Jean Jaurès Socialist History of the French Revolution
Source: Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française. Paris, Éditions Sociales, 1968;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2010.
For several days the great city had prepared itself for resistance. Mirabeau, in demanding on July 8 at the Assembly the establishment of bourgeois guards, was the voice of the revolutionary bourgeoisie of Paris. The Assembly adjourned, but not Paris, and its initiative was to save the revolution. We know that the elections took place by district: the sixty districts had designated 407 second degree electors who named the deputies. But after the elections the primary district assemblies hadn’t dissolved themselves. They continued to meet and in these multiple vibrant centers the events of the Revolution resonated and had repercussions. It was through the revolutionary resonance of the districts that communication was established between the Assembly in Versailles and Paris.
The assembly of second degree electors had continued to meet; even after May 10, even after the cloture of electoral activities the 407 had decided to meet in order to maintain relations with their elected representatives and to watch over events. After June 25, after the royal session, they assembled on rue Dauphine at the Museum of Paris and on June 28 they had moved to the Hôtel-de-Ville itself, to its great hall. And so by the spontaneous revolutionary force of Paris, and before there was even a municipal law, a Parisian municipality was established, functioning alongside the former government of the city. And so bourgeois and popular action, spread across Paris by the many district assemblies, was at the same time concentrated in the Hôtel de Ville by the general assembly of electors. A few priests and nobles had joined the 407 electors of the Third Estate.
On June 30 the assembly of electors had to deal with the affair of the Abbaye, and on July 6, through a deputation to the National Assembly, it gave an accounting of its actions in these serious events: “The ferment was extreme at the Palais Royal; it took on the same character among the more than 2,000 citizens who witnessed our deliberations. The night advanced, the people became agitated, and we decided on a decree that, thanks to its just ideas, calmed matters. We declared in it that it was not allowed to doubt the justice of the sovereign; that as soon as the prisoners were returned twenty-four electors would go to Versailles to request... The night had not yet ended and the prisoners had already been returned to the Abbaye. The crowds had left the Palais Royal and calm rules in Paris.” The president answered with congratulations and the assembly of electors, aggrandized by this national investiture, elevated its role and its courage.
On the 10th, at the Hôtel de Ville, Carra proposed to the electors that they “constitute themselves as the real and active assembly of the Communes of Paris” and as such to assume the rights inherent in this, notably the direct and immediate election of the officers of the Commune, the regulating of the wages of municipal magistrates, and the guarding and defense of the city, of its rights and its properties. But the assembly of electors felt that the most urgent thing needed was the organization of bourgeois guards, It adjourned Carra’s proposal and on the 11th decided that it would call for the immediate establishment of a Parisian armed force.
It was on the afternoon of Sunday July 12 that Paris learned of Necker’s removal from office. The commotion was violent. Paris felt that a coup d’état was being carried out against it, and Necker’s bust, draped in crepe, was carried around the streets. The German regiments of Reinach and Esterhazy were massed on the place Louis XV. The crowd threw stones at them, and they fired in response. Colonel Lambesc entered the Tuileries Gardens with his dragoons, where in the ensuing panic an old man was knocked over and trampled by the horses. That evening the people went to the theaters and the Opera and demanded that every performance be suspended as a sign of national mourning. According to the Venetian ambassador orders were given to the houses to light up their windows in order to prevent any maneuvers by the troops as well as any acts of brigandage, and it was amidst this tumult and illumination that Paris awaited the battles of the morrow. At the same moment the hated gates of the tax farmers were burned.
The people felt that in order for resistance to be effective it had to be organized. They had two goals: they wanted the bourgeois militias to immediately become a legal institution and for the assembly of electors to take the defense of Paris seriously in hand. One of the electors, Doctor Guillotin, deputy of Paris, was sent on the 13th to the Assembly to obtain a decree creating the bourgeois guard of Paris. The revolutionary bourgeoisie of Paris obviously felt it would be stronger in the face of foreign mercenaries if it was the organ of the nation and the law.
The National Assembly, awakened from its torpor of the 11th, raised itself to Paris’ height. The prudent and meticulous Mounier, finding in the feeling of violated legality the noble pride of the fight in the Dauphinois, protested against the dismissal of the patriotic minister and cried out: “Never forget that we love the monarchy because of France, and not France because of the monarchy.”
For a moment Guillotin’s motion inviting the Assembly to assist in the formation of a Parisian bourgeois guard seemed to encounter resistance. Several members of the Assembly had hesitations about arming Paris, as if Paris, in these tragic hours, was not the revolution itself. But Le Chapelier’s strong words swept aside the last timidities: “You must first deliberate concerning the enemy and foreign troops besieging a good and faithful people. Blood is flowing, property is not safe, and the scandal of the rioting Germans is at its height. Only the bourgeois guard can remedy this situation. Experience has taught us that it is the people who must guard the people.” Guillotin, upon his return to Paris, was able to tell the revolutionary bourgeoisie that it was organizing itself with the consent of the nation. At the same time the districts forced the assembly of electors to form a permanent committee. It was a kind of combination of the legal municipality and new revolutionary municipality. It was formed of eight members then in place in the city bureau and fourteen members designated by the electors. This committee’s mandate was to repel the counter-revolutionary invasion of the German hordes in the pay of the king.
What is admirable at that moment about the revolutionary bourgeoisie of Paris, what demonstrates the historical legitimacy of its arrival as a class, is its absolute confidence in itself. It didn’t far being caught between the revolts of the poor and the king’s coup d’état. A few timid souls vainly pointed out to it the sordid crowd of 9,000 workers in the charity workshops. It was not in the least afraid that in the revolutionary earthquake this abscess of poverty would burst over it. It wasn’t afraid to distribute weapons; it knew it was strong enough to watch over their use. It cast aside, disarmed all those who, having no property themselves didn’t give guarantees to property, and on the 14th Bancal des Issarts announced to the National Assembly that the bourgeois militia had disarmed many individuals. In the midst of the revolutionary storm it gave its militia a bourgeois character and it knew that the proletarians dragged along in its wake would not complain: they would throw stones at the counter-revolution if they were unable to fire on it. The ambassador of Venice noted how quickly and decisively the Parisian bourgeoisie was able to organize both revolutionary action and bourgeois order.
On the morning of the 14th the entire Parisian people, bourgeois, artisans, and proletarians, prepared themselves for combat. A detachment of dragoons had crossed the faubourg Saint-Antoine and approached the walls of the Bastille. The people had concluded that the Bastille was going to become the center of a great military gathering, the base of operations of a portion of the troops sent against Paris, that Paris was to be crushed between these troops and those massed on the Champs Elysées. The efforts of the people were thus turned against the Bastille by tactical necessity. The sad, somber castle where so many state prisoners, commoners and nobles, had suffered, and which, in cutting across the lively faubourg Saint Antoine, seemed to cut off life and joy was odious to Paris, to all of Paris. Mercier wanted the new roads that were being planned to finally carry away the hated prison. And in their Cahiers the noble citizens of Paris decided that “His Majesty will be requested to order the demolition of the Bastille.” There was no order, no social class that didn’t have members deep in its dark dungeons. If the Third Estate and the nobility didn’t give the word liberty the same meaning, at least bourgeois and nobles shared a common hatred for this monument of ministerial despotism. And the peoples’ attack on the Bastille was a revolutionary stroke of genius, for even the nobility of the great city couldn’t resist the movement without odiously putting the lie to its words and hatreds of yesterday. And so the court was isolated in its undertaking of a coup d’état, and it wasn’t only the revolution that rose up against the foreign regiments that surrounded the revolution: it was all of Paris.
Above all, arms were needed. Between 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. an enormous crowd went to the Invalides, where there was an enormous storehouse of rifles, and they took 28,000 rifles and five cannons. The Bastille could now be forced. The permanent committee of electors gathered at the Hôtel de Ville tried to prevent a confrontation. And then, ceding to the irresistible passion of the people, they tried to obtain the capitulation of the fortress by peaceful means. But on the second attempt the negotiators were received with gunfire. Was there a misunderstanding? Treason? Governor de Launay would soon pay with his head for this violation of the rules of war. Led by a group of heroes who crossed the moat and cut the chains of the drawbridge the crowd forced the citadel. Hesitant, divided, the soldiers surrendered. The French guardsmen had played a decisive role in the assault. It is difficult to draw up an authentic list of the victors of the Bastille. Starting the following name countless claims were made. The newspaper “Les Révolutions de Paris” gave a short list of those who particularly distinguished themselves: “Sieur Arné, grenadier of the French guards, Ressuvelles Company, a native of Dôle in the Franche-Comté. Twenty-six years old, who was the first to seize the governor, fought everywhere with courage, received several light wounds, and was decorated at the Hôtel de Ville with the civic crown and the Cross of Saint-Louis worn by Sieur de Launay.
“Sieur Hulin, director of the laundry of the queen at La Briche, who had called on the grenadiers of Ressuvelles and the fusiliers of Lubersac to go to the Bastille with three cannons and two others that were soon brought there. This Sieur Hulin was one of the leaders of the action. He exposed himself wherever the need demanded it. He was one of the first to leap on the drawbridge and to enter the Bastille. He was also one of those who took the governor to the Hôtel de Ville.
“Sieur Élie, officer of the queen’s infantry regiment who intrepidly ran under the enemy’s fire to unload carts of manure and set fire to them. This clever ruse marvelously served us. It was also Sieur Élie who received the capitulation and was the first to leap onto the bridge to force the opening of the Bastille, and accompanied by Sieur Tremplement took the perfidious governor to the Grève.
“Sieur Maillard, junior, who carried the flag and placed it in other hands for a moment in order to leap on a plank laid across the moat to receive the capitulation.
“Louis Sébastien Cunivier, twelve years old, son of a gardener from Chantilly, was the fifth person to enter the fortress. He ran to the top of the Bazinière tower where the flag was, grabbed it and boldly paraded it around the platform.
“Sieur Humbert, living on the rue de Hurepoix, who received a dangerous wound.
“Sieur Turpin, fusilier of the company of La Blache, Popincourt barracks, commanded the citizens who were the first ones killed between the two bridges. He also received a ball in his right hand and another in the shoulder.
“Sieur Guinaut received two slight wounds and brought the governor’s silverware to the Hôtel de Ville.
“Sieur de la Reynie, a young litterateur, conducted himself with courage.”
The assembly of representatives of the Commune, having opened an investigation, stated at its August 13 session: “That Messrs. Hulin, Élie, Maillard, Richard du Pin, Humbert, Legry, Ducostel, Georgette, and Marc distinguished themselves in the attack on and conquest of the Bastille,” and decreed that it would be recommended to the districts that “they be invited to employ them in a manner worthy of their courage and patriotism, without consideration as to the district they belong to: citizens who have so effectively contributed to the salvation of the capital should be considered as belonging to all districts.” Naturally the assembly recommended them for employment as officers in the new National Guard.
As we can see, it was professional soldiers, officers like Élie, modest industrialists like Hulin, and petit bourgeois like Maillard, junior who led the movement, but the poorest of proletarians did their duty. On that heroic day of the bourgeois revolution workers’ blood was spilled for freedom. Among the hundred fighters killed before the Bastille there were men so poor, so obscure, so humble that several weeks afterwards their names weren’t known. And Loustalot, in “Les Révolutions de Paris,” sobbed over this obscurity that covered over so much sublime devotion: more than thirty left their wives and children in such a state of distress that immediate assistance was necessary.
Twenty months later, in a letter addressed to Marat, the woodworkers denounced the selfishness of the big entrepreneurs who wanted to retain the benefits of the Revolution but who had hidden on the days of peril. It is certain that the woodworkers played an active role in the assault on the Bastille; skillful at handling an axe they were impromptu sappers, or the engineer corps of the Revolution.
We don’t find on the list of combatants the rentiers, the capitalists for whom the revolution, in part, was made. We find middle and petit bourgeois, law clerks, artisans, and proletarians who delivered the mortal blow to royal despotism on that day. Under the fortress’s deadly fire there was no distinction between active and passive citizens. Those who didn’t pay enough in taxes to be electors were allowed to fight and die for the liberty of all.
The reprisal by the people, who the Bastille had treasonously fired on, fell on governor de Launay and the merchant provost Flesselles, who was assuredly the accomplice of the court, having tricked the combatants by promising them rifles and then sending them trunks full of linen. De Launay, despite Hulin’s heroic efforts, was killed on the steps of the Hôtel de Ville and the provost Flesselles had his head smashed by a pistol blow as he was being taken to the Palais-Royal to be judged.
In truth, these executions were in a sense a continuation of the battle and there is no reason to be surprised by the explosion of anger of a crowd barely escaped from danger and which had been threatened by hordes of barbarous soldiers.
Two guilty parties were missing: state counselor Foulon, who had been charged with provisioning the army of the coup d’état and his son-in-law Bertier. The day of the taking of the Bastille a letter from the ministry of war to Bertier had been intercepted and seized by the people. It left no doubt concerning his complicity with the court. A few days later Foulon, who had had rumors of his death spread and had even prepared his own burial, was arrested and decapitated. In the middle of an immense crowd his head was carried on a pike, and his son-in-law Bertier, led behind the grim trophy, was soon killed as well in a cruel, joyful delirium.
It wasn’t only what is called the populace that savored the joy of murder: according to the testimony of Gouy d’Arsy at the National Assembly, a great number of well dressed citizens and well to do bourgeois exulted in this funereal and savage procession. It was the revolutionary bourgeoisie that had been directly threatened by the royal soldiery, and there was fear mixed in with this sudden ferocity. There was also the ancien régime’s tradition of barbarism. Oh, how well our good and great Babeuf understood and felt all this! And what pride for us, what hope as well in these inhuman hours of the bourgeois revolution, to gather the noble words of humanity and wisdom of the man who created modern communism.
He was there as the procession passed, and on July 25, 1789 he wrote to his wife: “I saw the head of the father-in-law pass and the son-in-law arriving behind it in the hands of more than 1,000 armed men. Exposed to public view, he made the long walk across the faubourg and rue Saint Martin, amidst 200,000 spectators who shouted at him and rejoiced along with the troops of the escort, animated by the sound of the drum. Oh how this joy caused me pain. I was both satisfied and dissatisfied; I said it’s all for the better but also too bad. I understand that the people should mete out justice; I approve that justice when it is satisfied by the annihilation of the guilty. But can’t it not be cruel? Punishments of all kinds: drawing and quartering, torture, the wheel, the stake, the gallows, and executioners have done so much harm to our morality. The masters, instead of rendering us orderly have made us barbaric, because that is what they themselves are. They reap and will reap what they have sowed, for all of this, my poor little wife, will have horrible after effects: we are only at the beginning.”
O leaders of today: think on these words and put as much humanity as possible in morality and laws today in order to be able to find them on the inevitable day of revolution!
And you, proletarians, remember that cruelty is a leftover of servitude, for it attests to the fact that the barbarism of the oppressive regime is still present in you.
Remember that in 1789, when the working-class crowd gave itself over for a moment to a cruel and murderous intoxication that it was the first communist, the first of the proletariat’s great emancipators, who felt a tightening in his breast.