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New Left Review 95, September-October 2015


Dylan Riley

PROPERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE?

The notion of bourgeois revolution—the idea that capitalist development has been intimately linked to the seizure and transformation of the state by rising class forces—has been fiercely contested over the past half-century. [1] Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Haymarket, Chicago 2012, $32, paperback 812 pp, 978 1 60846 067 0 The political stakes in interpreting the cycle of events that opens with the Dutch Revolt and English Civil War, and continues with the American and French Revolutions, the Italian Risorgimento, German Unification, the Meiji Restoration and the American Civil War, are correspondingly high. Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? is a lively and engagingly written survey of this vast historiographical, theoretical and political terrain. Davidson sets out to provide an intellectual history of the concept, from the first intimations of a ‘social interpretation’ of the English Civil War—James Harrington’s analysis in The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656)—to its elaboration in the Marxian tradition and subsequent revisionist and counter-revisionist challenges. But he also offers a running criticism of the ideas he surveys, and in the 150-page conclusion proposes his own reconstruction of the concept, framed in terms of the general dynamics of transition from one mode of production to another.

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