For a short period in the mid-1930s the Socialist Standard would carry lecture notes from SPGB meetings. In this case, the two lectures notes listed below were from an SPGB Educational Course for party members from the winter of 1934. Comrade Stewart was Stella Stewart, a daughter of a founder member of the SPGB, T. A. Jackson, who, interestingly enough, would still have been a leading member of the CPGB in 1935. Comrade Lestor was Charlie Lestor, better known as a speaker and writer for the Socialist Party of Canada in the early decades of the 20th century. The late Labour MP, Joan Lestor, was the daughter of Charlie Lestor.
The French Revolution
(Lecture by Com. Stewart, November 18th, 1934.)
- Traditional Classicism (of use of Bible during English Revolution).
- English Materialism. 1600, Bacon. 1660, Hobbes, 1670, Locke.
- French Encyclopaedists. “Reasoned System of All Human Knowledge,” Diderot, Social- historical viewpoint. Complete scepticism.
- Iconoclasts. Voltaire, Brilliantly narrow, Super-reformer, Deist.
- Emotional Individualism. Rousseau, Golden-Age idea. Extremely popular.
- Communism. Meslier, Morelly, Mably, “All evil due to private property. No need for exchange.” Atheists. Not popular. Influenced Babeuf.
- In France. Normal development of capitalism checked after Renaissance by strong absolute monarchy. After Louis XIV decay of absolutism. No constitution. Extreme class-contrast. 1780 conditions ripe for machinofacture but outworn political system shackled production.
- Outside France. (1) English Revolution, 1649 and 1689. (2) Contrast between English prosperity and French poverty. Commercial treaty, 1786, intensified this. (3) American Revolution : (a) “No taxation without representation ”; (b) War cost France .£60,000,000.
2. Immediate Causes.
1783. Severe economic and financial crisis. Bad Harvests, etc. -1789. May 6th: First assembly of States General for 185 years. Third Estate (lawyers, merchants, etc.) militant. Dispute as to voting. June 17th: Secession of Third Estate. Spontaneous anarchy throughout France. Bread riots, etc.
(a) Big Bourgeoisie, 1789-1792.
National Assembly. Aug. 4th: “St. Bartholomew of property” abolished feudal privilege but NOT property rights. Feudal Lords cap; Landowners. 1790-91: Reforms for traders and industrialists. Civil Constitution of Clergy. 1791. June 14th: Trade Unions banned (“contrary to equality ”).Constitution: Property and money qualification for franchise. “Rights of Man”; Liberty, Security, Property.
(b) Petty Bourgeoisie, 1792-1794.
Legislative Assembly. Girondin-Jacobin rule. Counter-revolution. 1792, April: War—Austria, Prussia, Russia, then England. August: Fall of monarchy. Sept. : Massacres; victories. Convention elected on much wider suffrage. REPUBLIC.
- Girondins. Resisted further attacks on property. Fell.
- Jacobins. Petty-bourgeois reforms, pensions, “work or maintenance,” etc., maximum price for necessities, also maximum wage.
- Danton’s dictatorship. Committee of Public Safety. Terror.
- Jacobin split: (1) Bourgeois intelligentsia, e.g., Danton; (2) Petty-bourgeoisie, e.g., Robespierre (3) Small shop-keepers, craftsmen, e.g., Hebert; (4) Nucleus of proletariat, e.g., Rous, Varlet. Centre destroyed others.
- Robespierre’s dictatorship. Religious Utopianism. Then war danger over need for consolidation made his theorising unpopular. Thermidor. July 27th, 1794.
(c) Bourgeois Republic.
Return of Girondins. Apathy. “Order.” Gains of Revolution to be protected from both reactionaries and levellers. See-saw politics leading to military dictatorship.1795. Bonaparte quells Royalist rising. (Whiff of grape-shot.)1796. Babeuf’s Conspiracy of the Equals. Demanded entire abolition of private property, but no real understanding. , Secret—of Blanqui. Foredoomed because proletariat still only embryonic.
The underlying function of the French Revolution was to enable the powers of industrial development to be utilised to the full. In five years it solidly established a new order of society. It was left to Napoleon merely to consolidate and clarify the results, and to carry them further afield.
Booklet in “Working-class History Course.” Pub. Martin Lawrence.
“French Revolution,” by Albert Mathiez.
“French Revolution ” section of Cambridge Modern History.
“Last Episode of French Revolution,” by E. B. Bax.
“The Gods are Athirst,” by Anatole France.
“Revolution, 1789-1906,” by R. W. Postgate.
Various references by Marx, particularly in “Holy Family” and "Eighteenth Brumaire.”
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The Paris Commune
(Lecture by Com. Lestor, November 25th, 1934.)
A. Previous Events in French History.
1789-1800, Great French Revolution liberated forces of capitalist production. 1800-1815, Napoleonic wars. 1815-1830, Restored Bourbon monarchy; reaction. 1830, July “revolution” set up Orleanist constitutional monarchy. Growing influence of English Chartism. 1848, February “revolution.” Second Republic. Louis Napoleon President. 1852, Second Empire. 1854, Crimean War. 1864, First International growth of Trade Unions ana Co-operative Societies. Unemployment—National Workshops.
B. Immediate Causes.
Louis Napoleon’s position weak; desired prestige through military glory. Germany wanted Alsace-Lorraine. July, 1870, Franco-Prussian war. French army inadequate. Louis Napoleon incompetent in command. Three French defeats. Sept. 2nd, Battle of Sedan. Surrender of Louis Napoleon. Sept. 4th, Paris declared a Republic and a “Government of National Defence.” Sept. 25th, Paris besieged. Oct. 31st, Fall of Provisional Government. Blanqui in office. Anarchy. Plebiscite. Return of Provisional Government. Arrest of Blanqui. No defence of Paris. Starvation. Unrest in National Guard (100,000 men). 1871, Jan. 22nd, Pro-Commune riots in Paris. Jan. 29th, Armistice. Feb. 8th, Elections. Monarchist Assembly returned. Riots. Thiers, Chief of Executive. Versailles made the capital. Mar. 13th. All rent and debts to be paid within three days. Mar. 18th, Thiers’ attempted seizure of National Guards’ cannon. Fraternisation with troops. Spontaneous popular insurrection. Flight of Government. Central Committee of National Guard found itself the sole authority in Paris. Mar. 26th, Paris elections. Victory of advanced party. Mar. 28th, Proclamation of the Commune. Membership unco-ordinated—Fenians, Blanquists, Internationalists, Republicans, veterans of 1848. No communication with provinces. Provincial Communes short-lived. No manifesto or programme.
C. The Commune.
Post Office, Hospitals, Museums reorganised. Maximum Government Salary, £240. Rent degree repealed; all rents from Oct., 1870, to July, 1871, waived. Pawnshops suppressed, pawned goods returned. Church and State separated. But: Departments of Police, Justice and War chaotic. Careful of property. No plan. No constructive programme in education.
Department of Labour and Exchange: Forbade night-work for bakers (decree ignored) and fines or stoppages of wages. Factories not in use to be confiscated and run by workers' syndicates. But compensation agreed. Though defective in detail, declared for emancipation of worker and expropriation of exploiter. Ineffective. Commune failed to seine Bank of France.
April 2nd, Thiers bombarded Paris. Commune inexperienced in warfare: National Guard disorganised. Collusion between Thiers and Bismarck, though France and Prussia still at war. Commune wrongly expected support of enemy rank and file. Vacillation. Incompetence. Delay. April 19th. Programme : “Communal Autonomy"—impractical, unwanted. Factions within Commune Government. Line of fire closing in on Paris. May 21st, Thiers entered Paris. Barricades. Anarchy. Members of Commune dispersed. May 21st-27th, Street fighting. Heroism—devotion— but no method, no organisation, lack of ammunition. Piecemeal annihilation. May 27th-June 2nd, The Week of Blood. At least 20,000, probably 40,000, massacred.
The Commune was important as the first attempt of workers to seize power and organise society. Foredoomed because it attempted to force the pace of history; not based on understanding; an unprepared unthinking movement; the work of a well-meaning but confused minority.
Books to Read.
E. B. Bax: Short History of the Paris Commune.
Postgate: Revolution (Commune section).
Kautsky: Terrorism and Communism (Commune section).
G. L. Dickinson: Revolution and Reaction in Modern France (Commune section).
Lissagary: History of the Commune.
Marx: Civil War in France.