Who they were.
“A sans culotte, you rogues? He is someone who always goes about on foot. [He] has not got the millions you would all like to have… [He] has no chateaux, no valets to wait on him… He is useful because he knows how to till a field, to forge iron, to use a saw… and to spill his blood to the last drop for the safety of the Republic… In the evening he goes to the assembly of his Section, not powdered and perfumed and nattily booted, in the hope of being noticed by the female citizens in the galleries, but ready to support sound proposals with all his might, and ready to pulverise those which come from the despised faction of politicians. Finally, a sans culotte always has his sabre well-sharpened, ready to cut off the ears of all opponents of the Revolution.”
–Antoine-François Momoro [epigraph, 1793]
The term sans-culotte (literally meaning, “without britches”) is indelibly tied to the Parisian working class peasants (though, later they were also comprised of middle-class and upper-class Frenchmen) who participated in the French Revolution against the ancien regime, yet its origins – that of a man being caught without his pants in the company of a woman – couldn’t have been less fitting for those who would be remembered through history as the harbingers of a grand battle against the very concept of monarchy itself. The historical after-image of the sans-culotte is a murky one; to some they were the champions of a righteous struggle for social justice and human rights, to others they were bestial malcontents who, spurned by jealousy of their rightful rulers, group-think and low IQ, murdered any and all who stood in their way, innocent and guilty alike. As with most other matters of history, the truth is somewhat more complicated than such stark binaries and thus it behooves us to separate some popular myths from the truth of the matter.
They were not all dirt-poor plebs.
The most popular of the myths about the sans culottes is that they were all wage earning plebs, common workers, the poorest of the poor. Whilst it is undeniably true that many among the sans were working class they were not all dirt poor or of low social standing. According to the historian Gwyn A. Williams, however, the majority of the leaders of the sans culoettes were artisans and shopkeepers, that is to say, middle-class.
They were not all socialist agitators.
Nor where these wild revolutionaries anti-capitalist as some might assume from their ideals about equality, human rights and so on which mirrors many progressive democratic socialists today. Rather the culottes where definitively pro private property and had absolutely no qualm with capitalism provided that the total riches of the country were not almost exclusively held within the hands of a selected and privileged few. They were by and large hard workers who were tired of being left with little to nothing by the ineffective and lackadaisical regime of King Louis Capet (who, though kindly and well-meaning – he made numerous conceits to the Enlightenment such as the abolishment of serfdom – was nevertheless a deplorable statesman). The fight of the sans culottes was, primarily, with class privilege, not wealth itself (that is, when they were not merely driven to frenzy by a convincing speaker. Furthermore, it needs be said, the sans culottes were never one uniform block, proactively ordered, rather they were almost purely reactive, organizing for brief periods of time and then melding back uniformly into the social fabric until the next political insurrection called.
There is a great deal off cross-over between numerous liberal political factions and the britches devoid warriors (they wore plain trousers, they were not actually pant-less), all of them leftist progressives. Antifa mirrors the sans culottes in many ways, chiefly in their overarching aims of overthrowing a ossified social order (white supremacy/patriarchy for the Marxist socialites, the Ancien Regime for the french workers) in a attempt to create a more just and egalitarian society. Yet the Antifa, in comparison to the warriors of the French Revolution, are nothing. Though many have called Antifa a terrorist organization their violence pales in comparison to those who stormed the Bastille and massacred all therein, then dismembering the bodies of the fallen and hoisting them upon pikes and bayonets with cheers of greatest adulation. Nor are progressive agitators like Antifa fundamentally attempting to change the prevailing power structure, they are instead merely attempting to extend its influence and reach. It is for this reason that, counter-intuitive as it seems, the modern day dissident rightist shares more in common with the French Revolutionary than does the globalist – for the sans culottes were trying to bring about a totally new order whereas the French royalists were attempting to preserve the prevailing one. The sans culottes and their directors, Marat, Danton, Robespierre, did not wish to see France destroyed but rather transformed, reinvigorated and improved.
Whilst one might quibble with tactics their directionality of purpose, in essence, was the same as what the modern right’s should be today.