Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

Synopsis

Historians generally--and Marxists in particular--have presented the revolution of 1789 as a bourgeois revolution: one which marked the ascendance of the bourgeois as a class, the defeat of a feudal aristocracy, and the triumph of capitalism. Recent revisionist accounts, however, have raised convincing arguments against the idea of the bourgeois class revolution, and the model on which it is based. In this provocative study, George Comninel surveys existing interpretations of the French Revolution and the methodological issues these raise for historians. He argues that the weaknesses of Marxist scholarship originate in Marx's own method, which has led historians to fall back on abstract conceptions of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Comninel reasserts the principles of historical materialism that found their mature expression in Das Kapital; and outlines an interpretation which concludes that, while the revolution unified the nation and centralized the French state, it did not create a capitalist society.

Excerpt

George Comniners book is a hard-hitting and contentious work that is bound to raise some flak from historians of the Revolution, both among those whom he calls 'revisionists' and those 'orthodox' Marxists and others whose judgements they have been proposing to 'revise'. But it is also a very thoughtful, original and well-researched book from a young historian whose arguments, though he is a newcomer to the field, deserve to be carefully examined and widely read.

The main thrust of Dr Comninel's contention is that, while the French Revolution has been widely debated, that debate has often been based on the erroneous premise that it was a 'bourgeois' revolution, in which the bourgeoisie, in challenging the old feudal-aristocratic régime, sought to replace it by a liberalbourgeois political and social order favorable to the development of a capitalist mode of production. The major fallacy in this perspective, as he sees it, lies in the mistaken view that the French eighteenth-century bourgeoisie and aristrocracy belonged to two fundamentally hostile classes whereas (in his view) they were bound by a common interest to exploit the material resources of the state while leaving the old social order virtually intact. So the major issue over which the French Revolution was fought (and the author in no way denies its importance) was not, as Lefebvre and Soboul and other 'social interpreters' have maintained, to uproot the old 'feudal' order but rather to give the bourgeoisie, the despised junior partners of aristocracy, a larger -- and ultimately preponderant -- share in the political control of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.