Four the past several weeks, I have been attempting to obtain copies of reviews of States & Social Revolutions that would have been written at the time of the book's initial publication. In fact, I had hoped that I could find whole books dedicated to rebutting much of the flawed argument that Skocpol puts forth in this book. I could find neither. But first, let me state my case against Skocpol.
First, there exists the problem of mid-level political theory. There is deep level theory, mid level theory, and what I deem specific political commentary. In deep level theory, one can make certain broad, rather common arguments: when states come under external military pressure, it impacts their economy. On the specific level, one could comment on how a specific war impacted a specific economy. But in the mid level, the arguments become tenuous. This happens when a scholar attempts to take a handful of countries, and to claim that a rather specific series of events (X, Y, Z) impacted those countries, took place in those countries, and had the same results in those countries. This is mid-level theory (in my understanding), and it is often highly flawed.
Skocpol advances three test cases to "prove" her argument. Indeed, she writes as though her book is empirically proving a mathematical equation to be true. This is one of the more superficial (though irritating) aspects of the book. Notwithstanding her penchant for a heavy-handed egotistical tone of writing, her argument is still tenuous. Her three test cases are France, Russia, and China. Essentially, Skocpol argues that all of these countries were impacted by their international situation and/or conflict. In France, the external actor was Britain's military might and the situation was exacerbated by France's poor geographic position. In Russia, the actor was WWI. In China, the Sino-Japanese war. These external situations necessitated governmental reforms in all three nations; reforms that would allow the nation to deal with threatening international conditions. Such reforms would deal with agricultural production, taxation, gathering of a military, etc. According to Skocpol, one of the key causes of a social revolution is that the elite classes in the countries where the revolution occurs will be antagonistic to the government's attempts at reform. When this antagonism reaches a hilt, social cohesion and coercion mechanisms fail, and the peasants revolt.
The first aspect of Sxocpol's argument is a sound one. In all three cases, there was international pressure and the government attempted reforms. As the argument progresses, it becomes quite weak. In France, the nobility were - as Skopol's claim requires - antagonistic to government efforts for reform, this did result in a breakdown in social cohesion and in coercion mechanisms. In China, the same held true. In Russia, however, the government reforms were accepted by the nobility. (STRIKE ONE).
According to Skocpol's logic, a rejection of governmental reforms by the nobility should result in a social revolution. In France, this happened. In Russia, there was no rejection by the noble class, but a revolution too place nonetheless. (STRIKE TWO). In China, there was no peasant revolt, yet Skocpol uses China as a case to prove her argument. (STRIKE THREE).
The argumentation in the book is poor. France is Skocpol's best case. But furthermore, it is instructive to note that Skocpol focuses exclusively on states, classes, governments---- but never on individual people. Her model is a very deterministic one: If conditions X, Y, and Z are present, there will be a social revolution. This is poor logic. She excludes any social/cultural factors that may have led to revolutions in any of her test cases. A great example is the case of Russia. Skocpol ignores Czar Nicholas' personal incompetence, and the difference between his ruling style and that of his predecessors. Furthermore, she ignores Russia's rapid industrialization and the power of a growing working class culture/shared identity/etc.
I reccomend this book to everyone interested in politics, if only because it will give you some good historical grounding for the periods and cases studied, and because it is always fun to deconstruct the "standard work".