In recent weeks, the politicians and pundits who make up the German establishment have begun seriously discussing a ban on the right-populist party Alternative for Germany (the AfD)—a reaction to the party’s growing base of support. Despite the accusations of fascism and extremism that have dogged the party since its founding in 2012, in the latest polling the AfD commands the support of more than a fifth of the German electorate. Depending on the poll, this makes it either the third largest or the second largest political party in the country.

“The AfD commands the support of more than a fifth of the German electorate.”

Many have remarked on the irony that those proposing to ban the AfD present themselves as defending democracy. For those who support this move, German history justifies their apparently contradictory position: Didn’t the Nazis hijack the electoral system in order to destroy it?

But a more relevant historical precedent for the country’s current impasse comes from earlier in the last century—and from the large Eastern neighbor with which Germany now finds itself in conflict. In the early 1900s, imperial Russia was in an awkward spot: lagging behind its rivals, straining to keep up with the ambitions of its swelling ranks of prosperous free peasants, nascent industrialists, and idealistic intellectuals. Socialists, communists, and anarchists joined ranks not just with each other, but with liberals, democratic reformers, and economic technocrats, agreeing only on the fact that Russia couldn’t continue like this for much longer. But then, in 1904, war broke out, and patriotic fervor derailed the cause of reform—for a while, anyway. The Russo-Japanese war soon proved disastrous, and discontent surged again, culminating in the Revolution of 1905—a revolution nobody in Russia had seen coming just two years prior.

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