Engels 1975-2005: XI, 106), ‘‘cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only

from the future.’’ This urging has largely been in vain. Nineteenth-and

twentieth-century revolutions repeatedly and unvaryingly looked backwards. Their principal theorists and practitioners were steeped in the history

of revolutions, from what was retrospectively baptized as ‘‘the English

revolution’’ of the seventeenth century, through the American Revolution

(again guardedly so-called by contemporaries) of the eighteenth century, to

the great sequence of French revolutions that began in 1789 and continued

in 1830, 1848, and 1871. No one was more aware of this than the Bolshevik

leaders, struggle as they might to go beyond the inheritance of these revo-

lutions. ‘‘A Frenchman has nothing to renounce in the Russian Revolution,’’ wrote Lenin to a French comrade in 1920, ‘‘which in its method and pro-

cedures merely recommences the French Revolution’’ (quoted in Kumar

1971: 3). Trotsky, in exile, wrote his great History of the Russian Revolution

(1929-1930) with the fullest awareness of where that revolution stood in the

sequence of past European revolutions and their particular histories – down

to the melancholy description of ‘‘the Soviet Thermidor.’’ Even the supposed innovations of the twentieth century introduced

nothing truly original. The newer thing was the non-urban peasant revolu-

tion that took place in Mexico, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and other Third

World countries (Wolf 1971; Dunn 1989a).1 Mao, Giap, Castro, and Gue-

vara were certainly aware of the pitfalls of imitating past European revolu-

tions, most notably in the avoidance of dependence on the city and the

urban classes; ‘‘the city,’’ observed Castro, ‘‘is the graveyard of revolutions

and revolutionaries’’ (quoted in Debray 1968: 67). But not only was the model of peasant revolution a revamping of the traditional form of ‘‘social

banditry’’ that was common in peasant societies (Hobsbawm 1959). The

leaders of these revolutions were for the most part Western-educated intel-

lectuals who developed most of their ideas in dialogue with Western theor-

ists, dead or alive, and whose goals were shaped by those of earlier revolutions.

What after all is Marxism, the working ideology of most of those Third

World revolutions, but a Western invention and export? When Fidel Castro

defended himself at his trial for his part in the 1953 raid on the Moncada barracks, he ransacked the Western revolutionary tradition, going back to

the French Revolution, in defense of his actions (Castro 1967: 95-6).