[Marxism] on the Lincoln debate - my two cents worth

Graham Milner gkmilner at bigpond.com
Sun Dec 2 15:14:09 MST 2012

The peasantry formed a bedrock of support for the National Assembly in 
France, when it was formed.   I remember my high school History teacher 
pointed out to us, in the lessons she gave us on the Great French 
Revolution, that once they had seized the landed estates the peasantry were 
satisfied, and later on became a conservative force and a basis of support 
for Bonapartism.   I don't believe that many historians would hold that 
France was 'feudal' before 1789 (if that is what is implied by the claim 
that there was no 'capitalism' in that country before the Revolution). 
Doesn't such a position deny Marx's and Engels' own view of the genesis and 
evolution of capitalism through its various phases?   Mercantile capitalism 
was clearly well established in France centuries before the Great Revolution 
broke out in 1789.   What about Louis IV and Colbert, his economics 
minister?   What about Dupleix and the French East India Company in the 
Indian subcontinent?

If by 'capitalism', the writers you mention mean industrial capitalism, that 
might fit.   But industrialism is one phase of capitalist development.   One 
of the preconditions for the industrial revolution in Britain was precisely 
the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th century, which broke the power of the 
most conservative sections of the old aristocracy, and opened a much wider 
road for commercial development in agriculture and later in industry.   The 
Great Revolution in France was initiated and impelled by the actions of the 
revolutionary townspeople and peasantry, but the bourgeoisie emerged from 
the revolutionary era as the new ruling class.   Marx and Engels of course 
paid the bourgeoisie their historical due in the opening passages of the 
'Manifesto of the Communist Party'.

I would like to read the new accounts of the bourgeois revolutions that have 
been mentioned in this thread.   But on the French Revolution, at least, I 
believe that the older, solid, Marxist contributions of Georges Lefebvre, 
Albert Soboul and George Rude continue to deserve to be studied by 
socialists and others.

> On 12/2/12 4:35 PM, Alan Bradley wrote:
>> The obvious next question: to what extent was this reversed during the 
>> counter-revolutions - Thermidorian, Bonapartist and Royalist?
>> If the answer boils down to "not substantially", then the claim that "the 
>> French revolution was not a revolution" makes no damn sense whatsoever.
> For what it's worth, Comninel and Ellen Meiksins Wood argue that there was 
> no capitalism in France before or after 1789. The fact that peasants 
> benefited from land seizures might have retarded the growth of capitalism, 
> if I understand their argument correctly. It is only through the large 
> farms based on leasing that led to the growth of capitalism in Britain.
> Now I don't buy any of this myself but I found Comninel's argument that 
> the revolution was led by elements of the aristocracy quite convincing. 
> But as I said, I might be convinced otherwise by Neil Davidson not to 
> speak of Henry Heller, the critic of Brenner who wrote this:
> http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Bourgeois_Revolution_in_France_1789.htm

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