We see, by what has just been said, in what a deplorable condition the Revolution was in the early months of 1792. If the middle-class revolutionists could feel satisfied with. having conquered a share in the government and laid the foundations of the fortunes they were going soon to acquire with the help of the State, the people saw that nothing had yet been done for them. Feudalism still stood erect, and in the towns the great mass of the proletarians had gained nothing to speak of. The merchants and monopolists were making huge fortunes as Government contractors and stockrobbers, and by means of speculating in the bonds upon the sale of the Church property and buying up the communal lands, but the price of bread and of all things of prime necessity went up steadily, and hunger became permanent in the poorer quarters of the great cities.
The aristocracy meanwhile became bolder and bolder. The nobility, the rich, lifted up their heads and boasted that they would soon bring the sans-culottes to reason. Every day they expected the news of a German invasion, advancing triumphantly on Paris to restore the old régime in all itssplendour. In the provinces, as we have seen, reaction was openly organising its partisans for a general rising.
As to the Constitution, which the middle classes and even the intellectual revolutionaries spoke of preserving at every cost, it existed only for passing measures of minor importance while all serious reforms remained suspended. The King's authority had been limited, but in a very modest way. With the powers left him by the Constitution--the civil list, the military command, the choice of ministers and the rest--but above all the interior organisation of the local government which placed everything in the hands of the rich, the people could do nothing.
No one certainly would suspect the Legislative Assembly of radicalism, and it is evident that its decrees concerning the feudal dues and the priests were sufficiently imbued with middle-class moderation; and yet even these decrees the King refused to sign. Every one felt that the nation was living simply from day to day, under a system which offered no stability and could be overthrown at any moment in favour of the old régime.
Meanwhile the plot which was concocting in the Tuileries spread further into France itself, and drew in the Courts of Berlin, Vienna, Stockholm, Turin, Madrid and Petersburg. The hour was near when the counter-revolutionists were to strike the great blow they had prepared for the summer of 1792. The King and Queen urged the German armies to march upon Paris; they even named the day when they should enter the capital, and when the royalists, armed and organised, would receive them with open arms.
The people, and those of the revolutionists who, like Marat and the Cordeliers, held by the people--those who brought the Commune of August 1O into existence--understood perfectly well the dangers by which the Revolution was surrounded. The people had always had a true inkling of the situation, even though they could not express it exactly nor support their premonitions by learned arguments; and the mass of the French people guessed, infinitely better than the politicians, the plots which were being hatched in theTuileries and in the châteaux of the nobility. But they were disarmed, while the middle classes had organised their National Guard battalions; and what was worse, those of the "intellectuals" whom the Revolution had pushed to the front, those who were held as the spokesmen of the Revolution--among them honest men like Robespierre--had not the necessary confidence in the Revolution, and still less in the people. Just like the parliamentary Radicals of our own times, who dread to see the people come out into the streets, lest they should become masters of the situation, they did not dare to avow their dread of revolutionary equality. They explained their attitude as one of care to preserve, at least, the few liberties acquired by the Constitution. To the in determinate chances of a new insurrection, they preferred, they said, a constitutional monarchy.
Events of such an importance as the declaration of war (on April 21, 1792) and the German invasion were necessary to change the situation. Then only, seeing themselves betrayed on all sides, even by the leaders in whom they had put their trust, the people began to act for themselves, and to exercise pressure on the "leaders of opinion." Paris began to prepare for a great insurrection which was to allow the people to dethrone the King. The sections, the popular Societies, and the Fraternal societies--that is, the "unknown ones," the crowd, seconded by the Club of the Cordeliers, set themselves this task. The keenest and most enlightened patriots, says Chaumette, 1 assembled at the Club of the Cordeliers and there they used to pass the night, preparing the popular insurrection. There was among others, one committee which got up a red flag, bearing the inscription: "Martial Law of the People against the Rebellion of the Court." Under this flag were to rally all free men--the true republicans, those who had to avenge a friend, a son or some relative assassinated in the Champ-de-Mars on July 17, 1791 Most historians, paying a tribute to their authoritarian training, represent the Jacobin Club as the initiator and the head of all the revolutionary movements in Paris and the provinces, and for two generations every one believed this But now we know that such was not the case. The initiative of June 20 and August 1O did not come from the Jacobins. On the contrary, for a whole year they were opposed, even the most revolutionary of them, to appealing again to the people. Only when they saw themselves outflanked by the popular movement, they decided, and again only a section of them, to follow it.
But with what timidity! They wished to see the people out in the street, combating the royalists; but they dared not wish for the consequences. What if the people were not satisfied with overthrowing the royal power? If popular wrath should turn against the rich, the powerful, the cunning ones, who saw in the Revolution nothing but a means of enriching themselves? If the people should sweep away the Legislative Assembly, after the Tuileries? If the Commune of Paris, the extremists, the "anarchists"--those who Robespierre himself freely loaded with his invectives--those republicans who preached "the equality of conditions"--what if they should get the upper hand?
This is why, in all the conferences which took place before June 20, we see so much hesitation on the part of the prominent revolutionists. This is why the Jacobins were so reluctant to approve the necessity of another popular rising. It was only in July, when the people, setting aside the constitutional laws, proclaimed the "permanence" of the sections, ordered the general armament, and forced the Assembly to declare "the country in danger"--it was only then that the Robespierres, the Dantons and, at the very last moment, the Girondins decided to follow the people's lead and declare themselves more or less at one with the insurrection.
It was quite natural that under these circumstances the movement of June 20 could not have either the Spirit or the unity that was necessary to make of it a successful insurrection against the Tuileries. The people came out into the streets, but, uncertain as to the attitude of the middle classes, the masses did not dare to compromise themselves too much. They acted as if they wanted to find out first how far theycould go in their attack of the palace--leaving the rest to the chances of all great popular demonstrations. If anything comes of this one--all the better; if not, they will at least have seen the Tuileries at close quarters and estimated its strength.
This is, in fact, what happened. The demonstration was perfectly peaceful. Under the presence of petitioning the Assembly to celebrate the anniversary of the Oath in the Tennis Court, and to plant a tree of Liberty at the door of the National Assembly, an immense multitude of people came out on this day. It soon filled all the streets leading from the Bastille to the Assembly, while the Court filled with its adherents the Place du Carrousel, the great courtyard of the Tuileries and the outskirts of the palace. All the gates of the Tuileries were closed, cannon were trained on the people; cartridges were distributed to the soldiers, and a conflict between the two bodies seemed inevitable.
However, the sight of the ever-increasing multitudes paralysed the defenders of the Court. The outer gates were soon either opened or forced, and the Place du Carrousel as also the courtyards were inundated with people. Many were armed with pikes and satires, or with sticks at the end of which a knife, a hatchet, or a saw was fixed, but the section had carefully selected the men who were to take part in the demonstration.
The crowd were beginning to break in one of the doors of the palace with the blows of an axe, when Louis XVI. himself ordered it to be opened. Immediately thousands of men burst into the inner courtyards and the palace itself. The Queen, with her son, had been hurried away by her friends into a hall, part of which was barricaded with a large table. The King being discovered in another room, it was filled in few minutes by the crowd. They demanded that he should sanction the decrees which he had vetoed; that the "patriot ministers"--that is, the Girondist Ministry--whom he had dimissed on June 13, should be recalled; that the rebel priests should be driven out of France; and his choice be made between Coblentz an,d Paris. The King took off his hat, and allowed a woollen cap to be put on his head; thecrowd also made him drink a glass of wine to the health of the nation. But for two hours he withstood the crowd, repeating that he should abide by the Constitution.
As an attack on royalty, the movement had failed. Nothing came of it.
But the rage of the well-to-do classes against the people was only the greater on that account. Since the masses had not dared to attack the palace, and had, by that, shown their weakness, they fell upon them with all the hatred that can be inspired only by fear.
When a letter from Louis XVI., complaining of the invasion of his palace, was read at the sitting of the Assembly, the members broke out into applause, as servile as the plaudits of the courtiers before 1789. Jacobins and Girondins were unanimous in thus disowning any share in the demonstration. Encouraged undoubtedly by this manifestation of support, the Court had a tribunal set up in the palace of the Tuileries itself, for the punishing of those guilty of the movement. They were thus resuscitating, says Chaumette in his Mémoires, the odious methods of procedure which had been resorted to after October 5 and 6, I789, and after July 17, 1791. This tribunal was composed of justices of the peace in the pay of royalty. The Court sent them their food, and the Wardrobe-Keeper Keeper of the Crown had orders to provide for all their wants. 2 The most vigorous of the writers were prosecuted and sent to prison. Several presidents and secretaries of the sections shared the same fate. Again it became dangerous to call oneself a republican.
The Directories of the departments and a large number of municipalities joined in the servile protestations of the Assembly and sent letters of indignation against the "faction." In reality, thirty-three out of the eighty-three Directories of departments--that is, the whole west of France--were openly royalist and counter-revolutionary.
Revolutions, we must remember, are always made by minorities, and even when a revolution has begun, and a part of the nation accepts its consequences, there is always only a very small minority who understands what still remains to be done to assure the triumph of what has been obtained, and who have the courage of action. This is why an Assembly, always representing the average of the country, or rather something below the average, has always been, and will always be, a check upon revolution; it can never be an instrument of revolution.
The Legislative Assembly gives us a striking case in point. On July 7--that is, four days before the country had to be declared in danger in consequence of the German invasion, and one month only before the downfall of royalty--the following occurrence took place in the Assembly. They had been discussing for several days what measures should be taken for the general safety, when, at the instigation of the Court, Lamourette, Bishop of Lyons, proposed, on a motion of order, a general reconciliation of the parties, and to bring it about, he suggested a very simple means: "One party in the Assembly attributes to the other the seditious design of wishing to destroy the monarchy. The others attribute to their colleagues the design of wishing the destruction of constitutional equality and the aristocratic government known under the name of the Two Chambers. Well, gentlemen, let us annihilate by a common execration, and by an irrevocable oath, let us annihilate both the Republic and the Two Chambers." Hats were thrown into the air, members embraced each other, the Right fraternised with the Left, and a deputation was sent at once to the King, who came to join in the general gaiety. This scene is known in history as "the Lamourette kiss." Fortunately public opinion was not captured by such scenes. The same evening Billaud-Varennes protested at the Jacobin Club against this hypocritical attempt at reconciliation, and it was decided to send his speech out to the affiliated societies. The Court on its side had no intention of disarming. Pétion, Mayor of Paris, had been suspended from his office that very day by the royalist Directory of the Seine department, for his negligence on June 20. But then, the people of Paris took up the cause of their mayor passionately, so that six days later,on July 13, the Assembly thought fit to rescind the suspension.
The people had made up their minds. They understood that the moment had come when they must get rid of royalty, and that, if June 20 were not quickly followed by a popular rising, all would be over with the Revolution. But the politicians in the Assembly judged otherwise. "Who could tell what would be the result of a rising?" they asked themselves, and the result was that with but a few exceptions the legislators of the Assembly were already arranging for a way out, in case the counter-revolution should be victorious.
The fears of those who intend to become "statesmen," and their desire of securing for themselves pardon in case of defeat--there lies the danger for every revolution.
For all those who seek instruction from history, the seven weeks which elapsed between the demonstration of June 20 and the taking of the Tuileries on August 10, 1792, are of the highest importance.
Although the demonstration on June 20 had had no immediate result, it produced nevertheless a great awakening all over France. "The revolt ran from town to town," as Louis Blanc says. The foreigner was at the gates of Paris, and on July 11 the country was proclaimed in danger. On the 14th, the Federation was celebrated, and on this occasion the people made a formidable demonstration against royalty. From every side the revolutionary municipalities sent addresses to the Assembly calling on it to take action. Since the King had betrayed his country they demanded his dethronement or, at least, his suspension. The word Republic, however, was not yet mentioned; there was rather an inclination towards a regency. Marseilles was an exception, as it had demanded the abolition of royalty since June 27, and had sent five hundred volunteers who arrived in Paris singing the "Marseillaise Hymn." Brest and other towns also sent some volunteers, and the sections of Paris, sitting in permanence, armed themselves and organised their popular battalions.
It was felt on all sides that the Revolution was approaching a decisive moment.
What, then, did the Assembly do? And what those middle class republicans--the Girondins?
When the strongly worded address from Marseilles was read in the Assembly, demanding that measures in consonance with the seriousness of events should be taken, nearly the whole of the Assembly protested. And when Duhem, on July 27, demanded that the dethronement should be discussed, his proposition was received with howls.
Marie-Antoinette certainly was not mistaken when she wrote, on July 7, to her intimate correspondents abroad, that the patriots were frightened and wanted to negotiate--which is what really came to pass a few days later.
Those who were with the people, in the sections, no doubt felt that they were on the eve of some great event. The sections ot Paris had declared themselves permanent, as well as several of the municipalities. Taking no notice of the law concerning the passive citizens, they admitted them to their deliberations, and armed them with pikes. It was evident that a great insurrection was on the way.
But the Girondins, the party of "the statesmen," were just then sending to the King, through his valet de chambre, Thierry, a letter telling him that a formidable insurrection was preparing, that the dethronement and something yet more terrible might result from it, and that only one way remained to prevent this catastrophe, and that was to recall the Ministry of Roland, Servan and Claviére within eight days at latest.
Certainly it was not "the twelve miIlions promised to Brissot" which impelled the Girondins to take this step. Neither was it, as Louis Blanc wrote, their ambition to regrasp the power. The cause was much deeper than that, and Brissot's pamphlet A sel commettants discloses clearly what the Girondins thought at this moment. It was their fear of a popular revolution--a revolution which would touch upon property--their fear and their contempt for the people--the mob of ragged wretches, who guided them: their fear of a system in which property and more than that, authoritarian training and the "managing capacity," would lose the privilegesthey had conferred until then--the fear of seeing themselves reduced to the level of "the Great Unwashed."
This fear paralysed the Girondins as to-day it paralyses all the parties who occupy in Parliaments the same position, more or less Governmental, which the Girondins occupied at that time.
We can comprehend, therefore, the despair which seized upon the true patriots and expressed by Marat in these words:
"For three years," he wrote, "we have striven to regain our liberty, and we are now as far off from it as ever. The Revolution has turned against the people. For the Court and its supporters it is an eternal motive for intrigue and corruption; for the legislators, an occasion for prevarication and trickery. ... Already it is for the rich and the avaricious nothing but an opportunity for illicit gains, monopolies, frauds and spoliations, while the people are ruined, and the numberless poor are placed between the fear of perishing from hunger and the necessity of selling themselves. ... Let us not be afraid to repeat: we are further from liberty than ever; for, not only are we slaves, but we are so legally."
"On the stage of the State, the scenery only has been changed," he writes further on. "The same actors, the same intrigues, the same motives have remained." "It was fatal," continues Marat, "for the lower classes of the nation to be left alone to struggle against the highest class. At the moment of an insurrection the people will break down all before them by their weight; but whatever advantage they may gain at first, they will end by succumbing to the machinations of the superior classes, who are full of cunning, craft and artifice. Educated men, those who are well off, and the crafty ones of the superior classes, had at first taken sides against the despot; but that was only to turn against the people after they had wormed themselves into the people's confidence and had made use of the people's forces to set themselves up in the place of the privileged orders whom they have proscribed."
"Thus," continues Marat--and his words are of gold, since one might say they were written to-day, in the twentiethcentury--"thus it is that the revolution has been made and maintained only by the lowest classes of society--by the workers, the artisans, the little tradesmen, the agriculturists, by the plebs, by those luckless ones whom the shameless rich call canaille, and whom Roman insolence called proletarians. But who would ever have imagined that it would be made only in favour of the small landowners, the men of law, the supporters of fraud."
The day after the taking of the Bastille, it would have been easy for the representatives of the people "to have suspended from their offices the despot and his agents," wrote Marat further on. "But for doing that, they ought to have had perspicacity and virtue." As to the people, instead of arming themselves universally, they permitter one part only of the citizens to arm (meaning the National Guard composed of active citizens). And instead of attacking the enemies of the Revolution without further delay, the people gave up the advantages of their victory by remaining merely in a state of defence.
"To-day," says Marat, "after three years of everlasting speeches from patriotic societies and a deluge of writings...the people are further from feeling what they ought to do in order to be able to resist their oppressors, than they were on the very first day of the Revolution. At that time they followed their natural instincts, their simple good sense which made them find the true way for subduing their implacable foes. ... Now, behold them--chained in the name of the law, tyrannised over in the name of justice; they are constitutional slaves!"
This might have been written yesterday, vet it is taken from No. 657 of the Ami du peuple.
A profound discouragement took hold of Marat, and he could see only one exit: "some fit of civic fury " on the part of the people, as on July 13 and 14 and on October 5 and 6, 1789. Despair was devouring him, until the federates came from the departments to Paris. This filled him uith new hope.
The chances of the counter-revolution were so great at the end of July 1792, that Louis XVI. curtly refused theproposition of the Girondins. Were not the Prussians already marching upon Paris? And Lafayette and Luckner too, were they not ready to turn their armies against the Jacobins, against Paris? Lafayette, who enjoyed great power in the North, and was the idol of the middle-class National Guards in Paris!
In fact, the King had many reasons to expect a victory. The Jacobins dared not act. And when Marat, on July 18, after the treachery of Lafayette and Luckner became known--they had wanted to carry off the King on July 16, and to set him in the midst of their armies--when Marat proposed to take the King as a hostage for the nation against the foreign invasion, every one turned his back on him, and treated him as a madman: he had none but the sans-culottes in the hovels to approve him. Because he had dared to say at that moment what to-day we know to be the truth, because he had dared to denounce the plottings of the King with the foreigner, Marat was abandoned by every one, even by those few patriotic Jacobins upon whom he, who is represented as so suspicious, had, however, depended. They refused even to give him an asylum when he was hunted down for arrest and knocked for shelter at their doors.
As to the Girondins, after the King had refused their proposal, they again parleyed with him, through the inter mediary of the painter, Boze. They sent him another message on July 25.
Fifteen days only separated Paris from August 10. Revolutionary France was chafing the bit. It knew that the supreme moment had come. Either the finishing blow must be struck at royalty, or else the Revolution would remain unaccomplished. How could they allow royalty to surround itself with troops, and to organise the great plot which was to deIiver Paris to the Germans? Who knows how many years longer royalty, slightly rejuvenated, but still very nearly absolute, would have continued to rule France?
And yet, at this supreme moment, the whole care of the politicians was to dispute among themselves as to whose hands the power should fall into if it should drop from the hands of the King!The Girondins wanted it to go to their Committee of Twelve, which should then become the Executive Power. Robespierre, for his part, demanded fresh elections--a renovated Assembly--a Convention, which should give France a new Republican Constitution.
As to acting, as to preparing the dethronement, nobody thought of that except the people: the Jacobins thought of it as little as all other politicians. It was once more "the unknown men," the favourites of the people--Santerre, Fournier, the American, the Pole, Lazowsli, Carra, Simon, 3 Westermann, at that time a simple law-clerk--who came together at the Soleil d'Or to plan the siege of the palace and the general rising, with the red flag at its head. It was the sections--the majority of the Paris sections, and a few here and there in the north of France--in the department of Maine-et-Loire, and in Marseilles; and finally, the volunteers from Marseilles and Brest, whom the people of Paris had enlisted in the cause of the insurrection.
The people: always the people!
"There (in the National Assembly) they were like lawyers crazily disputing, without cessation, over trifling matters, under the whip of their masters. ..."
"Here (in the Assembly of the Sections) the very foundations of the Republic were being laid," as Chaumette expressed it in his notes on August 10.
1 Memoires, p. 1 3.
2 Journal de Perlet of June 27, quoted by Aulard in a note added to the Mémoires of Chaumette.
3 J. F. Simon was a German tutor, an old collaborator of Basedow in the PhilaDtropium at Dessau.
This online addition of The Great French Revolution was
Kropotkin, P. (1927). The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793 (N. F. Dryhurst, Trans.) New York: Vanguard Printings. (Original work published 1909)
by Brooks Davis <firstname.lastname@example.org>