War transformed the French Revolution, as it was to transform Russia in 1917. It also helped to transform the popular masses who had participated in the Fall of the Bastille and the Great Fear of 1789 into (i) the 'Revolutionary Popular Movement', mainly Parisian and urban, of 1792-95, and the 'Counter-revolutionary Popular Movement' of 1793-99, which was mainly provincial and rural. It may come as a surprise that I have referred both to a 'Revolutionary Popular Movement' and to a 'Counter-revolutionary 'Popular Movement'. This may elicit some discussion (which is the chief objective of this deliberately controversial essay!), but I hope to convince you that there are several reasons why one should call the largely catholic and royalist insurrections of the west and south-east of France a 'Popular Movement'. Such an approach will challenge the theses of conservative works like Simon Schama's Citizens, which deny ordinary people their rightful place in the unfolding of the Revolution, but also those of certain marxist historians, like Albert Soboul, who in his valuable text-book, The French Revolution, do stress the central importance of politically-active urban artisans and shopkeepers - called the sansculottes by 1792 - but reject the idea that rural artisans and peasants, who fought under the catholic-royalist banner, were also fighting against the encroachment of commercial capitalism, market economics, as well as the impact of the fledgling modern, bureaucratic French State.
This essay will tackle three questions:
1. What was the social composition of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary
2. What were the major political, social, and economic programmes of these
3. How did the success, and failure, of these Popular Movements explain the course
taken by the Revolution ?
(a) Revolutionary Popular Movements
Almost forty years ago, two books were published which focused scholarly attention on the significance and role of 'The People in the French Revolution'. George Rudé's, The Crowd in the French Revolution (1959) revealed the social composition and motives of the Parisian participants in the famous insurrectionary days (journées) of the Revolution; Albert Soboul's Les Sansculottes Parisiens de l'An 11 (1959) analysed the social, economic, and political programmes of the sans-culotte elite which, for a limited period during the Terror, controlled the 48 Sections into which Paris had been divided for administrative reasons in 1790. The 'lower orders' had thus been rescued from what Edward Thompson, in his equally influential The Making of the English Working Class (1964), described as 'the massive condescension of posterity'. The problem for posterity, however, was that they had been rescued, in the main, by marxist historians. Forty years on, following a prolonged onslaught during the 1970s and 80s by 'revisionist', anti-marxist historians, 'the People' are having to be resurrected - yet again.
Marxist definitions of 'the People', or 'the Crowd', it can, and has, been argued, are themselves somewhat 'condescending'. In the first place, the Rudés and the Sobouls were almost exclusively interested in the Revolutionary Crowd, not in the Counter-revolutionary Crowd. Marxist historians attached a certain nobility of purpose to urban, revolutionary crowds at the expense of the catholic royalists who died in their hundreds of thousands in the counter-revolutionary wars of the 1790s in the Vendée (the name of a department in the west of France, but also the collective name for the catholic royalist insurrection of 1793) as well as in the south-east. The former were deemed to be 'forward-looking', 'progressive', since they represented the future, marxist 'proletariat'; the latter were deemed to be 'backward-looking', 'reactionary', destined for History's dust-bin. See the article by Colin Lucas, 'The Crowd and Politics', (in C. Lucas ed., The Political Culture of the French Revolution) in which he writes that George Rudé refused to study those crowds that opposed the Revolution in favour of those that supported and radicalised it. In the second place, both Rudé's Parisian crowd and Soboul's sans-culottes excluded the really poor, the unskilled, the thousands of street-traders and second-hand dealers, those of no fixed abode. These, in marxist terminology, were the lumpenproletariat. The marxist historians of the 1950s and 60s, then, had blazed a new research trail - often known as 'history from below' - but they had constructed not only a Revolutionary Crowd, but a Respectable Crowd, and a predominantly male one at that! This exclusivity was not accidental, but central to a theory of history which advanced the proposition that, from the mid-eighteenth to the nineteenth century in particular, it was the (male) urban artisan and shopkeeper, allied to the radical wing of the bourgeoisie (the Jacobins in 1793, for example), which pushed history forward towards a more democratic and socialist era. These were the socio-political groups which deserved attention, not the unskilled poor nor even the wealthier elements of the bourgeoisie, and certainly not the 'feudal' aristocracy. In his magisterial work, Les Sanculottes Parisiens de l'An 11, Albert Soboul examined the membership of the comités révolutionnaires which were attached, after 1792, to each of the 48 Sections of Paris, these Sections becoming the local bases of sansculotte power. He found that over 60% of their membership was drawn from the ranks of artisans and shopkeepers. Richard Cobb, in his equally massive and influential study of the para-military organisations of the sansculotterie, Les Armées Révolutionnaires (not to be confused with the regular armies; Cobb was dealing with 'The People's Armies' composed of just 40,OOO men), found that the rank and file of the Parisian armées révolutionnaires was 35% artisan, and 25% shopkeeper and smaller merchants. The work of many historians of provincial France - Alan Forrest on Bordeaux, Bill Edmonds on Lyon, Paul Hanson on Caen and Limoges, Bill Scott on Marseille, etc. - confirmed, with minor modifications - the predominance of the petty bourgeoisie - manufacturing, retail, and professional - in the radical movements of the Revolution.
However, the work of marxist historians did not go unchallenged. Thirty years ago, Alfred Cobban - the English father of 'revisionism' (the attempt to move history away from a marxist perspective and methodology) - wrote an influential little book, The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution, which criticised Soboul's work in particular. During the 1970s and 80s, several young historians, influenced by the anti-Marxist Annales school of history in France, also weighed in, adopting a more sophisticated, cultural and sociological approach, as well taking a longer, pre-revolutionary and revolutionary time-span. Richard Andrews, for example, denied that the leaders of the Parisian sans-culottes were drawn, exclusively, from the ranks of the smaller artisan and shopkeeper, insisting that a few large employers of labour qualified as 'sansculottes'. In other words, there was no necessary relationship between artisans and revolutionary politics. In 1986, David Garrioch published his Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 1740-1790, which focused on the sociology of the small quartier, stressing the existence of an increasing sense of neighbourhood solidarity during the second half of the eighteenth century, particularly among workers, artisans, shopkeepers, and smaller employers, many of the richer merchants and professional middle-class having left the centre of Paris for the suburbs. This 'solidarity', based upon street sociability at work and play, helped to create a new 'class' identity, which goes some way towards understanding the solidarity of the sans-culotterie during the Revolution. In other words, it was the general and broader culture of a community, not simply one's place in the eighteenth-century productive process, as some crude marxist theories suggested, which determined 'class' identities. In America, Lynn Hunt (before her descent (?) into 'psycho-histories' of the Revolution, see The Family Romance of the French Revolution) attempted to broaden definitions of class by adopting a more sociological and cultural approach (Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution). Michael Sonenscher's major work, published three years later, Work and Wages, adopted many of the themes embroidered by Garrioch but concentrated more on the complex and fluid financial and social relationships between masters and their skilled workers, as well as on eighteenth-century, popular concepts of 'natural rights', used by artisans to defend themselves against the attacks of an increasingly, competitive, commercialised society. (For further examples of their approach see Sonenscher and Garrioch, 'Compagnonnages, confraternities and associations of journeymen in 18thC Paris', European History Quarterly, 1986).
However one 'deconstructs' their undoubtedly scholarly work on ideological grounds, these publications did help to shift the debate on 'artisans and sansculottes' away from what had become rather sterile arguments about how many sans-culottes could dance on the tip of a marxist pin to wider concerns about the value of community, work processes and relationships, as well as the impact of philosophical and political ideas on late eighteenth-century French society. 'Culture' was rapidly replacing 'class' as the buzz-word of a new generation of researchers. This new interest in intellectual and cultural history enabled many good historians of the Revolution to pour new conceptual wine into old 'class' bottles. (See, for example, the Introduction in L. Hunt, The New Cultural History; C. Jones, 'Bourgeois Revolution revivified: 1789 and social change', in C. Lucas, ed., Rewriting the French Revolution; and S. Maza, 'Women, the Bourgeoisie, and the Public Sphere', French Historical Studies, 17, 1991-92). Another corrective to ideologically-charged and structuralist accounts of 'the People' can be found in Richard Cobb's highly original and readable, The Police and the People. Although influenced in his earlier years by marxist scholars, Cobb was, in reality, an English, Oxbridge anarchist/individualist, endowed with a profound knowledge of French archives and French bars, who liked to tell it as it was, rather than how it should have been in the book according to Marx, Weber, or, indeed, anyone else! He wrote great history, but 'in his own image' (Read his Second Identity, for example).
Artisans are also evident in studies of 'peasant' insurrections, since they formed an essential part of village life, particularly when you consider that most villages in the north, the west and the south-east of France were engaged in textile-production. They figure prominently - though they do not, of course, form the majority of rioters, in Georges Lefebvre's Grande Peur, that path-breaking study of the five regional revolts which coalesced into the massive peasant insurrection of the summer of 1789 known as 'the Great Fear'. Peter Jones, in his excellent general study, The Peasantry in the French Revolution, includes a breakdown of insurgents in the south-west of France in 1789 which shows that around one-third of them were artisans. However, it seems from Jones' own work and other studies (see Paul Bois, for example, Les Paysans de l'Ouest and T. Le Goff, 'The Revolution and the rural community in eighteenth-century Brittany', Past and Present, no. 62 , 1974) that peasant insurrections could attract support from a wide section of the population, from well-to-do farmers to day-labourers, with a heavy participation of small and middling peasants to share-croppers, depending on the region. Winegrowers, for example, badly affected by the economic recession of the 1780s, were much in evidence in parts of the south, as were share-croppers, very numerous in the south-west. But peasant insurrections could also be led by village (even town) merchants and priests, often the 'natural' leader of village communities. Jones sums it up: 'In some instances it is clearly more helpful to conceive of the mobilisation as the revolts of entire communities'. I would press for more work to be done on the involvement of village 'peasant-artisans', often textile-workers, in the revolts of the 1790s: they, more than any section of the community were adversely affected by the economic and political upheavals of the period.
Finally, challenging the older marxist (vulgarised) myths about the impact of commercial capitalism and the State upon 'traditional' village communities, Hilton Root's work on Burgundy, and European peasant history in general, has insisted that, far from fighting to protect anti-capitalist, communitarian ways of life from the naked individualism of the market, peasants - at least in some regions like Burgundy used 'a state-sanctioned form of protest, the court case, to escape the power of the seigneurs and to enable themselves to compete more fairly for the benefits of the market'. ('The rural community and the French Revolution' in K. Baker, ed. The Political Culture of the Old Regime, p. 142.). This is thought-provoking and has overtones of Sonenscher's work on eighteenth-century urban artisans, who also sought the assistance of the courts, as well as the State, to resist the exploitation of their 'bosses'; or the recent work on rural society by Linda Vardi, which stresses the entrepreneurial instincts of village peasants and merchants - The Land and the Loom: Peasants and Profit in Northern France, 1680-1800. You should ask yourselves why the State should have taken the side of urban artisans and village peasant communities in many cases. Was it to defend 'traditional values' against those of free-market capitalism ? Was it to undermine the influence, in the countryside, of their historic enemies, the aristocracy ?
Counter-revolutionary Popular Movements
Because of the ideological and political imperatives which guided - not 'determined' necessarily - their historical analyses, the majority of marxist historians did not concentrate on those who fought against the Revolution. One eminent marxist historian has described the catholic royalist 'rebels' of the west of France as 'sans grandeur', 'sans horizons'; in other words, because of their support for a dying catholic, royalist, and feudal culture, they had no (historic) future. It is easy to criticise this approach; one is more sympathetic once one recalls the bitterness of the struggle in France between 'Right' and 'Left', particularly since the German Occupation of 1940-44. Historians tend to be more ideologically-driven in France. Nonetheless, I would prefer to study, perhaps comparatively, 'revolutionary' and 'counter-revolutionary' crowds to test my long held conviction that, in many ways, Parisian 'revolutionary' sansculottes and provincial 'counter-revolutionary' catholic royalists in the Vendée were often fighting the same general enemy - the rise of modern, bourgeois, capitalist society. (They did not always see it that way, but can we explain this by introducing the marxist concept of 'false consciousness' ??). I shall return to this point under Section Two.
So far as the social composition of counter-revolutionary crowds is concerned there are, of course, obvious differences. In the main - but certainly not exclusively - catholic royalist insurgents in the Vendée and in the south-east of France were drawn from the ranks of the peasantry; most, though by no means all, counter-revolutionary crowds were based, after all, in the countryside or small provincial towns and villages, rather than in the big city. The work of Charles Tilly (The Vendée) and (Les Paysans de l'Ouest) on the Vendée a generation ago established that the peasantry formed the majority of the rebels in the west, although they both stressed that the term 'peasant' could mask a multitude of real activities like stocking-maker, village blacksmith, or carpenter. Also, many textile workers, like those in the industrial small town of Cholet, fought on the catholic royalist side. My own study of the counter-revolution in the south-east, The Second Vendée, indicated that, although many poor, rural areas of the departments of the south-east became 'counter-revolutionary', the first manifestation of counter-revolution occurred in the city of Nîmes as early as 1790 and was supported, principally by unemployed textile workers and agricultural labourers living in the city. The key point is that these 'counter-revolutionary' textile-workers were catholic. Did marxist historians over-emphasise issues of 'class' and 'economics' as opposed to those of 'culture' and 'religion'. My answer, despite my conviction that class analyses of historical movements is helpful, is - yes. Think of the contemporary world and the importance of religion in producing civic disorder and insurrections from the western world to the eastern. But think also of the impact of world, 'hop-scotch' capitalism upon certain regions where traditional, rural cultures, often dominated by religious leaders, produce massive dislocations and alienation. Are 'fundamentalists' in the Middle East or in Saudi Arabia 'revolutionaries', or 'counter-revolutionaries' ? One western capitalist's 'counter-revolutionary' is often a mullah's 'revolutionary': ideological beauty is in the eye of the beholder! This is how we should be thinking of the counter-revolution in the Vendée and the south-east. It was not a matter of rural peasants being 'counter-revolutionary' and urban craftsmen and merchants being 'revolutionary'. We must look at the dominant (religious) culture of communities, the sociology of urban and rural life-styles, relationships of dependency between priests and villagers, merchants and textile-workers to find out why certain regions became 'counter-revolutionary', as well as adopting class analyses ('class' defined in socio-cultural, as well as socio-economic terms). The same approach should be adopted to understand why Lyon became, for a time, a 'counter-revolutionary' city.
A final point on social composition. Work on the role of women in revolutionary or counter-revolutionary crowds has begun to affect our understanding, both of the Popular Movement - the organised involvement of the people in Revolutionary action, principally between 1792 and 1795 - and of the historical significance of the Revolution itself. For example, Dominique Godineau's work, Citoyennes Tricoteuses: les femmes de Paris pendant la Révolution française, published in 1988, not only analyses the social composition of revolutionary women in Paris (a much broader range than Soboul's men - 'seamstresses and laundresses, but also skilled artisans, merchants or domestics'), but also distinguishes between three types of revolutionary women: militantes marquantes, militantes de base, and masses populaires féminines (For a brief account of the book see Godineau's article in H. Applewhite and D. Levy, Women and Politics in the Age of Revolution, pp.61-80). We know the composition of many of the women who marched to Versailles in October 1790 (See the collection of essays in S. Melzer and L. Rabine, Rebel Daughters, and, in particular, the article by Levy and Applewhite which has a very good bibliography on early 'women's history'), but there is a lot more to be done. Levy, and Applewhite's collection of documents, Women in the French Revolution; and the articles by L. Boutron, 'Gendered behaviour in subsistence riots in the French Flour War of 1775', Journal of Social History, vol. 23 (1990), and another by T. Tackett, 'Women and men in counterrevolution: the Sommières riot of 1791', Journal of Modern History, vol.59 (1987), show what can be done in analysing the role of women in revolutionary and counter-revolutionary crowds when one's angle of vision shifts from a male-dominated perspective.
Revolutionary Popular Movements
In any discussion of political objectives, we need to distinguish between 'crowds' (such as the women who marched to Versailles), and 'the elite of the crowd', members of clubs, popular societies, the membership of the Sections of Paris, Lyon etc. - in other words, the organised Popular Movement of 1792-5. 'Crowds' had protested against authority since time immemorial. Eighteenth-century crowds had acted as 'representatives' of their general community, attacking police and public officials when the community felt that 'natural justice' (the political equivalent of 'the just price of bread') had been 'outraged'. Arlette Farge has some very good examples of this in her Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth-Century Paris. Eighteenth-century crowds often acted as 'avenging neighbourhood angels'. It is difficult for us in this increasingly a-moral age to appreciate the weight of 'custom' and the principles of 'natural justice' - whether in matters of employment, the price of bread, or the action of the police - which moved an eighteenth-century crowd to revolt. But you could ask yourself: Do crowds of young blacks today take justice into their own hands when they feel that 'authority' has not acted justly ? What about anti-Poll Tax demonstrators or environmental protesters ? Perhaps, just perhaps, football crowds act as 'representatives of their community'??
In the Revolution, popular societies and Sections were, in many ways, the 'crowd politicised'. I mentioned the Lucas article above: he argues (i) that what we see in the Revolution is the increasing politicisation of the crowd which, by 1793, had produced a different, and more distinctive, consciousness of its role in national, or local, politics; and (ii) the consequent separation of the 'common people' from social elites, the rich and powerful. This (class? cultural?) separation had been evolving for a century or more, Lucas argues, but the Revolution takes the process much further. If the Revolution is the beginning of modern political and ideological history, then it also sees the related emergence of the modern politicised 'crowd', the politicisation of the notion of 'them' and 'us', or, as the eighteenth-century commentator would have put it, 'les petites contre les gros'. You should compare Lucas's article, particularly pp. 271-278, with one by David Andress which argues along similar though more radical lines. Andress totally rejects the elitist line pursued by Simon Schama in his Citizens that the crowd was little more than a ghastly and violent 'mob' lurching the Revolution to Terror and disaster, in favour of a measured and sympathetic line which states that 'The epic of the Revolution is the attempt of excluded and oppressed groups to claim the language of liberty for their own. The Revolution's tragedy is not ... the destruction of a flowering elite by brutal popular excesses, but the process whereby fear and suspicion met with elite social prejudice and irreconcilable political differences to destroy popular aspirations, create carnage, and lead to stultifying conformity and Terror.' (p. 55).
Interesting this - the Revolution was not caused by the totalitarian ideas of Rousseau as interpreted by Robespierre, nor by the gratuitous violence of Taine's and Schama's 'mob', but by the refusal of the elites to share the universal ideals of '1789' with those less fortunate than themselves.
For a fairly detailed account of the social, economic and political demands of the Parisian Popular Movement see the relevant chapters in the English translation of Soboul's thesis, The Parisian Sansculottes and the French Revolution. In brief, Soboul argued that the Parisian sansculottes who staffed the committees in the 48 Sections of Paris were moving towards a distinct (as compared with the Jacobin programme of the Robespierrists), egalitarian, political and anti-capitalist socio-economic programme during the early years of the Revolution, but particularly during the peak year of their organised political power, the Year 2 (September 1793-September 1794 - remember, the new revolutionary year, the Year 1 of the Revolution began in September 1792 when the monarchy fell, not in 1789). It is important to emphasise -yet again - that we are dealing, after the spring of 1792, with a war crisis, external and internal. Sansculottes, whether in Paris or in the provinces, fought first of all against their political enemies. Members of popular societies and Sections were today's 'activists': they had very little time for 'moderates' or, 'the silent majority'. This was, after all, a Revolution and a war for the survival of the French nation itself, confronted, as it was, with enemies inside and outside the country. Hence, the constant references to 'aristocratic plots' or 'Pitt's gold'. This is why it is very difficult, at times, to distinguish between 'the language of revolution' and the' language of national survival', the propaganda of a war dictatorship. War, and the related need on the part of political elites to get ordinary Frenchmen to die on the battlefields of Europe, meant that, briefly, between 1792 and 1795 (France seemed to be winning the war after the summer of 1794), the political demands of 'the People', as articulated by their radical representatives the sansculottes, could be heard. The 'unholy alliance' of Jacobins and sansculottes was forged in the trenches, not in the salon or the workshop, something Albert Soboul did not, perhaps, stress enough. It is relevant here to recall Richard Andrew's challenge to Soboul's thesis of an increasing divorce between the politics of the sansculottes and the those of the Jacobin government of the Year 2. For Andrews, the sansculottes were 'creatures' of the Jacobins more than 'class' enemies. He argued that the social and political function of the sans-culotterie was to control the often violent and unpredictable Parisian 'mob' on behalf of the Jacobin government. Extremist groups like the Enragés and the Hébertistes (the followers of the editor of the scurrilous but very popular newspaper, Le Père Duchesne) refused to toe the line, hence their incarceration or executions in the spring of 1794.This is a novel interpretation (one I do not accept!) of the sansculotte as the essential bridge between Schama's violent 'mob' and the cultured middle-class Jacobins - Soboul's 'social revolutionaries' transformed into Andrews' 'social policemen'! (See R. Andrews, 'Social structures, political elites and ideology in Revolutionary Paris, 1792-94', Journal of Social History, 19, 1985)
There can be little argument, however, that the Popular Movement's first - and very revolutionary - political demand, was for political power, in other words, the vote, just as the 'Crowd' in England, from Wilkes to Tom Paine, sought emancipation through the ballet-box. By the French Constitution of 1791, male 'citizens' had been divided into 'active' (those who paid enough taxes to qualify for the vote) and 'passive' citizens (those who did not and who were hence disenfranchised). Much of the radical activity in the popular societies from the publication of the Constitution of 1791 to the outbreak of war in April 1792 concerned attempts to overthrow this highly elitist solution to the problem of political representation. Ideas on democracy - 'popular' and 'representative' - were discussed more intensely in this period than in any other during the 1790s. 'Republicanism' was born from the spread of these ideas, as well as from the treachery of the Monarchy, which increasingly threw in its lot with foreign powers, as well as from ideas born with the American Revolution and the European Enlightenment. After the summer of 1792, and largely as a result of popular pressure, universal male suffrage was introduced for the elections to the National Convention, which met for the first time in September 1792. This represented a major victory for ordinary, though mainly property-owning, Frenchmen.
If securing the vote was crucial, the form of democracy it should serve provoked equally widespread debate. The sansculottes, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, favoured direct democracy, which meant that the deputies in the nation's Legislature (The National Convention between 1792 and 1795) should be 'mandated' by their constituents. They should not serve for five years or any similar period, but be removable from office - the same day if possible! - if they did not act on behalf of the people. 'Treachery' was everywhere, hence the need to keep a very close eye on one's ideological enemies. The sansculottes had overthrown the Monarchy in 1792; it had overthrown the Girondin faction in the Convention on 31 May/2 June. The Robespierrists knew that it could be done again: indeed, the Convention was invaded in the first week of September 1793 and the deputies forced to decree the formation of the 'the People's Army' - the armées révolutionnaires - and the General Maximum of Prices, a measure which fixed the prices of basic foodsupplies. Remember that the sansculottes in their Sections were armed, not only with pikes, but with cannons. Revolution and war had militarised the Popular Movement just as it was to militarise the Revolution itself; Did this process lead, inexorably, to the military dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte by 1799? The domestic war against traitors and aristocrats was vital to the survival of the people and the nation; it was the one major policy upon which the Jacobin War Dictatorship and the sansculotte 'Popular Movement' could agree. In order for France - and the Jacobins! - to be saved, France had to create mass armies, and for this they needed the support of the urban and rural masses. It is also, possibly, the one policy upon which urban consumers of bread like the sansculottes, and rural producers of grain could agree upon. After all, whatever their differences, they were all French; at least, this is what the Jacobins tried to tell Provençals, Bretons, Gascons, Basques etc! If the foreign armies were successful the king, Louis XVI, and 'his Austrian bitch', Marie Antoinette, would return, and with them FEUDALISM, or at least the dues formerly paid to seigneurs. If the counter-revolution in the Vendée was successful, the same dreadful consequence might ensue. Few historians point out that the only period in the Revolution when government elites (The Jacobins in the Year 2) and 'the People' were relatively united was the brief period in 1793 when France needed hundreds of thousands of men for the armies. Once the State had organised mass conscription, once the Revolutionary State had organised a better bureaucracy, civil and military, once the State was successful in the war against the Allied Coalition - and it was after the summer of 1794 -; once the counter-revolutionaries in the Vendée had been crushed - and they had been by December 1793 - then the 'unholy alliance' between the Jacobins and the sansculottes could be broken. This is precisely what happened when the Jacobins began to clamp down on the Popular Movement from the end of 1793. So, was the increasing divorce between Jacobins and sansculottes from the winter of 1793/4 to the summer of 1794 primarily explicable in terms of 'class' and 'ideology', as Soboul contended, or was it a more prosaic matter of politicians using ordinary people just so long as the war crisis made it necessary?
Remember, though that 'Direct Democracy' was linked to other important sansculotte demands - the Right of Insurrection and the related Sovereignty of the People. During the Year 2, the Popular Movement repeatedly declared that when the People had 'risen in insurrection', all sovereignty resided in them. This was one of the most important aspects of the eighteenth-century concept of 'power to the People'. We should think what it meant for revolutionary women, for example. Excluded from the vote, and from the majority of popular societies, women could, and did, play a very significant role in insurrections, particularly those of October 1789, 10 August 1792, and, most prominently, the risings of the Spring of 1795 (known as the risings of Germinal and Prairial Year 3 according to the names of the months of the Revolutionary Calendar introduced in 1792). Women, even the most radical of them, rarely demanded the vote, conditioned as they had been by the eighteenth-century gendered distinction which placed men in the 'public sphere' and women in the 'private sphere'. They did set up women's popular societies, the most famous of which was the Society of Revolutionary-Republican Citizens; but this club would only last from May to October 1793. Nonetheless, as historians like Dominique Godineau and Darlene Levy point out, this does not mean that women did not share the men's political and economic programme. Women supported, even encouraged, men to action. They sat in the galleries of the popular societies; they created their own political space outside bread-shops, in the market-place, in the streets. The more extreme, like Pauline Léon or the 'Amazonian' Olympe de Gouges, argued that women should be armed, even create their own National Guard! But the Jacobins, and, indeed, the male majority of the sansculottes, did not admit the rights of women to use either the ballot-box or the bullet! Despite the male-dominated culture of the times, however, women did not just concern themselves with getting food for their families (although in times of war and revolution this was a noble enough task), they began to re-define women's consciousness. We have all heard of the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789: not all of us are as familiar with the Declaration of the Rights of Women of 1791. (Read them in Levy's Women in Revolutionary Paris). The evidence is clear, however, that the male Popular Movement was antagonistic towards the idea of female political emancipation, as indeed were Frenchmen throughout the nineteenth and the first part of the 20thC. We might ask, when considering the relatively limited advances made by women in the Revolution, and beyond, whether the redirection of popular protests, into modern forms of association - clubs, trades unions, political parties - did not inevitably lead to the exclusion of women from the public, political sphere.
The demand for EQUALITY would be the key which turned the lock of privilege in favour of ordinary people. Egalitarianism was a hallmark of the Popular Movement. Had not the Declaration of the Rights of Man of August 1789 stated that 'all men are equal' ? Time and time again, petitions from the Sections and the popular societies demanded this theoretical principle be translated into action. Nobles and priests should be thrown out of official posts and the jobs given to loyal sansculottes; army contracts should be taken from rich manufacturers and given to republican master craftsmen. To facilitate this socio-political revolution a National Education programme was demanded. The sansculottes were not slow to realise that class had as much to do with the classroom as it did with the workshop. In many ways, however, the majority of sansculottes were as hypocritical as the majority of Jacobins - women were not to be given equal political rights, and neither were the really poor to be admitted to the kingdom of Jean-Jacques! (For the political ideas of the labouring poor in Paris, one which sympathises with the traditional marxist line, see J. Kaplow, The Names of Kings: the Parisian Labouring Poor in the Eighteenth Century, particularly pp. 153-70).
The Popular Movement's attack on religion, or, to be more precise, on the Catholic Church was at times fierce, but not easy to explain. Certainly, large segments of urban populations, and not a few rural areas, had been 'dechristianised' long before the Revolution. Then there was hatred of the Church, particularly monastic orders, as tithe-collectors. But it was the political and military situation which turned anti-clerical and anti-tithe sentiment into a popular, revolutionary political movement. The identification of priests with the counter-revolution, particularly after the religious settlement of 1790 - the Civil Constitution of the Clergy - unquestionably aggravated popular distrust of the Church (See T. Tackett, Religion, Revolution and Regional Culture in 18thC. France: the Ecclesiastical Oath of 1791). And, although the Vendéan insurrection would undoubtedly exploit popular grievances against the Revolutionary State and its main supporters, the urban bourgeoisie, there can also be no doubt that priests, and later on, seigneurs fanned the flames of revolt. During the year 2, and at the height of the war crisis against both the Vendée and foreign powers, anti-clerical sentiment would explode into violent 'dechristianisation' campaigns, with 'Goddesses of Reason' taking the place of bishops in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame; bells and church silver melted down for the war effort; priests - Catholic and Protestant - forced to abjure their faith and swear allegiance to the Gospel of Reason. In the provinces, detachments of the armées révolutionnaires would bring the dechristianisation message to the village and the hamlet, although Richard Cobb's classic work suggests that these sansculotte detachments were by no means solely responsible for the brief, but widespread, bout of 'dechristianisation' which reached its peak in the autumn and winter of 1793-94. (Was there a direct relationship between war, foreign and domestic, and 'dechristianisation' ?)
In fact, the action of the armées révolutionnaires was more important on the socio-economic than the political or religious front. They came closest to realising the dream of every sansculotte militant - 'a guillotine on wheels, casting its long shadow over grain hoarders, counter-revolutionary priests, and foreign spies' (See G. Lewis, 'The People's Armies of the French Revolution', Historical Journal, 32, 1989). In very general terms, the sansculottes were fighting against the increasing incursion on their daily lives of market economics and a money economy They hated bankers, money-lenders, and stock-exchange jobbers, just as today popular opinion rails against 'fat cats in the city'; they were against an increasingly anonymous commercial, and industrial, capitalist system. In terms of production, they favoured the small farmer and the small merchant or master-craftsman against the big estate-owner or factory owner. For the eighteenth-century sansculotte producer 'small was beautiful'. And they had a long tradition of attacks on the evils of city life and capitalist economics to draw on, from Rousseau to Mably and eighteenth-century 'communist' writers. Very often the Church, or at least parish priests, were on their side; after, at least in theory, the Catholic Church considered usury a sin. Jacques Roux, one of the most outspoken and articulate critic of eighteenth-century capitalism, a militant in the Gravilliers Section in Paris, was a priest. (See, M. Slavin, 'Jacques Roux: a victim of vilification', The Left and the French Revolution). The article on the Parisian wage-earners by David Andress (not a 'marxist', but not silly enough to dismiss all of their ideas!) illustrates the link between their social and economic demands and the 'language of politics' which the Popular Movement employed. It contains several examples of attacks on money-changers and dealers who were operating at a time of declining wages and monetary inflation.(See 'Economic Dislocation and Social Discontent in the Revolution', French History, vol. 10, 1996. For further evidence see the articles on The Enragés and the Hébertistes in M. Slavin, The Left and the French Revolution. For the English equivalent see the chapters in E.P.Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, or his article 'The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth-Century' in Past and Present, no.50, 1971. For wider comparisons, see G. Rudé, Paris and London in the Eighteenth Century; or G. Williams's brilliant, short résumé of the work of Rudé, Soboul, and Thompson, Artisans and Sanculottes, probably the best, short account of what marxist historians made of the eighteenth-century artisan and shopkeeper).
It is time to recall the fact that the French nation was over 80% peasant. What of their demands? To some extent these had been met by 1792, again, a consequence of the need to get peasant support for the war effort. By August 1792, most of the old dues and obligations, which weighed upon the better-off peasants in particular, had been abolished. In addition, huge tracts of 'National Lands' (confiscated Church and emigré property) had been bought up, mainly by the urban bourgeoisie it is true, but a sizeable proportion had gone to the rich and middling peasant. These were cogent arguments to be employed against the return of the aristocracy and the feudal system, and, given the continued devotion of the émigrés to this lost cause, against a return of the Monarchy. The French peasant heart may have remained royalist and catholic in many regions of France: his wallet, however, was rapidly being converted to republicanism, particularly after 1792! The political action of the peasantry, therefore, between 1789 and 1793 was dedicated (i) to the eradication of the vestiges of the feudal system, and (ii) to obtaining as much land as he/she could, either from purchasing 'National Lands', or from the break-up of the vast tracts of common lands. And the peasantry was pretty successful in both, although the problem of common lands is a very complex one indeed (See P. Jones, 'The Agrarian Law and schemes for land redistribution during the French Revolution', in Past and Present, no. 133 (1991). This year, a masterly study of the French peasantry (published in Russian in Moscow in 1971) by the marxist Russian historian, Anatoli Ado, has been translated into French (Paysans en Révolution: terre, pouvoir et jacquerie, 1789-1794). It emphasises (i) the peasant's determination to emancipate himself from a dying but irritating feudal, socio-economic system, which was only partly achieved as a result of the Great Fear of 1789, and (ii) the continuing action of peasant communities to resist a compromise solution which would have forced the peasants to redeem all the seigneurial and feudal dues they had paid before 1789. According to Ado, there were successive waves of popular peasant action during the early years of the 1790s, beginning with the famous Grande Peur of July-August 1789, but continuing through widespread insurrections from the autumn of 1789 to the summer of 1791, another massive wave of peasant insurrections, mainly in the Centre and south of France, during the first half of 1792, and ending with another, not so widespread revolt, in 1793. Ado's main conclusion is that the destruction of feudalism in France was the work of the peasants themselves, not a gift from above. Furthermore, the 'victory' of the peasantry during the Revolution was to influence the development of French capitalism up to the twentieth-century (Ask your seminar tutor for an explanation! If unsuccessful, ask Roger Magraw!). For other good accounts of peasant political and social demands, see, of course, Peter Jones's general history of the peasantry, but also D. Hunt, 'Peasant politics in the French Revolution', Social History, vol. 9, 1984, and J. Markoff, 'Violence, emancipation and democracy: the countryside and the French Revolution', American History Review, vol.100, 1995.
Counter-revolutionary Popular Movements.
To return to one major point I have alluded to above, the lack of focus on the counter-revolution by left-wing historians (present company excluded, of course!). It is interesting that, as with George Rudé's study of the eighteenth-century crowd, Anatoli Ado does not deal with peasant counter-revolutionary movements. A similar point can be made of Dominique Godineau's study of women. It could be argued, of course that their brief was to study revolutionary, not counter-revolutionary women. BUT, when Godineau writes that the participation of women in the insurrections of the spring of 1795 'marked the end of women's interventions in the Revolution' (p.61 of the article referred to above), the author excludes the MAJOR contribution made by women, not just to the social and cultural life of France from 1795-99, but to their participation in religious life. According to Olwen Hufton, for example, the resurrection of the life of the Catholic Church in France after the hammer blows of the Revolution was, primarily, the work of women (see her article in, G. Lewis and C. Lucas, Beyond the Terror, and her recent book. Women and the Limits of Citizenship in France). I would hazard a guess that the active role of women in counter-revolutionary popular movements, civil and military, was far greater than the role of women in revolutionary movements. For example, the catholic royalist armies of the Vendée were, above all, family armies, with women and children often accompanying their menfolk.
1. That the French Revolution developed a 'universal' message which has travelled the modern world was largely due to the contribution of cultured elites, children of the Enlightenment: that it developed into a radical social revolution was largely the work of the classes populaires. The combination of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 and the Grande Peur, which swept the countryside of France during the late spring and summer of 1789, not only destroyed any hope of a royal military counter-coup, it laid the foundations for a major social and institutional revolution. In the words of William Doyle, 'But far more than feudalism had been cast aside ... Privilege, that fundamental principle of social and institutional life since time immemorial, had been renounced'.(Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.117). A few weeks later, as a result of the women's March to Versailles, the royal family was brought back from that rather ugly pile in Versailles (in which it had hidden from the Parisian Crowd since the mid-seventeenth century), to be lodged, as prisoners of the Revolution, in the Tuileries palace in the heart of Paris. Urban and rural insurrections, ordinary, and not so ordinary, men and women, had transformed a reform movement and a political and financial crisis into one of the world's most momentous revolutions.
From the very beginning, the elites who had tried to create a political and social revolution in their image, were confronted by mass popular involvement. As early as November 1789, these same elites, now members of the Constituent Assembly, tried to end the insurrectionary action of the people by passing laws affecting the freedom of the Press and the right to assemble for political purposes. It was the first of many attempts to pretend that 'the Revolution is over'. In 1795, following the last popular uprisings of Germinal and Prairial, the deputies would decide to outlaw meetings of more than five people in the streets.
2. In the countryside, mass insurrectionary movements continued from 1789, when feudalism was theoretically abolished, to 1793 when it was abolished in reality. The end of all feudal burdens, without compensation to the owners of the land, by the decree of 17 July 1793 has been described by Anatoli Ado as: 'not only one of the most remarkable conquests of the Revolution in France, but also of the revolutionary history of Europe' (Paysans en Révolution, p.431). Whether one agrees with this or not - and a comparison of what happened to the Russian peasantry in their, forty-four not four-year, struggle to get rid of redemption payments, between 1861 and 1905 should be borne in mind - there can be no question of the major contribution of rural revolutionary movements to the course and outcome of the French Revolution. The 'land question' lay at the heart of the French Revolution, as it lies at the heart of almost all modern revolutions, from Russia to Cuba to the Middle East. Many revisionist historians deny that the French Revolution was a 'social' revolution. But look at the shift in landowning during the 1790s and 1800s. In 1789 the French peasants, representing 80% of the total population, owned 30% of the land: by 1807 this share had increased to 42%. The Church has lost most of its share (it had owned about 20% in 1789) and the nobility's percentage had dropped from around 22% to just 12%. The bourgeoisie had gone from around 16% to 32%. Clearly, the bourgeoisie were the great victors of the Revolution, but, just as clearly, the peasantry fought, and won, not only the abolition of feudal dues and services, but a decent slice of the noble and Church land which had come on the market during the 1790s. Does this represent a social revolution or not ?
3.. The abolition of the Monarchy, following the insurrection of 10 August 1789, was largely the work of the organised Popular Movement, both Parisian and provincial (the fédérés who had marched to Paris from Marseilles and Brest). This dramatic event, marking the final demise of Absolute Monarchy in France, also marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of the Revolution - the declaration of the First French Republic; the introduction, for the first time in European history, of male universal suffrage; the rise to power of the Jacobins; and the introduction of a Constitution in 1793 - never implemented because of the war crisis, but, without question the most radical, in political and social terms (the right to work etc.) ever seen in Europe. Anatoli Ado again reminds us (p.306) that the continued insurrectionary activity of the peasantry in the countryside had played its part in destabilising the Constitutional Monarchy between 1789 and 1792.
4. Women played a far more positive and engagé role in the Revolution than was once thought, when every professor of history was male! Let us not exaggerate this point: women had been taught to 'know their (domestic) place' in the eighteenth century by no less a 'revolutionary' (?) figure than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But, Darlene Levy and Harriet Applewhite argue, for example, that, during the spring and summer of 1792, 'The massive presence of women, their words and acts, made a historically significant difference in the dynamics and outcome of events. Women dramatically increased the numbers of those challenging the political status quo'. (See 'Women, radicalization, and the Fall of the French Monarchy' in Women and Politics in the Age of the Democratic Revolution).
4. The brief, and awkward, alliance between the Popular Movement, in Paris and the provinces, and the Jacobin Government of the Year 11 ( at least between the summer of 1793 and the spring of 1794) marked a stage (a) in the political organisation of ordinary people into clubs and Sections and (b) the outlines of a 'social policy' concerning the right to public welfare, public health, the right to work, vague notions on the 'nationalisation' of land and industry
which have led some historians to trace the origins of modern socialism back to 1789. Certainly some of the English Chartists, led by the radical Bronterre O'Brien, learned some of their social theories and political action from studying this period (Bronterre wrote a 500 page biography of Robespierre, for example). Much valuable work is now being done on 'health and happiness', on the social policies which affected the everyday lives of French men, women, and children, another bonus related to the increasing popularity of 'cultural studies'. I would argue that the Popular Movement, in Britain (read Tom Paine's Rights of Man) as well as in France, put 'the welfare State' on the political agenda, a century and a half before it was implemented. 'Cultures' do not pop out of hats like rabbits: they have to be fought for. (See C. Jones, 'Picking up the pieces: the politics and the personnel of social welfare from the Convention to the Consulate', in Beyond the Terror)
5. The motives behind the massive catholic royalist rebellion in the Vendée and the important, though less dangerous, revolt in the south-east of France need to be re-examined. Given the current emphasis on cultural history, new ways of looking at this problem - from the standpoint of religious affiliation, 'neighbourhood', 'community' etc. - are now being developed. We should have recalled earlier that the revolt in the Vendée exploded into a massive rebellion following the decree in March 1793 on mass mobilisation for the war effort. The Vendéan peasant and artisan did not feel 'French' enough to die for the Jacobins in Paris or the local urban bourgeoisie who had attacked his/her religion, stolen most of the local municipal offices, and bought up most of the National Lands on the market by 1793. In many ways, the French Revolution represented the impact of a national ideal on localised and provincial cultures. It is no coincidence that the regions where resistance to the Revolution was most widespread - the west and the south-east of France - were also the regions which, under the Old Regime, had enjoyed the greatest degree of administrative autonomy. Did the Vendéan peasant then die to protect his 'culture', his language, his catholic priest, rather than to protect a traditional economic system. Undoubtedly something in this; however, I stick to my gun - that many Vendéan peasants died, not just for 'King and Pope' - or, more likely for 'pays and priest' - but against the incursions of a new type of market capitalism which threatened to shut them out. In terms of the impact of the counter-revolution on the course of the Revolution - it was massive. It helped to legitimate the radical political and economic programme of the sansculotterie; it helped to forge the brief, 'unholy' alliance' of Jacobins and sansculottes; it provoked violent and bloody attacks on the catholic Church, and it went on well into the 1800s. The counter-revolution not only affected the course of the French Revolution, but the subsequent course of French history.
6. BUT, let us not also forget that if France survived, miraculously, against the combined military might of Britain, Austria, Prussia, and other continental powers during the 1790s and 1800s, it was due, in no small measure, to the revolutionary élan produced by hundreds of thousands of pro-revolutionary artisans and peasants. It was also the ordinary people of France, mainly the peasants, who died in their hundreds of thousands on the battlefields of Europe between 1792 and 1815. It was 'the People' who saved the Revolution from its enemies abroad and at home, and saved the integrity of France as a nation. That is why the Right in France salute the tricolour and sing the Marseillaise (surely the most bloodthirsty of all anthems!) today.
There can be little doubt that the attempt on the part of many 'revisionist' historians to throw the popular baby out with the communist bathwater, and to relegate the significance of the French Revolution itself to a lower plane, has failed. Today, an increasing number of young scholars, male and female, black and white, Catholic, Protestant or Jew (remember, it was the French Revolution which first decreed the emancipation of blacks, Protestants, and Jews) are discovering, or re-discovering, the origins of their own democratic culture in the truly 'popular' movements of the French Revolution. This is not to say that there is not a huge contradiction lying at the heart of the French Revolution. It was a Revolution which preached universalist values, but, one which undoubtedly failed to live up to them, culminating in the military dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a Revolution which failed to give even the respectable poor a real stake in the new society; one which failed to give women, rich or poor, recognition of their right to a voice in public affairs. Children were to be seen, and not heard; women were to be heard, but not seen in the council-chambers of the nation. Property-owning blacks enjoyed a brief political emancipation after the 1794, but that died with Napoleon. Can this contradiction be resolved by arguing that, during the 1790s, the wealthier and cultured bourgeoisie transformed the universal idealism of 1789 into a narrow, conservative creed which satisfied their own aspirations? I would say, yes. As one young scholar David Andress, wrote in 1995: 'The epic of the Revolution is the attempt of excluded and oppressed groups to claim the language of liberty for their own'. Perhaps it is the epic of modern history ?
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