French Revolution

640px Prise de la BastilleA careful study of the French revolution (and the Russian) provide a complete antidote to the slander that revolutions are the work of tiny handfuls of conspirators and demagogues. The role of the masses is fundamental in driving the revolution forward at every stage. And when this active participation of the masses ebbs, the revolution comes to a full stop and goes into reverse. That was the case both in France and Russia, and led directly to reaction, firstly of the Thermidorian and later of the Bonapartist variety. It is impossible to read the inspiring history of the French revolution in the period of its ascent without a profound feeling of pride in the achievements of a revolutionary people. Here is the answer to all the cowards and sceptics who doubt the tremendous potential that is present everywhere in the masses.

Trotsky defines a revolution as the moment when the masses, that is to say, the millions of ordinary men and women, begin to participate in politics, to take their lives and destinies into their own hands. Revolution stirs up society to the bottom, and mobilises layers that were previously inert and "non-political". The role of women in the French revolution is a graphic illustration of this fact. Among the most decisive moments in the revolution was the fifth of October 1789, when six or seven thousand women of Paris marched in the pouring rain to Versailles to demand bread and force the king to move to Paris. The men were shamed into joining this strange procession of "the baker, the baker's wife and the baker's boy" which turned the king of France into a virtual prisoner of the revolutionary people.

– From The French revolution

The Battle of Waterloo - 200 years ago, on 18th June 1815 - was the last great event that marked the end of that great historical process that was begun in 1789 by the Great French Revolution. With the defeat of Napoleon, the last flickering embers of the fires lit by revolutionary France were extinguished. A long, grey period settled down on Europe like a thick coat of suffocating dust. The forces of triumphant reaction seemed firmly in the saddle.

This article by Alan Woods looks at how the French Revolution affected British poets. It struck Britain like a thunderbolt affecting all layers of society and this was reflected in its artists and writers.

In this in depth article Alan Woods looks at the specific historical role of Napoleon Bonaparte. He looks into the characteristics of this man that fitted the needs of the reactionary bourgeoisie as it attempted to consolidate its grip on French society and sweep to one side the most revolutionary elements who had played a key role in guaranteeing the victory of the revolution.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered by many as the greatest musician of all time. He was revolutionary in more senses than one. One of his main achievements was in the field of opera. Before Mozart, opera was seen as an art form exclusively for the upper classes. This was true not only of those who went to see it, but also of its dramatis personae - the characters who were shown on the stage, and especially the protagonists. With The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro in its original Italian title), all this changes. This is the story of a servant who stands up to his boss and outwits his master.

This article by Alan Woods was originally written in 1989 to commemorate 200 years of the Great French Revolution, with a new introduction by the author. Alan Woods explains the internal dynamics of the revolution and above all the role played by the masses.