Socialism Is a Consequence of an Economy That Hasn't Grown for 12 Years
Sylvain Maréchal would write in the Manifesto of Equals in the confused and economically devastated France of 1796 that, “We demand real equality, or Death; that is what we must have.” The French Revolution begun in 1789 had spiraled out of control, but therein lay opportunity, according to some, for a new way of getting at what was at root an ancient problem.
Perhaps, after all, politics could be used to achieve righteous means, not merely stand up for the status quo or maintain a minimal flow of goods to some people in the best of times. Any change thereof had historically been for the personal or vindictive reasons of often unjust tyrants; one following another, none of them caring one bit about the great masses of people who they treated like commodities.
The Manifesto of Equals was written to lay down the philosophy of the Conspiracy of Equals led by François Noël Babeuf (also known as Gracchus). It was a philosophical doctrine as well as an actual conspiracy; one intending to overthrow the interregnum government of the Directory. As a political code, these men wanted to make the chaos of 1790’s France into not just something useful, rather to create a template for future generations to follow wielding it.
The manifesto began:
“For fifteen centuries you have lived as slaves, and have therefore been miserable. For the past six years you have scarcely been able to breathe, awaiting independence, happiness, and equality.”
Equality, they claimed, was the whole thing; “The first desire of nature! The first need of man, and the principal bond that ties together all legitimate association!” Not only that, according to Babeuf and Maréchal, equality under the law was some kind of cruel fiction dreamed up to keep the masses just happy enough to remain enslaved. “De facto equality is nothing but a chimera; be satisfied with conditional equality: you are all equal before the law.”
To achieve this, however, would mean laying waste to those fifteen centuries of tradition. Everything had to go, the only hope for mankind rested in an entirely new beginning.
“For its sake we are ready for anything; we are willing to sweep everything away. Let all the arts vanish, if necessary, as long as genuine equality remains for us.”
Here the Conspiracy of Equals could draw inspiration from the Terrors which preceded it. Beginning with its brand-new calendar.
The most momentous events during the French Revolution are often classified by strange sounding names – because those names most often refer to dates assigned under the Revolutionary calendar. Toppling the monarchy under Louis was only one step.
After all, the Americans had sort of rewritten their own history a few years earlier and with significant French aid. But more than few in this revolution, supported by many Founding Fathers, wanted to just wipe the whole slate clean and start history over.
A figurative Year Zero process, in this case beginning literally with Year One.
In October 1793, the old Gregorian calendar was outlawed in favor of one deemed consistent with the Enlightenment’s newfound scientific principles. Almost immediately after the initial revolution in 1789, common writings and press began to refer to that year as Year I of Liberty. This was complicated by the establishment of the French Republic in 1792, which also came to be referred to as Year I.
By decree in the National Convention, 1793 was set as Year II though initially beginning January 1; only to be changed later to the 22nd of September when a full further revolutionary calendar was adopted.
It had been Sylvain Maréchal who had worked on a new kind of calendar back in 1788, publishing it in his Almanac of Honest People (Almanach des Honnêtes-gens). Borrowing from the work of astronomers and mathematicians, Maréchal claimed to be guided by reason rather than the oppressive traditional superstitions of feudal, Catholic France.
The 1793 Revolutionary calendar was even more radical. No more unequal months – couldn’t have that – instead a sort of decimalization befitting this purported application of the Age of Reason. First arguing for ten months, the Revolutionaries settled instead on twelve each of thirty days (with the remaining five sometimes six each year as the Sansculottides, a year-end holiday falling around the autumnal equinox) sporting three weeks of ten days.
After the Sansculottides, the first month was called Vendémiaire, followed by Brumaire, and so on.
Thus, when then the Law of 22 Prairial, for example, was passed in June 1794, it referred to the day and month of the Revolutionary calendar. Equally arbitrary, the law itself contributed to the expansion of the Reign of Terror into the Great Terror. While the Revolutionaries themselves detested the Catholic faith and its One True God, the “science” of these so-called enlightened power brokers came to demand One True Way.
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre had agreed, but saw the revolution as entirely too messy of a process; not science-y enough. Factions fought over everything, including the calendar. Robespierre himself had barely escaped an assassination attempt on May 25, 1794 (whatever such date to the Revolutionary calendar).
Political crimes, they said, were some the of the worst human deeds imaginable because while common crimes injured an individual, political crimes harmed all persons by threatening the very fabric of this “free” society. Therefore, following 22 Prairial, almost every right under trial was suspended. The only evidence allowed was prosecutorial, judgements would be rendered solely by the Revolutionary Tribunal, and there were only two possible verdicts: innocence or death.
Accusations were, well, also arbitrary:
“Every citizen has the right to seize conspirators and counterrevolutionaries, and to arraign them before the magistrates. He is required to denounce them as soon as he knows of them.”
In the year leading up to 22 Prairial, Year II of the Republic, the Committee of Public Safety, the co-leading political body to which Robespierre aspired to lead unopposed, had been challenged in each and every direction. The economic crisis which had launched the Revolution in the first place had scarcely abated despite this newfound spirit.
That year, 1793, Paris was rocked by food riots led mostly by women though joined later by the vanguard of the Jacobins. Prior to them, the Red Priest, Jacques Roux, a member of the so-called Enragés (enraged ones), he would agitate strenuously for how he couldn’t tolerate that after several years of Revolution nothing had changed.
The Republic devalued currency just as much and as easily as the monarch Louis. Paper assignats led France to the edge of hyperinflation, giving power to the rise of the popular/populist sans-culottes (without knee breeches; an epithet for the lower classes).
Into the vacuum created by the slow burn dismantling of the ancien régime poured all manner anarchy and upheaval; much of it was purposeful. Roux challenged the Committee for Public Safety to either put up, and live up to the Revolutionary promises, or shut up forever.
Giving a speech later termed the Manifesto of the Enragés, the Red Priest attacked:
“Have you prohibited price speculation [in the new constitution]? No. Have you called for the death penalty against monopolists? No. Have you determined what freedom of commerce consists of? No. Have you forbidden the sale of minted money? No. Well then, we say to you that you haven’t done everything for the happiness of the people.”
The Jacobins accepted Roux’s challenge first by imprisoning him in August 1793 before then embracing his positions (without Roux who languished uncelebrated in continued confinement), if only through the expedience of getting the mob on their side. On September 29, 1793, the sans-culottes stood a petition before the National Convention demanding something be done about food prices.
The Convention responded with the Law of the Maximum, arbitrarily setting the top price for a wide variety of foodstuffs and broader goods. Merchants were required to display the maximum price and if they were alleged to have charged more than whatever was set by this law, the seller was fined twice the value of the overpriced item (with the fine being paid to the informant rather than the government).
The economic despair only deepened, as widespread shortages soon hit the whole country. People complained of getting pear juice when buying wine; starch instead of sugar; a thriving black market in pretty much everything.
Behind all this, the Reign of Terror continued. For one thing, the Republic ran out of prison space. “No Revolutionary Tribunal could work fast enough to prevent the ship of state sinking under such a sea of crime,” said Robespierre.
The Law of 22 Prairal simply broadened the term counterrevolutionary to pretty much any subjective charge, and since these were deemed “political” crimes therefore of the worst kind according to their laws, equality under the law was easily set aside for the illusion they all said it was.
What constituted “conspirators and counterrevolutionaries?”
“Those who have deceived the people or the representatives of the people, in order to lead them into undertakings contrary to the interests of liberty;
Those who have sought to inspire discouragement, in order to favour the enterprises of the tyrants leagued against the Republic;”
Pretty much anything, or what Orwell called Thoughtcrimes in his spot-on dystopian examination 1984.
Robespierre justified this as the necessary means to what he expected would be an unquestionably glorious end; a short run escalation in terror so that in short order everyone in France would be too afraid to speak out in any other way except Revolutionary (whatever that was on any given day). Gangs of committed thugs could effectively police behavior and thought, the sans-culottes an undrafted, faceless army once committed to the cause could effectively carry out the dirty work of chaotically erasing history while herding the populace into predetermined narrow spaces.
One sure way to force everyone to be, act, and think as “equals” was under pain of swift, arbitrary death by the blade of the guillotine.
Only, Robespierre would meet that very fate during the fiery summer of the aptly named Revolutionary month of Thermidor. To begin with, the Law of 22 Prairal had effectively erased all prior Republican legislation thereby clandestinely removing immunity protections from members of the National Convention – including for anyone who Robespierre had believed was, or might come to think of as, an opponent.
Predictably, intentionally, the terrors were increased to the Great Terror period. In two months, the guillotine had victimized as many as had been executed in the years before then.
On 9 Thermidor in Year II (July 27, 1794), the more moderate factions in the National Convention began to strike back. An armed clash followed where Robespierre was wounded in the jaw at the Hôtel de Ville and captured. Since he had also been stripped of immunity, the former leader was tried and executed a short time later along with 21 of his associates.
While that marked the end of the Reign of Terror, it only inaugurated the White Terror when opponents of the Jacobins began a purge of their own, sanctioned by the Directory which, after abolishing the Committee of Public Safety, began its own 15-month period of unpopular chaos, upheaval, and economic decay.
Such messiness in pursuit of even the “purest” of ideals only convinced the hardest hardcore Revolutionaries of the “wisdom” embedded within the Law of 22 Prairal; though it was carried out imperfectly by Robespierre and his supporters, he was, many believed, correct in thinking that a Revolution once begun of pure spirit must take the most extreme measures to protect itself.
Any extreme measures.
In the Manifesto of Equals, Maréchal would perfectly echo the animating principle behind 22 Prairal:
“No one will be allowed to utter views that are in direct contradiction to the sacred principles of equality and the sovereignty of the people.”
What, exactly, those sacred principles were, only the true Revolutionaries could say, and like the US Supreme Court would rule with regard to spotting pornography, they couldn’t tell you what they were but they would know them when they saw them.
Equality in this sense is the exact opposite of equality under the law. Quite the contrary, the whole enterprise from top to bottom is saturated by arbitrariness that makes it plain everything must be staked upon the righteousness of the very top layers of these Revolutions. Either men must be transformed into angels, or Plato’s enlightened philosophers of Kallipolis must show up for the first time in human history.
Otherwise, this inverted pyramid courts only disaster, inviting only sickness, madness, and industrial-scale hardship and death – because chaos is a feature, not a bug.
At the conclusion of his Plebeian Manifesto (they do love manifestos), Gracchus Babeuf wrote, “May everything return to chaos, and out of chaos may there emerge a new and regenerated world.” It sounds noble enough, but in reality it’s a ridiculous gamble, the equivalent of political lottery tickets.
It’s sometimes very easy to unleash the chaos, especially in times of prolonged, serious hardship, but to what actual fate? Theory is one thing.
Babeuf, of course, would end up suffering the same fate as Robespierre. In trying to erase all prior history by taking chaos as its chief weapon, they instead nearly erased themselves. What emerged wasn’t a regenerated world at all, as a direct consequence Europe as a whole was made to suffer Bonaparte for nearly two decades.
Unlike Robespierre, Babeuf found new life some five decades after his execution. Karl Marx is given credit for dreaming up Communism, and more so how to get to Communism, but in truth he seems to have borrowed much of what he wrote from Babeuf through his and Maréchal’s several manifestos. Marx would even say Babeuf was the first real socialist.
Indeed, Marx specifically mentions Babeuf in Chapter 3 of his own manifesto, the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party. But here’s the irony; Marx admonishes Babeuf and the whole French Revolutionary project for having the right ideas but going ahead with them at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
Arbitrarily, Marx thought he was being specific:
“The founders of these systems see, indeed, the class antagonisms, as well as the action of the decomposing elements in the prevailing form of society. But the proletariat, as yet in its infancy, offers to them the spectacle of a class without any historical initiative or any independent political movement.
“Since the development of class antagonism keeps even pace with the development of industry, the economic situation, as they find it, does not as yet offer to them the material conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
If this history wasn’t so tragic, it would be hard not to laugh at such absurdity. What Marx was saying, indirectly criticizing Babeuf and those in the French Revolution who thought like he did, was that only the “right” kind of communists could adequately determine when the conditions were exactly “right” to get the revolution “right” (for Marx, this was when capitalism had reached its terminal stage, as determined, apparently, by secret decoder rings lying buried underneath some mythical mountain).
We’re supposed to believe this even though every single set of communists in history has proclaimed themselves “right” right from the start of each road into chaos. And, in following the Jacobin template for this, when they do the revolutionaries immediately take away the actual rights of anyone to disagree with their opinions (because, contrary to its self-identification, none of this is science) while they erase anything and everything previously and righteously held dear.
Batting a perfect zero, we’re supposed to just give up equality under the law, embrace the chaos of socialist transformation, all in the belief that one of these days these messianic messengers reads the correct tea leaves just the right way, or by accident finds the right numbers on a scrap of paper, or just because?
What’s happening right now is actually pretty simple. There are only a small number of hardcore socialist revolutionaries who have glossed over this history and bought into the “magic” future as if in a cult. That’s the culture of modern Marxism, the fantasy of scientific utopia delivered by arbitrary means dressed up as useful knowledge and a workable plan for getting there no one has yet been able to complete.
Sympathy for this ridiculous ideology has been swelled by a dozen years of economic dysfunction and, yes, decay, symptoms of which have played right into the Marxist, Jacobin critique of free markets and capitalism. And no one left to genuinely argue against it other than Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and Jay Powell with their stupid “recovery” that somehow became a “boom” despite meeting none of the characteristics of one (arbitrary works against us in both directions).
That’s how you know it’s been bad; when these fantasies of absurdity sound promising and actually more plausible than the current condition, or at least mainstream explanations and descriptions of this current condition.
And that was before March 2020, when now the tens maybe hundreds of millions around the world swell into the ranks of the unemployed. Most probably don’t know what they are really sympathizing with, and the hardcore revolutionaries don’t care much to tell them; rather, just use that sympathy with a purpose, to add sufficient weight to bring on the chaos yet again.
No one reads the manifestos; the metaphoric, Twitter-based guillotine effectively employed by the modern woke sans-culottes who work specifically to eliminate dissent on behalf of the hardcore just as had been done by each’s Jacobin-era ancestors. This time, after undoing enough, moving the revolution along far enough, they’ll definitely get it right, right?
The last twelve years have already sparked the dreams of this other unequal equality, perfectly rekindled the fires of chaos. The good news is that haven’t yet reached the proportions of inferno, but they are lit brightly having been burning for longer than a decade already. Maybe you’ve noticed?