What does everyone think about the French Revolution in terms of a communist worldview. Is it something to be repeated, or learned from?
I'm not too knowledgable on the detail of the subject, but I do have some views on its overall image and impact.
First of all, it was a bourgeois revolution. This is its historical context. It was revolutionary in the Marxist sense in that it allowed the bourgeoisie to seize complete control from the aristocracy thus allowing for the development of French capitalism. In a sense, the French bourgeois revolution continued well into the 19th century as there was obviously Napoleon, then the restoration of the monarchy, then the revolution of 1848, etc. The political model took decades to settle down.
The problem today (and in recent years) is that many people have come to see it as the ideal bourgeois revolution (and revolution in general for that matter) in regards to its practice. Thus, mass terror, public executions, etc are seen as the ideal form of conducting revolution. This is not the case. If we look at Japan in 1868 (Meiji Restoration), the bourgeois revolution was actually conducted mostly by the aristocracy who voluntarily liquidated their powers and became bourgeoisie. In England, a civil war was fought and aristocrats were allowed to keep their titles (whilst the bourgeois state steadily eroded their power).
Not all revolutions (bourgeois or non-bourgeois) need to be replicas of the French revolution.
Any revolution which will try to 'replicate' will fail. It was not the case as if French revolutionary had a 'choice', the terror used was necessary and justified, unlike in Japan, French Aristocrats surely weren't going to give up their power as easily.
Any future revolution will occur precisely on the basis of current material conditions, it can be a french style or not but that's not the important thing to dwell about.
Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division; and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts.
I thin when we look at bourgeois revolutions that occurred in Asian countries that lived under the threat of colonisation but were never actually colonised (i.e. China, Japan and Thailand), we can see the threat of colonisation acting as an insentive for the aristocracy to conduct reforms along bourgeois lines. Thus revolutions there were as much the result of external pressure as internal pressure.
The idea that aristocrats in Japan abandoned their power is ridiculous. They struggled as much as they could, and there was no revolution in Japan at all. The country tried to modernize as Russia was trying to do, and they were struggling against imperialist forces. In France foreign intervention was the consequence of revolution, in Japan it was the contrary. Revolution was a long and bloody process (battle of Hakodate, Satsuma rebellion like in the movie The Last Samurai...) which never finished. As in Germany, fascism may have been the consequence of a late modernization.
In England the bourgeois revolution starded a long time before the French Revolution with Cromwell.
"Mao was just a degenerated Trotsky." Dagoth Ur
I strongly disagree here.
By the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu things had got pretty bad for large swathes of the Japanese aristocracy. Many lower-level samurai lived in poverty whilst merchants and chonin (supposedly below them in the mibunsei status system) were becoming richer.
The Satsuma-Choshu alliance which finally overthrew the Tokugawa was led by samurai (aristocrats). Whilst it began as a concern against foreign intervention in Japan, it became a force which decided that the entire Japanese polity no longer functioned and had to be fundamentally restructured. Sakamoto Ryomo, the lower-level samurai who brokered the alliance wrote an Eight-Point Plan which outlined the restructing of the national polity:
1. Political power of the country should be returned to the Imperial Court, and all decrees issued by the Court.
2. Two legislative bodies, an Upper and a Lower house, should be established, and all government measures should be decided on the base of general opinion.
3. Men of ability among the lords, nobles, and people at large should be employed as councillors, and traditional offices of the past which have lost their purpose should be abolished.
4. Foreign affairs should be carried on according to appropriate regulations worked out on the basis of general opinion.
5. Legislation and regulations of earlier times should be set aside and a new and adequate code should be selected.
6. The navy should be enlarged.
7. An Imperial Guard should be set up to defend the capital.
8. The values of gold, silver and goods sould be brought into line with those in other countries.
Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, p310
Considering this man was an aristocrat, this petition (points 2, 3 and 5 in particular) is not condusive to the maintenance of aristocratic rule.
With the overthrow of the Bakufu in 1868 by the Imperial forces, a series of drastic anti-aristocracy reforms were put in place in the subsequent years including the abolition of the samurai class, the abolition of government stipends to individual samurai and the abolition of the han system (which included the feudal domainds of Satsuma and Choshu voluntarily relinquishing their domains). The government also embarked on programmes of sponsoring industrialisation thus patronising the emerging Japanese bourgeoisie.
Of course, there was struggle against these events on the part of the Tokugawa aristocracy (e.g. the Boshin War), but this was a struggle against the revolutionary aspects of the aristocracy. As Smith points out here 'Unlike the Western bourgeoisie, townsmen in Japan never challenged aristocratic privileges, either in practice or theory. They were seemingly content with a secondary political role...'
Finally we come to look at the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 whereby one the leading groups that overthrew the Tokugawa, themselves rebelled against the new Imperial government. However, this was not an attempt at aristocratic restoration, but rather a protest against the failure to invade Korea after it refused to recognise the new government.
The Japanese bourgeois revolution thus essentially took the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries to complete as new institutions were established and old ones suppressed until they were made completely redundant. The aristocracy, whilst never fully going away until after WW2, remained fundamentally altered by these events and became more of a glamorous image as part of the emerging national-image construct. As you can see, it was a very different revolution to the French revolution, but we can envisage it as a bourgeois revolution, even though it was led by the aristocracy.
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