My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Seeking Allies

I my book, I talk about socialists cooperating and clashing. I don't talk so much about socialists becoming liberal (or vice versa). Re-reading for the Nth time Robert Gildea's outstanding Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, I was reminded of the case of Peter Struve:

The manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour party (RSDLP), which was penned by ...  Peter Struve after the party was formed at Minsk in March 1898, noted that Russia had escaped the 'life-giving hurricane of the 1848 revolution' that had conferred freedom of speech, writing, organization and assembly on Europe. The Russian working class had to conquer these liberties as a pre-condition of the struggle 'for its final liberation, against private property, for socialism'.
The struggle for political democracy ushered in the possibility of collaborating with other classes in Russia. Unfortunately, Struve's manifesto asserted that 'the farther east one goes in Europe, the weaker, meaner and more cowardly in the political sense becomes the bourgeoisie, and the greater the cultural and political tasks which fall to the lot of the proletariat.' The historical task of the proletariat was not only to carry out the socialist revolution but also, before that, to push the fearful bourgeoisie towards undertaking its own, democratic revolution. Struve, who saw working-class agitation decline in Russia after 1900 and, as an accomplished economist, was impressed by Bernstein's views on the improving condition of the working class and the attenuation of class struggle, began to move closer to opposition groups in the zemstvos and their administrative organs. In 1901 he launched a paper called Liberation around which all supporters of a constituent assembly in Russia might gather.
Lenin was unimpressed, and condemned Struve for his dalliance with liberals.

While Mensheviks  and Bolsheviks had similar views of the approaching revolution - they expected it to be radically democratic, but not actually socialist - The Mensheviks looked to bourgeois allies, while the Bolsheviks preferred an alliance with the peasantry. As the Bolsheviks were to find (and as Trotsky had predicted), a party couldn't easily neuter bourgeois civil society with disintegrating capitalism itself. Lenin's objective of a kind of 'state capitalism' transitional to socialism proved to be a non-starter. Instead civil society dissolved in a the cauldron of a class-based civil war, and after a tenuous pivoting around a peasant economy, the command economy took over.

Whether a liberal-socialist alliance in 1917 was ever viable is another question. Probably not, I'd say.


  1. Pipes' biography of Struve is a moving tale of political determination in its own way but from memory (some years since read) suggests he was well to the right of even mainstream liberals.

  2. I could well believe it (the Kadets werre a lot more radical than they get credit for).

  3. According to Rabinowitch, in 1917/1918 Kamenev did not share Lenin's hyper-optimism about the prospects for successful revolutions across Europe following the Bolshevik revolution - and therefore was an early advocate of a broad based coalition of anti-White parties as the only means of preserving a democratic post-revolutionary state. Needless to say, Lenin's hyper-optimism/disasterous tunnel-vision won the day....

  4. It's a good book, that Rabinowitch.