The French Revolution and Social Democracy

The Transmission of History and Its Political Uses in Germany and Austria, 1889–1934


Beyond France’s own national historiography, the French Revolution was a fundamental point of reference for the nineteenth-century socialist movement. As Jean-Numa Ducange tells us, while Karl Marx never wrote his planned history of the Revolution, from the 1880s the German and Austrian social-democrats did embark on such a project. This was an important moment for both Marxism and the historiography of the French Revolution. Yet it has not previously been the object of any overall study. The French Revolution and Social Democracy studies both the social-democratic readings of the foundational revolutionary event, and the place of this history in militant culture, as seen in sources from party educationals, to leaflets and workers’ calendars.

First published in 2012 as La Révolution française et la social-démocratie. Transmissions et usages politiques de l’histoire en Allemagne et Autriche, 1889–1934 by Presses Universitaires de Rennes in 2012.

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Jean-Numa Ducange, Ph.D. (2009), Rouen-Normandie University (France), is Assistant Professor in Contemporary History at that University, co-director of Actuel Marx (PUF) and has published several articles and books on the History of the Left in France, Germany and Austria, including Jules Guesde. L’anti-Jaurès? (Armand Colin, 2017) and as co-editor Marx, une passion française (La Découverte, 2018).
"[The book] is a solid, focused study about the changing conceptions of the French Revolution in the German-speaking Socialist milieu." - Jonathan Kwam, University of Nottingham, in: H-France Review 19/251 (2019)
Preface to the English Edition Abbreviations
Preamble: Social Democracy and the French Revolution before 1889

Part 1 The Development, Crisis and Renewal of the Reference to the French Revolution and Its History (1889–1905)

1 1889: the Social-Democrats’ Centenary
2 The ‘Long Centenary’, 1890–5
3 Revising Orthodoxy, Re-exploring History
4 The Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Analogies with 1789

Part 2 The Entrenchment of a Reference (1906–17)

The New Conditions of Social-Democratic Production
5 New Works on the French Revolution
6 The Social-Democratic Educational Apparatus from 1906 to 1914
7 A Powerful Machine
8 The Reference to 1789: Powerful yet Ambiguous

Part 3 Reinterpretations and New Approaches, 1917–34

The Social Democracies’ New Course
9 The Power of Analogies, in the Face of New Revolutions: 1917–23
10 Continuities and New Approaches in the Mid-1920s
11 New Readings of the French Revolution
12 Analogies and Controversies: the French Revolution, 1927–34


All interested in the historiography of the French Revolution, the history of pre-Nazi-era German social democracy and the worker-education of the nineteenth century.
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