An Enlightening Look at the French Revolution

The impact of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution is hard to quantify. Practically every dimension of this critical phase in the history of European civilisation is shrouded in equivocality; and yet none more so, in my view, than the postulated lynchpin of it all. There is a tendency, quite naturally, to fall back on the Enlightenment as the sole causation and propagator of social turmoil – and here we must be careful, since to subscribe to this view would be to fall prey to an enduring fallacy, propounded by Edmund Burke in 1790, on the back of his intransigent belief in the Revolution as a “strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.” (Burke, 1999, p.10) When it comes to history, persevering dogma is inadmissible.

There is little consensus on the precise beginnings of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ – which is a pity, since this dispels any notion of a little bulb lighting up over Europe.  In France, the three musketeers – Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire – epitomised this ‘revolution’ in human thought.   But was there actually any sort of trend between the ideas of these men? In a country which had no active politics, the intellectuals of the day were not in a position to dream up a coherent political system. Montesquieu’s ‘Spirit of the Laws’ (1748), predicated on the virtues of the English constitution, had been brutally distorted   come the third quarter of the century; the concept of the separation of powers was employed merely in defence of the claims of the French parlements, and the word ‘despotism’ had extended so pervasively that it had almost become meaningless – compare ‘deficit’ today. Likewise, Rousseau’s Social Contract (1762) was, and is, characterised by notorious paradox; did contemporaries understand it? Did it have a discernible impact during the Revolution’s course?

What is certain is that the public life of eighteenth century France was acted out before a burgeoning, communal platform of informed public opinion, which by 1770 had escalated beyond the government’s control. However, this is not to say that literacy was a nationwide phenomenon, and the ability to read, then as now, did not necessarily endow the ability to think. On the eve of revolution, just 37% of the population could read, and of them the preponderance were indulging exclusively in popular literature – almanacs, chapbooks, and cheaply produced collections of fictitious works. Enlightening works were not cheap; Diderot’s monolithic Encylopédie cost the equivalent (on average) of ninety-three weeks’ wages. What is more, for most Europeans the monotony of daily life did not call for any modification in thought, or for any revolution. With respect to France, therefore, the question must be posed: what did?

Any attempt to assess the Enlightenment singularly is inevitably going to flounder. This spurt toward the attainment of knowledge and progress, and thereby greater happiness or human perfection, was concomitant with an array of demographic, social and economic alterations in pre-revolutionary France, which were uneasily juxtaposed to the prevailing features of the Ancien Régime: population increase alongside a decline in agricultural output; a thriving over-seas colonial trade alongside a languishing hinterland economy; the assent of the bourgeoisie alongside (an attempt at) the consolidation of government power.  Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in 1774 roughly corresponded with the beginnings of substantial economic downturn; but the protracted recession, glaring in 1778, was by no means incurable. Come 1787 – post bad harvest and the calamitous decision to enter the American War of Independence (1775-1783) – the country had plummeted into a period of cyclical downswing, wrought upon an economy of low resistance; employment and production both fell by 50%. It would take some flare of imagination to resolve this crisis.

The calling of the Estates General in early 1789 was the ultimate product of the above. By no coincidence, in the first four months of that year 2,639 cheap political pamphlets were disseminated. For the first time, “journalism assumed its modern role of whipping up popular passion” (Cobban, 1968, p.25), and hundreds of thousands of starving poor were mobilised. “An unfavourable concatenation of events had brought together in a common opposition the bourgeoisie and the proteleriat” (Labrousse, 1958, p.72); had amalgamated “a political protest against the tyrannies and restrictions of the Ancien Régime, [with] a social protest of depressed [and] impoverished classes.” (Rudé, 1964, p.66) Which was the more important in building up to this point? Were socio-economic changes to “provide the soil in which intellectualism could germinate”? (Lewis, 1999, p.8) Was the Enlightenment the propagator, or a cleverly disguised manifestation of change?  Regardless, the conceptualisation of the French Revolution as a bloc with one inspiration is invalid.

Contributed by Jack Nicholson

Did life improve in Britain after the introduction of the Welfare State?

Following the outbreak of the Second World War the national government played a more important role in people’s lives, with tasks such as organising rationing helping towards Britain’s war effort. This was welcomed by the public and in December 1942 William Beveridge, a senior civil servant, released a report highlighting the five main issues Britain had to overcome in order to achieve a better society, this was to become the foundations of the Welfare State. The five ‘giants’ were want, disease, idleness, ignorance and squalor. The first of Beveridge’s proposals came into effect before the end of the war, in 1944, and by 1950 many key policies were introduced such as the National Health Service, the Education Act of 1944 and the National Insurance Act. Britain had undergone vast change within the 5 years after World War Two, but by 1950 had life improved in Britain as a result of these new reforms?

The first ‘giant’ highlighted in the Beveridge Report was ‘want’ – poverty and the lack of basics to live a healthy life. The National Insurance Act was passed in 1946, which provided comprehensive insurance against most eventualities such as illness, unemployment and retirement. Most people paid roughly 4 shillings and it was said that social provision was made for citizens from the ‘cradle to the grave’, catering for their needs from their time of birth to their death. Criticism arose however as there were limitations to who would receive insurance, for example married women and a number of self-employed workers were not included under the scheme. To counter this, the National Assistance Act was passed in 1948 which aimed to cover those who didn’t qualify for the National Insurance Act. However, benefits were set too low, in 1948 benefits were only 19% of the average industrial wage, which resulted in many citizens remaining below the subsistence level. Though there were some criticisms over both acts, Britain had taken a step forward and therefore it must be concluded that, in terms of ‘want’, Britain had improved by 1950.

The 1946 National Health Service Act became the first step towards eradicating ‘disease’. This made healthcare free on the basis of citizenship and need rather than the payment of fees or insurance premiums. The National Health Service launched in 1948 which instituted, for the first time in Britain, a universal state health service. The NHS provided free diagnosis and treatment of illnesses at home or in hospital, including dental and ophthalmic treatment – something which had never been seen before. Problems arose however, as the costs of the NHS rose over the following years and by 1950 the idea of free treatment for all was undermined when charges were introduced for dental treatment. Also, out of date hospitals hindered the development of the NHS as a full service could only be provided by the more advanced hospitals.  Although there were worries that the NHS would bankrupt the country, costing £358 billion per year by 1950, health improved and this was highlighted when the overall life expectancy rose in Britain. By achieving this and other subsequent advances the NHS has been considered the greatest single achievement in the development of the welfare state.

High levels of unemployment pose a threat to any successful society thus Beveridge sought to combat the perceived cause of this, idleness, as one of his five ‘giants’. One way in which the government kept almost full employment was through nationalisation. Following the principles of economist John Maynard Keynes, the government took control of certain industries such as iron and steel manufacture. Under this managed economy the government could use tax money to keep an industry afloat even if it faced economic difficulties. In addition to this, unprofitable industries were subsidised in order to keep people in work. The nationalisation of key industries helped keep unemployment rates low and by 1946, unemployment was reduced to 2.5 % and this was in spite of huge post-war problems such as shortages of raw materials and massive debts. Roughly full employment was seen as a great success and although the cost of paying for the new social services, combined with the debts incurred from fighting WWII, meant that Britain’s post-war economy was in bad shape, idleness was virtually eradicated.

The lack of education for all was seen as a worry, especially during the war, and the Butler Act, released in 1944, led to the large scale reform of schooling. Education was made compulsory until the age of 15 and three types of secondary school were introduced. The ’11+’was put in place to assign children to one of three types of school according to their ability. Those who passed this exam were placed in ‘grammar schools’ these children were expected to continue their education and possibly go to university and get jobs in management. Those who didn’t pass were placed in ‘secondary modern’ or ‘secondary technical’ schools, now known as ‘comprehensives’. Children who failed the exam were not expected to stay at school after they turned 15 and were expected to pursue apprenticeships or other forms of employment. Although education was provided for all children, little had been done to enhance the opportunities for working class children, most of whom left school at 15 with few if any paper qualifications.

Squalor, or poverty, was common during and soon after the Second World War. Most of Britain still had slum areas and overcrowding was a serious problem, this was made worse by bomb damage during the war. To deal with the problem of squalor the government concentrated on the building of decent homes for the working class after the war. The government aimed at building 200,000 houses a year and many of these were prefabricated houses which were assembled quickly onsite. To succeed these aims the New Towns Act and the Town and Country Planning Act were passed in 1946 and 1947 respectively. The New Towns act allowed the government to designate areas as new towns, and the Town and Country Planning Act established that planning permission was required for land development; ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land. This led to the planning of 14 new towns in Britain, including Glenrothes and East Kilbride in Scotland. However, the 1951 census revealed that there were 750,000 fewer houses than households in Britain and this was approximately the same level of homelessness seen in 1931. Although the government faced serious economic and social problems following World War Two, ultimately the severe housing shortage meant that ‘squalor’ was not eradicated in Britain following the introduction of the Welfare State.

Overall, it must be concluded that life in Britain had improved after the introduction of the Welfare State. Although there was still much to do, such as handling the cost of the NHS and sorting out the housing shortages, four out of William Beveridge’s five ‘giants’ were mainly eradicated. Though it could be said that examples such as life expectancy rising since the war were inevitable, the NHS still proved to be a success. Thanks to the National Insurance and Assistance Acts, previously virtually unseen insurance was now provided on a large scale and education was now made available for all children, regardless of their background.  Unemployment was tackled and the nationalisation of industry meant that the return of the soldiers was not the sole factor for this increase. Improvements were inevitably needed but the Welfare State was young and by 1950 despite these minor setbacks life in Britain had improved significantly.

Contributed by Freddie Carty

What was the Main Reason for the Outbreak of WW1

World War I lasted for 4 years between 1914 and 1918. The total number of military and civilian casualties was over 37 million. It seems that the main reason for the start of this war was militarism, though both imperialism and nationalism played a part as well and without all three, war may not have happened.

Nationalism and patriotism were significant factors in causing World War I. If a person is nationalistic, then they have a strong support of the rights and interests of their country.Each of Europe’s Great Powers developed a firm belief in its own cultural, economic and military supremacy, creating a fatal misconception that any war would produce a victory within a matter of months. This arrogance and over-confidence was fuelled by the press in each country promoting extreme nationalism. Various forms of propaganda, including newspapers and banners, were packed with nationalist rhetoric and ‘sabre-rattling’. It could also be found in other cultural expressions, such as literature, music and theatre. For example, even well-known songs made the people of countries like Britain, Germany and France more bellicose – the British sang ‘Rule Britannia’ declaring Britons ‘will never be slaves’ and the Germans sang ‘Deutschland uberalles’, portraying Germany ‘above all, over everything in the world’ . Songs like this produced nationalistic spirit and were almost catalysts for promoting nationalism in some countries. As each nation became more convinced of the integrity of its position and the prospects for victory, the likelihood of war increased. Politicians, royals and diplomats did little to deflate the public appetite for war, and some actively contributed to it by making provocative remarks themselves.

In an age where countries were becoming more nationalistic, all nations wanted to assert their power and independence. This led to colonies and similarly countries under foreign rule aiming for independence, and this was ultimately a reason for World War I as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and the Slavs wanting to break free from Austrian rule. On 28th June Ferdinand visited Sarajevo, capital of modern day Bosnia, which had just been taken under Austrian rule. The Black Hand gang were a group of nationalistic terrorists who wanted independence. After failed bomb attempts in the morning, Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and subsequently killed him. Austria then blamed Serbia for ‘supporting’ the terrorists. They, supported by Germany, send Serbia an ultimatum which included taking full responsibility for the assassination. Serbia failed to accept all of the points, which led to Russia mobilising its troops to protect Serbia. Germany then declared war on Russia and this led to the alliances coming into action, World War I had begun. Ultimately, the new found nationalistic beliefs of countries under foreign rule were always going to lead to attempts to claim independence. This is what led to the actions of the Black Hand gang and also tested the strength of the alliance for the first time. For these reasons nationalism must be considered as a factor for the start of World War I

Imperialism is when a country increases their power and wealth by bringing additional territories under their control, frequently in order to maintain or start an empire, or a collection of colonies. The imperialist nation – sometimes benignly called the ‘mother country’ – acquires these new territories by military conquest, political pressure or infiltration. This often requires skirmishes, or even a fully-fledged war against the local population. The British, for instance, had to seize control of South Africa away from hostile native tribes like the Zulus, and then the Boers (white farmers of Dutch extraction). Both conflicts were more difficult than they had envisaged. Nevertheless, the strategic and economic benefits of new colonies usually outweighed the risks. Once control was established, the region became a colony, the primary purpose of which was to benefit the imperial power. Usually this involved the supply of precious metals or other resources, cheap labour or agricultural land. The British Empire, for example, was largely based on trade, particularly the importation of raw materials and the commercial sale of manufactured goods. Military advantages also arrive when obtaining a colony, such as strategic locations for naval bases or troops. By 1914 there were relatively few parts of the world still open to imperial conquest. The ‘scramble for Africa’ saw much of that continent already claimed by European powers. Imperial competition, layered atop intense nationalism, contributed to the tension and rivalry of the pre-war generation.

The increased sense of imperialism led to two ‘crises’, both based in Morocco. In 1905 Morocco was one of the few African states not occupied by a European ruler. France hoped to conquer Morocco and add it to their ever growing list of colonies. In an agreement lasting four years to finalise in 1904, the French Foreign Minister at the time, Théophile Delcassé, it was concluded that Morocco would come under French control. Originally in November 1901 an agreement of this was signed with Italy, but Spain was unsure and insisted on informing the British government. Originally the British refused to support Delcassé but changed their minds in April 1904 and in October 1904 France got the agreement of the Spanish. However, France hadn’t asked Germany, and on 31st March 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm visited Morocco and promised them protection against anyone who threatened them. The French were outraged and Britain saw it as yet another attempt by Germany to build a German Empire to rival Britain’s empire.A Conference was held at Algeciras starting on 16th January 1906 to settle the dispute. Of the 13 nations present, the German representatives found that their only supporter was Austria-Hungary, while then others including Britain and Russia supported France. Germany was forced to promise to stay out of Morocco and France agreed to yield control of the Moroccan police, but otherwise retained effective control of Moroccan political and financial affairs. The Agadir Crisis, or Second Moroccan Crisis took place in 1911. At the start of 1911 a rebellion broke out in Morocco and subsequently France sent in an army to quash it. On 1st July, a German gunboat ‘Panther’ was sent to the port of Agadir under the pretext of preserving German trade interest. In the middle of the crisis, Germany was hit by financial turmoil. The stock market plunged by 30 percent in a single day, the public started cashing in currency notes for gold and there was a run on the banks. Faced with the potential of being driven off the gold standard, the Kaiser backed down and let the French take over most of Morocco. France and Germany underwent negotiations on 9th July and ended with Germany accepting France’s position in Morocco in return for territory in the French Equatorial African colony of Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo). The crisis led to Britain and France making a naval agreement where the Royal Navy promised to protect the northern coast of France from German attack, while France concentrated her fleet in the western Mediterranean and agreed to protect British interests there. The ultimate outcome of these two crises was the strengthening of the alliance between Britain and France and German embarrassment, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to bounce back stronger and the pathway for war was almost set.

Another factor in the developing mood for war was militarism, the attempt to build up a strong army and navy in order to give a nation the means and will to make war, and its incipient arms race. Powerful new weapons were produced in the decades before 1914, capable of killing on an industrial scale. Utilising new mass-production techniques, the Western nations could churn out these weapons and munitions in great quantities and at a rapid pace. But the descent into war was not only driven by new weapons; it was also fueled by militaristic cultures and attitudes. Military elites strongly influenced, and in some cases, dominated the governments and aristocracies of the Great Powers. The government became plagued with admirals and generals whose only focus was to expand the country’s military force by demanding increases in defence spending and promoting military solutions to political and diplomatic problems. War plans were also drawn up and so corrupted governments like this made war even more likely. As the former German army officer Alfred Vagts would later write, militarism was “a domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands (and) an emphasis on military considerations.”

It’s natural for military leaders to be obsessed with modernising their forces and equipping them with new technology, and the decades prior to 1914 saw no shortage of this. One of the most significant examples of weapon development was the heavy artillery. Marked improvements were made in the calibre, range, accuracy and portability areas of this powerful, but previously slightly unreliable weapon. The changes meant that artillery shelling and bombardments would become standard practice, particularly after the emergence of trench warfare. Millions of metres of barbed wire, an invention of the 1860s, would be mass produced and installed around trenches to halt charging infantry. Various types of poison gas including chlorine, phosgene and mustard were developed. In the naval areas, the development of the dreadnought – a large battleship, the first of which was launched in 1906 – prompted a flurry of ship-building and naval rearmament.European military expenditure catapulted between 1900 and 1914. In 1870 the combined military spending of the six great powers (Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy) totalled £94 million. By 1914 this had quadrupled to £398 million. German defence spending during this period increased by a colossal 73%, dwarfing the increases in France (10%) and Britain (13%). Russian’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 seemed to be a catalyst for their defence spending to rise by more than a third after the loss prompted the Tsar to order a massive rearmament program. By the 1910s, 45% of Russian government spending was allocated to the armed forces, while just 5% went on education, which shows the great effect militarism can cause.

As previously mentioned, it wasn’t just the amount and quality of weapons that was improving. Of the Great Powers, all of them except Britain had conscription. By 1914, Europe’s powers had increased their armed forces dramatically. Germany, France and Russia had over 1,000,000 soldiers while Britain, Italy and Austria-Hungary had between 710,000 and 810,000 men. In order to keep the amount the amount of soldiers increasing, the main countries of Europe started to train their young men as backup, so that if there a war broke out they could call, not only on the standing army, but on huge numbers of trained reservists. It was once estimated that the total number of men (including reservists) that the countries could thus call upon totalled as high as 8.5 million for Germany and 3-4 million for the other powers. This is an example of the ‘knock-on effect’ of militarism and why the countries were so eager to get the largest army as possible. As one country increased its armies, the others felt obliged to increase their armed forces as well in order to not fall behind and to keep the ‘balance of power’. Overall militarism was important in starting WWI as it not only made countries strengthen their armies, but it also increased suspicion and hatred between nations as well as giving nations the wherewithal to wage war.

Overall nationalism, imperialism and militarism all played a key role in starting WWI. Militarism made nations switch their focus to military needs, they all wanted to have the strongest army, and so gave the resources for war in 1914. Imperialism created the early tensions between the main European powers. France’s imperialistic aims led to them trying to invade Morocco and in doing so, created the early sparks between them and Germany and fortifying the alliance with Britain. Finally, nationalism formed the ‘last piece of the puzzle’. Though it could be said that war was always likely, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and ultimately that it was lead to Germany declaring war. Overall, it would seem that militarism was the main reason for the outbreak of World War One. Without the strong sense of militarism, my nations wouldn’t have had the resources to spark a world war. However as each nation got stronger, they wanted to expand their territory and ‘prove their strength’, which is what led to imperialism and the invasion of independent countries. Though nationalism did set off the war, without militarism, which led to imperialism, there would be no beliefs to become independent and eventually with the high amount of resources the great powers had, war would’ve been inevitable without the actions of the Black Hand gang.

Contributed by Freddie Carty

How far did Rasputin contribute to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in March 1917?

Rasputin was a Starets, a religious elder of the Russian Orthodox Church, who in the eyes of Lynch, a revisionist historian, was a ‘fatal disease’ inflicting damage to the Tsarist regime. When doctors failed to cure Tsarevich Alexei’s haemophilia, Tsarina Alexandra sought the aid of Rasputin in 1905. Rasputin appeared to treat Alexei due to his oft pragmatic advice and, thus, was invited into the royal entourage. Later he claimed, via a revelation, that Russia’s armies in the First World War would not be successful until the Tsar took personal control – an action resulting in dire consequences. During the Tsar’s absence at his headquarters at Mogilev, most of the day-to-day governing was in the hands of the Tsarina. Gradually, Rasputin became the personal advisor and confidant of the Tsarina and began filling government posts with his own candidates. This merely widened the abyss between the royalty and people of Russia. Rasputin’s influence was utilized as a ploy to weaken the dynasty’s integrity. His public disputes with the clergy and lifestyle added to diminish respect of the ruling class by subjects. Both Rasputin and the Tsarina were political scapegoats for Russia’s declining economy, actually due to the continuing war and ossifying effects of feudalism and inefficient government bureaucracy.

However, the role of Rasputin in the fall of the Romanov dynasty was less significant than other factors, namely the impact of the First World War. There is evidence to substantiate the claim that Rasputin was merely a symbol of Russian despotism and  not a crucial character in its downfall or construction, for his murder resulted in little change in the governing of Russia, ‘nothing was changed with Rasputin’s removal; nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsar’s situation’.

Instead, staggering losses on the battlefield played a definite role in the revolution. Rampant discontent lowered morale which was further undermined by series of military defeats like the Battle of the Massurian Lakes in 1915 and the failure of the Brusilov Offensive in 1916. This crisis in morale, as argued by Allan Wildman, ‘was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved.’

However, the war devastated not only soldiers and, by the end of 1915, it was clear that the economy was collapsing under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The root of such issues was the combined destructive nature of food shortages and inflation. The most affected region was the capital, St. Petersburg, a result of the distance from supplies and poor transportation networks. The initial outcome of this was growing criticism of governmental administration not war-weariness and disillusionment. However, increasing heavy losses strengthened revolutionary notions. A report by the St. Petersburg branch of the security police, the Okhrana, in October 1916, warned bluntly of ‘the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence.’ Nonetheless, little response was taken.

However, the Tsar was a symbol of morality in their lives while all catastrophes originated from meddling bureaucrats, functionaries and nobles. But, from the commencement of the First World War, the Tsar took active participation in government, tactics and administration. Therefore, he was personally blamed for many later crises and royalist support crumbled. In the summer of 1915, the Tsar became the new Commander-in-Chief of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary. The result was disastrous: firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Tsar Nicholas II was an incompetent leader, vexing his commanders with interference and thirdly, while at the front, he was unable to govern. This left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, and Rasputin, both ostracised and detested by the Russian people.

As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Tsar Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inexorably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was adopted. This was ignored. While the Tsar was at the front, the Tsarina was left in charge of governing. She proved to be an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a succession of Prime Ministers and angering the Duma. ‘From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk’ (1918) by Ariadna Tyrkova, a Constitutional Democratic Party member, states that rumours stated ‘Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer.’ It, also, describes the Tsarina as ‘haughty and unapproachable’ and a ruler who ‘lacked popularity’. Although such rumours may not have been true, it would have inevitably damaged the reputation of both the Tsar and Tsarina.

Moreover, the Tsarina’s trust on Rasputin on all matters, state or personal, was ruinous. Rasputin was hated by the people for his influence: ‘Russia and History’s Turning Point’ (1965) by Alexander Kerensky, describes ‘the Tsarina’s blind faith in Rasputin led her to seek his counsel not only in personal matters but also on questions of state policy.’ Such actions of the Tsarina would have alienated the majority of Russia, even loyal subjects. In addition, unfulfilled aspirations of democracy from the 1905 Revolution fuelled anti-imperialist revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts. The Tsar sought to quieten such political surges and mitigate social unrest though patriotic war against a common adversary of the Triple Entente, supporting its ally Serbia. Instead of restoring Russia’s political and military standing, the First World War undermined both the monarchy and society to the brink of ruin.

However, all these causes are interrelated: without the influence of diplomatic pressure, Russia would have not entered the First World War which itself worsened the internal stability of the state. Moreover, without poor social conditions, due to the collapsing economy and rapid urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution, revolutionary ideas would not have gained traction or without the obstinacy of the Tsar, the revolution would not have occurred. Different historians apply different emphases to each cause: liberal writers would prioritise the turmoil of the war while materialist histories would highlight on the irrevocability of change. However, it can be said with some certainty, that the character of Rasputin did not play a crucial part in the downfall of the Tsarist regime in 1917.

Contributed by Ali Qureshi

How do you start a revolution?

Revolution: a forcible overthrow of a government of social order, in favour of a new system.

Such occurrences are scattered throughout time, bringing rise to such figures as George Washington and Fidel Castro both of whom continue to influence our world today. However how does such an impactful event begin? Even though revolutions are complex, multifaceted events at the heart of many lie the same conditions, processes and catalysts. As the father of Communism, Karl Marx stated ‘History repeats itself…’ Even though the fundamental assumption at the centre of Marx’s idea is simplistic, common strands can be found throughout time providing the keys to social change across the ages.

The famous phrase, ‘The economy, stupid’ coined by James Carville during Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign seems to aptly summarise the underlying presence of the economy as a force for change throughout history and more specifically as a catalyst for revolution. The 1917 Russian Revolution can serve as an example of this; from 1916 Russian peasants were expected to work for 11 hours a day in adverse conditions. At the end of the long and gruelling day they returned to their living quarters typically sharing with at least five other workers. In addition to this Sergei Witte’s land reforms earlier in the 20th century that created overcrowding on the land plots in which they worked, and the continued refusal of the Tsarist regime to allow worker ownership of land led to brutal economic conditions and an appalling quality of life for the poorest in Russian society. These negative economic factors made Russian workers look for an alternative governing system that would better represent their views and allow them to remove their Tsarist oppressors. One such alternative was the Marxist-Leninist ideology gaining tract throughout Russia, an ideal based on the removal of private property and as a result the autonomy of land they so desired. Thus five years later after much violence and bloodshed the USSR was formed, with the principals the workers had fought for enshrined in the new constitution ‘It is only in the camp of the Soviets… that it has been possible to eliminate the oppression of nationalities… and to establish the basis of a fraternal collaboration of peoples.’ As proven by this example, when a large group in society is hungry and economically disadvantaged they will typically look for a new system that removes the disparity in wealth seen before.

As the French philosopher Voltaire once sardonically remarked ‘An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.’ Even though Voltaire died in 1778 this quote still seems to apply in a world in which assassination is a key method in upholding governments deemed unacceptable to western interests, as seen by the removal of the ruling power in Chile, Guatemala and Iran. However the use of violence to supplement suffrage and undermining democratic principles can be seen as another strand connecting revolutions in the modern world. The People Power Revolution of 1983 in the Philippines can clearly be linked to the misuse of the democratic process. Ferdinand Marcos had been the President of the Philippines since 1965, after the end of his second term in 1972 instead of standing down he used martial law to reinforce his power and by 1973 he had established himself as the lone ruler of the Philippines. Marcos’ rule slowly became more despotic, creating a new self-written constitution and either arresting or exiling all of his political rivals. Ninoy Aquino was one of such rivals, before Marcos established martial law Ninoy was the leader of the opposition. Aquino was permitted to leave the Philippines in 1980 after suffering a heart attack during his seventh year of unjust imprisonment. On August 21, 1983 Aquino returned to his home country, the speech he planned to make on his arrival stated: “I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.” However he never read this statement as upon stepping off the plane at Manilla Airport he was assassinated. The violent killing of a popular, non-violent political figure appeared to be the final straw for the people of the Philippines and even though protest had been prevalent before the assassination of Ninoy, Filipinos became united in action against the violent dictatorship. They took to the streets in mass peaceful-protest, at the peak of the revolution three million people marched down the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, wearing yellow ribbons in homage to their lost leader. This collective action and mounting military assaults against his regime forced Marcos to resign in 1986, finally ending fourteen years of repression and corruption. The People Power Revolution truly unified the people of the Philippines showing that democracy is a concept for which people will always fight, and that going against the rich tradition of representation and egalitarianism makes revolution inevitable.

These two factors only skim the surface of the complex multi-causal nature of revolution but they do begin to explain how such an event could be started. Even though many view the idea of revolution as a cliché of a bygone era, as we move into a period of economic uncertainty and electoral fraud becomes increasingly apparent, such an event could be just round the corner.

Contributed by Joe Tyler-Todd