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10 June 2009

The Masses Arise: The French revolution and today's struggles

The Masses Arise by Peter Taaffe, photo Dennis Rudd

The Masses Arise by Peter Taaffe, cover Dennis Rudd

Peter Taaffe's book, The Masses Arise, first published in 1989 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the start of the French revolution, is now back in print.

Kevin Parslow

Its republication by Socialist Publications, in time for the 220th anniversary of this great event in July 2009, is extremely timely. Not only does the author recount the events of the revolution, bringing out the heroic role of the sans-culottes - who have been vilified by right-wing historians - but also the relevance of these events to what is likely to develop in the coming period in France, Europe and throughout the world. "This book is more relevant today than when it was first published in 1989," writes the author in a new introduction.

The collapse of Stalinism and with it the planned economies of Eastern Europe led to a massive ideological campaign against socialism and Marxism, as well as the ideas of revolution. Voices advocating these ideas were drowned out by the campaign extolling the capitalist 'free market', which was now the eternal model for humankind.

Under the impact of the devastating world economic crisis, the ideas of socialism and revolution are back on the agenda. Even in the political crisis in Britain this year over the scandal of MPs expenses, there have been references to 'revolution', 'Jacobinism' and the 'tumbrels'.

Peter also shows the connection between the French revolution and the movements of the working masses as an independent class force throughout the nineteenth century in the revolutions of 1830, 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the tumultuous events of the twentieth century.

New material is included about the events of 1968 and the great sit-down strikes in 1936 because of their connection with the example set by the French revolution.

Also recounted is the role of Gracchus Babeuf, and the Communist 'Conspiracy of Equals'. The author explains that "the great Babeuf was the 'father' of the ideas of communism, albeit in a rudimentary and primitive form. Nevertheless, those ideas did not disappear when Babeuf's head was cut off by the rising French bourgeois but continued in the 'back alleys of France' and provided the thread that led to the independent development of the workers' movement in France later."

Haunting spectre

The French revolution and subsequent events which were inspired by its example have always exercised the French ruling class and its political representatives. In particular, the 1968 general strike and occupation of the factories is a spectre which continues to haunt the present French government.

Right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy declared soon after coming to power: "Now, in France when there are strikes, nobody can see it." Peter comments: "One year later, two and a half million workers and young people demonstrated on the streets against Sarkozy's policies. One placard read: 'Now do you see the strike?' This was just the beginning of the seismic change in consciousness now developing in the depths of the French masses.

"From over 50% support in opinion polls, Sarkozy's standing dropped to 37% as unemployment rocketed against a background of record profits for the capitalists and a worsening of the workers' conditions. Most striking was the general support of the population, 69% in January 2009, for the strike. An even greater proportion supported the strike of March."

It is vital in the coming period to build the forces of genuine socialism and Marxism in order that working-class people will be able to seize the opportunities to advance their position in the explosive situation created by the crisis of French, British, European and world capitalism. The author points out: "In taking this road, the new generation of workers and young people in particular could benefit enormously from studying all revolutions, the English revolution as well as the French revolution."

A thorough grasp from a Marxist standpoint of what are complex events can be hugely beneficial - as the great teachers of Marxism demonstrated - in politically arming us for the coming tumultuous period. 2009, like 2008, is a year of big anniversaries: Tiananmen Square and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But the Socialist Party hopes that the new generation will also turn towards and study the events of the French revolution. Peter writes: "If this book does nothing else but familiarise them with the main events and thread of the revolution, from a socialist and Marxist perspective, we will have succeeded in our aim."

All readers of The Socialist should buy this book, and urge their friends and workmates to order a copy - cover price 10. Get your local and university libraries to order copies. There will be special reductions for those who order a copy in advance and for bulk orders.

The Masses Arise

The Great French Revolution 1789 -1815

by Peter Taaffe

10, plus 10% p&p
Out soon - order now for a discount.
Please make cheques payable to Socialist Publications Ltd and send to Socialist Publications, PO Box 24697. London E11 1YD
Phone 020 8988 8779 to pay by card or for discount details and bulk orders.

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