Movement toward greater democracy in Europe

In 1815, a conservative political order was imposed on Europe after the defeat of Napoleon.  Despite the fact that Foreign Minister Metternich of Austria and his fellow conservative counterparts in the other European states wanted to restore Europe to its pre-revolutionary days, in some of the restored European monarchies, a limited parliamentary system was installed.  Louis XVIII, the restored king of France, kept a two house legislature and allowed limited suffrage by a small wealthy elite group.  In the loosely connected German Confederation, there was a loosely framed parliament.

As the 19th century wore on, and as most European states underwent the Industrial Revolution, the side effects of the Industrial Revolution for the urban industrial workers, including unemployment, depressed wages, urban poverty, lack of a safety network for the workers who were uprooted from their rural communities, together with the demolition of the more traditional trades and the bankruptcy of the artisans and handicraftsmen, led to numerous political movements.  The high concentration of populations in the cities and the rapid development of cities led to the birth of mass politics and public opinion: as urban dwellers lived close by and could easily be mobilized into a formidable force to paralyze the factory and intimidate the government; mass circulation of newspapers also made these urban dwellers more aware of what one another were thinking of.  The more literate urban masses of 19th century Europe, politicized by the French Revolution in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, demanded their problems be addressed by a more democratic, representative government that heeded their voices, or by a nationalist government that expelled the foreigner rulers.  From then on, especially from the mid 19th century on, no European politician, for the sake of his own political survival, could ignore the masses and public opinion, and often made use of ideology that could appeal to the masses, e.g. democracy, Marxism, nationalism, liberalism. 

1. 1848 and democracy

1848 can be considered a watershed in European politics: it was the year of unprecedented revolution across Europe, affecting almost all European countries except for a few, including Russia, Spain, and Britain.  Most of the people who became revolutionaries in that year demanded a more inclusive and representative government, with some hoping to achieve this through expelling foreign rulers.  Although the revolution was finally put down by the Holy Alliance, most European governments, which had little heeded public opinion before then, began to move more rapidly toward greater democratic representation to avoid another wave of revolutions.

 2. Britain:

In Britain, political reforms came very gradually.  But, like elsewhere in Europe, they were escalated after 1848, as a result of the threat of revolution, although the 1848 revolution did not sweep across Britain.

By 1815, although Britain remained the oldest constitutional monarchy in Europe, only the upper classes were represented in the parliament, and only 5 per cent of the adult male population were eligible to vote.

Reform Bill of 1832: Believing moderate reforms rather than ultraconservatism was to way to preserve elite institutions, liberal elements within the British government passed the bill that lowered property qualifications, enabling most upper-middle class males to vote; also abolished "rotten boroughs:" the practice of having one person running for election to parliament from several electoral districts.  The ultimate redistricting of Britain allowed MPs from new industrial cities such as Manchester, enabling the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie to have a greater voice in the parliament.

The Chartist Movement: Not satisfied with the Reform Bill of 1832, in 1838 working class leaders drew up the People's Charter calling for universal male suffrage, election by secret ballot, and removal of property qualifications for office.  These people were called Chartists and their greatest demonstration came in 1848, which coincided with the continental revolutions of 1848, but the Chartist movement never grew politically powerful.

Post-1848 reforms:

Reform Bill of 1867: doubled the electorate and gave vote to the lower middle class for the first time; also limited working hours, established sanitary codes, created housing standards, and aided labor unions.

1884 Reform Bill: gave 2/3 adult males the vote; implemented civil service examination and also opened army service to talent.

1906, beginning of welfare state: new policies passed by the liberal government to adopt new policies providing accident, sickness, old age, and unemployment insurance for workers.  The burden was to be shouldered by a steeply graduated income tax and high taxes on inheritances (on the rich).

Both conservatives and liberals jockeyed in pleasing the public.  The emergence of the Labor Party in the 1890s highlighted the agenda for social reform.

3. France:

Compared with Britain, France underwent more dramatic changes, primarily because it was the seat of the French Revolution and people just had a deeper memory of it, and the promises of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" that they were taught to be within their reach.

In 1824, the cautious Louis XVIII was succeeded to by Charles X, who wanted to restore conservatism by disbanding the lower house of the parliament, Chamber of Deputies, which led to a revolution in 1830 led by liberals and workers, including Marquis de Lafayette, who participated in both the American and French Revolutions of the previous century.  The new king, Louis-Philippe, nicknamed "Philippe Equalite" wanted to appear close to the people, and doubled the electorate.

In the 1848 revolution, resentful that the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe represented largely the wealthy, and not the working class, the workers clashed with the government troops and a new revolution started.  A new, provisional government was formed headed by Socialist figures that provided workshops to the unemployed workers, frightening the middle class that reelected more conservative elements in the new republican government that ended up confronting and massacring over a thousand workers who refused to give up their workshops, now declared illegal.  

France after the 1848 revolution:

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was elected president of the French Republic after the June confrontations between government forces and the workers on the ticket of order and stability, but renamed it empire in 1852, and himself as emperor (1852-1870).  Despite the restoration of the empire, Napoleon III started universal male suffrage, promoted industrialization and economic growth.

The Franco-Prussian war ended Napoleon III's Second Empire.  From then on, France has remained a republic to today.  The imminent return to conservative and possibly monarchical rule, however, led to city self-government in Paris, called the Paris Commune (Sept.1870-Apr.1871), which originated from resistance against the German invaders, but persisted after the conservative French government was organized that bowed to the unified Germany for peace in Feb.1871.

In the 1890s, beginning of a welfare state, France, influenced by socialist parties, pushed through a  limited program of unemployment, old age, accident, and sickness insurance for workers.

4. Germany:

In 1848, the revolution rocked the conservative Prussian government.  Liberals gathered in Frankfurt and petitioned the Prussian king to be the leader of a unified German state that excluded Austria.  Although the revolution was ended by Austria and Russia and the Prussian king reneged on his promise to the liberals, he did agree to a parliament in Prussia, hence making Prussia a constitutional monarchy.

Germany was, next to France, the second European state to offer universal male suffrage, in 1866, even before its unification.  Bismarck granted universal male suffrage to all German states who joined him against Austria in 1866 because of strategic reasons and confidence that the conservative atmosphere of Germany would lead to the majority's support for the Junker class rule against bourgeois liberal rule.  Initially he emphasized open ballots.

To battle against the raging socialists, Bismarck made Germany the first welfare state in Europe: between 1883 and 1889 he established a comprehensive system of social insurance that included accident, sickness, and old age benefits.  He called his program "socialistic" but not socialist because its resemblance to socialism was meant to sabotage the Socialist movement and attract workers to his program.  From his earlier attempt to suppress the Socialist movement in the 1870s, Bismarck left the Communists and Socialists alone in the 1880s.  The Social Democratic party, despite Bismarck's welfare programs, continued to receive wide social support and occupied sizable seats in the German Diet before World War I (20 percent seats in the Diet in 1890, and the largest political party in Germany in 1914).

One of the consequences of the welfare state and the legalization of the Socialist Party was the transformation of Marxism: Classical Marxism argues that fundamentally different social classes exist in society marked by different relations to economic means of production.  And class struggle between industrial workers and the management will eventually lead to overthrow of the capitalist system and establishment of Socialism and Communism.  By 1890, this theory was being revised: a moderate branch of socialism started to develop that argued the Socialists could achieve their goals through peaceful means and via parliamentary elections, and benefit the workers through state legislation, such as welfare policies.

5. Exclusion of women from political participation:

Despite the growing democracy in many European countries, two areas of life were not touched upon by democracy: women, and international relations.  The second is the topic for our next session.  As for women, the feminist movement started in the 1890s to address this issue, though for most European countries, women's suffrage would not come about until 1918 after WWI, or even later.