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The French Revolution

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#1 SparkyCola

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:45 AM

I was inspired by Cait's thread. :) We don't talk much about history - but what a lot there is to talk about! I am far from being an expert in the subject, but I do find the French Revolution fascinating. Here are some things I find interesting about it...and a bit of background in case anyone else finds it interesting... :giljotiini:

In the late 18th century, the people of Paris decided to storm The Bastille prison. The prison only had about 7 people in it (IIRC, 4 forgers, 2 lunatics and one "deviant" Aristocrat) - incidentally the Marquis de Sade (of Sadism fame) was transferred out a few days before. However, the prison was a symbol of Royal authority as the King, Louis VXI had been using it to lock up anyone he liked.

There had been a political movement emphasising patriotism and liberty originating in the far-left Jacobin Club. Ironically, the fees for the club were high so the members were all middle to upper class. However, their influence basically started the revolution, and they took control of the country and rose to power.

A different political group, the Girondists, wanted a less violent revolution and were opposed to the radicalising that was taking place. They ended up being executed on mass by the guillotine as 'enemies of the republic' when the Jacobins took control, during the reign of terror which saw thousands of people guillotined.


A couple of key figures:

Robespierre - such an odd and fascinating individual. On the one hand, he was for abolishing slavery, he was against the death penalty, supported equal rights and suffrage - he was personally scrupulously honest, highly articulate, and believed in democracy. But on the other! He believed the supporting structure to virtue was terror. He was instrumental in mass murder and in turning fair trials into summary executions, and believed
"Terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible." He ended up being executed in the same location as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (whose deaths he had encouraged). *

Marat - Another major player even though he had a skin condition so debilitating he had spent years conducting his affairs from a bath. He was assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday, a Girondist who believed (correctly) that he had incited violence and helped along the reign of terror. She just went right into his house and killed him, without any attempt at escape or cover up, and was executed for it. She's fascinating too.

 
It was an amazing and bloody mess in the history of Paris. A complete and chaotic nightmare with elements that are ironic and some almost comedic. I got into it via The Scarlet Pimpernel books which are some of my favourite books.

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#2 SparkyCola

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:47 AM

Meanwhile the Revolutionary calendar was enforced- a decimal system of 10 days a week. Decedi, the tenth day, replaced Sunday as the day of rest - so it wasn't exactly an improvement for working people!!

It starts on the Autumnal equinox - which moves, so lots of people were very confused and it didn't last long. But an amazing attempt at decimalisation. The days became 10 hours long, with 100 minutes and 100 seconds. The months were renamed, to quote Wikipedia:

Quote

The Republican calendar year began at the Southward equinox and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris.

Autumn:

Vendémiaire in French (from Latin vindemia, "grape harvest"), starting 22, 23 or 24 September
Brumaire (from French brume, "fog"), starting 22, 23 or 24 October
Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost"), starting 21, 22 or 23 November

Winter:
Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, "snowy"), starting 21, 22 or 23 December
Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, "rainy"), starting 20, 21 or 22 January
Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy"), starting 19, 20 or 21 February

Spring:
Germinal (from Latin germen, "germination"), starting 20 or 21 March
Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower"), starting 20 or 21 April
Prairial (from French prairie, "pasture"), starting 20 or 21 May

Summer:
Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest"), starting 19 or 20 June
Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, "summer heat"), starting 19 or 20 July
Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruit"), starting 18 or 19 August

In Britain, a contemporary wit mocked the Republican Calendar by calling the months: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

^ So we are officially and appropriately in Slippy at the moment, as proved by the amount of de-icing I did on my car this morning ;)

Sparky

Edited by SparkyCola, 10 January 2013 - 11:48 AM.

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#3 Nonny

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:57 AM

View PostSparkyCola, on 10 January 2013 - 11:47 AM, said:

In Britain, a contemporary wit mocked the Republican Calendar by calling the months: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

Thank you!  I read this in a novel many years ago, and could not remember which one.  I hadn't thought of it since I learned to google, so I'm happy to see this.   :happy:
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#4 SparkyCola

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 12:10 PM

^Ooh, I wonder what the book was? I love reading fiction set in this era - mainly the Scarlet Pimpenel books by Baroness Orczy, and A Tale of Two Cities (my favourite Dickens).

The Scarlet Pimpernel books are demmed elusive unfortunately but most of what I learned above, I looked up as a result of references in that series.

I also like the TV adaptation with Richard E Grant - the characterisation of Robespierre is certainly right in terms of his appearance and mannerisms (I reckon) but hard to know if he really was cold and calculating - or if he was more of a fanatical idealogue than that (maybe he was simply  both!). Certainly his motivation is more idealogical than it is greed or hunger for power, I think.

The book I'm reading at the moment in the series refers to the Dantonists which I will have to look up later :) I know Danton was another major player and kind of a bully (and like everyone else, eventually executed) but little else besides.

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#5 Cait

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:19 PM

Oh this is a great topic.  One of my favorite periods in history.  There is a great book on the topic if anyone is interested. "The coming of the French Revolution" by Georges Lefebvre.

http://press.princet...itles/8032.html

While the American Revolution is the one we usually talk about, and how justified we were [The Declaration of Independence], it's the  French Revolution that was more significant, in its time, politically.

Reminds me of one of my favorite Judy Collins songs.  It's about the French Revolution.  It's called "Marat/Sade"

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.

Source:
http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html


#6 Cait

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:33 PM

Additionally, I found a great essay that spells out the debate over the history of the French Revolution.  It's a good essay, but I'll admit, you need to be familiar with the history of the time and need to have a bit of background in  Marx's theory of revolution.  Still, it is a good essay in my opinion.  

http://pubs.socialis...sj80/france.htm

Quote

For much of this century the idea that the French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, driven by class conflict, which swept away the political structures of feudalism and cleared the way for the development of capitalism, was generally accepted. Not all those who advocated this view considered themselves Marxists but their interpretations of the revolution drew heavily on Marxism. The Marxist approach began with the Second International leader Jean Jaures and was developed by people like Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul into the accepted orthodoxy. In recent years this 'orthodox' tradition has come under sustained attack from self styled 'revisionist' historians. This collection of essays edited by Gary Kates is a useful, if limited, guide to these debates. The first essay is a classic restatement of the 'orthodox' social interpretation by Albert Soboul. Readers of this journal will find little to disagree with here, though there are weaknesses which I will return to later.

The bulk of the book is concerned to spell out the revisionist case and some of what Kates calls 'neo-liberal' responses to the revisionists. The revisionists are represented in three essays by Colin Lucas, Keith Michael Baker and Fran‡ois Furet. Furet, a former member of the French Communist Party, was the doyen of the revisionists until his death last year. The core of the revisionist case can be summarised easily enough. It is that the revolution cannot be seen as a bourgeois revolution which destroyed feudal political structures. The revisionists insist that class struggle played little role in the revolution and that the revolution had nothing much to do with the development of capitalism.

The revisionists also argue that the nobility and bourgeoisie were part of a single ruling 'elite' of 'notables'-though they are woolly about what exactly is meant by these terms. This 'elite' was primarily made up of landowners and there was no fundamental social divide or conflict within it. Indeed all of the 'elite' were in favour of reform, and if only people had been a little more sensible, political reform was possible without social upheaval. The revolution thus becomes merely a squabble among this relatively homogeneous elite over political power, a squabble not rooted in any social base but fuelled by the 'autonomous political and ideological dynamic' of struggle between 'sub-elites', as Furet puts it.

This focus goes along with a turn away from seeing the revolution as having anything much to do with the underlying social conditions of the mass of people. 'What matters is not poverty or oppression,' Furet insists.2 Instead we have to focus on the language, ideas and symbols of the revolutionaries and their opponents. This of course fits in with the wider trend in historical and philosophical writing variously labelled as 'the linguistic turn' or 'postmodernism'.
Keith Michael Baker spells out where this all leads. He denies 'that there are any social realities independent of symbolic meaning.' And he continues in the typically obscure language beloved of this school of historians:

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.

Source:
http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html


#7 Mary Rose

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 05:44 PM

I read somewhere that the help the French gave the Americans for our revolution helped to cause theirs because of the money spent and they needed to replenish that money through taxation.  I'm not sure how true it is but it is interesting.

Edited by Mary Rose, 10 January 2013 - 05:44 PM.

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#8 Cait

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 06:15 PM

View PostMary Rose, on 10 January 2013 - 05:44 PM, said:

I read somewhere that the help the French gave the Americans for our revolution helped to cause theirs because of the money spent and they needed to replenish that money through taxation.  I'm not sure how true it is but it is interesting.

Actually, that's one reason.  The need to replenish the treasury was paramount.  There were other economic reasons as well.  Louis XVI really did spend like a drunken sailor on leave.

Here's a good summation of the causes of the Revolution:

http://en.wikipedia....ench_Revolution

Quote

The fall of the ancien régime in France may be blamed, in part, on its own rigidity. Aristocrats were confronted by the rising ambitions of the merchants, tradesmen and prosperous farmers, who were allied with aggrieved peasants, wage-earners and intellectuals influenced by the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers. As the revolution proceeded, power devolved from the monarchy and the privileged-by-birth to more-representative political bodies, like legislative assemblies, but conflicts among the formerly allied republican groups became the source of considerable discord and bloodshed.
A growing number of the French citizenry had absorbed the ideas of "equality" and "freedom of the individual" as presented by Voltaire,Denis Diderot, Turgot, and other philosophers and social theorists of the Enlightenment. The American Revolution demonstrated that it was plausible for Enlightenment ideas - about how a government should be organized - to actually be put into practice.[3] Some American diplomats, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, had lived in Paris where they consorted freely with members of the French intellectual class. Furthermore, contact between American revolutionaries and the French troops who served as anti-British mercenaries in North America helped spread revolutionary ideals to the French people. After a time, many of the French began to attack the undemocratic nature of their own government, push for freedom of speech, challenge the Roman Catholic Church, and decry the prerogatives of the nobles.[4]

In my opinion, the French Revolution was almost a perfect storm; equal parts economic and social causes.

The complete collapse of European Feudalism was pretty much always going to happen.  As the world got smaller through exploration and trade, wealth transferred from the Nobility [& the Church  to the new "Merchant [Middle] Class".  We can see that this has been the model ever since.  Wealth is held by Merchants [Corporations], and the Ruling Class [Nobility, Politicians] are really not the power brokers any longer.

It will be interesting to see where this all leads us.  While not a Marxist, I do recognize the "Class" problems we face in our current culture.  How long can the "hope" of becoming part of the Wealthy Class" sustain the lower class and the poor?  How long can the strategy of vilifying the poor work?  The poor are vilified in much the same manner as the Nobility condemned the peasants just prior to the Revolution. There is a feeling that "the poor" are not the problem of the ruling class.  That being poor is their own fault, or some genetic failing.  It was then, and it is now.  

The "Anyone can rise through hard work" meme is shouted to anyone that will listen, and while I don't feel government should tax everyone to take care of the poor, I also don't think that ignoring the poor and blaming them for their condition is an appropriate response either.  All that does is alleviate any "Class guilt" the wealthy might have, so that they can continue with their conspicuous consumption.

[I also don't think there is another revolution coming btw.  We live in a different world and power does not become unstable, in Western Nations, any longer.]

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.

Source:
http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html


#9 SparkyCola

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 06:48 PM

^ I suppose it's not the revolution itself - after all, every country has pretty much had one - it's the extreme nature of this particular one, the way righteous anger was turned into absolute terror, and the country tumbled uncontrollably to a total extreme before it catapulted back the other way again.

Actually there are some striking similarities in English history. During the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, people stormed the Tower of London just like Bastille. But the whole process was gradual, and happened over centuries. The challenge of the monarch's authority and giving rights to people happened in 1215 with the Magna Carta. The Peasant's Revolt happened in the 14th century as I said above to highlight class issues and taxation. Cromwell and the civil war enter the scene in the 1600s and execute King Charles I. Then in the early 1800s we had the Luddite movement. Smaller steps over a longer timeframe.

In France all this happened in the space of a decade or two, instead of several hundred years. It's a revolution and upheaval in the strongest terms. Incredibly dramatic and almost cartoonish. I mean, the streets ran with rivers of blood. Not to sound morbidly fascinated or anything but I totally am!

Did you know that someone picked up the body-less head of Charlotte Corday and slapped it - and that person was sent to prison for 3 months as this was considered totally unacceptable? What an amazing value system where that is a crime but executing people for no reason is ok!

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#10 Cait

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:26 PM

View PostSparkyCola, on 10 January 2013 - 06:48 PM, said:

^ I suppose it's not the revolution itself - after all, every country has pretty much had one - it's the extreme nature of this particular one, the way righteous anger was turned into absolute terror, and the country tumbled uncontrollably to a total extreme before it catapulted back the other way again.

Actually there are some striking similarities in English history. During the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, people stormed the Tower of London just like Bastille. But the whole process was gradual, and happened over centuries. The challenge of the monarch's authority and giving rights to people happened in 1215 with the Magna Carta. The Peasant's Revolt happened in the 14th century as I said above to highlight class issues and taxation. Cromwell and the civil war enter the scene in the 1600s and execute King Charles I. Then in the early 1800s we had the Luddite movement. Smaller steps over a longer timeframe.

In France all this happened in the space of a decade or two, instead of several hundred years. It's a revolution and upheaval in the strongest terms. Incredibly dramatic and almost cartoonish. I mean, the streets ran with rivers of blood. Not to sound morbidly fascinated or anything but I totally am!

Did you know that someone picked up the body-less head of Charlotte Corday and slapped it - and that person was sent to prison for 3 months as this was considered totally unacceptable? What an amazing value system where that is a crime but executing people for no reason is ok!

Sparky

My fascination with the Revolution is for exactly the same reasons.  It wasn't the revolt per se, it was the level of rage.  Just the fact that people crowded around to watch those executed.  Watched, not with horror, but with glee.  It must have been sheer madness.

But then, I can sort of understand it.  Think back to the Rodney King riots.  Over 50 people were killed during the riots.  I live in Los Angeles.  It was mayhem.  All reason was lost.  It only shows how easy it is for us to slip into chaos imo.  So, I can see how the Revolution devolved into a Reign of Terror.  

I'm of the opinion that no government or ruling body should ever let its people reach a point "where they have nothing to live for".    People ger appalled because people do devolve into such insanity, but they usually fail to see that with no hope, people will die in one last act of defiance against an oppressor.  History is full of examples.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.

Source:
http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html




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