Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

By George C. Comninel | Go to book overview

be: to argue that, despite his incisive criticism of the ideology of political economy, it was Marx's own uncritical appropriation of bourgeois-liberal 4 materialist history that introduced distortions into Marxist history; to demonstrate, however, that the method of historical social analysis which Marx actually created is not implicated in these distortions; and, finally, to consider both the nature and practice of this method itself -- historical materialism -- as the necessary foundation for a new interpretation of the French Revolution as an event in the historical development of class society. In order to justify this contentious line of argument, the responses which already have been made to the revisionist challenge by other Marxists will be examined to reveal the sources and extent of their weaknesses. Perhaps the central point of this work will be that the theory of bourgeois revolution did not originate with Marx, and in fact is not even consistent with the original social thought which Marx did develop.

While this book emerges from a recognition of the need to develop a new interpretation of the French Revolution, based on a fresh analysis of the ancien régime as a class society, that task must itself await a future work. The unfortunate extent to which the theory of bourgeois revolution, and the whole conception of 'historical' modes of production associated with it, have been understood to be the key to Marx's historical social theory has made an initial theoretical ground-clearing necessary. By way of a conclusion, however, a 'preface' to a historical materialist account of the origins and dynamic of the Revolution will be offered, indicating in broad strokes the sort of analysis which can be expected on the basis of current evidence.


Notes
1.
Alfred Cobban, The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution, London 1968.
2.
Georges Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution, New York n.d.
3.
William Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution, Oxford 1980, p.24.
4.
Throughout this work, the term 'liberal' is used to convey the meaning of a commitment to representative government and civil liberties, and/or a commitment to freedom of trade and enterprise. It is clear that virtually everyone in British public life after about 1720 falls into this category, including many Tories who would not usually be classified as 'liberals'. One of the points of this work, however, is precisely that no such liberal consensus existed in France until the twentieth century. The term 'bourgeois-liberal', which is usually used by Marxists to convey this meaning, will generally be avoided because it begs the question of what is meant by 'bourgeois'.

-4-

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Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 4
  • 1- The French Revolution As Bourgeois Revolution: Orthodoxy and Challenge 5
  • Notes 25
  • 2- The Marxist Response 28
  • Notes 51
  • 3- Bourgeois Revolution: A Liberal Concept 53
  • Notes 74
  • 4- In Defense of History: A Marxist Critique of Marxist Theory 77
  • Notes 102
  • 5- Liberal Ideology and the Politics Of the Revolution 104
  • Notes 119
  • 6- Marx's Early Thought 121
  • Notes 131
  • 7- Historical Materialism 133
  • Notes 176
  • Conclusion: Towards a Marxist Interpretation of the French Revolution 179
  • Notes 205
  • Select Bibliography 208
  • Index 219
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