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1917-18: The Roads Not Taken

Sun, September 3, 8:00 to 9:30am, Parc 55, Stockton


Philosophy has frequently examined the French Revolution, its importance for the modern conception of history and its idea of the universal rights of men. Much more rare is the encounter between philosophy and the Russian Revolution. The trajectory of 1789 has given rise to the nation-state and the juridical universalism of human rights. By contrast, 1918 Russian Declaration of Rights of the Working and Oppressed People and the first Soviet Constitution expressed an alternative political and economic trajectory, which was definitively crushed by Stalin’s constitution of 1936. From the perspective of modern Western constitutionalism, the first Russian Constitution contains numerous anomalies that, strictly speaking, make it difficult to define the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic as a state in the modern sense of the term. Among these anomalies are the dismantling of the national state through the universal distribution of power by local soviets; the anticolonial and antinational conception of citizenship, which could be conferred upon foreign workers by any local soviets, and an alternative practice of property relations different from both private and collective state property and rooted in the traditional communal possession of land. All these anomalies express innovative political institutions. My paper considers the Russian Revolution philosophically, emphasizing these anomalies as sign posts of the roads not taken in political modernity.