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The Nation Should Come First

Marxism and Historiography in East Central Europe

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Maciej Gorny

By the second half of the 1940s, newly conquered nations of Central and Eastern Europe were expected to adjust multiple professions, including those related to the historical sciences, to the Soviet model. However, Marxism, soon to become the only acceptable methodology, was no longer understood in the same way as in Bolshevik Russia. Its Soviet variation borrowed heavily from the tradition of Russian historiography and the Russian national tradition. The variations formulated in the satellite countries were also less likely to break away from existing traditions than to revise and re-evaluate them, along with the perspectives on Russia’s role in the history of Central and Eastern Europe.

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Chapter III. On the Lookout for Progressive Traditions

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Chapter III On the Lookout for Progressive Traditions The Marxist vision of national history tended to focus attention on a specific category of historical events that were – or could be – understood as a nation’s “progressive traditions.” According to the ruling methodology, this category included all social and political upheavals as well as attempted coups. Upheavals were believed to mark a society’s advance to another, higher level of development, in accordance with Marxist theory of formations. Debates over that theory among Russian historians were cut short by Joseph Stalin, whose last word on the matter was that transitions from one formation to another occurred by way of revolutions.240 The task of Marxist historians was therefore to locate such revolutions in order to rewrite the national history according to the framework set by their Russian peers. All revolutionary movements – even those which, as so often was the case in East Central Europe had usually ended in failure – could count, provided one interpreted them the right way. Marxist historians worked diligently to properly emphasise their social importance. Sometimes a historical breakthrough could hardly be located at a distinct point in time (such was the case with early feudalism, whose origins were consigned to oblivion.). In these cases historians often entered disputes over chronology and nomenclature; hence, for instance, the Czechoslovak historians’ quarrels over the form of government in Greater Moravia. Elsewhere, the breakthrough points were more or less obvious, as in the case of the Hussite Wars in Bohemia, the Great Peasants’ Revolt...

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