Introduction: Worlds of labour turned upside down

Pepijn Brandon, Peyman Jafari, Stefan Müller

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Revolutions are relatively new, rare and extraordinary events in history, which is perhaps one reason why historians and social scientists alike continue to be surprised and fascinated by them. Although this interest goes back to at least the early modern revolutions, it was what Eric Hobsbawm calls the “age of revolutions” that inspired the study of the subject in the nineteenth century. The revolutions of this period included the American (1765–1783), the French (1789–1799), the Haitian (1791–1804) and the Irish (1798) revolutions, in addition to the Latin American wars of independence and the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. The next upsurge of studies emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, examining the paths of the Russian (1917), German (1918-1919), Chinese (1911 and 1949), Cuban (1953-1959), Hungarian (1956), Portuguese (1974) and Iranian (1979) revolutions. To this list, one should add the anti-colonial revolutions, such as in Algeria (1954–1962), and the revolutions that toppled the Stalinist regimes in 1989.

As the historiography of revolutions expanded in the twentieth century, the relationship between labour relations and revolutions and the “social question” more generally became marginalized, at least after the wave of revolutions immediately following the First World War. Two salient developments contributed to this trend: the deep scepticism of grand narratives and structural explanations beyond the structures of language and imaginations promulgated across fields by the cultural turn, and the declining influence of Marxism within academia as well as within actual revolutionary events. The essays in this volume, however, are part of reinstating the centrality of the relationship between labor relations and revolutions. Collectively, they probe the importance of shifts in labour relations for creating the preconditions of revolution, influencing their course, and shaping the outcome of revolutions. The historiographic introduction argues for returning the “social question” to the heart of revolution studies, and summarizes the main ways in which the essays collected in this volume advance the general understanding of modern revolutions from a global perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorlds of labour turned upside down
Subtitle of host publicationRevolutions and Labour Relations in Global Historical Perspective
EditorsPepijn Brandon, Peyman Jafari, Stefan Müller
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789004440395
ISBN (Print)9789004428027
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Global Social History


  • Revolution
  • Labour History
  • social history
  • Social Movements


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