The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

1848: The Mobile Guard: The Working Class Army

  • 1830 / 1832

  • 1848

    Works Cited

  • Established during the Revolution of 1848, the Mobile Guard consisted of lower working class men policing their own provinces. The Mobile Guard was intended to take the revolutionaries off the streets and use their "revolutionary tendencies" for the regime's benefit. In doing so, the workers who joined the Mobile Guard proved their adeptness at political and social organization but did so by repressing the rebellions they once helped stir up.
    The Creation of the Mobile Guard
    "The foundering of all organized forces only left one means of safety: to draw from the masses themselves the elements of order and discipline; to contain, direct, and govern the people with the people. . . . Audacious to the point of temerity, impulsive, flirting with destruction, running to rebellion as to a recreation, deprived of work, wandering through the streets hunger-stricken, the children of Paris were a new element of turmoil. To assemble them, group them, clothe them, give them shelter and bread, all the while transforming them into an intelligent and devoted force was to accomplish an act at once political and humanitarian."

    --Garnier Page's assessment of the Provisional Government's motives for the Mobile Guard

    (Traugott, 36)

    The quote above is an excellent example of how the government and the upper class viewed the lower working class, as children who could not organize themselves,who are "impulsive" and run "to rebellion as to a recreation." It was for this reason that the Mobile Guard was created: to try and take rebellion out of the revolutionary workers.
    However, during the Revolution of 1848, beginning in February, the government noticed that "the people of Paris spontaneously assumed responsibility for the maintenance and order in the city." It troubled the government that the revolutionary crowd saw to the protection of property and, more importantly, would "also intervene in their own official debates" (Traugott, 35).
    The Mobile Guard tried to solve three of the Provincial Governments biggest problems:
  • By employing as many as 25,000 jobless Parisians, it hoped to solve the economic crisis.
  • It wanted to neutralize the most volatile of the street population, who were still excited from the February victory.
  • Finally, transforming the workers into a reliable army would help them in war abroad.
  • A Mobile Guard Post at the Time of its formation, taken from
    Traugott page 61.

    The Guard "soon became the strong right arm of the Provisional Government, assigned on at least a weekly basis to quell disorders in Paris and its outskirts" (Traugott, 40).

    Doubts of Mobile Guard

    Although the Guard was a competent form of government force, doubts about their loyalty continued to arise. The Provisional Government focused on recruiting members from the youthful revolutionaries who fought at the February barricades. The men who once manned the barricades were now being trained how to repress the popular insurrections that they played a part in. For the Guardsmen were "a rather broadly based fighting force that, both among industrial and nonindustrial sectors, was essentially indistinguishable from the insurgents themselves. This led many to doubt the loyalty of the members of the Mobile Guard.

    However, the Mobile Guard never showed true reasons to be considered untrustworthy. Throughout the Revolutionary months of 1848, "in every one of its innumerable confrontations with workers, it had remained unswervingly loyal to the regime in power" (Traugott, ).

    • One member of the "regular" army commented on the enthusiasm of the Mobile Guardsmen during the June Days of the Revolution:

    "I noticed that the soldiers of the line were the least eager of our troops. Memories of February appeared to have weaken and paralyze them. . .. Without any doubt the keenest were those very Mobile Guardsmen whose fidelity we had questioned so seriously." (Traugott, 44)

    As Daniel Stern described in his book, Histoire de la Revolution de 1848, the Guardsmen appeared to enjoy the battles and combat them with excitment:

    "The sound of the gunshots, the whistling of the bullets seemed to them a new game which brought them joy. The smoke, the smell of powder excited them. They charged at a run, climbed over crumbling paving stones, clung to every scrap of cover with marvelous agility . . . If the Mobile Guard had passed over to the insurrection, as was feared, it is virtually certain that victory would have passed with it." (391)

    After the Revolution, and the insurrection in June, the Mobile Guardsmen was praised for its performance throughout the Revolution of 1848, and especially during the June Days. The workers displayed that they were not simple children, used to rebellion as recreation. But they were capable of military intelligence and loyalty to the authorities that employed them: the regime.