Annah Arendt, Cuban Revolution, Russian Revolution, French Revolution

I. Sample Question:

One of Hannah Arendt s main concerns in her book, On Revolution, is the propensity of revolutionary leaders to demand unity, a demand that leads them to destroy spontaneously created spaces for public freedom. This is a trend she largely blames on the influence of the French Revolution, as well as the work of Marx and Engels, on the consciousness of revolutionary groups. Given your study of the Communist Manifesto and the history of modern revolutions, do you think Arendt s critique of the revolutionary tradition is accurate? Why or why not?

II. Sample Outline:

In order to answer this question, you have to do at least four things: 1) write an introductory paragraph that includes a one to two sentence answer to the main question in the essay prompt; 2) write a section that summarizes the problem posed by the question in more detail, including references to relevant passages in texts you ve read for the course; 3) write at least a three paragraph section that explains your position on the main question posed by the essay prompt; and 4) write a concluding paragraph that summarizes the problem raised and your answer to the main question in the essay prompt. When preparing to write the essay out, it might be useful to construct an outline that looks something like the example I use below:

Section I: The Introductory Paragraph. It is often enough to simply re-write the essay prompt in you own words, so if I were going to answer the question above I would write a paragraph that looks something like this:

 In her famous book On Revolution, Hannah Arendt analyzes the development of the American and French Revolutions and reaches the conclusion that 20th century revolutionary movements have been much more influenced by the events in 18th century France. From her perspective, the influence of the French Revolution on modern revolutionaries an influence she largely attributes to the work of Marx and Engels has unfortunately induced them to attack and destroy the very institutions she considers crucial for the establishment of public freedom. In this essay, I will argue that Arendt s critique of the revolutionary tradition accurately depicts events that led to the Communist victory in the Soviet Union. In making this argument, I will analyze the work of Marx and Engels and show that their theory of proletarian dictatorship was highly influential on the Communist Party s decision to co-opt worker soviets, which were local councils that could have served as spaces for the exercise of public freedom in Russia.

Notice that the sentence in boldface is a relatively direct answer to the question,  do you think Arendt s critique of the revolutionary tradition is accurate? Why or why not? Also notice that my response to the prompt is not a simple yes, or no answer. In the context of the paper assignment for this class, your answer to the main question in the essay prompt should always include two clauses (or in this case two sentences). One clause states your general answer to the question (i.e., that you do or do not agree with Arendt s assertion), and the other clause states the specific reason you hold your general opinion (i.e., because the Marxist theory of proletarian dictatorship informed the decision to co-opt worker soviets).

Section 2: Summarize the problem posed by the question in more detail. This is probably the most straightforward (if there is such a thing) portion of any essay. In the context of this class, this portion of your essay will usually consist of a two to three-paragraph summary of the problem your analyzing and the position that an author we ve read takes on that problem. In the context of this example, the problem I m addressing is the issue of  unity and  plurality in revolutionary politics. The position I m addressing is Arendt s, which is that the demand for unity in the French Revolution and in Marxism had nefarious consequences for human freedom. To save space, I m going to simply write some topic sentence for my two-paragraph summary of the problem. Figuring this out might look something like this, though it is likely to be messier in the initial stages of the writing process:

Topic Sentence for ¶ 1: In her book, Arendt recognizes the relative success of the American Revolution as compared to the French, which she attributes to the French emphasis on unity rather than plurality. Note: at this point, I would normally spend three to five sentences explaining Arendt s position on the link between plurality and public freedom, which is Arendt s criterion for revolutionary success. To do this, it would be a really helpful to find some quotes from Arendt s text.

Topic Sentence for ¶ 2: From Arendt s perspective, the French Revolution has been much more influential on the history of modern revolutions than the American Revolution, a fact she largely blames on the work of Karl Marx. Note: at this point, I would normally spend three to five sentences referencing areas where Arendt addresses the influence of the French Revolution on our modern notions of revolutionary action quotes are nice!!!

Topic Sentence for ¶ 3: Arendt goes on to argue that the influence of the French Revolution and Marxism on the action of 20th century revolutionaries has basically led to the destruction of spaces for public freedom in the modern world. Again, three to five sentences supporting this sentence would be necessary, and a direct quote would be helpful.

Section 3: Explaining your position on the issue raised in the essay prompt.

This is the most difficult part of the assignment, even for those of us who have been doing it for (gasp) decades!!! The best way to approach this portion of the paper is to write your position in the form of a syllogism, which is a fancy word derived from logic that means  argument. For those of you who don t know what a syllogism is, its structure basically takes the following form:

Premise 1: If X, Then Y
Premise 2: X
Conclusion: Therefore, Y

The purpose of the syllogism, from my perspective, is to try to get you to think about what would have to be true in order for your thesis statement to be  correct . In the context of this example, my thesis statement is, in general,  Events during the Russian Revolution show that Arendt s critique of the revolutionary tradition is accurate. If I m using the structure of the syllogism, my thesis statement is also my  y statement in premise one. Now, the  X statement is the condition that would make my  Y statement true, which in the context of this example is  their [Marx and Engels] theory of proletarian dictatorship was highly influential on the Communist Party s decision to co-opt worker soviets. So, the first paragraph in this section of the essay is going to start with the following topic sentence:

Paragraph 1 (Premise 1): If modern revolutions reveal a tendency to emphasize unity rather than plurality, and if this demand shuts down our ability to speak with one another in public (X), then Arendt s critique of the revolutionary tradition is accurate (Y). Note: I m going to want to spend 3 to five sentences explaining why this is the case, which in this context requires explaining why Arendt thinks conversation and plurality are so necessary for achieving human freedom.

The next paragraph, which represents premise 2, is where I would refer directly to developments that occurred during the Russian Revolution. That is, my  X statement is true to the extent that the chapters we ve read on the Russian Revolution demonstrate that demand for unity leads to the destruction of public spaces in which people can participate in political matters. The topic sentence for this paragraph would look something like this:

Paragraph 2 (Premise 2): The experiences of the Russian Revolution clearly demonstrate that the Communist Party s quest for unity led to the destruction of worker soviets, which might have served as spaces of public freedom. Note: the remainder of this paragraph will be