State and French revolution after 1789


This video is called Fall of the Bastille.

From British daily The Morning Star:

What Bastille Day means today

(Sunday 03 August 2008)

The Fourteenth of July by Christopher Prendergast
(Profile, £15.99)

“MEMORY has always been less about remembering a past than interpreting its legacy.”

Christopher Prendergast takes that iconic moment in modern world history, the taking of the Bastille, and examines the way memories of the event from the contemporary to the present have served various political agendas, subordinating the past to the perceived requirements of the present.

He notes that, even during the first anniversary festival in 1790, the Vainqueurs – those who actually stormed Paris’s prison-fortress – were ignored.

After collecting the few contemporary accounts of the participants, Prendergast details the Establishment treatment of what, in its eyes, often became an embarrassing moment in the national story.

Afraid of the naked expression of the sans-culottes, the governmental powers that emerged from the collapse of feudalism set about treating the celebrations of July 14 as a culmination rather than a beginning of the revolution.

Indeed, the annual festival soon ceased, Napoleon replacing the commemorative date with a celebration of his own birthday.

Revived in 1880 with the Third Republic, Bastille Day had little to do with revolution, but was presented as “the historic challenge of modernity” – read emerging capitalism – “to feudalism, clericism and monarchy.”

Subsequently, the day was treated according to the political tenor of the times, increasingly nationalistic and militaristic.

The Popular Front movement of the 1930s saw even the French left attempting to use the day to unite the Marseillaise with the Internationale.

Prendergast finds the Bastille celebrations of 1945, with the French rejoicing in a real freedom from “the long night of the worst ‘Bastille’ ever imposed,” as the closest to the spirit of 1789.

By the 2000 bicentennial, the history of the Quatorze had “grown arthritic … threatened with terminal senility.”

This assessment appears born out by a recent Guardian article informing interested readers that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy “wore a neat Jackie-Kennedy-style magenta Christian Dior to celebrate Bastille Day.”

However, Zhou Enlai’s famous observation that it is too early to assess the significance of the French Revolution should make us hesitate to see the story of the Bastille sink into communal memory oblivion.

GORDON PARSONS

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