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Nineteenth Century Revolutions and the French Working Classes

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Q] What was the impact of the revolutions and political uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1870 on the French working classes?          The French Revolution was a critical event in global history. The effects of this revolution continued to reverberate across French society well into the nineteenth century and three subsequent revolutions occurred. The subjects of this essay are these three revolutions in 1830, 1848 and 1870 and the specific effects on the working classes shall be analysed. In 1789 the sans-culottes played an important role although afterwards conservative consolidation meant that the revolution ultimately favoured the bourgeoisie. Similarly, in the nineteenth century revolts, the power of working classes was often used to fuel the revolutions themselves. Thereafter conservatism dominated politics, resulting in benefits to the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, with the demands of the working classes often overlooked. In focussing on each nineteenth century revolution it shall be necessary to identify the causes of unrest and the results of the uprisings in terms of politics. The very fact that there was a repetitive cycle of revolution indicates that there were underlying political instabilities dominating France. After Napoleon, France reverted to a Bourbon monarchy. However, revolutionary gains were not entirely reversed and the King was bound by certain restrictions, unlike his ancestors. 1789 can be regarded as a ‘Bourgeois Revolution and ‘the nobles were, along with the clergy, the clear losers from the revolution’ (Magraw, 1988:25). The Restoration aristocracy clawed back much of their political power under the Bourbons and their power climaxed preceding the 1830 July Days. Charles X had supported policies for properties lost during the Revolution to be returned to their owners, a political bone of contention. In the immediate years preceding 1830 a classic economic crisis had emerged, inducing food shortages and forcing up grain prices. This deeply unsettled peasants and the urban masses. Charles X introduced restrictive censorship measures that had an immediate effect on one group of workers: the printers. The disenchanted bourgeoisie succeeded in rallying emotions among artisans and it was this element of the working classes that did the backbone of the fighting during the ‘Trois Glorieuses’. This artisan class were the first to identify as a proletariat and demonstrate the birth of the working class in France. They agreed with progressive republican ideas thrust upon them by the bourgeoisie. Artisans were comprised of the old craft workers and the industrial revolution was increasingly…

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Review: Marxism and the French Left – by Tony Judt

This is an in depth study of socialism in France. The book is broken up into a series of long chapters, each covering a critical period of the political left in France. The emergence of working class political culture in the nineteenth century is explored and we see the development of trade unionism and the creation of socialist parties. The development of the social party, the SFIO is looked at in detail, prior to its rise to power under Blum. We then see the decline in the power of the socialists as they concede proletariat votes to the PCF, communists. The chapter on the French communists looks at the theorists who were so successful at internationalising the ideas and images of French Marxism. Sartre among the most famous, also there is a detailed study of Althusser, who unlike many of the French Marxist writers – was also an actual member of the PCF. The tailing off off Communist popularity as it clung hopelessly to the vestiges of Stalinism, leads to the book’s final chapter, where the rise of the socialists yet again, culminates in the ascendancy of Mitterand at the 1981 French general elections where the socialists swept surprisingly into power. this victory is compared with the Revolution of 1791 and the Paris Commune of 1871 in terms of its relevance to leftist politics in France. I found this book to be very detailed and some chapters were a bit tricky in terms of ideas and specialist vocabulary – but the book, read for a History of French Labour course at Cardiff University – has certainly enlightened me on certain aspects of French working class politics and I feel that the knowledge imparted has been vital.

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Review: Marxism and the French Left – by Tony Judt

marxism and the french left

This is an in depth study of socialism in France. The book is broken up into a series of long chapters, each covering a critical period of the political left in France. The emergence of working class political culture in the nineteenth century is explored and we see the development of trade unionism and the creation of socialist parties. The development of the social party, the SFIO is looked at in detail, prior to its rise to power under Blum. We then see the decline in the power of the socialists as they concede proletariat votes to the PCF, communists. The chapter on the French communists looks at the theorists who were so successful at internationalising the ideas and images of French Marxism. Sartre among the most famous, also there is a detailed study of Althusser, who unlike many of the French Marxist writers – was also an actual member of the PCF. The tailing off off Communist popularity as it clung hopelessly to the vestiges of Stalinism, leads to the book’s final chapter, where the rise of the socialists yet again, culminates in the ascendancy of Mitterand at the 1981 French general elections where the socialists swept surprisingly into power. this victory is compared with the Revolution of 1791 and the Paris Commune of 1871 in terms of its relevance to leftist politics in France. I found this book to be very detailed and some chapters were a bit tricky in terms of ideas and specialist vocabulary – but the book, read for a History of French Labour course at Cardiff University – has certainly enlightened me on certain aspects of French working class politics and I feel that the knowledge imparted has been vital.

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