Contemporary socialism has its roots, not, as we're usually taught, in the much misunderstood and misapplied writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, but in a much earlier movement centering around the dynamic figure of François-Noël 'Gracchus' Babeuf. Engels himself hastened to point out the historical importance of Babeuf's activity, and Mihail Bakunin traced socialist thought back to the principles of the French Revolution and - in some sense - the revolutionary activities of this man.
I begin my section on the French Republican Calendar with this piece of history, because for me Babeuf forms the bridge between the French Revolutionary era, with all its shortcomings and betrayals, and more recent liberation movements with an equalitarian or socialist theme. Babeuf was the conscience of the French Revolution. He forms, for me, a valuable reference point in an era marked by turbulence, propaganda, and deceit. The fact that he, a communalist and socialist, saw in the radical democratic movement a cause worth dying for, in some sense redeems for me a movement otherwise tainted by the Terror and the messianic hypocrisy of Robespierre.
Babeuf, incidentally, fought against the Constitution of 1795 which established the Directory. In America we're taught to greet the Directory with a sigh of relief, but it was also a government of the reaction; and it was riddled by corruption. Babeuf did go on the record as saying that even the monarchy was better than the Terror - without, nonetheless, giving up his hope for a communalist Republic of the Equals.
He was executed by the Directory at the age of 36.
So much for Gracchus Babeuf.
Characteristic of the milieu of militant democracy in which Babeuf found himself and took part was the complete rethinking of the feudal system of weights and measures, which gave rise to the metric system and, later, SI (Système Internationale d'Unités, or something like that). At about the same time that feet and toes (oops! sorry, 'inches') were being replaced by meters and centimeters, the Gregorian calendar (abbreviated CE, Common Era, or AD, anno Domini) was replaced by a revolutionary calendar which, for want of some spiffier sounding name, I will just call the French Republican Calendar (FRC).
The names of the months in CE are based, as you may or may not know, on the names of gods, Roman politicians, and above all numbers (e.g. October, the eighth month - but only if you start counting in March! An insane system? Of course!). The months may be of 28, 29, 30, or 31 days, depending on the month itself and whether it's a leap year or not.
In FRC, the names of the months were all taken from natural phenomena, mostly having to do with the weather. This gives us some very pretty-sounding names like Floreal (the month of flowers), or Prairial (the month of meadows; incidentally my birthday is Prairial 9). This makes the month names more descriptive, and - if you know what the names mean - easier to remember if you don't know what time of year they fall in. Like, Nivose (the snowy month) you can probably suspect fell sometime in winter. There are twelve months, each of 30 days. Every month is divided into three « décades » of ten days each; in the French Republican era these décades took the place of weeks. At the end of the year (i.e, in September) there are either five or six extra days, which formed a sort of extended festival.
The Gregorian calendar takes as Day 1, Month 1, Year 1, a day more or less arbitrarily selected (January 1st, 1 CE) to fall 358 days before the birth of Jesus Christ. It seems the guy who figured this out was off by about four to six years, but that's beside the point. FRC begins on September 22, 1792 - the day of the Proclamation of the Republic. (For three years before this, the French Revolution had proceeded merrily as a constitutional monarchy, under the nominal rule of Louis XVI but really under the iron fist of La Fayette. After France became a Republic there would be a couple years of 'moderate' government by the blundering Girondins, then a while when the Jacobins under Danton were in power, then Robespierre's Terror. Just a little historical context.)
The French Republican Calendar led a blossoming existence for fourteen years, after which the reactionary government of Napoléon, who, by then, had overthrown the Republic and established himself as Emperor.
The year 1792 is very late in the game. Most of the important events of history lie in a far more distant past. For this reason, it becomes a nuisance to talk of - shall we say - 1776 as "16 BC"! Also, the year 1792 is historically relevant only in the history of France, not necessarily of the world; therefore a more international - and hopefully more ancient - starting point is needed.
Both those criteria are met by the year 4713 BCE. This is the starting point of the Julian period, which is used by astronomers; it counts by days, starting on noon of January 1, 4713 BCE. Not only is 4713 BCE before most of the defining events of world history, East and West, but it is also a rather unique time. In that year, the 28-year solar cycle, the 19-year lunar cycle, and a 15-year cycle used in reckoning Roman taxes, all converged. This will not happen again until 3267 CE. (For more information - I don't really understand all the complexities - check The World Almanac; that's my source for most of this.)
I propose, then, that if the French Republican Calendar beginning on September 22, 1792, can be compared to a 'metric calendar', there should be an SI calendar beginning September 22, 4713 BCE.
This calendar would be useful in that it possesses both simplicity and universality. The names of the months are based on environmental occurrences common to a broad swath of Eurasia and North America; as a solar calendar, its year is based on the sun, which is the common property of all; and in its starting point it makes reference to no particular religious or ethnic beliefs or events, but to a convergence of secular and 'natural' cycles that no one should feel excluded from. The day September 22, incidentally, is usually on or around the autumn equinox - a date that no particular country or culture can lay exclusive claim to.
The original names of the twelve months were of course in French; I have provided them in the original, plus with English and Spanish translations. (I've also done translations into Ido, German, Italian, Welsh, and Portuguese, but you have to draw the line somewhere.) I've also included the names' meaning - based on the 1955 Encyclopædia Britannica, gotta love it - and the day they start on for the year 1998-1999 CE: that is, 6710 SI.
|Vendémiaire||Vendemiary||Vendimiario||month of vintage||Sept 23, 1998|
|Brumaire||Brumary||Brumario||month of fog||Oct 23, 1998|
|Frimaire||Frimary||Frimario||month of frost||Nov 22, 1998|
|Nivôse||Nivose||Nivoso||month of snow||Dec 23, 1998|
|Pluviôse||Pluviose||Pluvioso||month of rain||Jan 23, 1999|
|Ventôse||Ventose||Ventoso||month of wind||Feb 22, 1999|
|Germinal||Vendemiary||Vendimiario||month of vintage||Mar 24, 1999|
|Floréal||Floreal||Floreal||month of flowers||Apr 23, 1999|
|Prairial||Prairial||Praderal||month of meadows||May 23, 1999|
|Messidor||Messidor||Mesidor||month of harvest||June 22, 1999|
|Thermidor||Thermidor||Termidor||month of heat||July 22, 1999|
|Fructidor||Fructidor||Fructidor||month of fruit||Aug 21, 1999|
|Sans-Culottides||Festivals||Fiestas||Sept 20, 1999|
Note: Due to inconsistencies with leap year, etc, the FRC year does not always begin on September 22. In some years it begins on September 23, other September 24, and I think there might be some times when it begins September 21. I calculate the FRC leap year according to the system used in Gregorian; it's just easiest and makes most sense.