Morris Slavin (1913-2006)
James Friguglietti and Eric Arnold, May 2006
Morris Slavin, professor emeritus at Youngstown State University, died in Denver on February 6, 2006, at the age of 92. His life and career as a historian were unusual in many respects. Born in Kiev, Russia, in 1913, a year before the outbreak of World War I, he was one of three children of Lazar and Vera Slavin. Both parents were members of the Jewish Bund, which sought to advance social democracy and freedom from czarist autocracy. These values permanently shaped his own political and historical outlook. Emigrating to the United States in 1923, the family settled in Youngstown, Ohio. There young Slavin attended public schools while working for the city's Street Department repairing roads, sweeping streets, and cleaning sewers. He attended Youngstown College, then in 1935 entered Ohio State University. Majoring in history and English, Slavin earned his BS degree from the College of Education in 1938. With teaching positions scarce, he took a job at a local steel mill, only to be fired because of his labor union activism.
After military service in the field artillery during World War II, Slavin returned to Youngstown to teach in a local high school. At the same time he attended the University of Pittsburgh part-time, obtaining his MA there in 1952. Nine years later Slavin earned his doctorate at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, writing his dissertation "Left of the Mountain: The Enragés and the French Revolution" under the direction of John Hall Stewart. His thesis examined a group of Parisian radicals and the role that they played in advancing the cause of the popular classes.
Slavin accepted a position as an assistant professor at Youngstown State University in 1961, rising through the ranks before retiring 20 years later as emeritus professor. In 1988 YSU bestowed on him its Heritage Award in recognition of his contributions to the school.
He drew upon his doctoral dissertation to publish his first scholarly article "Jacques Roux: A Victim of Vilification" in French Historical Studies (1964). In retirement he finally enjoyed the free time to write extensively on the Revolution. Over the next two decades Slavin produced a series of scholarly works. With Agnes Smith he edited Bourgeois, Sans-Culottes, and Other Frenchmen (1981), a volume of essays dedicated to his mentor John Hall Stewart. To it Slavin contributed a study "Section Roi-de-Sicile and the Fall of the Monarchy." It was the forerunner to The French Revolution in Miniature: Section Droits de l'Homme, 1789–1795 (1984), a detailed examination of political activity in this same Parisian district. His Making of an Insurrection: Parisian Sections and the Gironde appeared two years later and closely studied how the capital's lower classes overthrew King Louis XVI. In 1994 he published his The Hébertistes to the Guillotine: Anatomy of a "Conspiracy" in Revolutionary France, a sympathetic study of a group of Parisian radicals brutally repressed by the central government. (The work, translated into Russian by Alexander Pantsov, was published last year in Moscow, a mark of his international reputation as a scholar.)
In addition, Slavin collected twelve of his essays in The Left and the French Revolution (1995). With Louis Patsouras he edited a volume of papers presented at a conference he organized at Youngstown State in 1998: Reflections at the End of a Century (2002). The dozen contributions covered aspects of revolutionary movements from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Included was his study of how the Dublin press interpreted the French Revolution.
Slavin himself was honored with a Festschrift, Rebels Against the Old Order, edited by Boris Blick and Louis Patsouras and published in 1994. The 13 contributions, which ranged over two principal categories, the French Revolution, and Marxism and the Russian Revolution, were written by American, British, French, and Australian friends and admirers. That same year Slavin participated in a conference held at Winchester, England, to commemorate the bicentennial of Nine Thermidor. His presentation, "Robespierre and the Insurrection of 31 May–2 June 1793," appeared in the proceedings of the meeting entitled Robespierre, edited by Colin Haydon and William Doyle and published by Cambridge University Press in 1999.
A tall, lean, and vigorous man, Slavin until his last months remained physically and mentally active. He was a voracious reader who kept up with the flood of works dealing with the French Revolution. His interest in the period reflected his strong belief in and unshakeable enthusiasm for popular democracy and individual rights in his own day.
In 1940 Slavin married Sophie Lockshin. Until her death 60 years later they remained a remarkably close, loving couple. Surviving them are their daughter Jeanne Kaplan, her husband Stephen, and their children Leslie and Michael.
Montana State University-Billings (emeritus)
University of Denver (emeritus)