Albert Soboul

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Albert Soboul
Born(1914-04-27)April 27, 1914
Ammi Moussa, French Algeria
DiedSeptember 11, 1982(1982-09-11) (aged 68)
Nîmes, France
Resting place Père Lachaise Cemetery
Alma mater La Sorbonne
Subject French Revolution, Napoleon

Albert Marius Soboul (April 27, 1914 September 11, 1982) was a historian of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. A professor at the Sorbonne, he was Chair of the History of the French Revolution and author of numerous influential works of history and historical interpretation. In his lifetime, he was internationally recognized as the foremost French authority on the Revolutionary era.


Early life

Soboul was born in Ammi Moussa, French Algeria in the spring of 1914. [1] His father, a textile worker, died later that same year at the front in World War I. He and his older sister Gisèle grew up first in a rural community in Ardèche in southern France before moving with their mother back to Algeria. When she too died in 1922, the children were sent to be raised by their aunt Marie in Nîmes. [2] [3]


The children's aunt was a primary school teacher and under her care Soboul blossomed in his education at the lycée of Nîmes (1924–1931). He was uniquely inspired by the educator Jean Morini-Comby, who was himself a published historian of the Revolution. [4] Soboul excelled in his studies and developed a lifelong passion for history and philosophy. [2]

After Nîmes, Soboul studied for a year at the university of Montpellier, then transferred to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He published his first work of history, an examination of the ideas of the revolutionary leader Saint-Just, [2] originally attributed to a pseudonym, Pierre Derocles. [5] [6] Soboul completed his agrégation in history and geography in 1938. [1]


Called up for military service that same year, Soboul served in the horse-drawn artillery before being demobilized in 1940. He had already become a member of the French Communist Party and remained committed to them even under the German occupation. [3] He received a teaching position at the lycée of Montpellier, but he was dismissed by the Vichy regime in 1942 for supporting Resistance activities. [3] Soboul spent the rest of the war years doing historical research under the direction of Georges Henri Rivière for the Musée national des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris. [3]

After the war's end, Soboul returned again to Montpellier to teach, then moved to the Lycée Marcelin Berthelot and finally the Lycée Henri-IV. He became a close friend of the eminent historian Georges Lefebvre and under his direction wrote his 1,100-page doctoral dissertation on the revolutionary sans-culottes, The Parisian Sans-culottes in the Year II. [3] Soboul was later promoted to the University of Clermont-Ferrand. [3] After a decade as a combative academic presence and prolific author, he was made Chair of the History of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne in 1967. [3] [7] He served also as editor of the Annales historiques de la Rèvolution française and lectured frequently throughout the world, acquiring a reputation as "the leading French authority on the Revolution". [3]

In his writings, Soboul promulgated the concept of overarching class struggle as the basis of the Revolution. [3] He carried forward many of the central viewpoints of earlier historians like François Victor Alphonse Aulard and Albert Mathiez [1] and his extensive body of work is characterized by a clear, unfettered writing style and deeply detailed research. [2] He always rejected labels of his work as Marxist or communist, describing himself as "part of the 'classical' and 'scientific' school of historiography represented by Tocqueville, Jaurès and Lefebvre". [3] Nonetheless, Soboul remains considered a principal architect of the Marxist school of historical analysis. [8] [9]

Soboul propounded the Marxist interpretation arguing the Reign of Terror was a necessary response to outside threats (in terms of other countries going to war with France) and internal threats (of traitors inside France threatening to frustrate the Revolution). In this interpretation, Maximilien Robespierre and the sans-culottes were justified for defending the Revolution from its enemies. Soboul's position and the entire Marxist model of the French Revolution have come under intense criticism since the 1990s. François Furet and his followers have rejected Soboul and argued that foreign threats had little to do with the Terror. [10] Instead, the extreme violence was an inherent part of the intense ideological commitment of the revolutionaries—it was inevitable and necessary for them to achieve their utopian goals to kill off their opponents. Still others like Paul Hanson take a middle position, recognising the importance of the foreign enemies and viewing the Terror as a contingency that was caused by it the interaction of a series of complex events and the foreign threat. Hanson says the Terror was not inherent in the ideology of the Revolution, but that circumstances made it necessary. [11]

Soboul emphasized the importance of the sans-culottes as a social class, a sort of proto-proletariat that played a central role. That view has been sharply attacked as well by scholars who say the sans-culottes were not a class at all. Indeed, as one historian points out, Soboul's concept of the sans-culottes has not been used by scholars in any other period of French history. [12]


Soboul died in Nîmes on the estate of his late aunt Marie. The French Communist Party gave him a lavish burial ceremony at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, near the graves of prominent party leaders and the Communards' Wall, where the last Communards were shot in May 1871. [13] A biography, Un historien en son temps: Albert Soboul (1914–1982) by Claude Mazauric, was published in France in 2004. [14] Toward the end of his life, Soboul's interpretations faced increasing opposition by new historians of the revisionist school, but his work is still regarded as a major contribution to the study of history from below. [3]

His collection of books on the Revolution was bequeathed to the Musée de la Révolution française.

Published works

Major publications in English

French publications

Soboul authored scores of books and articles in his native French. He also updated and revised numerous earlier works and often collaborated with other historians in compilations and other projects. [15] After his death, his extant writings formed the basis of several further publications:

Posthumous publications

See also

Related Research Articles

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1799

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Reign of Terror Violent period during the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established in which multiple massacres and public executions occurred in response to revolutionary fervor, anti-clerical sentiment, and frivolous accusations of treason by Maximilien Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety.

Jacobin The more radical constitutional reform group in the French Revolution

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, after 1792 renamed Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality, commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, became the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789 and following. The period of their political ascendancy includes the Reign of Terror, during which time well over ten thousand people were put on trial and executed in France, many for political crimes.

National Convention Single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

<i>Sans-culottes</i> radical left-wing partisans of the lower classes during French Revolution

The sans-culottes were the common people of the lower classes in late 18th century France, a great many of whom became radical and militant partisans of the French Revolution in response to their poor quality of life under the Ancien Régime. The word sans-culotte, which is opposed to that of the aristocrat, seems to have been used for the first time on 28 February 1791 by officer Gauthier in a deregatory sense, speaking about a "sans-culottes army". The word came in vogue during the demonstration of 20 June 1792.

Jacques Hébert 1757-1794 French journalist and politician

Jacques René Hébert was a French journalist and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution.

Historiography of the French Revolution Wikimedia list article

The historiography of the French Revolution stretches back over two hundred years, as commentators and historians have sought to answer questions regarding the origins of the Revolution, and its meaning and effects. By the year 2000, many historians were saying that the field of the French Revolution was in intellectual disarray. The old model or paradigm focusing on class conflict has been challenged but no new explanatory model had gained widespread support. Nevertheless, there persists a very widespread agreement to the effect that the French Revolution was the watershed between the premodern and modern eras of Western history.

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just military and political leader

Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just was a Jacobin leader during the French Revolution. He was a close friend of Maximilien Robespierre and served as his most trusted ally during the period of Jacobin rule (1793–94) in the French First Republic. Saint-Just worked as a legislator and a military commissar, but he achieved a lasting reputation as the face of the Reign of Terror. He publicly delivered the condemnatory reports that emanated from Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety and defended the use of violence against opponents of the government. He supervised the arrests of some of the most famous figures of the Revolution and saw many of them off to the guillotine. For his unyielding severity, later writers dubbed him the "Angel of Death".

The Law of Suspects was a decree passed by the French National Convention on 17 September 1793, during the French Revolution. Some historians consider this decree the start of 'the Terror' over France; they argue that the decree marked a significant weakening of individual freedoms that led to "revolutionary paranoia" that swept the nation.

Albert Mathiez French historian

Albert Mathiez was a French historian, best known for his Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution. Mathiez emphasized class conflict. He argued that 1789 pitted the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy and then the Revolution pitted the bourgeoisie against the sans-culottes, who were a proletariat-in-the-making. Mathiez greatly influenced Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul in forming what came to be known as the orthodox Marxist interpretation of the Revolution. Mathiez admired Maximilien Robespierre, praised the Reign of Terror and did not extend complete sympathy to the struggle of the proletariat.

François Hanriot French general and revolutionary

François Hanriot was a French Jacobin leader and street orator of the Revolution. He played a vital role in the Insurrection and subsequently the fall of the Girondins.

François Furet was a French historian and president of the Saint-Simon Foundation, best known for his books on the French Revolution.

Jean-Pierre-André Amar French politician

Jean-Pierre-André Amar or Jean-Baptiste-André Amar was a French political figure of the Revolution and Freemason.

Morris Slavin (1913–2006) was a scholar of the French Revolution, a Marxist historian, and an early American Trotskyist activist between the 1930s and 1950s. Slavin was born in Kiev but lived primarily in Youngstown, Ohio. Slavin taught for many years at Youngstown State University and his books made a significant contribution to the understanding of the French Revolution in the "history from below" style established by Albert Soboul.

Maximilien Robespierre French revolutionary lawyer and politician

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and statesman who was one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, and the abolition both of celibacy for the clergy and of slavery. Robespierre was an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to carry arms in self-defence. He played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy in August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention.

Joseph Marie Servan de Gerbey French general

Joseph Marie Servan de Gerbey was a French general. During the Revolution he served twice as Minister of War and briefly led the Army of the Western Pyrenees. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 33.

Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793

The insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793, during the French Revolution, resulted in the fall of the Girondin party under pressure of the Parisian sans-culottes, Jacobins of the clubs, and Montagnards in the National Convention. By its impact and importance, this insurrection stands as one of the three great popular insurrections of the French Revolution, following those of 14 July 1789 and 10 August 1792.

The revolt of Lyon against the National Convention was a counter-revolutionary movement in the city of Lyon during the time of the French Revolution. It was a revolt of moderates against the more radical National Convention, the third government during the French Revolution. It broke out in June 1793 and was put down in December of the same year, after government forces had besieged the city.

Elysée Loustallot was a French lawyer, journalist, and editor of the Revolutions of Paris during the French Revolution. He is remembered as one of the major Parisian opinion journalists during the era of the National Assembly and subsequent National Constituent Assembly. A fervent republican, his journalistic writings were anti-royalist in tone and bourgeois in sympathy. As a student trained in philosophy and the French Enlightenment, Loustallot is generally considered by historians to have been a principal proponent of revolution, while cautioning its readership against violence and ideological extremism. This is notably in contrast to the opinion journalism of Jean-Paul Marat's proletariat appeal to the sans-culottes. On the one hand, Loustallot writing articulates the need to reconcile the legitimacy of the Third Estate's call for less taxation and more civil rights, with the necessity of keeping in check the superstition, ignorance, and error of the Parisian masses underpinning the revolutionary fervor of the Third Estate. In particular, Loustallot wrote extensively on issues of social and economic justice, including the price of bread and the unaffordability of foodstuffs and basic staples. He died from illness at the age of 28.

Jean-Antoine Courbis was a French lawyer and revolutionary.


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  2. 1 2 3 4 McPhee, Peter (2010). Philip Daileader; Philip Whalen (ed.). French historians 1900–2000. Chichester, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 589–598. ISBN   978-1-4051-9867-7.
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  4. For a list of Morini-Comby's works, see
  5. "Author: Pierre Derocles". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  6. "Notice d'autorité personne". (in French). BnF Catalogue Général. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  7. University of California Press (2010). "Albert Soboul: 'A Short History of the French Revolution'". Regents of the University of California. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  8. Haydon, Colin; Doyle, William (1999). Robespierre. Cambridge University Press. pp. 272–274. ISBN   0-521-59116-3.
  9. McGarr, Paul (September 1998). "The French Revolution: Marxism versus revisionism". International Socialism. Socialist Workers Party [Britain] (80). Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  10. François Furet, "A Deep-rooted Ideology as Well as Circumstance," in The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations, ed. by Frank Kafker et al. (2002). p. 222.
  11. Paul R. Hanson, Contesting the French Revolution (1999)
  12. Paul R. Hanson (2009). Contesting the French Revolution. John Wiley. pp. 95–96.
  13. Cobb, Richard (1985). People and places . Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.  50. ISBN   0192158813.
  14. Mazauric, Claude; Huard, Raymond; Naudin, Marie-Josèphe (2004). Un historien en son temps, Albert Soboul (1914-1982) (in French). Narrosse: d'Albret. ISBN   2913055079.
  15. "Author: Albert Soboul (French language)". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.