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HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
- Popular Protest
Collective violence, in the form of popular protest, was one of the principal ways in which people resisted the expansion of capitalism and the state throughout the nineteenth century. The nature of this protest can be charted through three different, but related examples: grain riots across Europe in the first half of the century, the mythical figure of Captain Swing in England, and the Demoiselles of the Ariège in France. While these movements were ultimately repressed by the forces of capital and state power, they represented an attempt on the part of working people, the “remainders” of history, to impose an idea of popular justice.
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European Civilization, 1648-1945
HIST 202 - Lecture 10 - Popular Protest
Chapter 1. Popular Protest and Collective Violence [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: I’m going to talk about some of my favorite people today. Over the weekend I was at a memorial service and a conference in honor of my late mentor, the great historian and sociologist, Charles Tilly. When I first knew him, which was a long time ago, he was working on collective violence. He’s someone in his career who published literally fifty-one books and over 600 articles, but above all was a generous mentor to a whole bunch of people, including yours truly. He was working on collective violence. He once told me — in fact, I couldn’t find exactly where he wrote this, if he did — he once told me, and I mentioned this the first day, “It’s bitter hard to write the history of remainders.”
Some of the people I’m going to talk about today didn’t see themselves as remainders in history, but they’re people who didn’t quite fit in, and were really overwhelmed and ultimately defeated by the economic, social, and political processes. If one of the themes of the course and of any course, really, I suppose, that deals with the modern world experience, especially in this day of globalization, is the dynamic duo of capitalism or large-scale economic change and the state, you’re going to see that today in some of the folks that I’m talking about.
I once used the example of trying to get you to imagine parachuting over the European continent over a very slow descent. Let’s say now from maybe mid-sixteenth century until mid-nineteenth century. If you could see every incident of collective violence, of political protest, popular protest that occurred — and all protest is ultimately political — by far the most prevalent would have been the grain riot. This itself is terribly significant and so is its disappearance, given what I just said about the state and large-scale economic change. Another way to imagine this is if you had a Richter Scale that moved or that registered every incident of collective violence. Tilly and his whole team were counting up every single incident of collective violence that they could find in Europe between mid-eighteenth century, in terms of his study, or even earlier than that, and 1936. They would come to the same conclusion that you would, were you floating over this great continent for that period of time.
What I’m going to do today is sort of a trilogy, talk about three things, and they’re all related. First, grain riots. Second the swing movement, Captain Swing, drawing on the classic book a long time ago of Eric Hobsbawm and George Rudé, two truly great historians along with Tilly. Third, talk about something that I did, the Demoiselles of the Ariège, and I’ll make that clear in a while. All three fit together, I think, very nicely. One of the underlying themes, which you’ll see, is that popular protest and collective violence attached to popular protest is not random. It can be spontaneous, but it’s not illogical.
Chapter 2. The Grain Riots [00:03:59]
There’s a logic to popular protest right through the ages in the early-modern period as well as in the nineteenth century, and ordinary people put forth their demands by protesting and, in doing so, hope to affect change, to appeal to authorities who hopefully will do the right thing, often imagining a world in the past where a sense of justice prevailed. In terms of grain riots I’ll talk about the just price, because they talked about it. Having said that, let me enter the world of grain riots. I’ll give you some examples. This is from Spain, 1856, with the pretext of the high price of bread and for lack of work.
The workers of Valladolid and Burgos rose and burned flour stores, mills, and inspection offices. The civil governor intervened to put down the rising, but the rebels overwhelmed him and attacked the chiefs of his forces. The sacking and burning continued. Most likely, as a consequence of the spreading of news of the incident, disturbances also spread to the countryside and to other cities. The governor of Palencia tried to hold back the uprising in his city, but he had to retreat before a hissing crowd. In Benavente, Rioseco, and along the Castille Canal, the disorders recurred. They had the characteristics of the old type of rebellion aimed at spectators and hoarders, among whom the masters of workshops were counted. In their hatred, the insurgents set fire to shops and storehouses with the cry of, “cheap bread, cheap bread,” and attacked the boats that served for the transport of grain as well as putting the torch to grain not yet harvested in the fields.
If you back up almost a century ago in France, if you look at the memoirs of a royal official from May 3, 1775: “The musketeers, who had been warned the day before, hurried to the markets. The fleeing rioters overturned baskets full of bread and blocked the way to the horses. It was 9:00 a.m. The watch was supposed to be getting its orders at that hour and the people had already gone to the bakers and seized the bread they found in the shops. That pillage had a special character. People did it without violence. The shops of the bakers were emptied and those of the pastry makers and the dealers and other foods which were equally exposed were left untouched.”
Or 1816 in England, East Anglia: in early summer a surprise came that the agricultural laborers (who we will come back to hear about in a little while) of East Anglia had come out in revolt. Conditions had worsened since the end of the Napoleonic war and riots and disturbances were everywhere in the towns. The point is that I could give you examples from virtually every country over a very long period of time and the grain riot would dominate. This is France-based, but it’s true of almost everywhere — again, do not write this down — men fight for food in the following years particularly. They come in waves, 1693-94, 1698, 1709-10, 1728, 1739-40, 1749, 1752, 1768, 1770, 1775 a big one, 1785, 1788-89, 1793, 1799, 1811-12, 1816-17, 1829-30, 1839-40, 1846-47, 1853-54, and then never again. By never again, I mean in France never again and slowly the grain riot disappears as a form of political protest, of collective violence or collective nonviolence, depending on the case. That’s the big question. What’s going on here?
Popular protest is a way of finding out what’s going on when you look at all this stuff. Why do the grain riots disappear as a form of collective violence? Why? Here’s a placard, that is a poster, scrawled in the town of Vaville in the West of France in 1709. “We are dying of hunger. We must absolutely order you to set prices on bread and grain or else we will break from our homes like enraged lions, weapons in one hand, fire in the other.” Arson — fire, by the way, is one of those my friend, Jim Scott at Yale, calls weapons of the weak. A match to a harvest or a roof of a chaumière, a thatched cottage, can do some serious mischief.
What these grain rioters want to do, very ordinary people, men and particularly women — remember, women are responsible for the household economy. Also young people and also children. What they want to do is they’re putting forth claims. They want the government, the monarchies, the administrators, the officials, the intendants, the governors, the sheriffs in England to set the price of bread, as Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins had wanted them to. Why? To set the price of bread. To keep the price of bread low so that everybody would have access to buying bread.
Bread — literally, that commodity, whether dark bread in the poorer regions of central Europe or in the south of France or in parts of Spain and southern Italy, or white bread, which is more associated with more prosperous peasants, represented more than half of the expenses of ordinary people, not just food but bread. Bread is what people ate. Black bread in the poorer areas; white bread in the wealthier areas, to make a generalization. There were all different kinds of bread. Here’s how I can approach this. In the town of Liege, which is in Wallonia, that is in what’s now eastern Belgium, Liege, famous for its cork among other things, and now part of the rust belt of eastern Belgium, they had a municipal statute, that is a municipal regulation, from about the fourteenth century. The date 1317 sticks in my mind somewhere. I must have read that decades ago. It said that on market day merchants from other places would not be allowed in to buy grain until the third day of the market.
By the way, the term for merchants they used were engrosseurs, which has a sense in French of a bunch of people who would make themselves fat. Why? Because they could afford to buy bread at the price that nobody else could afford. They wouldn’t be allowed in until the third day of the market. But, of course, that’s not what happens through most of European history. The pressure from these crowds, the logic of these crowds is to force municipal authorities in the name of order — but perhaps, who knows, in the name of justice — to set a price of bread so that everybody could have a shot at it.
As some wag once put, criticizing this kind of social history, “Well, it’s pretty obvious that grain riots occur on market days in areas in which there is grain being exported out of a region.” But that is precisely the point. The peasants or townspeople don’t riot. Ordinary people don’t riot necessarily when the price of grain reaches its absolute maximum. When they riot, they seize grain or they pillage shops, at the moment when — particularly when they see grain being taken out of the community, removed from their sense of moral authority over something upon which they depend to live.
Women, as I said before, played the major role in grain riots. Why? Because they’re responsible for the household economy. Right through this whole period there’s a familiar scenario. People pour into town for market day. They see the stagecoaches, the diligences, the wagons carting the grain away and they stop it. They stop it. It’s the same format everywhere. It’s as if you had some sort of Internet, or CNN, or something like that telling people, “Here’s how you grain riot.” But they don’t rip off the grain and they don’t rip off, as the one example I gave you, fancy pastries and stuff like that. They take the grain often to a communal piece of property, such as the commons or the shed, the covered market. Some of the most fantastic examples are in the south of France, but all sorts of places, too.
They sell the grain to ordinary people at what they consider to be the just price. They use that expression, “the just price.” There’s a sense of moral outrage that some forces they can’t control are taking away what they need to survive. In 1789, a year you know, what’s the big collective action in Paris? It’s the seizing of the Bastille, of course, but above all it’s the attack on the customs barriers, the tax offices that ring Paris, which forced the price of food, grain, bread, everything up higher. They attacked them as a symbol of what they considered to be an unfair economy that’s depriving them of the right to have enough to eat.
So, these wagons that are carrying grain away, who’s in these wagons? Who are these folks and what are they doing? They’re merchants and they know that when they’re buying up grain, where are they taking it? They’re taking it to Berlin, or Stuttgart, or Munich, or to Milan, or to Paris, or to Lyon. Why? Because that grain will command even a higher price there, where you’ve got all these people. What is the interest of monarchies and other forms of tyranny, if you will? It’s their interest to feed the cities first. The growth of cities, the growth of bureaucracies, of the state, the growth of garrisons who have to be fed increases the pressure on grain in times of harvest failure.
Grain riots not only have the timing of markets when grain is leaving the town, but obviously the subtext is that in times of these cyclical harvest failures. The harvest fails. Credit is withdrawn. The price of bread goes up and the riots start. If you look at where the riots start in any of these countries that I’ve talked about, it’s in response to grain being taken out of rural regions and being taken to cities to get higher prices. You’ve got the merchant on the wagon, too, and you’ve probably got his driver. Who else do you have there, increasingly? You’ve got the Guarda Civila in Spain, or you’ve got various police in the Italian estates, or you’ve got the tough, hardened Berlin police, or the Prussian army, or you’ve got the gendarmes or the maréchaussée, as they called them in the eighteenth century, or the gendarmes in the nineteenth century.
Here again is a way of looking at this theme. The state and capitalism are on the wagon here. You’ve got the merchant and you’ve got the police guarding him. That’s the dynamic duo of change over the long run. To be sure, people who have big plots of land in Pomerania, or in northern Italy, or in the Beauce south of Paris, around Chartres, or someplace like that, these people are not out grain rioting. What are they doing? They’re hoarding. They’re waiting until the price of grain even goes higher. That’s why a form of popular protest, of collective action throughout this whole period are attacks on hoarders.
1789 — you read about it in the book. The famine plot, the idea that wealthy aristocrats are trying to starve out the poor to get their way and that hoarders have huge, just sacks of grain, which they often did, in their chateaus. They’re holding it from the market and laissez faire says, “Let the market decide the price.” “Okay, let’s keep that stuff back. People will go hungry. Too damn bad for them. They should have more money.” Over and over and over again in all of these places the grain riot is the most important form of collective violence, of popular protest. Then it just disappears. Again, France is the most studied, but it disappears earlier in Britain. You’ll know why already. You already know. I’ll tell you again in a minute. There ain’t no peasants left in Britain. In France, the last wave is 1855.
Now, there are protests at the end of the nineteenth century against the high cost of food. One shouldn’t imagine people surrounding the Stop N Shop and blocking it with their little pushcarts that they’re putting their frozen food into, but they’re the equivalents of that. There are protests against the high cost of food. Food still is an important dynamic in protests. In World War II, for example, irritation about the rich doing even better than ever, and rationing cards and all that business. But the grain riot simply disappears as a form of popular protest in Europe, period. It doesn’t mean that bread wouldn’t be terribly important in the Russian Revolution. It does. There are riots in Russia against the high price of bread. But the classic beginning in Western Europe and moving east, the classic, the quintessentially popular domain of protest, expression of popular protest just disappears, period, point.
Why? The battle’s been won. The merchants, the police, the gendarmes, the troops, they’re already there. Beginning again west to Eastern Europe, you’ve got the depopulation of marginal rural property, marginal rural lands. People can’t make it anymore producing little bits of this and that and they plunge themselves into the ever-increasing urban world in order to find work. And, so, if you look at what people protest over, we can see this big economic change. The nineteenth century just transforms the way people live. This is for sure. The nineteenth century didn’t invent consumer culture. We already know, Jan deVries has just published within the last month or two just a brilliant book showing that ordinary families made all sorts of sacrifices to try to improve their lives beginning the middle of the seventeenth century, participating in this consumer culture, buying soap, buying forks, and that kind of thing.
But these big-time economic changes, the nineteenth century is the crucial period in the whole thing. The disappearance of the grain riot as a form of popular protest is a fantastic demonstration of that fact. You don’t want to complicate the thing or undermine the validity of what I’ve said by imagining, “Well, that’s all pre-modern, this kind of protest. Then we’ve got modern protest and more strikes and all that.” It’s true that there are more strikes and strikes become another classic form of political protest, but the world of the nineteenth century was changing. The big losers in all of this are rural people, rural laborers, peasants who simply couldn’t make a go of it and their world was transformed. That’s part one of this trilogy.
Chapter 3. The Swing Movement [00:22:21]
Secondly, let’s look at the Swing Movement. These next two things I’m going to talk about take place really at the same time. That’s not a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence at all. The first story is that of Captain Swing. I alluded to this the very first day, those of you who were here. It was in 1829-30. Those are the big years. The Demoiselles of the Ariège comes at just the same time. They are similar and fascinating. I think they’re fascinating. I hope you will, too. They have so much in common with each other and with what I’ve just been talking about. It’s not about winners and losers in the brave new economy of high-powered capitalism and all its incarnations in Europe, big and small. We see the faces, the remainders of this kind of economic change.
Again, the people who worked on Captain Swing were George Rudé and Eric Hobsbawm. How do I put this? There was a real person called Ned Ludd in about 1816-17 in England. The English word Luddite is someone who’s a machine breaker. Luddism is machine breaking. You break machines because machines are putting you out of work. You’re a handloom weaver. There are famous cases in Silesia in Germany. Then machines for glassworks and then later in the century, things I talked about last time, were putting them out of work.
Ned Ludd busted up machines. He broke machines. 1829 was an awful economic year everywhere in Europe. A freezing winter and real hunger in Britain. That’s my example. It’s from Britain, from England specifically, from the south of England even more specifically. They found people who were starved to death in the fields with only dandelions in their stomachs with nothing else to eat. If you were a Frenchman, or a German, or a northern Italian, and you went to England in 1829 or 1830, if you did the reverse of the Arthur Young track — Arthur Young was always wandering through France and discovering people he thought were sixty-five or seventy. It turned out they were twenty-nine. They were so battered and beaten down by hardship. There’s famous case of a woman he met in Champagne near Reims of that case.
Arthur Young saw all of these peasants in Europe, but the counterpart of Arthur Young, people from the continent going to England, were amazed. There weren’t any more peasants, virtually no peasants. You’d find a peasant as a small property owner existentially committed to the land, that’s a little bit overly fancy, but dependent upon a lopin de terre, a small piece of land, for family survival, the household economy. There weren’t any more peasants left in England. There were gentry, including big property owners who were masters of all that they saw before them, in the portraits they had painted of themselves. You had gentry. You had yeomen who were sort of smaller versions of gentry. You had middle-rank property owners and this sort of thing. You had wealthy people from the city wanting to live in an aristocratic way buying as much land as they could take.
There was no place in Europe in which such a small percentage of the population owned so much of the land. That’s still true today in Britain. But there weren’t any peasants. Why? Because the big fish had eaten the smaller fish. And because, beginning in the sixteenth century, the enclosure movement, which you’ve read about, I think, meant that basically, no surprise, the big guys get the law on their side. Parliament passes thousands of acts of enclosure which allow people to enclose and divide up the common land. The big fish eat the smaller fish and the peasantry is basically destroyed. What you have, as I said before in another context, in England, is you’ve got all sorts of textile workers. You’ve got all sorts of governesses and domestic workers, and you have hundreds of thousands, millions of agricultural laborers. You have agricultural laborers in other countries, too. But you also have small property owners. There’s hardly any of those folks left in England.
To return to the story, in 1829 ordinary people start participating in protest and collective action. They start threatening, and smashing, and burning threshing machines. Why threshing machines? Because threshing machines are taking their work. The way they survive is during harvest they go from place to place working, the way people still do in the wine harvest in the south of France, working from place to place bringing in the harvest, prosperous agricultural land in the south of England. This is how they get by. They don’t live very well. They don’t do very well, but they’re lodged. They’re fed. They have a crummy place to sleep, but they can do okay. Then the big guys, the big farmers start buying threshing machines.
The threshing machines do the work of these people. Next time they guys come along in groups of ten, twenty, thirty, families, pals, friends, they come around and say, “It’s harvest time. Here we are. Nous voilà.” “Sorry, ol’ chap. We don’t need you. Maybe a couple of you, but we don’t need you. We’ve got these machines. They do the job that you used to do. We don’t have a problem with them working hard all the time. The machines work all the time at our command. See ya!” Are they mad? They’re furious. They start burning these machines. They start smashing down the gates and going in and burning these machines. Then they started to find posters that had been written, scrawled posters, sometimes barely literate, because this wasn’t a literate population. They begin to talk about a mythical-like figure like Ned Ludd, except this wasn’t a real one.
My favorite — I had this former girlfriend a long time ago at Mighty Michigan, and we were going to write a screenplay about this. We never did. One of them said, they all said, “If you don’t get rid of the threshing machine, your agony will begin. We will destroy your machines. We will burn you out.” But the best that I ever saw was, “Revenge for thee is on the wing from thy determined Captain Swing.” Who was Captain Swing? He was a sense of popular justice. He was what used to be called the moral economy. He did not exist. He should have. He still should exist. He did not exist. But Captain Swing gave this kind of paramilitary sense to “We are many. We are correct. We are right. We have God on our side. We are organized. We will win.” The subtext is that “Maybe we better negotiate and see. Maybe you keep a few machines around, but we want our jobs back.”
Captain Swing was everywhere. He was in Kent. He was in Cambridgeshire. He was in Devon. He was in Wiltshire. He didn’t exist, but he was everywhere, at least in the popular imagination. By the way, the Captain Swing folks had some allies. They were the smaller farmers who couldn’t afford the big-time threshing machines, and they thought, “Maybe if they burn the machines of my ravenous neighbor, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.” So, they get moral support from folks like that. They spread. They’re in all sorts of places. Do they win? Are you kidding? They lose. The sheriff comes in a country that only had a police force starting in 1829 in London, that didn’t like the idea of uniformed armies. That was something the French and the Spanish had.
They bring their military contingents and they beat the hell out of these people. They put them on trial. They hang some of them, not all that many. They sent lots of them to Tasmania or to Australia. “We all live in a convict colony,” as they sometimes sing in Australia whenever they play the “poms,” as they sometimes call the British. They send them a long, long way and they defeat them. It’s bitter hard to write the history of remainders. It’s fun, though, too. It’s fun. Captain Swing disappears. The big guys win. Enclosure keeps rolling along. Tens of thousands of people are on the road. Oh, they get a little victory. The poor law of 1832 was probably influenced by this perceived threat of popular people voting with their feet, threatening but also negotiating, cajoling, trying to imagine a time in the past when everybody had a shot at doing well enough.
The same thing as the grain riots, imagining a time when there was a just price for everything. Captain Swing was really part of that. Obviously, I find what they did thrilling, but I probably shouldn’t say that. And, of course, they probably had a lot of time to think about what they did on that extraordinarily long trip to Port Arthur, not the Port Arthur in Asia, but the Port Arthur in Tasmania, or to what would become New South Wales or Victoria in Australia. But Captain Swing disappears. He never existed, but he sure should have.
Chapter 4. The Demoiselles of the Ariège [00:33:48]
A long time ago, when I was starting out, I was working in the archives in Vincennes on the edge of Paris, the military archives in the big Chateau de Vincennes. I was working on other stuff and I kept finding these incidents that were occurring at precisely the same time as Captain Swing, 1829-30, not in England but in France. I kept finding these reports from a part of — I didn’t bring a map and I can’t draw worth a damn either. Imagine la belle France. Nice, huh? Mountains. Toulouse here. Bordeaux down here, voilà.
I kept finding in a department called the Ariège, the mountainous department, I kept finding these reports. The capital is Foix, but that’s in the plain, kind of. Then you go up in the mountains. You’ve got real serious mountains. Now people drive through those mountains to get to Andorra, to buy cheaper pastis, and cigarettes, and that kind of thing. It’s very beautiful there. It’s also full now of people from 1968 who went off and formed communes in the Ariège. Sometimes you’ll see some of them staggering around there. I kept finding reports from the police or from the gendarmes, above all, or from mayors saying that men dressed as women were coming down the mountain in the mists, and fog, and snow, armed with pitchforks, armed with rifles and were chasing away two groups of people: charbonniers, charcoal burners — forest people cutting down trees — and forest guards — those people guarding the forests employed by the state, employed by the rural bourgeoisie, or people living in Foix or Toulouse who owned a lot of land in the forest, or by communes if the forests were communally owned to try to keep out ordinary people.
These people were coming down the mountain and taking shots at them and yelling nasty things to them, threatening them with pitchforks and trying to drive them away. And then, they would find notes saying, “If the forest guards and the charcoal burners come back, your agony will begin. Signed Jean, Lieutenant of the Demoiselles.” A demoiselle in French is obviously a young woman. These became known as the Demoiselles of the Ariège. I found so many of these in 1829, 1830, 1831, a few in 1848, a couple in 1872, and never again. Who were these people and what were they doing?
What they wanted, again think of Captain Swing and think of the grain riots, what they wanted was access to the forest. They’d always had access to the forest. It’s cold in the Ariège. You need wood that’s gleaned from the forest to make fire to stay alive. You need berries, roots to eat. You need places to pasture your animals, pigs which eat right down through the root, goats like we have in our village in Ardèche, or sheep. If they’re really rich maybe cows, but that didn’t happen very much there. The rich guys owned the cows. The peasants didn’t own the cows. They’d always, for centuries as they well remembered, had access to the forest.
Why did they lose access to the forests? They’re looking back at an imaginary time. It wasn’t imaginary. They always had had access. There was lots of forest — the whole place. Deforestation is a big problem in France since the seventeenth and eighteenth century. But the Pyrenees have many forests, many mountains. They’d always been able to go there as they wanted. They didn’t own the forest, but use and property were not categories that meant anything to anyone. They’re told they can’t go there anymore. Some of them go to churches and they’re looking for deeds that would have given people of those villages rights to be in the forest centuries ago. No. They don’t find them.
So, why can’t they go in the forest anymore to pasture their miserable animals or to find something to eat or some fuel? Why can’t they do that anymore? Aha! We’re talking capitalism in the state. The price of wood has increased. Why? The metallurgical industry, what they call Catalan, as in Catalonia, forges small metallurgical industries. The price of wood goes up. Suddenly the people that own the forest say, “Hey baby, we don’t want those peasants and their animals in the forest anymore.” They start hiring forest guards. They start hiring charcoal burners, the charbonniers, who are chopping down the trees, slicing them up, as people still do in the Jura, or in the Black Forest, or do anywhere that you can think of in Europe. In Oregon, where I’m from, logging was a good way to make money. I never did it, but when you’re in college.
And, so, the wood is leaving the forests. People are getting even richer and the peasants are out of luck. Why are they out of luck? Because what the big-money people do that own the forest is they do exactly what the wealthy did in England, the big landowners. They get the law on their side. What a surprise. They have their lobbyists. They get the law on their side. They pass a new forest code in 1827 that keeps ordinary people out of the forests to which they had always had access. They always had access. They can’t go there anymore. They go up there and they find armed guards there. They are many and the guards are few and they scare the hell out of them and they drive them away.
The mayors of these little villages, Massat — I love to go there. I’ve written about it. Massat was one of the mayors. He’s in a difficult position. He knows damn well who is causing the troubles, les troubles, in the forests, but he’s got to live with these people. He isn’t going to be telling on anybody. I followed this through. I read this and wrote something about it in a book I did a long time ago called 1830 in France, an edited book. So, what happens? Who is Jeanne, Lieutenant of the Demoiselles? Jeanne. Who is she? She didn’t exist either. She’s exactly like Captain Swing. She says, “We are many. We are right. We have justice on our side.”
By the way, these people did not speak French. It was hard for them to find somebody to write in French “Your agony will begin,” because they don’t speak French. They spoke a patois that’s very much influenced by Spanish that’s not even really like Catalan and certainly nothing to do with Basque. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything except vaguely Hungarian and Finnish. They write these things and they said that Jeanne, the Lieutenant of the Demoiselles will toast you one day if you don’t leave the forests. What they want is they want the government to restore their rights in the forest. Does the government do that? Are you kidding? Of course they don’t.
Now, 1830 comes along, “revolution, liberty, fraternity, equality, red, white, and blue.” What do they do? They say, “Well, this liberty must mean that we can have our forests back, doesn’t it?” One of the interesting things about this is they become petitioners just for a little bit. They get people who can write French to petition saying, “We hear about this liberty in Paris. That surely is our forests, isn’t it?” Un-uh. The government says, “Oh, no. The Forest Code of 1827 is evermore in use and you can’t have access to the forest.” The forest guards return. The forest guards return to the forest, but so do the demoiselles. They begin to dress up as women again. They lose. What a surprise. They’re driven away.
Why do they dress up as women? One thing they do, mocking the charcoal workers also, they put charcoal on their face and they wear sheets. They try to make them look like dresses. Why as women? It’s more than a disguise. What it is is an enraged carnival. If you think of carnival, think of Mardi Gras, anywhere in Christian Europe, what you do during carnival, look at the floats in New Orleans when everybody’s getting wasted and dressing up in various things. The old version of that was that you dressed up like you’re exploiters. The three or four days you could mock the judge who handed out unfair sentences. You could mock the big fat noble who had seigneurial rights over you. You could mock thegendarmes, who you thought treated you badly. You could pretend. It was a carnival, but an enraged carnival. During carnival you stand the world on its head. What you did in this case is you dressed up as women, reversing reality from their point of view.
This enraged carnival is intended, rather like the charivari, the shivaree in English, in which you pound on pots and pans outside the house of a couple or a woman, for example, who has married somebody from another village. You try to set things right again by pounding and calling attention to a misdeed that has violated the communal sense of justice. That’s what these people are doing. They’re saying, “Respect us. Respect justice.” And, so, they’re dressing up like women. They’re standing the world on its head. It’s an enraged, deadly serious carnival. They’ll shoot at these people and beat the hell out of them when they catch them.
So, Jean, the lieutenant of the demoiselles, represents justice and this kind of acting out of this enraged carnival. It’s more than a disguise. But they don’t win. Captain Swing doesn’t win, either. They’re arrested. They’re put on trial. Some of them are put in jail. But in the end, they come back at the end of 1830, 1831, some in 1832, if I remember right, 1848 they’re back, 1872, but then never again. The Ariège as a department depopulates rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century. These people can’t make it in the forest anymore. They can’t go into the forest anymore. They can’t survive with their little plots of land. So, they bail out. They get out. Their great, great, great grandchildren, many of them work in the aérospatiale, the aircraft factories in Toulouse, or go to Bordeaux, or go to Paris, or go to Agen, or end up somewhere else.
The demoiselles, like Captain Swing, like these grain rioters in all of these countries, in Spain, in Britain, in Prussia, everywhere, these are the remnants of what people viewed as a traditional way of doing things that at least was infused with a sense of the proper, a sense of popular justice. The demoiselles tried to stand the world on its head during carnival, and tried to get people to do the right thing, to return the forests to them, to get the threshing machines the hell out of the big farms in Kent and other places, restore grain and bread to a reasonable price so everybody could have a shot at buying some. But in the end, they lose out to this dynamic duo, this more powerful duo, the state and capitalism. It’s bitter hard to write the history of remainders.
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