The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

1789: Beginning the Workers Fight with the "Popular Movement"



  • 1830

  • 1848

    Works Cited

    "The French Revolution, which is nothing more nor less than the ideal armed with the sword, started to its feet, and by the very movement, closed the door of evil and opened the door of good. . . . We may say of it that it created man a second time, in giving him a second soul, his rights."

    --Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Saint Denis, Book III

    What 1789 Meant to the Workers
  • In 1789, the "popular movement" of the working class was a key player in the revolution. This movement, "helped defend or push forward the 'bourgeois revolution,' yet it had its own ethos, vision and goals which went beyond those of" the bourgeois movement (Magraw 17).
  • The workers' participation in the French Revolution of 1789 was the starting point for their political action in France.
  • It was the direct precursor of the worker groups who participated in the revolutionary upheavels of 1830, 1848, and 1871.
  • The Workers Participation in 1789
    The workers, although not an organized force as they would be after the revolution of 1830, did have organized ways to participate in the revolutionary politics.
    • The sans-culottes movement was made up of mostly skilled laborers and the lower class, who wanted direct democracy and equality for all social classes.
    • The workers' trade organizations, Compagnonnages, did more than just organize trade disputes. The compagnonnages spoke out for the rights of workers.
    The Popular Movement's Relation to the Later Revolutions
    The Popular Movement of 1789 "was important both for its crucial role in pushing forward and consolidating the Revolution and for what it symbolized - a geniune and unprecedented upsurge in political consciousness and organization of urban workers" (Magraw 18). The revolution showed the workers their importance in the Political sphere of France.
    However, the workers were not yet ready to become political activists. It was their participation in the revolution, which helped to prepare them for the Revolution of 1830:
    • Frustration of their working environment caused them to take action in the early 1790s against industrialization. Though, the working class viewed the machines, not the merchants, as their enemy. This "would decline after 1830 as a more sophisticated analysis taught workers that capitalism per se, not the machine was their enemy" (Magraw 40).
    • Though the "Populare Movement" failed, the memories and myths of the notorious 1789 -1794 era were too potent and influential to be destroyed, and excited the next generation into action in 1830.