The primary cause of anxiety when democracy was first originating was the concept that the (poor) masses would be ruling. This worried the aristocracy who were used to being at the top of the social hierarchy. Plus, the masses were much more likely, in their eyes, to create poor economic policies. However, the common people could not be ignored, and universal male suffrage was gained in numerous places by the early 1900s. Politicians meant for this measure to placate the masses, but it really only incited a quest for more say in the government, especially since the voting rights were generally strictly limited. The desire for a larger role caused mass movements to form, most notably the labor movement. However, religion-based movements were also prominent but more conservative. Rulers tried to manipulate the groups to support the policies they wanted. With the creation of heavily split groups, it was much harder to maintain national unity. To counteract this trend, nations began instituting national holidays and strongly promoting patriotism and nationalism. They also subverted socialist groups in favor of nearly any other political group. As industrialization and urbanization took hold, although a large proportion of the population still worked in agriculture, various effects occurred. A “working class” tried to mobilize, but there were too many divisions across racial, religious, and occupational lines. Karl Marx especially advocated for an international class of laborers, but the type of labor that the workers did was too large of a cleavage. There was an especially distinct line between employers and employees, as well as between manual laborers and craftsmen. Neither side could reconcile with the other, so eventually, the manual laborers found their common bond of being oppressed and started to unite. Trade unions formed as a stepping stone to a potential revolution. However, once the working class began to work within the governmental system to change it, the chances of a complete overthrow were greatly diminished. It took quite some time for workers to unite, and even once they did, the groups were national at their best. In fact, nations, although they hoped for the opposite, ended up uniting the working class because the only way to achieve anything was to apply pressure on the national government. The bond between the workers was not always a political or socialist one, it was more a bond of being commonly mistreated and abused. Workers developed their own culture through variations in language and dress, which greatly added to their identity. On the political side of things, as capitalism continued to remain stable, the prospect of revolution became less and less likely. The large socialist groups were clearly an opposition to the governments, but the very nature of their unity made insurrection and chaos unlikely. Socialist parties drew from traditions of revolution and being the underdog, from being staunchly opposed to the rich, and from firmly supporting progress. With that, they reached a much larger audience than merely manual laborers and actually extended to a fair amount of the underrepresented poor.
I was surprised at how violent the governments turned when dealing with their citizens. “Italian governments shot down Sicilian peasants in 1893 and Milanese workers in 1898” (99). Although Hobsbawm then describes how they changed courses, I am still baffled as to why the governments thought violent tactics would work. As we experienced with the G-20, violence only begets anger and more violence. It was also surprising to me that the nations felt that they could treat their citizens in that manner. I suppose it goes to show how scared they were by possible mass uprisings.
I think it would have been extremely interesting if Hobsbawm had described more of how the Great Depression affected the governments and political parties. He only mentions that “the predominance of the liberal bourgeoisie broke down” (98). Being able to see the interaction between the Depression and the emergence of the mass movements would likely have explained a lot about how political structures were affected. Also, since we previously studied dramatic and wide spread effects of a depression (coupled with the Black Death), it would have been interesting to be able to compare the two situations. It also probably would have enabled us to track the progression of the world system of trade better if Hobsbawm had elaborated more.