It is the contradictions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was beginning to develop in Russia, that form the object of Lenin's analysis and of his arguments. If you forget this fact, you can easily fall into dogmatism and formalism: Leninism can be represented as a finished theory, a closed system — which it has been, for too long, by Communist parties. But if on the other hand you remain content with a superficial view of these contradictions and of their historical causes, if you remain content with the simplistic and false idea according to which you have to "choose" between the standpoint of theory and that of history, real life and practice, if you interpret Lenin's arguments simply as a reflection of ever changing circumstances, less applicable the further away they are in history, then the real causes of these historical contradictions become unintelligible, and our own relation to them becomes invisible. You fall into the domain of subjective fantasy
Karl Marx (1818-1883), the great philosopher, historian, political economist and father of Marxism, was born on this day in 1818. Although born in the early 19th century, the relevance of Karl Marx's ideas for analysing 20th and 21st century capitalism, as well as for understanding the political and economic struggles and changes of his own day, remain vital and essential.
To celebrate, we're bringing you an extract from one of his most famous political works, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.
History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism, edited by Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys and published by Verso in 2007, collects essays on the English, French, and Russian Revolutions and the body of revisionist historiography — developed or publicized by historians like François Furet, Simon Schama, Orlando Figes, and Conrad Russell — that dominated public conception of them during the high years of "the end of history."
"Revisionism generally shares a view of revolutions," the editors write, "as, to paraphrase George Taylor, political acts with social consequences rather than social acts with political consequences."
The lasting achievement of revisionist historiography of the French Revolution has been to discredit the idea that the event brought about a change in France's social order. Against the "determinism" of social explanations of historical change, which focus on class antagonisms, revisionists emphasize the primacy of the political. Their tendency to see revolutions as narrow political events rather than broader social transformations means that extraordinary circumstances — war, famine, counter-revolution — figure little in explanations of why protagonists sometimes act in ways which would otherwise be considered extreme or intolerable. The focus on elite activity and the attempt to establish a causal link between ideas and events leaves little room for the active role played by groups who do not form part of the elite. Popular insurgencies, violence and insurrection are no longer integral to revolutionary change but an unnecessary distraction, or worse, a reactionary brake on modernization and peaceful reform.
In the book's final chapter, reprinted below, Daniel Bensaïd takes on some of the broader themes of the revisionist literature, picking up Marx's figure of the old mole to trace the persistence of revolution during even the most apparently static of times.