You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.


3. Revolution and Failure

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this module, we think about how the revolution predicted by Marx was expected to unfold and how the failure of this revolution to materialise by the time of Marx’s death in 1883 created a ‘crisis of Marxism’ at the turn of the nineteenth century. We begin by thinking about the process through which Marx envisioned the socialist revolution unfolding, but stress the lack of specificity in Marx’s writings about what this society would look like (partly because he wanted to avoid the label of ‘utopian socialist’). We then turn to consider the ‘crisis of Marxism’ and the reasons why a socialist revolution failed to materialise in this period, including: (i) the expanded repressive powers of states; and (ii) the rise of ‘reformist socialism’ which provided ameliorative reforms to society and undercut any revolutionary impetus. Finally, we think Robert Michel’s ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ as applied to socialism and a further crisis that befell socialism in the first decades of the twentieth century as leaders betrayed their ideological principles and supported their various national governments’ war efforts.


In this course, Professor Jeremy Jennings (King’s College London) thinks about the history of socialism from its origins to the present day. We begin in the first module with the French Revolution which set the European precedent for political revolution before moving on to survey writers of the ‘utopian socialist’ tradition which emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century. In the second module, we think about the life, work, and impact of Karl Marx who theorised that capitalism would inevitably bring about its own demise in its creation of a revolutionary industrial proletariat. We then consider how the failure of this revolution to materialise caused a ‘crisis’ for socialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and reflect on some of the theories as to why this was the case. In the fourth module, we turn to the first successful socialist revolution to occur – that of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party in October 1917 – and chart the history of Russian socialism until its huge territorial gains by the end of the Second World War. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the global rise of socialism after 1945 in Asia, Africa, and Central America, before examining the sudden collapse of the Soviet edifice between 1989-91 and the resurgence of socialist movements today linked to a critique of globalisation, climate change, and cultural hegemony.


Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory at King's College, London. His research focuses upon the history of political thought in France. He is presently finishing a book provisionally entitled Travels with Tocqueville and is acting as co-editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of French Thought. A larger, long-term project is to write a history of the concept of liberty.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Jennings, J. (2019, September 26). Socialism - Revolution and Failure [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Jennings, J. "Socialism – Revolution and Failure." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Sep 2019,

Image Credits