Sans-Culotte Power within the Paris sections of 1792-94 – its social composition, dynamics, and ideology -.(1) That is what was explored in the book The Sans-Culotte. Albert Soboul describes and outlines the composition and activities of the different sections in Paris during Revolutionary France. Soboul describes the activities of these sections as a popular movement by the people of Paris. He explains how the people of Paris united to form different sectional assemblies with their main goal being to improve the lives of the middle and lower class individuals in not only Paris, but France in its entirety. In The Sans-Culottes, Soboul explains in great detail the different ways these sections influenced law making and tried to gain equal rights for all.
In addition to describing the political activity of the sans-culottes and the other sections, Soboul also explains some of the military activities and movements of these sections during the revolution. Soboul’s book has always been thought as the main authority on the sections in Paris, but in the early 1980’s, a critique was written on The Sans-Culottes and many things were found to be wrong with the book. In the critical evaluation of Albert Soboul’s The Sans-Culottes a full critique of the book takes place and many problems with the book are pointed out. The problems or shortcomings discussed in the critical evaluation range from a lack of description of the sans-culottes and other sections in Paris and errors in explaining what type of people constituted the membership of the sections, to a lack in a wide range of quality sources. The two problems in The Sans-Culottes that will be discussed in this essay are the lack of quality sources and the lack of description of the sections and who constituted them. The lack of description of the sections in Paris is a major blemish with the book.
The critique points out that Soboul lumps all of the sections of Paris together when describing them. He fails to separate them into exactly what they are: sections. It is true that there were movements made to try and unite all the sections, but this never becomes a reality so distinction between sections should be shown. Soboul makes no distinctions between quartiers’ and sections, and between socio-economic geographies and local politics.(2) Soboul’s history of the sections from June, 1793 to sid-July, 1794 described them horizontally, en masse…(3) This lumping together of the sections leads one to the false conclusion that sections were all one entity, but they were not; they were very much seperate. Soboul also leads the reader to incorrect conclusions by calling the sections and sans-culottes a popular movement. He frequently makes this statement.
Soboul describes many changes in the policy of the sections that allow the lower class to join the assemblies. A quote used by Soboul by Hanriot states, For a long time, the rich made the laws, it is about time the poor made some laws themselves and that equality should reign between the rich and the poor.'(4) This leads the reader to believe that everyone was involved actively in the sections and that anyone could become leaders of a sectional assembly, but this was not the case. The lower class, or plebeians, did very little except for what the leaders let them or told them to do. As written in the critique: Their [plebeians] pressures were selectively channeled into politics by the sans-culotte’ leadership… During the regeneration’ battles of the spring and summer of 1793 by which sans-culottes’ won official sectionary power, plebeians appeared forcefully in the general assemblies – not as atomistic individual voters, but as groups of workers mobilized by their sans-culotte’ employers for temporary muscle when ballots were to be cast by fists and feet.(5) This quote shows that the lower class, or plebeians, were merely ponds for the sans-culottes.
They were permitted to vote when the leaders felt the votes cast by the plebeians were necessary to achieve victory. The view one gets from the critique is totally contradictory to that of Soboul’s book. The generalization Soboul used when describing the members of the sections can also lead to confusion on the readers part. Soboul repeatedly describes members as being part of a certain trade, such as a tailor or shoemaker. These classifications of people leads one to think that all the member were poor, but as seen by a quote in the critique of Soboul’s work, not all people who were tailors, shoemakers, or carpenters were poor. Tailor’ could mean Guillaume Tesseyre, a revolutionary commissioner of the Lourve section who worked with his wife and doubled, to make ends meet, as portier-concierge’ of his building on the rue des Pretes Saint-Gemain. It could also mean Jean Lechenard, frequent president of the Bon-Conseil section in 1793-Year II and deputy to the Commune, who owned a garment factory employing some forty workers.
Shoemaker’ could mean a journeyman at three livres’ per diem. It could also mean Philippe Sauneir, civil commissioner of the Gravilliers section and owner of a factory employing twenty shoemakers…Or it [carpenter] could mean Jean Deveze, a sans-culottes’ leader of the Faubourg-du-Roule sections with and average work-force of twenty-seven in 1790-91(6) This exemplifies that even though Soboul may have described a certain section as being abundant in carpenters or tailors, it does not necessarily mean that all those people were poor and from the lower class. The question that arises now is why should the reader believe what the critique of Soboul’s work says and not the work itself? The reason that one should more readily take what the critique says as truth has to do with the sources used in the writing of each essay. This point is explored quite in depth in the critique. Soboul wanted to look at the sections and the sans-culottes from a political and socio-economic view, but his sources for this enterprise were political, and in a large part rhetorical.
He attempted to overcome this problem of possibly grave disjunctions between political sources and socio-economic realities simply by grafting onto these sources putative class interpretations of personnel, their motives, and the content of their politics.(7) It is due to this factor that Soboul generalizes the trades and economic well-being of the members of each section. Another discrepancy seen in Soboul’s book deals with certain figures pertaining to the section assemblies and the sans-culottes. In an inventory of 454 revolutionary commissioners of the Year II, Soboul listed 45.3 % as artisans, 18.5 % as tradesmen or merchants, 10.5 % were of liberal professions, 9.9 % were former domestic servants and only 2.8 % were manufacturers or employing masters. According to the critique though, 45 % were manufacturers. That is a difference of 42.2 %. The question is, which essay is more likely to be correct? One would have to go with the critique over the actual book due to the fact that many of the sources used in the writing of the critique span many different areas, including political archives, dossiers of wage-paying employers, lists of active’ and eligible’ citizens from various sections, records of insolvencies and bankruptcies and manuscript literature on the quartiers.’ On a large part only political sources were used by Soboul, so one would have to look at the critique as being more factual.
Because of The Sans-Culottes, Soboul may have once been considered the premier authority on the history of the sans-culottes and the sections in Paris, but the critique shows that there are too many problems with the book, such as the lack or sources, lack of descriptions and many contradictions, for it still to be considered this way. If taken as the premier source one would get a distorted view of the sections and the people constituted their membership. To get theentire picture of what really took place and detailed view of the type of people that made up the sections and what roles lower class or plebeians really played in the assemblies it is necessary to read the critique of Soboul’s work. Soboul took a very broad topic and did his best to condense it into a single book, but without the critique, you only get half the picture. Bibliography The Sans-Culottes.