions were destroyed
which presented an important block to
change. The model of change thus
evolved by these elite revolutionaries-the
concentration on immediate and concrete
problems, the incremental solution of

11. It must be remembered that traditional

political and economic power in Japan and
Turkey was not based on ownership of land,
but on position in a bureaucratic hierarchy.

problems through sequential steps, and

the use of existing resources-is one often
recommended to produce evolutionary
and not revolutionary change. Yet because the problems posed were so large,
the pace of change so rapid, and the
destruction of important traditional institutions so central, the results were truly
revolutionary-at least for the elites.
In neither Japan nor Turkey did the
bureaucratic and military revolutionaries
have much economic expertise. Yet their
pragmatism, along with a strong commitment to national development, permitted
them to use their political and administrative resources in innovative ways to
foster industrialization, although not
without severe economic dislocations and
financial difficulties in the first two
decades of development. The lack of
either internal or foreign private investment capital, along with the revolutionaries' strong desire to build an economy
free of foreign control, J 2 prompted them
to raise the initial capital to invest in
industrialization through heavy taxes on
agricultural exports-especially raw silk
and traditional handicrafts in Japan, and
cotton and tobacco in Turkey (Lockwood, 1954, ch. 1; Karpet, 1959, ch. 3).
Although the early heavy industries
established in Japan and Turkey were
owned and operated by the State, the
revolutionary elites sought to promote a
mixed public-private system of State
capitalism by providing all kinds of
material and moral incentives for the
development of private banks, industries,
and commercial establishments.
To increase agricultural productivity,
and hence augment the capital available

12. Since Turkey, unlike Japan, had already

been penetrated by foreign capital and business,
the Turkish revolutionaries ousted the ethnic
minorities (Greek, Armenian and Jewish) who
controlled Turkish commerce. They also revoked the special privileges (Capitulations)
granted by the Ottoman government to foreign
businesses which exempted them from Ottoman taxation and permitted them to be
governed according to the laws of their native
country (Robinson, 1963: 99).


for industrialization, the elite revolutionaries gave commercial incentives to the
richest stratum of peasants and permitted
them to buy large tracts of land. While
one of the major results of many
revolutions (French, Soviet, Chinese and
Mexican) has been to free peasants from
exploitative landlords, elite revolution in
Japan and Turkey created landlords
where none had previously existed and
increased economic dependency (tenancy, sharecropping and wage labor) for
the majority of the peasant masses (Dore,
1959; Moore, 1966; Szyliowicz, 1966).
This new landlord class, with help from
the State apparatus, extracted an increasing surplus from the peasantry through a
mixture of capitalist and traditional
In both Japan and Turkey the revolutionaries created a rural and urban
widened the distance between the peasant
masses and the modernizing elites. Industrialization through expansion of a repressive and labor-intensive agriculture maintained the traditional structure of rural
society. As a result, the basic economic
occupations and mode of ~ife of the
common people remained substantially
unaltered for the first 25 years after the
elite revolutions in Japan and Turkey. In
neither Japan nor Turkey did industrialization lead to rapid urbanization.
Rather, it was the deliberate policy of the
revolutionary elites and their immediate
heirs to hold the population in the
villages and small towns, while creating
strong social and political controls over
the slowly increasing industrial work
force (Robinson, 1963; Dore, 1959). This
elitist mode of economic development
had serious repercussions for the longterm social and political evolution of
Japan and Turkey. 1 3

13. The interpretation presented here of the

Meiji Restoration and Ataturk Revolution
differs somewhat from recent analyses of these
revolutions by other sociologists and political
scientists: (1) Barrington Moore (1966) in his

The Results of Elite Revolution

Economic development and social
modernization through the transformation of elite institutions and repressive
control of the masses was made possible
by the political forms developed by elite
revolutionaries. This mode of economic
and social change, in turn, had important
consequences for the political evolution
of the revolutionary regimes. To promote
their economic strategy of industrialization through a labor-intensive system of
State capitalism, elite revolutionaries
were forced to give not only material, but
also political concessions to the ruraland later, the urban-bourgeoisie they
created. These compromises not only
excluded the peasant masses from participation in the new regime, but also

comparative analysis of rn olutionary change

also views the Mciji Restoration as a revolu tion
from above, which differs significantly from the
bourgeois revolutions in the West and from
more recent peasant re\olutions. Yet Moore
(1966:250), while recognizing that the r.leiji
Restoration "in the space of nine years
managed to dismantle the feudal apparatus and
replace it with much of the basic framework of
modern society," concentrates on exposing the
limitations of the Meiji Restoration and its
failure to transform the peasants. The analysis
presented here accepts (and tries to explain)
these limitations, but also seeks to analyze how
and why the major transformations achieved by
the Meiji Restoration were possible. (2) Samuel
Huntington (1968:346) in a comprehensive and
comparative study of political revolutions
recognizes the effectiveness of A taturk 's combination of a "comprehensive, root, or blitzkrieg" approach to change with an "incremental, branch, or Fabian approach." Yet Huntington (1968:269) brands Ataturk an effective
reformer and not a revolutionary. The Turkish
revolution fits Huntington's (1968:264) general
definition of a revolution, i.e., a "rapid,
fundamental, and violent domestic change in
the dominant values and myths of a society, in
its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activities and policies."
But because Ataturk did not expand his
revolution to the masses, it does not fit
Huntington's hypothesis that all revolutions
involve mass mobilization and the expansion of
political participation. The main problem with
Huntington's (1968:344) analysis is that he
makes only a very superficial distinction
between revolutionary change and refonn.



established institutions which could later

be used by the rising midd'le class to
thwart ongoing social and economic
change, and to undermine the political
control of the revolutionary elite.
The important concessions made initially to rural elites by the Japanese and
Turkish revolutionaries were two: (I)
They reinforced the landlords' social and
economic control over the peasantry in
return for rural support for the new
regime and for industrializing and modernizing reforms in the city (Steiner,
1965; Karpet, 1964), To help maintain
existing structures in the countryside, the
elite revolutionaries incorporated traditional and paternalistic appeals into their
new doctrines of nationalism, which were
propagated to the peasants through the
army and schools. The revolutionary
leaders thus relinquished any aspirations
of creating a mass identity with the
modernizing reforms of the revolution, or
of securing popular participation in new
political institutions. (2) The revolutionaries granted political participation to
parliamentaryconstitutional government. In both countries, the revolutionary motivation for
establishing a parliament under a written
constitution was not to restrict the power
of the State, but to increase it by
channeling potential and powerful elite
opposition into the political process
where it could be controlled and coopted. Thus, at the same time they
granted representation in the government
to elites who supported the revolution,
revolutionaries also created strong political controls (party and ministerial) over
the elitist legislatures, In both Japan and
Turkey, policy-making power was consolidated, not in the legislature, but in the
hands of a small group of revolutionaries
held together by the personal ties and
strong commitment to national development forged in the revolutionary struggle.!4 The talented elite who had made

14. In Japan this was called "clan government"

in recognition of the common regional origins



the revolution constituted themselves as a

free-floating, nonpartisan decision-making
body, which sought to determine policy
from the perspective of long-range revolutionary goals and then to implement it
through control of bureaucratic structures-party, administrative, and military
(Frey, 1965; Akita, 1967; Hackett,
1968). Government decision-making by a
small elite who maintained their hegemony through bureaucratic control was
the legacy of both the prerevolutionary
polity from which the rebels were drawn
and the revolutionary countergovernment
they created in the hills, But such
political control by a small cadre of
revolutionaries was secure for only about
20 years (until 1913 in Japan and 1946 in
Turkey).! 5
In both Japan and Turkey the political
institutions created to control rural
opposition also worked for a while to
integrate the urban elites generated by
industrialization and the growth of new
military and administrative positions. The
urban bourgeoisie created by elite revolution in Japan and Turkey soon began to
seek political influence, Their desire for
power had important political implications, for the new bourgeois elites were
much more socially and economically
conservative than the original revolutionaries. Not only did the industrialists

of many of the revolutionaries. Later, as this

revolutionary elite advanced in age and handed
over the formal reins of power to younger
statesmen, they still constituted an informal
group which worked behind-the-scenes to make
all important policy decisions. This informal
center of power came to be called thegenro, or
older statesmen.
15. The decentralized (but still bureaucratic)
nature of the political system in preRestoration Japan permitted revolution to
succeed 50 years earlier than in Turkey, but it
also made political modernization more difficult. Hence, postrevolutionary political devel,
opments were parallel in Japan and Turkey, but
in Japan they started earlier and proceeded
more slowly. A parliament and constitution
were promulgated within a year after the
Sultan's abdication in Turkey; in Japan,
parliament and a constitution were not granted
until 1890, some 20 years after the revolution.

represent new and vested economic
interests, but even the elites who arose
through postrevolutionary openings in
administrative, military, and party bureaucracies tended to be specialists with a
narrower vision than the revolutionaries,
and with a particularistic wish to consolidate and preserve their own newly
acquired power and prerogatives. The
revolutionaries, using a strategy of concession (parliamentary integration of the
bourgeoisie) and control (retention of
ultimate decision-making power in their
own hands) were able for some time to
co-opt the support of rising middle class
elites and prevent polarization within the
ranks of the revolution (Najita, 1967;
Karpet, 1959). Yet, because the revolutionaries had not mobilized mass support,
their position vis-a-vis the new bourgeoisie was very unstable.
In both countries the rising middle
class of businessmen, technical and managerial bureaucrats, and landlords sought
to win power legally by creating massbased political parties which could exploit the constitutional and parliamentary
institutions created by the revolutionary
elites. These parties sought to mobilize
the peasant masses with conservative and
even reactionary appeals which upheld
the bourgeoisie's own, basically conservative, interests, but which also spoke to
the traditional values and way of life of
the peasants who had not been transformed by the revolution. In Turkey, the
bourgeois Democratic Party did manage
to gain power legally by mobilizing
conservative peasant support. Once they
controlled the government, the bourgeoisie turned Turkey in a more conservative
direction, economically and socially
(Weiker, 1963; Karpet, 1959). "The shift
to a competitive party system after World
War II made politics more democratic,
but also slowed down and in some areas
even reversed the process of socialeconomic
1968:357). In contrast, bourgeois political parties in pre-World War II japan
were not able to mobilize a solid base of
mass support, and never captured power
from the administrative and military

elites who inherited political control from
the revolution (Duus, 1968).
Yet in both japan and Turkey,
attempts by the rising bourgeoisie to
mobilize peasant support in a challenge to
the power and goals of the revolutionary
leaders ended in extreme elite polarization and the breakdown of civil government. Military intervention and increasing
factionalization were the ultimate result
of these two revolutions which, in the
beginning, had moved away from the
pattern of instability and stagnation so
often generated by military coups.' 6
In japan, the military intrusion into
politics was much more extensive than in
Turkey, (precisely because of the failure
of japanese political parties to mobilize
peasant support), but in neither country
was the military able to rule effectively.
In both japan and Turkey, polarization
of values and objectives between senior
and junior officers prevented the consolidation of a stable military regime.
Higher military officers in japan and
Turkey wanted to increase administrative
control by the State in order to prevent
the rise to power of bourgeois counterelites. These officers had little interest in
popUlist reforms and wished only to
reinforce the status quo-modernization
for urban elites and traditional subordination for the peasant masses. In contrast,
lower and younger military officers in the
two countries-officers drawn more often
from rural and peasant social originsadvocated social and economic reforms
for the peasants, while, at the same time,
they turned against many of the rational

16. There was a successful military coup in

1960 in Turkey and a number of attempted
coups in 1962 and 1963. In Japan, a series of
attempted coups in the early 19305 failed, but
military officers succeeded in increasing their
power vis-a-vis civil bureaucrats. Military field
officers initated military aggression in Manchuria in the thirties, and then succeeded in
convincing higher military and civil officials to
support their military adventures (Crowley,
1962; Masion, 1957; Ogata, 1964; Ozbudun,
1966; Yalman, 1968).



and modernizing values of the revolutionary elites. The traditional values which
younger officers shared with the peasant
masses from which they had come led
them to advocate elite guidance of a
nationalistic mass movement, which
would seek a return to a simpler and
more traditional society (Morris, 1957;
Storn' 1957' Ozbudun, 1966). It was this
comb'i~ation' of social reformism, antidemocratic elitism, and traditionalistic
ultra-nationalism that gave a fascist tinge
to the politics of younger officers in
japan and Turkey. I 7
This polarization between senior and
junior military officers in japan and
Turkey forced the military to continue a
civilian regime which they could influence but not control. In both japan and
Turkey, government by a system of
behindthe-scenes bargaining between
milit<iry, administrative, and party elites
permitted factionalism to permeate the
whole structure of power. Such elite
factionalism prevented the mobilization
of any stable base of mass support, but
also a\'erted any effective move toward
totalitarian cont~ols o\'cr the masses. I 8

17, Thcst: attcmpts to mobilize pcasants

through conscT\'ativc appeals corresponds to
what Barrington Moore (1966:492) calls
"Catonism." As he defines it, Catonism is a
complex of antimodem and antiindustrial ideas
which arise in countries where industrialization
has advanced without changing traditional
relationships in the countryside. Caton ism
appeals to both landed upper classes and to
peasants !>ecause it tries to explain their plight
in terms of traditional values. Catonism pictures
the organic life of the countryside as superior
to the atomized world of modern cities. "The
peasants' a1legcd attachment to the soil becomes the subject of much praise and little
action. Traditional religious piety with archaising o,'ertones becomes fashionable ... , [There
is) a great deal of talk about the need for a
thoroughgoing moral regeneration, talk that
covers the absence of a realistic analysis of
prevailing social conditions." Because Catonism
thus conceals the real social causes of peasant
unrest and projects an image of continued
submission, it seT\'es to justify a repressive
social order and to buttress the positions of
those in power.

Government through bargaining between elite factions, supported by conservative appeals to the rural masses, still
characterizes the parliamentary regimes
reestablished in japan in 1945 and in
Turkey in 1965 as military power
receded. In both japan and Turkey
today, one political party predominates
(the Liberal Democratic Party in japan
and the justice Party in Turkey) through
traditional appeals to rural, and some
urban, lower classes. Yet as the peasant
population continually declines, these
parliamentary regimes are threatened
from both the Left and the Right. On the
Left, they must combat elites who wish
ultimately to mobilize the urban working
class and the peasants for a democratic
and socialist revolution. On the Right
they are faced with either the prospect of
increasingly reactionary military coups
(in Turkey) or the possibility that
embattled capitalists will cooperate with
a fascist movement (in japan) (Scalapino
and Masumi, 1962; Rustow, 1966; Sherwood, 1967).
In contrast to those social scientists
who stress the dangers and disadvantages
of rapid mass mobilization in a revolutionary situation (most recently Huntington, 1968), the analysis presented here
demonstrates that the failure to involve
the masses in revolutionary transformation has very detrimental consequences
for the long-term social and political
development of a society. Although an
elite revolution facilitates industrialization and social mobility, it also creates a

18. Even in Japan in the 1930s and 40s,

"much as the military leaders ... may have
wished to reorganize Japan on totalitarian lines,
they were always bedeviled by the pluralism of
power in Japan and, despite repeated efforts
and much exhortation, never achieved the
degree of political coordination and mobilization of energies that we find, for instance, in
Nazi Germany. The more we examine the
realities of pre-war and wartime Japan, the
more we are struck by the failure to attain that
unity about which so many pious words were
spoken and so many stirring slogans coined"
(Morris, 1963: vii).

society that is often more socially and
economically stratified than the traditional society. The most serious defect of
an elite revolution is in the political
realm. Revolutionaries who consolidate
elite support for the new regime by
granting parliamentary concessions prevent either the creation of a revolutionary
political party which could mobilize mass
support for continuing economic and
social change, or the creation of democratic institutions with the potential for
increasing mass participation in politics.
Rather, an elitist parliamentary regime
institutionalizes political machinery that
can later be used by the rising middle
class to both undermine the political
control of the revolutionaries and prevent
the sharing of social and economic
benefits of modernization with the
masses. In the end, elite revolutions
produce a conservative parliamentary
regime which is both factionalized, unstable, and subject to military inten'ention.
In Summary: An elite revolution
manifests the following attributes:
1) An elite revolution is generated
primarily by contradictions external to
the society which precipitate internal
social conflicts. That is, an elite revolution is a national rather than a class
revolution induced by conflicts between a
society and one or more foreign powers.
As a result, the goal of elite revolutionaries is to redistribute power between
nations by fostering economic development of their country, rather than
redistribute resources between social
strata within the society.
2) Elite revolutionaries are generated
from within a bureaucratic social stratum,
independent of the most important
economic means of production. Unlike
bureaucratic elites which try to generate
social change from within a given regime
(e.g. in 19th-century Germany), bureaucrats become revolutionary only when
they seek to overthrow the existing order
and create a new political system with a
different distribution of power and a new
basis of legitimacy. While the primary
motivation of elite revolutionaries is to

build national power vis-a-vis a foreign
enemy, they soon discover that this
necessitates the creation of a new social
and economic foundation for the State.
They are inevitably led to abolish the
privileges, way of life, and traditional
values of their own social stratum, and to
begin recruiting their successors from a
broader social base.
3) Elite revolutionaries preempt organs
of the established regime (including army
units) and exploit their own legitimacy in
order to organize a revolutionary movement against their peers. Unlike a coup
d'etat, an elite revolution mobilizes
nonmilitary elites into an organized
countergovernment and establishes a
"movement in the hills." This resistance
precipitates armed conflict with the old
regime but not a full-scale civil war.
Although the rebels must win a few
military victories vis-a-vis the government
troops (and avoid massive defeat), they
cannot hope to take power through a
complete military victory. Rather, they
must count on the regime's moral
collapse before revolutionaries who have
gained mass ideological support through
their nationalistic appeals against the
government's capitulation to foreign demands and intervention. Such collapse is
most likely when there is no consolidated
upper class to support the government,
nor any massive foreign inten'ention.
4) An elite revolution does not involve
mass mobilization either prior to or after
the takeover of power. Before defeating
the old regime, revolutionary bureaucrats
try to neutralize the masses. Insofar as
nonelites are involved in revolutionary
violence it is only through spontaneous
uprisings (which quickly subside) or in a
military capacity under strict elite control. Nor is revolutionary change stimulated by mass demands or pressure.
Rather, all social, economic and political
change in an elite revolution is initiated
from the top, by the small group of rebels
who won power. The elitist nature of the
takeover of power-the lack of a consolidated ruling class in opposition, the
absence of great violence and social
upheaval, and the consolidation of an



autonomous military and administrative

apparatus by the rebel elite-permit rapid,
profound, and essentially nonviolent
social and economic change in the central
institutions of the society without mass
5) Elite revolutionaries who come to
power to prevent imperialist penetration
of a predominantly agrarian society will
give primary emphasis to industrialization. They will tend to adopt an elitist
strategy of economic development by: (a)
raising the capital for industrialization
through creation of a rural bourgeoisie
(from the rich peasants) who can extract
an increasing surplus from the peasant
masses; and (b) creation of an urban
entrepreneurial class (from the traditional
elite) who will work with the State in a
mixed public-private plan for industrialization. To promote this economic strategy, however, the elite revolutionaries are
forced to give not only material but also
political concessions to the emerging rural
and urban bourgeoisie. Parliamentary
representation for these elites and the
freedom to form competing political
parties permit the establishment of institutions which can later be used by the
capitalist middle class to mobilize the
peasant masses (left out of the revolutionary transformation) with conservative and
reactionary appeals. An elite revolution at
its best leads to the consolidation of a
conservative parliamentary regime which
severely limits mass participation in
politics and preserves social and economic
The preceding analysis of elite revolutions raises many questions for further
analysis: How do revolutions made by an
elite arising outside the political and
military structure of the old regime (as in
the Soviet Union and Cuba) differ from
revolutions led by a bureaucratic elite
generated from within the State? Are
elite revolutions as conceptualized here
possible in third-world countries today
with a higher degree of industrialization
and imperialist control than was the case
in Japan and Turkey? To what extent
were Nasser's revolution, the Algerian

revolution, and the Peruvian coup of

1968 elite revolutions with attributes
similar to earlier revolutions in Japan and
The study of elite revolutions also
raises questions as to the extent to which
all modern revolutions have been shaped
by elitism. Further delineation of the
attributes of, reasons for, and costs of
different patterns of revolutionary elitism
in the past might help us move toward
more democratic revolutions in the
future-revolutions which would truly
benefit the mass of the population and
create more egalitarian societies.
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