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A problem in self-identity: Russian intellectual thought in the context of the French Revolution.

No other country in Europe has been so perplexed about its self-identification as Russia. Since the nineteenth century, Russian intellectuals have pondered whether their country was European or the result of some other cultural entity. The so-called Westernizers saw Russia as following in the footsteps of the West while the Slavophiles viewed it as being the result of Slavic tradition. But in the 1920s, the Eurasianists, who emerged in the so-called 'First Wave' of emigration, began to see Russia as part of the great civilization of Eurasia, i.e. as neither European nor Asian but as a unique cultural blend. Moreover, the Eurasianists saw Russia as owing more to its Asian heritage than to its European roots. Yet, despite their seemingly different approaches, Eurasianism in fact was a modification of the Slavophiles' belief that Russia had a unique cultural heritage. The Eurasianists merely assumed that the non-Slavic people of Russia constituted Russia's natural allies, not the Slavs outside of the Russian empire. This identification with certain cultural models meant an identification with certain political models. And indeed, in the mind of many Russians, democracy was a symbol of the West whereas authoritarian and, later, totalitarian government were political faculties of the East and Russia.

These two historical images, each of them integrated into certain historical models, have competed in the minds of Russian intellectuals, regardless of their political affiliations. One model implies that Russia, with certain modifications, will follow in the footsteps of the French Revolution. From the end of the imperial period onward, the popularity of this model enjoyed a steady rise owing to the feeling among growing numbers of Russian intellectuals that their country had been following in the footsteps of the West all along. The word 'West' had here a broad meaning. The model implied that democracy, accompanied by military might and economic prosperity, was the future of the country. At the same time, the French Revolution as an historical model was challenged by other intellectuals who preferred different historical models. These models, mostly of the Eurasianist variety, implied that because of Russia's Asian heritage (read Oriental despotism), it would not have a democratic government in the near future. In the context of post-Soviet Russia, this has evolved into a belief that democracy is not a viable alternative, as there is a sort of backward provinciality to the country that lends itself to totalitarian government.

The popularity of the French Revolution among Russian intellectuals was at its peak during the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War. At that time events in Russia were associated with the events in France during the reign of the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror. The end of the Civil War and the inauguration of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 brought new changes in Russian life and in Russian intellectuals' approach to the French Revolution. While the previous period (1789-1922) was characterized by a steady Westernization of Russia's self-image, with scenarios from the French Revolution being employed with increasing frequency to elucidate the country's political reality, the new period was characterized by an opposite process. Although it remained a popular topic in the country's intellectual discourse during the early 1920s (the majority of Russian intellectuals compared contemporary Russia with Thermidorean France), the use of the French Revolution's script as a model for the country's political development began to steadily decline. At the same time, the history of Oriental despotism in its various forms (Russia's own history was incorporated in the Oriental model) started to be employed to understand the country's political reality. The Oriental model was espoused by those who called themselves 'Eurasians', and it became dominant by the end of the 1920s. All of this indicates Russia's intellectuals' growing feelings that their country was different from the Western European community and that an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, not a democracy, was Russia's true future. Although the French Revolution has never been completely out of intellectual discourse in Russia, the steady decline of interest, both in Russia and the West, by the early 1990s was a sign of the West losing its intellectual centrality and of the ideological fragmentation in present day humanity.

The so-called New Economic Policy (NEP) had loosened government control over economic life and encouraged the emergence of the bourgeoisie in both urban and countryside settings. This apparently paralleled the processes in revolutionary France when the rising bourgeoisie became tired of the Jacobins' rule, pushed out the revolutionary terrorists, and dismantled the revolutionary regime. The rise of the bourgeoisie inspired anti-Bolsheviks to see in Russian political development a similarity to the course of the French Revolution. They believed the regime's foundations would eventually wither away, and a moderate faction of the Bolsheviks would set aside the radical Bolsheviks. As the radicals lost control over the economy, capitalism in its purest form would be re-established. The majority of the anti-Bolsheviks anticipated an inevitable Russian Thermidor; some of them even assumed it had already started.(1) Most of them anticipated, however, that a Russian Napoleon would not arise out of it.

Liberals constituted a large part of the Russian political emigre population, and many of them united around Pavel Miliukov's Last News (Poslednie novosti).(2) Disappointed with the defeat of the White anti-Bolshevik forces in the Civil War, they complained that Western countries had offered little help to their cause (in this they sounded remarkably similar to the emigres of the French Revolution).(3) Yet they took hope in the fact that the similarities between the Bolshevik and French Revolutions seemed to imply that the Bolsheviks would eventually be doomed in the manner of the French Jacobins.(4) At the same time, many liberals thought that there were enough differences between the Bolshevik and French Revolutions(5) to make a Bonaparte-style victory in Russia impossible. Miliukov, editor of Last News, made explicit statements about the unlikeliness of the appearance of a Russian Napoleon because of the absence of a capable and successful military leader among the Bolsheviks.(6) Only a few of the paper's contributors suggested that Russia had a more authoritarian tradition than did France.(7)

Mensheviks, united around their vehicle, the Socialist Messenger (Sotsialisticheskii vestnik), were politically close to the liberals and held quite similar views in their comparison of the French and Bolshevik Revolutions.(8) The Social Revolutionaries (SRs) held a view similar to the Mensheviks with one notable difference. The SRs hoped a Russian Thermidor would not break completely with the Bolshevik regime because, like the Jacobin regime, it had its good points, especially its drive against the bourgeoisie.(9)

While the majority of the Bolsheviks' adversaries believed that a Russian Thermidor would lead to a collapse of the Bolshevik regime as a result of the bloody struggle between the Russian Jacobins, others, especially those with strong nationalistic feelings, saw it as a mostly peaceful evolution. They assumed that, despite its similarity to the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution would still be shaped by the specifics of Russian history and national tradition. The Bolsheviks would soon cleanse themselves of elements artificial to Russian culture - internationalism and socialism and the attempt to impose government control on society's economic life - and return to Russian traditionalism with its stress on nationalism and private property.(10)

At the beginning of the NEP, many of the anti-Bolsheviks believed that the revolution would repeat the French Revolution and that the Russian bourgeoisie would eventually triumph. At the same time, a Soviet craving for democracy would spell the difference between the two revolutions' courses. Yet these dreams began to fade by the end of the 1920s. Soviet Russia's development was characterized by the following: the urban and countryside bourgeoisie continued to exist and the authoritarian trends in society increased. This induced those who opted for the French model to anticipate that a Napoleonic stage of Russian revolutionary development was inevitable.

Liberals, both rightist and leftist, were ready to accept the rise of a Russian Napoleon in the near future but were divided in their views of the new dictator's characteristics, his government, and the manner of its installation. The rightists foresaw the rise of this Bonaparte as a result of the overthrow of the Bolsheviks; the leftists believed that the regime would undergo an organic evolution and that the coming dictatorship would be an intermediate stage leading to a democratic one.(11)

The Mensheviks' approach to the Russian Thermidor was similar to that of the liberals. But their belief that a Russian Thermidor would not follow the French script and lead to a Bonapartist coup began to fade. They postulated the following scenarios. First, the Russian puppet Napoleon would be installed by foreign troops which would crush a Soviet regime deprived of the support of the population. The second scenario involved Stalin, actually the Russian Robespierre, launching a Thermidor himself. The third proposed the victory of Trotsky's supporters, who were compared to leftist Jacobins, except that the Trotskyites' victory would not prevent Thermidor but would actually speed up the process, as was the case in France. Indeed, the Mensheviks pointed out, it was leftist Jacobins who, actively toppling the regime of Robespierre, thought they had prevented right-wing degeneration of the revolutionary government. The development of the French Thermidor shows how wrong they were in their prognosis. In these scenarios, a Napoleon would crown the Russian Thermidor.(12) Socialist-Revolutionists (SRs) were the only exception among the leftists who, while accepting the French script, did not anticipate that a Russian Napoleon was imminent.(13)

Stalin's 'revolution from above' took place and spelled the end of the NEP (1929). As a result peasants' property was collectivized and taken over by state; the urban NEP was also routed, and the state assumed control of the economy on a level hitherto unknown. The political power of the state and the level of repression also rose. This demonstrated that Russia had not developed along the lines of the French model, and Eurasianism and various kinds of fascism, which emerged in the beginning of the 1920s, became widespread among Russian intellectuals. When the French script was employed to explain Soviet political reality, it became indistinguishable from the Oriental model, in the sense that not only was democracy precluded from the Russian future, but the Russian Napoleon, Stalin, became indistinguishable in his characteristics from an Oriental despot, cruel and omnipotent.(14)

Others, however, continued to employ the Thermidorean model to explain current political developments. Stalin's revolution from above definitely debunked the idea of a Thermidor, the restoration of capitalism. However, the Mensheviks pointed out that the socialist experiment had been tried in Russia, a backward country, one too underdeveloped for the installation of socialism. The Trotskyites held a different view. The Stalinists continued to persecute them and did not restore the intra-Party democracy, and for them this was sufficient cause to view Stalin's revolution from above as doomed to failure. For all of them, the only possible path after the degeneration of the Bolshevik Revolution was a Thermidor, with a Russian Napoleon crowning the political establishment.(15) Therefore, they viewed Stalin's anti-NEP policy as an aberration and eagerly awaited the return of the NEP.

Like collectivization, the Great Purges were not condemned outright by the emigres. Writers in the emigre periodical The Third Russia, for example, praised Stalin for being a Russian Nemesis and for purging Russia of Bolshevik murderers. According to this view, Stalin was less a Napoleon, less a Caesar, than he was a Russian tsar like Ivan the Terrible.'(16) According to these writers, Stalin's Terror was justified not only on moral grounds, executing those who were themselves stained with blood, but for the metaphysical reason that the Russian people, Orientals, were chosen to play a special role in world history, namely to establish mankind's domination over nature through a strong, despotic government.(17)

The Great Purges not only upheld those who saw Soviet history as developing according to the Eurasian model, but also those liberal intellectuals who compared its development with the French script. In the latter case, a Russian Thermidor was seen as postponed for the time being, and Stalin's Russia was compared to Jacobin France in the midst of the Great Terror. Russian society would not tolerate a prolonged period of terror, because not even the upper echelons of the regime were safe, as they had been in the Jacobin period. This would compel the terrorists, themselves subject to the Reign of Terror, to strike out at Stalin and, even against their will, stop the machine of terror, which would lead the entire revolutionary system to its downfall. With Stalin out of the picture there would be some relaxation of governmental control over the peasantry; they would be allowed to keep their tiny private plots and sell the products of their labour on the open market. This possible scenario provided the liberals with hope that Thermidor would occur in Russia in the near future.

These assumptions were challenged by many who, despite an attachment to the French scenario, did not see a Russian Thermidor in the near future. According to them, the Bolshevik Revolution did indeed have some similarities to the French Revolution, and the Bolshevik regime could certainly be compared with the French Jacobins. Yet the notable differences between the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks would permit the latter to survive for a long time. The Great Purges of the late 1930s were also viewed as the essential struggle between the state and the Party Apparatus, and it was the state that would take advantage of the current political struggle within the Kremlin. These struggles among the Bolsheviks could be compared to struggles among the French Jacobins on the eve of Thermidor, yet the developments in Russia would be different from the course of revolution in France. In France, a Russian liberal publicist wrote, the Terror had shaken the Jacobin regime, leading to its collapse. In Russia, the Terror had replaced one ruling elite with another, but the nature of the Terror and the regime had remained the same.(18) A few leftists continued to view Soviet political development in the context of old theories that Stalin's Russia was a Russian Thermidor. This view was held mostly by Mensheviks and Trotskyites.

At the end of the 1930s, the Mensheviks, as well as other Russian intellectuals inside and outside of Russia, believed Stalin's path to the left would be corrected by an audacious military general. In this case, the Russian Thermidor would follow the French situation more precisely than had been previously thought. A Russian Bonaparte, a popular general following the French example, would bring about a military coup and then engage in sweeping economic reforms that would liberate the Soviet economy. Mikhail N. Tukhachevskii (1893-1937), Marshal of the U.S.S.R., later a victim of the purges, was regarded as a prime candidate for the Russian Napoleon.(19) Trotsky also continued to view Soviet Russia as being the equivalent of Thermidorean France. From his Mexican exile, he watched the Moscow trials and continued to call the purges Thermidorean and predict that unless a victorious proletariat smashed reactionary cliques, capitalist restoration was inevitable.

By the beginning of the Second World War, France and most of the European countries, the centres of Russian emigration, were occupied by the Nazis, and Russian political emigre publications ceased to exist. Trotsky was also killed in Mexico in 1940. His death meant the end of his major periodical Bulletin of the Opposition (Biuleten' oppozitsii). The end of these periodicals and the destruction of the political and intellectual centre of the Russian emigration signalled the end of the First Wave. Thereafter, for the great majority of Russian intellectuals, both in Russia and abroad, the French Revolution ceased to be a model to explain Bolshevik historical development. The French Revolution continued to interest them but to a limited degree. It was no longer used as a tool for predicting future developments, but for explaining the past, the roots of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Yet proponents of the French script survived and continued to discuss the relationship between the French and Russian Revolutions. These were mostly Mensheviks; however, under the pressure of political events, they changed their views on the Russian Thermidor. Their views were divided. One group continued to support the old idea that the Bolshevik Revolution was a bourgeois revolution and the restoration of capitalism would be an inevitable future. The point of difference was the durability of the new Jacobin regime. This group looked to the rise of Nikita Khrushchev and the anti-Stalin drive in the late 1950s as the beginning of the long-awaited Thermidor.

A second group of Mensheviks believed that the similarities between the two revolutions should not overshadow the differences. In 1945, Boris Nikolaevskii, one of the key Mensheviks and an authority on Russian history in the West, came to the conclusion that the seizure of power by the bureaucracy was the very essence of the Bolshevik Revolution, and one should not juxtapose Leninist Russia with Stalinist Russia. By the same token, the France of Robespierre should not be juxtaposed to the France of the Thermidoreans and Napoleon, because in all of these regimes the bourgeoisie had dominated.(20) The fact that the bureaucracy had been the ruling elite in the Soviet regime since its birth and had plainly solidified its position by the 1940s meant that no radical changes could be expected in the future. It is not surprising, then, that many Mensheviks and other intellectuals succumbed to the Eurasianist view that Oriental despotism was the appropriate historical model for the study of Soviet society.

This vision of the Soviet state was one in which not the French model but the Oriental despotic model was regarded as the key to the true understanding of Soviet society. Many Mensheviks started to accept Eurasianism as the appropriate theoretical paradigm. ~iewing Stalin's Russia, together with the satellite states, as a kind of Oriental empire cemented by an enormous body of Party-affiliated bureaucracy, the Mensheviks abandoned any hope of changes after the dictator's death. A new Stalin would merely replace the old and rule the great empire, which could expect to enjoy the same type of longevity as many empires of the past had.(21)

Their thinking was tinged with some desperation, for Stalin's empire was not that solid. The masses were hardly bovine. In 1953, uprisings flared in Pilsen, Poland, Berlin, and in distant Vorkuta in the north of European Russia. These and later events, such as the uprising in Hungary, provided the emigres, whose ranks were increasing dramatically at that time, with hope that a Russian Thermidor was starting or could be expected in the near future.(22)

Nikita Khrushchev's anti-Stalin drive that followed the Twentieth Party Congress provided intellectuals both inside and outside the Party with additional reasons to see the beginning of Thermidor and the final transformation of the Bolshevik regime into a right-wing dictatorship.(23) This appeal to the French Revolution to provide an explanatory model for contemporary Russia's political development was the swan song for those intellectuals of the 'First Wave' who still believed Russia had been developing according to the French script.

On receiving news from Moscow about the beginning of the anti-Stalin drive, Gregorii Aronson published articles in the Socialist Messenger with the provocative titles, 'Has the Bolshevik Revolution Become Ripe for a Thermidor?'(24) and 'Our Thermidoreans'.(25) He pointed out that a Russian Thermidor could actually take place as the time had finally come when the similarities between the present situation in Russia and Thermidorean France were truly noteworthy. These similarities were in both the essence and the details. First, Stalin's Terror, very similar to Robespierre's, had been stopped. Second, the present Soviet population had changed its attitudes toward life. Revolutionary ideology, with its stress on sacrifice, was being replaced by an ideology of individualism and consumerism. This certainly was similar to the French model after the fall of Robespierre. Present-day Russia was Thermidorean even in the external appearance of its political institutions. The collective leadership of the present-day Soviet rulers was very similar to the Directorate of Thermidorian France. It was plausible that a military dictatorship of the Napoleonic kind would arise, and Aronson compared Nikolai Bulgarin's (1895-1975), chairman of the Soviet Ministers, patronage of General Georgii Zhukov (1896-1974), the leading Soviet general of World War II, to Barre's patronage of Napoleon. Aronson was also convinced that an economic Thermidor in its purest form, the triumph of a market economy, would not be possible in the near future. Government control of property would be a kind of 'state capitalism'.

The hopes of Aronson and a few others to see Khrushchev's rule as the beginning of a Russian Thermidor were soon dashed. Stalin's Terror was indeed halted, but no economic liberation or structural changes took place in the Soviet system. The regime demonstrated its stability and, plainly, a cruel despot was replaced by a more benign one. Therefore, the French model of the Russian political development had to be abandoned altogether, and the Oriental model finally became widely accepted. It was not a surprise that the Socialist Messenger editors turned sympathetic eyes to Western scholars who had developed similar ideas. Karl Wittvogel, the author of the classic Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (Yale University Press, 1957), attracted their attention. When he published Oriental Despotism, he received an invitation from a Socialist Messenger editor to express his views on the comparison between Oriental despotism and the Socialist system. Wittvogel responded in a long letter which was published in the pages of the periodical. He argued that the regime created by Lenin was a modified form of an Oriental despotism even more repressive than any of the despotic regimes of the past.(26)

Since the late 1940s, 'Eurasianism' (the term was not popular), in one form or another, contained both Western thought (mostly of conservative Western historians) about the USSR, and the thoughts of Soviet historians who were directly or indirectly engaged in the search for a political model. The two groups attached different meanings to the term, however. For the most part, Western historians of the Cold War generation saw Soviet society as a product of imperial Russia. While accepting the oriental roots of Russia and Soviet political culture, these historians did not assume that Russia was predestined to live under a totalitarian regime. Instead, they believed (Richard Pipes is the most notable example) that Soviet society should and could be replaced by a different political order. This was similar to the thoughts of those historians who had believed that imperial Russia could be transformed into some benign form of authoritarian regime, for example a constitutional monarchy. But according to other Soviet historians, Russia's heritage made the transition to a society with a respect for human rights hardly an easy enterprise because of the deep-seated tradition of Oriental despotism. For these historians it was not the French Revolution but rather Oriental despotism that provided the best understanding of Soviet history. With all their stress on the 'Asiatic roots' of the country, these social scientists were actually Eurasianists to some degree.

Soviet ideologists of post-World-War-II were also actually Eurasianists. Their Eurasianism, however, was of a different nature from that of Western historians. They emphasized instead the historical unity of the people of the USSR, regardless of ethnic background, and the historical tradition of collectivity in Russia. They also duly supplemented their Eurasianism (the word itself, of course, was never pronounced) with a good dose of Russian nationalism, drawn from traditional Slavophilism. This ideological construct played an important role in the political order of the Soviet Union. It provided justification for close ties with the 'brotherly Slavic nations' of East Europe. Moreover, it was an ideological counterbalance for the excessive gravitation toward Asia, which was not always wise because of the ideological confrontations with China and the possibility that they could lead to a full-scale war.

While Eurasianism, in this form or another, and Russian nationalism integrated with traditional Slavophilism dominated the vision of the Soviet Union held by both Western and Soviet (mostly ethnic Russians) scholars, the French Revolution was not absolutely forgotten in intellectual discourse. Some historians continued to relate images from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. The reason for the popularity of the French Revolution in the West was not only due to the influence of the USSR's revolutionary legacy, at least in the realm of ideology, but also was caused by another more deep-seated reason. Despite all the talk of about the rise in economic and political power of non-Western countries and the much ballyhooed multi-culturalism on American campuses, the West firmly believed in its own political, and therefore, cultural centrality. For this reason the French Revolution was appraised as one of the central events in global history.

This assumption about the centrality of Western political thought could also explain the interest in the French Revolution among Russian intellectuals. For many of them, the centrality of the West was incorporated into their perception of Russia as a leading power. Thus, they continued to see history in the context of the Western model, with the French Revolution being a point of reference. All of them understood, of course, that post-World-War-II Soviet Union needed to change, and during the last years of the Soviet regime, roughly the period covering the beginning of Brezhnev's reign to the collapse of the country in 1991, Russian intellectuals used their limited freedom to express their views on this fact and various other subjects of the present and past.

The intellectuals who saw the French Revolution as the model for development for the USSR could roughly be divided into two groups. One group saw the future of the country as the restoration of Lenin's idealized Russia. Another group saw Russia as moving closer, at least to some degree, to a capitalist system.

V. M. Dalin was among those prominent Russian intellectuals who saw Soviet society in the context of the restored purity of Lenin's Russia. Dalin was a man of the revolutionary generation and was apparently under Trotsky's influence. This certainly did not help him in life, for he was locked up in a camp. He was lucky enough to survive the ordeal and return to his normal life as a scholar after the death of Stalin. Following in Trotsky's tradition, Dalin placed the development of Soviet Russia in the context of the French Revolution. In his view Soviet society had fallen into a sort of 'Thermidor', with a reactionary Stalin as the Russian Napoleon. Dalin saw similarities between Stalin and Napoleon, whom he presented as a brutal tyrant.(27) In addition, Dalin was ethnically Jewish and watched in the last years of his life the rather unsavoury regime of Leonid Brezhnev with its state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Thus he could never be on good terms with the regime. He saw the regime as, if not outrightly Thermidorean, at least as tainted by the 'Thermidorean generation' of Stalin. A move in the right direction would be a return to Lenin's Russia, the country of Dalin's youth. In the context of French Revolutionary history, such a return would be, if not to a Jacobin France, at least to the country envisioned by the early apostles of the communist movement, such as Babeuf to whom Dalin dedicated a book which was later translated into French. Dalin was actually 'neo-Jacobin', in the sense that his Jacobins were people close to the masses, not their rather bureaucratic and repressive later variant. At the same time, Dalin definitely disliked Western capitalism as a solution for the country's problems and saw both the Russian and the French Revolution, especially in its later Jacobin stage, as a brutal and useless zigzag. For this reason Dalin fulminated against what he called the 'revisionist' historians of the French Revolution who had become quite popular by the end of his life.(28)

A. Z. Manfred belonged to the second group of Russian intellectuals who placed their nation's history in the context of the French Revolution. Yet his vision of the past, present, and future differed greatly from Dalin's. Although Manfred belonged to Dalin's generation, and despite his apparent friction with the Soviet regime, he was hardly adverse to Marxism, and he took a positive approach to the Soviet system. Yet it would be a gross oversimplification to see his attachment to the official ideological shibboleth as a manifestation of a love for 'big brother'. His attachment to revolution as a political phenomenon, both the French and Russian variants, was evident in his strong attacks against what he called 'revisionists'. His lambasting of them was even more acrimonious than Dalin's. However, he said that any possible changes to the better in the Soviet system would be the result not of a restored revolutionary Jacobinism as Dalin believed, but rather they would come in a 'Thermidorean' way, or at least a 'Thermidorean' way was one of the possible routes to a solution. 'Thermidorization' here was nothing more than the implementation of reforms that would give the Soviet system some elements of Western capitalism. What Dalin viewed as corruption of the bourgeoisie, Manfred regarded as a manifestation of vitality and freedom, and this was the reason why he had devoted his printing press to publishing an essay on Mirabeau.

His choice of subject was a novelty among Russian intellectuals and highly unorthodox from the Soviet point of view. Mirabeau was regarded as a politically dubious figure, certainly no match for Marat and Robespierre. Manfred's approach to Mirabeau was positive, though; he paid special attention to his hero's endless sexual exploits, which he viewed not as a sign of degeneration but rather as a sign of vitality and liberation from societal oppression.(29) His view of a Russian Thermidor was even more positive in his work on Napoleon.(30) This work was the first monograph in Russian on the emperor since the publication of a similar work by Evgenii Tarle before World War II, when Napoleon had been equated with Stalin. Manfred's positive image of Napoleon implies that he did not believe that a restored socialism of the Lenin type was the route to a better future for Russia, that he believed that an enlightened ruler, a strong and powerful one, would integrate elements of capitalism, for example market reforms, into Soviet society. It is quite possible that he failed to understand the political implication of his work and was actually a spokesman for the Russian people who wished their country to follow this direction (even without understanding this desire).

The rise of Gorbachev in 1985 and the beginning of the reforms that led to the final demise of the Soviet regime should have provided Russian intellectuals who saw the development of the country in the context of the 'Thermidorean' model with fresh impetus to turn to the past. And indeed, developments in Gorbachev's Russia, and especially in post-Gorbachev Russia, bore striking resemblance to events in post-revolutionary France. As in France, the Russian 'Thermidor' led to a rise in prices, enrichment of the few, the spread of corruption and prostitution, and, above all, a denigration of the revolutionary past. Yeltsin's suppression of Parliament (October 1993), when guns were used in central Moscow, could easily be compared with the events of 1795 in France, when a motley crowd of monarchists and Jacobins were decimated by the guns of a young Napoleon. The analogy can even be taken further. Rumours circulated in Moscow that Yeltsin was pondering the possibility of restoring the monarchy and inviting the surviving descendant of the Romanovs, a young boy, to take the throne of his ancestors. In the position of regent, Yeltsin would not have to call for elections (1996), which he was anxious to avoid because of the disenchantment of quite a few Russians with his performance.

Following the suppression, several members of the Press even compared the events in Russia and France. Several movies, all deriding the French Revolution (all of them were imported from France), were shown to the Russian public on state television. There was even a play performed in Russian theatres dealing with the last years of the Napoleonic regime where Fouche and Talleyrand, both direct and indirect regicides, discussed the restoration of the monarchy as a way to save their skins and property. All of this, of course, was an oblique reference to Yeltsin, who was not only a member of the party that had slain the last czar, but was the party chief of the city (Sverdlovsk/Ekaterinburg) where the emperor and his family were slain. He was also personally responsible for the destruction of the house where the murders took place.

The accounts in the Press were certainly an indication that the French Revolution had not been totally erased from the mind of the Russian public. Yet the images of the French Revolution had been marginalized by this time, despite its seeming topicality and the freedom of expression that the Russian public now enjoyed. The explanation for this varies. First, and it seems to be a self-evident explanation, interest in revolution as a political phenomenon no longer exists in Russia. Secondly, lack of interest in the French Revolution is result of the general disregard for any intellectual pursuit.

Indeed, Gorbachev's reforms led to a catastrophic chain of events. The collapse of the political system led to a corresponding collapse of the state and a sharp economic decline. These events were quite a shock to most Russian citizens who had expected an improvement in their economic well-being and a strengthening of the state to result in the wake of Gorbachev's changes. In its present situation, Russia has actually lost the guidance and historical mission which had nurtured Russian intellectuals for the last century, when Russia set out to become an example of a new type of society and be the strongest military power in the world. This turnabout has triggered in Russian citizens a parochial nationalism and, in some cases, an intellectual paralysis that has resulted in lack of interest in intellectual pursuit. This can be seen in the precipitous decline in the prestige intellectuals once had. All of this provides some reasons for the lack of interest in the French Revolution in present day Russia, but they are not the only reasons.

One of the more interesting phenomena of the post-Cold-War world is that the French Revolution has ceased to be a focal point of Russian intellectual life as well as Western intellectual life. The French Revolution's move to the backyard of intellectual discourse in the West could also be explained by the moving away from revolution as a subject because of the global shift to the conservative right. One might even argue that the French Revolution is too connected with the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet regime through its Jacobinic dictatorship and its terror. For this reason French Revolution had been pushed aside, so to speak, from intellectual discourse. This, however, is not a totally satisfactory explanation. The French Revolution had more than a tradition of Jacobinic dictatorship, it also had '1789', hence the tradition of European liberalism. In this capacity, the French Revolution, together with the American Revolution, could have re-emerged as one of the central events of global history, as the event that lay the foundation of the democratic West which had emerged as the winner of the Cold War. Yet this has not happened. And the present day geopolitical configuration might explain why.

The point here is that the collapse of the USSR and the communist system has not led to Western global predominance. Indeed, the post-Cold-War world has witnessed a rapid geopolitical fragmentation and consequently an ideological fragmentation. It seems whimsical that the post-Cold-War era has not affirmed the global predominance of the West, but instead has actually questioned its leading position. Today the situation is quite different from that prevailing in the Cold War when the West shared political and ideological leadership with the Soviet bloc. In this age of ideological fragmentation, the French Revolution fails to be an event of global significance. It has become merely another event incorporated into the history of Western Europe, or perhaps even an event that has no significance outside the country of its birth.


1. G. Kuchkin, 'O revoliutsionnykh elementakh Bol'shevizma', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 6 July 1924.

2. Miliukov was a professional historian, a leader of the Cadet Party, the leading liberal party of pre-revolutionary Russia, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Provisional Government.

3. Poslednie novosti, 19 October 1924.

4. Poslednie novosti, 7 May 1921; 16 May 1923; see also Rul', September 1923; 4 May 1924.

5. Poslednie novosti, 18 June, 23 June 1921.

6. Ibid., 1 March 1922.

7. Ibid., 24 September 1920

8. Anonymous, 'Prava sovetskogo grazhdanina,' Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 18 June 1922; D. Dalin, Posle voiny i revoliutsii (Berlin: Granit, 1922), 62.

9. E. Stalinskii, 'Bol'shevistkii Termidor', 'Puti Revoliutsii', Volia Rossii, 8 and 15 April 1922; E. Lazarey, 'Frantsuzskaia revoliutsiia Lui Madlena', Volia Rossii, 10 May 1922; one should also add that some of the Will of the People's contributors assumed that the Russian Thermidor would indeed lead to a Russian Napoleon, and he should be viewed as a positive figure since only he could save the country from anarchy; Anonymous, 'Pis'ma is Moskvy', Volia Rossii, 25 November 1922.

10. Iv. Kliuchnikov, 'Posle Termidora', Smena vekh, 24 December 1921.

11. Vozrozhdenie, 3 February 1929; ibid., 19 September 1929; M. Tsetlin, review of Zhizn' Napoleona, by D. S. Merezhkovskii, Sovremennye zapiski, v. 40, 1929; Richard Pipes, Struve: Liberal on the Right (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 300-1; Bor'ba za Rossiiu, 29 January 1927; Poslednie novosti, 26 November 1925; 13 July, 10 September, 1926; 14 October 1926; 17 April 1927; 5 January 1928; Last News contributors only appreciated the patriotic ardour of the French Revolution (ibid., 9 July 1927; about the approach to Thermidor, see also M. Fedorov, 'Termidor na ressorsakh,' Bor'ba za Rossiiu, 22 January 1927).

12. P. Garvi, 'Pod znakom Termidora,' Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 22 September 1927; E. Stalinskii, 'Vozmozhen li Bonapartizm v Rossii,' Vestnik Rossii. v. 8-9, 1927, p. 124.

13. Stalinskii, 'Vozmozhen li bonapartizm v Rossii,' v. 8-9.

14. See for example: S. Dmitrievskii, 'Stalin,' Utverzhdeniia, v. 2, August 1931; he later published his 'Stalin' as a separate book.

15. R. Abramovich, 'Termidor i krest'inastvo,' Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 12 April 1929; V. I. Talin, 'Krasnaia Armiia i derevnia,' Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, v. 42, 1930; F. Dan, 'Zavershenyi spor', Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 9 January 1929; G. Aronson, 'Pevets Termidora', Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 6 December 1930; D. Dalin, 'Surogat Nepa', Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 11 June 1932; N.D. 'Po Rossii', Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 11 June 1932; V. Aleksandrov, 'Literatura i zhim': Iakobintsy na ushcherbe', Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 20 December 1934.

16. S. Nikulin, 'Sud nad palachami', Tret'ia Rossiia, v. 8, 1938; S. Berezhnevoi, 'Bonapartizm Stalina', Tret'ia Rossiia, v. 4-5, 1934; S. E. Martin, 'Chudo Napoleona,' v. 6, 1935.

17. G. Fedotov, Novaia Rossiia, 10 October 1937. New Russia (Novaia Rossiia) was a prominent emigre periodical, and in his review of A. V. Shetakov's textbook, The Concise Course of Russian History, Fedotov stressed that the author paid too much attention to Asia in what was, according to him, an apparent sign of Soviet Eurasianism.

18. E. D. Kuskova, 'Russkii Termidor', Poslednie novosti, 11 September 1936.

19. P. Garvi, 'Krasnaia Armiia na novom etape', Sostialisticheskii vestnik, 28 May 1937; about Tukhachevskii's planning a military coup, see: M. K. 'Kto vydal Tukhachevskogo?' Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 25 March 1949. Some of the contributors to Soviet Messenger believed Tukhachevskii had really planned a coup, and to support their view they quoted an anonymous Soviet bureaucrat later consumed by the purges. Others believed the rumours of a coup had plainly been Secret Policy propaganda.

20. B. Nikolaevskii, 'Termidor' russkoi revoliutsii', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 6 September 1945.

21. O. Oskin, 'Radikal'noe reshenie', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, 22 August 1945; P. Berlin, 'Chingis Khan s vodorodnoi bomboi', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, v. 2-3, March 1953; V. Aleksandrov, 'Pereotsenka Ivan Groznogo', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, v. 13-14, 8 June 1943; D. Dalin, 'Metla da sobach'ia golova', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, March 1953; Anonymous, 'Bol'shevistkaia diktatura posle Stalina', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, March 1953.

22. I. V. Kheraskov, 'Kak eto proizoshlo vo Frantsii', Rossiia i emigratsiia, (Paris: 'Les Independants', 1947), 10-14; A. Svetov, 'Bol'sheviskii 'Termidor', Mysl', v. 5, 1954.

23. It might be added that while the majority of the Russian intellectuals, while viewing Stalin in the context of the French Revolution, looked at him as a Robespierre, some identified him as a counter-revolutionary Napoleonic dictator. It seemed that they were able to convey their vision of Stalinism to some influential Soviet officials, including members of the KGB. Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, the widow of the famous Russian poet and a victim of Stalin's purges, recalled a story about one of the secret police members pensioned off during Khrushchev's purging of the organization of Stalin's supporters. The agent committed suicide and in his letter explained that he worked for the Party and the people, but after his compulsory retirement he had come to the conclusion that he had not served the Party and the people, but a Bonapartism: N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia (New York: Izdatel'stvo Imeni Chekhova, 1976), 52.

24. G. Aronson, 'Sozrela li bol'sheviskaia revoliutsiia dlia Termidora', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, October 1956.

25. Aronson, 'Nashi Termidoriantsy', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, May 1956.

26. Karl Wittvogel, 'Marks i Lenin o vostochnom despotisme', Sotsialisticheskii vestnik, February, March 1948.

27. V. M. Dalin, 'Napoleon na ostrove Sviatoi Eleny': Napoleon i Babuvisty', Liudi i idei vo Frantsii: Iz istorii revoliutsionnogo i sotsialisticheskogo dvizheniia (Moscow: Nauka, 1970).

28. V. M. Dalin, 'Puti i pereputiia Richarda Kobba', Istoriki Frantsii XIX-XX vekov (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo 'Nauka', 1981).

29. A. Z. Manfred, 'Mirabo', Tri potreta epokhi frantsuzskoi revoliutsii (Moscow: Nauka, 1988).

30. A. Z. Manfred, Napoleon Bonapart (Moscow: Mysl', 1971).
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Author:Shlapentokh, Dmitry
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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