Revolution:An Intellectual History

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A cultural and intellectual balance-sheet of the twentieth century's age of revolutions

This book reinterprets the history of nineteenth and twentieth-century revolutions by composing a constellation of “dialectical images”: Marx’s “locomotives of history,” Alexandra Kollontai’s sexually liberated bodies, Lenin’s mummified body, Auguste Blanqui’s barricades and red flags, the Paris Commune’s demolition of the Vendome Column, among several others. It connects theories with the existential trajectories of the thinkers who elaborated them, by sketching the diverse profiles of revolutionary intellectuals—from Marx and Bakunin to Luxemburg and the Bolsheviks, from Mao and Ho Chi Minh to José Carlos Mariátegui, C.L.R. James, and other rebellious spirits from the South—as outcasts and pariahs. And finally, it analyzes the entanglement between revolution and communism that so deeply shaped the history of the twentieth century. This book thus merges ideas and representations by devoting an equal importance to theoretical and iconographic sources, offering for our troubled present a new intellectual history of the revolutionary past.


  • Brilliant and beautiful. Now this book exists, it’s hard to know how we did without it.

    China Miéville
  • A monumental achievement, and should be a touchstone for today’s left. We can’t build a future beyond capitalism without coming to terms with the challenging history it confronts.

    Neil VallellyJacobin
  • Offering one of the most unsentimental yet non-reactionary meditations on revolution ever written, Traverso comes not to bury or praise the earthly drive to "take heaven by storm" but to understand it anew. Enriched by a lifelong study of historiography and politics, immense historical knowledge, theoretical polyamory, and a compelling artistic eye, this book also features splendid humility in exploring its slippery, complex and important subject. For those who long to craft a different order of things, Traverso's account is essential. For those who want to ponder what spirits revolutions or makes shipwrecks of them, this rare work roams the globe and the library, reflecting on Phnom Penh and Havana, not only Paris and Moscow, and thinking with Weber, Arendt, Fanon and Constant, not only Trotsky, Lenin and Mao.

    Wendy Brown, author of In the Ruins of Neoliberalism