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Propaganda and Mobilisation

How do revolutionaries mobilise ideas and groups to carry out their objectives? What roles do collective thought and group action play in triggering and radicalising revolutions? In recent decades, historians have turned to ‘public opinion’ for answers to these questions, often drawing inspiration from Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962). Habermas described the emergence of a critical, bourgeois ‘public sphere’ in late seventeenth-century England and mid eighteenth-century France. Combining intellectual history and sociology, his framework has prompted historians to examine sites where opinions were produced: newspapers, art, theatres, associations, clubs and cafés. Habermas believed that public opinion reached its apogee in the Enlightenment, after which critical reason was supplanted by the instrumental reason of bureaucratic states and commercial enterprises seeking to manage and manipulate large populations.

Habermas’s normative claim, namely, that public opinion lost its democratic potential after 1789, is debatable, but his analytical approach still inspires historical research. It complicates the connections between thought and action. Today, historians examine not only the content of ideas and opinions but also their diffusion, the broader discourses or ‘narrative frames’ in which they were embedded and the various motivations – social, political and economic – of the people and institutions responsible for propagating them. Arguably, the most challenging but important aspect of ‘public opinion’ is how contemporaries responded to publicized opinions. How and under what conditions did such opinions prompt revolutionary action? Did people respond to ideas in unexpected ways?

Seminar Questions

  1. How did books help produce a revolution in France, according to Darnton?
  2. How does Baker’s approach to the study of public opinion differ from Darnton’s or Chartier’s (see week 2)? How does he see public opinion as making revolution possible?
  3. Were French revolutionary political clubs democratic, according to Gueniffey and Halévi? What impact did they have on politics?
  4. Why were propaganda and mobilisation so important to the Soviet government?
  5. Was there a ‘civil society’ in Russia before and after the revolution?
  6. Why was cinema considered to be a key medium in Russia after the revolution?

Core Readings


  • Robert Darnton, Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-revolutionary France (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1995), chapters 1 and 10, 3-21, 232-245.
  • Keith M. Baker, ‘Public Opinion as Political Invention’ in Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 167-200.
  • Patrice Gueniffey and Ran Halévi, ‘Clubs and Popular Societies’ in Furet and Ozouf (eds.), Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 458-473.


  • Kenez, Peter Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917 -1929 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1985)
  • Read, Christopher Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia 1914-22 (Macmillan, Basingstoke and London, 1992) ch on ‘Party Entrepreneurs of Culture’

Further Reading

On public opinion

  • Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).
  • Harold Mah, ‘Phantasies of the Public Sphere: Rethinking the Habermas of Historians’, Journal of Modern History, 72: 1 (2000), 153-182.
  • Harvey Chisick, ‘Public Opinion and Political Culture in France During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century’, English Historical Review, no. 470 (2002), pp. 48-77.


The press

  • Jeremy D. Popkin, Revolutionary News: The Press in France, 1789-1799 (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1990).
  • Hugh Gough, The Newspaper Press in the French Revolution (Chicago: Dorsey Press, 1988).
  • Simon Burrows, French Exile Journalism and European Politics, 1792-1814 (Rochester NY: Boydell, 2000).
  • Jack R. Censer, Prelude to Power: The Parisian Radical Press (1789-1791) (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).
  • Jack R. Censer and Jeremy D. Popkin (eds.), Press and Politics in Pre-Revolutionary France (Berkeley: UC Press, 1987).
  • Harvey Chisick, The Press in the French Revolution (Oxford: Alden Press, 1991).
  • Max Fajn, ‘The Circulation of the French Press during the French Revolution’, English Historical Review, no. 87 (1972), 100-105.
  • Jacques Godechot, ‘La Presse française sous la Révolution et l'Empire,’ [untranslated but important], in Claude Bellanger et. al. (eds.), Histoire générale de la presse française, 3 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), vol. 1, 405-569.
  • Pierre Rétat and Claude Labrousse, Naissance du journal révolutionnaire, 1789 (Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1989), also untranslated but useful for sources.
  • Vivian Gruder, ‘Political News as Coded Messages: The Parisian and Provincial Press in the Pre-revolution, 1787-1788’, French History, 12: 1 (1998), 1-24.
  • William James Murray, The Right-Wing Press in the French Revolution: 1789-1792 (Exeter: Shortrun Press, 1986).

Clubs and assemblies

  • Michael Kennedy, The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution, 3 vols. (vols 1-2 published by Princeton University Press and vol 3 by Berghahn Books).
  • Gary Kates, The Cercle Social, the Girondins, and the French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).
  • Raymonde Monnier, L'espace public démocratique: essai sur l'opinion public à Paris de la Révolution au Directoire (Paris, 1995), untranslated but immensely useful.

Official propaganda and its effects

  • Mona Ozouf, Revolutionary Festivals, 1789-1799, Alan Sheridan (trans.) (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).
  • Alison Patrick, ‘Paper, Posters, and People: Official Communication in France, 1789-1794’, in Historical Studies (Melbourne), 18: 70 (1978), 1-23.
  • David A. Bell, The Cult of the Nation of France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800 (Cambridge Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Laurence Walter Stoll, ‘The Bureau Politique and the Management of the Popular Press: A Study of the Second Directory's Attempt to Develop a Directoire Ideology and Manipulate the Newspapers’, PhD dissertation (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1975).
  • Charles Walton, Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), chapter 8, on the impact of the Girondins’ propaganda.

Theatre, song and art

  • Laura Mason, Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics 1787 – 1799 (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
  • Michèle Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1984).
  • Jeffrey Ravel, The Contested Parterre: Public Theater and French Political Culture, 1680-1791 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), esp the final chapters.
  • Susan Maslan, Revolutionary Acts: Theater, Democracy, and the French Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).
  • Gregory S. Brown, Literary Sociability and Literary Property in France, 1775-1793 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).
  • Charles Walton, ‘Charles IX and the French Revolutionary Uses of History’, European History Review/Revue européene d’histoire, 4: 2 (1997), 127-145.
  • Michele Leon, Molière, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 2009).
  • Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance in the French Revolution (Berkeley: UC Press, 1993).
  • James Cuno, French Caricature and the French Revolution, 1789-1799 (Los Angeles: UCLA, 1989).
  • Colin B. Baily, Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-revolutionary Paris (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
  • Joan B. Landes, Visualizing the nation: gender, representation, and revolution in eighteenth-century France (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).


  • Stites, R (ed) Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989)
  • Mally, Lynn Culture of the Future: the Proletkul’t Movement in Revolutionary Russia Berkeley 1990
  • Biggart, John Alexander Bogdanov, left Bolshevism and the Proletkul’t 1904-32 (electronic resource) University of East Anglia 1989
  • Biggart, John; Dudley, Peter; King Francis (eds) Alexander Bogdanov and the origins of systems thinking in Russia Aldershot 1998a
  • Biggart, John; Gloveli, Georgii and Yassour, Avraham (eds) Bogdanov and his Work: a Guide to the Published and Unpublished Works of A.A.Bogdanov (Malinovskii) Aldershot 1998 b
  • Bogdanov, A. A. ‘Fortunes of the workers' party in the present revolution’ Novaia zhizn’ 19 (26 January) and 20 (27 January) 1918, unpublished translation by J. Biggart for The Study Group on the Russian Revolution, January 1984.
  • Zamiatin, E We Harmondsworth 1973
  • Zamiatin, E ‘The Cave’ in The Dragon and other Stories Harmondsworth 1975
  • Blok, A. The twelve, in Selected poems, (trans by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France) Harmondsworth 1974
  • Brooks, Jeffrey When Russia learned to read: literacy and popular literature, 1861--1917 Princeton 1985
  • Brooks, Jeffrey, Thank You Comrade Stalin: Soviet Public Culture from the Revolution to the Cold War (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2000)
  • Geldern, James van Bolshevik Festivals 1917--1920 (California University Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1993)
  • Taylor, Richard The Politics of the Soviet Cinema 1917-29 (1st ed 1973; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008)
  • Kenez, Peter Cinema and Soviet Society: from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (I.B.Tauris, London 2001)
  • Gillespie, David Early Soviet Cinema: Innovation, Ideology and Propaganda (Wallflower Press, 2000
  • Christie, Ian and Taylor, Richard The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896-1939 (Routledge, London 1994)
  • Bonnell, Victoria Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin (University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1997)
  • Keep, J The Russian Revolution: a Study in Mass Mobilisation (London 1976)
  • Gleason, A (et al. eds.), Bolshevik culture: experiment and order in the Russian revolution, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1985).