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The French Terrors

Apparently the so-called "Reign of Terror" of the French Revolution, where the Jacobins held the aristocrats to account before the Girodin counter-revolutionaries lead the Thermidorean Reaction,  is less acceptable amongst some of my leftist friends than I initially thought.  Obviously I believe, to quote Mao, "cutting off heads changes nothing, the point is to transform the ideas in the heads," but this does not mean that we should see the Jacobin suppression of monarchists and pro-monarchists as the shibboleth of "Terror" it has come to be called.

I have always said that you can usually tell a scholar of European history's political commitments by the way they treat the French Revolution.  If, like Edmund Burke, they dismiss the "Terror" outright without problematizing the fact that it was even called the Terror, then they're usually reactionaries.  Which is why I find it rather odd that some of my friends and comrades would agree with this reactionary reading of history.  Obviously we should look at the so-called "Reign of Terror" with critical nuance (and thus properly understood how it became far worse when the Girodins took over the apparatus and turned it against the people and the revolutionaries), but to dismiss it as something so utterly terrible is ahistorical.

So, in honour of the French Revolution [and since the Paris Commune will be having its anniversary this Friday] I have decided to list some quotes by Victor Hugo and Mark Twain.

"Let us understand one another [when we speak of the Terror and the execution of Louis XVII, the royal child].  Are we weeping for all innocents, all martyrs, all children, whether low-born or of high estate?  Then I weep with you.  But, as I said, we must go back far beyond '93 and Louis XVII.  I will weep with you for the children of kings if you will weep with me for the children of the people. [...] And if the balance is to be tilted in any way it must be on the side of the people for they have suffered longer."
Victor Hugo, "Les Miserables"

"Justice has its anger, my lord Bishop, and the wrath of justice is an element of progress. Whatever else may be said of it, the French Revolution was the greatest step forward by mankind since the coming of Christ. [Obviously, during Hugo's time, the French Revolution was the only World Historical Revolution to date.] It was unfinished, I agree, but still it was sublime. It released the untapped springs of society; it softened hearts, appeased, tranquilized, enlightened, and set flowing through the world the tides of civilization. It was good. The French Revolution was the anointing of humanity."
Victor Hugo, "Les Miserables"

"There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the “horrors of the… momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves."
Mark Twain, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"