Jay Bergman, “The French Revolutionary Tradition in Russian and Soviet Politics, Political Thought, and Culture”

Because they were Marxists, the Bolsheviks in Russia, both before and after taking power in 1917, believed that the past was prologue: that embedded in history was a Holy Grail, a series of mysterious, but nonetheless accessible and comprehensible, universal laws that explained the course of history from beginning to end. Those who understood these laws would be able to mould the future to conform to their own expectations. But what should the Bolsheviks do if their Marxist ideology proved to be either erroneous or insufficient-if it could not explain, or explain fully, the course of events that followed the revolution they carried out in the country they called the Soviet Union? Something else would have to perform this function. The underlying argument of this volume is that the Bolsheviks saw the revolutions in France in 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1871 as supplying practically everything Marxism lacked. In fact, these four events comprised what for the Bolsheviks was a genuine Revolutionary Tradition. The English Revolution and the Puritan Commonwealth of the seventeenth century were not without utility-the Bolsheviks cited them and occasionally utilized them as propaganda-but these paled in comparison to what the revolutions in France offered a century later, namely legitimacy, inspiration, guidance in constructing socialism and communism, and, not least, useful fodder for political and personal polemics.

  • Describes how revolutionaries in Russia both before and after the October Revolution in 1917 interpreted the French revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1871
  • Demonstrates that these revolutions, at least for Russian revolutionaries, comprised a genuine and meaningful Revolutionary Tradition

Table of Contents

PART I: 1789
1. The Initial Reception of the French Revolution
2. The French Revolution in the Russian Revolutionary Movement
3. The Marxist Inheritance of the French Revolution
4. Lenin: The Russian Robespierre
5. Bolsheviks and Mensheviks on the Jacobins and the Girondins
6. 1917: Russian Jacobins Come to Power
7. Mythologising the New Soviet Regime
8. The Phantom of the Soviet Thermidor
9. Stalin: The Jacobins as Proto-Stalinists
10. Returning to the Leninist Line under Khrushchev and Brezhnev
11. Transgressing the Leninist Line in the Gorbachev Era
PART II: 1830
12. The Revolution That Stopped Too Soon
PART III: 1848
13. The Revolution That Failed
14. The Phantom of the Russian Bonaparte
PART IV: 1871
15. Revolution as Martyrdom

Author Information

Jay Bergman, Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University

Jay Bergman is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. He received his BA in history from Brandeis University in 1970, and subsequently received his MA (1972), MPhil (1973), and PhD (1977) from Yale University. Bergman is the author of Vera Zasulich: A Biography (1983); Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov (2009); and articles in modern Russian and European history. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars, and in 2009 was named a member of the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, on which he served for two two-year terms.

Reviews and Awards

“…the reviewed book on the role of the French Revolution in Russian intellectual discourse is important, not just because it elucidates the important aspects of Russian intellectual history, but because it is a perfect snapshot of the time when the West, in all its manifestations, including its historical imagination, ruled supreme in Russia’s – and not only Russia’s, of course – intellectual life.” — Dmitry Shlapentokh, Indiana University South Bend, H/Soz/Kult

“Bergman has produced a fine piece of intellectual history that sheds new light on the Bolsheviks and the Soviet regime over which they presided.” — Gavin Murray-Miller, Revolutionary Russia

Published: 08 October 2019

576 Pages