Socialism and Communism During the French Revolution

By Audrey Sightler


The French Revolution set the beginning stages for socialism through socialist policies such as The General Maximum. It also gave fame to the French socialist philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of "The Social Contract." Furthermore, while many believe Karl Marx was the "Father of Communism," he may have inspired his philosophy from Francois-Noel Babeuf's "Conspiracy for Equality."

Like Marx, Babeuf advocated for revolutionary reform of society: the abolition of private property and economic equality for all, but at a very earlier period than Marx, making the "Conspiracy for Equality" the first attempt to put communism into practice. During the 18th century, the word "communism" hadn't evolved until 1832, but rather Babeuf was attempting "egalitarianism," this movement was a combination of a long-established tradition of striving for social justice, of which certain phases of the French Revolution were only more recent manifestations. The campaigners for social justice during the French Revolution went back to this tradition as long ago as the Roman Revolution for their examples. 

The French Revolution was a period in which the people of France overthrew the monarchy of King Louis XVI and the government. The revolution lasted for over ten years, beginning in 1787 and ending in 1799. The dislike instigated the turmoil for King Louis XVI and his inadequate economic policies. Due to King Louis's vast spending, France was on the brink of bankruptcy. Throughout this, the commoners of France were experiencing two decades of poor harvests and droughts, which led to soaring bread prices, causing unrest among the French commoners.

The first of the general causes of the revolution was the social structure of the Western Hemisphere. The feudal regime proved to be dismantled in most regions of Europe, but in some countries, the elite, also known as the "bourgeoisie," aspired to political power. The French commoners that were landholders had achieved a more exceptional standard of living and wanted to get rid of the last concentrations of feudalism, to be able to acquire full ownership of their landholdings and to be free to purchase however much property they aspired to own. 

After the American Revolution, the common people of France desired the same individual liberty as America. France's parliament, the Estates-General, was so autocratic, it hadn't been in session for 175 years. Once King Louis XVI ordered the institution back into session to raise funds for France's debt, the French Revolution commenced when the members of the Third Estate (French Commoners) left the session and established a National Assembly that would demand that France have a constitution. But as Alexander Hamilton predicted, perpetrators would more than likely hijack the French Revolution; Hamilton stated, "In reviewing the disgusting spectacle of the French revolution, it is difficult to avert the eye entirely from those features of it which betray a plan to disorganize the human mind itself, as well as to undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society. The attempt by the rulers of a nation to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole people to Atheism, is a phenomenon of profligacy reserved to consummate the infamy of the unprincipled reformers of France. The proofs of this terrible design are numerous and convincing" (The Stand No. III, April, 7th 1798). The consequence was true for France's commoners, and thus, the French Revolution brought years of bloodshed as well as the "Reign of Terror."

The revolution was preceded and influenced by the socialist opportunists and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1787), who authored "The Social Contract" (1762). According to "The Social Contract," citizens may leave a radical "state of nature" by willingly transferring their property rights to the community in exchange for security and property. Rousseau's theory has an inverse relationship in which the workers transfer, through their labor, their creative substance into the goods they produce. Rousseau also pinpoints individualism as a dilemma in industrial society; he describes this as an exploitation of one group of individuals by another group. Likewise, this represents a commonality with Karl Marx and his identification of the exploitive relationship between the bourgeoisie (middle-class) and the proletariat (working-class) classes. Marx also describes how the bourgeoisie depends on the proletariat for a constant labor supply but does not offer fair compensation in exchange. Nor do they aid the political or economic liberation of the working-class. 

Further, Rousseau implies in "The Social Contract," a utopian society in which all rights and property would have to be entrusted in the State, which would be under control by the people. Rousseau's work can also be compared to Marx by one of the essential terms in "The Social Contract" is "general will," the reduction of individual rights. The phrase "general will" seemingly implies that there is an interest common within all of humanity involved. While this is untrue, running a direct democracy on this principle is useless and inconceivable. Many strong points between Rousseau and Marx suggest that he was an influential philosopher for Karl Marx's political writings; similarly, Rousseau's political writings were fundamental to the evolution of modern socialism.

Similarly, another influence on Karl Marx's writings and political theories was Francois-Noel Babeuf's "Conspiracy of Equality." François-Noël Babeuf (1760-1797) was a radical journalist and political activist during the later stages of the French Revolution. He is best known for leading a failed plot against the government of the Directory in 1796. Babeuf and his Conspiracy was the ideal of absolute equality. The Conspiracy proclaimed, "We demand real equality or Death; that is what we must have, we are ready for anything: we are willing to sweep everything away. Let all the arts vanish, if necessary, as long as general equality remains for us." The Conspiracy also acknowledges that private property would be abolished. All possessions would become communal and stored in communal storehouses; moreover, the Conspiracy also indicates a substantial expansion of government officials and bureaucrats. The "Conspiracy of Equals" was a significant influence later on to Marxism-Leninism, such as the "Communist Manifesto."

Moreover, Babeuf remarked after his Plebeian Manifesto: "May everything return to chaos, and out of chaos may there emerge a new and regenerated world," this idea would ring true for each country throughout history which has ever collapsed under a communist regime. Furthermore, the Greek Middle philosopher, Plutarch (A.D. 46-after AD 119), more than likely, shared a sizeable responsibility in the French Revolution; thus, Francois-Noel changed his name to Gracchus and titled his journal "Le Tribun du peuple." The importance of this lies in the fact that Plutarch described how the tribune "Tiberius Gracchus" in 133 B.C., had attempted appealing to the Licinian law, to create more equality distribution. Moreover, this stemmed from a Plutarchian precedent to consider that contemporaries of Babeuf referred to the highly radical of the current communistic social programs like the "agrarian law," this advocated the equal distribution of property.

The parallels between the French Revolutionary Government and current Communist Governments are distinct, and even more so because of the radical philosophers that influenced the French Revolution. In addition to the socialist policy of King Louis XVI, "The General Maximum," which was an attempt to regulate food supplies and prices to satisfy and appease the working-class of Paris; consequently, King Louis XVI's government-regulated economic affairs while the royal court consumed the national wealth. The influential philosophers during the revolution, such as Rousseau and Babeuf, have since given the socialistic and communist ideals to past and present communist regimes. In contrast, Karl Marx and modern-day philosophers subsequently radically enhanced their works. 

About Audrey

Instagram: @audrey_g_sightler

Audrey Sightler is a Louisiana native, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in International Business Administration, as well as a History Minor with Liberty University. She is an active member of the International Churchill Society and the Royal Economic Society. Moreover, Audrey has achieved multiple certifications in International Business with the University of London. Audrey is a fourth-generation American descendant of an Ellis Island immigrant; her forefathers also worked alongside the Founding Fathers to establish our freedoms during America's founding.

#Socialism #America #Capitalism


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