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Bastille Day

is the name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on the 14th of July each year. In France, it is formally called La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration) and commonly Le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution. Festivities and official ceremonies are held all over France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, French officials and foreign guests.
 My heart is always partly in France.  I have lived and worked there for many years off  and on and one of my students is now a Medical School Faculty member at the  Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital I once wore out two pairs of shoes walking around Paris and found places to tell my French friends about that were new to them.  Read on below and I'll tell you what it was like to experience their social system and its benefits and also the way they deal with political things that are essentially forbidden here.

MKost of my scientific colleagues were members of the French Communist Party.  They were all in unions in the University and as world recognized scientists had earned their place as leaders.  One lived in a small village just outside Paris which, at that time had Communist Party members elected as mayor and town officials.  Needless to say this whole atmosphere was awesome to a person who saw McCarthyism change his country forever.

It is not hard to understand how fascism can gain control of a country when you watch the contrasting political dynamics.   The word "freedom" has no meaning in a country where political views were essentially erased from the discussion forever.

The Communists in France, at least the many I knew, were good citizens and good people.  Their leadership was appreciated where they governed  and they governed democratically.  However they had rivals who were also allies on the left.  When a general strike was called they shut down the country by working together no matter what their differences might have been.

For me as an employee of the Nuclear facility at Saclay outside of Paris and as a faculty member in a number of Universities in Paris and Normandy, the situation was unbelievable good.  My health care and other needs were well taken care of.  It, for me, was an outstanding system.

I watched my friends do their taxes on on card about the size of two oversized postcards.  They checked boxes and wrote a few words and they were done!  In the mail it went.  My pay went into a bank account automatically and I had a debit card.  This is before any of this was popular here.

Let me close with the history of this day:

The storming of the Bastille

On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were the Catholic Church and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly. On 20 June the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; Louis XVI started to recognize their validity on 27 June. The assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.
In the wake of the 11 July dismissal of Jacques Necker, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.
When the crowd—eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises—proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the 'prévôt des marchands' (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles.
Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaimed.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 09:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat, J Town, and Postcapitalism.


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