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New Left Review I/11, September-October 1961

Ralph Miliband

Revolutionaries by Half

The Girondins, by M. J. Sydenham:

University of London, Athlone Press. 35s. pp. 252.

thr purpose of Dr. Sydenham’s book is to show that Girondins should be written “Girondins”. There is a limited sense in which this is a useful historical enterprise, since the legend has endured that the Girondins were a large, distinct and cohesive party, in opposition to another large, distinct and cohesive party—the Jacobins. Though the falsity of this view has long been evident, no one before Dr. Sydenham has undertaken so thorough a demonstration of the fact that the existence of such a Girondin party is a legend. The Girondins were a small group of provincial deputies, which included some of the most eloquent orators of the Legislative Assembly of 1791–2, and of the Convention which succeeded it. Their views and policies were, for a long time, indistinguishable from those of the vast majority of their colleagues in these assemblies, not excluding the vast majority of Jacobins. (Indeed, many Girondins were themselves members of the Jacobin Club until the beginning of 1792). It was a group, as Dr. Sydenham shows, which lacked organisation, and whose members, connected by loose ties of friendship, sometimes spoke and voted in concert, and sometimes, even on crucial issues, did not. The only true unity they attained was in death and proscription, after their expulsion from the Convention in June 1793.

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Ralph Miliband, ‘Revolutionaries by Half’, NLR I/11: £3

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