How does poverty lead to a revolution?


Property as a criterion of the social character of the revolution (1)

Different ownership structures of parts of the population mean poor and rich strata. For the rich, the question arises as to the socially (socially) appropriate amount of wealth that the poor lack; it can be immoral in comparison to poverty. On the other hand, poverty can pose a threat to existence and life. To what extent does the poor have a right to social (in the sense of caring) help and support? But since the sum of all goods cannot easily be increased, the only possible solution is to redistribute these goods from rich to poor, which is normally not done voluntarily. This question has always sparked spirits. The French Revolution was no exception, it was a prominent example of this conflict.

Without going into the economic situation of the population groups, which will be discussed later, it can be stated that there were considerable differences in income and wealth within French society. The rich strata, who lived on capital investments, faced poor strata, who were pushed to the brink of existence by each of the frequent increases in the price of bread. In addition, the poorer classes were often burdened with benefits for the richer or harassed by them (at least in appearance), which was perceived as unjust.

This social structure was evident as the rich displayed their wealth through pomp and waste. This increased the bitterness of the poor. The evolution of the revolution has addressed these issues.

Here, too, the liberation of property from the feudal burdens is a starting point. The injustice of the distribution of unemployed income of the seigneurs on the one hand and the low labor income of the peasants on the other hand, from which taxes still had to be paid to the masters and the clergy, led to unrest. In 1789, great hopes had been placed in the treatment of the complaints of the cahiers de doléances, especially when the harvest of that year had been poor. These feudal rights of the seigneurs were expropriated (or from the perspective of the landlords: the property was freed) - albeit initially in return for compensation.

However, attempts were made to render this spontaneous decision, triggered by the unrest, as ineffective as possible. A few days after the abolition of feudal rights, the role of property in French society was affirmed in human rights: as a consequence of the largely bourgeois revolution until then, property was established as an inalienable human right or an inviolable and sacred right. Any expropriation should only take place out of legally regulated public necessities and only in return for appropriate compensation. This settlement met with bitter resistance from the peasants in the country, who finally forced an expropriation of feudal rights without compensation.

The clergy owned one of the largest property complexes. His property is estimated to be between one fifth and one sixth of the usable French land. The expropriation of the clergy on November 2, 1789, the nationalization of church property, did not take place for social reasons, but rather to reorganize the state budget. In 1790 these goods were released from the landlord's burdens and sold as free property. But the recovery of these goods naturally had a redistributive effect.

The sale of the national goods took place in different steps. With the conditions of acquisition, the legislature wanted to set social accents. Originally the division into smaller parcels was planned and advantageous payment terms were provided. This tended to favor financially weak small owners. In a later phase, the option of paying in installments was restricted and the division of large farms was no longer provided. This gave preference to well-funded buyers.

Finally, from November 22, 1793, expropriated emigrant goods were sold. The goods were divided into small plots and auctioned. These transactions were intended to benefit the smaller patriots and sans-culottes in particular.

A special form of real estate redistribution concerned the division of communal goods. For centuries the village community had a common land, goods that served the community, such as pastures, community forests, etc. These communal facilities were primarily a necessity for the smaller farmers who did not have their own pasture. On the other hand, this property potential was in the focus of the landlord and the more financially strong peasants. These strove for parceling and fencing in, which would have made grazing rights impossible. A division of the commons was tied to the approval of the majority. In many cases, therefore, there was no sale.

In the course of time the seigneurs had often appropriated parts of the commons. These goods now had to be returned.

The Ventôse decrees of February 26 and March 3, 1794 on the confiscation of the property of the 'suspects' also belonged to the property question. According to the law, which never came into force, the assets of the suspects should be given to needy patriots as support in the sense of a welfare measure. The social salary is more likely to be seen as a side effect and political change for rural sanscoulottes.