Eric Aunoble, La Revolution russe, une histoire francaise. Lectures et representations depuis 1917.
On 22 April 1945, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, the French Communist Party (PCF) inaugurated with great pomp and ceremony a plaque commemorating Lenin's exile there. At this time, the 'high Stalinist' version of the October Revolution was at its apogee, stifling dissident voices, beginning with Trotskyists and anarchists, and even airbrushing out the role of a young Charles de Gaulle in the expeditionary force sent to quell the Bolsheviks. After all, the General owed his supremacy over the French Resistance to the support of the Soviet Union.
Such a triumphant consensus had not always been the case, and would not remain so. In this fascinating and immensely readable study, Eric Aunoble shows, in an erudite but also refreshingly militant way, how French readings and representations of the Russian Revolution have evolved with the changing political context. The book holds some surprises: if, before the Great War, Jean Jaures had seen Russia's future in the hands of an indomitable factory proletariat, by 1917, L'Humanite, the newspaper he had founded, was denouncing the Bolsheviks for betraying France's alliance with that country. Also less well-known is the long struggle by Albert Camus to find a publisher for Alfred Rosmer's memoirs, Moscow Under Lenin. Indeed, it was difficult for such an alternative voice, like those of Victor Serge, Boris Souvarine and even George Orwell, to be heard at a time of both PCF hegemony on the left and of Gaullist France's brief love affair with the USSR of Khruschev and Gagarin.
However, despite the huge efforts by the PCF to convey a certain representation of 1917 and all that, through Soviet histories, novels and films, there always was a hostile current, from Serge de Chassis to Joseph Kessel to Tintin, that played on the 'barbarous', even 'cannibalistic' nature of leather-coated Bolshevik commissars clutching knives figuratively, and sometimes literally, between their teeth. With the waning popularity of the PCF and the USSR, especially after May-August 1968, a radically anti-communist historiography seized power in the French universities and media, imposing a 'totalitarian' interpretation of 1917 which echoed similar re-writes of 1789, as illustrated by the work of former Stalinist zealot Francois Furet. Such an increasingly anti-communist and anti-Soviet climate was inimical to a historian like Marc Ferro, who drew upon newly available Russian sources to provide innovative approaches to October, but who refused to participate in the new Cold War crusade.
It was a sign of the times that the eightieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution saw the publication of the Black Book of Communism. Eric Aunoble recognises the value of Nicolas Werth's contribution to that volume, especially given that Werth contradicts some of the assertions by the editor, ex-Maoist Stephane Courtois, but he deplores the re-writing of history as that of 'victims' rather than being something that 'men and women make'. The idea or possibility of mass popular revolt is eclipsed by a bourgeois liberal view of revolution as involving a mere change of constitution. Aunoble also points out the virtual silence of those who, not so very long ago, looked hopefully to 'the light in the East'. It is perhaps an irony of history that, in today's France, the keenest interest in the Russian Revolution can be found in libertarian circles, beginning with the rediscovery of the anarchist Nestor Makhno. This is a timely and troubling assessment of how a period of history can become intensely contested then strangely forgotten.
University of St Andrews
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Communism|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2017|
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