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Revolution and Violence: Views from The 20th Century

Tommaso Giordani & Ksenia Shmydkaya

What is violence for? What would a perfect revolution look like? Is absolute good common? Does leadership lead masses or ideas? 

These and many other questions about revolution and violence are under discussion with Tommaso Giordani and Ksenia Shmydkaya.

Interviewer: Enriko Mäsak


 

Tommaso Giordani

Tommaso Giordani is an intellectual historian with a background in philosophy. He specializes in French and Italian intellectual life in the beginning of the twentieth century, and has worked and published on topics like pragmatism in France, transnational exchanges between French and Italian Marxists, and on Bergson and Sorel.

He is currently working on a monograph on Georges Sorel, a thinker to whom he has dedicated his doctoral work. After obtaining a master’s degree in Political Theory at London School of Economics, Tommaso obtained a PhD in History and Civilisation at the European University Institute in Florence. Before joining Tallinn University, he was an adjunct professor at Gonzaga University in Florence. His academic CV can be viewed here.


Ksenia Shmydkaya

Ksenia Shmydkaya has studied Modern and Contemporary History of Europe and America at Lomonosov University in Moscow, at both bachelor’s and master’s levels. She also did a master’s programme in history in the French University College of Moscow, and History and Anthropology of Medieval and Modern Societies in Pantheon-Sorbonne University, Paris.

She is currently a junior researcher at the Institute of Humanities of Tallinn University. Her research focuses on the representation of history in the fiction created by women writers in the inter-war Europe. By using a comparative approach to these drastically different literary works both in style and subject matter, she seeks to explore an intellectual climate (both on the national and transnational levels) through the lens of the female experience and to answer an overarching question: “What was it like and why would one write historical fiction at the age when history as a discipline and the role of a historian were under intense scrutiny?” Her academic CV can be viewed here.

 


Definitions

Revolution – a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system. In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression (political, social, economic) or political incompetence.

The French Revolution – a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789 and ending in 1799. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, as equality before the law the Revolution made a profound impression on the course of modern history, influencing the decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Stanisława Przybyszewska – a Polish dramatist who is mostly known for her plays about the French Revolution. Her 1929 play The Danton Case, which examines the conflict between Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton, is considered to be one of the most exemplary works about the Revolution, and was adapted (albeit with significant ideological edits) by Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda for his 1983 film Danton.

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre – was a French lawyer and statesman who was one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage and the abolition both of celibacy for the clergy and slavery. In 1791, Robespierre became an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to carry arms in self-defence. He played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy on 10 August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention. His goal was to create a united and indivisible France, equality before the law, to abolish prerogatives and to defend the principles of direct democracy.

George Jacques Danton – was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, in particular as the first president of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton’s role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as “the chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic”. He was guillotined by the advocates of revolutionary terror after accusations of venality and leniency toward the enemies of the Revolution.

Georges Eugène Sorel was a French philosopher and theorist of Sorelianism. His notion of the power of myth in people’s lives (in particular, national myth) inspired socialists, anarchists, Marxists, and fascists. It is, together with his defense of violence, the contribution for which he is most often remembered.

Marxism – a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development to understand class relations and social conflict, as well as a dialectical perspective to view social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As Marxism has developed over time into various branches and schools of thought, there is currently no single definitive Marxist theory.

Capitalism – an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investments are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in financial and capital markets whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets.

Anarchism – a political philosophy and movement that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. It radically calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful.


Recommended literature

  • Stanisława Przybyszewska, The Danton Case and Thermidor: Two Plays, trans. Bolesław Taborski, with an introduction by Daniel Gerould (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989).
    – the only translation of Przybyszewska’s works into English
  • Jadwiga Kosicka, Daniel Gerould, A Life of Solitude: Stanisława Przybyszewska, a Biographical Study with Selected Letters (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989).
    short biographical sketch and excerpts from her letters, a certain ‘must’ for anyone interested in Przybyszewska’s ideas
  • Kazimiera Ingdahl, A Gnostic Tragedy: A Study in Stanislawa Przybyszewska’s Aesthetics and Works (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1997).
    – the most thorough analysis of Przybyszewska’s philosophical system