Friday, June 4, 2021

Between War and Revolution

Intrigues of Louis XVI? I suppose they mean the measures the King took to keep his country from descending into anarchy. And the Counter-revolution was mostly comprised of peasants who revolted against the tyranny of the Revolution. From CounterPunch:

“1793” was the work of Robespierre and the Jacobins, especially the most ardent Jacobins, a group known as the Montagne, the “mountain”, because they occupied the highest rows of seats in the legislature. They were radical revolutionaries, predominantly of petit-bourgeois or lower-middle class background, whose principles were just as liberal as those of the haute bourgeoisie. But they also sought to satisfy the elementary needs of the Parisian plebeians, especially the artisans who constituted a majority among the sans-culottes. The sans-culottes were ordinary folks who wore long pants instead of the knickers (culottes) complemented by silk stockings typical of aristocrats and prosperous burghers. They were the storm troops of the revolution: the storming of the Bastille was one of their achievements. Robespierre and his radical Jacobins needed them as allies in their struggle against the Girondins, the bourgeoisie’s moderate revolutionaries, but also against the aristocratic and ecclesiastical counterrevolutionaries.

The radical revolution was in many ways a Parisian phenomenon, a revolution made in, by, and for Paris. Unsurprisingly, the opposition emanated mainly from outside of Paris, more specifically, from the bourgeoisie in Bordeaux and other provincial cities, exemplified by the Girondins, and from the peasants in the countryside. With “1793”, the revolution became a kind of conflict between Paris and the rest of France.

The counterrevolution – embodied by the aristocrats who had fled the country, the émigrés, priests, and seditious peasants in the Vendée and elsewhere in the provinces – was hostile to “1789” as well as “1793” and wanted nothing less than a return to the Ancien Régime; in the Vendée, the rebels fought for king and Church. As for the wealthy bourgeoisie, it was against “1793” but in favour of “1789”. In contrast to the Parisian sans-culottes, that class had nothing to gain but a lot to lose from radical revolutionary progress in the direction indicated by the Montagnards and their constitution of 1793, promoting egalitarianism and statism, that is, state intervention in the economy. But the bourgeoisie also opposed a return to the Ancien Régime, which would have put the state back in the service of the nobility and the Church. “1789”, on the other hand, resulted in a French state in the service of the bourgeoisie.

A retour en arrière to the moderate bourgeois revolution of 1789 – but with a republic instead of a constitutional monarchy – was the objective and in many ways also the result of the “Thermidor”, the 1794 coup d’état that put an end to the revolutionary government – and the life – of Robespierre. The “Thermidorian reaction” produced the constitution of the year III which,.as the French historian Charles Morazé has written, “secured private property and liberal thought and abolished anything that seemed to push the bourgeois revolution in the direction of socialism”. The Thermidorian updating of “1789” produced a state that has correctly been described as a “bourgeois republic” (république bourgeoise) or a “republic of the property owners” (république des propriétaires).

Thus originated the Directoire, an extremely authoritarian regime, camouflaged by a thin layer of democratic varnish in the shape of legislatures whose members were elected on the basis of a very limited franchise.The Directoire found it excruciatingly difficult to survive while steering between, on the right, a royalist Scylla yearning for a return to the Ancien Régime and, on the left, a Charybdis of Jacobins and sans-culottes eager to re-radicalize the revolution. Various royalist and (neo-)Jacobin rebellions erupted, and each time the Directoire had to be saved by the intervention of the army. One of these uprisings was smothered in blood by an ambitious and popular general called Napoleon Bonaparte.

The problems were finally solved by means of a coup d’état that took place on 18 Brumaire of the year VIII, November 9, 1799. To avoid losing its power to the royalists or the Jacobins, France’s well-to-do bourgeoisie turned its power over to Napoleon, a military dictator who was both reliable and popular. The Corsican was expected to put the French state at the disposal of the haute bourgeoisie, and that is exactly what he did. His primordial task was the elimination of the twin threat that had bedeviled the bourgeoisie. The royalist and therefore counterrevolutionary danger was neutralized by means of the “stick” of repression but even more so by the “carrot” of reconciliation. Napoleon allowed the emigrated aristocrats to return to France, to recuperate their property, and to enjoy the privileges showered by his regime not only on the wealthy burghers but on all property owners. He also reconciled France with the Church by signing a concordat with the Pope. (Read more.)

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