Revolutions: The Revolutionary Tradition in the West, 1560-1991

By David Parker | Go to book overview

10

Counter-revolution and the ‘failure’ of revolution in interwar Europe

C.J. Wrigley

Revolutions have been very effective mobilisers of support for the defence of property and the ‘restoration of order’. From the time of the great French Revolution, the experience of revolutionary upheaval has brought together motley alliances - often including erstwhile enemies - to resist revolutionary change and oppose its proponents. Revolution was not only threatening to many of the inhabitants of the country concerned but also to the interests of investors from abroad, an increasingly sizeable and vocal force within the international economy after 1870. Hence external intervention against revolution was not only intended to overthrow what were deemed to be alien systems of government but also to restore the sanctity of contracts on which the workings of capitalism within the international economy depended.

Counter-revolution occurs in societies in major crisis, whether political, economic or social (or a combination of them). It is marked by coalitions which wish to overthrow the new political order and either restore the old order or, as in Italy and Germany, to create a new order which includes many traditional values, some of which are endowed with heightened respect, but which goes well beyond former conservatism. Arno J. Mayer has commented that ‘counter-revolution is a product and stimulant of instability, cleavages and disorders. It thrives when normally conflictual but accommodating forces begin to abandon the policies of compromise’. 1

The two world wars of the twentieth century caused massive disruption to the established order in many countries and, in some cases, even more so to their imperial territories. As well as the often drastic direct effects of the wars, including military occupation, military defeat and economic privation, there were indirect effects such as inflation and other adverse change in the international economy which also affected the older patterns of power. By 1945, the old aristocratic and military elites, still politically strong in Europe other than Britain and France in 1914, had been replaced by newer coalitions of conservatism. The post-First World War years were notable for effective counter-revolutionary mobilisations against various ‘red perils’. 2

Lenin had great expectations that revolution in Russia in October 1917 would soon be followed by the spread of revolution to more advanced

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