Madame Roland

The Revolutionary Experience of Madame Roland and Eugenia Ginzburg

Every political revolution frees the social forces that provoke the tumultuous times and events. Revolution, in fact, means the transformation of political order that does not satisfy the demands of revolutionary leaders, and, in such way, this process leads to numerous unstable and uncertain situations, such as terror, mass repressions, persecutions, and executions of some ideologies followers, etc. The personal experiences of Madame Roland and Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg described in their major literary works demonstrate the reader the hidden, repressive side of every great revolution, and reveals real consequences of social and political reorganization and transformation.

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Madame Roland wrote her memoirs during the French Revolution, and became the victim of the Jacobin terror in 1793 when Robespierre tried to kill all politicians who could oppose his regime. The same situation was in post-revolutionary Russia, where Ginzburg wrote her Journey into the Whirlwind being a survived victim of Stalins Great Purge in 1937. Both authors are female revolutionary leaders (Madame Roland was the head of the French political movement Gironde, while Ginzburg headed the local communist organization in the Russian province Tartary). At the same time, both authors became victims of revolutionary transformations they partly provoked by their activities. Such details allow a person to compare the revolutionary experience of Madame Roland and Eugenia Ginzburg in order to understand in which way the same sequences of revolutions occur in different states and epochs and take new visual images while preserving the same essence. The main parallel between Madame Roland and Ginzburg is their devotion to the revolutionary struggle and their political ideologies that had an influence on them even after both authors become victims of the repressions.

The Historical Context

Despite the common features connected with the same experience of post-revolutionary repressions, Madame Roland and Eugenia Ginzburg lived in different epochs and countries. As a result, it is very important to show the main tenets of the events they described. Thus, Madame Roland lived in France during the French Revolution when King Louis XVI was executed, the French monarchy became destroyed, and different political forces started their struggle for the dominance in the state. It is clear that before the Kings death, most of the revolutionary leaders tried to collaborate in order to achieve the victory over their common enemy, namely the monarchy. In such way, the victory of the French Revolution became the beginning of the contradiction between these leaders, and the great terror the dominant party provided towards its counterparts. Unfortunately for Madame Roland, she belonged to Gironde, the party, which was not dominant. Consequently, Madame Roland herself, as well as the whole party became the objects of political witch hunt provided by Robespierre and his followers-Jacobins.

The situation, in which Eugenia Ginzburg survived her revolutionary experience, was very close to that of Madame Roland. Nevertheless, there were some important differences. The Russian Revolution took place in 1917, when the French one took place in 1789. Madame Rolland describes the events that took place in 1793, 4 years after the French Revolution, while Ginzburg writes about the political transformations and repressions that took place in 1937 in Russia, 20 years after the Russian Revolution. The difference is the result of both revolutions specifics. The Russian Revolution from its very beginning was the result of the Communist (Bolshevik) partys political activity. Its leader Vladimir Lenins high authority guaranteed the unity of the political and social masses after the Tsars death. In contrast to this situation, the French nation had no leader whose authority could be indisputable. That is the reason why the struggle between Lenins followers begun only after some years since his death in 1924. According to DeFronzo, Lenin had evaluated in writing some of the top Bolshevik leaders and had singled out Trotsky and Stalin as outstanding (1996). The post-revolutionary terror in Russia begun 20 years after the revolution due to the fact that the contradiction between Stalin and Trotskys followers was not clear and remained hidden until the Great Purges realization. In fact, there was neither Stalin nor Trotskys followers in the beginning of the USSR formation: all Bolsheviks were the followers of Lenin, and the further political differentiation became possible only after some time.

The difference between Madame Roland and Eugenia Ginzburgs historical and political contexts is not very significant, because the most important fact here is the political struggle between different political parties. The parallelism between Stalin and Robespierre in relation to both authors is very clear, as well as the parallelism between Trotskys sympathizers and Gironde. In this way, it is possible to claim that the experiences of political repressions provided in Madame Rolland and Eugenia Ginzburgs writings deserve the comparison as they relate to the same events described from different points of view.

Madame Rolands Revolutionary Experience

According to the memoirs written by Madame Roland, the revolution began as the result of the masses need of the states reorganization. The people who lived under the reign of the French King Louis XVI needed some liberty and right to govern themselves freely instead of obey the Kings dictate transmitted through the wide web of the Royal State Administration. As the author claims, the Revolution ensued and inflamed us; friends of humanity, adorers of liberty, we believed that it would regenerate the species, and destroy the disgraceful misery of that unfortunate class at whose lot we had so often been affected ; we received the intelligence with rapture (Roland 1901). This passage is very important because it was written in prison, and it shows the paradoxically positive relation of Madame Roland to the events that preceded and to very high degree presupposed her imprisonment and further execution. It seems that the point here is the need of the author to persuade herself, as well as her readers that the Jacobin terror was not the logical result of the tumultuous events of the French Revolution, but some unexpected outcome of it. Madame Roland considers that the revolution she participated in is an indisputably positive event despite any negative consequences. It is clear through the text of her memoirs that her entire life was devoted to the revolutionary struggle and the realization of ideas proposed by Rousseau and other influential philosophers of the Enlightenment. Madame Roland, as well as her husband and lover (who headed Gironde), was completely involved in the revolutionary practice, and, in fact, her participation in Gironde was the main aim of her life. As a result, the negative evaluation of the revolution would mean for Madame Roland the acceptance of her personal defeat. Through the position of the todays historical researches that investigate the past events from above, Robespierre with his terror would be evaluated as an organic figure of the general French revolutionary context. The author, who is personally involved in the events described, provides the Robespierre counterparts point of view, whose participation in the revolution made the Frenchmen free. At the same time, the Jacobin politicians used this common success for their profits in order to dominate in the state. In other words, Madame Roland does not accept the obvious thesis that there would be no social consensus without the political struggles that usually take form of the repressions the dominating party provides towards other political organizations. It is obvious through the editorial note to the memoirs, that the sentence, in accordance to which Madame Roland was executed, contradicted to her own position, because the Jacobins claimed that she was a member of a horrible conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, the liberty and safety of the French people (Roland 1901). At the same time, the most precious aim for Madam Roland was the French peoples freedom. Consequently, this sentence in the context of the memoirs demonstrates the absurdity of the political repressions at all.

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Eugenia Ginzburgs Revolutionary Experience

In her novel Journey into the Whirlwind,Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg provides in-depth analysis of a Soviet prisoners feelings connected with the mass repressions traditionally called the Great Purge. It is very characteristic that she uses the verses from Alexander Bloks poem Twelve, where the destructive character of the Russian Revolution is demonstrated. The main character of the autobiographical novel is Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, who has a prestige place of the teacher at a Soviet University and works in local political newspaper. In such way, the main character is one of the leaders of the Russian region called Tartary, and a devoted member of the Communist party. Besides, with the development of the political conflict between Stalin and the followers of Trotsky, she becomes one of the victims of the Great Purge. The problem here is that Ginzburg did not do any illegal actions, and there was no reason to arrest her. Besides, the repressive processes started in order to make Stalins authority indisputable, and, as a result, his secret police imprisoned and physically exterminated many people whose political position could differ from the general vision of the Bolshevik party. The description of the events expressed by Ginzburg has some tone of uncertainty because she does not claim that her imprisonment and the further sufferings connected with the social humiliation are the results of the Communist totalitarianism. On the contrary, she only accuses Stalin and his close followers of these crimes against humanity only, calling Stalin vague disquiet (Ginzburg 1967). At the same time, Eugenia Ginzburg stays both devoted follower of Lenin and a confident sympathizer of the Bolshevik party. Such evaluation of the events that destroyed Ginzburgs life is the result of the historical context in which she lived and wrote. Before the Great Purge, Ginzburg was a devoted Communist, and to some degree, the political activity was inseparable part of her life. Consequently, she perceived that the only correct way of performing political activities is based on the direction proposed and realized in the Bolshevik doctrine. As a result, the arrest of Ginzburg was a very contradictory action in the context of the Bolshevik dominance in the Soviet Union, as Ginzburg, as well as many other similar political prisoners, was one of the most passionate communists, and through the repressions, the Bolshevik party became weaker and smaller. The regret for such state of things is one of the most important motives of the novel. The reflections provided by Ginzburg demonstrate the contradictory character of the epoch.

The Comparison of the Two Authors Positions

It is obvious that both authors share very similar experience connected with the repressions that followed the revolutionary transformations. The reason for such similarities is primarily based on the logic of every revolutions development that passes different stages from the social one to the further pacification that appears through the resolution of political conflict between the leaders of revolution. Besides, the French Revolution was headed by the bourgeoisie, while in Russia the key positions in the rebellion belonged to proletarians. In such way, there were many parties that represented the interests of bourgeoisie in France, while in Russia, the main revolutionary party was the Bolshevik one. The reason for that is the difference between the average political activity, personal initiative, and educational levels of the representatives of proletariat and bourgeoisie. Therefore, the French bourgeoisie was better organized and interested in the results of revolution, while in Russia, most of the revolutionary activists were the followers of Lenin whose authority replaced the Tsars one. Such difference between the leading classes of the two revolutions presupposed the influence each of them made on Madame Roland and Eugenia Ginzburg.

Another important detail concerns the time and place of the texts creation in the contexts of the authors personal experience. Thus, Madame Roland wrote her memoirs during her imprisonment, so she could not evaluate the results of the Jacobin terror to the fullest extent, as well as write freely what she considered was connected with the political situation in general. This authors work ends with her execution, and it is very important to understand that the memoirs could have totally other form and narrative logic, if she survived the terror and wrote them after analyzing the situation from above instead of from inside. In contrast, Eugenia Ginzburg survived her interrogation, imprisonment, and the correction in the Eastern Russian labor camp. Moreover, her novel concerning these events was written and published already after the authors became free. On the one hand, Ginzburg had some advantages over Madame Roland because her analysis of the events described was represented in deeper and fuller form. On the other hand, Madame Rolands advantage is her direct and passionate narration that is impossible for Ginzburg who wrote her novel after the years of rethinking and reevaluation of the given events. Thus, Madame Roland writes her story with higher degree of subjectivity because she did not have many years for rethinking in contrast to Ginzburg.

The most interesting common feature of both authors position is their devotion to revolution even despite its cruel and destructive character. Both Eugenia Ginzburg and Madame Roland continue believing in the revolution as the way to make people free from the previous regime. Considering such perceptions of the events, it looks like they do not want to accept the repressions as the organic sequence of any social and political transformations. Thus, Ginzburg writes about the barbarian relation to the prisoners practiced by the Soviet secret police (NKVD), but she does not object the revolutionary movement itself, and stays confident to the Communist party despite her negative relation to Stalin.


The differences of the revolutionary experience provided in the writings of Madame Roland and Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg appeared mainly as the results of the differences between the historical contexts, in which both authors created their writings. At the same time, both of them described the same processes of post-revolutionary terror analyzed from inside by the victims of this terror, which resulted from their own revolutionary activity. It is very important that Madame Roland was a revolutionary leader directly responsible for the French Revolution, while Eugenia Ginzburg headed the local Bolshevik organization after the revolution, and in this way indirectly promoted the Great Purge by the support of the Soviet Government. Thus, the French Revolution differed from the Russian one in some points, but the repressive side of their transformational potential was the same. Moreover, it appeared as a means for resolution of political contradictions between the revolutionary leaders.


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