How did the French Revolution affect working-class people in France?

The French Revolution affected working-class people in many different ways. First and foremost, it allowed them to play a part in politics. Previously, the working-classes had been excluded from political life, but during the Revolution they found their voice, shaping many of the crucial debates that took place during this time.

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Though the French Revolution was largely the handiwork of the bourgeoisie, the working-class people of France also played their part. For the most part, their political role was outside the formal system, which was virtually monopolized by the professional middle-classes, men like Danton and Robespierre, both of whom were lawyers.

The proletariat, as the working-classes are called in Marxist thought, regularly engaged in protests and other forms of direct action. In some respects, they acted as the radical conscience of the Revolution, watching with vigilance to make sure that the Revolutionary leaders didn’t backslide on their commitments to the Revolution’s core ideas.

During the radical phase of the Revolution, working-class demands became louder and more insistent. Left-wing revolutionaries such as Hebert openly advocated the abolition of private property in land. This was too much for bourgeois revolutionaries such as Robespierre, who ensured that Hebert was sent to the guillotine. Even the most radical Jacobin, the faction that presided over the Terror, believed in the sanctity of private property.

Though the Jacobins may have engaged in a lot of radical-sounding talk, they were actually quite conservative when it came to private property. The leaders of the Revolution showed their class origins by refusing to cater to a list of working-class demands, including the formation of labor unions and guilds. Unsurprisingly, the standard of living of working-class people fell sharply, particularly as the cost of basic foodstuffs skyrocketed.

The working-classes may well have found their voice during the Revolution, but due to the class-based rule of the bourgeoisie, there were always clear limits to what they could achieve.

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