Mass Politics in Europe and Imperialism in Africa and Asia for AP European History (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Mass Politics in France

Napoleon III had granted his subjects universal manhood suffrage, but the masses did not often recognize the results of democratic elections in the period between 1870 and 1914. France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war brought an end to Napoleon III's Second Empire. When subsequent elections resulted in a victory for the monarchists, the people of Paris refused to accept the results and set up their own democratic government that came to be known as the Paris Commune. The Commune ruled the city of Paris in February and March of 1871, before being crushed by the French Army.

Monarchists initially controlled the government of the new Third Republic, but they remained divided between factions. By the end of the 1870s, France was governed by a liberal government elected by universal manhood suffrage. However, in the late 1880s, conservative nationalists supported an attempted coup by General George Boulanger. The attempt—which has come to be known as the Boulanger Affair—failed, but it underscored the fragility of French democracy and the volatility of mass politics in France.

Mass Politics in Germany

In the newly united Germany, the constitution of the Second Reich called for universal manhood suffrage. But the masses supported the Kaiser and his Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. In the 1870s, Bismarck appealed to the masses' strong sense of nationalism in an attack on the nation's Catholics. In what has come to be called the Kulturkampf (or war for civilization), Bismarck passed a number of laws restricting the religious freedom of Catholics in Germany. The ultimate result, however, was to revive and strengthen the Catholic political party, known as the Roman Catholic Center Party.

In 1878, Bismarck conceded defeat and repealed much of the anti-Catholic legislation in order to garner Catholic support for his war against socialist parties in Germany. When he was unable to stamp out the socialist parties, he tried to undermine their working-class political base by passing, between 1883 and 1889, a comprehensive system of social insurance. Ultimately, however, the socialist parties remained strong and the aging Bismarck was dismissed by the new monarch, Kaiser William II, in 1890.

Mass Politics in Austria–Hungary

In the dual monarchy of Austria–Hungary, mass politics continued to mean the competition between nationalities for greater autonomy and relative supremacy within the empire. The introduction of universal manhood suffrage in 1907 made Austria–Hungary so difficult to govern that the emperor and his advisors began bypassing the parliament and ruling by decree.

Mass Politics in Russia

In the autocratic police state built by Alexander II of Russia, mass politics took the form of terrorism. Radical groups like The People's Will carried out systematic acts of violent opposition, including the assassination of Alexander II with a bomb in 1881. His successor, Alexander III, countered by waging war on liberalism and democracy. Initiating a program of Russianization, he attempted to standardize language and religion throughout the Russian Empire.

The Scramble for Africa

Two developments spurred an unprecedented "scramble" on the part of the European powers to lay claim to vast areas of the African continent: the British takeover of the Suez Canal in Egypt and Belgium's aggressive expansion into the Congo.

The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea through Egypt to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, was built by a French company and opened in 1869. In 1875, Great Britain took advantage of the Egyptian ruler's financial distress and purchased a controlling interest in the canal. By the early 1880s, anti-British and French sentiment was building in the Egyptian army. In the summer of 1882, the British launched a preemptive strike, landing troops in Egypt, defeating Egyptian forces, and setting up a virtual occupation of Egypt. Supposedly temporary, the occupation lasted 32 years. Britain's control of Egypt led to further European expansion in Africa in two ways:

  • In order to provide greater security for Egypt, Britain expanded further south.
  • In return for France's acceptance of British occupation of Egypt, Britain supported French expansion into northwest Africa.

A new competition for imperial control of sub-Saharan Africa was initiated by the expansion of Belgian interests in the Congo. In 1876, King Leopold II of Belgium formed a private company and sent the explorer Henry Stanley to the Congo River Basin to establish trading outposts and sign treaties with local chiefs. Alarmed by the rate at which the Belgians were claiming land in central Africa, the French expanded their claims in western Africa and Bismarck responded with a flurry of claims for Germany in eastern Africa. This sudden burst of activity led to the Berlin Conference of 1885. There, representatives of the European powers established free-trade zones in the Congo River Basin and set up guidelines for the partitioning of Africa. The guidelines essentially set up two principles:

  • A European nation needed to establish enough physical presence to control and develop a territory before it could claim it.
  • Claimants must treat the African population humanely.

After the conference, European nations completed the scramble for Africa until nearly the entire continent was, nominally at least, under European control. Unfortunately, the principle of humane treatment of Africans was rarely followed.

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