Marxism, Fabian Socialism and American Liberalism: The Left’s First Reign of Terror During the French Revolution (1789-99)

Maximilien de Robespierre

Maximilien de Robespierre

“The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”  
—  Maximilien de Robespierre (1759-94)

Toryism in Great Britain and throughout Europe remained status quo for centuries, though across the Channel lie the House of Parliament in London. In France, however, there remained le ancien regime, a system under feudalism with gross inequities between the wealthy and peasantry. The social hierarchy in France comprised of three estates. The First Estate placed the Roman Catholic Church as the supreme power as the nation’s papal representation. The Second Estate was the landed nobility, which the Third comprised of the commoners.

The Bourbons resided in the Palace of Versailles. Since 1774, Louis XVI had been the reigning monarch. He enacted a measure of revenge from France’s catastrophic defeat during the Seven Years War in aiding the Continental Army under George Washington’s command in defeating the British at Yorktown in 1781, providing naval assistance and advisers from adopted French son Marquis de Lafayette and Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau. In the end because his queen consort Marie Antoinette was the trump card for all his reign’s characteristics, her perceived arrogance led to the collapse of the ancien regime

I. THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF BOURBON (1789-92)

King Louis XVI of France, by Antoine Francois Callet-Louis

The king adopted similar principles as did his contemporary in Russia, Catherine I (Catherine the Great). Historians recognize Catherine as an enlightened despot whose inner circle comprised of a “who’s who” of Enlightenment philosophes. She counted among her most treasured friends none other than Voltaire, who authored Candide and was the very epitome of the deist movement disavowing God beyond that of the supreme being. Catherine I modernized the Russian imperial court more completely than all other rulers since Peter II (Peter the Great). She liberalized the Russian standard only to fear that which spawned her idealism. Once the French Revolution took flight, she brutally cracked down on dissidents.

Louis XVI supported liberalizing France, but never developed a healthy relationship with his subordinates. He counted among his great political influences Francois Fenelon (1651-1715) as well as the usual cast of Enlightenment scholars have taken flight in salons. And because of his novel position the state is mutually exclusive of the reigning monarchy, he clashed with the traditional order. As a result, he chose not to retain the services his grandfather Louis XV employed as a means to appeal to his royal subjects.

While the king chose to alter the monarchy’s course on political communications, he remained entrenched on financial matters. His new ministerial team of Turgot, Necker and Calonne did not receive Louis XVI’s blessing in eliminating fiscal privileges or primogeniture and entail. As discontent led to the rise of the Jacobin Club, funding and organizing seemingly random outbreaks of anarchial violence in protest, he was forced to summon the Estates General to the Palace of Versaille in 1788. On July 14, 1789, the storming of the Bastille prison served as the official launch of the French Revolution, human history’s first experiment at left-wing popular revolt and inevitably, totalitarianism.

The symbol of unbridled arrogance amid her privilege laid within the breast of Marie Antoinette, but of course not the sole source for outrage among the sans culottes. She was the daughter of Austrian Habsburg ruler, Marie Therese, and Holy Roman emperor Francis I of Lorraine. Her brother Joseph II characterized his sister Marie as “likeable and honest”, of good humor and a taste of the finer things in life. A queen consort at Versailles ever in tune with her ceremonial duties of entertaining the king’s court constantly in the presence of her coterie, she was reluctant to observe her relationship with the commoners and peasants. This was met with overwhelming protests of her elitist dialogue through her silence.

During the 1780’s, Louis XVI appointed navigator Jean-Francois de Laperouse to sail with him around the world. The king attended his first aeronautical experimentation in 1783 in which the setting was at Versailles. On September 14 that year, Etienne de Montgolfer launched a balloon using hydrogen gas carrying animals in a gondola over the rooftops of the palace. On November 21, Pilatre de Rozier set off from Versailles. His first trip lasted some 25 minutes. Contrary to the academic imperative, he should never be painted as too conservative to acknowledge science or natural law.

Marie Antoinette, Queen Consort of France and Navarre, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.

But like his wife Marie Antoinette, the king maintained his autonomy at the preclusion of his subjects. This had been a trend growing more pervasive as the distance between the monarch increased substantially from the commoners, most especially the peasants. For example, he would order official suppers in the dining room of his small apartment, comprising some sixty guests, among whom were the queen and members of the royal family, his ministerial subordinates and courtiers. The court however was considerably smaller, “less brilliant” than under Louis XIV. It was under Louis XVI that Paris supplanted Versailles as the heart of the rising French cultural colossus.

Marie Antoinette was partially a victim of historic French xenophobia, but her decorum did her no favors. For example, Madame Adelaide nicknamed her “the Austrian woman” as she inflected all that was not “Frenchness” for the court’s liking. The queen fell prey to libels and public slander, derogatory caricatures and of “scurrilous pamphlets”, employing sexual perversion in defamation of her character, especially the infamous “Necklace Affair” in 1785, consensually the unofficial catalyst of the pending revolution. But the coups de gras so far as the court was concerned was her audacity to show The Marriage of Figaro at her private theater in Trianon, its plot originally penned by Pierre Beaumarchais as a comic spoof of the ancien regime who had been highly critical of Louis XVI and was banned as a result. The ambiguity of her countenance and decorum no doubt stemmed from the hostility directed at her since she first set foot at the palace at age 15. Few knew where she stood at the onset of the revolution, though she took flight alongside Louis XVI in 1792, only to be arrested at Vincennes. Contrary to popular urban legend, Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.” The king’s own indecision contributed to one of the most egregious misnomers of a person’s legacy post mortem.

Louis XVI was well-intentioned, schooled in the trends during the Enlightenment period. Yet his own upbringing led to his indecisiveness, his reluctance to put to paper any meaningful reforms or proclamations to either end primogeniture and entail or at the least curtail the public’s perception of elitism and snobbery. He refused to acknowledge the declaration of Human Rights having been drawn shortly after the fall of the Bastille. On October 5, 1789 a mob of sans culottes stormed the Palace at Versailles, demanding the royal family relocate its residence to Paris. Upon his arrest at Varennes, he was placed under the Tuileries palace, where he attempted again to escape France in June 1790. The rise of the Jacobin Club under the tyrant Maximilien de Robespierre officially abolished the monarchy and declared 1790 to be “Year I of the French Republic”. For Louis XVI and his coy queen consort Marie Antoinette, their time had run out. On January 21, 1792, Louis XVI was guillotined. On October 16 of the subsequent year, so too would be “the rejected queen”, the most “star-crossed” icon in French history.

II. THE JACOBIN CLUB AND THE COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

Subversive elements are attributed to be the cause for the radicalism that epitomizes the French Revolution. But none are more notorious nor as powerful as the Jacobin Club that was established at the Breton Club at Versailles following the convening of the Estates General in 1789. Akin to many other salons during the Enlightenment, it was populated and considered extraordinarily idealistic. They were the reform-minded deputies, among their names Mirabeau, Sieyes, Barnave, Petion, the Abbe Gregoire, Charles and Alexandre Lameth, Robespierre, the duc d’Aiguillon, and La Revelliere-Lepeaux. Little in the manner of records were kept, most of which likely were destroyed, and therefore as a secret society, it lived up to its reputation. Memoirs, however, provided historians with clues as to what exactly was the framework of their platform, however, during the pivotal summer of 1789. Legend has it Sieyes had crafted a harsh proposal dictating the Third Estates would become the Estates General, of a meeting to devise a strategy to achieve this before the General Assembly and finally, the Duc d’Aiguillon reading his proposals for the total abolition of “feudal rights” prior to August 4, 1789. Non left-wing fringe historical and political scholars may translate the Jacobins as one of  George Soros’ immense influences globally.

The Jacobin namesake was given by opponents as a means for ridicule and insult; yet this name was fully adopted after the announcement of the Constitution in 1791 with the full name Societe des amis de la constitution scants aux Jacobins a Paris, and to its final designation post-abdication of the Bourbon monarchy on September 21, 1792, Societe des Jacobins, amis de la liberte et de l’egalite.  Once the Jacobins transferred alongside the government to Paris, it rapidly engaged in organizing its power base through recruiting new members. The club initially recruited non-deputies, among which was the British national Arthur Young on January 18, 1790. The following month adopted rules drawn by Barnave, which were issued post-signature of the president, the duc d’Aiguillon.

The Jacobin Club invoked the following planks.

  1. to discuss in advance questions to be decided by the National Assembly;
  2. to work for the establishment and strengthening of the constitution in accordance with the spirit of the preamble (i.e. of respect for legally constituted authority and the rights of man)
  3. to correspond with other societies of the same kind which should be formed in the realm.

Alongside the establishment of club officers, its radicalism peeped through its darkened clouds. The rules were absolute; there were to be no questions as to challenge their platform nor intentions. Any member openly displaying a contrary characteristic or through to the Constitution and the rights of man were expelled, which later led to the policy of “purifying” the club by purging it of is moderate members. Per the seventh resolution, it extended its influence by consolidating with other organizations.

III. THE DICTATORSHIP OF MAXIMILIEN DE ROBESPIERRE

Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre was born of Irish roots on May 6, 1758. Elected to the Estates General in 1789 by Artois, he consumed the role of the first radical left-wing dictator. As a charismatic personality, he commanded attention. His influence spread daily, acquiring more power and for a few years, more support for his policies.

French folk hero in America the Marquis de Lafayette was an obstacle to be expunged for Robespierre as he rapidly acquired more power through bloodshed and organized anarchy. Lafayette’s last attempt to curb the rise of Robespierre in attempting to stifle the right to insurrection on the Champ-de-Mars on July 17, 1791 as aided the Bourbon monarchs’ flight towards Austria, only for their carriage to be intercepted at Varennes just one month earlier. Histrionics played greatly into the role of Robespierre as his appeal to the largely illiterate sans culottes partisans aided the ease of his capacity to spur unprecedented violence through fear, as each Jacobin Club member pledged to defend Robespierre’s life as “The Incorruptible”.

Robespierre was a master at populism, and not coincidentally, so were all subsequent successful Leftists. Having declared upon his ascent to the role of public accuser in 1791 no prior member of the Assembly must be permitted to continue past its expiration, the final attempt by Lafayette to fend off the rising Jacobin tied on the Champ-de-Mars saw a veritable clerical archetype of presence emanating from Robespierre. The militancy still providing Leftists their uncanny means to acquire total power despite their serving as the minority opposing an establishment was espoused in the following quotes.

“The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.”
Original French: La plus extravagante idée qui puisse naître dans la tête d’un politique est de croire qu’il suffise à un peuple d’entrer à main armée chez un peuple étranger, pour lui faire adopter ses lois et sa constitution. Personne n’aime les missionnaires armés; et le premier conseil que donnent la nature et la prudence, c’est de les repousser comme des ennemis.
— Sur la guerre (1ère intervention), a speech to the Jacobin Club (2 January 1792) 

“If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country … The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.”
Original French: Le gouvernement de la révolution est le despotisme de la liberté contre la tyrannie.
— Speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794)

“By sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness.”
Original French: En scellant notre ouvrage de notre sang, nous puissions voir au moins briller l’aurore de la félicité universelle.
— Speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794)

“We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first “maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.
Original French: Il faut étouffer les ennemis intérieurs et extérieurs de la République, ou périr avec elle ; or, dans cette situation, la première maxime de votre politique doit être qu’on conduit le peuple par la raison, et les ennemis du peuple par la terreur.
—  
Speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794)

Furthermore, he revealed why the lessons of history not only are immaterial to the putsches of all Leftist political faction.

“Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue.”
Original French: Notre révolution m’a fait sentir tout le sens de l’axiome qui dit que l’histoire est un roman ; et je suis convaincu que la fortune et l’intrigue ont fait plus de héros, que le génie et la vertu.
— Lettres à ses commettants, 1ère série, n°10, (21 December 1792)

“lf the attribute of popular government in peace is virtue, the attribute of popular government in revolution is at one and the same timevirtue and terror, virtue without which terror is fatal, terror without which virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.”
— Speech to the National Convention, (5 February 1794), as quoted in The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Vol. 1 (1951) by Edward Hallett Carr, p. 154

“The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
Original French: Le secret de la liberté est d’éclairer les hommes, comme celui de la tyrannie et de les retenir dans l’ignorance.
— Oeuvres, Volume 2 p. 253.

In April 1792 Robespierre resigned as public accuser. Four months later, his presentation before the Legislative Assembly yield a petition for a Revolutionary Tribunal along with a new Convention. In virulent opposition to the rival Girondists, his dangerously growing thirst for power led to his alignment with Danton. Robespierre’s complete over the Girondists was completed upon Louis XVI’s death June 2, 1793 following opposition to the direct public appeal to the masses on behalf of the king. Upon the insurrection of roughly 80,000 sans culottes surrounding the Convention, the pronouncement of the lone means for governance under a Leftist regime was inscribed in his diary.

“What we need is a single will (il faut une volonté, une). It must be either republican or royalist. If it is to be republican, we must have republican ministers, republican papers, republican deputies, a republican government. The internal dangers come from the middle classes; in order to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people… The people must ally itself with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people.”
—Maximilien Robespierre, 1793

The first Committee of Public Safety convened following its decree in April 1793. That July, Robespierre was appointed one of the rulers of France alongside the first of the Twelve. At this point, Robespierre’s purges of the government through political intrigue and deceit led to what historian’s refer to as his “Reign of Terror”, leading to the executions of Hébert and his friends to the guillotine in March 1794. The following month, Danton and Camille Desmoulins were put to death. The next three months Robespierre reigned supreme as a dictator and totalitarian master with a god complex. He placed all his men into key positions of the Government Committees, in all positions of influence in the commune of Paris, and assumed complete control of the Revolutionary Tribunal. 

Socialism cannot exist without total control over the economy and the livelihood of a collectivized society. The greatest lie ever perpetuated by a left-wing government is the protection of the middle class, for it is greatest threat to its power given its prevalence in educational depth. The middle class trend towards demanding the greatest possible autonomy aside from equal protections under the law.  Considering Occupy: Wall Street and the rising tide of race rioting funded heavily by the likes of George Soros, Beyonce Knowles and husband Jay-Z in which the “anarchy” is waged by the morbidly-impoverished inner-city ghetto dwellers governed by Leftists, it is not a matter of the “great unwashed” acquiring greater control, but of the elite trending overwhelmingly towards totalitarianism. The elite understand well that through secrecy and corrupt bargains, they will acquire absolute control over the illiterate masses. And in order to control the hearts and minds of the illiterate masses, the state must become their religion, their conscience’s guide.

Festival of the Cult of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794)

As his power increased through his purges and their subsequent consolidation, his base of support waned. On May 7 Robespierre, having previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated a new state religion and recommended the Convention to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. During the Festival of the Supreme Being (June 8, 1794, the same day as the Christian holiday Pentacost), Robespierre, having dechristianized France and replacing it with the Cult of the Supreme Being, echoed his concept. In doing so, he exalted himself to the role of “a god on Earth”.

“Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.”

In describing the insanity having engulfed Robespierre, Jacques-Alexis Theriot was overheard to say, “Look at the bugger; it’s not enough for him to be master, he has to be God.” Catherine Theot reported the following as Robespierre’s mental faculties had reached its peak of narcissistic self-aggrandizement, stating he now considered himself “herald of the Last Days, Prophet of the New Dawn”. Fears of Robespierre’s extremism, among which his “god-complex” (or “cult of personality”) was most frequently cited. This would lead to his downfall the following month. On July 28, 1794, he was beheaded at the guillotine, having spent his final days, ironically, incarcerated in the same cell as Marie Antoinette. His last speech before the National Convention July 28, 1794 echo the final hours of the contemporary Communist Party dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu.

“Death is not an eternal sleep! Citizens! efface from the tomb that motto, graven by sacrilegious hands, which spreads over all nature a funereal crape, takes from oppressed innocence its support, and affronts the beneficent dispensation of death! Inscribe rather thereon these words: ‘Death is the commencement of immortality!'”

Thus, in the words of Lord Acton, “Absolute power corrupts absolute.” In the case of Robespierre, it did. But in one sense in his final speech before the Convention, Robespierre was correct. His spirit has proven immortal insomuch as so few people learned their history to prevent the rise of future totalitarians through appeals to their ignorant masses. The world will never be expunged of the taint of the man who grew too power through his innate narcissism. The militancy of the organized illiterate mobs still provide Leftists their uncanny means to acquire total power. In the end, every left-wing revolutionary has resulted in the rule of a far more autocratic dictatorship than the nation’s predecessor. For France, it was the rise of the obscure Corsican general Napoleon Bonaparte.

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