Politics in Minutes (2016)

18th- and 19th-century revolutions

Socialism, and especially communism, are frequently associated with the idea of revolution – not necessarily sudden and violent uprisings, but certainly radical social and economic change. At the end of the 18th century, the American Revolution embodied the idea of liberty and rights that were the foundation of liberalism, but in the French Revolution (maybe because of Rousseau’s influence) the rallying cry was ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, placing the emphasis more on equality and collectivity.

Socialism and communism emerged in Europe against a backdrop of revolutions in 1848. It is no coincidence that the Communist Manifesto was written in the same year, and not long after, in 1871, the first truly socialist revolution took place in France, establishing a revolutionary socialist government, the Paris Commune. The Commune was described at the time by Karl Marx as a model for revolutionary government, and inspired a number of similar uprisings in France and elsewhere.


Barricades around French government buildings during the Paris Commune.