Historical materialist analysis of the French Revolution must begin with an investigation of the fundamental structure of exploitive class relations in the ancien régime. It is the fundamental social relations which define the classes that must first be identified. Then, both the immediate social interests of these classes and the whole dynamic structure of exploitive relations must be related to the political conflicts that brought down the absolutist state and gave rise to the Revolution. This virtually necessitates an original analysis of the whole social order of the ancien régime, as well as confronting the lingering misconceptions of 'bourgeois revolution'. It will also mean dealing with the temptation to invest a few of the same old categories with new meaning.
The analysis which is called for must be so far-ranging, and synthesize such a wealth of historical evidence on the complex society of the ancien régime, that it cannot reasonably be undertaken here in any adequate detail. Yet it seems necessary to indicate at least the outlines of an analysis which would replace the social interpretation as an account of the Revolution in terms of class. Whatfollows will therefore primarily be interpretive, based on a preliminary synthesis of much of the work which has contributed to or been inspired by the revisionist challenge, coupled with a comparison of development in English and French agrarian history. This conclusion is really no more than an anticipation of future work, offered here to demonstrate how the Revolution may be conceived to be a product of the exploi-