JEAN-NUMA DUCANGE. La Revolution francaise et la social-democratie: Transmissions et usages politiques de l'histoire en Allemagne et Autriche (1889-1934).by W. W. Hagen

The American Historical Review


Archaeology / History / Museology


the contradiction between apparently indifferent masses and a colonialist consensus is crucial for understanding the workings of colonialism in German society. Colonialists produced “the masses” as distant, irrational, and dependent in order to erase the logical flaws in their own arguments for colonial modernity, to authorize their enjoyment of mass culture, and to establish their position as a rational and privileged elite.

But lower-class Germans were actively interested in colonialism in ways that colonialists gave them little credit for and could not contain. Most were similarly drawn to exoticized pleasures, but many, including colonial opponents, also appropriated the enlightenment on offer in the name of scientific objectivity and modern progress. In this way, Short argues, colonialism divided the nation by reproducing class boundaries that were being eroded by mass politics and mass culture. At the same time, a new consensus developed out of these tensions, a consensus not around visions of the nation but rather around visions of the global.

This compact book is well organized. Short begins by surveying the elitist structures of the colonial movement and explains colonialists’ focus on commodities.

He then moves on to “subaltern colonialisms,” alternative forms of popular activism that ran counter to the priorities laid down by colonialist leaders. From here

Short explores colonialists’ ambivalent embrace of mass culture’s enchantments and working-class readers’ surprising enthusiasm for colonial enlightenment.

Finally, he examines the 1907 elections to illustrate both the growing consensus around a colonial political economy and the persistence of strident anti-colonialist alternatives among socialist activists at the grassroots.

Short contextualizes the organized colonial movement more effectively than any other scholar, treating colonialists not as an atavistic force but rather as active and sometimes creative players in a very fluid environment. He also demonstrates the importance of taking seriously other strains of colonial activism and interest.

Bringing lower-class Germans into the story as agents allows him to present colonialism as a field of tension, a site for competing publics to produce and contest the social order. Finally, integrating mass culture into his analysis of social and political developments allows him to point out the flights of fancy, the enchantments, embedded throughout the colonial public sphere, as in the bourgeois public sphere more generally.

Let me raise one question. Does Short’s focus on class push him to overlook other social divisions that might complicate the consensus around a market-based modernity? Religion, for example, is a constant background presence here, whether in the form of Center

Party critiques of colonialism or the integration of missionary organizations into the colonial movement. Yet religion could cut across class. More to the point, it also activated different tensions and provoked different responses to the problems of modernity both at home and overseas.


University of Worcester

JEAN-NUMA DUCANGE. La Re´volution franc¸aise et la social-de´mocratie: Transmissions et usages politiques de l’histoire en Allemagne et Autriche (1889–1934). (Histoire.) Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 2012.

Pp. 361. €20.00.

The Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution of 1789 was a Teutonic and not a Gallic child. When Jean

Jaure`s’s Histoire socialiste de la Re´volution franc¸aise appeared in 1901–1904, its Marxist credentials were measured and found wanting, both in France and Germany, by the then-already authoritative yardstick of Karl

Kautsky’s Die Klassengegensa¨tze von 1789 (The Class

Conflicts of 1789), published in 1889. Kautsky’s work sparked admiration among self-styled French Marxist socialists around Jules Gue`sde, who welcomed its

French translation in 1901.

Jean-Numa Ducange offers an histoire croise´e or intertwined history, not just of how the French Revolution figured importantly in the self-conception of German and Austrian Social Democracy but of the influence in France—and in Russia too—of German

Marxist interpretations. As late as 1936 the French

Communist Party still relied in its cadre schooling on

Kautsky’s classic “in the absence of a [French] Marxist textbook on the French Revolution.” Ducange concludes: “such an example shows well how a foreign historiography can . . . form an authoritative interpretation (la re´ference) of an event, lacking an equivalent production in the country concerned” (p. 334).

Pondering the French Revolution was crucial to German socialism, both because the German lands could claim no successful insurrectionary tradition and because the 1789 revolution, “though understood as bourgeois, was celebrated as the only one to have fulfilled the tasks of its epoch” (p. 329). The question for

Kautsky, as later for the revisionist socialists around

Eduard Bernstein, the leftist “party of movement” around Rosa Luxemburg, and the postwar communists, was how—or whether—the French Revolution could be understood as a model of the socialist revolution to come. At the pulsing heart of the matter was the specter of bloody violence: must the Terror rise again?

Ducange emphasizes the powerful impulse within pro-revolutionary French historiography to view the process inaugurated in 1789 as the birth not only of bourgeois liberalism but more importantly of a popular democracy whose transformation through plebeian mobilization into democratic proto-socialism was the guiding star of later moderate socialists such as Jaure`s. He and other leftist historians, notably Albert Mathiez, defended both the revolution’s crowd violence and the

Robespierrean guillotine as righteous necessities in face of implacable enemies.

Kautsky and other influential pre-1933 German interpreters of the French Revolution—Wilhelm Blos,

Franz Mehring, Heinrich Cunow, Hermann Wendel, and the admirable, ill-fated Hedwig Hintze—followed