Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

By George C. Comninel | Go to book overview
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capitalism was never completed, or even advanced in properly historical terms. The analysis of pre-capitalist societies -- including the history of the transition to capitalism -- was never even attempted. The task of historical materialism still lies ahead: to improve and extend the analysis of capitalist society, and to make a comparable analysis for the rest of class history.

On the whole, this history will have little to do with Marx's retrospective glances at the antecedents to the political economic categories with which he was primarily concerned. In general, Marx's specific suppositions can be expected to be proved wrong. Yet it is not hard to perceive that his overall conception of history will be vindicated. There is much that can be recovered from the histories that have already been written. And already in Thompson's and Brenner's works can be found that focus on the concrete history of class relations and the balance of class struggle which is essential to historical materialism. Particularly in the contributions they have made to the history of the transition to capitalism, the leading edge of historical materialism can be seen emerging from the heavy fog of 'Marxist theory'.

While a historical materialist interpretation of the French Revolution can only truly follow from a great deal more work upon the society that lay behind it -- and not the society that lay ahead -- the present work would not be complete without some effort to anticipate how the method outlined here might reveal a structure of exploitive class relations in the ancien régime and relate it to the political conflict of 'bourgeois' and 'aristocrats'. The conclusion which follows will therefore offer a preliminary historical synthesis, incorporating most of the data the revisionists have used to criticize the social interpretation. The evidence clearly suggests that the Revolution was indeed the direct result of the conflicts and contradictions generated by class relations of exploitation in the ancien régime, though in a fundamentally different way than is usually associated with 'bourgeois revolution'.


Notes
1.
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Collected Works vol. III, p. 298.
2.
Ibid.
3.
Ibid., pp. 304-6.
4.
Ibid., p. 313.
5.
Ibid.

-176-

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