(Photo: Barricade Rue Soufflot by Horace Vernet)
Revolutions and Economics
Revolutions are caused and driven by economics, and the Revolutions of 1848 are no exception. The Agricultural Revolution, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Dot Com Revolution: nearly all revolutions are economic. In the case of 1848, it was the economic factors that caused the social and political upheaval that we now call the Revolutions of 1848.
One of the economic factors were increased agricultural productivity combined, ironically, with poor harvests. Technological improvements in farming meant less manpower was needed on the farm. Specifically, from the 1830s and 1840s, Prussia, Saxony, and other German states reorganized agriculture, introducing sugar beets, turnips, and potatoes, yielding a higher level of food production that enabled a surplus rural population to move to industrial areas. Later, however, a series of poor harvests that drove hungry farmers to join the surplus farming populations to seek food and employment in the urban areas of Europe. The infamous potato light of Ireland actually affected many places in northern Europe as well as the Czech region of Central Europe. The Rhineland had drastic shortages of rye and, these combined shortages then also increased the prices for food in Europe according to the economic principles of supply and demand.
The increased urbanization also served the needs of increasing industrialization in Europe as well. Urban workers labored long hours with little or no days off in order to eke out a basic living. Child labor in the mills and factories, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. Extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks.
While historians usually avoid using the term Industrial Revolution in France because of the slow development, there was significant growth in railroads and banking (Banque de France). France became a luxury location, fueling perceptions of class inequality. Belgium was the second most industrializing state next to the United Kingdom, and the German states had truck line linking all major cities even in the absence of a central government.
In the German states, the industrial revolution in the textile and railroad industries created an economic boom for the nascent middle class of managers and engineers. The rising middle class had rising economic and political expectations that blossomed further with the Zollverein starting in 1834. Thus, the political expectations versus the political realities contributed to the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states.
These agricultural and industrial economic factors thus bred dissatisfaction with the political leadership in Europe and demands for more participation in government and democracy. The governments of Europe affected were authoritarian monarchies, Sicily, France, Austro-Hungary, the various Germanies, etc. It is worth noting that the United Kingdom, the most democratic government in Europe, did not have a Revolution in 1848; the other non-revolution that stands out is Russia. As has been said, Russia did have a Revolution of 1948, but it happened in 1905.
Theoretical Models of Revolution
There are many theories of how and why revolutions happen. One of the most read theories is “Anatomy of Revolution” by Crane Brinton. In 1938, Brinton outlining the uniformities of political revolutions: the fall of the Old Regime, the rise of revolutionaries, moderates share power with radicals, radicals achieve total power and the corresponding reign of terror, then the convalescence stage. This model has also been described as the fever model: incubation, symptomatic, crisis, and convalescence. Antelope Yunglang has a very pro-revolutionary model called the Four Stages of the Revolution that identify the Insurrection Stage, Maintenance Stage, Development Stage, and the Final Period.
In addition to Brinton, Fever Model, and Yunglang, there is also the four-stage Common Process Model. The “common process” holds that revolutions begin with (1) mobilization of liberals and nationalists, (2) these people win success and political concessions initially, (3) tensions within ranks lead to splits between moderates and radicals, (4) making a counterrevolution possible.
Both the Revolutions of 1848 in France and the German states fit the common process model well, though it perhaps is most fitting to the French experiences of 1848:
In France, liberals and nationalists rose up in February, created a provisional government, began to disagree, and then the conservatives and moderates won the national election in December. The election of Louis Napoleon effectively ended the Revolution of 1848 in France.
In the German states, the March Days led to the creation of the Frankfurt Assembly in May of 1848. This a primary distinction between the two revolutions. In France, the Provisional Government was, well, the government. Louis Philippe had abdicated and gone into exile. In the German states, the revolutionaries never took control of the Prussian, Austrian, or other German governments. While the revolutionaries won success and political concessions initially, the inability of delegates to become the legitimate government ended the revolution at that point. The Stage Three of the Common Process (tensions between moderates and radicals) was meaningless because the moderates and radicals never achieved the power of the purse or the power over the army in the German states. Thus, there was no need for a counterrevolution because the revolution stalled after Stage Two. The withdrawal of the Austrian delegates from the Frankfurt Assembly, the October Declaration by Kaiser King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and the arrest of the remaining members of the assembly in Stuttgart by Imperial soldiers effectively ended the German Revolution of 1848.
Success or Failure?
While historians have stated that over 50 countries were affected by the Revolutions of 1848 which began in Sicily in January, then spread across Europe after the more significant February revolution in France. However, the major revolutions only occurred in France, the German states, and the Austrian Empire. Major revolutions in 3 out of 50 countries is hardly a spectacular success. A monarchy in France under King Louis Philippe was ultimately replaced with an Empire under Louis Napoleon. Hungarian rebellions in the Austrian Empire achieved a name-change; The Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The proposed new Germany was rejected by the Junkers and ultimately by Prussian Kaiser Frederick William as well.
The Frankfurt Assembly of German states failed over the Greater or Lesser Germany question as well as the delegates of money, land, or army (John Merriman, 1996; Mike Rapport, 2008). Revolutions need armies and money, as well as ideas. The revolutionaries of 1848 failed to control the ‘power of the purse’ in both German and Austria. In France, the rural populations ended the revolution by their conservative votes in the election of December 1848, returning the power of the purse and the army to the monarchists and counter-revolutionary members of the government.
A spectacular failure indeed.
The Effect of the Metternich System
While the Metternich System may have ended the Revolutions of 1848, the Metternich System was also responsible for creating the Revolutions of 1848 as well. The reactionary governments installed at the Congress of Vienna became the lid on the boiling pot of liberalism and nationalism that exploded in 1848. The reduction in the number of German states at the Congress of Vienna, however, strengthened the position of Prussia. The stronger Prussia, therefore, was in a more entrenched position to resist the revolutionaries from the March Days and subsequent demands by the Frankfurt Assembly. Metternich’s reestablishment of Austria dominance in the Italian peninsula after the defeat of Murat’s Naples also indirectly limited the success of Italian revolutions in Sicily and Sardinia.
The Congress System created the very international communication and coordinance that was absent from the Revolutions of 1848. While the Revolutions of 1848 were short-lived, not all the revolutions ended with the original or similarly repressive governments in power.
In the Netherlands, King William II preemptively and proactively altered the Dutch constitution to reform elections and effectively end the absolute monarchy. In Ireland, the German states, and Italy, the Revolutions of 1848 fueled nationalism that ultimately led to independence and unification respectively. In France, while the December elections led to the conservative Second Empire, the universal suffrage achieved in the Revolution of 1848 was never taken away.
It is interesting that the United Kingdom, perhaps the most democratic government in Europe, supported the Metternich System while even the monarchist Duke of Wellington pushed democratic reforms and Catholic Emancipation in Ireland. In the years between the Battle of Waterloo and the 1848 Revolutions, the anti-absolutist Whig Party led the British government for nearly 12 years. In fact, the Whig Party controlled the British government during the Revolutions of 1848.
Why did the democratically inclined and anti-absolutist Prime Minister John Russell not do more to support the Revolutions of 1848? Perhaps the success of the Metternich System was to discourage British interference in Continental Europe, not the establishment of reactionary regimes on the Continent.
Metternich and the Metternich System may have been important in the relative failure of the 1848 Revolutions, but the absence of British agitation for increased democratization in Europe is probably as influential as the role of the Metternich System.
The 2005 film Sometimes in April is a powerful reminder of the Rwandan Genocide that began in April 1994. There’s something about April, I suppose: the Armenian Genocide too began in April; and the Siege of Sarajevo, which many consider to be the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide, began in April as well. Three of the six most well-known genocides began in the same month…
But May isn’t much better…
May 17, 1984, Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque… 278 dead. And in 1987, from March, through the entire month of May, and to June, riots occurred between Muslim and Hindu Indians in Meerut and resulted in the death of more than 350 people.
Yes, the Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque? First of all, who cares, right? It’s just a flag? And, on the other hand, who would tarnish a religious building with the religious symbols of another religion? Disgusting insensitivity and hatred. It reminds me of swastikas on synagogues and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon flying an Israeli flag from the home he bought in the Muslim Old City of Jerusalem.
And, specifically, on this day, May 22, 1987, forty-two men were massacred by the Indian military in the Hashimpura neighborhood of Meerut, the state of UP. The victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped in water canals; a few days later dead bodies were found floating in the canals. The trials were delayed for decades and, on March 21, 2015, the verdict was returned, and the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi acquitted the 16 soldiers accused in the Hashimpura Massacre, due to “insufficient evidence.”
Fortunately, some semblance of justice and responsibility, in May 2015, the UP government announced a compensation equivalent to $US 500,000 to the family of each victim.
But the violence in the India haven’t stopped. Years later, but also in May, the 2006 Vadodara Dargah riots occurred in the state of Gujarat in India. The 2006 Riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove a 300-year-old Sufi dargah (shrine). An independent people’s commission has stated that the police had targeted Muslims during the incident…. eight people were killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police shooting.
Who votes to close a religious site in a city known for its religious strife? Yes, Gujarat is the same state that was home to the 1969 and 2002 Gujarat riots as well.
But the crimes against humanity and genocide in the Indian subcontinent is not all religiously-based war crimes, in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, Muslims killed Muslims over, at least at face-value, over language. May 5, 1971, the Gopalpur Massacre occurred when Muslim Pakistani forces murdered 195 Bengali Muslim workers at a sugar factor. And on May 20, 1971, many thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees were murdered in the Chuknagar massacre by Pakistani forces. Why? Religion? Language? Bloodlust? Probably all three….
Some much violence. So much hate and ignorance. Demographic tribalism and identity politics at its worst.
May is not a good month for the continent of Asia. Also in this month of May, specifically May 21, 1864, Russia declared an end to the Russo-Circassian War after the scorched earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Yevdokimov. When the Circassian people refused to convert to Christianity from Islam, almost the entire population was forced into exile from their North Caucasus homeland. More than 1.5 million Circassians were expelled — 90% of the total population at the time. Most of them perished en route, victims of disease, hunger, and exhaustion. And, among the Circassians that stayed behind? Chechnyans. And you wonder why so many Chechnyans hate the Russians so much. As a war against civilians, forced transfer of populations, within the context of both ethnic and religious differences… another genocide. May 21st is designated as the Circassian Day of Mourning and recognizes the Circassian Genocide. And just a few years ago, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were held on former Circassian land which caused an outcry from Circassian people as well as humans rights activists worldwide.
From the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia, across the Indian subcontinent, to southeast Asia. In Cambodia, May 20, is The Day of Remembrance. Formerly called the National Day of Hatred, it commemorates the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country between 1975 and 1979; specifically, the date was selected since it marked the beginning of mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge…
While the German Genocide, or Holocaust, started on that November night of Broken Glass and the Darfur Genocide began on a dusty February day in 2003… three well-known genocides all began Sometime in April… but unfortunately, genocide is more ordinary than extraordinary. May marks the beginning of the Palestinian Diaspora in 1948, the lesser known Greek Genocide, the Circassian Genocide, the more well-known Cambodian Genocide, as well as continuous violence in India and several massacres of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.
Genocide is not a competition, and if we could see how pathetically ordinary it is in our human history, perhaps we could turn the corner and recognize one another as sister and brother, no matter race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. Remember the sins of the past, remember that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. The choices we make today will be looked back upon tomorrow.