Albert Mathiez (10 January 1874, La Bruyère, Haute-Saône – 25 February 1932) was a French historian, known for his Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution. Mathiez emphasized class conflict. He argued that 1789 pitted the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, and then the Revolution pitted the bourgeoisie against the sans-culottes, who were a proletariat-in-the-making. Mathiez greatly influenced Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul in forming what came to be known as the "orthodox" Marxist interpretation of the Revolution. Mathiez admired Robespierre, praised the Terror, and did not extend complete sympathy to the struggle of the proletariat.
Mathiez came from a peasant family in Eastern France. He showed high intelligence as a young student, with a strong interest in history. He entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1894, by which time he had already displayed a strong anti-clerical bias. After graduation, he passed the aggregation in history, and after doing his military service, entered the teaching profession. He taught at a variety of local lycèes until he completed his doctorate, which he wrote under the direction of Alphonse Aulard, then the leading historian of the Revolution. Aulard admired Danton. Mathiez was greatly influenced by Jean Jaurès who propounded a more radical economic and social interpretation. At first a good friend of Aulard, he broke with his mentor in 1907, founding his own society, the Société des études robespierristes, with its journal, the Annales révolutionnaires. He also moved up from the lycée to the university level, teaching at Besançon and Dijon.
Earlier a pacifist, Mathiez developed into a nationalistic Jacobin after the World War erupted in 1914. He used his scholarship on the Revolution to demonstrate that, just as Revolutionary France had defeated the Allied coalition in the 1790s, so too the Third Republic would triumph over imperial Germany. The World War, with its serious economic and social stresses, such as shortages of food and rationing, prompted him to study similar conditions during the Revolution. The eventual result was one of his most original works, La Vie chère et le movement social sous la Terreur (1927).
Mathiez in his masterwork La Révolution française (3 vol. 1922-1924) boldly made Robespierre the hero. Emile Durkheim's work in the sociology of religion influenced his interpretation of the 1790s.
Mathiez saw the French Revolution as the critical first stage in a proletarian advance that would gather strength in the revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the Russian revolts of 1905, and reached its highest point during the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, which created a dictatorship in the name of the proletariat.
He rejected the common view of Robespierre as demagogic, dictatorial, and fanatical. Mathiez argued he was an eloquent spokesman for the poor and oppressed, an enemy of royalist intrigues, a vigilant adversary of dishonest and corrupt politicians, a guardian of the French Republic, an intrepid leader of the French Revolutionary government, and a prophet of a socially responsible state.
Mathiez held the highly prestigious Sorbonne chair in French Revolutionary Studies and was the founder of the Societe des Etudes Robespierristes, which led to the creation in 1908 of the highly regarded journal Annales révolutionnaries which became Annales historiques de la Révolution française in 1924.
Mathiez was active in the Communist Party from 1920 to 1922. However by 1930 he was attacked by Stalinist historians who condemned Mathiez and also "Jacobinism" as adversaries of the proletarian revolution. He was a vigorous polemicist; in his own defense after 1930 he mounted a sharp critique of Stalinism.