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The Furies

The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 736
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    The Furies
    Book Description:

    The great romance and fear of bloody revolution--strange blend of idealism and terror--have been superseded by blind faith in the bloodless expansion of human rights and global capitalism. Flying in the face of history, violence is dismissed as rare, immoral, and counterproductive. Arguing against this pervasive wishful thinking, the distinguished historian Arno J. Mayer revisits the two most tumultuous and influential revolutions of modern times: the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    Although these two upheavals arose in different environments, they followed similar courses. The thought and language of Enlightenment France were the glories of western civilization; those of tsarist Russia's intelligentsia were on its margins. Both revolutions began as revolts vowed to fight unreason, injustice, and inequality; both swept away old regimes and defied established religions in societies that were 85% peasant and illiterate; both entailed the terrifying return of repressed vengeance. Contrary to prevalent belief, Mayer argues, ideologies and personalities did not control events. Rather, the tide of violence overwhelmed the political actors who assumed power and were rudderless. Even the best plans could not stem the chaos that at once benefited and swallowed them. Mayer argues that we have ignored an essential part of all revolutions: the resistances to revolution, both domestic and foreign, which help fuel the spiral of terror.

    In his sweeping yet close comparison of the world's two transnational revolutions, Mayer follows their unfolding--from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Bolshevik Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Masses; the escalation of the initial violence into the reign of terror of 1793-95 and of 1918-21; the dismemberment of the hegemonic churches and religion of both societies; the "externalization" of the terror through the Napoleonic wars; and its "internalization" in Soviet Russia in the form of Stalin's "Terror in One Country." Making critical use of theory, old and new, Mayer breaks through unexamined assumptions and prevailing debates about the attributes of these particular revolutions to raise broader and more disturbing questions about the nature of revolutionary violence attending new foundations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2343-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Arno J. Mayer
    (pp. 3-20)

    In this early dawn of the twenty-first century, following one of humanity’s darkest seasons, revolution is seen as offering little promise and posing little threat. But only yesteryear, during the discontinuous yet not unrelated epochs of the French and Russian revolutions, promise and threat were vigorous and inextricably entwined. Indeed, revolution presents two contrasting faces: the one glorious and appealing; the other violent and terrifying.¹ Today utopia is completely eclipsed by dystopia. In much of the First and Second World there is a consensus, articulated by Hannah Arendt, that “freedom has been better preserved in countries where no revolution ever...

  5. PART ONE Conceptual Signposts

    • CHAPTER 1 Revolution
      (pp. 23-44)

      Revolution is a word-concept of multiple meanings. It evokes dialectically linked oppositions: light and darkness; rupture and continuity; disorder and order; liberation and oppression; salvation and damnation; hope and disillusion.¹ Precisely because it is Janus-faced, revolution is intrinsically tempestuous and savage. The Furies of revolution are fueled above all by the resistance of the forces and ideas opposed to it. This confrontation turns singularly fierce once it becomes clear that revolution entails and promises—or threatens—a thoroughly new beginning or foundation of polity and society. Hannah Arendt rightly insists that “revolutions are the only political events which confront us...

    • CHAPTER 2 Counterrevolution
      (pp. 45-70)

      There can be no revolution without counterrevolution; both as phenomenon and process, they are inseparable, like truth and falsehood. They are bound to each other “as reaction is bound to action,” making for a “historical motion, which is at once dialectical and driven by necessity.”¹ The struggle between the ideas and forces of revolution and counterrevolution was a prime mover of the spiraling violence inherent to the French and Russian revolutions.

      Although counterrevolution is the other half of revolution, it tends not to be recognized and theorized as such. This relative neglect of the necessary antithesis of revolution is reflected...

    • CHAPTER 3 Violence
      (pp. 71-92)

      Violence is as inseparable from revolution and counterrevolution as these are from each other. Violence has, of course, many faces and purposes. Certainly not all violence in revolution is ideologically driven and, by that token, excessive and boundless. Although violence is inherent to revolution, it is not unique to it. Nor is it as rare as revolution itself. Violence is basic to society and polity, especially to their foundation and consolidation. At the creation there is often recourse to war, which, like revolution, is “inconceivable outside the domain of violence.”¹ The founding myth of nearly every society or state romanticizes...

    • CHAPTER 4 Terror
      (pp. 93-125)

      The problem of terror is even more complex and perplexing than that of violence. Since 1789 it has challenged and humbled social theorists and historians who strain to strike an equitable balance between engaged and distanced explanation. In the wake of Auschwitz, the Gulag, andHiroshima, terror has become an even more disconcerting and controversial issue than it was during the century following the Furies of the French Revolution. Indeed, scholarly and popular debates about the reasons, functions, and effects of generic terror have been both enriched and complicated by the questions raised by students of the singularities of the Furies...

    • CHAPTER 5 Vengeance
      (pp. 126-140)

      Vengeance is an integral part of both the Red and the White terror in revolution. There is, of course, vengeance without terror, just as there is violence without terror. But for there to be terror there must be vengeance and violence. While vengeance, fired by quasi-religious fervor, belongs to the inner recesses of terror, violence pertains to its instrumentation. With the breakdown of sovereignty and the rule of law, revolutionary moments see a reversal in the vector of vengeance: from being directed outward in order to foster in-group solidarity it turns inward, with the result that it fosters discord and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Religion
      (pp. 141-168)

      The french and Russian revolutions originated and unfolded in countries in which a monopolistic official religion and church permeated every aspect of civil and political society. There was no carrying through consequential reforms, let alone revolutionary transformations, without significantly changing the relationship between, on the one hand, the political, social, and cultural spheres and, on the other, the ecclesiastic sphere. Since criticism of church and, to a lesser degree, religion was central to the enlightenments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it is hardly surprising that after 1789 and 1917 there should have been a drive for disestablishment, followed by...

  6. PART TWO Crescendo of Violence

    • CHAPTER 7 The Return of Vengeance: Terror in France, 1789–95
      (pp. 171-226)

      Vengeance played a significant role in the unfolding and escalation of the Red and White Terror in the French Revolution. To explore its course is to be attentive to (re)emergences during the radical breakdown of political and legal sovereignty. It is also to avoid exaggerating the role of ideology and of the great leader, or of the two combined. Vengeance has, of course, many faces, above all because it moves and tempts both the classes and masses. It is spontaneous and impulsive, as well as premeditated and theorized.

      Thebagarreor turbulence in Nîmes in June 1790 is emblematic of...

    • CHAPTER 8 In the Eye of a “Time of Troubles”: Terror in Russia, 1917–21
      (pp. 227-320)

      In 1917 the overexertions of a protracted and failing war gravely unsettled Russia: the imperial army was on the verge of disintegration; famine stalked the major cities; the economy and exchequer were wasted; and industry was paralyzed. Twice before, in the time of the CrimeanWar and Russo-Japanese War, military defeat had shaken the tsarist regime and called forth prophylactic reforms. But in scale and intensity these earlier upheavals were nothing like the deep crisis brought on and fueled by the inordinate material and human sacrifices of the Very Great War. In February–March 1917, between the fall of the Peter-Paul...

  7. PART THREE Metropolitan Condescension and Rural Distrust

    • CHAPTER 9 Peasant War in France: The Vendée
      (pp. 323-370)

      The Vendée was in essence a civil war, and it is this fact of civil war which accounts for its singular fury. If war is hell, then civil war belongs to hell’s deepest and most infernal regions. Except for the two world wars of the twentieth century, which were partly civil wars, Montaigne’s lapidary formulation stands: “foreign war is a much milder evil than civil war.”¹ Of course, this axiom is counterbalanced by Montesquieu’s reflection that “unrest within a country is preferable to the calm of despotism.”² In any case, in a long-term and universal perspective, civil war is “the...

    • CHAPTER 10 Peasant War in Russia: Ukraine and Tambov
      (pp. 371-410)

      In considering the eruption of peasant resistance in the Russian Revolution from 1917 to 1921–22, two points need to be stressed at the outset. The first is the bare fact that in 1917 Russia was even more rural and agricultural than France in 1789. Close to 85 percent of the population lived in the countryside and made its living on or from the land. Even large sectors of the urban population were first-generation ex-peasants, with strong attachments to their native villages. Perforce the imperial army was a peasant army. In social, cultural, and religious terms, the world of the...

  8. PART FOUR The Sacred Contested

    • CHAPTER 11 Engaging the Gallican Church and the Vatican
      (pp. 413-448)

      In 1789 france was 85 percent rural. Twenty-two million out of 28 million French men and women lived in the countryside, the overwhelming majority engaged in agriculture and agriculture-related work. At least one-third of them were poor or destitute. Their households and communities were trapped in inertia and were untouched by thelumiéres. Illiteracy was very much the norm. Peasant traditions and attitudes were inseparable from religious beliefs and practices in which magic at once reinforced and alleviated the fear of famine and plague, as well as of the Last Judgment. The houses and representatives of God were as omnipresent...

    • CHAPTER 12 Engaging the Russian Orthodox Church
      (pp. 449-482)

      In 1917 Russia was as much a country of peasants as France had been in 1789, or even more so. However, at the time of its revolution France had been in step with the other major European powers. By contrast, one hundred and thirty years later, Russia stood out for its relative economic and social retardation and torpor.¹ To be sure, Russia was not purely European: its human geography and geopolitics were Eurasian, and its “semi-colonial” level of development was combined with an extraordinary diversity of national, ethnic, and religious minorities. Russia’s elite culture could not pretend to a transnational...

    • CHAPTER 13 Perils of Emancipation: Protestants and Jews in the Revolutionary Whirlwind
      (pp. 483-530)

      Although in the long run revolutionary situations benefit oppressed and persecuted religious minorities, in the short run they put them in peril. In 1789 the Protestants and in 1791 the Jews of France gained full emancipation; in 1917 the Jews of Russia. Each time, however, there was a price to be paid. In terms of lives, the cost of religious liberation was, of course, infinitely greater during the Russian than the French Revolution. But while adverse reactions against emancipation were very different in scale, their causes and dynamics were uncommonly alike. During both revolutions, antirevolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries were the chief...

  9. PART FIVE A World Unhinged

    • CHAPTER 14 Externalization of the French Revolution: The Napoleonic Wars
      (pp. 533-606)

      Since 1945, with few exceptions,¹ historians of the French Revolution have tended tominimize if not ignore the fact of war with foreign powers for being extraneous or unessential to the revolutionary phenomenon. With their French-centered, not to say Paris-angled perspective, they have all but shut out foreign policy, the international system, and war in order to closely focus, first on the economic and social causes and dynamics of the French Revolution, and then on the sway of mentality, discourse, ideology, culture, and everyday life.²

      In fact, revolution and foreign war are inseparably linked. Although there can, of course, be war...

    • CHAPTER 15 Internalization of the Russian Revolution: Terror in One Country
      (pp. 607-702)

      Stalin, like Napoleon, should not benefit from comparison with Hitler. The rule of Stalin was an uneven and unstable amalgam of monumental achievements and monstrous crimes. There is, of course, an angle of vision which completely shuts out the former for fear that to take note of anything positive about Stalin is to extenuate his unpardonable sins and mistakes. But for a historian of my background and generation it is difficult, if not impossible, to take such a narrow field of view and equate Stalin with Hitler, to see them as identical twins. Historians are themselves “products of their society...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 703-716)