The Great French Revolution. The Editorial "T"
Maoriland Worker, Volume 2, Issue 32, 13 October 1911, Page 4
The Great French Revolution.
The Editorial "T"
■", " —— -+T ■" Prince krppotkin's Book—an Appreciation and i}y'y ";..,i: '•"'■."/ " ...rT^'T-'-
By R. S. ROSS .in " WoMceiy*' ; rt;s,W./
' )T< '■ R Oll h as in sisted that . > !iiP*yeboiogipally the , essential distqic•Hi tid.l .between the English and the '-■'*■[ French is that the English seek liberty • French seek equality. ; Peter ['"'. jkropptkin?s book may be presented as the view. It is Equality's ie'pio—the record of Equality's grandest experiment. • It is unlike any previous r -' H: ■■'•liistofy. 1 "Of the Great " /''though,' ijideed, Bclfort Bax's vigorous ( , iiu: .;:toionpgraph may be claimed to be its ■>■!; legitimate ■ forerunner and Garlyle's ■«")i» cinematographic masterpiece its* releht'.'*•'•' less'ballast. It would probably be safe ! ' W. add. that. Kropotkin's boot must ~-" jhe.reaftor rank as the indispensable companion of all other histories upon subject. For this work- is as new ,'' v - to: itartreatment 'as it is unique in its '' .toOsitioh-. It Vis tbe economic side of -, : s.the Ijleyolutioi.'. Its 600 pages, divided ; ;»,i..l_ixto ,§8 chapters, are chiefly utilised in establishing the fundamental difference n v ,.'.«etwe.cn;.«tlio -. Commonplace and the <>!.,-Dramatic. This again marks a signifi;,• j,.cant departure from the beaten track, ••. iftor ther aA'crage historian passes in. -■-,-;, i silence or with sneer the stomachic :•.(.-struggles and aspirations of the poor. •.,,. ..Bread-and-butter, like sex, is consid-
,<*. ©red t00.... indelicate a thing to parade. <. 1 Kropotkin has no such scruple. With-.,■'..'.out this economic study, lie tells us, -M' v/Mthe history of the Revolution remains ■■■-yy X'RiOompleto and in many points wholly .-incomprehensible." His book comes ■•.i:i.-."-*iani.tintly clarifying in its revelation ---s: of the true inwardness of peasant ris' jng ;and Sansculottic emergence. It is i! ■ 'epitome of the drudgery of the Revolu<■,■:■■: and defender of au, i'Vrtonotnous control as exhibited hi the t.4- sections, communes.and municipalities. Yi. 'Administration of, by, and for the ';; crowd —this is tho soil of which the <)•--. terrif.yingly fascinating upheavals and • .. tihoir consequences are the outgrowth; •if.;.-, tlera)!- —Red and White —merely the U:-: manifestations of soil-thirst, the pheni■/:•.;•• lOmena ■of starvation. "Th© Great V!... *Fronch ReA r olution" may be classified ii as the Bible of Direct Action, the '. ■ 'text-book of .Communism, the philoso.-• phy of Revolution, the apotheosis of m•_ 'Insurrection. Such a book is indubiii' tahlv. great. Zy' -'•■■';:■'.':■:. i. v->- 'To Kropotkin the "great dates" of .-•-- the Revolution are July 11, August 4, •>r-. Octobers, 1789; June 21, 1791; Aug.!:'>• -list 10, 1792; May 31, 1793. They rei-n'A present''the taking of the Bastille, the w. ; '' renunciation by the clergy and nobility in- in the Assembly of their feudal rights ; —called'--somewhere "a St. Bartholo■■! irnew of Property"—the women's .march :-. to Versailles, the capture of the King, ••• , thenrnprisonment of the King, and the third rising of the people of Paris. These dates are the clue to the book; — ' Its chapters their paean and their dis„ section. - Some captions will firm the impression already given aud sufficingi-l. - *_y '<: indicate the author's . orbit: The >f- 'Idea; Action, Declaration of the Rights -VV-- of Man, Feudal Lesgisla-tfion, The '* -Anarchists, Social demands, The Com-. •-■ V inunist Movenient, Schemes for the So:-..?' -©ialisatioii of Land, Education. ii::-- ■■:■ ■'. IL ii:-- ;As -for the Revolution itself, "two ■it .- great currents prepared and made it. ii- - ; Ono of them, the cujfi'e-nt of ideas, ,i. . concerning the political reorganisation v - : .-.oE States, came from the middle cla-ss. •,-. as:: the other, tho current of action, ...... came from the people, both peasants •i- and workers in. towns, Avho Avanted to >■- ' obtain immediate and definite improvements in their economic condition. And when those two currents met and joined in the endeavour to realise an aim which for some time .was common to both, when they had helped each other ..for -a'certain time, the result was the .'.'' Revolution." It had many causes. i. (While the eighteenth century philosophers did much to prepare the way, , ■•'"revolutionary action coming from the •■■-■ ,must coincide Avith a movement , 'of revolutionary thought coming from tho educated classes." The genius of the Revolution was this Action. It ''bridged the abyss separating theory and practice; its creator, Hunger. Risings and insurrections there had been for years,, but "a revolution is infinitely more." What is it? Hear a pregnant definition, likely to proA r o poT.pmioa-1 fuel: "A revolution is a SAvift. ''Overolu'ow, in a ,feAV years, of institutions which have taken centuries to iwot iv tho soil, and seem, so fixed and .'.lmmovable thai eyi/u. the most ardent .reformers hardly dare to attack them 'in their writings. It is the fall, the o't'uinbling away in a brief period, of all 'that up to the timo composed the es,®en.ce of social,, religious, political and •economic life in a nation. It means tho subversion of acquired ideas and of accepted notions concerning each of the •'complex institutions and relations of vthe human herd. Iv short," it is the ' 'oompletely -new ideas coii- Y<?eruing ; the manifold links of citizen- Vship," '-Tlie, requisite union of thought •yf'iuul action" could only take place when rthe Middle Class had ..become'conscious. Vol its rights and a n.eAv. ..soheme of political organisation. Mar., yellious oonvergemenX '; brings forth .■'..means and mcn —and 10, the Great -.'"French Revolution." ~- , , .....
:..' ..V.:..-'.. : oy'y'' ■■■ Kropotkiu is !caref]ll, ;to remind us that France wias nob. a .nation, of heroes on the eve of 1789. The cahiers —list •of ~grtevaneos-T-pf the third estate were readily (forthcoming, and dumbness ■ reigned, , evseryAvhere until rapid as the lightftingyirebellion became personified in the States-General. As the Revolution proceeds our author makes instructive deductions. In 1790, he tells us,, "armed. React ion .was uppermost.'.'. In .1791, and 1792 "the whole work of the ■Revolution was suspended." ~'.Even 4.79s'was. "not born of the fiery enthusiasm "of, the ReA'olution, but of the dialectical methods of the encyclopaedists.". His "true picture of the Revolution" is .its combats with Feudalism, which he methodises. Many will be especially interested in his scholarly comparison '6f the English and the French Revolutions. As in France, English middle classes
broke down the power of Royalty and .the Court privileges and gained religious liberty, but in England, also —unlike in France —the feudal power of the lord was not destroyed' 1 and the middle classes secured political:power.-only by sharing it with the aristocracy, whioh, adds Kropotkin, "persists to this day." As far as it marked the triumph of the third estate (middle ..class) against the second and fourth estates the French Revolution Avas signally successful. The middle class sought a constitution modelled upon . that of England with freedom of industry and commerce and liberty to exploit the lower orders. In the gaining of this end it encouraged rioting and massa. ere, in turn to betray the Revolution. Without the risings '"and arms of the people "the middle classes. would certainly not have achieved anything." Though remarkable in ivha't it accomplished, the -Revolution failed, says Kropotkin, 'because a force Avas found which was able to say, "Further thou shalt not go/Vwhefi-yVthe most essential demands of the people Avere seeking expression." TV,, - The greatest difficulty for the Revolution, was .that it had to make its Avay in the midst of frightful financial circumstances. It had to be realised in 36,000 communes; the time it took gave the Counter P evolution its chance. And again, "tlie -revolutionary tribunal and the guillotine could not make up for the lack of a constructive theory." Tho real end came with the suppression of the popular societies and the sections. ."Tlie -State had SAvallowed them and their death Avas the death of the Revolution:"' V.'.' All this, from a- scientist and sociologist, will doubtless be found absorbingly new and suggestive by.the numerous students of the Great French Revolution. In the course of much more arrestively said, Kropotkin emphasises that there - Avere-, too many theorists amongst the-' leaders, too many Voltairoans, and '-too 'many politicians. . Mably much,-more, than Rousseau inspired the Revolution. Its true fountain .and origin was' the people's readiness to take up arms —though a revo, lution is much more than bullets and barricades. Still, a.s I„ou is" Blanc stated, "the Avind th.?. t blows from the street Avas necessary, and will be again. Progress is impossible without revolution. Humanity advances by stages, and these stages J;ave been marked for several hundred years by great revolutions—witness England, Netherlands, America, France. The next? "One may have thought for a time that it Avould be Russia. But if she should pjish her- to volution further than the mere limitation of the imperial power; '■if • she touches the land .question in. a ro"olu tie nary spirit,' ;hovv far Avill she go? 'Will 'she' know how to avoid the mistake's m£ti..Vby the French Assemblies, and. Avill .ysiie.;-soci.alise the land and give: i 4 /ioh)lv t6 those who,.want to ■QultiA'ate ..itjVWith their ov'il .hands? We know.'.irbb:" any "-'answer ~to this question would belong to the domain of i; ;
Tabloid, estimates of frg|ir&|_ of * the Revolution : arc:abundant 4m ! ! _sis work. It would, seem as if our judgments of idols or demons .imi.st.be bountifully recast. Marat bulks as Kropotkinian lierov. He pleaded the cause of th© people"'; with-his head upon the block. Had he lived the Terror had been less ferocious. "Tho distinctive feature of: his mind was that at each given monient he understood what Had to- bbxlotie for the triumph of. the , people's;H>ause. ; ' Danton is poA-erfullest personage of the Revolution. He made hearts:.thrill and throb. Yet —ironic deposition-!—he came to be symbol of Counter-Revolution! "In political circles , ; ,it was knoAvn that Da.ntoh was,the point of the counter-revolution ists.'j Concerning Robespierre -omi-. author blows neither hot nor cold, ,-t.>soa,green, Incorruptible" is depicted- as, ,«'always oareful never to. go beyond the .opinion, of those who' represented tbe. dominant, power at a given moment.", ..Yet.Tittle. as he. is worthy of sympathy -, "it mus;t, be admitted that he developed With the Revolution." Hebert.- ; ,.was be-, loved of the people, for hi&, frank re-, publicanism. Saint Just was/simply mouth of Robespierre. /Brissotj. rival of Robespierre, was antagonist- of anarchism, and therefore ■ anathema,,. Mirabeau, exposed by, Kropotkin, sjts' no longer on a Cariylean throne. , He was mercenary and traite.r. :King Louis XVI. ahvays took icxactly the step which was to lead to the catastrophe. King Charles I. was sort of hypnotist of him. He dreamed ,of re-, peating Charles in himself and waging war against Parliament.'He constantly read the history of the ill-fated English King only to see avherein '•Charles had failed by hot doing this or that; he saAv no beheadment possible oi ! potentials—learnt no lesson indeed. 1, Marie Antoinette was corrupt; depraved to the heart. He called I)t v ouet.. whci effected "the capture of the king in his flight, is type of the people who take the lead in upheaval-and'dominate' the* politician. ' Of others —some ''''widely, knoAvn and some personal foVces; unknown—-a plenitude of insight: ; v ..•■'•.' *.■:. V-II- '■ ::> .yy-4 '. f If, naturally, Peter Kropotkin. de-y lineates the Girondins as protectors of property and enemies of the 5 people, he is perhaps inordinately censorious of the Jacobins. Tin's club none of the poAvor and initiative with- Avhich modern political writers endoAv it. The Aery personsVcoimposing the mother-society in Paris were chiefly well-to-do middle-class men. Hoav could they guide the Revolution?" They AVer? never a centre Vbf action, were "protended leaders" who thought as little as other politicians of instituting the Republic. The |Dordelie>s Club was the most adA'anced.;sv The conflict betAveen the Girondins afffl Montagliards is graphically The Montagu ards were divided into tlyo groups
—"Enrages" or extremists,: 1 and moderates. Robespierre belonged to. the latter. In the hour of victory the Montaguards, somewhat like, our own Labor parties, cold-shouldered the extremists, avlio attached themselves to the "anarchists." These Were- the revolutionists, scattered all oyer France, who surrendered eA'erything to the movement. VIII. 'J,, y A subject meriting a treatise is the Socialism of this book —one might aptly call it, compendium. Though the Avoid Socialism was not used,, slioavs that the writers of Who period were-iinbued with ideas tl|£ very essence of Modern Socialism,Jfwhich has added nothing to the said He castigates "learned Socialists'' for their "soporific theorising,'.?: and says that Socialism as a term came into lise from the cowardice Avhich bjent before the blast of hatred to Communism. He "maintains that the popular Communism of the first two of the Republic saw clearer and Went much deeper in its analyses than modern Socialism, and finally lie presents one L'Ange as percursor of Karl-Marx and discoverer of Surplus Value-y- Classical Socialism is already priekiugjits ears— Kropotkin will have his answer. IX. Rich to repletion is this volume in critical observations. "The Directory Avas a terrible orgy of the middle classes, in Avhich the fortunes acquired during tho l.eA'olution, especially during the Thormidorcau reaction, Avere squandered in unbridled luxury." The White Terror is shown to be crueller that its red predecessor; Avhy Terror had ceased to terrorise is profound mystery. The "neAv" military tactics of SAyift marches, detached attacks and so forth —afterwards atttributed to Napoleon, and .stepping-stones to the 18th Brumaire —originated, Aye are told, Avith the people's generals. Civil Avar and Avar of invasion are skilfully diagnosed. Incidentally picturesque comments regarding England's part in the gigantesque proceedings obtrude in the recital. Parliament is consistently pilloried. X. Sociologists and economists will oavu to a debt of -gratitude to Peter Kropotkin for his tireless research into popular deeds, designs and desires. His book is distinctively the people's story of the Revolution, and in it the people's strivings and staiwings are sympathetically treated even if ruthlessly probed. "Their chief motiA-c Avas the desire to get possession of the land ar.d the desire to got rid of the feudal duos and tho tithes." The very essence, tho very foundation_ of the devolution, reiterates Kropotkin, Was the insurrection of the peasants for tho abolition oi' feudal rights and the recovery of communal lands.. It Avas a fever of land-hunger. The middle cla.ss and the' peasantry each knew what it Avanted,. but the ideas of the masses Avc-ro expressed chiefly by simple negations. Triumphant Pevolutions come of ■ knowing Avhat you Avant and.'how to got what you want, . What tho" sections and communes did ,in food' cultivation, in supervising 'the supply 'and -srilc, of bread and pricing of objects of prime necessity, ahd in applicatioh of tlnj law of maximum (the genesis' of 'New jPro'tectidn)—a-nd how their efforts g-Ssive to
the- Avorld as never before the ideas of nationalising the' soil and socialising commerce—-this is probably the most significant story in a really big book, inadequately . reviewed. "Certain it "is that the erroneous A'icAv commonly held and noted r by- Belfort Bax—-the' view that the Great .French Revolution was merely the fall of one institution-called the Bastille aad the rise of another iii-
siitution called the Guillotine—H>ertai.a. it is that this view is given a forinidiibl.* thrust, perhaps, the death-thrust ( by Peter Kropotkin's .titanic history.
C'The Groat Fronoli ' devolution, 1739-1793." .Ky 1 , . A. ICropotkia. ■Translated' f.rohf the French by N." Fi Dryhiirst. ' London: AY.' HeiiiomaJtui 6s net-.)-, ..'■- ,-■ - r A-