By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
"The peasant was a Bonapartist because the Great Revolution, with all its benefits to him, was, in his eyes, personified in Napoleon." - Karl Marx
(This is the third chapter in a new book, France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)
To be against Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century was to totally reject grassroots, democratic French opinion, and thus to be against the French Revolution itself. It was to cede the view of Napoleon Bonaparte to his enemies: the English snob, an in-bred Austrian king, a colluding and traitorous Italian noble, a Hungarian aristocrat, etc.
Modern Western political history simply makes no sense - it loses the thread of expanding power away from the absolute ruler - if we do not take the view that Napoleon Bonaparte was a leftist, as his citizen contemporaries did. Making Napoleon a demon of bloodlust and ambition, just another fascistic military man, a secret reactionary, etc. - all is designed to obscure the importance of 1789 and to reverse it.
The willing desire to lose the thread of progressive history was especially evident in the awful reporting surrounding the 200th anniversary of his death, in 2021. The coverage in France was surprising sparse and can be summed up with three words: "tyrant" and "controversial legacy". A fake-leftist, and thus totally deluded, view was routinely proffered, typified by state media France24's article: "Napoleon: Military genius or sexist, slaving autocrat?"
The official anti-Napoleon smokescreen was personified by President Emmanuel Macron's speech on the bicentenary, which ended with: "I have no intention to say if Napoleon realised or instead betrayed revolutionary values. I will of course steer clear of such territory." Of course he will steer clear - Western Liberal Democrats always do, because they are the ones who work to ensure that the revolutionary values of 1789 are never realised.
Here is your simplest retort to those who accuse "tyrant": Napoleon was voted First Consul for life and then emperor by millions of people, and the "voted" part is what made it these appointments spectacular political advances for its era. The other monarchs of this era were merely more unelected dictators. Secondly, his constitutions were also ratified by many millions - another spectacular leftist advance. These things simply cannot be dismissed because it would be more than a century before they would be emulated in most of Europe. The number of referendums on monarchy in global history only total a few dozen, and nearly all were after 1950.
Simply ask if the king of Saudi Arabia, Morocco or the behind-the-scenes monarchs of Europe would ever put themselves to a public vote? When it comes to the schism between the Muslim and Western worlds perhaps the single largest problem is that the latter totally forgets the violent threat, the crude insult, the perpetual crime which is hereditary monarchy. Because the West forgets this they also fatally misunderstand their own European history since 1789, and they fail to see Napoleon Bonaparte as a leftist hero.
Making Napoleon Bonaparte worse than his absolute monarch peers is a preposterous revision of history and totally excludes the political view of the European peasant and working class. Ask a subject who never voted for his monarch: There is no "controversial legacy".
Yellow Vest: "We are here to protest against the abusive government and this kingship-presidency of Emmanuel Macron. The Yellow Vests are here to promote a true vision of democracy and to redistribute our nation's wealth. Every election there is more and more abstention because people don't believe in mainstream politics anymore."
(Note: this book intersperses over 100 quotations taken from actual, marching Yellow Vests which were originally published in news reports on PressTV.)
What an objective view reveals is this: Revolutionary France saw not just one but seven "Coalition Wars" to restore monarchy, privilege, feudalism, torture, inequality, racism and the oppression of an aristocratic elite. From 1792-1815 Europe's elite refused to make peace with the socio-political advances of the French Revolution, which the French people democratically chose again and again and again. England was the only nation which participated in every war, and it repeatedly paid off other nations to join them.
The simplest retort to those who call the French Revolution "imperialist" is this: The French Revolutionary Empire at its greatest height - in 1808 - was the result of defensive wars which it won. All the Empire's territory was gained as punishment for aggressive wars against France or lost by rebelling populaces choosing to side with France, with the sole exception of Portugal. All seven Coalition Wars were attacks on France, all to prevent democracy from spreading across autocratic Europe.
The "Napoleonic Wars" have absolutely no reason to be set off from the more accurate "European Wars Against the French Revolution" unless that reason is obfuscation. This 23-year period must be looked at as a whole, because it wouldn't have mattered if it was Napoleon in charge or not as long as the ideals of the French Revolution were being employed - the Revolution would have always been aggressed. Like Iran, Cuba and the USSR know, 23 years of military invention by royalists or Western Liberal Democrats to stifle progressive, anti-elite political systems is simply de rigeur.
This chapter is not a whitewashing of Napoleon Bonaparte, but a refusal to say that his entire revolutionary career from 1789 to 1815 should be judged on the basis of the last few years. Napoleon's primary leftist and anti-revolutionary failure was his development of dynastic intentions. However, we are not taking about this turn to personal gain until 1810, when he married Marie-Louise, a princess of the Austrian Hapsburgs, the corrupt and wasteful absolute monarch ruler of most of the continent. In Napoleon: The Myth of the Savior, Jean Tulard, perhaps the pre-eminent French historian of this era (and not a pro-Napoleon one in my estimation) wrote, "On St. Helena, Napoleon, 'brutally awakened from his dream of monarchic legitimacy' confided that he should have married a French woman and, above all, not a princess. He saw clearly, but too late." Napoleon's error was in forgetting that he already enjoyed more leftist legitimacy than any monarch ever - he was the first to be voted in. The counter-revolutionary monarchs of everywhere else would never accept that because the French Revolution was - above all - against unsanctioned autocracy. Similarly, putting his brothers in charge of countries which willingly joined France was another leftist error in line with dynastic intentions, but this wasn't really unpopular until the imposition of Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain, who replaced the feudal Bourbons, in 1808. Napoleon himself said that one of his greatest mistakes was reintroducing the ranks of the nobility, also in 1808. The three criticisms here are all related - the restoration of elite privilege and hereditary oligarchy - but we would be inaccurate and unfair to not emphasise that this trend occurred two decades into Napoleon's spectacularly successful revolutionary career!
Was Napoleon's vision of the French Revolution that of the left of the Revolution, epitomised by Robespierre and the Jacobins? No, but calling a lifelong revolutionary soldier like Napoleon Bonaparte a "non-revolutionary" because he was not completely on the left side of the revolutionary spectrum is to absurdly say there is no "revolutionary political spectrum". It is to say that the "revolutionary political spectrum" is the same as the non-revolutionary, typical "political spectrum", in a total falsehood. It is to undemocratically excise the revolutionary viewpoints of his millions of comrades, and also of the democratic majority of his time. What is certain is that it is to reveal essentially no first-hand experience with any real revolution at all, as such a view of revolution is a fool's fairy tale of pure idealism.
By distorting Napoleon - by saying that Elvis was always "fat Elvis" and never the king of rock and roll who shook the world - today's 1% can keep 1789 totally dead. Napoleon is the key to keeping 1789 alive and continuing to implement its most progressive, leftist ideals.
It is simply astounding that the left doesn't find so much to embrace in Napoleon Bonaparte. As much as I would like to write 10,000 words about Napoleon's career in order to give a modern leftist appraisal, I simply do not want to alienate readers (and translators, LOL). I promise that I could. What I list before the conclusion section is only the absolutely critical facts of his political career which demonstrate his leftism.
The 1790s: Napoleon's leftism was vetted over and over by the revolution
Prior to the Revolution Napoleon was born a minor noble in Corsica, putting him in the top 2% of France. However, being a minor noble in poor Corsica was to have title and little property - it's not Burgundy. When half of France's nobles exiled themselves over the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen Napoleon was already in the 1%. Napoleon Bonaparte - like Mao, Castro and others - was another leftist hero who defied the dominant view of his elite class.
Napoleon grew up in the aftermath of the repression of Corsica's independence movement. The incredibly progressive Corsican Republic (1755-69) included a liberal constitution, the first implementation of female suffrage and was the first-ever practical application of the modern political ideas of people like Voltaire and Rousseau. France took control of the island, and they were a big improvement from the previous landlord, Genoa. When the French Revolution began Napoleon saw it as capable of bringing even more progress to Corsica. Thus Napoleon was one of the very first of many "foreigners" (he was born shortly after France took control of the island, and thus was truly French) to seek domination not by France but by the ideals of the French Revolution.
As the 1790s went by Napoleon was obviously vetted over and over by the Revolution. In 1793, Napoleon was friendly with none other than Augustin Robespierre, Maximilien "The Irreproachable" Robespierre's brother, who surely would have sniffed out someone not committed to the ideals of 1789. When the brothers were executed in 1794, marking the end of the leftist Jacobin era and the start of the Directorate era (1794-99), the Directorate tried to get him to quit by downgrading him to the infantry.
Lucky for them Napoleon refused to leave: in Paris on October 5, 1795, he would save the Revolution from a major royalist revolt using what was the undoubted foundation of his military genius - his knowledge of new artillery technology.
He became a national hero, and thus the Directorate spied on him to check for dangerous traits. Their spying general wrote back to the Directorate: "It is a mistake to think he is a party man. He belongs neither to the royalists, who slander him, nor to the anarchists, whom he dislikes. He has only one guide - the Constitution." Facts: Robespierre was anything but an anarchist, and being a constitutionalist in Europe in 1796 made one a revolutionary. Failure to accept this will create misperceptions which will extend to misunderstandings of our present day.
Confidence renewed, the Directorate gave Napoleon command of the Army of the Alps. He started by immediately court-martialling two of his soldiers for shouting "long live the king".
Of course the Italians and others embraced the revolution being offered by France's peasant army! In liberated lands we find the same actions of the French Revolutionaries: feudal dues and tithes abolished, Jews not forced to wear the star of David and Muslims no longer second-class citizens, the first uncensored newspapers allowed to open, slavery abolished, the first constitutions legalised. Keep all that in mind the next time you read of how Napoleon "enslaved Europe" - such total reversals of reality are only used for the truly great leftist leaders. It was so popular ex-Papal states petitioned to join the new Cisalpine Republic. "In annexed countries teaching was allowed to keep its own identity; French did not become an obligatory second language, there was no attempt to destroy the soul of conquered provinces," writes Tulard. The French Revolution, itself intensely patriotic, fostered patriotism elsewhere - this would be called "nationalism" and is part of the reason the French were eventually forced out in annexed countries, ironically.
The great man-ism inherent in Western Liberal Democracy wants to talk about Napoleon's military genius in things such as issuing bold flanking orders. It's foolish: We can credit Napoleon's military genius for doing something without precedent - storming a bridge under heavy fire - or we can credit the revolutionary inspiration of the actual troops that did the storming. Napoleon's ability to inspire (well-known, and real) is still not at all the same as the zeal inspired by revolutionary principles.
Napoleon biographer Vincent Cronin writes in Napoleon Bonaparte: An Intimate Biography: "In analysing why Napoleon won battles in Italy, one is also analysing why he always - or nearly always - emerged successful from a battlefield. The first quality was discipline. Napoleon, with his legal forbears, was a great person for law and order. He insisted that officers issue a receipt for everything requisitioned, be it a box of candles or a sack of flour.... In letter after angry letter he condemned sharp practice by army suppliers.... Napoleon was merciless towards these men and when one of them made him a gift of fine saddle horses, hoping that would close his eyes to embezzlement, Napoleon snapped: 'Have him arrested. Imprison him for six months. He owes us 500,000 ecus in taxes.'" Here we see the moral legitimacy which won him followers in the army, and that is better than issuing bold flanking orders.
Egypt: After examining and giving up the idea of invading England, invasion of Egypt was
the best way of striking always counter-revolutionary England, and not mere adventurism. Napoleon read the Koran on the way to Egypt and declared it "sublime". He was inspired enough to say in his first declaration, "Cadis, sheiks, imams - tell the people that we too are true Muslims." The French Revolution was universal in scope, like Islam, and Napoleon did not believe in the Trinitarianism of Roman Catholicism, like Islam. The muftis found Napoleon sincere as a person but not actually willing to become a Muslim - they proclaimed Napoleon's God messenger and a friend of the Prophet. With humanitarian ideals and actions, and replete with the famed scientific corps, it is thus totally different from France's imperialist invasion of Algeria in 1830.
In August 1799 he got his first news from Europe (due to the British blockade) that the 2nd European War Against the French Revolution had begun and that France was collapsing: Russian-Anglo forces in the Netherlands (which had joined the Revolution willingly), Austro-Russian forces in Switzerland (joined willingly as well) and Italy (joined willingly as well), Turco-Russian force in Corfu, Greece. Napoleon waded into that for personal glory, some say - to save the Revolution, say the less cynical.
As First Consul: Good leaders get elected and then re-elected - this truly all started with Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon made a political alliance with none other than Abbot Emmanuel Sieyès, the same "abbé Sieyès" whose 1789 manifesto What is the Third Estate became the manifesto of the French Revolution and the literal groundwork for the entry of the lower class into politics. (The pamphlet begins, famously: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire to be? Something.") Still not leftist enough for some, though...?
The undoubtedly revolutionary principle of constitutionalism upon which Napoleon rested is reflected in the poster put up after his participation in the coup of 1799 (Coup of 18 Brumaire) and the start of the Consulate era (1799-1804): "THEY HAVE ACTED IN SUCH A WAY that there is no longer a Constitution."
Was constitutionalism the only demand of the French Revolution from 1789-1799? No, it was simultaneously revolutionary and "middle-of-the-road". Napoleon never did side with the royalists - that would have been undeniable betrayal of the Revolution - nor with the Jacobins, nor with their executors the less-leftist Thermidorians who ran the 5-man Directorate (one of whom was currently asking for 12 million francs to restore the Bourbons). Instead, Napoleon placed himself above party politics and alongside the concept of constitutionalism which, along with his repeated military defences of France and the Revolution, won him popular acclaim. Of course Napoleon embraced many other primary political ideals of the Revolution: an end to feudalism, an end to absolute monarchy, the division of common land, civil equality, the suppression of tithes and seigniorial rights, and nationalisation of the property of the Roman Catholic Church. What's vital to recognise is that the social aspects of the revolution - free education, health care, food - weren't even much discussed until 1796, via leftist hero Gracchus Babeuf, the continuer of the Robespierreian left. Faulting Napoleon for not holding out for free education for the masses is to critically forget that these social questions were in the infancy of political expression, and certainly were limited to the progressive vanguard of an already unprecedentedly progressive revolution.
In 1800 his coup and his constitution were both overwhelmingly approved by millions in a vote - a vote totally unprecedented in scope, reach and political progress. People who wish to ignore these votes are simply baffling, and biased. The coup was bloodless, as well. Napoleon - the alleged new dictator - is credited with giving the new constitution the idea of universal male suffrage and not just for property owners.
France won the Second European War Against the French Revolution - a bit of peace, finally. Napoleon the general became Napoleon the elected public servant. His administrative energy was as amazing as his martial energy: "The ox has been harnessed - now it must plow," he said.
Napoleon took great interest in consolidating the best of Roman, custom/precedent and Revolutionary laws into the new Code Civil: equality before the law, end to feudal rights and duties, right to choose one's work, inviolability of property, right to divorce and freedom of conscience. All were unprecedented leftist advances. The Code Civil is not at all the "Napoleonic Code" but more accurately the "French Revolutionary Code". It was "an instrument of war against feudalism," to quote Tulard, and its influence is inestimable and global.
Napoleon curbed widespread brigandage and pacified rebellions which had lasted years. He brought peace to France after a decade of civil war, and yet he did not give the army a privileged position. He even forbade them from getting involved in civil matters, something he considered "madness".
He declared an amnesty for those living abroad, which anyone personally familiar with revolution knows has an inestimable positive effect, but also some negative ones.
Napoleon ended yet another war in 1801, when French churches finally reopened after the signing of the Concordat. The agreement okayed French nationalisation of Church lands (the sales of which did the most to effectuate the economic revolution downwards), maintained religious freedom, did not declare Roman Catholicism the official religion of the state, allowed the French state to pay clerical salaries (giving them a decent standard of living), had the clergy swear an oath of allegiance to the state, and banned nearly all the monasteries (viewed as parasitical and useless in France, whereas the useful teaching nun orders would soon be doubled). Of course, this recently-installed Pope would ultimately side with the monarchists against the Revolution, but there's no doubt that Napoleon secured the Revolution's aim in neutering the Church's power in France, a major goal.
On only two occasions did he involve himself in local governance of the prefects: one of them was to stop a prefect from forcing vaccinations. Draw your own inference regarding the coronavirus epidemic of 2020-22.
The currency never had to be devalued, the cost of living became stable, he spent more on education than anything else, built three great roads, canals and ports each, attained full employment, stable prices, positive trade balance, increasing population, and presided over a 180-degree shift in public spirit after a decade of civil violence.
So of course he was popular - he was making the principles of the French Revolution law, which broke with the absolute monarchy which reigned essentially everywhere else.
Elected emperor: Democracy combines old forms with new ideas - conservatives are overdramatic
By 1802 Napoleon had committed the crime of making the Revolution workable, peaceful and - worst of all - attractive. A Third Coalition was declared; at home royalists keep trying to assassinate him.
"Thus the need to establish monarchical power in France for the sake of permanent peace was put forward. The word 'form' was essential. The spirit of the Revolution would be respected but the outwards appearances of executive power would need changing; it required a a title which would fit in with those of other European countries," writes Tulard.
In 1802 he was was voted Consul-for-life by 3.5 million people (against 0.008 million opposed), a staggeringly progressive occurrence for the time - ignoring this is to lose the entire thread and principles of the French Revolution! However, it's easy to lose this thread when one ignores the constant attacks on your country's revolution, which is not allowed to evolve in peace.
"It was in fact precipitated by the renewal of conflict with England (in 1803).... Rather, there was a tendency to increase his power in order to ensure the defence of the land. A dictatorship of public safety was needed. How could it be entrusted to anyone other than Bonaparte? At this moment the Royalists inopportunely chose to renew their plotting.... The revolutionaries saw in the consolidation of the First Consul's power... the only bulwark against attempts to restore the monarchy."
It is with this lifetime appointment in 1802 that many Republicans were dismayed and many leftists say the Revolution ended. If one wants to call it "despotism", it's false: it's "elected despotism". It's a paradox, it's revolutionary, it's provoked by foreign aggression, it's better than anyone else's around, it's an emperor and empire but it's still leftist! "It seemed, above all, to be the surest means of maintaining a stable government putting an end to intrigue and plotting. This in no way represented the acceptance of a Bourbon-style dynasty. The Empire was first and foremost a dictatorship of public safety, designed to preserve the achievements of the Revolution." Again, that's from an author who is not strongly pro-Napoleon - he is, however, a Frenchman who understands his country's history.
Napoleon has still not betrayed the revolution at this point in any serious way! In a move which was preceded by much discussion, he took the crown of Emperor from the Pope's hands in a public coronation (another first) not because of the bosh about how it was his own arrogant and usurping personal power which won the crown, but because it was the people which had crowned him, and no one else. This is all a huge difference from the divine, theocratic right of kings, which Prussia, Russia, Austria and countless other local kings would insist on in total autocratic form until 1914.
If the French Revolutionary Emperorship was a typical emperorship - and thus no ideological threat - why did it not cause the European Wars Against the French Revolution to stop? The answer is obvious to those who are objective.
In 1806 the Fourth Coalition saw Prussia and Russia attack - France wins again and Prussia is compelled to finally renounce serfdom.
In 1808, popular revolt against the Spanish king in the "Tumult of Aranjuez", which is still celebrated today, ended the Bourbon dynasty. The overthrow of the Bourbons, and the sheltering of the new ideals of the French Revolution, allowed Latin America to win their independence.
The French Revolution has spread to the New World. It had already spread to the oldest of the Old World: Mohammad Ali founded modern Egypt in 1805 after France had defeated the Mamluks.
The French Revolution starts to topple - revolutionary zeal starts to wane following decades of foreign attacks
This is where things start to turn badly: 1808 Spain is not yet at the point of 1789 France. Proof? After 1815 Spain is the only place where feudalism would actually be restored. The guerrilla war saps France, which is supported by Spain's progressives, abolished the Inquisition and ended feudal rights - hardly a terrible legacy.
The war in Spain coincides with when Napoleon starts to let the emperorship go to his head and thinks more of preserving his dynasty than of the Revolution - he is always thinking of France, however. His Continental Blockade against England would have bankrupted them... if France didn't also have to fight in Spain and Russia, too. The French Revolution is always attacked from all autocratic sides - this must be remembered because it so greatly shapes their possible choices. After a few years the Continental Blockade turns into pro-French economic imperialism, in a non-leftist mistake. Spain, the Blockade, dynasty - these are the three key mistakes Napoleon made. However, he does not deserve a permanent "Ogre" caricature for these three because two of them are fights against autocracy.
The Fifth Coalition of 1809 saw the awful Hapsburgs' last stand, the arrival of huge modern wars of attrition, conscripted armies, and the growth of nationalist movements which Revolutionary France had expressly fostered.
Tsar Alexander refuses to allow Napoleon to marry into the royal family, so he marries into the Hapsburgs instead. The marriage did not cement an alliance for peace - which was entirely the aim - because Austrian royalty, like the simply awful Metternich, were not only Teutonic racists but completely aware that France represented revolutionary change which was incompatible with autocracy. It was Metternich (who takes the mantle from France's Talleyrand as the most dreadful and shameless politician of his generation) who is credited with the propaganda theme of "Napoleon as mere personal ambition".
France invades Russia because Moscow refused to end their threats to the revolution - first Russia, then England, then peace, finally, was the plan.
Why didn't the French Revolution free the serfs? Certainly leftists today would have acclaimed Napoleon more. He said: "They wanted me to free the serfs. I refused. They would have massacred everyone; it would have been frightful. I warred against Tsar Alexander according to the rules; who would have thought they'd ever burn Moscow?" Such objections miss the entire point of the French invasion of Russia - to force the Tsar to accept peace towards the French Revolution, and there would have been no peace if the serfs had been freed. France was already trying to administer the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and other places - how could they administer huge Russia as well?
Indeed, who could have guessed that the Tsar would defeat his own peoples in order to defeat Napoleon, i.e. the scorched earth tactic, which Clausewitz proved "were only applied accidentally by headquarters," per Tulard. Say slaver monarchs defeated Napoleon - it makes fools of Russian serfs to say that their sacrifices were correct instead of manipulated; they would get their revenge against such misguided, brutal managers a century later.
Napoleon was keeping 250,000 seasoned troops in Spain at this time, let's recall. He said his two main mistakes were not wintering in Vitebsk, Belarus, and and instead going to Poland. He ignores the original option - staying in Moscow - which had plenty of noble-abandoned supplies to live off of. The second was in trying to get peace from the Russian monarchists, who never wanted peace, like all monarchists. "I thought that I should be able to make peace, and that the Russians were anxious for it. I was deceived and I deceived myself." The Tsars liked their autocracy, old Nap!
After the disastrous retreat the monarchs of Europe jumped on Revolutionary France in 1813 with the immediate Sixth Coalition, the first knockdown blow to the French Revolution after 20 years of trying. Not far from Paris Napoleon resolved to die in battle - to pass the throne on to his son - and though he went where fire was thickest and his uniform was tattered by shot he was not killed.
The fall of Paris was shocking: Paris, which hadn't seen a foreign invader since Joan of Arc 400 years earlier, spectacularly fell without even a full day of fighting because the re-propertied nobles had spread defeatism, paid for subversion and colluded to reverse the French Revolution, which of course they still hated. The elitist concept of royalism would still play a major role in French politics for another 65 years, keep in mind.
After decades of fighting not only were his marshals old and worn out, but so was the original revolutionary generation. What Napoleon needed was a Cultural Revolution to refresh the ideals of the French Revolution, but of course such a thing had not been invented yet. Such a leftist idea would have led to more civil war in France, which was only able to end its civil war with the moderate Napoleon adopting many of the forms of monarchism, after all.
Banished to Elba, he famously returned. When France saw that the Bourbons wanted to push the clock back to 1788 this did have the immediate effect of a Cultural Revolution, restoring the vitality of the ideals of the French Revolution. Napoleon landed and dared people to fire on him all alone, ever the anti-civil war patriot. He was literally pushed all the way to Paris by the peasants and urban proletariat - the army would only rally to him later. He entered like a hero and totally avoided bloodshed - all it took was the sight of him in his overcoat and bicorne hat. It's really rather stunning, and something only a leftist - a man of the people - could have ever done.
The Bourbons fled, of course. The "Additional Act" was added on to the Constitution, which added checks to the power of Napoleon, granted total freedom of expression, an enlarged electoral college (Napoleon again oversees a broadening of democracy), the right to elect mayors in towns less than 5,000 inhabitants, trial by jury and was approved by 1.6 million voters. It wouldn't be until 1867 that Britain's electorate would reach that size.
The vote enraged royalist autocrats continent-wide, and they resolved to immediately overturn the progressive democratic will of France, again. Metternich spread the fiction of Napoleon as ambition personified and rejecting peace.
Above all, what France needed was a period of peace to consolidate these changes - Napoleon's aura was not the same, liberal ideas were taking further root and France had been awakened to the fact that their revolution was powerful but not invincible. They almost had it: Wellington declared Waterloo "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life", but instead of wiping out Wellington the next day Napoleon spent the morning visiting the wounded - Napoleon the quick had become a sentimental old soldier. The Coalition refused to make peace - of course. Instead of dissolving the National Assembly, as a dictator would, he trusted it and asked for full powers: they told Napoleon to abdicate or be deposed.
Now the French Revolution was truly over. It would be 33 years until there would be another vote.
The defeat of Napoleon - tyrant, slaver, sexist - heralds not a left-wing renaissance, but a right-wing one, really?
Just as Napoleon and the French had warned for decades, the clock was wound back across Europe: Poland was re-wiped off the map by Russia and Prussia, Hapsburgs in north Italy, Bourbons in Naples and Spain, Pope Pius VII restored the Inquisition and the Jewish ghettoes, England responded to calls for parliamentary reform with the massacre at Peterloo - vicious counter-revolution everywhere. The censorship imposed by Metternich is total, with spies everywhere - Europe is a true police state for the benefits of monarchs and aristocrats... again. The French Revolution was truly over because a monarchical oligarchy conspired to stop it.
In 1821, living in cruel imprisonment imposed by Britain on the island of St. Helena, Napoleon died of stomach cancer, like his father, at the age of 51. His last words: "France - army - head of the army - Josephine".
They act as if Napoleon waged wars on the peoples of Europe, instead of on the autocrats of Europe?
They act as if he won his royalty by birth, marriage or violence, instead of by vote?
They act as if his administration was marked by corruption instead of revolutionary ideas, progress and domestic unity?
Bah... the haters of Napoleon - what can be done? He deserves the longest chapter in this book, because to smear Napoleon Bonaparte is to smear the French Revolution. The two are not synonymous, as Napoleon once claimed - but now, I think, you know what he meant.
In 1823 his memoirs, The Memorial of Saint Helena, would become the 19th century's best-selling book, moulding the worldview of several generations.
It is truly amazing how relatively few things there are in France named after Napoleon. However, his stunning tomb at Invalides is - thankfully - not a military shrine but a monument to his 10 greatest achievements as a domestic revolutionary politician. It's truly amazing: comparing the negative view which so many have Napoleon, and the 10 progressive political advances etched in marble at Invalides.
The common leftist criticism that Napoleon Bonaparte used foreign war to liquidate the revolution, domestic conflict and class conflict completely ignores the fact that the Seven European Wars Against the French Revolution were defensive and not initiated by France.
The criticism which equates Bonaparte with Bourbon - calling them two absolutist systems, with the former merely being more allied with the nouveau riche bourgeois class - completely ignores the historic votes, constitutions, and the quality of governance. It also totally ignores the peasant gains stemming from the French Revolution's ending of feudalism.
The claim that the French Revolution was "imperialist" totally ignores the fact that the French Revolution wasn't even "French": Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium - these are just the countries where the people were able to join the Revolution, and certainly many more wanted to.
All great revolutions are always externalised - ideas do not know national boundaries. The 1979 Iranian Revolution, for example, both spread and was a part of an idea that spread: in 1978 the Saur Revolution in Afghanistan established the socialist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan; in 1979 the Grand Mosque of Mecca was under siege for two months to oppose the House of Saud monarchy; in 1982 Saddam Hussein committed the massacre of the Islamic Dawa Party, the crime for which he would be ultimately sentenced to death. Where does Iran 1979 fit in this, who can say with total precision? France, Haiti, the Cisalpine Republic, the Batavian Republic (Netherlands 1795-1806) even the USA and League of Iroquois - where does 1789 France fit, precisely? What makes France and Iran different is that their revolutions succeeded and lasted, and thus they must be celebrated and learned from.
In a quote of Trotsky's which sounded the death knell of capitalism entirely too early, Napoleon Bonaparte represented "the bourgeoisie's impetuous youth". We must, therefore, look at the "impetuous youth" of Bonaparte's bourgeois victory as a victory for the people precisely because it was the only victory which could be permanently extracted in that awful autocratic era - the liberal rights which 1789 fought for were advancements; bourgeois rights were advancements; peasants, not nobles, getting land should not be derided as a "bourgeois revolution" but were advancements. It is the West's total blind spot regarding the social evil of monarchy - which is the only accurate standard of comparison Napoleon and the French Revolution can be compared to: their peers - which blinds them to the obvious historical truth.
We can expect the right to paint Napoleon poorly, but what the left seems to ignore is that what every historian eventually admits is that the peasants and the working class - the mass of the people - wanted, trusted, elected and re-elected Napoleon Bonaparte as the French Revolution's chief. This makes Napoleon Bonaparte just like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Khomeini, etc.
Now we grasp the Western Liberal Democratic campaign against Napoleon's legacy: he was a true, beloved leftist.
Napoleon truly must be reclassed with those figures along the left. We cannot allow reactionaries to say that Napoleon, the dominant personage of that 26-year era - somehow did not embody it, but rather embodied its negation. What an absurdity!
Perhaps the whole point of this chapter - to fellow leftists - is to prove: We can admire Robespierre, Danton, Marat and Babeuf while also admiring Napoleon. Napoleon certainly must be reclaimed from today's aristocratic bourgeoisie - this chapter should make it clear why they would never even want a leftist like him.
Gaining the trust of the democratic mass explains - more than any other factor - how Napoleon was able to lead France to stability in 1799 and beyond. Western Liberal Democrats haven't been able to do either - gain the trust of the masses or provide stability for them - from its very conception. As de Tocqueville observed:
"On coming to power Bonaparte imposed an additional 25 centimes of tax and nothing is said. The people do not turn against him; on the whole what he did was popular. The Provisional Government was to take the same measures in 1848 and was to be cursed immediately. The former was making a much-desired revolution, the second was making an unwanted one."
What was unwanted across Europe in 1848 was the success of the counter-revolutions, which successfully refused to implement the ideals of 1789. In France, however, what was quickly unwanted was the first implementation of Western Liberal Democracy.
Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value! Publication date: June 1, 2022.
Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the Kindle version may be made here.
Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the French Kindle version may be made here.
Chapter List of the new content
- New book announcement - 'France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's best values' - March 15, 2022
- Introduction: A Yellow Vests' history must rewrite both recent & past French history - March 20, 2022
- The UK's endless reaction: 1789 & feudalism's end creates modern conservatism - March 25, 2022
- Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares 'death to all other revolutions' - March 29, 2022
- Modern political history makes no sense if Napoleon is not a leftist revolutionary
- The Revolutions of 1848: Because Liberalism can't say the 'Counter-Revolutions of 1848'
- Louis-Napoleon: The revolutionary differences between Bonapartism & Western Liberal Democracy
- The Paris Commune: The true birth of neoliberalism and EU neo-imperialism
- Where the West is stuck: The fascism of the 1930s and the 'fascism' of the 2020s
- On 'Leon Trotsky on France' in order to reclaim Trotsky from Trotskyists
- The Yellow Vests' childhood: Seeing French elites, only, swayed by neoliberalism
- No one here is actually in charge: How the EU empire forced the Yellow Vests
- The radicalisation by Europe's ongoing Lost Decade: the Great Recession changes France
- To Yellow Vests he's the radical: Macron and 'Neither Right nor Left but the Bourgeois Bloc'
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West's slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western anarcho-syndicalism & unions as leftism's hereditary kings
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government
- Yellow Vest Win: Reminding us of the link between fascist violence & Western democracy
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect liberalism's rights, at least
- The 2022 vote: The approach needed for 'Before'- what came 'After' polls closed
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ' Socialism's Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism' as well as ' I'll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China', which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.