The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions

The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions

The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions

The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions


"A remarkable new insight into the comparative social dynamics of revolutions and terrors, which provides very strong arguments against common stereotypes and misleading conservative interpretations."--Pierre Bourdieu

"In his comparative analysis of the Great French and the Russian October Revolution, Arno Mayer focuses on the interaction between revolution and counterrevolution as a source of exorbitant violence and terror that emerges less from ideological visions of the revolutionaries than from unforeseen pressures generated by the combination of external and civil war. By alluding to the ancient "furies," Mayer underlines the self-escalation of terror, usually connected with racial and religious hatred, and pleads for a critical evaluation of the revolutionary events in Russia from February 1917 to the climax of the Stalinist period. His book is a masterpiece of comparative history."--Hans Mommsen

"Arno Mayer's "The Furies" is an eloquent and passionate reconsideration of the role of violence and terror, not only in the French and Russian Revolutions, but in the political institutions in general. The comparison between the French revolution and its aftermath and the Russian experience is extremely illuminating, offering new insights into revolution--as an ongoing dialectic between old and new orders, in which vengeance and violence erupt as part of the process of struggle and breakdown."--Richard Wortman, Columbia University


This book, like any historical work, has a history, and it was crafted in a specific political and historiographic context. In 1987, I finished Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? and resumed work on the sequel to The Persistence of the Old Regime, which I had put aside to ponder and search into the Judeocide. But a turbulence in the surrounding political and intellectual atmosphere distracted me.

I spent much time in France in 1987–90, the years of the rites of the bicentennial of the French Revolution, in which historians were prominent officiants. There was nothing exceptional about French historians, particularly the public intellectuals among them, playing their self-assigned roles. They had been doing so practically ever since 1789, taking three distinct positions: abjure and excoriate the Revolution, root and branch; redeem the “revolution without a revolution” over against the radical revolution of the Terror; exalt and justify the Revolution,en bloc. There is something archetypal about these three positions: since 1917 they have defined the debates about the Russian Revolution, except that the third position eventually split in two over the question of the continuity or break between Lenin and Stalin.

The “crescendo of violence” (Jules Michelet) has been the single most important defining issue of the indomitable debate about the Great Revolution. For the bicentennial, French historians reenacted the tried and true battle between the prosecutors who blame one or more ideologically driven political leaders for the spiraling Furies, including the Terror, and the defenders who attribute them to the force of circumstance. Indeed, it seemed as if old polemical wine was being poured into new historiographic bottles.

Presently, however, the bicentennial debate became singularly polemical and impassioned. In part this was so because as may be expected, it served as a screen for heated arguments about France's unmastered recent past. Had Vichy been the last stand of the counterrevolution dating from 1789, shielded by Nazi Germany? Had the French Communists, since the 1930s, been nothing but . . .

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