"The Last Revolutionaries" by Laura Mason

The Last Revolutionaries The Conspiracy Trial of Gracchus Babeuf and the Equals Laura Mason

Publication date:
24 May 2022
Yale University Press
304 pages: 235 x 156mm
10 b-w illus.
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The story of a poor man and radical activist who fought to revive the French Revolution, and whose failure heralded the republic’s defeat

Laura Mason tells a new story about the French Revolution by exploring the trial of Gracchus Babeuf. Named by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as the “first modern communist,” Babeuf was a poor man, an autodidact, and an activist accused of conspiring to reignite the Revolution and renew political terror. In one of the lengthiest and most controversial trials of the revolutionary decade, Babeuf and his allies defended political liberty and social equality against a regime they accused of tyranny. Mason refracts national political life through Babeuf’s trial to reveal how this explosive event destabilized a fragile republic.

Although the French Revolution is celebrated as a founding moment of modern representative government, this book reminds us that the experiment failed in just ten years. Mason explains how an elected government’s assault on popular democracy and social justice destroyed the republic, and why that matters now.

Laura Mason is a senior lecturer in history at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787–1799. She lives in Baltimore.

"A superbly-realised vision of Gracchus Babeuf, a man who emerged from poverty with a fiery and humane idealism, and whose bitter defeat opened the road from revolutionary justice to cynical tyranny."—David Andress, University of Portsmouth

"Mason brilliantly explores the public debate engendered by the trial of Babeuf and so doing provides a new interpretation of the demise of the French Revolution."—Timothy Tackett, author of Becoming a Revolutionary

“A new and striking account of the life, ideas, following and fate of a neglected French revolutionary whose attempts to balance social justice, individual freedom and democracy speak powerfully to current concerns.”—Colin Jones, author of The Great Nation

"Very much a book for our times. Mason’s retelling of the trial of Gracchus Babeuf and the French Revolution shows how democracies end. Historians of revolutions and all those concerned with the arc of social justice movements have much to learn from this remarkable story."—Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Pennsylvania