AJP Taylor on the Revolutions of 1848

February 2003

In 1848, Europe was swept by many revolutions. Marx attributed the revolution to capitalism. AJP Taylor, on page 24, after noting that two countries, Great Britain and Belgium, in which industrialisation were most advanced, escaped serious revolutionary disturbance, puts forward another idea. See over:

The fundamental cause of the 1848 revolutions was the increase in population, which had become general since the beginning of the century. Historians do not agree why this increase took place. Perhaps it was due to improved medical services; perhaps to cultivation of the humdrum potato. At any rate, the inhabitants of the countryside crowded into the towns, and there found few factories to employ them. Revolution occurred in almost every European city with more that 50,000 inhabitants. The occasion for the revolutions was hunger: failure of the potato crop in 1846 and subsequent years, failure of the wheat harvest in 1847. Soup kitchens were the prelude to revolution. The revolutionaries might talk about socialism. Those who actually revolted wanted “the right to work” – more capitalism, not its abolition.

From: “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – the Communist Manifesto”
With an introduction by AJP Taylor

(The Irish famine was due to the same causes: potato blight in a country with the fastest population rise in Europe, from 4 million to 8 million in 50 years. This is only half the speed of increase seen in developing countries since 1950, but bad enough – coupled with the potato blight – to cause a catastrophe. GD)

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