On this day in 1789, around a thousand revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison in Paris. This was seen as one of the most iconic moments of the French Revolution and as a symbol of the victory of commoners against the tyrannical regime of Louis XVI. 231 years later, the impact of the Revolution and its infamous slogan; ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, is still palpable.
When Louis XVI took power in 1774, France was already facing a deep economic crisis. There was mass unemployment, food shortages, and the state was on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, the royal family lived lavishly, while the peasants and working-class (or the ‘Third Estate’) could barely afford to fill their stomachs. With a worsening financial situation, in May 1789, the King called for a meeting of the three estates; which included representatives of the clergy (First Estate), nobility (Second Estate), and the commoners (Third Estate).
Monarchs had used such absolute powers to imprison political dissidents, ‘disreputable’ individuals, and writers/publishers of seditious or offensive texts. Many such political prisoners, including Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade, had been kept in the Bastille prison at varying points in time.
The Third Estate made up for a vast proportion of the population but held less representative power than the other two estates. After the May 1789 Estates-General, the Third Estate broke away in rebellion and formed a national assembly. Taking inspiration from the American Revolution (1775-83), the commoners of the Third Estate demanded the abolition of absolute monarchy; instead, they wanted a constitution and a democratic law-making system.
Before the revolution in 1789, the King enjoyed extensive power to make laws and issues royal edicts. This power allowed him to imprison his subjects with no trial or appeal for an indefinite period of time. Monarchs had used such absolute powers to imprison political dissidents, ‘disreputable’ individuals, and writers/publishers of seditious or offensive texts. Many such political prisoners, including Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade, had been kept in the Bastille prison at varying points in time. Thus, in the eyes of the masses, the prison came to symbolize the injustices and the tyrannical control of the monarchy.
The storming of the Bastille
On 14 July 1789, with the revolution already underway, a crowd of participants broke into the Hôtel des Invalides and captured arms from the state’s military complex. When they gathered information that the royal authorities had 250 barrels of gunpowder stored in the nearby Bastille prison, they stormed the Bastille to seize the ammunition and free the prisoners housed there. The prison only held seven prisoners at that point in time, but the demolition of the building represented an attack on the tyrannical regime that the structure had come to symbolize. It is estimated that around 100 people died in the storming of the Bastille.
After the structure was torn down, its bricks were distributed throughout France as memorabilia.
Day of Remembrance
Since 1880, July 14 has been celebrated in France as ‘La Fete Nationale’ (the National Holiday). The holiday is usually commemorated with fireworks and military parades, but this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual celebrations have been scaled down.
In 1789, a section of the impoverished working-class who participated in the revolution demanded; “Wealth and poverty must disappear in a world based on equality. In future, the rich will not have their bread made from wheaten flour whilst the poor have theirs made from bran”. Today, protests by students and the working class against Macron’s neoliberal policies share, at least partly, the revolutionary ideal of equality.
[LIVE] Protesters have taken to the streets of Paris to protest against the neoliberal government of Emmanuel Macron.
Posted by Redfish on Tuesday, July 14, 2020