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War and Revolution

The relationship between war and revolution is difficult to discern. While some historians have treated war as a contingent factor, others see it as fundamentally intertwined with the revolutionary process. In this week’s reading, we will examine the relationship between the two. Was war the cause or result of the revolutionary process? Did war have democratising or authoritarian effects? In the case of France, some historians insist that France’s declaration of war against Austria in 1792 was a grave mistake since it polarized France and contributed to the to the Terror. Yet, war also hastened the fall of the monarchy (which was, in fact, in cahoots with the Austrians) and establishment of a republic. It also democratised the military and created a climate in which social needs and revenue collecting were facilitated.

In the case of Russia, war has usually been seen as the precipitating factor in the revolution. However, at one extreme there have been arguments, derived from Lenin and developed by Haimson, that the outbreak of war was intended to counter the possibility of revolution (cf Plehve, the Interior Minister in 1904, calling for a ‘short victorious war’ to deflect social discontent) and may have postponed it. More recently, however, the war has gained a new pre-eminence, and the revolution itself has been, at the other extreme, assimilated into the war through Russia enduring a ‘continuum of crisis’ (Holquist).

Seminar Questions

  1. Are you convinced by Mayer’s claim that violence is inevitable in revolutions and that the question is ultimately whether it becomes externalized or internalized? On what grounds does Mayer think revolutionary violence must go one way or the other?
  2. To what does Bell attribute the outlawing of war in the National Assembly in 1791? What were the results and unintended consequences of this legislation?
  3. Did war cause revolution or revolution cause war in Russia 1914-22?

Core Reading

Further Reading


  • Jeremy Black, Western Warfare, 1775-1882 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001).
  • Timothy Blanning, The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787-1802 (London: Arnold, 1996).
  • Alan Forrest, Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society during the Revolution and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). See also his ‘Conscription as ideology: Revolutionary France and the nation in arms’, Comparative Social Research, vol. 20 (2001), 95-115, and his Soldiers of the French Revolution (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1990).
  • Philip Dwyer, ‘Self Interest versus the Common Cause: Austria, Prussia and Russia against Napoleon’, Journal of Strategic Studies 31 (2008), 605–632.
  • Gunther E. Rothenberg, ‘Origins of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’, Journal of Interdiscplinary History, 18 (1988), 771-793.


  • Holquist, P. Making War, Forging Revolution: Russia’s Continuum of Crisis, 1914-1921 (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002)
  • Sanborn, J.A. Drafting the Russian Nation. Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905-1925 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Press, 2003)
  • Read, C. War and Revolution in Russia 1914-22 (Palgrave, London and Basingstoke 2013)