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This masterful comparative history traces the West’s revolutionary tradition and its culmination in the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Unique in breadth and scope, History’s Locomotives offers a new interpretation of the origins and history of socialism as well as the meanings of the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Soviet regime, and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.
History’s Locomotives is the masterwork of an esteemed historian in whom a fine sense of historical particularity never interfered with the ability to see the large picture.
Martin Malia explores religious conflicts in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe, the revolutions in England, American, and France, and the twentieth-century Russian explosions into revolution. He concludes that twentieth-century revolutions have deep roots in European history and that revolutionary thought and action underwent a process of radicalization from one great revolution to the next. Malia offers an original view of the phenomenon of revolution and a fascinating assessment of its power as a driving force in history.
Therefore, despite the development that [socialist] theories have undergone ... I still see on the stage only two great facts, two principles, two actors, two persons: Christianity and the Revolution.... The Revolution continues Christianity, and contradicts it. It is at the same time Christianity's heir and its adversary. -JULES MICHELET, History of the French Revolution, 1847
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit. ... And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is ... Satan, and bound him a thousand years.... And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.... [But then] fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven andthe first earth were passed away.... And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.... And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.... And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. -Revelation of Saint John, 20-21
We begin with the problem of definition: what do we mean by Europe or the West? How did a geographical term come to designate a civilization? When did this civilization begin? How far does it extend in space, particularly to the East? What, finally, are its defining characteristics? This last question, of course, is not directed to anything metaphysical, to finding some enduring cultural essence, as in the usage common to a Toynbee or a Spengler or an Alfred Weber. What is involved, rather, is a matter of empirically grounded delineation.
A broad definition would put Europe's beginnings in Greece and Rome. Indeed nothing in modern Western civilization, from its art and literature, its laws and politics, its languages and philosophies, can be understood without the continuity of this heritage. Yet this ancient Europe itself is not a self-contained cultural unit; for the dominant religion of both late antiquity and the modern West, Christianity, had its origins in Judaism and in a geographic East extending on to Babylon and Persia, and of course to African Egypt. But such a tri-continental, tri-millennial entity is too vast to constitute a single civilization. What such a search for ultimate roots in fact indicates is that there are no absolute beginnings in history.
There are, however, relatively clear turning points or caesurae in human affairs, and one of these is the fall, or fading away, of the Western Roman Empire between the fifth and the eighth centuries. Indeed, some would argue that it was medieval Europe's great good fortune that the empire fell in the West, thereby sparing it the autocratic fate of the East under Constantinople-or of the eternally renewed Celestial Empire of China. For in this dissolution the Latin West received the chance for a new beginning.
Europe's beginning limit in time, its terminus a quo, therefore, is for present purposes taken as the moment the inhabitants of that West began to think of themselves as a community distinct from other communities, a self-consciousness, moreover, expressed in a set of common, enduring institutions. Such a collective self-awareness, with a minimum of corresponding institutions, emerged when the Carolingian world first defined itself as "Christendom" over against the worlds of pagan barbarians and Muslim infidels. This division was given enduring status by the eighth-century Arab conquest of the southern half of the Roman world, for the first time culturally separating the European peninsula from the unitary Mediterranean oecumene of ancient Rome. This religious definition of the West would not be displaced by the more secular term "Europe" until the end of the seventeenth century.
It is necessary to insist that the founding age of Europe as a civilizational entity falls between 800 and 1000, for since the eighteenth century Western history has largely been seen in a tripartite pattern of ancient, medieval, and modern. In this perspective, the Middle Ages are viewed as a long parentheses of ignorance and superstition in the rise of true "Western civilization," which began in Greece and became fully itself only in the Renaissance and Reformation. To be sure, it was not until the sixteenth century that Europe thrust itself outward to eventual hegemony over the planet. But this feat would have been impossible had it not been for the economic, institutional, and cultural capital accumulated between 1000 and 1400. Despite the darkness overhanging the Carolingian backwater at the start of the second Christian millennium (the first time the centuries were so numbered), it is the year 1000, not the discovery of the Americas or the sea route to the Indies and Cathay, that marks Europe's takeoff on the road leading to its terminus ad quem in modernity.
For by the time Europe, after 1492, began its outward thrust, its accomplishment had gone well beyond those of previous civilizations. Indeed, it is Europe's dynamism that invented the modern world (the new hegemon, America, would later mass-produce it). To be sure, present historiography now emphasizes that Europe accomplished so much only by pillaging and enslaving the other continents. But pillage and slavery are the common practice of civilizations; and it was largely Europe's latter-day concepts of human rights and democracy, as they spread around the globe, that made it possible to counterbalance pride in its accomplishments with recognition of its crimes.
The present chapter is devoted to illuminating the sources of this dynamism. And since one aspect of this dynamism was constant expansion, the emergence of historic Europe will be traced here not just for its western end, as is usual, but for its full geographical area, from the Atlantic to the Urals, a broader zone which is in fact a genuine historical unit. For over the long haul, this broader unit would constitute the theater of the ever-escalating European revolutionary drama, which culminated at the continent's eastern end with Russia's Red October.
EXTENT IN TIME AND IN SPACE
The first self-definition of what is now Europe was the Romanitas of antiquity, meaning the politically defined oecumene of the Roman Imperial state. The Christianitas, or Christendom, of the Carolingians and the year 1000, of course, had its origins in this older Romanitas, from which it derived its imperial ambitions, its religion, its central institution, the Church, and its written language, Latin, as well as what little it conserved of higher culture. This new imperium, however, was no longer primarily defined in political terms; it was rather a society that fused the political and the religious into one.
Yet it was not alone in proclaiming such a self-definition. By the year 800 the Eastern Empire too had become a sacred institution, though with the basileus clearly paramount. As already noted, in the seventh century the nomads of Arabia had conquered the southern half of the Mediterranean world, thereby making the Latin West a backward rump of old Rome. At the same time, these invaders were the bearers of a new monotheism syncretized from Judaism and Christianity, thus confronting the surviving Christian lands with a rival and irreconcilably hostile religious-political oecumene. As if in compensation, the reduced Latin West expanded on the northern frontier of the crumbling Roman world to convert the region's nomadic barbarians-the Germans first, in the fifth and sixth centuries; then, around the year 1000, the Scandinavians, the Western Slavs, the Hungarians; and on the easternmost ricochet, those Scandinavian- Slavs, the Varangians (also called Russes).
The conversion of the northern barbarians furnished the first substratum of historic Europe. All its modern nations made their appearance in history when Mediterranean missionaries baptized a barbarian warrior chief-in the first round, from Clovis the Frank in 497 to Ethelbert the Saxon, king of Kent, in 598; then, in the round of 1000, Saint Olaf of Norway, Saint Steven of Hungary, Mieszko of Poland, and in 988 Saint Vladimir of Kiev. True, conversion from Constantinople rather than from Rome represented a significant difference. For the Eastern church, operating as it did in a region of old developed civilizations, had always used the local vernacular alongside Greek as the liturgical language, a policy extended to such new converts as the Armenians and the Slavs. This fact would later make an enormous difference in the fates of Orthodox and Catholic Europe: the frontier between the two is visible to this day from the Balkans to the Baltic, and indeed in current projects for expanding NATO and the European Union. At the time, however, the difference was insignificant: so in the mid-eleventh century, Henry I of France married Anne of Kiev in a kind of Franco-Russian alliance against the Germanic Holy Roman Emperor. This melding of Roman, Christian, and barbarian elements in a zone extending into Russia was the founding act of a continuing Europe.
The driving force of historic Europe, however, would not be its first, broad substratum of Christian-barbarian proto-nations; it was the smaller but more dynamic world of the Latin West, as first organized by the Carolingians. The basic innovation, already noted, of that ephemeral imperium was to call itself "Christendom," thereby defining itself by its religion, something that the still classical Roman empire of Constantine and Theodosius had never done. It implemented this project by introducing a calendar that counted the years from the birth of Christ; it spread Christianity, an urban religion in antiquity, to the pagan peasantry by organizing the countryside into parishes; and it forged an alliance with the papacy and Benedictine monasticism, thereby imposing the Catholic orthodoxy of Rome throughout the West and at the same time making the secular power sacred.
Of course, the self-consciousness of this world as a coherent unit did not extend to the Orthodox East. In fact, the emergence of a Carolingian Western empire produced a religious schism with Constantinople that would culminate in 1064. This development, to be sure, did not put the Greek East in the same category as pagans or infidels; but it did create a duality within Christian Europe that would not be overcome until Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century. And some would maintain that it was not overcome even then.
When the Frankish empire crumbled under the second wave of Barbarian attacks-from the Vikings, Hungarians, and seaborne Saracens of the ninth and tenth centuries-Latin Christendom's political unity was ended for good. The highest secular authorities that survived were the kingdoms descended from the barbarian gentes, even though one such nation, the Saxons, after 962 revived the Carolingian imperial tradition in the form of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, whose effective sway extended from the mouths of the Rhine and the Elbe to the city of Rome. Indeed, the German emperor's ambition to control central Europe from Rome to the North Sea was a chief cause of the empire's failure to develop into a national monarchy. Still, this policy made sense in medieval conditions: since the emperors were dependent on nonhereditary church fiefs for support and administrative personnel against the hereditary princes of the empire, it was only prudent for them to seek control of the church's center in Rome. Prudent but not practical; for feudal administrative means were inadequate for controlling the sprawling German-Italian domain. And so, by the mid-thirteenth century the combined resistance of papacy, German princes, and Italian communes, all with local power bases, had destroyed the most ambitious imperial house, the Hohenstauffen, and with them the effective power of the empire itself.
In the chaos of the age, minimal security could be achieved only by the militarization of society at the local level. There thus emerged, in the zone between the Loire and the Rhine and in Burgundy along the Saône, a nobility of warrior lords and dependent vassals bound by a contract of mutual fealty and support. Unlike the ancient Romans, these nobles fought with metal armor and on horseback, they shoed their horses and used stirrups to mount them-techniques brought to the west by steppe barbarians. And in a rural world, this nobility lived off the labor of manorial peasants to whom they in return owed protection. By the year 1000, this feudal society, as we now call it, had gone far toward restoring internal order in westernmost Europe. Under the influence of the church, the activity of these rude warriors was "ethicized" as knighthood and chivalry. These knights, moreover, were more or less converted to observing ecclesiastical injunctions for a Truce of God, or better still a Peace of God.
Easternmost Europe, however, knew no such stability. The great corridor of horse-borne barbarians that runs from Mongolia and Central Asia across the Ukrainian steppes to the Hungarian plain became increasingly active from 1100 onward, culminating in 1240 with the arrival of the Mongols. And no military force anywhere in the settled world was capable of resisting them. If the Latin West was spared, it was because the Mongols, after crushing a German-Polish host at Liegnitz in Silesia in 1241, turned homeward on learning of their Great Khan's death. In the meantime, however, most of Russia had become their tributary.
Thus, like Spain for some five hundred years after the Arab conquest of 712, or Hungary for almost two hundred after the Turkish conquest of 1526, Russia for nearly three hundred years was detached from the Christian world. Or more exactly, Kievan Rus after 1240 was partitioned between its western lands in present-day Ukraine and Belarus, which were absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Muscovy, which alone experienced the "Tatar yoke." Yet, unlike Spain or Hungary, Muscovy was not occupied or colonized; and, contrary to widespread opinion, no Mongol institutions were implanted there. Muscovite institutions remained essentially the prince and his comitatus of boyars (druzhina), which until the late fifteenth century functioned under a contractual regime of what may be fairly called incipient feudalism.
THE WESTERN TAKEOFF
It was in the heartland of Latin Christendom, relatively secure after 1000 under the protection of consolidated feudalism, that historic Europe first developed its enduring dynamism. The process began with an agricultural revolution, a transformation that rested on the technology of the deep plow, on the horse collar to put the nobles' mount to the baser use of drawing that plow, and on the three-field-system of cultivation. By 1300, this revolution had made transalpine Europe richer and more populous than the Mediterranean world of antiquity had ever been. It also ended serfdom, an institution that had first emerged in Europe in the late Roman period, under Diocletian and Constantine. With this new wealth, commerce revived and manufactures appeared. From the Mediterranean to the North Sea, towns grew both in number and in size, even along the Baltic shore as far as Russian Novgorod.
Excerpted from History's Locomotives by Martin Malia Copyright © 2006 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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