THE victory of capitalism in France came painfully and hard. Its delay only accentuated the force with which bourgeois economy burst its fetters. Heroic measures were necessary, measures far beyond the capacity of the French Liberals. French Liberalism could only initiate the events; it was necessary for an extreme Radicalism combined with elements of Anarchism and Communism to achieve victory. Nevertheless, though the French Revolution was Radical, its fruits fell into the hands of the Liberals. In short, in order to attain political revolution, French capitalism opened the way to social revolution. It was the barbarians within the gates, the sansculottes and Jacobin Radicals, who carried the revolution to the walls of Moscow and dealt the ancien r’egime an irreparable blow. The French Revolution went as far as a bourgeois revolution could go and yet retain its capitalist character. In the course of that Revolution the most extreme Radicalisms of England and America paled into insignificance.

By means of the French Revolution, world capitalism was advancing the attack from the periphery to the center, from the “tight little island,” England, and from far-off American colonies, to the very heart of the old order itself. (*1) It was capable of so doing, for by now the hands of the merchants and manufacturers were being strengthened by the introduction of machinery, i.e., by the industrial revolution. In the light of this new development, the throttling of the world’s productive forces by the old feudal order had become intolerable.

For a long time capitalism in France had been trying to free itself. Superior even to the English in the fourteenth century, (*2) French capitalism had supported an Absolute Monarchy in order to end the feudal system. However, the feudal orders could not be broken. Through the Babylonian captivity, France forced the Pope to become a Frenchman, and, at Avignon, three-quarters of a century later, when the Pope had returned to Rome and the schism was over, compelled the Pope constantly to respect the integrity of the French Absolute Monarchy. (*3) This served only to entrench both the Catholic Church and the aristocratic band that adhered to it. France thus evaded the Reformation.

Later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, capitalism in France, envious of the victory of the Reformation capitalists elsewhere, tried again, through the Huguenots, to make itself heard. To support their interests, the Huguenots declared that the State was the result of a Social Contract (not, however, of one man with another, but of subjects with their rulers), and that the King must not violate this contract, hallowed by God’s will. The King must not violate tradition, especially the early French tradition that the political chief must be guided by Parlement. In order to preserve themselves, the Huguenots supported a Protestant King against a Catholic; they seized important parts of France and held them for nearly a century. They forced the feudal orders to make concessions granting them toleration. But in the end their efforts collapsed.

The French Huguenots succumbed at the very time when the English capitalists were becoming successful through the Civil Wars and, indeed, partly because the English were successful. French capitalism was being choked by the success of the English in driving French trade off the seas. On the other side, it was being crushed by the great weight of European reaction. Thus did the situation between France and England in 1688 reverse the situation between England and Holland in 1648. Then, the English rebels were aided by the Dutch, who later even supplied them with a King, William of Orange. In France, however, the Huguenots could not but suffer because of English attacks on French interests. And with the Huguenots’ defeat, French capitalism was set back still farther. Many tens of thousands of them were driven out of France into England and into the English colonies, there still more to enrich the English and to prepare for the day when the English would further reduce the French. To a considerable degree the draining of the Huguenots from France had the same effect upon that country as had the exile of the Jews and Moors upon Spain. The progressive forces were cut to pieces. The huge incubus of the decadent and parasitic feudal state grew heavier and more settled.

But if world capitalism could not remove the French rulers from within, it could and did begin to loosen their grip from without. The victory of the English capitalists had released greatly the English productive forces. All the important French colonies-Canada, India, the West Indies-were being taken by the English. The French State was rapidly becoming bankrupt. All around France, England was able to buy supporters who constantly harried the French Monarchy through incessant wars. These wars were all the more inevitable, since the only solution for the old landed orders was to secure more land. In this respect, too, the superiority of money and merchant capital over landed property made itself manifest.

By the latter part of the eighteenth century, matters had evolved to an intolerable situation throughout whole portions of Europe and especially in France, the head of the European continent.” (*4) A century earlier, French capitalism had been enormously strengthened by the change in rent payments from payment in kind to money payment. This change in rent payments, accomplished under Louis XIV in the seventeenth century, greatly accelerated the break-up of the old social relationships on the countryside. The poor peasantry was driven into the hands of the usurer. The old village commons were broken up.

Simultaneously, the break-up and bankruptcy of the older order caused the pressure to become more severe than ever upon the lower nobility, who began to harass the peasantry with the greatest viciousness.

In the English Civil Wars, the large aristocrats had lived on the country- side and had taken a patriarchal attitude towards “their” peasants. This helped to neutralize the mass of poorest peasantry in England. On the other hand, in France, with the exception of the Vend’ee, almost all the estates were run by absentee landlords who resided in Paris and at the court.

During this time there emerged in France capitalist farmers and peasants who produced for a wide market. This event had a tremendous import, for the growth of agrarian capitalism meant that now not the feudal lord but the city capitalist could lead and represent the peasant. In the van of the peasantry as a whole was the more prosperous group of capitalist farmers. It was this group and not the bourgeois country gentle- men that led the agrarian masses in the French Revolution. At the same time, the bankruptcy of the ruling class was causing the State greatly to increase its tax burdens upon those producing wealth. In utter confusion, the aristocracy had been compelled to call in the very leaders of the capitalist economists and bankers to help them extricate themselves from their difficulties. Thus the leading capitalists became the saviors of society and the intellectual leaders of the day. These were the French Liberals.

At this historic juncture, the American Revolution broke out. French Liberals hastened to side with the Americans, throwing the full weight of France into the fray. The result was decisive, not only for the English but for the French. If England were to lose her colonies, Louis XVI was to lose his head. The intervention in American affairs cost the French King heavily and brought nearer the financial collapse and general bankruptcy of the State. At the same time, French capitalism could feel emboldened by the relative weakening of the English to step forth in its own right and seize the control of the State from the palsied hands of the old order, not only to effect internal reforms, but to lay the basis for regaining the world hegemony which the ancien r’egime had lost. The victory of the conservative Federalists in the United States, with the adoption of the Constitution and the formation of a National Government, spoiled the plans of the French Liberals and Democrats for an alliance with America. Under Napoleon, French capitalism was to make its most heroic efforts for world power, but, by that time, allied no longer to the people but rather to the despots of Europe, it was doomed to failure.


French Liberal reformers had two principal sections. One division was composed of literateurs and scientists. These did not attack the Monarchy itself, but its allies, particularly the Church, and the latter not as an embodiment of religion but as an intolerant institution.

The principal spokesmen of this group had been in England, or were able to read and speak English.’ (*5) Locke was their chief philosopher. In substituting Deism and Scepticism’ for the dogmas of the Church, in discrediting the prevailing morality, in praising the scientific empiricism (*6) of the English, in calling for complete intellectual freedom, these elements prepared the way to some extent for the events that were to follow. However, these Liberals had no influence among the masses whom they despised. (*7) As Voltaire stated the situation, he “would rather be ruled by one lion than by one hundred rats.”

Most of these idealists protested the gloomy church doctrine that misery was an inevitable part of life. They claimed it was possible to be happy on this earth-nay, happiness was the goal of man. But to most of them, happiness merely meant freedom in the social class to which one was born. Social equality was a pure utopia. However, among this group a left wing was forming which conceived of happiness as being found in virtue. Virtue came through social justice, and social justice meant liberty for each and all; this in turn presupposed equality, and rested on the fraternity of man. Emphatically, the French were learning from the American and English Revolutions, where similar beliefs had won out. (*8)

Here, on the question of democracy, the Left Wing Liberal literati began to break from the Right Wing, such as the Encyclopedists. “The Encyclopedists made no attack upon any of the received political institutions of their time. It was absolutism, obscurantism, and formalism that they opposed; they never came near enough to reality to trace any connection between the false prejudices they hated and the fundamental political institutions of the society they knew.” (*9)

On the other hand, the Left Wing believed that not the King was sovereign, but the Nation. Sovereignty rested in the people, in society as a whole. The works of Rousseau, (*10) most widely known leader of this opinion, became the bible for future intellectual revolutionists of both the Girondist and Jacobin variety.

Rousseau maintained that the true Legislator was the whole people, and that only such legislation could express the general will so as to be obeyed as a matter of right rather than of society. The sovereignty of the people, their power to legislate, was inalienable, absolute, indispensable, and indestructible. (*11) He who usurped the sovereign power was a despot who could rule only by force and who could not legitimately prevent revolutions to restore proper social relations.

Rousseau’s ideas were interpreted by many of his readers as exceedingly revolutionary. Quite the contrary was Rousseau’s own understanding. When he wrote, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains,” his very next sentence stated, “One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.” (*12) In short, masters were greater slaves than their subjects and there was no escape for anyone. Furthermore, Rousseau’s task was not to explain this change from freedom to slavery, nor to protest against nor to show how to end this slavery, but merely to find out what made it legitimate. If the change to universal slavery could not be legitimatized, then revolution was inevitable. Revolution was just what Rousseau wanted to deny. To Rousseau, the “social order is a sacred right. (*13)

Rousseau found that the slavery of mankind was inevitably connected with the inherent nature of every social order and was legitimatized by a social compact which isolated and brutish man in the state of nature had formed in order to obtain the benefits of social life. In cementing the social contract, isolated man gave up his natural liberty but obtained civil liberty and morality.

With the French, there always lurked in the background the feeling that man is by nature a social animal and that he does not really become man until he is part of society. With Locke, on the contrary, man was moral and enjoying inalienable rights before he joined society. Rousseau here also contested the ideas of Hobbes, who thought man originally was immoral and needed government to correct him. To Rousseau, primitive man was neither good nor bad but just a simple, unmoral brute. Only as man lost his natural liberty in joining society did he gain a moral liberty and become truly master of himself.

Thus, principles of morality flowed directly from the social order, as much so as the stream of rights protected by the State. Natural man had no rights; it was society that endowed him with whatever rights he had and transformed possession into property. But if property came only through the good graces of the social order, it could also be taken away by that social order whenever necessary. Hence the State was the master of all goods;… the community, so far from despoiling them, only assures them legitimate possession and changes usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into proprietorship.” (*14)

When an individual joined the social order, he put his person and all his power under the supreme direction of the general will. The general will was always right, even if it had to compel the recalcitrant to obey. “This means nothing else than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence.” (*15)

Rousseau’s assertion that the Nation was sovereign, that all must obey the general will, did not mean that he necessarily favored democracy. On the contrary, he wrote, “Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government is not for man.” For “It is against the natural order for the many to govern and the few to be governed.” Rousseau himself, following Montesquieu, favored a monarchy for France, and this he could do, despite his theory of Popular Sovereignty, on the ground that “It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute them….” (*16) Since, presumptively, the people made the laws, there was needed someone to carry them out. In a large and powerful State this could be only by a Monarchy, and by an Absolute Monarchy at that.

To Rousseau, “Neither lot nor vote has any place in monarchical government." (*17) Nor was a parliament any better. Since sovereignty could not be alienated and was not divisible, the deputies in parliament could not be the representatives but merely the stewards of the general will. Parliamentary representation, idealized by Locke as the essence of democracy and feared by Hobbes for the same reason, was ridiculed by Rousseau as having nothing whatever to do with real democracy. Such people as Cromwell were but self-seekers or hypocrites. (*18) Thus, if the general will needed to be expressed through an Absolute Monarchy, Rousseau favored it. There could be no revolution against the general will and thus no revolution against its agent, the Absolute Monarchy, carrying out its laws.

On no account must we understand the theory of the general will to mean necessarily majority rule. The general will did not coincide with even the sum total of individual wills. The “general will” meant the will representing the common good, something equivalent to the term “public spirit.” The French, in contrast to the Americans, had long established social traditions not easily broken by the new capitalist order. The “common good” did not necessarily mean the good of the majority of individuals in society, because society was not to be considered as an aggregation of individuals. This idea was for the English and, above all, for the Americans later to develop. It could not have been the theory of the French Liberals before the Revolution.

The objective of the general will was the good of all. “If we ask in what precisely consists the greatest good of all, which should be the end of every system of legislation, we shall find it reduce itself in two main objects, liberty and equality… .” “… by equality, we should understand, not that the degrees of power and riches are to be absolutely identical for everybody; but that power shall never be great enough for violence, and shall always be exercised by virtue of rank and law; and that, in respect of riches, no citizen shall ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself… .” (*19) Thus the State should allow neither rich men nor beggars. Thirty years later this was to become the ideal of many Jacobins.

Rousseau, like Locke and the Americans, had started from the premise of a social contract. To the English Liberal this implied the right to break the contract whenever the majority decided; to the American it signified the right of each individual to decide for himself whether to take part or not; to both, society existed to provide individual liberty and equality. To the Frenchman, all right of individual decision had long been abandoned; not even the majority could dissolve the social contract. In this Rousseau was at one with Hobbes; mankind was bound forever, not to the State as Hobbes would have it, but to society.

The peculiar conditions existing in America made the Liberals there attempt to deny the existence of classes. This itself was a good class theory for the capitalists. In this denial of the existence of classes, the American bourgeoisie was able to point out to the lower orders that any man could become a capitalist, and thus to direct all hatred solely against those feudal remnants who ruled on the ground of class superiority. In France, on the contrary, it was necessary not to deny the existence of classes, but to stress their equality and to demand a hearing for all, and to stress the superiority of the Nation over all classes. Despite the fact that Rousseau himself may have expressed the yearnings of the French peasantry, his ideas ultimately aided the bourgeoisie, to whom incidentally the peasant had to turn for leadership. For the French capitalists to be treated equally as, a class meant for them to win, inasmuch as they had all the forces of history on their side. This was clearly seen in the course of the French Revolution itself.

In any event, whether in France, America, or elsewhere, a class that is fighting for power must fight in the name not only of its own class but in the name of the entire nation, in the name of humanity as a whole. Only when it is assured that it is fighting for the progress of humanity as a whole can it win those allies and establish that morale which enables it to conquer. There can be no doubt that at that time the capitalist class was the only one that could really represent the interests of the nation. The Nation as Sovereign could mean only that the capitalist class was sovereign.

Rousseau’s analysis of primitive man had led him also to the conclusion that “All men are born equal"-but not in the psychological sense of the Englishman Locke that all started out into the world with a blank mind to be molded by environment. In France and in America it came to mean that all originally came into the world under equal conditions, facing equal natural forces. Certainly this was true both of the mass of French agrarians and of the American immigrants. But whereas the French theory implied that this had been so in the dim past before mankind had formed a compact to establish a social order, but had changed during the social order, in America it was a question of the actual present. The French, like the English, recognized the social order; in America the social order had to be created. While the French stressed the point that similar environment brought similar rights to all classes, to the Americans similar environment meant equal opportunities for advancement to all individuals.

In the last chapter of his Social Contract, Rousseau called for the setting up of a State religion, a civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles not as religious dogmas but as social sentiments. The State was to be also the Church, and the Prince, the Pontiff. The dogmas of this civil religion were to be very simple, such as, acknowledgment of the existence of the Divinity, the happiness of the just and the punishment of the wicked, and the sanctity of the social contract and its laws. There was to be no intolerance. This was the type of religion that Robespierre later was to attempt to carry on.

Thus, it can be seen that it is hardly accurate to judge Rousseau as a revolutionary. Indeed, even in his supposedly most revolutionary essay, his “Discourse on Inequality,” Rousseau called on the people to respect the sacred bonds of their respective communities, scrupulously to obey the laws and all who made or administered them, etc. (*20)

In what, then, could the revolutionary implications consist, that they should be believed in so fervently by all the firebrands to come? First of all, Rousseau showed the corruptness of the society of the times and constantly branded the feudal ancien r’egime as iniquitous, always returning to the Republics of Greece and Rome for models. Second, there was Rousseau’s argument that no rights were holy or divine, but all originated from society, which could take them back again at will. Third, there was his theory that real inequality arose not in nature but in the social order. The very foundation of the social order and of law lay in the inequality of possession, which they in turn perpetuated. Fourth, there was his fundamental doctrine of the sovereignty of the people to which was subordinated even the Prince or King, the Monarchy tolerated not by divine right but as a convenience appropriate to certain material conditions existing in large nations. In all cases, the government was but an intermediate body set up between subjects and sovereigns to execute the laws and maintain liberty.

Finally, there were the philosophical aspects of Rousseau’s writings in which, repelling the dry intellectualism of the “Philosophes,” Rousseau rejected rationalism for the viewpoint that it is warm-hearted feeling alone for one’s fellow man that moves the world. This was an attitude that colored deeply all his writings and that endeared him to all the Radicals of the French Revolution who were to follow him. It was not only the pedantic Encyclopedists whom Rousseau fought, but the fawning bourgeois Physiocrat economists as well, who in the name of “science” symbolized only the waste and luxury of the wealthy parasite. (*21)

Of all the great French writers of the day, Rousseau alone saw that the main problem was to adjust the social order to the needs of the peasantry. Again and again he ridiculed the artificial society of the ancien r’egime and called for a return to the simple rustic life of the countryside. (*22) The “back to nature” call of Rousseau by no means implied a return to the pre-social state of nature, but only a return to the life that was natural to the peasant. “Remember that the walls of the towns are built of the ruins of the houses of the countryside. For every palace I see raised in the capital, my mind’s eye sees a whole country made desolate.” (*23) His whole moral and political theory was one that would appeal tremendously to the peasantry.

Rousseau’s idealization of the peasant life went hand in hand with the claims of the peasant to be let alone, to be free to sell his product and to buy and sell his land. Yet, would not all such practice overthrow the very foundation of the old order? We have seen that it was only when capitalism had penetrated the countryside, there to affect every peasant and to any each peasant with the city capitalists, that capitalism could become strong enough to challenge the ancien r’egime of Europe. French capitalism could well use the phrases of Rousseau, not in order to make the peasant supreme, but to chain him to the war chariot of the rising capitalist class that was calling for the end of interference with the “Natural Laws” of political economy.

The second principal section of the French Liberals was composed of the Physiocrat economists. To them, Natural Law meant the law of economics, and therefore, as they put it, the end of government was not happiness but science, or truth. It is in truth that happiness lies. Society to them was founded upon well-being. The guide to well-being was not morality, that was too variable and relative, but nature, the working out of natural social laws.

The spokesmen for such views knew all too well that capitalism in France lagged far behind that in England, and that it was necessary to catch up. It was necessary to develop science, to improve the arts, to spread knowledge, whereby more goods could be produced to serve the needs of man. This was, in a way, the opposite yet complementary point of view from that of the Left literati who, orientating themselves to the peasant, had stressed the need for the simple rustic life and sparing economy. While the literary men urged abstinence, the Physiocrats were urging the increase of production.

The French Physiocrats were the first to understand that for their capitalist economy to surpass that of England it was necessary to have complete freedom from restrictive State regulation. The English Civil Wars had begun over the question of taxation; the Americans had raised the question of free trade, but in the guise of a struggle against taxation. It was left to the French to extend this struggle and, followed in part by the Americans, to launch the slogan laissez-faire, let be. Liberty of trade, liberty of industry, free trade within France, the end of all the feudal restrictions that hampered production, abolition of the internal tolls, abolition of the corve’e, abolition of forced and statute labor, greater recognition of the third estate, these were the demands of the Physiocrats. (*24)

In justification of their claims, the Physiocrats pointed out that all value devolved from agriculture, and that all the rest of France was supported by the labor of the agrarian. Here again the Physiocrat loaded himself upon the peasant, (*25) and, as at this time the proletariat had not as yet arisen as a class in its own right, it was the capitalist, as the only articulate section of industry, that presumed to speak for all labor.


The French Revolution unfolded itself in the proportions of an awe- inspiring Niagara. Not a thousand Shakespeares could have invented the climaxes that piled up one upon the other as that great drama played itself out upon the stage of history. For the first time it is the entire Nation, the People, who speak. It is this that separates the French from the American and the English Revolutions. It is this that strikes fear into the hearts of an Edmund Burke (*26) or a Thomas Jefferson. It is this that moves Thomas Paine towards the guillotine. (*27) It is the peasants’ war. The toiling mass now raises its mighty hand to strike. And, further, it is the toiling mass at whose head stands the city and the paramount city of all-Paris.

We have seen that in previous revolutions, the revolting class itself had its roots in the country, through the bourgeois country gentleman. It was the country gentleman who aroused the yeoman and the apprentice. But in France the country gentleman had no strength. It was not he, but the successful wealthy and middle peasant (the "kulak” as the Russians call him) who represented the city classes. Now the kulak was not a polished gentleman, not a city bourgeois. The capitalist spoke directly from the city, and the country kulak and peasant had to follow in their rough way as best they could.

Throughout the whole course of the Revolution, the Nation could not escape the program of the bourgeoisie. All the Liberals, whether of the Right or of the Left, all the literati and economists, politicians and jurists, believed in the right of private property. This was the idea of Voltaire, of Rousseau, of Danton, of Robespierre, Marat and Hebert, all of whom played different variations upon the same tune. (*28) “Both Gironde and Mountain were altogether middle class parties, and the Convention contained perhaps no member of the proletariat.” (*29) If we see the Moderates give way to the Girondists, and the Girondists wiped out by the Jacobins, and then the Jacobins destroyed by the Emperor, it is not because of a quarrel over the abolition of private property in land and in the means of production, but one over who should get this property. As the Revolutionary guillotine moved on, Royalists might turn Republicans, Republicans might turn Democrats, Democrats might turn Anarchists, but none could escape from the framework of capitalism. The Revolution, though at times carried on without and even against the bourgeoisie, remained bourgeois to the end.

Without exception, all the “Philosophers” were monarchists. Some of them did not advocate even a constitutional monarchy. They wanted simply a reformed monarchy, one that would listen to the prayer of the capitalists more closely. (*30) Physiocrat advisers of the King did not seek the overthrow of the social order. They desired only a scientific despotism rather than an unscientific, chaotic line. It was not these elements that caused the Revolution.

Since 1614 no Parliament had been called in France. Now it was necessary to do so. The Three Estates were called together. The capitalists were out-voted two to one, but decided that all Estates must merge in one Estates General (*31) where they would be able to win the majority of the individual delegates. The Moderates or Liberals were in control. The Third Estate, with the pressure of the masses behind it, organized the National Assembly, and as the King vacillated between recognition or non-recognition of the capitalists, the masses of Paris went into action and stormed the symbol of the aristocracy, the Bastille.

Barricades were erected in the streets. Up to now the Liberals had wanted simply regular meetings of the Estates and a Constitution for the Monarchy. They had wanted elective judges and greater consideration for the capitalist interests. Now, thoroughly frightened, the bourgeoisie met with the nobility for the abolition of feudal rights. However, it was not the essential rights that were thus given up; it was only the special feudal services irksome to the peasantry that were yielded. As to the others, they were to be bought from the nobility at thirty times their annual value. Nevertheless, the peasants were still land hungry; the city masses were still starving. As the wealthy congregated in their salons and the Moderates in their cafes, the poorer elements flocked into the Jacobin clubs and the masses poured into the, streets. The bourgeoisie found itself more and more a prisoner of the revolutionary masses, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man was passed.

This Declaration of 1789 declared that the aim of all political association was to assure the natural rights of man-liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. Liberty was defined as the power to do anything that does not injure others, the law to determine the limits of “anything” and “injure.” Sovereignty resided in the nation. There was to be free speech and press, but while all religions were to be tolerated, the Catholic religion should remain as the State religion. A separation of powers of government was to be established. Notice that the rights of public meetings and associations were not mentioned. On the other hand, the right of property was declared inviolate and sacred, and expropriation should take place only in dire need of the nation and when the owner is properly indemnified. When the Declaration stated that men are born and live free and equal under the laws, it also said that social distinctions may be established but “only on grounds of common utility.” Classes were sharply recognized in this Liberal document, and it was not until 1791 that Church and State were formally separated.

Peasants began to seize the large estates; in the city, the masses looted for bread, the nobles fled the country, and the King was left alone with the Liberals who now rallied around him to prevent the Revolution from going farther. The Liberals, in spite of their Declaration of the Rights of Man, now passed a law dividing citizens into two sections, the “actives” and the “passives.” The “actives” were the middle and wealthy property holders, the “passives,” the poor.

Only the “actives” could take part in the government. The mass of people were disfranchised. The electors of the National Assembly were required to be property holders; they were to meet once and then disband.

This ruling came just in time, for the masses had already marched on Versailles and had brought the King and National Assembly both to Paris where the Assembly could convene only under close surveillance. This second action of the masses forced the Liberals to move farther to the Left. They accordingly acted to confiscate the estates of the Church, and thus made of the clergy the most bitter enemies of the Revolution.(*32) They modified the laws of inheritance so as to democratize property. They abolished all titles; they reorganized the army so as to make it serve the capitalists. They laid the foundations of a more nearly equal basis of taxation and removed the previous exemptions. They allowed a certain amount of local self-government to the cities and communities in the provinces. They confiscated the property of the ‘emigr’e nobility. They framed a new high- sounding Declaration of the Rights of Man. In short, the bourgeoisie did its best to throw the privileges of the nobility and of the clergy to the masses, so as to stop the Revolution and save it for the Liberals. However, all of this was on paper; in reality, very little of the ambitious program was actually carried out by the Assembly. (*33)

From 1789 to 1791 it was the wealthy moderate Liberals who held power and the nobility who now counter-attacked. After all, the whole power of Europe was behind the dispossessed nobility. The King had attempted to flee the country, (*34) in order to meet the ‘emigr’e nobles and invade France.

With this, the royalty was doomed. Up to this time, even the Jacobins had been in favor of a king. Had not even Danton taken an oath to support a Constitutional Monarchy? And was not the pretender to the throne, the Duc d’Orleans, actually a member of the Jacobin Club, actively intriguing with the members?

But it became more and more difficult to put down the people, who now’ turned, not only against the King, but against the “Patriots,” the bourgeoisie, as well. No sooner was a Constitutional Monarchy established than the old order invaded France, and France was forced to declare war against Austria. No English Channel nor Atlantic Ocean barred the way. To cap the climax, the English capitalists were now behind the ancien r’egime in an effort to help crush the rising French capitalist class.

It now became war. “But in the minds of the French revolutionaries it was a new kind of war. It was a war to make the world safe for democracy and nationalism. It was a war, not between dynasts or between peoples, but between despots and nationalities. It was a war, not for material gain, but for the welfare of humanity. Accompanying the formal declaration of hostilities was this remarkable proclamation: ‘The National Assembly proclaims that the French nation, faithful to the principles consecrated by its constitution, “not to undertake any war with a view to conquest nor ever to employ its forces against the liberty of any people” only takes up arms for the maintenance of its own liberty and independence; … that the French nation never confuses its brethren with its real enemies; … that it adopts in advance all foreigners who, abjuring the cause of its enemies, shall range themselves under its banners and consecrate their efforts to the defense of liberty, and it will promote by all means in its power their settlement in France… .” (*35)

War! The Germans were at the very gates of Paris. This entirely changed the relationship of forces and exacerbated all movements; in the face of this national crisis, the whole Nation was forced to act in self- defense. (*36) The Liberals and their National Assembly were now pushed aside. The masses marched on the Tuileries and imprisoned the King. The massacres of September, 1792 took place to rid Paris of counter-revolutionary elements. (*37) Elections became free to all. The two-chambered Legislative Assembly now gave way to the one-chambered Convention. It was the turn of the old Moderate Liberals to flee the country. In the new Convention, the new Liberals, the Girondists, more Left than the old, took the lead. They who had occupied the extreme Left Wing in the old Assembly were far to the Right in the new Convention. The Left Wing remained occupied by the Mountain, former Liberals, now turned Radicals, who knew that the sole salvation of France lay in reliance upon the masses, and who meant to save the Revolution at no matter what cost.

Soon the Girondists or Left Liberals began to lose control over the situation. The King had been executed. The Republic had been proclaimed in 1793. This idea of a republic was no new one. True, it was no part of the philosophical program of the eighteenth century in France to regenerate humanity by hoisting the republican flag over the capitals of Europe, yet from the earliest days of the rise of capitalism the idea had been popularized. The Humanists and publicists of the Renaissance period had called attention to the achievements of the Greek and Roman republics of antiquity, and “There is a famous lament in Hobbes’ Leviathan to the effect that the civil troubles in England in the seventeenth century were due to the study of the Greek and Latin classic.” (*38)

The Italian city-states, Switzerland, and the English Commonwealth, had already set the example of republics. According to Montesquieu, these precedents merely showed that for a republic there was needed a small territory (*39) and an absence of luxury and large fortunes coupled with a large supply of public virtue. The victory of the American Revolution finally blasted this piece of political wisdom and demonstrated the feasibility of a republic even in extensive countries.

But what sharply separated the French experiment from all preceding ones was the great fact that all other republics had been oligarchical and dictatorial, certainly non-democratic. It is true the French revolutionaries often covered their innovations with appeals to the traditions of Greece and Rome. Nevertheless, this was but another case of the rule that social innovations are often ushered in under the guise of being but old customs again renewed. In fact, contrary to all previous examples, the French Republic was destined to go down in history as the greatest attempt to achieve “pure” democracy of which capitalism is capable.

The flight of the traitor-king compelled the masses to realize that France could exist without a royalty, and led to the establishment of the Republic. And with the Republic came the War with England, for nothing more infuriated the Whig Liberals of England than the fact that the King had been deposed and later executed and a democratic republic set up. The Liberal, Pitt, stated the matter very clearly in his speech, 1793: “They had seen within two or three years a revolution in France founded upon principles which were inconsistent with every regular government, which were hostile to hereditary monarchy, to nobility, to all the privileged orders.” (*40) Pitt knew well the difference between the American and French Revolutions.

In France, a new constitution and still another Declaration of Rights were now worked out in an attempt really to introduce democracy to the nation. As the Liberals went out, Democracy came in. “This celebrated Constitution of ‘93, for long regarded as the sheet anchor of Sansculottism, is probably the most thorough-going scheme of pure democracy ever devised. It not only formally recognized the people as the sole primary source of power but it delegated the exercise of that power directly to them. Every measure was to be submitted to the primary assemblies of the ‘sections’ of which there were forty-four thousand in all France. The magistrates were to be re-elected at the shortest possible intervals by simple majority. The central legislature was to be renewed annually, consisting of delegates from the primary assemblies, who were to be furnished with imperative mandates.” (*41) In this way the Clubs triumphed over the Salons and the Cafes. The Jacobins accomplished what the Levellers could not. However, before this Radical Jacobin Constitution could be put into effect, the whole population was forced under arms.


The Jacobin Mountain vigorously attacked many problems which the Left Liberals had refused to solve. Feudal dues at last were really abolished and the peasants were urged now to seize and to hold the land of the big estates. However, it should be noted that the action of the previous Liberal Assembly in turning over the village common land seized by the aristocracy, not to the commonalty of the village but to be parceled out to individuals, was allowed to stand. (*42) The price of bread and necessities had gone sky-high. The Radical Jacobins placed a maximum price on necessities. Further, in order to pay for the war and to put down the counter-revolution that was springing up in the four quarters of France, the Jacobins had decided to confiscate some of the property of the wealthy. A forced loan of a billion francs was made.


The Revolution had started under the slogan: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The wealthy Liberals had stressed Liberty. The desperate little property-holder, turned Radical, stressed Equality. “… the owner must not be rich and all must be owners. That is the distinguishing feature of Jacobin theory.” (*43) Under the stress of civil and national war, the Jacobin was forced to recognize that the right of society was greater than the right of the individual and the Liberal who believed that property was an individual right was soon informed by the Jacobin that it was a social power and that the State could be the protector of the many at the expense of the few.

The old Liberals of the Encyclopedist school had believed that all property belonged to the State, but the King was the State. The only proviso was that the State should be reasonable. The Physiocrats had declared that property was an inherent individual right. Those more to the Left, like Rousseau and Morelly and Mably, had declared that property belongs to the State, but the State was the Nation. Morelly and Mably built communistic utopias. After 1791, the idea of property as a social interest rather than an individual right took hold. While the peasants wanted the State to seize and rationalize the land, they laid down conditions that the State was not to hold the land, but to redistribute it among the peasantry.

The Jacobins had their origin as a caucus of the National Assembly, the clubs having been organized to watch and control the local governmental bodies. At first, almost the entire membership was made up of middle class persons, many of them Masons, (*44) and only as the Revolution advanced were the dues lowered and poorer elements admitted. This body, containing from 2 to 4 per cent of the town population (in the villages, 8 to 10 per cent), and during the height of the Terror totaling no more than about five hundred thousand of whom only 10 to 15 per cent were “actives,” did for the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie in the French Revolution what the Communist Party did for the proletariat in the Russian Revolution of 1917. It acted as a general staff and driving-force for revolutionary capitalism, both against the aristocracy and against the poor masses.

Contrary to the generally accepted concept, the Jacobins, far from being dissolute beasts, were rather puritanic in their morals. They considered drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution sins (most prostitutes were notoriously Royalist). They became fanatics of the “religion of humanity.” Their aim was proclaimed as a virtuous hard-working society, without luxuries and without vices, where the individual conformed to standards of middle class decency.

Clearly, then, the Jacobins were not of the breed of Spartacus or of Karl Marx. When the Jacobins were in power, all the government officials were members of the Clubs and delivered their arguments there first. More and more the Jacobins became separated from the people. In many Clubs, workingmen were admitted only during a brief period at the height of the Terror and then only under pressure. (*45)

The leaders of the petty bourgeois Jacobins were Danton, Marat, and Robespierre. The Right Wing was upheld by Danton. He advocated a more moderate, briefer terror; he did not pursue the enemies of the Revolution with the same implacability. His labor views were extremely limited: he went only so far as to propose the abolition of long apprenticeships and to advocate a wage sufficient to allow one, after three years, to enter into business oneself. (*46)

Marat was assassinated in the course of the Revolution by the counter- revolutionary Charlotte Corday. At first Marat was a Liberal; he was against the Republic and distrusted the people. He later moved steadily to the Left. It was he who really built up the Jacobin Club control, who established the Revolutionary Tribunal, who advocated the drastic dictatorship that consolidated the revolution under the guise of Committees of Safety and Public Welfare. He was the real watchdog of the revolution. Marat dressed deliberately in imitation of the lower classes, but his appeal was to the middle class. “One might say,” declared Jaur’es, “that he called the proletariat to the rescue only in despair at seeing the normal plan of the Revolution disrupted by the stupidity of the moderate bourgeoisie.” (*47) Marat was the great practical revolutionary. He was for the arming of the people, for the disarming of the court, for the beheading of the leaders of the counter- revolution, for the Terror in its heaviest form.

Between Marat and Danton was Robespierre who was the chief leader because, indeed, he knew best how to follow the events which he came to symbolize. Like the other Montaignards he wanted to create the Republic first, and then consider social reforms. If Danton was conservative enough to be married in the Catholic church, Robespierre was radical enough to proclaim the official religion to be Deism.

As the petty bourgeoisie, under the leadership of the Jacobins, pushed aside the Left Liberals, it was now the turn of the lowest sections of the toiling masses, the artisans and plebeians mobilized in the streets, to put forward their own demands. Against the Convention they counterposed the Commune.’ (*48) They desired the confiscation of all goods above the barest necessities for each individual. They advocated the sternest measures against the counter-revolution, or against any tendency conciliatory to the counter- revolution. These were the Enrag’es led by Hebert, Chaumette, Roux and others.

To the right of these was Hebert. He wished the Commune to dominate over the Convention from which the Girondists had been expelled, but did not stress the question of food, land, and labor. On the other hand, Roux, Chaumette, and others did not respect private property, yet could not go along with the Communist Baboeuf, as they wanted a democracy and not a dictatorship of the workers. With these people, therefore, there was a marked trend towards Anarchism. Hebert and the others were also Atheists who wished the State to declare war on all religion.

It should be noted, too, that as the revolution proceeded, the church had split into a constitutional church and an old church. Under the Convention, all churches had been attacked, even the Protestant ones, and Sundays had been eliminated when the new calendar had been established under pressure from the Left. On November 24,1753, the Paris Commune decreed: " (1) that all churches and temples of whatever religion or sect- has existed in Paris shall immediately be closed; (2) that all priests and ministers of any religion whatsoever shall be held personally and individually responsible for all disturbances of which the cause shall proceed from religious opinions; (3) that whoever shall demand that either church or temple shall be opened shall be arrested as a suspect; (4) that the revolutionary committees shall be invited to keep a close watch on all priests; (5) that the Convention shall be petitioned to issue a decree which shall exclude priests from the exercises of public functions of every kind and from all employment in the national factories." (*49)

It was with this entire egalitarian program that Hebert, Secretary of the Paris Commune, moved against the Convention. Already a Communism, albeit fragmentary and partial, had arisen in the course of the Revolution. The dominating idea of the Communist movement in the countryside in 1793 was equality in land, the land to belong to the whole nation, and means of existence to be guaranteed to each. In the cities, as in Lyons, already the workers were demanding a living wage, nationalization of the mines, and the working of abandoned factories. Under the desperate situation which faced them, even the Jacobins had to socialize the exchange of produce and end all freedom of trade.

Under the pressure of events, the Commune had fixed wages and prices. The bourse had been closed and speculation ended. Assignats were issued as currency. Free education was established. The Commune also granted a free allowance of bread for each family.

In order to carry out the aims of the Commune, the mass of people would have had to progress along the direction of the abolition of private property and the socialization of the means of production. But such a program was unthinkable in those days, as far as any great number of people was concerned, for the means of production did not lend themselves to socialization and there was no genuine proletariat. Thus these ideas did not arise; private property had to continue, and the encroachment by the “mob” was only temporary. (*50)

It was now the turn of the petty bourgeois Jacobin radicals to block the revolution. Any advocacy of the agrarian law, of agrarian communism, became punishable by death. Unions were prohibited and strikers were sent to the guillotine. The Jacobin clubs entered into a bitter fight against the sections of the Commune.

First the Commissars and the special army of the Commune was attacked. Robespierre caused the execution of, first, Hebert and Clootz of the Commune, and then of Danton, thus making himself supreme; complete dictator, he instituted wholesale executions. “It would be a mistake to suppose that it was chiefly the well-to-do that suffered. On the contrary, out of 2,750 victims of Robespierre’s, only 650 belonged to the upper or middle classes. The tumbrils … were largely filled with workingmen."(*51)


The destruction of the forces of the Paris Commune by Robespierre in turn removed the very base from under the revolutionary Jacobins. The Jacobins had come to power precisely because they had attached themselves from above so firmly to the masses. Now, as the Jacobins turned their hand against the poorest strata of the toilers, they found themselves isolated from their former supporters, while their reactionary enemies surrounded them on all sides and dealt the Revolution blow after blow.

The first blow was the execution of Robespierre himself, who, believing himself firmly ensconced at the heart of the Terror which he had developed into an unconscionable system, had so lost touch with reality that he imagined he was still the idol of the masses, who now detested him. The reactionaries knew better, however, and hurried him off to his death, July :27, 1794 (Thermidor).

Robespierre, indeed, had lost his historic usefulness to France. Republican France had been able to defeat her continental enemies, to beat off the English and to unite with Belgium. The very reason for the Terror which was draining so much blood-revolutionary blood at that-had now disappeared. Like Danton, whose opportunism had been useful so long as his attempts to prevent war with England by negotiating with Fox had a chance of success, and whose temporizing policies were doomed the moment Fox lost to Pitt and war was declared, so Robespierre, now that France needed not the Terror but the consolidation of all classes behind the new victorious bourgeoisie, represented only the scaffolding of history that had to be torn down.

With Robespierre, the French Revolution had developed as far as it could possibly have gone under the circumstances. We have seen that “The Revolution was strongly and consistently individualistic. Socialist theory had played no part in its preparation and socialist theories played no part in its scheme of reconstruction. All the statesmen of the Revolution thought it necessary to emphasize their adhesion to that article in the Declaration of Rights which declares that property is an inviolable and sacred right, and when in 1796 a socialist movement made itself apparent in Paris it was promptly and ruthlessly crushed.” (*52)

The French Revolution had never been, essentially, a Revolution of the property-less, but a Revolution for the unleashing of the productive forces of property. Above all, the French peasants wanted the end to the century old obstacles to the free development of their land. In this respect, the French Revolution could be sharply contrasted with the English Civil Wars. In France there was a large and steadily increasing body of free peasant proprietors. The agrarian history of England, on the contrary, might be summed up in the phrase “elimination of the yeomanry.”

The French peasant had now become satisfied. Above all he now wanted security in his new possessions and stability of government with an end to civil war. So long as Paris represented the peasant’s war and the defense of the land seizures against foreign invasion, so long would the peasants follow the lead of Paris; beyond that they would not go. And when Paris sought to transfer the revolution onto tracks leading to Communism, the peasants were ready for a ruthless struggle against Paris to the bitter end.

What was lacking in the Robespierre dictatorship was that it could not create the order and stability needed by the property-owners newly enriched by the Revolution. The political regime of Robespierre could not handle Paris; nor could it ensure proper relations between Paris and the countryside; nor did it sufficiently recognize that new class of speculators, financiers, and stock-jobbers of all sorts which had arisen in the course of the Revolution and foreign war.

It was this nouveau riche class which was destined to play the decisive role in the next period. Unlike the staid bourgeoisie under Louis XVI, these parvenus knew how to play with revolutionary phrases, to become expert demagogues, and to win their way into the highest posts of the Revolution and Jacobin Party. The Socialist Jaur’es, in his study of the French Revolution, exposes the Convention as a thoroughly bourgeois assembly, composed for the most part of professional men consumed with envy of the nobility but filled with a prosaic passion for rents and dividends. These were the men who conspired to bring Robespierre to the guillotine and who formed the Directory after him.

After Thermidor, “It was determined then that the Directory, should be chosen, not by primary assemblies but by the Legislature of France. This body, …was to consist of two Councils, renewable by a third every year…. Universal suffrage was abandoned for a scheme which was both limited and indirect; the large towns were broken into manageable districts; the clubs and armed assemblies …. peremptorily forbidden. It was the general design that power should be transferred from the democracy and lodged in the hands of the enlightened middle class.” (*53)

As the Thermidoreaus drove out the petty bourgeois Jacobins from Parliament, the Right, representing elements of the ancien r’egime. began to muster their forces for a new coup d’etat against Parliament. In fright, the Directory called on Napoleon, who had already shown his teeth at Toulon against the English, to defend Parliament and the Directory (Vend’emiaire, 1795). Thus, a few shots of grape, mostly to frighten, dispersed the Royalist rabble. Parliament was saved, but it owed its life now, not to the masses, but to Napoleon.

In the meantime, war with the ancien r’egime of Europe had turned into an extremely serious affair with the entrance of England into the field. The English had declared war as soon as the French had gone into Belgium and had aided the democrats of the Netherlands in driving out the old order. English Liberalism was not to desist until over a score of years of war had rolled by and made the Netherlands fair prey of English Imperialism once again. Thus, English Liberalism proved to be the main support for Continental Feudalism and became chief defender of the Czar.

France found it relatively easy to deal with the ancien r’egime alone, but England was another matter. To meet the new danger, French revolutionary capitalism first attempted, through the Right Winger, Carnot, to induce the former Royalist elements to fall in line behind it and thus recognize the fruits of the Revolution, and Carnot was able to get passed laws relaxing the severity of treatment hitherto accorded priests and ‘emigr’es.

In the midst of this strengthening reaction, there took place the only Communist uprising, that led by Baboeuf in 1796, which was put down. Before that, a frightful White Terror had been raging. At Lyons, for example, three hundred Jacobins had been enclosed in a shed surrounded by a cordon. The shed was then fired, and the Jacobins consumed to a man.

Baboeuf foreshadowed many of the foremost principles of Communism. He was the first man to rest his doctrines upon the proletariat alone, and to preach class war, the failure of reform, the necessity of the dictatorship of the workers, and the realization that only a social revolution, based upon the art of insurrection, could solve the problems of the masses. Far from believing the revolution a thing of the future, he considered it to be very near, carefully prepared for it, and showed himself very skillful in propaganda. (*54)

At the same time, the Left Wing of the Directory, under Barras, sent out Napoleon to meet the Austrians in Italy. In a series of brilliant marches and engagements, Napoleon forced Austria into the peace of Campo Formio (1797) in which at last the Hapsburgs were compelled to recognize the French Revolution as well as its annexation of the former Austrian Netherlands (Belgium).

With this victory accomplished, parvenu finance capital was enabled to call upon Napoleon to crush the Right Wing then in charge of Parliament, and with the help of Napoleon (18 Fructidor, 1797) the Directorate of Barras made itself independent of Parliament, but completely dependent on Napoleon. On 18 Brumaire, 1799, Napoleon destroyed the power of the Directorate to become the First Consul. “The corner-stone of the central administration was the First Consul, assisted by the Council of State, a body to whom was entrusted the initiative in legislation and the supreme appellate jurisdiction in administrative causes… . A small body of a hundred Tribunes permitted to debate but not to vote, a Legislative Assembly permitted to vote but not to debate, a Senate named by the head of the State endowed with the function of safeguarding the principles of the Constitution and of naming the Tribunes and the legislators from lists submitted to them, after the popular will had been strained through an elaborate succession of sieves-such were the hollow compliments paid-to the democratic principle. By degrees portions of the disguise, becoming inconvenient, were modified or suppressed.” (*55)

Yet, in spite of this system of government, or perhaps rather because of it, Napoleon was not without the enthusiastic support of French Liberalism. To such Liberals it was clear that “The needs of France were such that only the highest powers of technical administration were adequate to meet them. Ten years of anarchy had broken up the roads, disorganized the hospitals, interrupted education, and thrown all the charitable institutions of the country out of gear. Forty-five of the departments were reported as being in a state of chronic civil war. Robber bands two, three, eight hundred strong, scoured the country, pillaged the stage-coaches, broke into the prisons, flogged or slew the tax-collectors. The greater part of the clergy was in open rebellion against the State. No one obeyed the law. Conscripts refused to serve; the mobile columns who were entrusted with the duty of policing the disturbed regions had to forage for themselves and lived on rapine. Commercial credit had disappeared, for the currency had been depreciated, the State had declared partial bankruptcy, and English cruisers had long since interrupted foreign trade…. The government was in the hands of … second class revolutionaries whose names carried no prestige and whose characters did not bear close scrutiny.” (*56)

Bonapartism was the realization of the victory of Liberal-Radicalism in the only form that France could create at the time. The Jacobins with an iron broom had swept out the ancien r’egime within France and together with them those capitalist Liberals and their agents of the old school whose life had been tied up with the old regime, its laws, its property relations, its customs, its ideology, which these schools wanted to reform but from which they could not break. At the time such a violent break was vitally essential for the welfare of France. Both the industrial Revolution of France and the ferocity of the feudal counter-attack imperatively demanded it.

To use the iron broom, the Jacobins had early resorted to a fractional dictatorship. Indeed, Marat early had seen the need for such a dictatorship and had proposed Danton. But Danton had worked with the House of Orleans and it was Robespierre who formed the head of the Jacobin dictatorship. We have already noted why the Jacobin dictatorship could not render the victory of the new capitalism stable and secure. It had become necessary to take the main forces of the Revolution out of the hands of the city and put them in the hands of the country, to be dominated only indirectly by leading bourgeois elements of finance and industry.


This was done by giving power to the Army-made up mostly of peasants lifted up by the Revolution at the head of which stood Napoleon. The nouveaux riches were too weak to govern themselves. The ancien r’egime was too weak to challenge the new order. The proletariat and city masses had been crushed. The bourgeois revolution was at last to be bequeathed to the radical bourgeoisie itself whose interests were so entirely entrusted to the hands of that excellent representative, Napoleon.

Napoleon understood well he was the child of the Revolution. He also had a clear comprehension of its laws. Later on, in exile, he revealed his understanding in such statements as: “My great principle was to guard against reaction, and to bury the past in oblivion.” (*57) “General rule; no social revolution without terror…. How, indeed, can we understand that one could say to those who possess fortune and public situations ‘Begone, and leave us your fortunes and your situations!’ without first intimidating them and rendering any defense impossible!” (*58) “My object was to destroy the whole of the feudal system, as organized by Charlemagne. With this view, I created a nobility from among the people, in order to swallow up the remains of the feudal nobility. The foundations of my ideas of fitness were abilities and personal worth; … I sought for true merit among all ranks of the great mass of the French people and was anxious to organize a true and general system of equality.” (*59)

The Radical bourgeoisie under Napoleon took pains to guarantee to the peasants the gains of the revolution. Napoleon himself was careful to make himself supreme only through the democratic method of the plebiscite. “I have always been of opinion, that the sovereignty lay in the people. In fact, the imperial government was a kind of republic. (*60) Thus the land seizures were affirmed; a new Civil Code was laid down; a complete reorganization of political life was worked out.

At the same time, every effort was made by Napoleon to win over sections of the former ruling class and reconcile them with the new rule of Capital. A Concordat was worked out with the Pope; Catholic churches were reopened; but Catholicism was not the State religion. The State decided to recognize equally Protestant and Jew and Catholic, and with the idea that the people must have religion and religion must be controlled by the State, undertook to support by State funds not only priest, but minister, rabbi, and mullah as well. Thus could Napoleon boast, “My system was to have no predominant religion, but to allow perfect liberty of conscience and of thought, to make all men equal,…I made everything independent of religion.” (*61)

Simultaneously Napoleon granted amnesty to the e’migr’es and induced one hundred and fifty thousand of them to return to serve bourgeois France. He reinstalled the traditional calendar. He formed a new titular order- the Legion of Honor-and did his best to bring the best talents of the old and new under his flag. It followed naturally, then, that during the first Consulate the French Government securities nearly trebled in value (*62) to the great advantage of speculator and stock-jobber.

Military unification of all forces had become a categoric imperative for France. Let us never forget that Napoleon had to fight not only the decayed social order of Feudalism but the superior economic system of English capitalism whose industrial monopoly would be utterly ruined were the new French system to succeed. It was for this reason that English Liberalism threw itself so desperately against French bourgeois Radicalism. During the Napoleonic Wars, the industrial revolution in England proceeded furiously apace so as to overcome French resistance. (*63)

On the other side, Napoleon was fighting for the spread of capitalist culture. It was in his reign that the manufacturing, especially the chemical, industries were much expanded, that France greatly advanced, that talent of all sorts developed. A highly improved system of weights and measures was set up and spread over all Europe. Bridges, highways, canals, boulevards, and a host of public works, etc., were constructed. As Napoleon affirmed, “I have staked all the glory of my reign on changing the appearance of my Empire.” (*64) Patents, which had jealously prevented the continent from sharing in England’s technical advance, were stolen from England and were utilized everywhere.

Thus did Napoleon close “the romance of the Revolution” and try to secure its conquests. It was his boast that he did not belong to the race of the “ideologues,” but that he came to substitute an age of “work” for an age of “talk.”

The necessity of uniting all forces in the struggle against England had driven the Napoleonic government to adopt a paternal theory of State that spelled an end to certain measures of

laissez-faire that had been proposed. Already, even before Napoleon, the French Revolution had to consider the question of complete control of prices and wages. The Girondist had stood for free trade, the Jacobin for Protectionism in foreign affairs, and the Paris Commune itself had thrown its heavy hand on the matter. The commercial system of Napoleon I thus could be said to have its roots in the restrictionist legislation of the National Convention. (*65)

There was no extent to which the Radical bourgeoisie of Napoleon would not go to maintain itself. The State undertook to form the morals of the people, to monopolize education, to dominate the press. A huge censorship was set up. The government did not hesitate to expropriate property for purposes of public utility. National industry was protected from competition. The food supply was subjected to severe regulations; the butchers and bakers of Paris were compelled to become members of state corporations, enjoying an official monopoly of supply upon conditions determined by the Government.

In its struggle against the old order, French Napoleonic Radicalism stimulated the people of Europe to overthrow their despots. All sorts of Republics were formed by Napoleon, Batavian, Helvetic, Cisalpine, Legurian, Roman, Parthenopean, Italian. After Marengo, a new map of Europe was created. The. old order was overthrown, never to regain its strength again. In Italy, the idea of Italian unity under a Republic was sown and took root. In Prussia, the serfs were liberated and the land question settled somewhat in favor of the masses. Napoleon was hailed by the people even in Vienna, center of Hapsburg influence.

Everywhere Bourbonism crashed to earth. A degenerate line of rulers was wiped out in Spain, in Italy, and elsewhere. Poland was wrested from the Czars; the Holy Roman Empire smashed to bits; Prussia became revolutionized; German unification was begun. From these blows the old order never recovered, and even during the Restoration, from 1820 to 1848, the numerous risings in Europe all had for their objects constitutional government and a return to the Code Napol’eon. A new deal had been given Europe.

The change in 1804 from First Consul to Emperor by Napoleon marked the complete liberation of the French Revolution from democratic petty- bourgeois vestiges. The bourgeoisie now took to itself the titles of the aristocracy. A new nobility was created not only to give full honors to the victors, but to show the old regime of Europe that the new rule was stable, that the dominance of its property interests was secure and that, if the old aristocracy was to exist at all-and Napoleon’s execution of the Duc d’Enghien was a threat to all who dared to conspire against the new order-it must make peace with Revolutionary capital. And after Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, there were few of the ancient families which did not willingly form alliances with the new Dukes. In 1810, Napoleon married Marie- Louise of Austria to consummate the victory of the new order.

As Emperor, Napoleon was now forced to repress and not merely develop the productive forces. In his struggle with England he tried to cut oft world trade and choke the development of whole peoples. To carry on his wars he had to impose a crushing peace on the Prussians; he had to drain Europe of its wealth; he had to crush the aspirations of the peoples demanding emancipation. It was the people of Spain, of Prussia, of Santo Domingo, who destroyed the flower of his army. (*66) Not England united with the despots, but England united with the peoples of Europe triumphed in the end … though the despots took their thrones again for the nonce.

The return of Louis XVIII, in 1815, by no means restored the old order in France. A constitution was formed after the English model. The King was forced to give assurances of a free press, of religious toleration, of liberty of the subject, of the land titles of the Revolution. Louis XVIII retained the codes, the University, the Legion of Honor, the Bank, the Prefects, the Imperial Nobility of Napoleon. And when the Bourbon Charles X attempted to discard these things he was deposed and French Liberalism crowned its efforts in the Revolution of 1830 with Louis-Philippe.


The victory of Liberalism, though obtained by a small minority of the population, is yet no mere palace tumult, but a genuine revolutionary upheaval. Our analysis, then, is limited to a study of how a class can stage an actual revolution and take power although remaining a minority. What are the forces that focus to produce such a result?

The old ruling class is reduced to a patently parasitic clique, obviously obstructing the wheels of progress. Thus, it cannot count upon the support of the mass of people, and becomes isolated. Where the majority of the population stands aside, as in England and America, the fight becomes one solely between two minorities of the nation, the modern elements ever winning more support.

Springing from new relations in the production and distribution of wealth come fresh morals and ideals and, finally, novel ideas. Basing itself upon these more modern mores, the bourgeoisie permeates the bodies of its opponents with the ether of its ethical codes and prepares the struggle for political power by an all-rounded attack, flank and rear, on the questions of morality. Furnishing the material weapons to the bourgeoisie to criticize and chastise the old order, history also gives the capitalists the weapon of criticism to demoralize their enemies. The wealthy bourgeois must sneak up to spring; but before the attack, there is the disarming word.

As the government becomes isolated from the people, its power becomes further reduced by the fact that it has. permitted the newer classes to enter into its ranks and to share a certain amount of the authority. When these bourgeois groups now abandon the government or remain neutral, the State apparatus is left in chaos in many of its departments, especially that of the exchequer. The parasitic older orders who have relied upon the loyalty and ability of the financier and capitalist, are thrown into complete confusion when their bourgeois servants seek to become masters of the house. This confusion results in further centrifugal action, scattering the ruling groups into fragments-clergy, lower nobility, aristocracy, landlords, royalty, etc—which may then be crushed separately.

The resistance of the aristocracy is lowered by the bourgeoisie in a number of ways. In England, the moneyed elements infiltrated into the landed classes, corrupting them and buying them over. The important intermediary group here was the country gentlemen who met the aristocracy on its own ground and defeated it, while representing the new order. In England the fight could be compromised quickly, and the people hid no occasion to get into action in considerable masses on their own account.

In the American Revolution, the old masters lost their control due to different factors.—first, the immense distance and cost involved in the struggle; and second, the pre-occupation of those rulers in European conflicts which claimed their attention, powerful European nations hastening to aid the American rebels. The American colonies had grown too strong in relation to the mother country and broke away to form their independent nation.

In France the situation was still otherwise. Here the bourgeoisie was relatively too weak to make a frontal attack on the government in order to take control. The people, aroused by the anachronisms of a bankrupt government which had succeeded in arousing the deepest hatred of the masses, were forced to act. In England and America the people were neutral or were not directly involved; in France they remained the only competent force. The French Revolution, then, was the first great People’s Revolution in history.

Several factors must be noted here as of great importance. First of all, it was the masses of people who acted, led by the petty bourgeois Jacobins. This gives an extremely unstable character to French history, since what the people have done once they believe they can do again. The poor assume an immense prestige; nothing can drain the creative flood of initiative and ambition current among the masses.

The bourgeois minority prevails only because the toilers are not ready for any other system of property relations but the capitalist one; that is to say, while the English and American wealthy crashed to power, the French won by default, by the inability of the people to change the social order for their own benefit. None the less, it is not the old bourgeoisie that rises to power after the populace has beaten its head against the walls of the system and has fallen exhausted, but a new bourgeoisie that caters to the masses and works within their slogans.

Once in power, this small portion of the population, the bourgeoisie, inherits the complicated problem of inducing the old ruling forces to give up their struggle and of preventing new elements from challenging their rule from below. In England, the bourgeoisie made great concessions to the aristocracy, allowing the latter to retain important posts and filling up the ranks of the nobility with new members from the wealthy classes. In America, no such problem existed, since the aristocracy fled the country. In France, the bourgeoisie tried hard to ally itself to the older forces, through Napoleon and Louis Philippe, but each time their alliance was broken by the action of the people. Only in 1871 did the French bourgeoisie, as a whole, really take power in its own name, and even then it was the proletarian Paris Commune which routed the Royalists.

In all cases, the bourgeoisie is forced to solve the problem: How can a capitalist minority keep the power and prevent the people from driving it out? Fundamentally, the new cliques can preserve their power principally because the nation generally is prospering under their regime. When the contradictions of capitalism at last compel the petty proprietor to speak out in his own name, there is no gainsaying him. In the United States, in fact, he took over the government completely; but no startling results occurred since the middle class was content to let the wealthy alone as it, too, was sharing the wealth. Only later did the significance of the rule of the petty- bourgeoisie burst forth in the mighty Civil War. In England and France, the lower middle classes were given parliamentary representation but never obtained the capacity to dispossess the top layers. In each case the big and little property owners were able to form stable alliances.

Both in France and in America, the dominant philosophy tends to be Radicalism rather than Liberalism. In France, this is due to the fact that the power of the bourgeoisie is really the work of the people headed by the desperate elements of the lower middle class. In America, Radical phraseology is a necessary part of the apparatus by which an insignificant and weak portion of society can dupe and seduce the people, since Radicalism is the appropriate expression of the middle classes who dominate politics. With the ousting of all the social layers representing the old feudal order, in America the bourgeois conservatives naturally turn into Liberals, while the petty bourgeoisie takes to extreme Radical phrases. There is nothing more conservative in the United States than Liberalism, for, with the deposing of the aristocrats, there remains no class above the Liberals. As each class moves up a notch materially, it shouts louder for its political rights. [During the American Revolution, only the proletarians remained silent, as they scarcely existed except as dumb slaves and indentured servants.]

The bourgeois, having done a good job in exposing the old rulers as a tiny clique unfit to have power, now has to show why it, another social speck, should retain this power in its own hands. As Disraeli declared: “The House of Commons is no more the House of the People than is the House of Lords; and the Commons of England, as well as the Peers of England, are neither more nor less than a privileged class, privileged in both instances for the common good, unequal doubtless in number, yet both, in comparison with the whole nation, forming in a numerical estimation, only an insignificant fraction of the mass.” (*67)

Setting out to solve just this problem of justifying the rule of the new minority, Liberalism becomes a movement that is designed to make the minority appear as though it were the whole people and lays down those rules by which only the bourgeoisie can conquer.

Here are the political tricks in the game of Liberalism: To stress parliament rather than the people; to recognize elections but to restrict the vote; to build a constitution but to block the will of the majority; to talk democracy but to practice oligarchy; in general, a substitution of one system of fraud and coercion for another. Once in power, the Liberals preach peace, tolerance, fair-play, golden-rule, middle-of-the-road, see-both-sides, live up to the rules laid down by us, etc.

But the capitalists have let loose forces which they cannot control. Only for a moment can they stop the revolution which steadily unfolds. Thus, the rule of the bourgeoisie is a record of constant turmoil, change, and revolution which cannot cease until the lowest class of all, the working class, is finally able to seize power and make the revolution permanent by bringing it to its ultimate conclusion.


1. The population of England, Wales, and Scotland in Cromwell’s time was about five and one-half million, that of the American colonies in 1776 less than three million; in 1789 in France there were twenty-five million

2. The conquest of the Flemish towns, weaving centers (1328), not only upset the balance between England and France in France’s favor, but threatened seriously to disrupt English economy. The Hundred Years War followed. The temporary victory of the English threw France into disorder and led to the first peasant revolt, Jacquerie (1358). The final loss of France by the English led to the Wars of the Roses and the decimation of the entire old nobility of England and to repeated revolts of the English peasantry (1381, 1450, 1500). All of this only accelerated the forces breaking up the feudal order and causing the rise of Absolute Monarchies.

3. This was the period of the Renaissance. At this time, a break with the Catholic Church was not tenable; what commercial and money capital tried to do was to win its support. France, as the strongest and most highly developed, was the first to make the attempt and for awhile actually succeeded. It was this that greatly sharpened the Hundred Years War and led directly to the Protestantism of the English, just as later the Pope’s subservience to other nationalist powers led to the German Reformation and to Machiavellian Scepticism. Pope and Church were being auctioneered to the highest bidder.

4. The tension was expressed in the revolts in the Austrian Netherlands and Poland, as well as in the reforms inaugurated by the “enlightened” despots of Russia, Prussia and other countries.

5. Helvetius, Lafayette, Voltaire, Roland, Mirabeau, Brissot, Rousseau, all had lived in England and spoke English. All knew the works of Locke and Newton. (See C. D. Hazen: French Revolution, I, 93-94.) Montesquieu considered England the freest country in the world. He stood for a constitutional monarchy with separation of powers between legislative and executive departments. Civil Liberty was to be granted gradually as men became fit for it. Montesquieu advocated a reform of the penal laws, and opposed primogeniture; he favored a breakup of the big estates, a progressive tax, sumptuary laws, and the greater emancipation of women.

6. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau were all Deists. Voltaire, however, desired, not the separation of the Catholic Church from the State, but rather a controlled church (like the Anglican). Rousseau, too, favored a State religion. Many of the Encyclopedists also were Deists. (As later in the nineteenth century were Proudhon, Fourier, St. Simon, and Louis Blanc.)

7. Lafayette is a good example. “Lafayette had no faith in the masses as being fined for citizenship, and like his contemporaries, he believed that only the bourgeois class should share in the elections and take part in the government.” (J. S. Penman: Lafayette and Three Revolutions, p.119.)

8. "Already in 1778, Turgot … writes that America is the hope of the human race and may become its model; …" "In 1783 the Duc de la Rochefoucauld with his own hands translated all thirteen of the constitutions of the American states, publishing them anonymously; while Mercier, in 1791, states distinctly: The emancipation of America gave us the thoughts and presently the voice of free men; it made us see the possibility of resistance and the need of a constitution." He tells us that the troops sent across the ocean had come back as if electrified." (E. F. Henderson: Symbol and Satire in the French Revolution, pp. 4-5.)

9. J. Peixotto: The French Revolution and Modern French Socialism, p. 47.

10. Rousseau’s chief works were written between 1750 and 1762.

11. See J. J. Rousseau: Social Contract, Bk. 11 (Everyman’s Edition, translated by G. D. H. Cole.) 12. J. Rousseau: Social Contract and Discourses, Bk. I, Ch. I, p.5.

13. The same, p. 6.

14. The same, Bk. I, Ch. IX, p. 21.

15. The same, Bk. I, Ch. VII, p.18

16. The same, Bk. III, Ch. IV, pp. 58-59.

17. The same, Bk. IV, Ch. III, p. 96.

18. The same, Bk. IV, Ch. VIII, p. 119

19. The same, Bk. II, Ch- XI, p. 45.

20. See Rousseau: “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” work cited (Everyman’s Edition), p.246.

21. See Rousseau: “A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences,” work cited. Also, see Introduction by Editor Vaughan in Political Writings of Rousseau, 2 Vols. (1915 edition).

22. See Rousseau: E’mile or Education (Everyman’s edition).

23. Rousseau: Social Contract, Bk. III, Ch. XIII, p. 81.

24. See Gide and Rist: History of Economic Doctrines, for the views of the Physiocrats.

25. The Physiocrat did not hesitate to draw the conclusions from his theory that since only the agrarian produced value, only he should be taxed!

26. The English Liberals, William Pitt and Edmund Burke, were violently opposed to the French Revolution. As the English Liberals fought against the American Revolution, so, even more viciously, did they fight the French.

27. It is recorded that Paine was saved from the Guillotine only by a mistake of the jailer. Paine was a Girondist, and opposed the execution of the King. His book, Age of Reason, was directed against the Atheism of the French Radicals.

28. As it had been for the Lockes, the Cromwells and Lilburnes, the Franklins, Jeffersons, and Paines, and all the other chief leaders in England and the United States.

“Neither in the cahiers nor in the pamphlets which resulted from the summons of the States-General is there any important or general Socialist doctrine.” (H. J. Laski. The Socialist Tradition in the French Revolution, p. 7.)

29. G. Elton: The Revolutionary Idea in France, 1789-1871, p. 61.

30. Turgot, Necker, Mirabeau were of this type. Mirabeau became a paid agent of the King.

31. The Liberal Necker was opposed to this.

32. It is the tragedy of the clergy; they were the first to be sacrificed by the bourgeoisie, as they were by the aristocracy.

33. “It must not be forgotten that for more than two-thirds of the fundamental laws made between 1789 and 1793 no attempt was even made to put them into execution.” (P. Kropotkin: The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793, p. 216.)

34. The King was protected from the masses by the Liberal Lafayette, who massacred the people gathering on the Champs de Mars. Later, Lafayette treacherously went over to the side of the foreign invaders.

35. C. J. H. Hayes: The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism, pp. 39-40.

36. It is estimated that nearly a million and a half men served in the French Revolutionary Armies.

37. Regarding the September massacres, Napoleon I has made this interesting remark: “Their energy had an electric effect, by the fear with which it inspired the one party, and the example which it gave to the other: one hundred thousand volunteers joined the army and the revolution was saved.” (The Opinions and Reflections of Napoleon I, edited by L. C. Breed, p. 447.)

38. H. A. L. Fisher: Republican Tradition in Europe, p. 58.

39. See Baron de Mantesquieu: The Spirit of Laws, I, Book VIII, 130 (Bohn’s edition, 1878); also I, Book V, 44 and following.

40. Quoted in F. W. Hirst: The Political Economy of War, pp. 51-52.

41. E. Belfort Bax: The Story of the French Revolution, p. 69.

42. Kropotkin gives this as one of the reasons for the Vend’ee counter-revolution.

43. H. J. Laski: The Socialist Traditions in the French Revolution, p. 20.

44. R. F. Gould asserts that the French Lodges prospered greatly in 1788 and 1789 as the revolutionary storm was brewing, although he also affirms that many members fell victims to the guillotine. See his History of Freemasonry Throughout the World, III, 49-50 (1936 edition).

See also Haywood and Craig (A History of Freemasonry), who attribute the break that occurred between the French Grand Orient and the British Grand Lodge to the fact that the former no longer insisted upon a belief in God and the immortality of the soul as a condition precedent to membership, and instead adopted the principle of “absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity” in its constitution (p. 295).

E. Cahill (Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement) argues that the two basic principles of Freemasonry are first, indifference in matters of religion, and second, a tendency to cosmopolitanism or internationalism (pp. 6-7), and declares, “Freemasonry is the central enemy of the Catholic Church” (p. viii).

Listed as members of this bourgeois secret order are Marat, Danton, Robespierre, and other prominent French revolutionaries.

45. See C. Brinton: The Jacobins.

46. “… Danton was not a Republican… . Never, even in 1790, had he dreamt that France could be a republic. Up to a given point he was a democrat, but there was a certain social conservatism about him too; his habits were the habits of the middle class… .” “… a Louis Philippe would surely have been the best of republics’ in Danton’s eyes; and if the worst came to worst, he would have been well content with Louis XVI, protected from counter-revolutionary influences, and held in tutelage by the Assembly.” (L. Madelin: Danton, pp. 77-78.)

47. Quoted by L. R. Gottschalk: Jean Paul Marat, p. 51.

48. The Commune was the people organized in the “Sections” of the city. From August 10, 1792, to the time of the Convention, September 21, the Commune under Danton had the power. From that time till June 2, 1793, it was the Convention under the leadership of the dictatorial committees that carried on. From June, 1793, to December, the Commune under Hebert dominated the scene only to give way to Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety till July 27, 1794 (Thermidor). (Compare E. Belfort Bax: The Story of the French Revolution, p. 71.)

49. Given in C. J. H. Hayes, The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism, p. 74.

50. See G. Pickhanov: The Bourgeois Revolution, pamphlet.

51. E. Belfort Bax, work cited, p. 86.

52. H. A. L. Fisher: Bonapartism, p. 17.

53. H. A. L. Fisher: Republican Tradition in Europe, p. 132.

54. Baboeuf’s tradition is carried on in the nineteenth century, especially by the French.

55. H. A. L. Fisher, Bonapartism, pp. 30-31.

56. The same, pp. 25-26.

57. Opinions and Reflections of Napoleon, edited by L. C. Breed, p. 464.

58. The same, p. 448.

59. The same, p. 467.

60. The same, p. 496.

61. Opinions and Reflections of Napoleon, p. 273.

62. See F. P. Stearns: Napoleon and Macchiavelli, pp. 16-17.

63. According to Gaskell, Artisans and Machinery, p. 37, quoted by J. H. Rose: Napoleonic Studies, p. 195, so great was the improvement in machinery and lowering of costs that a bolt of cloth which in 1795 cost 39s. 9d. cost but 15s. by 1810.The drop in cotton yarn No.100 was even greater, falling from 38s. in 1786 and 19s. in 1795 to 6s. 9d. in 1807 and to 2s. 11d. in 1832. (See Gaskell, the same, p. 344.)

64. The Corsican: A Diary of Napoleon’s Life in His Own Words, pp. 281-282. (R. M. Johnston, editor.)

65. See F. L. Nussbaum: Commercial Policy in the French Revolution.

66. Napoleon sent an army of thirty thousand picked soldiers (four times the size of the Army of Cornwallis at Yorktown) to defeat the Negroes at Santo Domingo. Napoleon wanted to create a great domain in Central America and build up a strong Negro army for himself. The Jacobins, as against the policy of the Liberal Girondists, had freed the slaves; Napoleon had reimposed slavery, and had actually advocated polygamy as a way out for the new world. All these dreams were burst by the victory of the Negroes under Toussaint L’Ouverture. The birds of prey picked the bones of the French army clean. (Compare E. L. Andrews: Napoleon and America, pp. 27, 29.)

67. Disraeli the Younger: Vindication of the English Constitution, p. 67.