Thursday, December 16, 2010

1848:Year of Revolution

1848: Year of Revolution

Mike Rapport's book tells the story of revolutionary change that broke out is France and the Habsburg Empire (Austria and Hungary) as well as the various states in what are now Germany and Italy. On the other hand, the contagion did not spread to the Iberian peninsula, Scandinavia, England, Russia or the Ottoman Empire (which still extended into Europe). Recall that at the time the Habsburg Empire still ruled Venice and Lombardy, and the Italian peninsula still was divided among states (the Two Sicilies, Papal Rome, Tuscany, the Piedmont). Germany was not unified under Prussia until later in the century.

1848 was a bad year for most Europeans. Bad weather led to bad crop yields, hunger, and economic crisis. The Industrial Revolution was threatening the jobs and livelihoods of craftsmen. The idea that government had a role in ameliorating the suffering of the poor, termed "socialism" at the time, gained traction at this time and in these circumstances. One can also appreciate how Marx could perceive at this time that political and economic institutions would change as the technological basis of society and its productive and distributive systems changed.

European political opinion was divided among conservatives (often monarchists), liberals (favoring constitutional government that protected civil liberties) and radicals (seeking more fundamental change including universal suffrage). It was a time of nationalism, with ethnic minorities in then existing states (the Polish, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Hungarians) seeking independent nation states, while speakers of German and the speakers of Italian, each spread among several states, were seeking unification into their nation states. Thus nationalism had both a centripetal and centrifugal aspect, tending to coalesce German and Italian states while breaking up the Habsburg empire.

It seems to me that there was a remarkable degree of shared information on political theory among European peoples; ideas of personal liberty, constitutional limitation of executive authority, and broad suffrage were widely understood. I found the geographic mobility of key players at the time to be surprising. People were exiled. Garibaldi, who had been fighting in Argentina returned to Europe to participate in revolutionary movements there, and continued to mover from region to region during 1848-49. Networks of political clubs existed in various countries.

When revolution sparked in Milan (against the Austrian rulers) word spread quickly to other cities in Europe. I suppose that railroads, steamships and the newly invented telegraph. Helped spread the word quickly. Of course, there was an emergent middle class, educated, which created a market for newspapers which were printed with emergent printing technology and distributed through improved distribution networks.

People took to the streets, indeed ripping up the streets to make barricades. Regular troops and militias were called out, sometimes taking the sides of the protesters. In the early part of the movements, liberals joined with radicals to promote revolution as students and the working class fought in the urban streets. The more conservative peasantry often sided with those defending the existing authoritarian order, especially as the Habsburg emperor abolished serfdom where it still existed in his lands.

The memories of the Napoleonic wars were still fresh and all the major powers were determined not to let conflict escalate to a Europe-wide war. On the other hand, Russia invaded Hungary to support the Habsburg monarchy domination of that people, and France sent troops to Rome to support the Pope's government.

1848 saw initial revolutionary success, but 1849 saw the counter-revolutionary monarchies emerge triumphant. Napoleon III emerged in France as the French Republic fell. Franz Joseph saw the Habsburg empire continue to hold Hungary, Lombardy and Venice. Frederick William IV, the king of Prussia, saw the plans for a democratic German union fail, setting the stage for later military unification of Germany under Prussian rule. The Pope was restored to rule in Rome. King Ferdinand II restored the monarch to full power in Naples and put down the separatist revolution in Sicily. Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia emerged as the strongest monarch in the region, setting the stage for his successor to rule a unified Italian monarchy. Yet major changes were instituted. Constitutional government would be hard to suppress. Aristocratic classes saw their local authority reduced as serfdom was abolished.

I found 1848: Year of Revolution to be hard to read and hard to remember. There were too many players, and since I was unfamiliar with their names and their roles in history I found it hard to recall who was doing what. Keeping track of what was happening in a number of different regions during a number of different periods was very difficult for me. Still, I can see the importance of an analysis showing the contagion of the revolutionary ideas and counter revolutionary restoration over this large core region of Europe.

I posted a few times in the past on this book:

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