BBC journalist Paul Mason's blog post early in 2011 titled Twenty reasons why it is kicking off everywhere almost instantly filled my Twitter feed and discussion on multiple email lists. You might have called it the History 1.0 version of explaining the Arab Spring, Occupy, the indignados of Europe - everything important from 2011. He has just returned to the subject with Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions; you might call it version 1.3 - a few initial kinks ironed out, a little more perspective obtained, a few more experiences added. Wisely, he very explicitly says this is journalism, not history, and he disavows any claim to be trying to provide a unifying theory of events, or to be the movements' guru.
Nonetheless, he does provide a useful perspective for thinking about the current state of world protest - in simple terms, what is the best historical parallel, and what lessons might be drawn from it? He looks at 1848, which followed an economic crisis, the politics starting in Paris where the Parisian workers overthrew the monarchy ("a shock because, like Saif Gaddafi and Gamal Mubarak long afterwards, King Louis-Philippe had counted himself something of a democrat") and the subsequent wave of revolutions in Austria, Hungary, Poland and states in what is now Germany, with monarchies forced into constitutional form elsewhere.
His general conclusion about what then went wrong then? "Once the workers began to fight for social justice, the businessmen and radical journalists show had led the fight for democracy turned against them, rebuilding the old, dictatorial forms of repression to put them down. conversely, where the working class was was weak or non-existent, the radical middle classes would die on the barricades, often committed to a left wing programme themselves." He doesn't explore how that translates into modern times, but the possibilities are obvious.
Other options he proposes are 1917, but these were events led by "hardened revolutionary socialists" and involving a "large industrial working class"; 1968, but that was more "surge of protests with students in the lead, workers and the urban poor taking it to the verge of insurrection only in France, Czechoslovakia and America's ghettos," and 1989' but that occurred, with the exception of Romania, by "demonstrations, passive resistances and a large amount of diplomacy".
Soberly, he concludes 1848 is the best parallel, events which ended of course in widespread war and the general triumph of reaction.
If he does provide one simple philosophical framework for undestanding today - and I think it is a pretty good one to be working with - it is that 2011 is "a revolt against Hayek and the principles of greed and selfishness that he espoused". (His explanation of Hayek runs "he said that social justice was unachievable and that the inequality and misery produced by capitalism we both moral and logical".