SansCulotte Essay

This essay has a total of 1415 words and 6 pages.


"Power within the Paris sections of 1792-94 - its social composition, dynamics, and
ideology -."(1) That is what was explored in the book The Sans-Culotte. Albert Soboul
describes and outlines the composition and activities of the different sections in Paris
during Revolutionary France. Soboul describes the activities of these sections as a
"popular movement" by the people of Paris. He explains how the people of Paris united to
form different sectional assemblies with their main goal being to improve the lives of the
middle and lower class individuals in not only Paris, but France in its entirety. In The
Sans-Culottes, Soboul explains in great detail the different ways these sections
influenced law making and tried to gain equal rights for all. In addition to describing
the political activity of the sans-culottes and the other sections, Soboul also explains
some of the military activities and movements of these sections during the revolution.
Soboul's book has always been thought as the main authority on the sections in Paris, but
in the early 1980's, a critique was written on The Sans-Culottes and many things were
found to be wrong with the book.

In the critical evaluation of Albert Soboul's The Sans-Culottes a full critique of the
book takes place and many problems with the book are pointed out. The problems or
shortcomings discussed in the critical evaluation range from a lack of description of the
sans-culottes and other sections in Paris and errors in explaining what type of people
constituted the membership of the sections, to a lack in a wide range of quality sources.
The two problems in The Sans-Culottes that will be discussed in this essay are the lack
of quality sources and the lack of description of the sections and who constituted them.

The lack of description of the sections in Paris is a major blemish with the book. The
critique points out that Soboul lumps all of the sections of Paris together when
describing them. He fails to separate them into exactly what they are: sections. It is
true that there were movements made to try and unite all the sections, but this never
becomes a reality so distinction between sections should be shown. Soboul makes no
distinctions "between ‘quartiers' and sections," and "between socio-economic geographies
and local politics."(2) "Soboul's history of the sections from June, 1793 to sid-July,
1794 described them horizontally, en masse...."(3) This lumping together of the sections
leads one to the false conclusion that sections were all one entity, but they were not;
they were very much seperate.

Soboul also leads the reader to incorrect conclusions by calling the sections and
sans-culottes a "popular movement." He frequently makes this statement. Soboul describes
many changes in the policy of the sections that allow the lower class to join the
assemblies. A quote used by Soboul by Hanriot states, "‘For a long time, the rich made
the laws, it is about time the poor made some laws themselves and that equality should
reign between the rich and the poor.'"(4) This leads the reader to believe that everyone
was involved actively in the sections and that anyone could become leaders of a sectional
assembly, but this was not the case. The lower class, or plebeians, did very little
except for what the leaders let them or told them to do. As written in the critique:

"Their [plebeians] pressures were selectively channeled into politics by the
‘sans-culotte' leadership.... During the ‘regeneration' battles of the spring and summer
of 1793 by which ‘sans-culottes' won official sectionary power, plebeians appeared
forcefully in the general assemblies - not as atomistic individual voters, but as groups
of workers mobilized by their ‘sans-culotte' employers for temporary muscle when ballots
were to be cast by fists and feet."(5)

This quote shows that the lower class, or plebeians, were merely ponds for the
sans-culottes. They were permitted to vote when the leaders felt the votes cast by the
plebeians were necessary to achieve victory. The view one gets from the critique is
totally contradictory to that of Soboul's book.

The generalization Soboul used when describing the members of the sections can also lead
to confusion on the readers part. Soboul repeatedly describes members as being part of a
certain trade, such as a tailor or shoemaker. These classifications of people leads one
to think that all the member were poor, but as seen by a quote in the critique of Soboul's
work, not all people who were tailors, shoemakers, or carpenters were poor.

"‘Tailor' could mean Guillaume Tesseyre, a revolutionary commissioner of the Lourve
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