Revolutionary movement (or revolutionary social movement) is a specific type of social movement dedicated to carrying out a revolution. Charles Tilly defines it as "a social movement advancing exclusive competing claims to control of the state, or some segment of it". It is defined more simply by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper as "a social movement that seeks, as minimum, to overthrow the government or state"; those definition are consistent with those in other works.
Social movement may want to make various reforms, and gain some control of the state, but as long as they do not aim for an exclusive control, they are not revolutionary. Social movements may become more radical and revolutionary, and vice versa - revolutionary movements can scale down their demands and agree to share powers with others, becoming a political party.
Goodwin distinguishes between a conservative (reformist) and radical revolutionary movements, depending on how much of a change they want to introduce. A conservative or reformist revolutionary movement will want to change fewer elements of the soci-economic and cultural system that a radical reformist movement (Godwin also notes that not all radical movements have to be revolutionary). A radical revolutionary movement will thus want both to take an exclusive control of the state, and to fundamentally transform one of more elements of its society, economy or culture.
An example of a conservative revolutionary movement would be the American Revolutionary movement, or the Mexican Revolutionary movement. Examples of a radical revolutionary movements include Bolsheviks in Russia, Chinese Communist Party and other communist movements in most of Southeast Asia and Cuba (which attempted to introduce broad changes to economy), the movements of the Iranian Revolution against the shah, and some Central American guerrilla movements. For a movement to be considered revolutionary in a modern day United States it should call for a change of the dominant economic system (capitalism) or the political system (two party representative democracy).
The same social movement may be viewed differently depending on a given context (usually the government of the country it is taking place). For example, Jack Goldstone notes that the human rights movement can be seen as a regular social movement in the West, but it is a revolutionary movement under oppressive regimes like in China. Another example he mentions was the racial equality movement, which could be seen as revolutionary few decades ago in South Africa, but now is just a regular social movement.
Five crucial factors to the development and success of a revolutionary movements include: mass discontent leading to popular uprisings, dissident political movements with elite participation, strong and unifying motivations across major parts of the society, a significant political crisis affecting the state reducing its ability or will to deal with the opposition (see political opportunity), and external support (or at last, lack of interference on behalf of the state).
- Tilly, Charles (1995). European Revolutions, 1492-1992. Blackwell. p. 10. ISBN 0-631-19903-9.
- Jeff Goodwin; James M. Jasper (5 May 2009). The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts. John Wiley & Sons. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-4051-8764-0. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Henry L. Tischler (1 January 2010). Introduction to Sociology. Cengage Learning. pp. 427–428. ISBN 978-0-495-80440-6. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Jeff Goodwin (4 June 2001). No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0-521-62948-5. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Jeff Goodwin (4 June 2001). No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991. Cambridge University Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-521-62948-5. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- James DeFronzo (11 January 2011). Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements. Westview Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-8133-4515-4. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Marco Giugni; Doug McAdam; Charles Tilly (1998). From Contention to Democracy. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-0-8476-9106-7. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- John D. H. Downing (28 October 2010). Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. SAGE. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-7619-2688-7. Retrieved 12 April 2012.