Workers Hammer No. 232

Autumn 2015


Quote of the issue

The Great French Revolution

The storming of the Bastille by the Parisian masses on 14 July 1789 marked the onset of the Great French Revolution, a radical democratic revolution that brought the bourgeoisie to power in France under the watchwords, “Liberty, equality, fraternity”. The now reactionary bourgeoisie has long since renounced the liberating ideals of the revolution, denouncing as mob violence the “reign of terror” carried out by the Jacobin regime of Maximilien Robespierre against feudal reaction and counterrevolution. In his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, late 19th century American writer Mark Twain defended the Jacobin Terror against its hypocritical critics.

Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood — one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two “Reigns of Terror”, if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, 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 heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which 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 unspeakably 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, 1889