When the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, it wasn’t a crowd of breeches-wearing professionals that attacked the prison, freed the internees, and killed its superintendent, carrying off his head on a pike. It was the working people of Paris, who didn’t wear breeches, the sans-culottes. In the course of the French Revolution the sans-culottes questioned the economic system, the nature of property, the role and even the legitimacy of religion, and for the first time placed class relations at the heart of a revolutionary upheaval. They did so in an often-inchoate fashion, but they were new players on the stage of history, and the Revolution constituted their learning curve.
The Permanent Guillotine is an anthology of figures who expressed the will and wishes of this nascent revolutionary class, in all its rage, directness, and contradictoriness. Taken together, these documents provide a full portrait of the left of the left of the Revolution, of the men whose destruction by Robespierre allowed for Robespierre himself to be destroyed and for all the progressive measures they advocated and he implemented to be rolled back.
The Revolution they made was ultimately stolen from them, but their attempt was a fertile one, as their ideas flourished in the actions of generations of French revolutionaries.
Permanent Guillotine: Writings of the Sans-Culottes
PM Press 2018. New paperback; 160 pages
Editor and Translator: Mitchell Abidor