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article imageOp-Ed: France: ‘You say you want a revolution. Well, you know..’

By Michael Cosgrove     Oct 15, 2010 in Politics
So sang Lennon, and ‘Revolution’ is also creeping into the vocabulary of the French public and politicians. They would do well to remind themselves of the murderous outcome of the French Revolution, and it's lessons, before starting another one.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a well-known firebrand Socialist politician with and he has just brought out a new book, called ‘They’ve got to go! Quick, let’s have the citizen’s revolution'. It is full of anachronistic vocabulary such as ‘nabob, the self-satisfaction of the privileged, the king of shadowy frequentations,’ and, of course, revolution. He is reported to have changed the title just before publishing to include the word ‘revolution', which he is bandying about on every occasion possible right now whilst doing his publicity tour for the book.
Extreme far-right National Front vice-president Marine le Pen thinks the same, announcing a couple of days back that she wants “the system to implode” and says “I am for a patriotic revolution.”
Anti-capitalist party leader Olivier Besancenot says that "Another May '68 is possible."
All this has, of course, been inspired by recent strikes and schoolchildren rioting against a new retirement law.
So here we are, with the hard-left and the extreme right both on the same side. That’s what happened just before the French revolution, although those extremes had different names at that time.
The French Revolution was not, contrary to popular belief, a single event. In fact it was a ten-year period from 1789 to 1799 which witnessed several revolutions and a permanent state of violent social unrest. It was, in simple terms, the result of years of famine and an economic crisis in 1847 after many years of war which had killed millions of French people, ruined the economy and turned the people against the system.
Political infighting to take control over the upcoming revolution was rife, and the storming of the Bastille took place on July Fourteenth. The ‘people’ had won. That is how the French remember their revolution(s) and that is why people are drawing parallels to it today, with Sarkozy being cast as king and social privileges replacing famine as a would-be catalyst.
But these modern-day revolutionaries forgot a few details. Most of all, they forget that the people, far from winning, lost everything, including their lives in hundreds of thousands of instances.
The period leading up to July 14 saw thousands of lawless killings by both sides, looting and rioting, and summary executions. After the Revolution, women marched on Versailles and many were killed in a battle with the National Guard. Women did not obtain any substantial rights until well after the ten-year period and were indeed forbidden to walk around in public in groups. Many thousands of people were killed without trial, accused of being Royalists. The political instability which followed led to many more deaths over the next few years.
Then came the Reign of Terror (1793-1794.) It was chiefly organized by Robespierre, head of the ironically-named Committee of Public Safety. Archives show that over 16,000 people were guillotined or otherwise executed for “counter-revolutionary activities.” Historians say that as many as 40,000 people were summarily executed. About 120,000 people died in all around the country in a climate of suspicion and denunciation, in which uttering an impolitically-correct word in a conversation got many people killed, often as a result of neighborly jealousy. The Reign of Terror crushed all resistance, and although Robespierre was eventually guillotined, the revolutionary government dragooned millions of people into the army and France went back on the warpath in Europe once again. Business as usual.
That is the Revolution the French have forgotten.
They are forgetting it at their own risks and perils, and those who encourage social unrest today are obviously oblivious to the fact that – as happens in all revolutions and revolts - if ever the violence they are encouraging gets out of hand they will be the first to be put up against a wall and shot as dangerous and meddling counterrevolutionaries by their own side once it’s all over.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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