Saturday, July 13, 2019

*****Reaching For The Stars-With The Apollo Moon Flights In Mind

*****Reaching For The Stars-With The Apollo Moon Flights In Mind 

By Bradley Maxwell

Several years ago, in a period when Larry Turner after years of studied denial and distain began to think about the matter both as a way to clear up his head on the issue and to satisfy a growing curiosity, he through the beauties of modern high-tech got in contact with some old classmates of his from Riverdale High. The fact of the matter was that he had been thinking about doing so for a number of years before that but somehow that studied denial and distain always got in the way. The impetus of an upcoming class reunion, or rather knowledge that it had been almost fifty years since he had graduated from high school with the Class of 1963, had sharpened his senses about clearing things up, getting some questions answered about why so many years ago he had as he called it “brushed the dust off his shoes” from any connection with the town, and those whom he had known there.

Despite the fact that so many years had passed and some questions would never be answered for the simple fact that some of those who would have known the answers to Larry’s inquiries, including his parents and a couple of his best friends who had died in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, he decided to “suck it up” and find out what he could find out about where the roads had gone awry on him. That said Larry was not thinking only about the dramatic and heavy burden of family misunderstanding and the like but about his youth, and about the days when he was in his way filled with wonder, filled with a desire to reach for the stars at a time when that was physically no longer out of the reach of humankind. Yeah, so Larry wanted to think about the days when if he had stuck with it he could have reached for the stars, gone on a different road.  

Getting in contact with old classmates these days from fifty years ago with all the modern social networking apparatuses to choose from is almost as simple as walking across the street in the old days to see if “Jimmy” was home and did he want to go to the courts and play a little hoop. In Larry’s case that was made easier by the simple expedient of Googling on the Internet for the Riverdale High School Class of 1963 and he came up with two quick possible sources of information. First a Facebook page put up by Nora Morris (nee Daley), who had been the Class secretary, had been a head cheerleader, and had been the chief social butterfly on all the committees that mattered in high school, the Fall and Spring dance, class day, prom, and Civic Pride committees. Moreover she still lived in town, still lived in Riverdale, and had a million connections that Larry would make some use of later. The second source which had been linked from the Facebook page was a website dedicated specifically to the upcoming class reunion. So Larry was in business.

Now Larry was not all of the following: a class officer, a sports player, a dance, Fall or Spring, class day, prom, or Civic pride committee member, or any school clubs. So he had not particular affinity with Nora Daley, and she probably did not even know he existed, but he nevertheless contacted her about joining the class website (he had seen nothing on Facebook that except some names, most of which he recognized if he did not know personally, and what they had been doing since high school, which would have helped him in his quest except that link to the class website). He sent her an e-mail via the website saying he wished to join the group.

Now the way this website stuff works, or the way it worked for the Class of 1963, was that all two hundred and seventy-three members of the class who graduated had their class photographs listed on the site (those who had not had their photographs taken for the yearbook simply had their names listed). If you wanted to join the site you just clicked on your name, provided some information, as much as you desired to tell a candid world, clicked on a “submit” icon and you were, pending webmaster Nora’s okay, a member of the site. Larry cleared all those low-bar hurdles and Nora sent him a personal e-mail via the site both to welcome him and to tell him that as he suspected she did not remember him from school.

And why should she have remembered him since in many ways he had been the angry young man, for lots of reasons including a hazardous home-life, had been as filled with teen angst and alienation as Johnny (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One and James Dean in Rebel  Without A Cause  two films which he closely associated himself. Although when he was younger, when he was eleven or twelve, he had been as full as pipe dreams and good will as any kid at Danner Junior High.                            

Nora Daley in her role as class site webmaster, and probably just the way she was as a personality, in order to generate some on-going conversation would put up a bunch of questions on the homepage of the website. Silly things like-who did you have a secret “crush” on, who did you go to the prom with (Larry hadn’t), do you remember those great night before Thanksgiving rallies in support of the football team’s struggle against arch-rival Overton High in the gym (Larry did attend the one senior year), and who was your favorite teacher (Miss Soros, Larry’s  English teacher but she did not like him, or rather thought he was an underachiever, a bad sign in her book).

But Nora also posed more serious questions like how did it feel to live in the red scare Cold War night during school with all those crazy air raid drills which were worthless if you thought about it if the Russians decided to throw the big bomb at us. Like what was your attitude, if any, about the black civil rights movement down south that was filling up all the newspapers and televisions with its details. And like the question that Larry felt very comfortable with-what did you think about the exploration of space and what it would do for humankind (Nora used the more old-fashioned “mankind” reflecting perhaps an older learned ethos in her question).           

Larry was not sure whether Nora was asking these questions based on some rote recitation from some on-line time-line for the late 1950s and early 1960s when those events were current and came up with the questions that way or whether these were issues that she was interested in knowing the answers to for some other purpose. The way the thing worked was that if you had an opinion on a question you would write it up and submit it on that particular class opinion and comment page. Larry had briefly mentioned that he had attended the Thanksgiving football rally in senior year and had written a paragraph about it-mainly about how he was supposed to meet an unnamed girl who promised to be there who never showed up. And that was that.  

Larry did the same thing, or almost the same thing, wrote a couple of paragraphs on the question of space exploration, a subject that had fascinated him when he was in junior high when he fancied himself a budding rocket scientist like a million other kids, a million other guys mainly. He had also mentioned in that posting that he had recently gone down to Washington, D.C. on some business. After that conference was concluded on a whim, or not so much a whim as curiosity  since he was knee-deep in reading Norman Mailer’s literary account of the latter part of the “space race,” the struggle to put a man on the moon, Of A Fire On The Moon, he visited the Air and Space Museum just off the National Mall and noted that the old time thrill of wanting to be a rocket scientist (rather than his profession as a lawyer) came back, including memories about what it was like to have a sense of wonder back in those times. Stuff he had not thought about in many years.    

That little posting got Nora to response and ask him to expand on what he was talking about. About that sense of wonder and intrigue connected with space flight, with being part of, if only vicariously, the efforts to win the space race. Larry’s posting had also prompted several other classmates to tell of their interests, a couple who were actually as he remembered serious about science and were members of Mr. Roberts’ science club after school and who went on to have roles in the NASA programs. Larry wasn’t sure he wanted to expand on what he had written in that first posting but Nora had as the Noras of the world will do “pretty pleased” him into writing something. This is what Larry wrote:   

Space Wars, Circa 1960-by Larry Turner

Nora’s Question: In school in the early 1960s did you ever get caught up in the euphoria over the space program?

“We, all of us, are now old enough and presumably have seen enough of this sorry old world, to have become somewhat inured to the wonders of modern technology. Just witness the miracle of cyberspace that we are communicating through this very minute from all our diverse locations. My answer goes back to the mist of time when humankind had just developed the technology to reach for the stars, and we had the capacity to wonder.

For myself, I distinctly remember, as I am sure that you do as well, sitting in some Riverdale classroom as the Principal came over the P.A. system and hooked us up with the latest exploit in space. John Glenn's trip around the earth comes readily to mind. My friends, I will go back even further, back to junior high school, when we were just becoming conscious of the first explorations of space. The reaction to the news of Sputnik, the artificial satellite that the Russians had put up in 1957, drove many of us to extend our range of scientific knowledge.

I vividly remember trying to make rockets, in the basement of our family apartment, by soldering tin cans together fused with a funnel on top. I also remember taking some balsa wood, fashioning a rocket-type projectile, putting up wiring between two poles, inserting a CO2 cartridge and hammering away. Bang!!! Nothing.

After that failed experiment my scientific quest diminished. Moreover, I, a few years later became much more concerned about the fate of my fellow earthlings and trying to correct a few injustices in this world, but that is another story. Now that I think about it the question posed above really is aimed at those, unlike myself, who moved beyond boyish (or girlish) fantasies and used that youthful energy to get serious about science. Maybe you should tell us your stories.”

That little “dare” prompted William James Bradley, that is the moniker he uses now in his very successful car dealership in Overton, but back then, back when he was Larry’s best friend, or something like that, they never quite figured it all out, he was just Billy, to post the following “true” story about Larry’s early space exploits. This is a very different take on the meager offering that Larry provided. Here is what Billy had to say in his comment in response to Larry’s posting:  

Billy, William James Bradley, comment:

Yeah, I know I haven’t talked to most of you in too long a while like I told you I would when I came on this class website. But Larry Turner’s very somber post at Nora’s request about his youthful interest in space got to me. Got to me when he cut short a lot of the details that really happened back then. Guess who was with him all the way with his rocket science inventions. Yeah, me. 

So I am going to set you straight and tell you all about my best friend, Larry Turner, I always considered him my best friend so I don’t know where that “something like that” came from over at Danner Junior High, and his ill-fated attempts to single-handedly close the space gap they kept talking about once the commies put that Sputnik satellite up in orbit in 1957. Some of you who know me, knew me and my troubles back then at Danner, know that I was still kind of broken up about something around that time. Yeah, for you that don’t know I got caught up in some, well I might as well just come out with it, woman trouble, alright girl trouble, okay. So that colors the story a little, explains why I had time to spend with Larry and his foolish experiments. Just to let you know shortly after these space events I helped Larry with, once I discovered Elvis’ real take on the honeys, One Night Of Sin I got a new girlfriend, well, really an old girlfriend, an old stick girlfriend, Cool Donna O’Toole, that I had, as Larry always kidded me about, “discarded” when love Laura who had ditched me came into view. That isn’t getting us to the Larry space odyssey you’ve been waiting breathlessly to hear about so forward.

And I will get to that in just a second now that I think about it, or the heart of the story, but let me just take a minute to tell you this background story. It seems that Larry had had no objection, and shouldn’t have had, after all of Nora’s prodding, to having his space odyssey story told but he just wanted to tell the story himself. That is why we got that cock and bull whitewash  he posted but after I sent an e-mail and confronted him I said no way, no way on this good green earth are you going to get away with telling it that way. Hell, by the time he got done we were all to be weepy, girl weepy, or something about his tremendous contribution to space science rather than the simple truth- Larry should not be let with fifty miles, no, make that five hundred miles, no, let’s be on the safe side, five thousand miles from anything that could even be remotely used for launching rockets. Yeah, it’s that kind of story.

Besides, here is the real reason that Larry shouldn’t get away with his story, and I told him so. Larry, no question is a history guy, that’s probably why he wound up as a lawyer. He was crazy for people like Abigail Adams, and her husband and son, the guys who used to be Presidents, John and John Quincy, back in the Stone Age, and who Adamsville a few towns over is named after, one of them anyway. He also knows, although I have no clue why, about old times Egypt from going to the Thomas Cromwell Public Library branch at school and taking the Greyhound bus, taking the bus for that reason, can you believe this, over to Boston to the Museum of Fine Arts to check out their mummy stuff, and tombs and how they dressed and all that. Yawn.

Larry was also crazy for reading, not stuff that was required for school reading either, and writing about it, a book guy, no doubt. Get this, as an example that I have never forgotten whenever his name comes up, one time he told me about a book of short stories that he was reading about by a guy, an Irish guy, a chandelier Irish guy, Fitzgerald or something like that, who wrote stories about rich kids, very rich kids, rich guys with names like Basil mooning over rich girls. And rich girls with names like Josephine swooning over guys. Nothing big about that but like I told Larry at the time how was reading that stuff going to do anything for you, for us, trying, trying like crazy to get the hell, excuse my English, out of small town Riverdale. He’s was a cloudy guy see, even if he was my best friend.

But here is something funny, and maybe makes this reading stuff of some use sometimes. Larry read in the Foreword, who the hell, excuse my language again, in this good green earth reads the Foreword, that one of the stories, one of the Basil stories wasn’t published because the publishers didn’t believe back in the early part of the last century that ten and eleven year old boys and girls would be into “petting parties.” Jesus, and I make no excuse for saying that, where had those guys been, and what planet, not earth. Definitely not then in Riverdale with us poor small town boys and girls. So history and book reading that sums up Larry in those days. Does that sound like a guy who can tell a space story, a nuts and bolts space story? No, leave this one to old Billy, he’ll tell it true.

I don’t know about you but I was not all that hopped up about space exploration, space races, or Jules Verne although I will admit that I was a little excited about the idea of those space satellites going up in the sky, those that started with the Soviet Union’s first object in space, Sputnik. But when they started sending robots, monkeys, mice, and small dogs I lost interest. I figured how hard can it be to do the space thing if rodents can make the trip, unmolested. Besides I had my budding career as a rock star of the Elvis sort to worry about so other kinds of stars took a back seat.

Not so Larry. The minute he heard, or maybe it was a little later but pretty soon after, that Sputnik had gone up, that it had been the Russkies who were first in space, he was crazy to enlist in the space race. I swear I had to stop talking to him for a few days because all he wanted to talk about, with that certain demented look in his eye that told you that you were in for a lecture like at school, was how it was every red-blooded student’s, make that every red-blooded American student’s, duty to get moving in aid of the space front. It was so bad that he would not even heard me talk about the latest rock hit without saying, hey, that’s kid’s stuff I got no time for that. Bad, right.

Now this was not about money, you know going around the neighborhood collecting coins for the space program like we did to restore the U.S.S. Constitution when it was all water-logged or whatever happens to wooden ships when they get too old. And it was not about maybe going to the library to get some books to study up on science and maybe someday become a space engineer and go to Cape Canaveral or someplace like that. No this was about our duty, duty see, to go out in the back yard, go down in the cellar, go out in the garage (if you had a garage) and start to experiment making rockets that might be able to make it to space. See what I mean. Deep-end stuff, no question.

Now I already told you, but in case you might have forgotten, Larry was nothing but a books and history guy, and maybe a little music. I had never seen him put a hammer to a nail or anything like that, and I am not sure that he has those skills. I do know that when we were making papier mache dinosaurs in class one time his thing did not look like a dinosaur. Not close. But one day he got me to go with him up to Riverdale Center to the hardware store to get materials for making a rocket. Larry was nothing if not serious in his little projects, at first. At the store we got some balsa wood, nails, aluminum poles, guide wire, a knife built for carving stuff, and about ten CO2 cartridges. The idea was to build a model (or models) and see which ones have the contours to be space-worthy.

Over the next couple of weeks I saw Larry off and on but mainly off because he was spending his after-school time down in the cellar of the apartment house where his family lived working on those balsa wood models. Then one day, one Saturday I think, yeah, it was Saturday he came over to my house looking for help in setting up his launch pad. The idea was that he would put up two aluminum poles, stretch the guide wire between the two poles and demonstrate what he called the aerodynamic flow of his models by attaching his balsa wood models on the wire with a bent nail. Propulsion was by inserting a CO2 cartridge in a crevice in the rocket and hitting one end of the cartridge by lightly hitting it with a nail. I was to observe at the finish while he covered the start. After about half an hour everything was set to go and Dr. Von Turner was ready to set the explosion. Except moon man Larry hit the nail into the cartridge at the wrong place and, if it had not been for some quick leg work that I still chuckle over when I think about it (like now) my friend would have lost an eye. Scratch balsa wood models.

Oh, you thought that was the end of it. Christ no. After catching some hell from his mother (and a little from me) he was back on the trail blazing away. This time though he kept it very low. I didn’t even know about it until he asked me to help him get some materials from that same hardware store and the Rexall Drug Store uptown. So here is the brain-storm in a nut shell. He said he saw the error of his ways in the balsa wood fiasco- he had used the wrong fuel and the whole guide wire thing was awry. This time he intended to simulate (yeah, I didn’t know what that meant either until he told me it was like practically the same but not the real thing, or something like that) a launching like he had seen on television and in the Bell Laboratories Science films we saw at school. Okay, get this, he built, using his father’s soldering iron, a small rocket out of tin soup cans (Campbell’s, naturally, just kidding) with a tin funnel on top and flattened metal for wings. Hey, it really didn’t look bad. The fuel, I swear I do not know all the ingredients but they all came from either the hardware or drug store so that gives you an idea about something. Apparently he read about it somewhere.

So, again on black Saturday, we are off to the back field to launch the spaceship Billy (named after me, of course) into fame and fortune. We set the rocket on a small launch pad that he made; he put in the fuel from a can, and then closed it off with a fuse device at the end. I, as honoree, was to light the match for take-off. I lit the match alright except a funny thing happened- the rocket quickly, very quickly turned into an inferno, and almost me along with it, except I too did some fancy leg work. Christ, Larry enough. And the lesson to be learned- you had better be young, quick, and have your insurance paid up if you are going to hang out with maddened rocket scientists.

After that experiment I think old Larry lost heart. A few days later I saw him reading a book about Abraham Lincoln so I guess the coast was clear. Oh yeah, and at school a week or two later he asked me if I had heard Jerry Lee Lewis’ Breathless yet. Welcome back to Earth, Larry.

Larry laughed when he read Billy’s posting. Sent him an e-mail with one word-Touche. But here is the funny thing Billy’s little missive got him thinking about something he saw at the space museum down in Washington. They had on display for the whole world to see the actual vehicle, or a test model, of the landing craft which the Apollo 11, the first men to land on the moon, used. Larry was amazed by the sight and spent some time looking at all aspects of the vehicle.  What startled him was how amateurish the whole thing looked (as some of the other exhibit did as well). The thing with its odd-ball hooks, its off-center antennae, it patches of foil here, some misshapen boxes there, it funny landing pods looked like something he might have created in those halcyon days when he had enlisted himself in the space program when it counted. His conclusion; maybe he had given up too early on his rocket scientist dreams. Maybe he shouldn’t have been bullied by Billy to go back to reading books and listening to music.     

Thinking about Billy though and his posting Larry began to think about that F. Scott Fitzgerald reference that Billy mentioned. Not about Fitzgerald’s Basil and Josephine stories but about The Great Gatsby and that haunting last few paragraphs that kind of summed up something about humankind. Larry wondered if those Apollo astronauts when they landed on the moon had the same sense of wonder about the prospects for that place as those long ago Dutch sailors did as they saw the first “fresh green breast” of land as they hit Long Island Sound. He hoped so.    

To Seek A Newer World- With Alfred Lord Tennyson In Mind

To Seek A Newer World- With Alfred Lord Tennyson In Mind

I have used the expression “to seek a newer world” or variations of that expression any number of times the past several years when presenting sketches and pieces about what made my generation tick, the politically and culturally progressive active part of it anyway, who tried might and main to change the course of American history and sensibilities in the 1960s, my Generation of ’68 which I use for shorthand. The expression cribbed from a Bobby Kennedy pre-1968 presidential campaign book that I had read about what the world was in desperate need of in the face of the bloodbath in Vietnam and other pressing social problems who cribbed it from the 19th century English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson seemed to me all these many cyberspace years later a fitting way to describe what the Generation of ‘68 was in search of. What we are still in search of since we have been, mostly unsuccessfully, fighting a rearguard action against the progeny of the night-takers we faced in the 1960s. Here, in any case, is the original poem from which Bobby (or his speechwriter although I sense that he probably picked that one himself) and I cribbed our expression.

Many of those sketches can be found on the American Left History blog.  


By Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809–1892 Alfred, Lord Tennyson


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

         This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

         There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Women And The French Revolution

From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Women And The French Revolution

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 2001, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Women and The French Revolution-Spring 2001

We publish below an edited version of a presentation given by our comrade Susan Adams at a Spartacist League forum to celebrate International Women's Day 2000 in New York City, first published in Workers Vanguard No. 752, 16 February 2001. Susan, who died this February (see obituary, page 2), was a longtime leader of the ICL's French section and maintained an intense commitment to the study of history and culture throughout her years as a communist. These interests were put to particular use in her work as a member of the Editorial Board of Women and Revolution while that journal existed.

International Women's Day originated in March 1908, with a demonstration here in Manhattan by women needle trades workers. They marched to oppose child labor and in favor of the eight-hour day and women's suffrage. March 8 became an international day celebrating the struggle for women's rights. And then on International Women's Day in 1917, right in the middle of World War 190,000 textile workers, many of them women, went on strike in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the capital of the Russian tsarist empire. They rose up from the very bottom rungs of society, and it was these most oppressed and downtrodden of the proletariat who opened the sluice gates of the revolutionary struggle leading to the October Revolution, where Marx's ideas first took on flesh and blood.

The Soviet state was the dictatorship of the proletariat. It immediately enacted laws making marriage and divorce simple civil procedures, abolishing the category of illegitimacy and all discrimination against homosexuals. It took steps toward replacing women's household drudgery by setting up cafeterias, laundries and childcare centers to allow women to enter productive employment. Under the conditions of extreme poverty and backwardness, those measures could be carried out only on a very limited scale. But they undermined the institution of the family and represented the first steps toward the liberation of women. The collectivized planned economy laid the basis for enormous economic and social progress. Fully integrated into the economy as wage earners, women achieved a degree of economic independence that became so much a matter of course that it was barely noticed by the third generation after the revolution. We fought for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution up until the very last barricade.

The great October Russian Revolution has now been undone and its gains destroyed. Surrounded and pounded by the imperialists for seven decades, the Soviet Union was destroyed by capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The responsibility for that lies primarily with the Stalinist bureaucracy which usurped political power from the working class in 1923-24 and betrayed the revolutionary purpose of Lenin and Trotsky's Bolshevik Party and the revolutionary Communist International that they founded. Not the least of the Stalinists' crimes was the glorification of the family and the reversal of many gains for women. We called for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

In celebrating International Women's Day, we reaffirm that the struggle for women's rights is inextricably linked to revolution and we honor the women fighters through the centuries whose courage and consciousness has often put them in the vanguard of struggles to advance the cause of the oppressed. The Russian Revolution was a proletarian socialist revolution; it overthrew the rule of the capitalists and landlords and placed the working class in power. The Great French Revolution of 1789-94was a bourgeois revolution, the most thorough and deep going of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The French Revolution overthrew the rule of the monarchy, the nobility and the landed aristocracy and placed the bourgeoisie in power. It swept Europe with its liberating ideas and its revolutionary reorganization of society. It transformed the population from subjects of the crown to citizens with formal equality. Jews were freed from the ghettos and declared citizens with full rights; slavery was first abolished on the territory of the French nation. It inspired the first successful slave revolt in the colonies, the uprising led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in what became Haiti. And, within the limitations of bourgeois rule, it achieved gains for women that were unparalleled until the time of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Today's capitalist ruling class is unsurpassed in bloody terrorism against working people around the world in defense of its profits and property. As hard as it is to imagine, the ancestors of this bourgeoisie played a historically progressive role then, sweeping away the backwardness, irrationality and inefficiency of the previous feudal system. The leaders of the French Revolution, who represented the most radical sector of the French bourgeoisie, spoke with—and for the most part believed—the words of the Enlightenment, justifying its fight to destroy the nobility as a class and take political power itself as the advent of "liberty, equality and fraternity" for all. They could not, and the majority of them did not intend to, emancipate the lower classes. Nevertheless, something changed in the world.

Particularly since "death of communism" propaganda has filled the bourgeois press and media following the destruction of the Soviet Union, there's been a real attempt to demonize not just the Russian Revolution but any revolution, the French Revolution in particular. The push for retrograde social policies has been historically justified with a virtual flood of books and articles attacking the humanist values of the Enlightenment philosophy which laid the ideological basis for the French Revolution. Today, while the bourgeoisie in its decay disowns the rationalist and democratic values it once espoused, we Trotskyists stand out not only as the party of the Russian Revolution but the champions of the liberating goals of the French Revolution.

Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin identified with the Jacobins, the radical wing of the French revolutionary bourgeoisie, whose most prominent leaders were Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat and Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just. Lenin wrote that the "essence of Jacobinism" was "the transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class" and that Jacobinism was "one of the highest peaks in the emancipation struggle of an oppressed class." You can better understand why Lenin was inspired by the Jacobins from the following words by Saint-Just: "Those who make a revolution, with half-measures are only digging their own grave."

Women's Oppression and Class Society

In the early 19th century, a French socialist named Charles Fourier carefully studied the French Revolution. He wrote biting, witty and humorous criticism of existing social relations, including working out a whole scheme—kind of nutty but fun and food for thought—for perpetually satisfying sexual relations. Needless to say, he thought sexual monogamy was a curse worse than death. In a famous statement quoted by Karl Marx in his 1845 book The Holy Family, Fourier said:

"The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by women's progress towards freedom, because here, in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation."

And that quite profound observation guides us today in our understanding of society.

Women's oppression is rooted in the institution of the family and has been a feature of all class societies. At one point before recorded history, it didn't much matter who the father of a child was, since children were largely cared for communally. But then inventions such as agriculture made it possible to produce more than the producers could actually consume. This ability to produce a surplus meant that a leisure class could live off the labor of others and accumulate property. It became important to know who the father of a child was so that he could pass on his property to his own children. Monogamy appeared, making the man dominant and the woman subservient, enslaved.

The family is a key social unit for the maintenance of capitalism. For the capitalists, the family provides the basis for passing on accumulated wealth. And where there is no property to pass on, the family serves to rear the next generation of workers for the capitalists and to inculcate conservative social values. It is the family—and the necessity to control sexual access to the woman to ensure that the man knows who his real heir is—which generates the morality codified in and reinforced by religion. It is the family which throughout a woman's life gives definition to her oppressed state: as daughter, as wife, as mother.

We Marxists fight to rip the means of production out of the hands of the capitalists in order to put them at the service of the needs of the working people that create the wealth. Only then can household drudgery be replaced with socialized child-care, restaurants, laundries and so on. The program of communism is for a classless society in which the family is transcended by superior sexual and social relations which will be free of moral or economic coercion. Our slogan is: "For women's liberation through socialist revolution!"

Marx said that revolution is the locomotive of history. In the Great French Revolution, the women of Paris were often the engineers in that locomotive. I'm going to be talking about the role of thousands of women leaders, military commanders, propagandists and organizers whose role at key junctures of the French Revolution was quite simply decisive. Groups like the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women literally shaped history. Count Mirabeau, one of the major actors in the beginning of the revolution, was an extremely sleazy guy, firmly in favor of a constitutional monarchy, occasionally in the pay of the king. But even he said: "Without women, there is no revolution."

Most histories of the French Revolution concentrate their chief attention on the upper levels of society and the top layers of the plebeian masses. In recent years, a number of French and American women historians have done very interesting and important research into the dusty archives of the revolution in Paris—police reports, newspaper articles. Some of these historians are feminists; that is, they see the fundamental division in society as that between the sexes.

At the time of the revolution, a movement focused specifically on women's rights was in the minority. One person who was what you would call a feminist today, at least as far as I have been able to put together her history, was Olympe de Gouges. In her pamphlet, The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen, written in the fall of 1791, she implicitly called for the vote for women, for a women's assembly and for equal rights with men. She also dedicated her pamphlet to the despised queen Marie Antoinette! De Gouges was not an aristocrat but a butcher's daughter from outside Paris, yet she remained a royalist throughout most of the revolution and was guillotined in November 1793.

Some of the recent analysis by feminist historians feeds right into today's reactionary climate. Taking aim at the French Revolution itself, they claim that the failure of women to secure the right to vote for national parliaments and the suppression of the exclusively women's political clubs during the most radical period of the revolution proves that misogyny triumphed. This view is also promoted in an article in the New York Times Magazine (16 May 1999) called "The Shadow Story of the Millennium: Women." The article states that the French Revolution's "new philosophy of rational natural rights placed all men on an equal footing in regard to citizenship and the law" but adds: "Men of the revolution said that women should stay home and rear their sons to be good citizens."

Let us allow a participant to refute this falsehood. Mere Duchesne was a domestic servant, a cook, who, unlike most domestic servants then, defied her aristocratic masters. She was described in a police report as "the satellite and missionary to all women under Robespierre's orders, a most ferocious woman." The Mere Duchesne newspaper wrote in September 1792:

"In the past, when we wanted to speak, our mouths were shut while we were told very politely, 'You reason like a woman'; almost like a goddamn beast. Oh! Damn! Everything is very different now; we have indeed grown since the Revolution."

"The Columns of French Liberty"

Now I want to go into some detail about the French Rev¬olution itself. A revolution is a monumental military and social battle between classes. The dominant class in any society controls the state—the police, courts, army—which protects its class interests. In modern society there are two fundamental classes: the big capitalists who own the means of production (the mines, factories, etc.) and the workers who own absolutely nothing except their personal effects and are compelled to sell their labor power to the capitalists. At the time of the French Revolution, there were essentially four

classes. The king and the nobility who owned nearly all of the land, the rising bourgeoisie, the peasants (who constituted over 80 percent of the population) and the urban sans culottes. The latter consisted of artisans, who worked either at home or in very small workshops, shopkeepers, day laborers, the poor and unemployed. Those who did manual labor wore loose trousers and were sans—without—the tight silk leggings worn by aristocrats and those imitating them.

A revolution happens when the ruling class can no longer rule as before, and the masses are no longer willing to be ruled in the same way. We're talking about a political crisis in which the rulers falter and which tears the people from the habitual conditions under which they labor and vegetate, awakening even the most backward elements, compelling the people to take stock of themselves and look around. That political crisis was provoked in France by the 1776 American Revolution.

France had taken the side of the American colonies against its perpetual enemy England and so had emerged on the side of the victors, but totally broke. In May 1789, King Louis XVI convened an Estates General—a meeting of representatives of the nobility, the clergy and the non-noble property owners and lawyers (the so-called Third Estate)— at Versailles, where his palace was located, about 12 miles from Paris. He hoped to convince some of them to pay more taxes. But they refused, while every village throughout the country wrote up its grievances to be presented at Versailles. The meeting of the three estates transformed itself into a National Assembly.

It was clear that the king was gathering troops to disperse the National Assembly. The negotiations out at Versailles might have gone on forever, except the Parisian masses took things into their own capable hands and organized to arm themselves, seizing 60,000muskets from armories like the Invalides and the Bastille prison fortress around the city on 14 July 1789. You know of this event as the storming of the Bastille. The freeing of the handful of prisoners was incidental; it was the arms that were the goal. The Paris garrisons had been deeply influenced by revolutionary propaganda following a massacre of rioters in the working-class quarters of Faubourg Saint-Antoine some months earlier. In June, the troops paraded through the streets to shouts of "Long live the Third Estate! We are the soldiers of the nation!"

The king backed down, but the monarchy still had its army and its throne. The bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, mutually hostile classes, were relying on essentially incompatible government institutions, the National Assembly and the royal throne. One or the other would have to go. Either the king (and his many royal cousins and relations by marriage ruling other countries of Europe) would crush the National Assembly or the king would meet up with what came to be known as "Madame la Guillotine."

The weeks following the July 14 events were known as the "Great Fear," the fear that the aristocrats were coming to take the land back and were organizing brigands and robbers and bands of pirates and so forth. So the peasants armed to protect themselves. Then it turned out to be a rumor, but there they were, armed and ready, and being practical sorts, they turned on the landlords' manor houses and made use of the arms that they'd gotten.

The people's representatives, who were deliberating out at Versailles, took note of the insurrection and on August 4 passed laws eliminating feudal privileges, which had been the original issue all summer. The problem was that you had to buy your way out of your feudal duties and pay 25 times your feudal taxes in order to free yourself from them. Most peasants simply ignored that and had been seizing the land all over the country since July 14. They also would burn down the lord's manor house, where the records and the deeds were kept. You know, straightforward and practical.

The next major event is crucial to our understanding of the women's role. It was October and the people of Paris were starving again. October is usually a cold and wet month in Paris. It was indeed raining at 8 a.m. on the morning of 5 October 1789. Thousands of women—eventually some 8,000—had already gathered in front of City Hall. They knew where to find the arms because it was they who had helped store them here after July 14.

The king had allowed the symbol of the revolution—the red-white-and-blue cockade (rosette)—to be trampled underfoot by some foreign troops brought in to protect him and his Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette. The women intended to stop this anti-revolutionary activity and they wanted bread. Huge stores of fine white flour waited at Versailles. They began to walk there. They couldn't get anyone to come with them, but later in the afternoon about 20,000 troops of the National Guard—which had been formed by the bourgeoisie—forced the very reluctant General Lafayette, whom you might know as a hero of the American Revolution, to lead them there. One of the women was Pauline Leon, a chocolate maker, who was later to lead the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. That day she was armed with a pike, which was known as the people's weapon, because it was so easy to make. You could pull something off the top of a railing and attach it to a good hefty stick. It was said that "the pikes of the people are the columns of French liberty."

This was no protest march—it was a sea of muskets and pikes. The women were determined not to come back without the king and his family. There were still plenty of illusions in the king, but they wanted him under their watchful eye, in Paris. At one point the crowd apparently invaded the palace and was wandering through Marie Antoinette's chambers and some things were getting broken and stepped on and stomped and so forth. One very respectable woman in a velvet hat and cloak turned around and said very haughtily, "Don't do that, we're here to make a point, not to break things." And a woman from the artisan class turned around and said, "My husband was drawn and quartered for stealing a piece of meat." Finally the women demanded that the royal family get into their carriage. Lafayette's troops led the way and the women marched in front carrying on their pikes loaves of fresh, very white bread—the kind reserved for the upper classes—and the heads of two of the king's bodyguards.

The Revolutionary Jacobin Dictatorship

While pretending to be happy with the situation, the king was secretly corresponding with the other royal heads of state and nobles began to emigrate en masse, establishing counterrevolutionary centers outside the country. In June 1791, the king and queen disguised themselves and tried to escape, intending to return with the backing of the Austrian army. But an observant revolutionary recognized them in the town of Varennes, and they were brought back to Paris. This destroyed the people's remaining illusions in the monarchy and triggered an upsurge in revolutionary agitation. But the bourgeoisie, fearing things could get out of hand, sought to maintain the monarchy and clamp down on the mass turmoil. A month after the king's arrest, a petition to abolish the monarchy was being circulated among the crowd on the broad expanse of the Champs de Mars. The National Guard fired on the crowd and many were killed. Commanded by the aristocrat Lafayette, the National Guard had been organized as a force not only against the king but also against the threat that the bourgeoisie had already seen coming from the Parisian working people.

The Champs de Mars massacre marked a split within the bourgeois revolutionary forces. The two main factions that emerged—the Girondins and the Jacobins—represented the same social class, but they were deeply politically divided. The Prussian monarchy and the rest of royal Europe were mobilizing militarily and in April 1792 revolutionary France went to war. The Girondins sought a "negotiated solution" with the reactionary feudal armies combined with concessions to the nobility and the clergy. The Jacobins were ready to make temporary concessions to the hungry urban masses in order to thoroughly vanquish feudal reaction. You could say that the Girondins were the reformist wing and the Jacobins the revolutionary wing of the bourgeoisie.

In June 1792, thousands of armed marchers, including numerous women armed with sabers, paraded through the Assembly in the first of what became known as journees, or days of action. One official observed at the time, "The throne was still standing, but the people were seated on it, took the measure of it." The monarchy was finally overthrown by a second journee on 10 August 1792, when the masses invaded the king's residence at the Tuileries Palace in Paris and imprisoned the royal family.

The war was not going well. Most of the former officers, aristocrats, had emigrated. A government representative appealed for recruits by invoking "the heartbreaking thought that, after all the efforts that have already been made, we might be forced to return to the misery of our former slavery." While the best of the revolutionaries volunteered for the front, they were untrained and assumed to be undisciplined. Most of the new recruits were trades people, artisans and journeymen, not the sons of the bourgeoisie as before. The road to Paris seemed open to the Prussian royal armies.

The king of Prussia expected the French troops to scatter in disarray when his troops moved to drive them out of a strip of land near Valmy in eastern France. But not a man flinched as the French general waved his hat in the air on the point of his sword, shouting "Long live the nation!" The sans-culottes fired straight and repeatedly at the enemy. With a torrential rainstorm some hours later, the armies fell back. The German writer Goethe was present at Valmy, and as he looked out over the battlefield that night he said, "This day and this place open a new era in the history of the world."

He could not have been more prescient. On that day, the Assembly gave way to the Convention, which was elected by universal male suffrage and convoked expressly to give the nation a constitution which codified the overthrow of the king. Also, as we will see, the most progressive marriage and divorce laws until the Bolshevik Revolution were passed on exactly the same day as the victory at Valmy. Five months later, the king was beheaded.

In a third uprising in June 1793, the people of Paris and 80,000 National Guard troops surrounded the Convention and demanded the arrest of the Girondins and a comprehensive program of revolutionary defense of the country. This ushered in the Jacobin revolutionary dictatorship, which irremediably abolished seigneurial (feudal) rights, instituted the price controls (referred to as the "maximum") demanded by the sans-culottes and destroyed the resistance of the feudal order through a reign of revolutionary terror carried out by the Committee of Public Safety.

A month after the foreign troops were driven from France in mid-1794, on July 27 (9 Thermidor in the revolutionary calendar), the conservative wing of the bourgeoisie took the reins of power. The next day Robespierre followed the Grindings to the guillotine. The Thermidorians thought they could do without the alliance with the lower classes. That calculation was proved false, and they were themselves replaced in 1799 in the coup of the 18th Brumaire (November 9) by Napoleon Bonaparte, who subsequently declared himself emperor. But the Jacobin dictatorship had irreversibly consolidated the central achievement of the French Revolution, the rooting out of feudal relations in the countryside.

Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance

As materialists, we understand, as Marx put it, that "Law can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by that structure." The rising capitalist class was firmly committed to the preservation of private property, as indeed it had to be. It was precisely this which staked out the limits of the revolutionary social changes that could be carried out, although the most radical years of the French Revolution went very far indeed.

The family was temporarily undermined in order to serve the needs of the revolution against its enemies, the feudal nobility and Catholic church. This is one demonstration of the fact that social institutions which seem to be immutable, to be "natural" and "eternal," are in fact nothing more than the codification of social relations dictated by the particular economic system that is in place. After the bourgeoisie consolidated its power as the new ruling class, it re-established the constraints of the family. But nothing would ever be the same again. The contradictory reality of the French Revolution—the breathtaking leap in securing individual rights and the strict limits imposed on those rights by the fact that this was a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution—was captured by Karl Marx in The German Ideology:

"The existence of the family is made necessary by its connection with the mode of production, which exists independently of the will of bourgeois society. That it was impossible to do without it was demonstrated in the most striking way during the French Revolution, when for a moment the family was as good as legally abolished."

The feminists who want to dismiss the bourgeois revolution as anti-woman end up echoing those who justify suttee (widow-burning) in India and the imposition of the chador in Iran and Afghanistan as "cultural differences." Where the bourgeois revolution did not triumph, the status of women is qualitatively inferior. It is enough to contrast the condition of women today in West Europe with Afghanistan, groaning under the rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban.

I'll give you a very small example of what it meant to have a society in which a rising, vigorous, productive class—the bourgeoisie—was held in check by outmoded institutions. France was a Catholic country. In 1572, tens of thousands of French Protestants were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and more fled the country. The 1598 Edict of Nantes assured them the free exercise of their religious beliefs, but this was revoked in 1685. Some of the richest merchants were Protestant, but marriages performed by their own pastors were not officially recognized. At the death of a spouse, you would have distant Catholic relatives claiming the inheritance, because legally there was no spouse and the children were illegitimate. Both Protestants and Jews accepted divorce. In 1769, according to James Traer in his Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France (1980), a respected author advocated permitting divorce on the grounds that "the Protestant nations of northern Europe were enjoying both population growth and prosperity while the Catholic states of southern Europe were suffering from declining population and poverty." But the conservatives always managed to get the law postponed.

Under the Old Regime, women had the right to exactly nothing. The monarchy consistently sought to reinforce, supplement and extend the father's control over the marriage of his children. Women found guilty of adultery were sentenced to public whipping or imprisonment. Women were also put into convents for life for adultery. Marriage was indissoluble—a life sentence. If you were a man, you couldn't marry until you were 30 without your parents' permission. If your family had property, your father could get the king to issue a lettre de cachet, something like an unlimited arrest warrant, and you could be locked up indefinitely. If you married a minor (under the age of 25 for women) without permission, the penalty was death for rape notwithstanding the woman's consent. By the way, actors and actresses couldn't marry either, because their profession was viewed by the church as immoral.

The aristocracy was hardly committed to the sanctity of marriage. It was said at the court of Louis XIV some decades before the revolution that the aristocracy frowned on marital fidelity as being in bad taste, and a German visitor noted, "I know of not a single case of mutual affection and loyalty." I introduce this to make the point that marriage for the upper classes was all about property. Many of the sans-culottes did not marry at all. But in the Paris of the French Revolution, women were still largely dependent on men for economic reasons (whether or not they were legally married).

Much debate and several pieces of draft legislation on marriage and divorce had already been considered by the National Assembly before September 1792. All proposed to make marriage d simple civil affair. However, what stood in the way of this was the Catholic church. Those clergy who refused to swear an oath of loyalty were threatened with deportation. But the Pope forbade it, and a lot did refuse. Though some were deists or free thinkers, the bourgeois deputies in the Assembly had no intention of suppressing religion; they nearly all agreed that some kind of religion was necessary to keep the people pacified. But now they had a big problem on their hands as the village priests became organizers for counterrevolution.

The local priests not only carried out marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals, but also recorded them. If these records were in the hands of hostile forces, how could you count the population? You wouldn't even know if you had enough draftees for the army. When in June 1792 the Minister of Justice wrote that the civil war launched by the aristocracy and the church in the Vendee region in southwest France had completely disrupted the keeping of records, one delegate rose to propose that the marriage ceremony be abolished with the cry, "Freedom or death!" So in some ways, the progressive marriage and divorce laws enacted in September the same day as the victory at Valmy were war measures.

The age of adulthood was lowered to 21 and marriage without parental consent was legalized. This was followed by a June 1793 decree that proclaimed the right of illegitimate children to inherit from both their mothers and their fathers. At a stroke, the institution of the family lost one of its main functions as the framework for the transfer of property from one generation to the next. While inheritance rights didn't mean much to those without property, the new laws also tended to legitimize "free unions." For example, soldiers' common-law wives could receive government pensions.

Divorce had not been high on the list of grievances before the revolution, but as the pamphlets flowered, so did the notion that divorce was a necessary right in society. Probably rarely in history had a simple law so delighted the female population. When a certain citizen Bellepaume came to the town hall intending to oppose the divorce demanded by his wife, he found that she had organized "a considerable number of citizens of both sexes, but chiefly women" who pursued him in the corridors, abused him and tore his clothes. In the first year after the divorce law was passed, women

initiated over 70 percent of all divorces. One woman wrote to the Convention:

"The female citizen Govot, a free woman, solemnly comes to give homage to this sacred law of divorce. Yesterday, groaning under the control of a despotic husband, liberty was only an empty word for her. Today, returned to the dignity of an independent woman, she idolizes this beneficial law that breaks ill-matched ties and returns hearts to themselves, to nature, and finally to divine liberty. I offer my country six francs for the expense of war. I add my marriage ring, which was until today the symbol of my slavery."

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women

The question of women's status in society had been a subject of debate throughout the Enlightenment. The Encyclopedia, published just before the revolution and intended as a compendium of all knowledge, contained four contributions under the category "Women": one in favor of equality, one ambiguous and two against. Even in a very radical work like Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), woman's role as subordinate to man inside the family was not seriously called into question. Wollstonecraft was part of a circle of British radical-democratic revolutionaries who supported the French Revolution against English monarchical reaction, even participating in the French government.

Most of the Enlightenment thinkers and writers concentrated on education for women, and that was about it. Now, this is undeniably a very important question, and it refuted the prevalent idea that women were inferior to men and their brains worked in an inferior way. Only about a third of French women at the time were literate. You'd find them during the revolutionary years at the corner cafe with their glass of red wine, reading or listening to someone else read Robespierre's latest speech. The hunger for knowledge was totally linked to the desire to change society. Before 1777, France had no daily newspaper. Two years later, there were 35 papers and periodicals and by 1789 there were 169. Thousands of political pamphlets rolled off the printing presses.

One of the novels based on the new research published in the last few years has the Enlightenment philosopher Condorcet, who wrote very eloquently about women's rights, and his lovely young wife enjoying long mornings reading a bit of Voltaire or the equivalent of the Sunday New York Times in bed with their cafe au lait, making love, and then getting up in the afternoon to walk in the garden and do their very serious intellectual work. Not a bad life, right? But it wasn't available to most people, of course. Condorcet ended by opposing the execution of Louis XVI, ostensibly on the grounds of opposition to the death penalty.

The working women of Paris who were a motor force in the revolution lived very different lives. Perhaps 45,000 women in Paris, some 20 percent, were wage earners; a similar percentage of women in cities like Lyon and Rouen worked. Because of the war, women were able to break into traditionally male professions and they were also employed at sewing, as domestic servants. Some were proprietors of shops. Wives, legal or otherwise, of soldiers at the front were given subsidies. The Paris municipal government and the political clubs set up spinning workshops that at a certain point employed several thousand women, though the wages were miserable. They were centralized by the government office responsible for producing clothes for the troops.

It was from among these women of the sans-culottes that the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women was formed in the spring of 1793. One of the leaders of the society was the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, whom we last saw with her pike on the October 1789 march to Versailles. Another was the actress Claire Lacombe, who always followed her signature with "A Free Woman." A third was Anne Felicite' Colombe, who owned a print shop. Typography was generally a man's job, so she was already exceptional for this. In 1791, she had been one of the four women arrested when the National Guard shot down demonstrators at the Champs de Mars calling for the overthrow of the monarchy. Colombe printed the revolutionary newspapers of Jean-Paul Marat, L'Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People) and L'Orateur du Peuple (The Orator of the People). She was dragged into a libel suit, which she eventually won, and distributed the 20,000-//vre settlement to the poor in her neighborhood.

While women did not win the right to vote for delegates to the Convention, especially after the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship in 1793 they played a full role in the Parisian sectional assemblies, intervening, presenting positions, voting and being elected as delegates. They refused to be "servile women, domestic animals," as one put it in May 1793. Interestingly, the one widespread demand for formal equality was for the right to bear arms. In March 1792, Pauline Leon had led a delegation to present a petition to the Assembly declaring:

"You cannot refuse us and society cannot remove from us this right which nature gives us, unless it is alleged that the Declaration of Rights is not applicable to women and that they must allow their throats to be slit, like sheep, without having the right to defend themselves."

The women demanded the right to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, and to assemble for maneuvers on the Champs de Mars. After much debate, the Assembly moved to put the petition in the minutes with honorable mention. Dozens of women actually went to the front when the war began, a few as officers.

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women solidly backed the Jacobins as the revolutionary government and politically supported the extreme left Enrages around Jacques Roux, who spoke for the popular masses. Just after the Revolutionary Republican Women was founded, they mobilized the support of the masses in the streets for the Jacobins, whose battle to oust the Girondins was then coming to a head. As the split deepened, there were many more women than men in the street gatherings, according to police reports. The Revolutionary Republican Women dressed in military clothes and carried sabers. One account has them waging a military battle in the Convention to get back the seats which had been taken from them by supporters of the right-wing Gironde.

Reversal of Gains Under Thermidor

In October 1793, the society became one of the first organizations to be banned by the Jacobin government. Those feminist historians I mentioned earlier claim that this proves that the French Revolution was essentially hostile to women. That's wrong. The society was banned not because it was composed of women, but because it was one of the most radical expressions of the sans-culottes.

Here's what happened. The Enrages and the Revolutionary Republican Women fought for strict price controls, especially on food, and an upper limit on the size of personal fortunes. In October, the Revolutionary Republican Women launched a campaign to force all women to wear the revolutionary cockade. They brought their campaign to Les Halles, the central marketplace in Paris. The market women were of course hostile to the price maximum on food that had just been imposed by the Jacobin government as a concession to the sans-culottes. The question of the cockade was just the pretext for the major-league brawl that ensued between the market women and the women revolutionaries. This fight represented an early split in the Jacobins' base, and the Jacobins sided with the market women, banning the Revolutionary Republicans.

The peasants wanted maximum food prices, the artisan-proletariat in the cities wanted minimum ones, pointing to the spectre of a civil war which the sans-cullotes could not win. The Jacobins could have tried to strike a deal, but ultimately they could not satisfy the conflicting demands of the urban poor and the peasantry. When revolutionary Russia in the early 1920s was confronted with the "scissors crisis," as the price of scarce manufactured goods rose and the price of agricultural products fell 3nd the peasants threatened to withhold their produce, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky proposed a course of planned industrialization to make more manufactured goods available to the peasants and maintain their support for the proletarian dictatorship. Trotsky's proposal was rejected at the time (only to be implemented at forced-march pace a few years later by Stalin). But such an option was objectively unrealizable in the capitalist economic system of pre-industrial France.

By the fall of 1793, the Jacobins and revolutionary France were gasping for air. Mandatory conscription had provoked mass uprisings in the Vendee; there had been treachery at the front; the armies of the European monarchies had reinvaded France; and Girondin provinces were seceding; Marat, the "friend of the people," had been assassinated by the royalist Charlotte Corday. Against this backdrop, the Revolutionary Republican Women, in their revolutionary zeal against the market women, threatened to get in the way of prompt and regular deliveries of food to the city from the countryside, without which the Jacobins would have lost the allegiance of the urban masses.

Many of the revolutionary women continued to be active as individuals. Even after being arrested by the Jacobin government, Claire Lacombe stayed loyal to Robespierre. She never renounced her support, and after Robespierre's execution she always refused to point out that she had been arrested by his revolutionary government because she hated the idea of becoming a hero of the Thermidorians. Women played a vanguard role in the last uprising of the French Revolution in the spring of 1795, after Thermidor. The rallying cry was "Bread and the Constitution of 1793!"

The modern feminist historians believe that the role of women who rose up from the "cellars and catacombs" has been largely obscured because of prevailing patriarchal attitudes in society. Or they seek to show that women acted only on "women's issues," mainly food shortages. While there's some truth in both these observations, they fundamentally miss the point. The mass of active women in the French Revolution did not fight and organize as women but as revolutionaries. And, as the October 1789 march that brought the king back from Versailles showed, it wasn't simply the question of bread that motivated them.

Thermidor marked the end of the radical phase of the revolution, and women were among the first to feel this. This was especially true for divorced women, who would have trouble finding work and maintaining themselves under the conservative Thermidorians. Divorce became identified with the "ruin of society" and the "torrent of corruption that invaded the cities and especially Paris" during the Terror and the months that followed it. Proof of a legitimate marriage became a requirement for soldiers' wives seeking to receive aid. After May 1795, the Convention banned women from "attending political assemblies," urging them to withdraw to their homes and ordering "the arrest of those who would gather together in groups of more than five."

The Napoleonic Code saw a further reversal of the gains of women. It's reported that the only part of the deliberations on the Napoleonic Code that Bonaparte sat in on was the Family Code enacted in 1804. The Family Code again made women minors from the standpoint of the law, mandating that they had to have the approval of their husbands for all contracts and so forth. In 1816, a year after Napoleon was overthrown and the monarchy restored, divorce was abolished.

For Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

I want to briefly trace the revolutionary continuity extending from the French Revolution through the 19th century. The French Revolution, refracted through Napoleon's armies, brought the first notions of women's equality to hideously backward tsarist Russia. Following Napoleon's defeat, Paris was occupied by Russian troops for a period of time. A number of young officers spent a lot of time in the cafes talking to people about what had been going on, and went back to St. Petersburg and led the Decembrist Uprising against the tsarist autocracy in 1825. They fought, among other things, for women's equality.

The very first communist ideas came out of the analysis developed by some of the radical Jacobins while in prison after the defeat of the Jacobin dictatorship. Revolutionaries like Gracchus Babeuf, who organized the Conspiracy of Equals, and Philippe Buonarroti came to believe that private property itself was the cause of oppression. They provided a living link to Marx and Engels, who issued the Communist Manifesto as the next revolutionary wave swept Europe in 1848, declaring: "The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital." In France, a program was advanced for women's emancipation that called for replacing domestic slavery with socially organized and financed services. I found this 1848 program reprinted in an early 1920s women's journal published by the French Communist Party, L'Ouvriere (The Woman Worker).

In the Paris Commune in 1871, women once again played an extremely important role. Marx described the Commune as the first realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though it lasted less than three months. The women of the Paris Commune were called the "incendiaries" by the reactionary press, and a correspondent for the London Times wrote, "If the French Nation were composed of nothing but women, what a terrible nation it would be." But Marx hailed them: "The women of Paris joyfully give up their lives on the barricades and execution grounds" (quoted in Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries [1967]). When the French capitalist rulers finally defeated the Commune after heroic resistance, they slaughtered at least 30,000 people in one week, and many thousands more were sent to penal colonies.

Today, bourgeois France is an imperialist power, where the July 14 storming of the Bastille is celebrated as a chauvinist glorification of the "grandeur of France"—much like July 4 here—while French colonial atrocities are carried out to the music of the once-revolutionary hymn, the Marseillaise.

We Trotskyists know that it will take world socialist revolution to do away with the institutions which are the root cause of women's oppression. In our fight to reforge Leon Trotsky's Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to lead new October Revolutions around the planet, we are guided by the words of the Fourth International's founding document, the 1938 Transitional Program: "The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class, consequently among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness, and readiness to sacrifice." Join us!