Ambitiously, if ill-advisedly, I devoted Thursday in European History Since 1648 at UNLV to catching up. That meant rushing through the Industrial Revolution and the revolutions of 1848 and leaving time to discuss The Communist Manifesto, the second of the students’ longer readings for the semester. Somehow we managed, but it’s not something I’d recommend.
But of course in many respects, the three themes and moments are connected. The inability of the new industrial economy to absorb Europe’s growing population, coupled with the alienation inflicted by that industrial economy on many participants in its cycles and ills, provided part of the spark for the revolutions of 1848.
We focused on those in Italy and Hungary as two different kinds of revolutions. The former a project of diverse kingdoms and polities attempting to cobble themselves into a nation, but foundering initially on the debate over whether unity or republicanism was the more important principle for the foundation of nations.
In the case of Hungarians, revolutionaries claimed that they constituted a nation within a vast, multi-ethnic empire which effective enslaved them (the language in the “national song” which students read) by denying them the right to self-determination. There were many reasons why the Hungarians’ revolution did not take off, but not least was the presence of other “nations” within the boundaries of what they considered to be their own nation-state.
The revolutionaries of 1848 were a diverse lot. While the could agree that Europe’s social, political, and economic order needed overturning, the liberals of the revolution were increasingly challenged by socialists and communists.
And so we spent the remainder of class breaking down the Manifesto bit by bit. I always start discussions of the text by asking students where they would place Marx and Engels in a university department today. Most say Economics, Political Science, Sociology, or something along those lines. But eventually, occasionally with some prompting (“I haven’t heard anyone mention the most important department in the university yet…”), someone will identify Marx as an historian.
Thinking about the Manifesto as a piece of historical analysis, as well as a social and political prescription, I think helps students to make sense of the text and situate it in the chronology of our class.
On Tuesday, our last session before the midterm exam, we will discuss Liberalism, the ideology that Marx and Engels challenged, and its relationship to nineteenth century imperialism. Stay tuned…