The Coming of the French Revolution (Princeton Classics)

The Coming of the French Revolution (Princeton Classics)

Georges Lefebvre

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 0691168466

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Coming of the French Revolution remains essential reading for anyone interested in the origins of this great turning point in the formation of the modern world. First published in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, and suppressed by the Vichy government, this classic work explains what happened in France in 1789, the first year of the French Revolution. Georges Lefebvre wrote history "from below"--a Marxist approach. Here, he places the peasantry at the center of his analysis, emphasizing the class struggles in France and the significant role they played in the coming of the revolution.

Eloquently translated by the historian R. R. Palmer and featuring an introduction by Timothy Tackett that provides a concise intellectual biography of Lefebvre and a critical appraisal of the book, this Princeton Classics edition continues to offer fresh insights into democracy, dictatorship, and insurrection.

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conviction more deeply. I t was thought that the king of course ,..,·as benevolent, but tha t h e was surrounded by aristocrats who bent him to their will, and who by many menacing phrases conveyed the impression that they would stop at nothing to crush the Third Estate. As early a s May 15, according to one of Montmorin 's in­ formants, the people were convinced that the Estates­ General would be dissolved by force; by June 2 7 they expected, he said, to see " the nobles appear on horseback."

seem to have been wealthiest in the North, East and West. Bourgeois ownership of rural land was cha racteristic of the South . Yet everywhere there were propertyless peasants . Rarely was the number of these rural proletarians negl igible : it has been estimated a t about a fi f h o f family h eads in Limousin, 3 0 to 40 per cent in the Norman woodlands, 70 per cent around VersaiUes and as h igh as 75 per cent in maritime Flanders . Some of these unpropertied peasants found land to rent.

contested, the manorial courts and the Parliaments always decided PART FOUR The Peasant Revolution 122 against the peasants. B u t what exasperated the rural peo­ ple, since they had in any case too little land for a l ive­ lihood, was the encroach ment on their collective righ ts, on which their existence depended . Land in fallow, constituting a half or third of the arable soil, together with land tilled only at long intervals, was considered to be common land, to which all persons, or

civilization . And so far as the tensions of mod­ ern society result from telling all human beings that they enjoy the same rights, while in fact they do not participate equally in the good things of life, these tensions may be ascribed to the French Revolution; nor will they disappear until the doctrines of the Revolution are repudiated, or until that distant day when the world is perfectly just. The present book was first published in Paris in July 1939, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the

attacked the tithe, wh ich was ordered converted into money payments subject to redemption . Lastly came the turn o f provinces, towns and Provincial Estates, all of which renounced their privileges, led by the spokesmen for Brittany and Dauphiny. I n all this race for sacrifices the clergy had not especially distinguished itself, a noble­ man having been the one to offer up the tithe. Yet the parish clergy o ffered their "casual" perquisites, th us mak­ ing the services of rel igion practically

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