Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

By George C. Comninel | Go to book overview

5
Liberal Ideology and the Politics of the Revolution

The difficulty Marxists have had in explaining the French Revolution is only symptomatic of a more general theoretical problem. While Marxists have made seminal contributions to history -- as historians -- the historical process itself, and its class dynamics in pre-capitalist societies, have so far eluded the practice of Marxist theory. It is only for specifically capitalist societies that a convincing Marxist analysis has been put forward -- and Marx himself provided the analysis.

The problem, as we have seen, is that Marxists have looked to Marx's limited and unsystematic historical observations as a guide to his historical materialism. They are not -- they are qualitatively different from the fully developed social analysis of capitalism in Capital, as is most clearly demonstrated in the case of the French Revolution. Marx's remarks on pre-capitalist history are not merely based upon liberal histories, but they incorporate a significant amount of uncriticized liberal historical ideology. In fact, much of what has been taken to be fundamental to Marx's thought has instead been drawn from an off- shoot -- an offshoot which, unlike his essential historical materialist thought, is directly based on liberal ideological conceptions.

In the chapters which follow, an effort will be made to distinguish between these two contradictory lines of thought in Marx's work; to clarify that it is the criticism of liberal ideology that is central to historical materialism; and finally to elaborate an actual method of historical materialist analysis. Virtually all of

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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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