Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

By George C. Comninel | Go to book overview

1
The French Revolution as Bourgeois Revolution: Orthodoxy and Challenge

The Social Interpretation and Bourgeois Revolution

In the mid 1960s, after a decade in the chair of French History at the University of London, Alfred Cobban returned to the provocative theme of his inaugural lecture, The Myth of the French Revolution. 1 With his slender but highly charged volume, The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution, Cobban attacked head-on a broad and long-established consensus over the general character and meaning of the French Revolution. 2 This 'social' interpretation was the established academic opinion, refined over time by the most notable historians of the Revolution, with an appropriate range of scholarly variation on its basic theme. What Cobban most took issue with -- and what was central to this interpretation -- was viewing the Revolution as a social revolution, one that embodied fundamental and necessary processes of historical development. Cobban did not object to examining the origins or events of the Revolution in terms of social or economic interests. On the contrary, Norman Hampson criticized Cobban for having produced no more than a 'non-Marxist economic interpretation of the revolution'. 3 What Cobban rejected, as he saw it, was history written to reflect 'the deterministic operation of an historical law', history which had been combined with 'general sociological theories'. 4 In his eyes this was both the defining characteristic and the cardinal sin of Marxist history, and it was as Marxist history that Cobban took on the social interpretation. Indeed, as has since come to be true of much of the revisionist 'new consensus', Cobban's criticism was explicitly intended to be at least as much an attack on Marxist historical

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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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