Mediating the October Revolution across spaces and times

Comparing textbook accounts from different countries and contexts

Date: 1 September 2017, 04:00–06:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 395



One hundred years after the October Revolution, 25 years after the fall of ‘actually existing socialism’ and in the long shadow of the 2008 financial crisis, socialist alternatives to the currently dominant world order continue to enter the conversation. We are increasingly hearing questions as to whether the story told since 1990 of the final victory achieved by capitalism over its century-old competitor has been premature in its account of triumph.

At conferences, intellectuals talk about the ‘idea of communism’. Books explain why socialism does not have to remain a utopian dream (Cohen, 2009), why Marx was right (Eagleton, 2011), what a socialist America could look like (Goldin, 2014), and which visions of the future with present-day relevance socialism is still capable of generating (Honneth, 2015). The new intellectual debate, whose emergence we are currently observing, around social alternatives to an increasingly crisis-ridden capitalism are giving rise to  very real political results. Political parties and movements with a socialist agenda, such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, have achieved electoral success. In many post-socialist societies, it is impossible to ignore the nostalgic longing for a social order that seemed to stand for terror and oppression directly after the upheaval of 1989 but is now associated with social security and predictability (Todorova/Gille, 2010).

How might these discourses be entering into and influencing the teaching and learning of historical events revolving around the communist or socialist past?  The opportunities currently open to a socialist political discourse to take an active role in shaping future societal development seem to be more plentiful and realistic than in recent decades. Teaching and learning about competition between radically different ideas  of society, as paradigmatically took place in the confrontation between capitalism and communism which dominated most of the twentieth century, have consequently become a renewed challenge in the planning of curricula and in the classroom.

Against the backdrop of these recent discursive and political shifts, this panel’s intent will be to raise the question of how education and teaching are responding to this new contestation of political concepts and visions for the society of tomorrow. It will convene researchers to look into the ways in which the October Revolution is presented and discussed in textbooks from different countries. Taking the approaching centenary of the October Revolution as a symbolic starting point, the panel will examine textbook narratives on this seminal event in order to explore the reflection or refraction of current debates on societal issues in educational media. The rationale for focusing on textbooks lies in their status as media which represent hegemonic discourses and render visible social controversies over contested issues of the past. Their location at the intersection between politics, academia and education enables them to act as a ‘short cut’ to perception of the social processes through which a society’s memory is negotiated and established. The cases selected for the panel will study the post-Soviet periphery, Greece, India and Brazil, thus generating a wide-ranging comparison across divergent experiences in the past and political settings in the present. At the same time, the panellists will pursue different methodological strategies, thus demonstrating the multi-faceted opportunities inherent to textbook research as a specific field of study.


Gerald A. Cohen, Why not Socialism? Princeton 2009.

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx was Right? Yale 2011.

Axel Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus. Versuch einer Aktualisierung, Berlin 2015.

Maria Todorova, Zsuza Gille (eds), Post-Communist Nostalgia, New York, Oxford 2010.


Barbara Christophe (Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig)

Steffen Sammler (Leipzig University / Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig)


Steffen Sammler (Leipzig University / Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig)


Barbara Christophe (Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig)


Satenik Mkrtchyan (National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia Yerevan)

Christoph Kohl (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)



Satenik Mkrtchyan: The October Revolution in current textbooks from Armenia, Georgia and Russia

The presentation will analyse the influence exerted by different present-day political power relationships on accounts of the October Revolution in textbooks. Carrying out a synchronic comparison of post-Soviet countries which share a long common history, in contrast to the relatively divergent conditions which characterise their present, will allow us to gauge the impact of different experiences on processes of remembering a contested past.

Christoph Kohl: The October Revolution in Brazilian textbooks

The presentation will focus on textbooks published in the ‘Lula’ era. Its key focus will be the ways in which textbook stories of the October Revolution were constructed under the influence of a government which employed a left-wing rhetoric while simultaneously pursuing an increasingly neo-liberal political agenda.

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