Friday, 20 January 2017
Historical Research Plenary Lecture 2017: (sponsored by Wiley) The English Revolution as a Civil War by John Morrill.
The first thing that struck me about John Morrill’s lecture was that in an age of twitter it was a rare treat to hear a man with such erudition. Whether you agree or disagree with his historiography he is a man worth going out of your way to see and listen to.
As he said in his opening remarks the title of the lecture was a bit of a minefield. Anyone who knows Morrill’s work will know that he rejects the premise that a revolution English or for that matter bourgeois took place in the 1640s’.
He seems to have spent most of his academic career opposing this conception. Wednesday night's lecture was no different.
About the conception of a civil war Morrill believes there was a series of civil wars which fits into his agreement with the theory of the war of three Kingdoms historiography.
Morrill avoided a search for the origins of the English Civil War’. He has recently written, that this ‘is the early modern historian’s Holy Grail.’
Early on in his career, Morrill opposed the Marxist approach to the English revolution. He rejected the “rather triumphalist claim that you could now produce a kind of social determinist view of the long-term causes and origins of the English revolution. It was that I think, which several people quite independently reacted against”. In his lower narrative, Morrill characterized the Civil Wars as England’s ‘Wars of Religion’.
He rejects the conception of a bourgeois revolution and her certainly does not believe that this period witnessed a transition from feudalism to Capitalism.
At one stage, he quipped that the Socialist Workers Party(SWP) had asked him to lecture on the English revolution. He told them that the only revolution whereby land was transferred in any great amount took place in Ireland. They were apparently not interested.
Joking aside Morrill’s work on Ireland is worth a look at. The massive land grab that was undertaken by the English bourgeoisie was staggering. This smash and grab raids were done in a brutal manner.
At least half of Morrill’s lecture was given over to how non-revolutionary the events of 1640s England were. However, even he did not deny how much savagery was involved
During his talk, the subject of the Clubmen arose. His own studies on the Clubmen movement is another indicator of his attempt to downplay the revolutionary events.
John Morrill emphasizing the apathy felt by most during the conflict, argued previously “A majority had no deep-seated convictions behind their choice of side.” Many in England simply chose to support the faction they felt gave them the best opportunity to preserve the status quo; whether it be royalists, parliamentarians, or local neutralists such as the Clubmen”.
Morrill believes that many “ordinary” Englishmen were unconcerned with fomenting revolutionary ideas.
During his lecture, it was surprising to hear that Morrill rejected any social understanding of the Revolution.
Even a cursory look at his work shows he was clearly influenced by the New Social history historiography in an interview he describes his attitude towards those historians who were in the forefront of the group “So there came along the new social history which opened up a whole range of types of evidence, and so one of the most important things to happen for my period was the work which is most obviously associated with Keith Wrightson (who trained in Cambridge, spent many years in St Andrews, returned to Cambridge and then moved to Yale). And the Wrightson revolution really, in the way in which social history is done, had a huge impact on those of us who were more interested in high politics. I mean popular politics, constructed high politics. Wrightson’s importance for my work is again something that people might be a bit surprised to hear about, but I personally, in my mid-career, saw it as absolutely fundamental”.
I doubt whether we will agree completely on the English civil war. Despite that Morrill is worth listening to and his work read. It is also hoped that his major project on the works of Oliver Cromwell is finished and that it reaches a wider audience.
'A cabinet of rarities-: the curious collections of Sir Thomas Browne
30 January 2017 to 27 July 2017
Royal College of Physicians of London
11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4LE
The Putney Debates 2017
Constitutional Crisis in the United Kingdom
2–3 February 2017
St Mary’s Church, Putney
The Leveller Revolution- by John Rees Verso Books (2 Nov. 2016)
John Lilburne & The Levellers: Reappraising the Roots of English Radicalism 400 years on (Routledge Studies in Radical History and Politics) Hardcover – 31 May 2017 by John Rees (Editor)
Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England (Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political and Social History) Paperback – October 21, 2016, by Mark Hailwood (Author)
Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy, and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic, published in the Early Modern Literature in History series by Palgrave Macmillan.
TV & Radio
George Fox and the Quakers-In Our Time-http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01f67y4
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of Quakerism. In the mid-seventeenth
Monday, 16 January 2017
Radicalism in the English Revolution, 1640-60 (Historical Association Studies) Paperback 18 Apr 1985-F.D. Dow
“That an inequitable thing it is for one man to have thousands, and another want bread, and that the pleasure of God is, that all men should have enough, and not that one man should abound in this worlds good, spending it upon his lusts, and another man of far better deserts, not be worth two pence, and that it is no such difficulty as men make it to be, to alter the course of the world in this thing, and that a few diligent and valiant spirits may turn the world upside down, if they observe their seasons, and shall with life and courage ingage accordingly”.
Given the speed that historiography of the English Revolution is moving it is sometimes wise to look at where we have been to find out where we are going. A review of F D Dow’s book would be a good place to start.
Written over thirty years ago, Dow’s book was aimed at students and the public. Her book is of an excellent standard and in no way dumbs down her writing. In fact, given that her target audience was pre-degree students it is of a very high academic standard.
It is undeniable that there has been a resurgence of interest in the Levellers both in academic and non-academic publications. It is certainly easier to write on the Levellers today than when Dow wrote her book. Dow’s 1985 book was separated into five chapters with a preface but has no separate concluding chapter.
The Debate on the English Revolution
Chapter 1 begins with a Debate on the English Revolution. F D Dow makes clear that her little book is not a narrative of the events of the English civil war. The first chapter with limited space gives an excellent introduction to the level of radicalism in the English Revolution.
She is clear that the subject of her book has generated a lot of controversies. Outside of the Russian and French revolutions respectively no other revolution has created as much.
Her assessment of 1980s radical historiographies is precise and informative. Today’s readers should bear in mind that at the time of Dow’s book revisionist historians had been attacking any historian who sought to place the Levellers in their proper historical context. This had been going for decades.
More specifically Dow believes that most of the revisionist’s fire had been against Marxist historiography especially any understanding of the importance of any long-term causes of the English civil war.
Even the use of the term radical to describe groups such as the Levellers had come under attack by historians as Glenn Burgess points out “it has been suggested - by Conal Condren and Jonathan Clark especially - that the term 'radicalism' should not be applied to phenomena that exist before the term itself was coined. Clark has pointed out that it refers "to a doctrine newly coined in England in the 1820s to describe a fusion of universal suffrage, Ricardian economics and programmatic atheism. To speak of an eighteenth - or a seventeenth-century radicalism is therefore as much of a solecism as to speak of an eighteenth- or a seventeenth-century fascism or Marxism”. His point is essential that in using the term to yoke together disparate phenomena with a common label, we create false or fictional histories and traditions. Condren suggests other objections. First, that 'radical' as a label risks miss-describing the language used by those so labeled. It attributes to them polemical and rhetorical strategies of subversion and opposition without considering whether such strategies were adopted. Secondly, the label risks miss-describing intentionality. Its application suggests an identity - that a person or group is knowingly and consciously 'radical' - whether appropriately or not
It is hard to find Dow’s own historiographical preferences. Given that this book is aimed at students it is not surprising. But her own thoughts on the revolution and its original participants do get an airing. While not rejecting out of hand both the Marxist and conservative historians she does, however, posit what she calls a third-way argument on the radical groups.
She says “Hill’s picture of a radical plebeian culture cannot be ignored. The significance of his work and of other like-minded historians prompts the question: can radicalism be put into a new perspective which considers the convincing arguments of the conservative ‘revisionists’ but leaves room for the belief that there really was a ‘revolution’ in the 1640s and 1650s.
This argument anticipated by well over three decades the current position of the post- revisionist school of historiography.
Dow explains that the turn away from Marxist historiography brought about a plethora of other explanations as to why the radical groups were not really that radical.
Conservative historians such as by A M Everitt and later John Morrill sought to examine social aspects of the revolution while playing down the influence of the extremists.
Studies such as The County Committee of Kent in the Civil War by A M Everitt and more famously John Morrill’s work on the Revolt of the Provinces emphasized short-term explanations. The rise of local studies does not necessary mean all the historians who adopted this approach had a right-wing agenda. David Underdown’s Riot, Rebel, and Rebellion are well worth a look at.
Other revisionist historians such as John Adamson limited the civil war to a struggle amongst the nobility not a class struggle in his Noble Revolt and his forthcoming Noble Realm. This has led to the muddying or an outright denial of class struggles in the English civil war.
Despite agreeing with many conservative historians, Dow does not buy into the premise that there were no long-term causes of the revolution or for the rise of radicalism.
Dow leans on the work of Brain Manning who she says “forcefully argued that economic discontent and widespread unrest were essential elements in producing an atmosphere of crisis before and after 1640 ... that this eruption of the lower and middling orders into the political arena crucially affected the alignment of political groupings within the elite ... parliament’s appeal to the ‘middling sort of people’ was ... to release one of the most dynamic forces of the decade and substantially promote the cause of popular radicalism”.
Parliamentarians and Republicans
In Chapter Two Dow examines the philosophical basis for the Civil War. She explains that before the Civil War the English ruling elite was mostly content with the divine rule of kings. Society was in order and that God ordained everything.
Dow correctly spends some time on the philosophy James Harrington. The importance of Harrington is that his writings are a confirmation of the relationship between political thought and political action. Dow, however, downplays Harrington grasp of the relationship between property and power saying he was not a “proto-Marxist.” While this is true, he was a writer who anticipated a materialist understanding of social and political events
Chapter three Dow examines the complex issue of the Levellers. To what extent were the Levellers able to articulate the political and social needs of large sections of the population.
Dow believes that the Mournful Cries of Many Thousand Poor Tradesmen was a huge issue during the English revolution. “O Parliament men, and Soldiers! Necessity dissolves all Lawes and Government, and Hunger will break: through stone walls, Tender Mothers will sooner devoure You, then the Fruit of their owne wombe, and hunger regards no Swords nor Cannons. It may be some great oppressours intends tumults that they may escape in a croud, but your food may then be wanting as well as ours, and your Armes will bee hard diet. O hearke, hearke at our doores how out children cry Bread, bread, bread, and we now with bleeding hearts, cry, once more to you, pity, pity, an oppressed inslaved people: carry our cries in the large petition to the Parliament, and tell them if they be still &illegible; the Teares of the oppressed will wash away the foundations of their houses. Amen, Amen so be it”.
Whether social inequality was to most important factor in leading to revolution is a matter of conjecture. What is clear from Dow’s book is that the Levellers amongst other radical groups exploited this and they politically articulated the wants and needs of a large section of the population.
While how to fill, your belly became a significant social and political question there was also a questioning of people’s place in the grand scheme of things.
As the Marxist political writer, David North explains “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well under way. The discoveries in astronomy profoundly changed the general intellectual environment”.
It would be wrong of course to mechanically apply this type of reason to the thinking of parliamentary opposition to the King. People's thinking was mostly confused and not coherently thought out. As Dow mentions on (p15) “Four major issues were touched upon by these new writers, the nature, and location of sovereignty, the origins of government in the consent of the people, the welfare of the people as the end or purpose of government and the role of common people in resisting the king”. Dow attempts in this chapter to establish a link between the new philosophy and the actions of the Levellers revolution.
For Dow, the chief ideologues of the revolution were the radical groups such as the Levellers, Diggers, etc. She states on page 8 that “Ideological and organizational advances were made by rebels who were not matched until the 1760s. Although the Levellers did not achieve power and succeeded more in frightening those who did hold power than in convincing them of the merits of the original case., their beliefs and their program opened new vistas of political participation, religious toleration, and social equality. If not for all men, then at least for very significant sections of the middling classes”.
The Levellers per Dow were “founding fathers of the working-class movement.” Dow claimed the Levellers broke new ground.” They grounded their program of a new ideological basis by developing arguments based on doctrines of natural rights and popular sovereignty. And they mobilized support for their movement by employing sophisticated modern techniques of propaganda and organization”.
Dow’s assertion is tempered by AL Morton who said of the Levellers “it was a radical but not a working-class party: indeed, how could it be at a time when the working class as we know it was only beginning to exist? Still less was it a ‘socialist’ party in the sense of advocating the type of egalitarian and agrarian communism which was widespread now” and to add was not articulately expressed (until) Winstanley and his Diggers or ‘true Levellers’.
Dow admits it is difficult however to paint an exact picture of what constituted the Leveller party and it was as the Baptist Henry Dunne said a “very heterogeneous body”. It is to Dow’s credit she places the rise of the Levellers in a socio-economic context. “The social and economic preconditions for the rise of the movement like the Levellers had been created by long-term changes in landholding and in the manufacturing. Those changes which had adversely affected the status and prosperity of the urban and rural ‘middling sort’ of people were especially important in providing potential supporters for the Levellers, who were to become principally the spokesmen for the ‘industrious sort’. Pressure on the smaller peasant farmer who lacked the resources of his larger neighbour to benefit from the expanding market and rising prices: the discontent of the insecure copyholder subject to rack-renting and the fear of the small cottager or husbandman at the prospect of enclosure, produce dissatisfaction which the Levellers could tap and issues on which they could take a stand”.
Dow makes the strange assertion that the Levellers lacked strong leadership and in the end lost all effectiveness as a group. Dow makes the that some weaknesses of the Leveller program doomed them from their start: Leveller ideology may have frightened the rich, neglected the poor, and been "too innovative in its assumptions to embrace all the godly 'middling sort"' of people.
She believed that their social base was that of the small craftsmen and tradesmen, particularly in the towns, “whose independence seemed threatened by large-scale merchants and entrepreneurs. The existence of such problems in London was vital, to the capital was to provide the core of the Leveller movement. Here, a large pool of discontent existed among journeymen unable, because of changes in the structure of manufacturing to find the resources to set up as masters in their own right. Anger smolder among small tradesmen and merchants chafing at the alleged oppression of the guilds”.
Dow makes the point that the Levellers tapped into a growing hostility from people especially in London towards a deal with the monarchy. An outward display of this came about through the army at Putney. Dow makes a very perceptive point that “The radicalisation of sections of the rank and file did not happen solely, or even directly, because of Leveller influence, it happened because soldiers’ perception of their own ill-treatment at the hands of the Presbyterian majority produced a political consciousness on which the Levellers could capitalize”.
Dow crucially examines the nature of the society, or specifically sections of the society, from which the Leveller movement sprang. Several attempts have been made to explain a class background to the Leveller movement and the people whose support it attracted. While it is prudent to acknowledge David Underdown’s warning that "Class is a concept that can be applied to seventeenth-century English society only with the greatest possible caution."
I am not sure about the title of this chapter. The groups that Dow mentions are diverse and she is hard pressed to establish a common thread that unites them.
Dow is correct in saying that any study of the group would have to take into consideration the foremost authority on the subject being Capp’s 1972 study. Capp placed the Fifth Monarchists in their broadest context being principally an urban movement and appealed to people below the gentry. In modern terms, this was a movement of the petty bourgeoisie and its lowest section. Many of the members of the Fifth Monarchists like other radical groups had a real fear that the civil war would reduce them to penury.
One right wing pamphlet at the time wrote of the Fifth Monarchy men “The scum and scouring of the country.... Deduct the weavers, tailors, brewers, cobblers, tinkers, carmen, draymen, broom-men and mat makers and then give me a list of the gentlemen. Their names may be writ in the text, within the compass of a single halfpenny. Mercurius Elencticus (7-14 June I648), British Library, E447/ II, 226.
The Diggers and the Clubmen-A Radical Contrast
Dow’s last chapter is a bit of a theoretical muddle. The Diggers were the extreme left wing of the revolution. The Diggers were part of a group of men that sought to understand the profound political and social changes that were taking place at the beginning of the 17th century. They were the right ‘Ideologues of the revolution’ and had a capacity for abstract thought. While the Diggers were sympathetic to the poor, this stemmed from their religion they had no program to bring about social change; they never advocated a violent overturning of society. Their class outlook, that being of small producers, conditioned their ideology. At no stage did the Diggers or that matter did the larger group the Levellers constitute a mass movement. The contradiction between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of the small property owners caused some tension. They had no opposition to private property and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for a lot of the poor to be made more equitable.
The lumping of the Diggers in a chapter with the Clubmen seems to be a bit of an afterthought by Dow. Maybe her editor should have intervened to separate the two. The Clubmen were for a return to “ancient ways” and to describe them a radical is stretching it a little. It seems almost to be a concession to the conservative revisionists that she ends the book. The world was not turned upside down.
The book is an excellent introduction to the subject of Radicalism in the English Revolution. Dow’s work on the Levellers is equally important. Her conclusion is a little disappointing, to say the least. But I concur with A L Morton who said “A Party that held the centre of the stage for three of the most crucial years in our nation’s history, voiced the aspirations of the unprivileged masses, and could express with such force ideas that have been behind every great social advance since their time, cannot be regarded as wholly a failure or deserve to be completely forgotten”.
 Cromohs Virtual Seminars-A Matter of Context: 'Radicalism' and the English Revolution by
 Radicalism in the English Revolution, 1640-60 (Historical Association Studies) Paperback 18 Apr 1985-F.D. Dow
 Page 5
 The mournful Cries of many thousand Poor Tradesmen, who are ready to famish through decay of Trade.Or, the warning Tears of the Oppressed. (22 Jan 1648) http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/leveller-tracts-9#9.21
 Equality, the Rights of Man, and the Birth of Socialism by David North-24 October 1996 http://intsse.com/wswspdf/en/articles/1996/10/lect-o24.pdf
 A. L. Morton Freedom in Arms: A Selection of Leveller Writings, Lawrence and Wishart, London 1975,
Sunday, 1 January 2017
A Socialist History of the French Revolution-Jean Jaures -Pluto Press-Abridged -2015- 288 pages- ISBN-13: 978-0745335001
“Every revolutionary party, every oppressed people, every oppressed working class can claim Jaurès, his memory, his example, and his person, for our own” - Leon Trotsky
Despite the passage of time the popularity of the French revolution has not diminished. Aside from the abridged translation of Jean Jaures’s multi-volume Socialist History of the French Revolution, the last decade has seen a significant output from writers like Éric Hazan’s People’s History of the French Revolution (published in French in 2012) and several other high profile books.
The French Revolution was an event of world historical importance. It would not be an overstatement to say that it changed not only European history but world history. The Revolution also changed the way future generations saw revolutions. Historians still argued about the processes of historical change that were thrown up by the revolution.
This new abridged version of the writings of Jean Jaures painstakingly put together by translator Mitchell Abidor is a welcome addition to an already crowded market. Jaures’s original work filled several volumes.
Jaurès was born in Castres in Midi-Pyrénées in 1859. He became a leading international socialist who was later assassinated for opposing the first world war. He was also the celebrated leader of the French Socialist Party leader. His history of the revolution was published in 1914.
His work has stayed fresh and has endured the rigors of time. It is one of the most important and influential accounts of the French Revolution. Mitchell Abidor’s much-anticipated translation brings Jaures’s work to an English audience for the first time. Jaures application of the historical materialism method will help students, academics, and the public to a greater understanding of this complex event.
Jaures account of the revolution is not without controversy. Throughout his work on the revolution, he defended Robespierre’s reputation.
Jaures believed that Robespierre acted out of necessity and in the words of one writer “to save the new republic from its enemies. Robespierre, like Jaurès after him, was anti-militarist and argued passionately against war with Europe in 1792.
Jaures use of narrative history makes his work very readable without lowering political or academic standards. Despite Jaures concern to portray ordinary people in his work this is not a “history from below”.
Despite the working class appearing on the scene, Jaures was careful enough not to portray this revolution as a proletarian revolution while the working class may have stormed the bastille this was firmly a revolution in the control of the developing bourgeoisie.
Per Jaures “The Revolution's origins were so profoundly bourgeois that a few weeks after July 14, when the National Assembly, freed by the people from the court's attacks, set up the electoral regime and excluded millions of the working poor from the vote... not even the most democratic of them remembered that at the Bastille the workers of Paris had conquered the title of active citizens for the poor of France.
Jaurès continues “that the proletarians were neither bold enough, conscious enough, nor organized enough to substitute their revolution for the Revolution, they marched light-heartedly against the chateaux and turned against the ancien régime the weapons they'd seized... We can see that there was a kind of conservative movement of contraction, or tightening, which was followed by a revolutionary expansion. Under the fear of the unknown and before the uprising of the have-nots, the communities of the villages withdrew into themselves, elected men of whom they were sure, established a militia, and, having thus guaranteed the order of property within the Revolution, attacked the feudal system”. The contradiction between the entry of the working class onto the stage of history and the bourgeois nature of the revolution is at the heart of Jaures work on the revolution.
Henry Heller in his introduction is correct in one sense to point out that Jaures saw the French revolution as the first struggle of socialists to overthrow capitalism. Given the abridged nature of the book Heller’s introduction takes a more important role than is normal for an introduction.
As Jaurès writes “Perhaps it wasn't possible for one generation alone to bring down the ancien régime, create new laws and rights, raise an enlightened and proud people from the depths of ignorance, poverty, and misery, fight against an international league of tyrants and slaves, and to put all passions and forces to use in this combat while at the same time ensuring the evolution of the fevered, exhausted country towards normal order and well-ordered freedom”.
The Bourgeois Revolution
Jaures was an astute enough writer to know the French revolution was not a chemically pure revolution. The bourgeoisie was not a homogenous class and was made up of factions who were still integrated into the social and economic structures of the ancient regime.
Other sections of the middle class who were unable to profit under the old regime established new forms of production undertook a revolution to profit from it. As Jean Jaures said the finance bourgeoisie represented a hybrid social force at the crossroads of the ancient regime.
The reaction to the revolution of the European bourgeoisie was one of fear and horror. Best summed up by Edmund Burke “France has always more or less influenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up and polluted, the stream will not run long, or not run clear, with us, or perhaps with any nation. This gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too close and connected a concern in what is done in France. Excuse me, therefore, if I have dwelt too long on the atrocious spectacle of the 6th of October, 1789, or have given too much scope to the reflections which have arisen in my mind on occasion of the most important of all revolutions, which may be dated from that day, I mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions”.
The French revolution was the catalyst for national revolutions to follow. The 18th century was a century of crises for various European regimes. The French revolution was not the only one to take place, i.e. the French heavily influenced the American Revolution. Therefore, it is not surprising that this time was called “The age of democratic revolutions”.
Having said this the bourgeoisie in France and in Europe for that matter were not opposed to scupper democratic norms when they got in the way of making money.
As the Marxist writer, Ann Talbot shows us “The imperatives of private property and profit were not about to stand still, and the Jacobins had no alternative form of social organization to offer. Robespierre did not need to imagine conspiracies. They arose in plenty. Just across the Channel, the emerging capitalist power of Britain could afford to finance the armies of the surviving ancien regimes and uprisings such as that in the province of La Vendée. The domestic opposition was produced by the war profiteers and grain merchants, who exploited the continuing shortages of grain”.
Jaures was clear that this most dramatic of revolution was certainly the most politically significant within Europe. While there are some parallels with the English revolution this was unlike any other previous revolution.
In Britain and America Tom Paine was an extremist in France he was a moderate. Per Ann Talbot “Paine’s life story reflects the experience of a new social type: self-educated men from poor backgrounds who were making their way in industry, science and, in Paine’s case, politics. He was the most brilliant example of this new phenomenon.
The country of which he had become a citizen was menaced from within by aristocratic conspiracies and from without by aggressive neighbors, as intent on furthering their own interests as restoring the ancient regime. France was isolated; its economy and currency were collapsing. These facts colored the history of the revolution. The French revolutionaries were increasingly forced to create an emergency wartime regime and take drastic measures. The Great Terror grew out of the Great Fear".
Reasons for revolution
Like many things regarding the French revolution, the reason for its outbreak has little or no agreement amongst historians.
The crisis began in 1787 the trigger being the king's attempt to stop state bankruptcy. Coupled with this was the fact that France had been involved in a significant number of wars on an international scale.
Deregulation of agriculture began to hit the poor the most. Hostility against the excess of the clergy and the nobility who had creamed off most of the money. The advent of the humanist and scientific development produced the ground for the philosophers to challenge the monarchy. Many thinkers came from the bourgeoisie who sought to undermine the aristocracy.
The position of the peasantry had been growing worse for over 20 years. France had run up huge debts during the war in America. The Revolution was started by the assembly of notables demanded an extension of their privileges. The revolution was not led by a formal political party with a systematic program. The revolution did have a striking consensus amongst its leader’s. At its heart was a new capitalist class, who had enlightened thinkers who were confident of their ideas. Although the revolution would have happened without them. They made sure that when the regime broke down something could replace it.
Their demands were laid down in the declaration of the rights of man, men are born equal but some are more equal to paraphrase George Orwell. Their regime would, however, constitute the will of the people and to represent the French nation. A national assembly was constituted to enshrine the power of this new class. Absolutism was at an end, Mirabeau was to declare to the king “sire, you are a stranger in this assembly, you have not the right to speak here”. The new assembly had a broad base and represented the laboring masses and peasantry.
A Bad harvest had turned things nasty and open revolt occurred. The king refused to accept the status quo’ the next stage of the revolution saw the storming of the Bastille. July 14. What began as peasant uprising sparked a wider movement? Feudalism was abolished in1793; the middle class finally consolidated its regime.
The middle class had to deal with both the conservative right and left-wing who were determined to pursue their own agenda? This brought two groups to the fore, the Jacobeans and the Sansculottes both represented the small middle class. Small farmer’s artisans whom were being squeezed by the new larger middle class. The sharp changes brought about in France stirred fervent actions outside its borders, as monarchies grew fearful that it could be repeated elsewhere. The purpose of the revolution was to usher in a new class.
The bourgeoisie, however, unstable this was to be the subsequent revolutions were an attempt by the various contending factions to gain power at this the working class did not constitute and independent class yet sided and was led by one section of the middle class. In much respect, the history of this revolution determined the history of Europe.
HISTORIOGRAPHY – Classical and revisionists
It is not within the realm of this review to discuss every single revisionist trend about the revolution. There is a similar theme amongst all of them in that the French revolution was not a bourgeois revolution.
Eric Hazan, author of numerous books of the revolutions in France claims that Marxist historians have exaggerated the presence of the bourgeoisie in France “In their struggle against the bourgeoisie, the revolutionary peasants and sans-culottes were working against the grain of history as they opposed the establishment of capitalism.”
Hazan continues “that the words “bourgeois” and “bourgeoisie” were rare in late-18th-century France: “I have found ‘the rich’, ‘hoarders’, ‘aristocrats’, ‘plotters’, ‘monopolists’, ‘rogues’, ‘rentiers’, but scarcely a single ‘bourgeois’.” He concludes that the question “Was the revolution bourgeois or not?” does not mean anything.
Amongst the more classically minded historians was Alfred Cobban (24 May 1901-1 April 1968) also opposed a historical materialist understanding of the French revolution. Amongst the historians of the French classical school like Cobban wrote an article entitled the Myth of the French revolution Basic premise was to deny the anti-feudal and bourgeoisie nature of revolution. the Revolution saw the revolution as the high point of the Enlightenment.
Albert Soboul sought to defend a materialist method of understanding the cause of the French revolution. He believed that even within the liberal school of historians the revolution was a social act that paved the way for the bourgeoisie to come to power. That the revolution had been prepared ideologically had prepared its ideas, which undermined the existing feudal regime.
Per Lefebvre “Without scholarship there is no history”. It is clear the revolution itself was the result of complex changes in inside France and Europe. Each generation of historians has added immense understanding to this event.
It also must be stated that the attack on a historical materialist understanding of the revolution has done great damage. Despite this, there will be a thirst in the coming period for a materialist understanding of past revolutionary events.
In this context, the work by translator Mitchell Abidor should be a tremendous service to increasing one’s knowledge of the complex historical event. While the problem with any abridgment is that it must m choose what to leave out, it will hopefully push readers into reading far more on the subject than they had intended which mean that some readers might want to read further on the Revolution.
Jaurès “We will not mock the men of the Revolution who read Plutarch’s Lives. It’s certain that the great burst of inner energy Plutarch inspired in them did little to change the march of events, but at least the men of the Revolution remained upright in the storm.” To judge them as if they should have brought the drama to a close as if history was not going to continue after them, is both childish and unjust. Their work was necessarily limited, but it was great.”
This book deserves a wide readership. Hopefully, it gets the readers it deserves.
2. Jean Léon Jaurès (full name Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès; 3 September 1859 – 31 July 1914) was a French Socialist leader.
3. Citizen of the world: a brief survey of the life and times of Thomas Paine (1737-1809) By Ann Talbot30 September 2004 http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/sep2004/pain-s30.shtml
4. “Edmund Burke was a Whig politician and political propagandist. He was a friend of Paine’s. Paine had often dined with him and wrote to him enthusiastically while on a brief trip to France. Burke had spent most of his political life on what would be thought of, in modern terms, as the left of politics. If he had died at 60, history would have remembered him as a radical who supported enfranchising Catholics and dissenters, wanted home rule for Ireland, opposed slavery, impeached Warren Hastings for plundering India, favoured Parliamentary reform, attacked governmental corruption, tried to curb the power of the monarchy, and backed the American Revolution. But during his 61st year, Burke wrote Reflections on the French Revolution, the book on which his reputation rests, and in which he denounced every principle of the revolution and the Enlightenment, especially social equality. He particularly feared its internationalism. He would, he said, “abandon his best friends and join with his worst enemies,” to prevent the contagion of French ideas spreading to Britain. And this was exactly what he did. He split the Whigs and broke with the friends of a lifetime who continued to support the French Revolution. Paine was one of them”.
6. J. Meyer, Colbert (1981)
7. “In 1954, Alfred Cobban used his inaugural lecture as Professor of French History at the University of London to attack what he called the "social interpretation" of the French Revolution. The lecture was later published as "The Myth of the French Revolution", but his seminal work arguing this point was The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution (1963). The main point he made was that feudalism had long since disappeared in France; that the Revolution did not transform French society, and that it was principally a political revolution, not a social one as Lefebvre and others” insistedhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_the_French_Revolution
 Jean Jaurès, History of the French Revolution. 1901-https://www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1901/history/july-14.htm
 Reflections on the Revolution in France-Burke
  Citizen of the world: a brief survey of the life and times of Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
By Ann Talbot -8 June 2009-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/06/pain-j08.html
 Age of Revolution: 1789-1848- By Eric Hobsbawm
 France's left will never accept the revolution is over-Ruth Scurr-http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2015/08/frances-left-will-never-accept-revolution-over