2.27 Exploration: Mass Politics

Age of Progress?

Key Takeaways


Mass politics is a term used to describe the rise of the working class and other minorities in the late 19th and early 20th century as they began agitating for a political voice, especially through the extension of suffrage. The growth of the cities due to industrialism had brought people into closer proximity where they could share a common experience and common ideas. Additionally, the close proximity plus advances in communication technology meant the creation of stronger national identities and ethnic consciousness. We see the rise of mass politics through numerous groups. Among these are:

  • Jews
  • women
  • workers
  • immigrants

The first film clip below examines the way in which workers react to the harsh conditions of the industrial era; the second video illustrates this new mass consciousness and the increasingly violent reaction of workers to working conditions.

“Workers React to Harsh Conditions.” Working Lives. 1990. Films on Demand. 2:37.

If you get a message that the video cannot be authenticated, use this link: https://ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://fod-infobase-com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=151823&xtid=3314&loid=41764.


“Strikes Lead to Violence.” From Marx to World Revolution. 1991. Films on Demand. 2:04.

Mass Meetings

Polyakova, E.Y. "Gladstone and the Land League." 1880s.
Polyakova, E.Y. “Gladstone and the Land League.” 1880s. Wikimedia. February 3, 2010.

European countries reacted differently to each group of the masses. For example, in England, the reaction to these demands was greater political participation. This is exemplified in 1879 when William Gladstone, the leader of the British Liberal Party campaigned across Britain for a seat in the House of Commons. He addressed the workers during this campaign arguing for more rights for the people in the colonies. These mass meetings drew people into the public discussion who had never before participated. Gladstone won the election and became the prime minister. With this seeming support for the political participation of the masses, Ireland pushed for more participation in the politics of Great Britain as well. Irish leader Charles Stewart Parnell demanded British support for home rule – a plan whereby Ireland would be given its own parliament to rule themselves under the monarchy of the United Kingdom. Gladstone’s reaction to these demands in the form of cracking down on activism, reflected the tightrope many politicians walked as the political discourse spread and became more threatening.

“Gladstone and the Land Act.” Charles Stewart Parnell. 1994. Films on Demand. 3:40.

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Women’s Liberation and Suffrage

Dallas, Hilda. "Votes for Women Poster." 1909.
Dallas, Hilda. “Votes for Women Poster.” 1909. Wikimedia. September 17, 2009.

Women’s liberation movements began in many areas of the world, such as the United States and Great Britain. The movement in England began with women’s participation in Chartism, and even earlier with the Blue Stocking movement. Protests against women’s dictated position in British society were seen in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women in the Revolutionary Era, but suffrage for women was not even discussed by politicians until 1851 when female suffrage was proposed in the House of Lords. One of the most influential of the British advocates for woman suffrage was John Stuart Mill, whose Subjection of Women was published in 1859. However, there were a number of anti-feminists, most prominently Queen Victoria herself who once wrote that the demand for equal rights for women was “a mad, wicked folly…forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety.”1

In 1897, numerous small British suffrage societies united into the National Women’s Suffrage Societies. Most suffragettes (Br.) or suffragists (US) were members of the middle class who had time to dedicate to activism. Working-class women also participated, but many distrusted the motives of the middle class and they often believed economic issues were more crucial than the vote.

In 1903, a militant suffrage movement under the leadership of Emmeline Parkhurst and her daughters emerged in Great Britain. Examine the English Women’s Suffrage Movement in the following two videos.

“English Suffrage Movement.” Victoria to the Present Day: Michael Wood’s Story of England. 2010. Films on Demand. 4:10.

If you get a message that the video cannot be authenticated, use this link: https://ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://fod-infobase-com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=151823&xtid=57606&loid=260023.


“British Suffrage Movement.” The Longest War: Women & Power—Part 1. 2014. Films on Demand. 3:28.

If you get a message that the video cannot be authenticated, use the link below: https://ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://fod-infobase-com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=151823&xtid=109745&loid=399904.


The success of the suffrage movement finally came only after the militant, often violent actions of and reactions to these suffragettes. Consider why these methods worked and brought about such radical change and how it became acceptable for women, but not certain races or peoples to have a voice. Ideologies which further influenced the arguments of mass political movements were:

  • Anti-Semitism
  • Zionism
  • Nationalism (discussed in Module 3)
  • Socialism (discussed in Module 3)
  • Liberalism (discussed in Module 3)


In 1896, Theodor Herzl published a pamphlet called Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). This pamphlet advocates a British-backed Jewish colonization movement. The hope was to eventually create a Jewish state where Jews, often persecuted due to Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination including the ideals of nationalism, would be safe from pogroms. Herzl’s pamphlet will lead to the formal creation of Zionism as seen in this film clip below.

“Zionism Movement.” The Jewish People: A Story of Survival—Educator’s Edition. 2007. Films on Demand. 3:13.

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We’ll look at the other ‘isms – those related to politics – in the next module.


The growth of science, the pernicious development of pseudo-science, and the culture struggles that raged in European society all occurred simultaneously, lending to an overall sense of disruption and uncertainty as the twentieth century dawned. Lives were transformed for the better by consumerism and medical advances, but many Europeans still found the sheer velocity of change overwhelming and threatening. At least some of the virulence of the culture struggles of the era was due to this sense of fear and displacement, fears that spilled over to the growing rivalries between nations. In turn, the world itself provided the stage on which those rivalries played out as European nations set themselves the task of conquering and controlling vast new empires overseas.


  1. Queen Victoria. “Letter to Sir Theodore Martin, May 29, 1870.” image


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PPSC HIS 1320: Western Civilization: 1650-Present by Wayne Artis, Sarah Clay, and Kim Fujikawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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