A sequence of uprisings across Western and Central Europe sparked by the February revolution in France the revolutions of 1848 were characterized by radical economic and political demands, and in some cases a desire for national independence. The areas most afflicted by the unrest were France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary, as the population of each of those countries reacted against autocratic rule, economic hardship and the failure of governments to suitably extend the franchise.
   In France, the revolution in February resulted in the abdication of the reactionary King Louis-Phillipe and the end of the July Monarchy, the foundation of the Second Republic, the creation of the socialistic National Workshop scheme and the establishment of a provisional government. The French people, deeply afflicted by rising unemployment and a distaste for the king and his chief minister, François Guizot, had begun to riot against the authorities on 23 February 1848, sparked into doing so chiefly by the banning of an antigovernment banquet a day previously. The revolution was galvanized fully on 24 February as government troops began firing on demonstrators. Violent clashes followed, and by the end of the day both the king and Guizot had fled, and the Second Republic had been proclaimed. A provisional government comprising moderates and Louis Blanc’s socialists was formed, and having recognized “the right to work,” on 26 February they created the National Workshops, and on 2 March granted full male suffrage. Such rapid change coupled with constant agitation from workers on the streets of Paris backfired on the radicals, as a fear of communist revolution resulted in the April election of a reactionary government. However, though the revolution had been started primarily by a bourgeoisie yearning for political change, the working classes had become politicized and made revolutionary fervor their own, as later witnessed in the 1848 Paris Rising and the 1871 Paris Commune.
   Invigorated by events in France, in Germany and Austria people began to demand change, and by the end of March 1849, monarchs in Prussia, some German states and Austria had consented to the formation of liberal dominated constituent assemblies. Rebellion began in Berlin in March 1848 when citizens constructed barricades and temporarily drove the ruling king, Frederick William IV, and his army from the city to the nearby garrison town of Potsdam. At the same time, an uprising in Vienna saw the avowedly conservative Prime Minister Klemens Metternich take flight, followed by the abdication in December of King Ferdinand and his replacement with nephew Francis Joseph I, who was now to preside over a new constituent assembly. Emboldened by events in Berlin and Vienna, in Frankfurt-am-Main a congress was convened by reformists to draft a liberal constitution that would unite confederate Germany. After much deliberation, the Frankfurt congress members elected to offer the crown of their newly united Germany to King Frederick William IV. However, the only consequence of the offer was a swift and unsuccessful conclusion to the revolution, as King Frederick refused the offer, counter-revolution in Prussia succeeded, and non-German minorities rebelled against the Frankfurt directive, the architects of which were paralyzed without the support of the monarchist Prussian army. The king’s refusal meant unification was delayed for a further 23 years, and when it did occur it was to be led by military force rather than liberal reform. In the meantime, December saw King Frederick order the Prussian army to crush any remaining rebels in Berlin and then the rest of western Germany, something that they achieved with consummate ease, dousing the flames of revolution in Germany. While events were playing themselves out in Germany, the Austrian establishment was similarly attempting to crush the liberal rebellion. Metternich’s replacement was Prince Felix Zu Schwarzenberg who, crucially, had control of the Austrian army and was accordingly able to quash rebellion throughout the country, and in September enter Vienna. The rebellion in the Austrian capital, like that in France, was becoming increasingly radicalized and the radical baton was passing from middle to working class. Fearful of the situation, the Austrian army violently put down the revolt, massacring workers to eventually restore order. Despite the return to order by the turn of the year, in both Austria and a number of German states liberal constitutions had been installed, and a radical spirit amongst the working classes of both countries had become inherent.
   In Italy upheaval was also widespread. Republican rebellion had begun in Sicily, even before events in France, and antipathy towards Austrian rule in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia had seen liberal Italian nationalists rouse the population into protest. The pressure applied led a number of rulers to grant concessions that only served to further heighten reformist demands and the level of protest, and for a fleeting time constitutional republican rule, under the tutelage of Giuseppe Mazzini, dominated in much of the country. In addition, Pope Pius IX was forced out of office, and large numbers of Austrians were expelled. However, ideological and regional schisms between reformist groups, the ever-present fear of radical change from within the Italian establishment, and the reinstallation of conservative administrations in Vienna and Paris left republican Italy extremely volatile. Sensing this fragility, Napoleon resolved to send forces into the country to restore the old order to power, and with the rebellion trampled into the ground, papal government was soon reinstated. In Hungary, events in France, Italy and Vienna inspired Lajos Kossuth’s “Springtime of Nations,” as protestors took to the streets to demand the emancipation of peasants, wide-reaching civil rights, and independence from Austrian rule. Kossuth led the revolt, advocating an anti-Habsburg stance, and in April 1849 announcing a liberal constitution that would see Hungary become a republic under his charge. The new president set about instructing his forces to drive the Austrians from Hungarian territory in order to secure full independence. However, Kossuth’s agenda did not fit with the desires of the various nationalities within Hungary’s borders, and minority groups, chiefly the Croats, began to rebel. Austria, enraged by Kossuth’s actions, called for Russian assistance to conquer the new Hungarian republic and return it to monarchical rule, and the Russian imperial army duly obliged. Independence for Hungary and the adoption of demands that came out of the revolution would have been plausible events had the upheavals elsewhere, and especially in Austria, not been crushed. Nevertheless, the Hungarian movement for reform and independence was alive, and its essence patently tangible during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.
   Meanwhile, in Czechoslovakia too, demonstrations for independence took place in Prague and the Pan-Slav Congress demanded autonomy within a federal Austria. In Great Britain, the Chartist movement led mass stirrings and demands for emancipation and civil rights.
   The revolutions of 1848 stood apart from the uprisings that were to follow in the next century. Where events in the former were led by a bourgeoisie hungry for liberal reform that in turn led to mass working class demonstration and activity, revolutions such as those in Russia in 1905 and 1917 were led by political parties and organizations. Though each insurrection was ultimately subdued by counterrevolutionary forces and the old order restored, the origins of modern Europe had appeared, with the concepts of monarchy and feudal rule thrown into doubt, and the ideals of reform and liberal constitution commonplace.
   Events across Europe in 1848 were important for the development of Marxist doctrine, and Karl Marx himself was quick to assert that like the 1789 French Revolution, those in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary and elsewhere were essentially bourgeois-led. A true socialist revolution leading to communism and the adaptation of Marxist ideology was impossible where capitalism was still under-developed, as was the case in each of these areas. Without an abundant, robust working class, created only in a fully developed capitalist society, revolutionary activity would be left to artisans and the peasantry who simply did not possess the progressive zeal of an industrialized mass proletariat. The revolutions of 1848 were important though in the development of the process to bring about that class, as only through liberal reform could capitalism and democracy thrive. Once they did so, an economic foundation and an institutional framework in which a radical working class could grow would be duly created. Still, 1848 did provide liberal reform and to some extent democracy, in so doing laying the groundwork from which a socialist proletariat would later emerge.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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