Revolutions of 1917–1923

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Revolutions of 1917–1923
Part of Opposition to World War I and the aftermath of World War I
1917-1923 Revolutions.png
European countries involved in revolutions
Date8 March 1917 (1917-03-08)c. 16 June 1923 (1923-06-16)
Worldwide (mainly in Europe and Asia)
Caused by
Resulted in

The Revolutions of 1917–1923 was a revolutionary wave that included political unrest and revolts around the world inspired by the success of the Russian Revolution and the disorder created by the aftermath of World War I. The uprisings were mainly socialist or anti-colonial in nature. Some socialist revolts failed to create lasting socialist states.[1] The revolutions had lasting effects in shaping the future European political landscape, with for example the collapse of the German Empire and the abdication of the German Kaiser.[2]

World War I mobilized millions of troops, reshaped political powers and drove social turmoil. From the turmoil outright revolutions broke out, massive strikes occurred, and many soldiers mutinied. In Russia the Tsar was overthrown during the Russian Revolution of 1917. That was followed by the Russian Civil War. Many French soldiers mutinied in 1917 and refused to engage the enemy. In Bulgaria, many troops mutinied, and the Bulgarian Tsar stepped down. Mass strikes and mutinies occurred in Austria-Hungary, and the Habsburg monarchy collapsed. In Germany, the November Revolution of 1918 threatened to overtake Germany but eventually failed. Italy faced various mass strikes. Turkey experienced a successful war of independence. Across the world, various other protests and revolts occurred from the turmoil of World War I and the success of the Russian Revolution.[3] Ernst Nolte theorized that fascism in Europe arose as a capitalist response to the political crisis after World War I.[4]

Communist revolutions in Europe[edit]


In war-torn Imperial Russia, the liberal February Revolution toppled the monarchy. A period of instability followed, and the Bolsheviks seized power during the October Revolution. The ascendant Bolsheviks soon withdrew from the war with large territorial concessions by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and fought their political rivals during the Russian Civil War, including the invading forces from the Allied Powers. In response to Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the emerging Soviet Union, anticommunist forces from a broad assortment of ideological factions fought against the Bolsheviks, particularly by the counter-revolutionary White movement and the peasant Green armies, the various nationalist movements in Ukraine after the Russian Revolution and other would-be new states like those in Soviet Transcaucasia and Soviet Central Asia, the anarchist-inspired Third Russian Revolution and the Tambov Rebellion.[5]

By 1921, exhaustion, the collapse of transportation and markets and threats of starvation made even dissident elements of the Red Army revolt against the communist state, such as during the Kronstadt rebellion. However, the anti-Bolshevik forces were uncoordinated and disorganised, and all operated on the periphery. The Red Army, operating at the centre, defeated them one at a time and regained control. The complete failure of Comintern-inspired revolutions was a sobering experience in Moscow, and the Bolsheviks moved from world revolution to socialism in one country, Russia. Lenin moved to open trade relations with Britain, Germany and other major countries. Most dramatically, in 1921, Lenin introduced a sort of small-scale capitalism with his New Economic Policy (NEP). In that process of revolution and counter-revolution, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially created in 1922.[6]

Western Europe[edit]

Statue of a revolutionary soldier; memorial to the German Revolution in Berlin

The Leninist victories also inspired a surge by world communism: the larger German Revolution and its offspring, like the Bavarian Soviet Republic, the neighbouring Hungarian Revolution and the Biennio Rosso in Italy in addition to various smaller uprisings, protests and strikes, all of which proved abortive.

The German Revolution however proved decisive in abdication of the German Kaiser, as well the end of the German empire and as such came to shape the political future of Europe.[2] It also helped convince lawmakers in the U.K. to start lifting the crippling embargo on the country.[7]

The Bolsheviks sought to coordinate this new wave of revolution in the Soviet-led Comintern, and new communist parties separated from their former socialist organisations and the older moderate Second International. Lenin saw the success of the potential German revolution as being able to end the economic isolation of the newly formed Soviet Russia.[8] Despite ambitions for world revolution, supporters of Socialism in one country led by Joseph Stalin came to power in the soviet state, instituted bolshevization of the Comintern, and abolished it in 1943.[9]

After the Second World War, the Red Army occupied most of Eastern Europe, and communists came to power in the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romanian, Bulgaria and East Germany.[10]

Non-Communist revolutions[edit]


In Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom, the nationalist Easter Rising of 1916 anticipated the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) within the same historical period as this first wave of communist revolution. The Irish republican movement of the time was predominantly a nationalist and populist form of radical-republicanism, and although it had left-wing positions and included socialists and communists, it was not communist. The Irish and Soviet Russian Republics, nevertheless, found common ground in their opposition to the British Empire and established a trading relationship. However, the British historian E. H. Carr later commented that "the negotiations were not taken very seriously on either side".[11] Both the Irish Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic were pariah states that were excluded from the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920).

The resulting Irish Free State was founded in 1922.


The clash between radical republicanism and conservative monarchism was also at the heart of political conflict in Greece. In the years leading up to the war, Greece had participated in Balkan Wars against neighbouring states on nationalist and irredentist grounds. The Great War, by bringing Greece into the victorious side against its old rival, Ottoman Empire, had brought to a head existing tensions between two loose camps of Greek political elites that is known as the National Schism. On the left, the Venizelists, led by Eleftherios Venizelos, was liberal, republican, progressive and nationalist; favoured France and Britain in foreign policy and sought profound democratising reforms influenced by the Radicals in the French Third Republic and by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. On the right, the monarchists were conservative, clerical and traditionalist; favoured Germany in foreign policy, and supported a powerful political role for the king. Between 1919 and 1922, Greece pursued war with Turkey to take advantage of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and acquire territory inhabited by ethnic Greeks. Greece's disaster at the Battle of Dumlupınar prompted the discrediting of its conservative and monarchist establishment: the army mutinies and popular uprisings in 1922 led to initially a military coup by republican army officers, followed by the forced abdication of King Constantine I in 1923 and the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Second Hellenic Republic in 1924. That period of instability carried on for the rest of the interwar period, with General Pangalos installed as dictator in the military coup of 1925, a return to democracy under Venizelos in 1928 and the restoration of the monarchy by a military coup in 1935.


Spain, despite its neutrality during the war, was also affected by turmoil between radical republicanism and traditionalist monarchism. The Restoration Monarchy of 1874 was a parliamentary regime but a conservative one that underrepresented popular classes and gave the monarch a major political role. A democratising revolution was attempted in 1917 by an alliance of radical republicans, socialists and disaffected Spanish Armed Forces officers, but it soon failed. After the war, however, critics of the constitutional monarchy grew as the international climate proved favourable to republican or democratising institutional change, and the Restoration state proved unable to resolve a series of challenges brought on by the war, notably a postwar economic slump and renewed anti-imperial action in the colonies. Strike movements proliferated between 1919 and 1923, leading notably to an escalating paramilitary conflict between worker and employer movements in cities such as Barcelona. Meanwhile, Spain went to war in 1920 to maintain control over the last remnants of its colonial empire, which culminated in the disastrous defeat of the Battle of Annual in 1922, which finally discredited the constitutional monarchy. Repeated elections failed to produce working majorities in parliament for either establishment party, the Fused Liberal Party or the Liberal-Conservative Party, to address the crises. In the face of widespread social unrest and institutional paralysis, General Miguel Primo de Rivera demanded power, and was appointed head of government with dictatorial powers by King Alfonso XIII. The revolutionary and democratising movements of 1916-22 were forestalled by the installation of a military dictatorship that would last until the Second Republic of 1931.


The same was true of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), which had degenerated into factional fighting among the rebels by 1915, as the more radical forces of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa lost ground to the more conservative "Sonoran oligarchy" and its Constitutional Army. The Felicistas, the last major group of counterrevolutionaries, abandoned their armed campaign in 1920, and the internecine power struggles abated for a time after revolutionary General Álvaro Obregón had bribed or slain his former allies and rivals alike, but the following decade witnessed the assassination of Obregon and several others, abortive military coup attempts and a massive traditionalist uprising, the Cristero War, against the government's persecution of Roman Catholics.


The Sette Giugno of 1919 was a revolt characterised by a series of riots and protests by the Maltese population, initially as a reaction to the rise in the cost of living in the aftermath of World War I and the sacking of hundreds of workers from the dockyard. That coincided with popular demands for self-government that resulted in a National Assembly being formed in Valletta at the same time of the riots. That dramatically boosted the uprising, as many people headed to Valletta to show their support for the Assembly. The British forces fired into the crowd, killing four local men. The cost of living increased dramatically after the war. Imports were limited, and as food became scarce prices rose, which made the fortune of farmers and merchants with surpluses to trade.


The Egyptian Revolution of 1919 a countrywide revolution against the British occupation of Egypt and Sudan, was carried out by Egyptians and Sudanese from different walks of life in the wake of the British-ordered exile of the revolutionary leader Saad Zaghloul and other members of the Wafd Party in 1919. The revolution led to Britain's recognition of Egyptian independence in 1922 and the implementation of a new constitution in 1923. Britain, however, continued in control of what was renamed the Kingdom of Egypt. British guided the king and retained control of the Canal Zone, Sudan and Egypt's external and military affairs. King Fuad died in 1936, and Farouk inherited the throne at only 16. Alarmed by the Second Italo-Abyssinian War during which Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia, he signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which required Britain to withdraw all troops from Egypt by 1949 except at the Suez Canal. During World War II, Allied troops used Egypt as a major base for its operations throughout the region. The British Armed Forces were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist anti-British sentiment continued to grow after the war.[12]


List of conflicts[edit]

Map of Europe in 1923, after the revolutions.

Communist revolutions that started 1917–1924[edit]

Left-wing uprisings against the USSR[edit]

Counter-revolutions against USSR that started 1917–1921[edit]

Soviet counter-counter-revolutions that started 1918–1919[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Motadel, David (April 4, 2011). "Waves of Revolution". History Today. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Miles Bouton, Stephen (2019). And the Kaiser Abdicates: The German Revolution, November, 1918-August, 1919. Wentworth Press. pp. Chapter XI. ISBN 978-0526203949.
  3. ^ "Revolutions". International Encyclopedia of the First World War. October 8, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Schmitt, Hans (1988). Neutral Europe Between War and Revolution, 1917-23. ISBN 9780813911533. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  5. ^ Abraham Ascher, //The Russian Revolution: A Beginner's Guide (Oneworld Publications, 2014)
  6. ^ Rex A. Wade, "The Revolution at One Hundred: Issues and Trends in the English Language Historiography of the Russian Revolution of 1917." Journal of Modern Russian History and Historiography 9.1 (2016): 9-38.
  7. ^ Newton, Douglas (1997-07-24). British Policy and the Weimar Republic, 1918–1919. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198203148.003.0007. ISBN 978-0-19-820314-8.
  8. ^ White, James D. (1994). "National Communism and World Revolution: The Political Consequences of German Military Withdrawal from the Baltic Area in 1918-19". Europe-Asia Studies. 46 (8): 1349–1369. doi:10.1080/09668139408412233. ISSN 0966-8136. JSTOR 152767.
  9. ^ Kevin and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin (Macmillan, 1996).
  10. ^ Robert Service, Comrades!: A History of World Communism (2010).
  11. ^ Carr, EH The Bolshevik Revolution 1917–23, vol 3 Penguin Books, London, 4th reprint (1983), pp. 257–258.
  12. ^ P.J. Vatikiotis, The History of Modern Egypt (4th ed., 1992).
  13. ^ Kealey, Gregory (1984). "1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt". Labour / Le Travail. 13: 11–44. doi:10.2307/25140399. JSTOR 25140399. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gerwarth, Robert. "The central European counter-revolution: Paramilitary violence in Germany, Austria and Hungary after the great war." Past & Present 200.1 (2008): 175-209. online

External links[edit]