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What are some of the recent examples of a violent large-scale redistribution of wealth?

  • 3
    False premise: "Both were aimed at eliminating a whole class of people, the aristocrats, and redistributing the wealth and power towards the poor." – Samuel Russell Jan 14 '13 at 2:05
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    Arguably, most of the poor didn't gain all that much wealth or power as a result of the revolution. – DVK Jan 14 '13 at 11:47
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    no revolution has ever actually intended to redistribute wealth to the poor, they want to redistribute wealth to a different select few. – Ryathal Jan 14 '13 at 18:24
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    @romkyns: you're going to have an uphill battle to argue that revolutions have intentionality in the manner that you did. – Samuel Russell Jan 14 '13 at 19:29
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    The question as it stands now asks which revolutions RESULTED in re-distribution of wealth- so we can ignore "intentions". – Rajib Feb 17 '14 at 14:49
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If I’m reading this question correctly, there are 4 criteria for an answer to be a valid example:

  1. There was a revolution.
  2. It was recent.
  3. There was a major or large-scale redistribution of wealth from rich to poor.
  4. There was violence. Presumably, this violence should relate to the redistribution of wealth rather than the actual overthrow of the previous regime.

The example most likely to satisfy all four criteria is Cuba. Criterion 1 seems straightforward: there was definitely a revolution. Criterion 2 depends on your definition of 'recent'; it was 60 years ago so we're talking post-WWII. Criteria 3 and 4 are more difficult to establish, not least because of the problem of defining the words ‘major’ or ‘large-scale’ (3) and ‘violence’ (4), but the evidence presented below cannot be easily dismissed despite some valid criticism of the overall performance of the Cuban economy since the 1959 revolution.


MAJOR OR LARGE-SCALE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH FROM RICH TO POOR

Cuba specialist Claus Brundenius of Lund University, in Revolutionary Cuba at 50: Growth with Equity Revisited (Latin American Perspectives Vol. 36, No. 2, 2009) is unequivocal on this:

The Cuban Revolution had a dramatic impact on income distribution. There was a radical redistribution of both assets and incomes in the very first years of the 1960s (Brundenius, 1984), and inequalities narrowed considerably. Instrumental in this were the agrarian and housing reform of 1959.

Will H. Moore, Ronny Lindstrom and Valerie O’Regan in Land reform, political violence and the economic inequality‐political conflict nexus: A longitudinal analysis (International Interactions, January 1996) note details on the changes in land ownership which resulted from the 1959 Agrarian Reform Law. Prior to the revolution,

...73.3% of the land [was] in the hands of 9.4% of the owners, and 7.4% belonging to 66.1% of owners.... ...the 1959 reform set limits to the amount of land given or sold to owners. Private land holdings were limited to 402 hectares, and more than ten million acres were redistributed among an estimated 100,000 farmers....Small amounts of land were available for former tenants, squatters, sharecroppers, peasants, veterans and agricultural workers. By 1961, nearly 50% of Cuba’s total land area was reallocated to farmers and others who worked the land....

In addition to land reform, in 1959

The passage of the Rent Reduction Act resulted in the transfer of about 15 percent of the national income from property owners to wage workers and peasants...

These two measures contributed in large part to the decline in inequality. This is shown by a decline in the Gini Index or Coefficient, the most commonly used means of measuring income inequality: the higher the number (from 0 to 1), the more unevenly distributed income is. Put simply,

A country in which every resident has the same income would have an income Gini coefficient of 0. A country in which one resident earned all the income, while everyone else earned nothing, would have an income Gini coefficient of 1.

Although the Gini Coefficient is not without its critics, the trend in Cuba from the 1950s to the 1980s is in stark contrast to other Latin American countries and the change too big (0.55 in the 1950s to 0.22 in the 1980s) to be simply dismissed out-of-hand.

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Source: Revolutionary Cuba at 50: Growth with Equity Revisited

This impressive performance in terms of income redistribution should not, though, be taken as a blanket indicator of success for the Cuban economy as a whole. GDP and GDP per capita declined slightly during the 1960s so some wealth was lost, but there were still significant gains for lower income groups.

From 1970 to 1985, income equality continued to improve at the same time as GDP and GDP per capita rose steadily. Further, access to health care and education improved markedly up until the 1990s. Although this rise in GDP / GDP per capita was below par compared to most west European and Latin American economies, this does not alter the fact that income was more evenly distributed in Cuba.


VIOLENCE

Although political violence declined after the revolution, there was armed resistance to land reform. It was met with such overwhelming numbers of government soldiers and militias that it was crushed within a few years. These rebels came from all social groups but were primarily rural. The rebels’

...leaders and followers had local roots. They moved around in areas where they had grown up and had kinfolk and friends for support. They rested out-of-sight during the day and moved only after dark. “Bandidos” attacked targets away from their hideouts and then returned to their home territory for rest and supplies. They maintained networks of informants in the local population that provided intelligence about targets and location of government militia units. The rebel bands planned attacks and laid ambushes late in the late afternoon or early evening. After a brief fire-fight, the attackers dispersed individually or in pairs and used the cover of darkness to evacuate back to their home bases.

The number of casualties is uncertain. The World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators III: 1948-1982 (cited in Brundenius, 2009) states over 700. Mostly, though,

The rebels mainly engaged in the destruction of property and in this way avoided confrontations with armed troops. They committed sabotage, set fire to tobacco drying sheds, and descended to the plains to burn fields of maturing sugar cane. In the eight months following November 1961, authorities reported nearly fourteen hundred cases of cane burning throughout the country.

The Escambray rebellion, with an estimated minimum of 6,000 killed, should perhaps only be partly counted as it was much more than just a rebellion against land reform.

  • Do Cuban farmers currently own land? – tbrookside Apr 9 at 14:59
  • @tbrookside Yes, but only about 20% of land is privately owned. Mostly, though, land is leased from the government. – Lars Bosteen Apr 9 at 15:21
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    I'd challenge the idea that wealth was significantly redistributed in Cuba. It seems as though the wealthy were eliminated, but most of the wealth was either exported or destroyed. – jamesqf Apr 9 at 16:39
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    @jamesqf Cuba's social investments in human capital -- education and health care -- were vastly expanded. – Aaron Brick Apr 9 at 19:35
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    @jamesqf Sure, some wealth was destroyed or exported but much of the wealth was in land (which was certainly not exported). The land owned by the richest people was taken away and given to the less wealthy. Also, the amount of land under cultivation actually increased. – Lars Bosteen Apr 9 at 19:43
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Let us first ask ourselves, what is the wealth that can be redistributed?

Violent redistributing of consumer goods is called "looting" and it has always accompanied civil unrest; I don't think you are asking about that.

Redistribution of capital, AKA, means of production, often, indeed, accompanies revolutions.

When applied to industrial enterprise this redistribution usually takes form of nationalization (which rarely is accompanied by giving away shares to the poor), so, again, it does not fit your question.

When applied to agricultural capital, this means Land reform, and it does usually mean that the poor peasants become land owners.

So, to answer your question, you need to examine recent revolutions and find out which ones were followed by a land reform.

E.g., the Romanian Revolution lead to a land reform, redistributing the land wealth from the government bureaucracy to the peasants.

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