BUT who were those anarchists of whom Brissot spoke so much, and whose extermination he demanded with so much rancour?
First of all, the anarchists did not form a party. In the Convention there were the parties of the "Mountain," the Gironde, the "Plain," or rather the "Marsh" (sometimes called le Ventre), but there were no "anarchists." Danton, Marat, and even Robespierre, or some other Jacobin of the same stamp, could work at times with the anarchists; but they always remained outside the Convention. They were, one might almost say, above it: they dominated it.
The "anarchists" were the revolutionists scattered all over France. They had given themselves to the Revolution body and soul; they understood the necessity for it; they loved it, and they worked for it.
Many of them gathered round the Paris Commune, because it was still revolutionary; a certain number of them were members of the Cordeliers' Club; some of them belonged to the Jacobin club. But their true domain was the Section, and, still more so, the Street. In the Convention, they were to be seen in the galleries, where they guided the debates by their approbation or disapproval. Their effective means of action was the opinion of the people, not "the public opinion" of the middle classes. Their real weapon was the insurrection, and with this weapon they influenced the deputies and the executive power.
When it became necessary to make a fresh attempt to inflame the people and to march with them against the Tuileries, it was they who prepared the attack and fought in the ranks. And when the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people had cooled--they returned to the obscurity from whence they had sprung, leaving us only the rancorous pamphlets of their adversaries by which we are enabled to discover the immense revolutionary work they have accomplished.
As to their ideas, they were clear and decided. The Republic--of course! They believed in it. Equality before the law was another of their canons. But that was not all: far from it.
To use political liberty as the means for gaining economic liberty, as had been recommended to them by the middle classes! They knew that this could not be done. Therefore, they wanted the thing itself. The Land for All--which was what they called "the agrarian law"--and Economic Equality, or to use the language of that period, "the leveling of wealth."
But let us hear what Brissot has to say about them: "They are the men," he says, "who have divided society into two classes, those who have and those who have not--the unbreeched ones (sans-culottes), and the property-owners--and who have stirred up the one against the other.
"They are the men," Brissot goes on to say, "who, under the name of sections, have never ceased from wearying the Convention with petitions, demanding a maximum for corn."
They are the men who have incited "the petition of those ten thousand men, who declared themselves in a state of insurrection if the price of wheat was not fixed," and who are stirring up revolts all over France.
These, then, were the crimes of those who were described by Brissot as the "anarchists": to have divided the nation into two classes; the Haves and the Have-Nots; to have stirred up the one against the other; to have demanded bread--and above all, bread for those who worked.
They were unquestionably great criminals. But who of the learned socialists of the nineteenth century has been able to invent anything better than this demand of our ancestors in 1793: "Bread for all"? Many more words there are to-day, but less action!
As for their methods of putting their ideas into execution, here they are: "The multiplicity of crimes," Brissot tells us, "is produced by impunity; impunity by the paralysis of the law courts; and the anarchists stand up for this impunity, and help to paralyse the courts, either by terrorism or by denouncing and accusing the aristocracy."
"Of repeated outrages on property and individual safety the anarchists of Paris give examples every day; and their private emissaries, as well as those whom they distinguish by the title of commissioners of the Convention, are preaching this violation of the rights of man everywhere."
Brissot then mentions "the anarchists' eternal denunciations of property-owners and merchants, whom they designate by the name of 'monopolists'"; he speaks of "property-owners who are unceasingly branded as robbers," of the hatred the anarchists feel towards every State official. "From the moment," he says, "when a man takes office, he becomes odious to the anarchists, he becomes guilty." And with cause, say we.
But Brissot is superb when he is enumerating the benefits of "order." It is a passage that must be read if one wishes to comprehend what the Girondist middle class would have given the French people, if the "anarchists" had not given a further impulse to the Revolution. "Consider," he says, "the departments where the fury of these men has been restrained; take for example, the department of the Gironde. Order has constantly reigned there; the people there submit to the law, although they are paying ten sols a pound for bread.... The reason is that from this department the citizens have expelled the preachers of the agrarian law, that they have nailed up on the doors of that club* [*note: The Jacobin Club.] where they teach..." &c.
And this was written two months after August 10, when the blindest person could not fail to understand that if the people all over France had "submitted to the law, although they were paying ten sols a pound for bread" there would have been no Revolution at all, and royalty, which Brissot feigned to be fighting, as well as feudalism, might perhaps have reigned for still another century, as in Russia* [*Louis Blanc has defined Brissot extremely well in saying that he was one of those men who are "republicans in advance of the time to-day, and revolutionaries behind the time to-morrow"; people who have not the strength to follow the century, after having had the audacity to outstrip it. After having written in his youth that "property was theft," his respect for property became so great that on the morrow of August 4, he blamed the Assembly for the precipitation with which it had published its decrees against feudalism; and that at a moment when citizens were embracing each other in the street in congratulation of these decrees.]
We must read Brissot to understand what the middle classes were then preparing for France, and what the "Brissotins" of the twentieth century are still preparing wherever a revolution is going to break out.
"The troubles in the Eure; the Orne and elsewhere," says Brissot, "have been caused by preachings against the rich, against the monopolists, by seditious sermons on the necessity of fixing by force a maximum price for grains and all foodstuffs."
And of Orleans, he says: "This town enjoyed since the beginning of the Revolution a tranquillity that has not even been touched by the disturbances arising elsewhere through the scarcity of grain, although grain was one of the staple commodities of the town.... However, this harmony between the poor and the rich was not according to the principles of anarchy; and so one of these men to whom order brings despair, for whom disturbance is the only aim, rushed in to break this happy harmony by exciting the sans-culottes against the property-owners."
"Again it is this anarchy," exclaims Brissot, "which has created a revolutionary influence in the army": "Who now can doubt the terrible evil which has been caused in our armies by this anarchist doctrine that would establish under cover of equality in law equality both universal and in fact--the scourge of society, just as the other is its support? Anarchic doctrine which would bring down to one level learning and ignorance, virtue and vice, offices, salaries, services."
This is what the Brissotins will never pardon in the anarchists: equality in law may be forgiven, but it must never become equality in fact. Had not Brissot, moreover, been sufficiently angered already by the navvies [sic] engaged in the camp at Paris, who one day asked that their wages might be made equal to the salary of the deputies? The idea of such a thing! Brissot and a navvy put upon the same level--not in law, but "in fact"! Miserable wretches!
But how did it happen that the anarchists exercised such a great power even to the dominating of the terrible Convention and the dictating of its decisions?
Brissot tells us how in his pamphlets. "It is," he says, "the galleries of the Convention, the people of Paris, and the Commune who dominate the position and force the hand of the Convention every time some revolutionary measure is taken."
At the outset, Brissot tells us, the Convention was very wise. "You would see," said he, "the majority of the Convention, sincere, sane, the friends of principles, with their eyes always fixed upon the law." They welcomed "almost unanimously" every proposal which tended to humble and crush "the abettors of disorder."
One can guess the revolutionary results which were to be expected from these representatives who always kept their eyes fixed on the law--the royal and feudal law; fortunately, the "anarchists" had something to say in the matter. But these "anarchists" knew that their place was not in the Convention, among the representatives--their place was in the street; they understood that if they ever set foot inside the Convention, it must not be to debate with the "members of the Right," or the "Frogs of the Marsh"; it must be to exact something, either from the top of the galleries where the public sat, or through an invasion of the Convention, with the people at their back.
"In this fashion, little by little the brigands" (Brissot is speaking of the "anarchists") "have audaciously lifted up their heads. From being the accused, they have transformed themselves into the accusers; instead of being silent spectators at our debates, they have become the arbiters." -- "We are in the midst of a revolution," was their reply.
In fact, those whom Brissot called "anarchists" saw further and were giving proofs of a political wisdom far exceeding that shown by those who were pretending to govern France. If the Revolution had ended in the triumph of the Brissotins, without having abolished the feudal system, and without having given back the land to the Communes--where should we be to-day?
But perhaps Brissot has formulated somewhere a programme in which he explains how the Girondins proposed to put an end to the feudal system and the struggles it provoked? At the supreme moment, when the people of Paris were demanding the expulsion of the Girondins from the Convention, he may perhaps have said how the Girondins proposed to satisfy, were it only in part, the most pressing of the popular needs?
He never says anything, absolutely not a word of the sort. The party of the Gironde cut short the whole of this question by repeating that to touch property, whether it be feudal or middle class, is to do the work of the "leveller," of the "aider and abettor of disorder," of the "anarchist." People of that sort should be simply exterminated.
"Before August 10, the disorganisers were real revolutionists," writes Brissot, "because a republican had to be a disorganiser. But the disorganisers of to-day are the real counter-revolutionists; they are enemies of the people, because the 'people' are master now. What is left for them to desire? Interior tranquillity, since this tranquillity alone assures to the owner his property, to the worker his work, to the poor their daily bread, and to all the enjoyment of liberty."* [*Pamphlet dated October 24, 1792]
Brissot did not even understand that at that time of scarcity, when the price of bread had gone up to six or seven sous the pound, the people might well demand an edict to fix the price of bread. Only "anarchists" could make such a demand! + [+Ibid. p. 19.]
For him and for the whole of the Gironde, the Revolution was terminated since the movement of August 10 had placed their party in power. There was nothing more to be done but to accept the situation and obey whatever political laws the Convention should make. They did not even understand the man of the people, who said that, since the feudal laws remained, since the land had not been given back tot he Communes, since in all things concerning the land question there was merely a provisional arrangement, since the poor had still to bear the whole burden of the war--the Revolution was not ended, and only revolutionary action could bring it to an end, seeing the immense resistance offered by the old regime to every attempt at decisive measures.
The party of the Gironde could not even comprehend this. They admitted only one class of discontented--that of the citizens who feared "either for their riches, their comforts, or their lives."* [*Pamphlet dated October 24, 1792, p. 127] Any other kind of discontented had no right to exist. And when we know in what a state of uncertainty the Legislative Assembly had left all questions pertaining to the land, we can but ask how such an attitude of ind could be possible? In what sort of unreal world of political intrigue did these men live? We should not be able to understand them at all, were it not that we know too many like them among our own contemporaries.
Brissot's conclusion, accepted by all the Girondins, was as follows: "We must make a coup d'etat, a third revolution, which must 'beat down anarchy.' Dissolve the Commune of Paris, and destroy its sections! Dissolve the clubs which preach disorder and equality! Close the Jacobin Club, and seal up its papers! The 'Tarpeian Rock,' that is, the guillotine, for 'the triumvirate' of Robespierre, Danton, and Marat, as well as for all the 'levellers'--all the 'anarchists.' Then, a new Convention will be elected, but not one of the present members shall sit again." (which meant, of course, a certainty of triumph for the counter-revolution). A strong Government, and Order--restored! Such was the Girondins' programme ever since the fall of the King had carried them into power and made "the disorganisers useless."
What was left, then, for the revolutionists to do if not to take up the fight, and fight for life or death? Either the Revolution must have stopped short--unfinished as it was--and then the counter-revolution of Thermidor would have begun fifteen months sooner, in the spring of 1793, before the abolition of the feudal rights had been accomplished; or else the Girondins had to be expelled from the Convention, notwithstanding all the services they had rendered to the Revolution, so long as royalty had to be fought. It was impossible to ignore these services. "No doubt," exclaimed Robespierre, in the famous sitting of April 10--"they have struck at the Court, at the emigres, at the priests, and that with a heavy hand; but at what time? When they had still to gain power. Once they had gained it, their ardour soon abated. How quickly they changed the objects of their hatred!"
The Revolution could not be left unfinished. It had to go on--over their bodies, if necessary. And, therefore, Paris and the revolutionary departments, ever since February 1793, were in the throes of an agitation which culminated in the movement of May 31.
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This online addition of The Great French Revolution was produced from:
Kropotkin, P. (1927). The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793 (N. F. Dryhurst, Trans.) New York: Vanguard Printings. (Original work published 1909)