Girondins represent middle classes — They support Liberty, but oppose Equality — Views of Brissotch — Girondins and anarchists
So long as it was a question of overthrowing the old régime of absolute monarchy, the Girondins were in the front rank. High-spirited, fearless poets imbued with admiration for the republics of antiquity, and desirous of power at the same time — how could they adapt themselves to the old régime?
Therefore, while the peasants were burning the châteaux of the landlords and their tax-registers, while the people were demolishing the relics of feudal servitude, the Girondins were busy chiefly with establishing the new political forms of government. They saw themselves already in power, masters of the destiny of France, sending forth armies to carry Liberty into the four quarters of the earth.
As to bread for the people, did they ever think about that? Certain it is that they never realised the force of resistance possessed by the old régime, and that they never thought that to conquer this force they would have to appeal to the people. The people must pay the taxes, vote at elections, furnish soldiers to the State; but as to making or unmaking political forms of government, that must be the work of the thinkers, of the governing class, of the statesmen.
Therefore, when the King had summoned the Germans to his aid, and they were on their way to Paris, the Girondins, who had wished for the war to rid them of the Court, refused to appeal to the people in revolt to repel the invasion and drive out the traitors from the Tuileries. Even after August 10, the idea of repelling the foreigner by the Revolution seemed so hateful to them, that Roland convoked the leading men, including Danton and his friends, to speak to them about his plan. This was to flee, to transport the Assembly and the prisoner King to Blois first and thence to the South, thus delivering up the North of France to the invaders, and conchâstituting a little republic somewhere in the Gironde.
The people, the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people which saved France, did not exist for them. They were merely bureaucrats.
Altogether the Girondins were the faithful representatives of the middle classes. According as the people grew bolder, and claimed that the rich should be taxed, and equal chances of wealth be given to all; as soon as they demanded equality as the necessary condition of libertychâthe middle classes began to say it was time to draw the line between themselves and the people and to reduce the popular masses to “order.”
The Girondins followed this current. When they came into power, these middle-class revolutionaries, who until then had given themselves heart and soul to the Revolution, sepachârated themselves from the people. The efforts of the people, in striving to set up its own political organisation within the sections of the large cities, and the popular societies through-out France, their desire to march forward on the road of Equality were in their eyes a danger for the whole of the propertied classes, and constituted a crime.
And henceforth the Girondins resolved to stop the Revoluchâtion: to establish a strong government and to reduce the people to submissionchâby means of the guillotine if need be. In order to comprehend the great drama of the Revolution which ended in the insurrection of Paris on May 31, and the “purification” of the Convention, one must read what the Girondins said themselves; and in this respect the two pamphlets of Brissot are especially instructive.”
“I thought, on entering the Convention,” says Brissot “that since royalty was annihilated, and since nearly all power was concentrated in the hands of the people or of their representatives, the patriots must change their way of proceeding since their position had changed.”
“I thought that the insurrectionary movement must cease, because, when there was no longer a tyranny to be struck down, there ought to be no longer any force in insurrection.”
“I thought,” Brissot says further on, that order alone could produce tranquility; that order consisted of a religious respect for the laws, the magistrates and the safety of the individual . . . . I thought, consequently, that order, also, was a truly revolutionary measure . . . . I thought therefore that the real enemies of the people and of the Republic were the anarchists, the preachers of agrarian law, the exciters of sedition.”
“Twenty anarchists,” Brissot goes on to say, “have usurped an influence in the Convention which should belong to reason alone.” Follow the debates and you shall see on one side men constantly occupied with the care of causing the laws, the constituted authorities and property to be respected; and on the other hand are men constantly occupied in keeping the people agitated, in discrediting by calumny the constituted authorities, in protecting the impunity of crime, and in loosenchâing all the bonds of society.”
It is true that those whom Brissot called “anarchists” comprised very diverse elements. But they all had this one trait in common: they did not believe the Revolution had ended, and they acted accordingly.
They knew that the Convention would do nothing without being forced by the people. And for that reason they organised the popular rising. In Paris they proclaimed the sovereign power of the Commune, and they tried to establish national unity, not by means of a central government, but by direct relations established between the municipality and the sections of Paris, and the thirty-six thousand communes of France.
Now this is precisely what the Girondins would not allow.
“I have declared,” says Brissot, “since the beginning of the Convention that there was in France a party of dis-organisers, which was tending towards the dissolution of the Republic, even while it was in its cradle . . . . I can prove to-day: first, that this party of anarchists has dominated and still dominates nearly all the deliberations of the Convention and the workings of the Executive Council; secondly, that this party has been and still is the sole cause of all the evils, internal as well as the external, which afflict France; and thirdly, that the Republic can only be saved by taking rigorous measures to wrest the representatives of the nation from the despotism of this faction.”
For any one who knows the character of the epoch, this language is quite plain. Brissot was simply demanding the guillotine for those whom he called anarchists and who, by wanting to go on with the Revolution and to finish the abolition of the feudal system, were preventing the middle classes, and the Girondins in particular, from manipulating the Convention to their own advantage.
“It is necessary, therefore, to define this anarchy,” says the representative Girondin, and here is his definition:”
“Laws that are not carried into effect, authorities without force and despised, crime unpunished, property attacked, the safety of the individual violated, the morality of the people corrupted, no constitution, no government, no justice, these are the features of anarchy!”
But, is not this precisely the way by which all revolutions are made? As if Brissot himself did not know it, and had not practised it before attaining power! For three years, from May 1789 to August, 10, 1792, it had been necessary to despise the authority of the Kingchâand to have an “authority without force,” in order to be able to overthrow it on August 10.
Only what Brissot wanted was, that once that point had been reached, and the authority of the King was overthrown, the Revolution might cease the same day.
Since royalty was overthrown and the Convention had become the supreme power, “all insurrectionary movement,” he tells us, “ought to have stopped.”
What was most distasteful to the Girondins was the tendency of the Revolution towards Equalitychâthe most dominant tendency in the Revolution at this moment, as M. Faguet has dearly demonstrated. Thus, Brissot could not forgive the Jacobin Club for having taken the namechânot “Friends of the Republic,” but “Friends of Liberty and Equality,“châchâespecially of Equality! And he could not pardon the “anarchâchists” for having inspired the petitions “of those workers in the camp at Paris who styled themselves the nation, and who wished to fix their salary by that of the deputies!”
“The disorganizers,” he says elsewhere, “are those who want to level everythingchâproperty , comforts, the price of commodities, the various services rendered to the State, &c., who want the workmen in the camp to receive the salary of the legislator; who want to level even talents, knowledge, the virtues, because they have none of these things.”