The Emotional Experience of Revolutionary Activism

Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


While historians have dealt with the process of radicalization of the Pale of Settlement working-class Jews as an intellectual process, I argue that viewing radicalization as an emotional process will add much to our understanding of the phenomenon of radicalization as a whole. Similar feelings were experienced differently before and after radicalization, and these feelings, enhanced by socialist and anarchist ideologies and the weakening of the traditional Jewish community, created the type of working-class militant so prevalent in the Jewish society of the Pale. By feelings (or emotions) in this work I refer to emotional practices in the sense of William Reddy’s ‘emotives’, that is socially determined performative practices.1 Thus any non-analytical experience and expression, while socially determined and therefore historical, would constitute a relevant object for this study. I do use feelings and emotions interchangeably here since I agree with Monique Scheer that bodily practices are no less socially determined than non-analytical verbal practices and therefore a clear differentiation between the two confuses rather than clarifies the issues at hand.2 The term ‘structure of feeling’ is particularly convenient since it specifically addresses the non-analytical socially determined expressions in the context of a historical development.


Emotional Experience Activist Structure Jewish Community Emotional Community Revolutionary Movement 
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  1. 1.
    William M. Reddy, ‘Against Constructivism: The Historical Ethnography of Emotions’, Current Anthropology, 38 (3) (1997), pp. 327–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Monique Scheer, ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (and is that What Makes them Have a History)? A Bourdieauan Approach to Understanding Emotion,’ History and Theory, 51 (2012), pp. 193–220. While I do not ignore the biological dimension of emotional practices, their social and therefore historicized dimensions are the ones relevant to the issues discussed in this work.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 18.
    For the importance of indignation to social movements, see James M. Jasper, The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography and Creativity in Social Movements (Chicago, IL, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 19.
    A concept introduced by Barbara H. Rosenwein in her book, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 2006), and meaning communities sharing a discursive emotional pattern.Google Scholar
  5. 42.
    Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (Princeton, NJ, 1967), pp. 99–100;Google Scholar
  6. as well as Laura Engelstein, Moscow 1905: Working-Class Organization and Political Conflict (Stanford, CA, 1982), p. 161;Google Scholar
  7. and M. I. Leonov, Partiia sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov v 1905–1907 gg (Moscow, 1997), p. 63, emphasized the workers’ hostility to the intellectuals within the labour movements. The classic work on the topic, Wildman, The Making of a Workers’ Revolution, claims that while for the workers the intelligentsia were a means to break the shackles of their social position and enter into a wide world of culture (p. 89), there was a permanent struggle between the two groups over political power within the organizations (pp. 90, 109 and 112). Wildman also points out that the workers claiming that the intelligentsia did not have the same political interests as the workers and thus should not occupy the leadership positions within the movement, simply drew a logical conclusion from the principle of class egoism taught in propaganda circles (p. 108). Moreover, he claims that the workers, especially the worker elites, could not do without the intelligentsia’s tutoring, which created a permanent tension (pp. 115 and 118). Surh, 1905 in St Petersburg, p. 240, discussing particularly the worker elites, emphasized however that, unlike before or after 1905, the period of 1905 itself was one marked by rapprochement between the workers and the intelligentsia. In the Jewish context, unlike the Russian one described in these works, the tension between the worker elites and the unskilled (or semi-skilled) workers was not so prominent since Jewish workers often had some skill, but could not claim a better paid job due to their ethnicity. The tensions between the workers and the intelligentsia seem less acute in 1905 and increased by the end of that year, just as for the workers described by Surh.Google Scholar
  8. 53.
    In Ruth R. Wisse (ed.), A Shtetl and Other Yiddish Novellas (Detroit, MI, 1986).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Inna Shtakser 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tel Aviv UniversityIsrael

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