Role of Ideas in the French and Russian Revolutions

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How important was the role of ideas in the outbreak of revolution?

When comparing the French Revolution of 1789 and Russian October Revolution of 1917, a series of parallels become evident. Both revolutionary groups became determined with an extensive emergence of new ideas, which captured a strong majority of the respective populations. The importance of the ideas was critical to maintaining a drive for the revolutions considering they acted as a manifestation of what the public and the politicians wanted for change. The primary ideas that evolved out of the outbreak of revolution revolved around the Enlightenment, political ideologies, propaganda and human rights. The momentous significance and importance of these ideas is evident through their extensive support and the events that put them into practice.

The Enlightenment Age affected the French and Russian revolutions in the sense that it ignited the new ways of thinking and the development of ideas. The Enlightenment was a period of increased interest in learning, logic, rationality and the re-examination of traditional beliefs. During the French Revolution, enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau were rendered pioneers of thinking, thus impacting the public significantly with their ideas that questioned the validity of the ‘Divine Right’ and the Church. Voltaire was a particularly influential figure as due to his prolific status he was able to spread further ideas by advocating civil liberties, freedom of religion, free trade and the illogicality of the church. The intellectual movement was able to gain momentum in followers as the Third Estate were progressively becoming displeased with ‘Ancien Regime’ so the questioning of the King’s rights became appealing. The Enlightenment is comparable to similar theme within the Russian Revolution, however to a smaller extent and is often tied in with an intellectual culture termed Intelligentsia. The ideas that emerged from this particular movement were very similar to France in the sense that they also questioned the validity of their divine ruler, the tsar, and the religious impact on their society. The Enlightenment not only changed the way people viewed religion, but it also changed the way people viewed the government, and its political and social policies. Revolution offered a chance to make the ideas of The Enlightenment a reality and thus it became integral to make the outbreak of revolution appear attractive.

With the outbreak of revolution, the outcome of political change is met with perplexity and conflict as many new ideologies emerge. The main ideology behind the French Revolution is that of equality. The Third Estate, the peasantry, were living in extreme poverty which can be accredited to France's overambitious interest in foreign affairs, such as the American Revolutionary War and colonialist exploits. At the time, France was being exposed to new forms of liberalism emerging from America which was being pioneered by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. While France eventuated with an ideology based on republicanism with socialist influences, the political upheaval was moreso driven for the abolishment of the monarchy so that new ideologies would able to exist. The roles of ideas in Russia’s brutal political upheaval were adamant to the rise revolutionary organizations and individuals. As the writings of German philosopher Karl Marx were the communist ideology behind The Social Democrats and a popular ideology at the time, Lenin was able to break away and form a more radical and intolerant group, The Bolsheviks. Following the increasing discontent of the people, various other political parties began to emerge and promote revolutionary ideals and spoke of post-poverty victory thus appealing to the peasantry. Eventually came the emergence of the Soviet Union who were victorious in attaining rule in October, after Lenin and The Bolsheviks...
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