Max Nomad, Apostles of Revolution, 1939/


Auguste Blanqui, the Glorious Prisoner

Fame bestows no favors upon the loser. Its fleeting kisses to the heroic victim bring no immortality. It prefers the winner and is unconcerned about the moral or intellectual qualities of its wooers. A contemporary of Martin Luther, Thomas Miinzer, towered above his rival both in courage and character. But he ended on the scaffold after unspeakable tortures, and his name is unknown to the German peasants for whose cause he died. Their veneration goes to the great Reformer who cringed before the princes and in the name of God enjoined them to kill and to maim the serfs who had risen against their feudal lords.

There are various ways of forgetting the great champions of the past. The French town of Puget Theniers has a monument, erected to the memory of a man who was born in that God-forsaken town a few miles north of Nice. To the inhabitants, that piece of sculpture means hardly more than an official tribute to some long-forgotten local politician. For the inscription in verse on the pedestal is not very explicit, and the teachers in the public school are not very communicative on that subject either.

The statue is not the only token by which this man has survived in the memory of his countrymen. There is also a boulevard bearing his name in one of the poorer sections of Paris. But to the man in the street the associations of the name are topographical and nothing more.

And yet this man, Auguste Blanqui, was the spiritual father of modern revolutionary socialism and communism; the teacher of Marx and Lenin; greater than either of them in the historical span of his activities; greater also in the enormity of the tragedy attached to his life. For half a century he was the personification of the very idea of the Republic -- yet he has been relegated to the third rank among the makers of history. For he was defeated, and most of his life was spent in prison and even under a cloud.

The name of Blanqui means various things to various men. To the liberal historian of contemporary France he is one of the pioneers of the Republic who risked his life for it in all the revolutionary uprisings between 1827 and 1870. To the conservative he is the Red Specter, the unsuccessful Lenin of two or three generations ago. To the orthodox Marxist -- an unpractical utopian and noble adventurer whose heedless impatience paid no respect to the actual economic situation or to the political requirements of the moment. To the sentimental radical he is the glorious martyr, the Poor Job who, moved by the sufferings of the underdog, exchanged his personal happiness and the possibilities of a brilliant career for a lifelong agony in the various prisons of his country. And to the social psychologist he is the nineteenth century prototype of the would-be dictator of today; sometimes heroic and sometimes not; ruthless, cunning and intolerant -- seeing in his fellow men only pawns to be used for his own elevation to supreme power. Strangely enough, Blanqui was all these things at the same time. . . .

He was born in 1805, the son of a professor of philosophy of Italian descent, who was one of the less conspicuous actors in the Great Revolution. A Girondin, Blanqui's father barely escaped with his life under the terror of Robespierre; ironically enough, he was later to hitch his wagon to the star of Napoleon Bonaparte -- once a follower of Robespierre. He was not the only one of the former revolutionists, whether Girondins or Jacobins, who eventually bowed to the crowned adventurer. For such is the sometimes bewildering course of revolutionary careers.

Old Blanqui's moderate fortune as an administrative office-holder under the Empire crumbled with the fall of Napoleon -- yet the family was able to maintain a certain middle-class standard of living, and two of the sons were sent to Paris for their studies. In time Adolphe, the older of these two brothers, became a generally respected scholar and conservative writer on economic subjects. He had the peaceful disposition of his father and was more interested in understanding the mechanism of the industrial system of Europe than in changing its political constellation. In this he proved the very opposite of his junior who had many of the features of his temperamental, imperious and self-willed mother.

However, with that temperament young Auguste Blanqui combined a rare intelligence and a phenomenal memory. He carried off all the prizes in school, showing equal proficiency in the ancient classics, composition, history, and mathematics. His brother's prediction that "this child will astonish the world" was to come true.

Under normal conditions Blanqui's abilities would have opened up to him a path to the highest honors a country has to bestow. But the years of his youth were not "normal" in our sense. They marked the darkest period France had known since the great awakening of 1789. The Bourbons were restored in 1815 at the time when Auguste was ten years old, and the middle class of the cities saw all its hopes blasted by a triumphant nobility which, jointly with the clergy, tried to re-establish the old feudal order.

Anti-Bourbon Conspirators

The resentment against the new-old masters expressed itself in ever-recurring conspiracies. Secret societies became the center of attraction for the most active and the most progressive elements of the educated middle classes. The organization which was to last longest and which had its part in the eventual overthrow of the Bourbons was that of the Charbonniers. It was modeled after the Italian Carbonari, patriotic-liberal conspirators who fought for a united democratic Italy against foreign tyranny. The French Carbonari had no definite program. What united them all was their hostility to the Bourbons; beyond that point they were divided in their sympathies between republican, Bonapartist, and constitutional monarchist tendencies.

Auguste Blanqui was still at school when an attempted uprising of the Charbonniers scheduled for the end of 1821 resulted in numerous arrests. At the age of seventeen he witnessed the execution of the "four sergeants of La Rochelle" who have gone down in history as martyrs for the cause of French democracy. Even in his old age he would bring flowers to the grave of those young men whom he had seen die so courageously. The White terror failed in its effect as far as the young student was concerned. At nineteen, in 1824, he joined the French Carbonari. The mystery surrounding their admission rites, the hierarchical structure of the organization, the insistence upon deep secrecy and strict discipline -- they all had a lasting effect upon the mentality and the future activities of the young enthusiast.

The six years leading up to the victorious uprising of July, 1830, were for Blanqui the years of his revolutionary apprenticeship. A student of law and medicine, he was earning his living either as a tutor or as an instructor in a private school. A voracious reader, he had been deeply impressed by the ancient classics and their records of struggles against tyranny, which constantly reminded him of the fate of his own country. France was particularly agitated in 1827, when a number of reactionary bills tended to strengthen the power of the Church and to restrict what little was left of a free press. The educated sections of the middle classes and especially the students of the higher establishments were aroused. Young Blanqui, twenty-two years old, participated in all the demonstrations and skirmishes with the police. He was wounded on several occasions.

The Revolution of 1830 and After

The mounting wave of liberal and democratic sentiment eventually prompted the Government to issue decrees suspending all constitutional guarantees. These decrees were to be the last issued by the Bourbons. The young bloods of the educated middle classes went out on the streets. Blanqui, then working as a parliamentary reporter and stenographer on one of the liberal daily papers, seized a rifle and put on the tricolored cockade, the emblem of the Republic. The workers, still untouched by any political propaganda, did not know what the quarrel was about. But they joined in the fight, instinctively expecting from it a change for the better.

Three days later the struggle was over. The feudal authors of the attempted coup had to relinquish power -- never to return again. With the Bourbon dynasty and its retainers of the old-time nobility gone, the financiers, the big contractors, their lawyers, and a host of moderate politicians immediately constituted themselves the inheritors of the power that had just been overthrown. They decided that "the establishment of a Republic would embroil us with the rest of Europe," and that a constitutional monarchy was as much as the reactionary powers would stand for. Before the victorious rebels, nearly all of them republicans, could realize what had occurred, another king was installed, a scion of the Orleans branch of the old French dynasty. He was, however, a king with a difference, who accepted the democratic title of "King of the Frenchmen" as against the old aristocratic formula of "King of France." It was a difference worth dying for. . . .

The new regime actually seemed very revolutionary to a Europe still under the thumb of the Holy Alliance. It had eliminated the power of the Church and of the old hereditary nobility. The men at the helm were now "plebeians," so to speak. Rich plebeians, to be sure -- bankers, professors, and corporation lawyers, as one would put it today. Yet plebeians nevertheless -- in the ancient meaning of the term, comprising all those who were not of noble descent. It was this seemingly democratic character of the new regime which made the progressive elements of Germany and of the rest of Europe acclaim it with the same enthusiasm with which thirty years before they had hailed the military despotism of Napoleon with its upstart capitalists, bureaucrats, and generals.

Between Two Philosophies

However, the lower middle classes and the workers of France were not taken in by the democratic make-believe of the Citizen-King and of the financial oligarchy that had stolen the Revolution. The liberal and radical intellectuals, young men between twenty and thirty, who eighteen years later were to become the rulers of the Second Republic of 1848, immediately began a vigorous campaign against the new masters. Blanqui was at the forefront. With a few other young men he undertook to organize all the students at the University of Paris. He joined a radical republican society called Amis du Peuple (Friends of the People) whose publications minced no words about the necessity of another revolution. Eventually fifteen of the most active militants of the society were indicted.

The trial of the "Fifteen" was held in January, 1832. Blanqui, now twenty-seven years old, emerged from it not only as a brilliant speaker but as a champion of a new gospel as.well -- in the sense that new gospels sometimes differ from the old ones in the use of a new vocabulary. Questioned about his profession, he astonished both the judge and the jurors by calling himself a "proletarian." He insisted that this was "the profession of thirty million Frenchmen who live by their work and are deprived of political rights." These "proletarians," he said, included twenty-five million peasants and five million workers who were "crushed by taxes for the benefit of . . . two or three hundred thousand idlers."

The defendants were all acquitted, but Blanqui's violent diatribe against the "privileged rich" was declared by the judge to constitute a "disturbance of the peace"; as a result, his acquittal was converted into one year's imprisonment.

In that speech Blanqui referred to "the war between the rich and the poor." However, he did not wind up with a call for the expropriation of the rich for the benefit of the poor. What he demanded was merely the introduction of universal suffrage, which would enable the elected representatives to pass laws in the interests of the "proletariat," that is, of what other speakers would have called "the people." In other words, Blanqui was at that time torn between the ideologies and terminologies of liberalism and socialism -- even though in 1832 the latter term was not yet known in France. Liberalism was represented by the French Carbonari whom he had joined in the middle of the Twenties. The program of the most radical of these conspirators did not go beyond the establishment of a democratic republic, and there were hardly any workers among their members. But in the meantime a new gospel had gradually begun to win followers among the most impecunious and the most embittered intellectuals and semi-intellectuals of France. It was the gospel of equalitarian communism. It had had its martyr in the person of Gracchus Babeuf, the leader of the Conspiracy of the Equals of 1796; it had also an inspired apostle in Filippo Buonarroti, the most prominent survivor of that conspiracy.

Blanqui had met old Buonarroti and, like most of the other radicals of the late twenties, had fallen under the spell of the remarkable old man -- the personification of idealism and integrity. But the venerable descendant of Michelangelo was a dreamer and a mystic who actually believed that his opinions were of celestial origin. He could never distinguish between the two elements in the "communism" of Babeuf's conspiracy: the self-deceptive communist day-dreams of the simple-minded Babeuf himself, and the cynical truth that the promise of economic equality was merely a demagogic device used by the ousted followers of Robespierre for arousing the masses against their successful Rightist rivals. Blanqui was not a dreamer but a man of action; and so he was apparently impressed only by those aspects of the new gospel which seemed to him at that moment to have propaganda value for winning the workers and the lower middle classes for the cause of democracy.

In the meantime the dissatisfaction with the new regime found expression in numerous demonstrations and uprisings both in Paris and in the provinces. By 1834 the violent anti-monarchist propaganda of the clubs, coupled with the bloody events of the past three years, induced the Government to suppress all political societies.

Going Underground

The suppression of the clubs naturally enough called forth the idea of forming secret societies. It is in these societies that Blanqui was to reveal his talents and abilities as a master organizer and conspirator, which were to raise his name above those of hundreds of other active opponents of the July monarchy.

There was a marked difference between the secret societies of this period and those which existed prior to the Revolution of 1830. The element of respectable middle-class intellectuals was no longer conspicuous. The failure of the last uprising -- that of April, 1834 -- had discouraged many of them, at least for a number of years to come. As a result, only the most adventurous or the most impecunious elements among the educated classes were ready to go "underground." They constituted the commanding staff, as it were, of these societies; the bulk of the membership consisted of the more educated and determined manual workers.

One of the first secret societies of the Thirties was the Society of the Families which was founded in 1834. Its most prominent member at the very start was Armand Barbes, who was to go down in French history as the "Bayard of Democracy" -- a word coined by the anarchist philosopher Proudhon. Barbes was young, rich, enthusiastic, good-natured, and heroic -- the idol of the student youth and popular with all the republican opponents of the regime. But his intelligence was not above the average. The organization acquired real importance only after Blanqui had joined it in 1835.

The Families were organized in a strictly hierarchical, authoritarian manner. Military discipline and blind submission to orders constituted the chief requirements for membership, as in most other secret societies. At the bottom of the organization there were small units containing between five and twelve members. Each unit had a chief who knew the names of all the members; but the members knew each other only by their aliases. The chiefs of several Families were subject to the authority of a "chief of section"; a number of these, in turn, had above them a "district commander"; the officer in charge of several district commanders was called a "revolutionary agent." The agents were supposed to be in touch with "the Central Committee" -- which in reality did not exist. The three main agents constituted the supreme authority of the organization.1

Admission to the society was not easy. To become a member one had to "be of age, enjoy a good reputation, have regular means of support, and be discreet to the highest degree." Every member had to join the National Guard for the purpose of making propaganda. He had to contribute a certain amount of gunpowder and, whenever possible, acquire a rifle of his own. He was to be at all times ready for any emergency when called' upon by his chiefs.

The voluntary contributions of ammunition were apparently not sufficient for the needs of an organization which planned for a rising in the very near future. So a secret laboratory was set up in which gunpowder was manufactured in comparatively large quantities. Eventually the factory was discovered by the authorities in 1836, and Blanqui and the other leaders of the Families were arrested. Incredible though it may seem, all the membership lists were found in the possession of the leaders, who apparently had not thought themselves in danger of being apprehended.

The authorities either did not take the conspiracy seriously or else they preferred not to excite public sentiment by heavy reprisals. The longest sentence did not exceed two years. Moreover, there was a general amnesty eight months after the trial. However, Blanqui was not permitted to live in Paris. He was confined to a small provincial town near the capital. Here, in a sort of pleasant semi-banishment, he enjoyed the last year of his personal happiness in the company of his devoted wife.

It was in that provincial town that he conceived the idea of a secret organization which was to rise on the ruins of the Families. He not only conceived the idea, but actually succeeded in creating the new body -- even though at that time he still lived under police surveillance outside of Paris. The association was called "Society of Seasons" because it was formed in accordance with the subdivisions of the year. A "week" of six persons was under the orders of a "Sunday"; four weeks were included in a "month," whose leader was a "July." Three months constituted a "season," which was under the orders of a "spring." Four seasons were, in turn, included in a "year," which was headed by a "revolutionary agent." With a membership of about one thousand there were three years; hence three revolutionary agents or chiefs. In the opinion of the workers, these three chiefs were to constitute a triumvirate which in case of victory was to be entrusted with dictatorial power for the purpose of liquidating the existing system.

Blanqui was not merely one of the triumvirs, but the real chief of the Seasons. The other two revolutionary agents felt his superiority and were not happy about it. Each of the three represented a separate and distinct type: Blanqui -- the lower middle-class intellectual with the ruthless determination, the will to power, and the self-assurance of a group that was out to take over either the inheritance of, or hegemony over, the capitalists; Barbes -- the bourgeois-aristocratic "angel" and hero, prompted by the mystical urge of self-sacrifice and a somewhat less mystical passion for public admiration, but by his intellectual limitations always condemned to play second fiddle; and finally, Martin Bernard -- a printer by trade and a former soldier, a "symbol of the self-educated, rising labor elite which in the more developed industrial countries competes with the intellectuals for leadership of the working masses.

The official philosophy of the Seasons, as well as of the Families which preceded them, was the equalitarian communism of Babeuf, usually called "Babouvism," with which Blanqui had become acquainted several years before. The working-class following looked upon that communism as the realization of a terrestrial paradise of universal equality of incomes. It meant something altogether different to Blanqui. He did not share his followers' naive belief in the goodness of human nature upon which most of the equalitarian-communist dreams are based. Socialism or communism, in his conception, was a tendency rather than a concrete aim to be realized immediately after the seizure of power. He never was very explicit about it. With Saint-Simon, whose writings he had read in his student days, he knew that the future belonged to an intellectual aristocracy of engineers, industrialists, and managers; but he also knew, likewise from Saint-Simon, that "enthusiasm was necessary in order to accomplish great things." And enthusiasm usually requires a religious belief in a millennium, rather than a realistic understanding that there is no Santa Claus. So he carefully refrained from attacking or criticizing any of the systems laid down by the various socialist or communist theorists. Nor did he interfere with anybody's private belief in some Utopia or other, as long as the believer was ready to fight the existing government and to give all the power to the leaders of the active revolutionary group -- that is, to Blanqui. It is only irom various stray remarks in Blanqui's posthumous works, or in his still unpublished manuscripts, that one gets a glimpse of his own socialism, which was as "gradualist" as that of the most moderate "Radical" among President Roosevelt's "brain-trusters."

What Blanqui really had in common with the "Equals" of 1796 was the method: his insistence upon a revolutionary dictatorship, or, as he used to say in his later years, upon a "Parisian dictatorship." Thus his Babouvism was at bottom the good old] Jacobinism of the Great French Revolution, when the revolutionary committees, leaning upon the masses of Paris, ruled dictatorially over the rest of France. Underlying this dictatorial creed was the idea expressed by Buonarroti in the bible of Babouvism that "a people whose opinions were formed under a regime of immorality and despotism is hardly apt, at the beginning of a creative revolution, to designate by its suffrages the men to be entrusted with its conduct and with its consummation." For this reason it was necessary "at the birth of a political revolution, even out of respect for the real sovereignty of the time, to be concerned less with gathering the votes of the nation than with having the supreme authority, in the least arbitrary manner, fall into the hands of wise and strong revolutionists." All the tragedy of human progress is contained in these sentences; for while this conception takes quite realistically for granted the incompetence of the masses, it is quite optimistic and unskeptical about the permanency of the good intentions of the "wise and strong" men.

The Uprising of May 12, 1839

Blanqui returned to Paris early in 1839. There was a Cabinet crisis which had lasted several weeks. The crisis was aggravated by an economic depression followed by lowered tax returns, increased unemployment, and withdrawals of bank deposits. In Blanqui's opinion -- so the story goes -- all these circumstances made the moment appear propitious for a popular rising. Yet it is not certain whether this alone would have induced him to act exactly at that moment. For the organization was not sufficiently prepared. There were only one thousand members and the supply! of arms was very small. There was something else.

That other reason was what one might call unfair competition. Alongside of the Seasons, there existed in Paris another secret organization, the Democratic Phalanx, which professed the same aims. Little is known about this organization, except that it included practically no intellectuals, and that the workers constituting it had more enthusiasm than practical revolutionary experience. As a result, the Phalanx was honeycombed with stool-pigeons. It was the latter who taunted the Seasons with their great caution and reluctance to act immediately. It is now generally believed that these taunts and the fear of losing, through inaction, the small armed contingent of the Seasons finally prompted Blanqui to take that desperate step against his own better judgment. The dismal failure of the uprising lends support to the suspicion that the Government was interested in goading the Seasons into a hopeless adventure.

Armand Barbes, Blanqui's fellow "triumvir," was out of Paris at that time, enjoying the spring on his estate. His proverbial prowess was the greatest possible asset for the morale of the revolutionary troops, and Blanqui urged him to come to the capital. But the heroic young aristocrat was not in a hurry. He was apparently aware of the suicidal character of the adventure. Eventually Blanqui had to use the strongest possible argument. The decisive letter which he wrote to Barbes has not been preserved; the altogether unjustified reproach of cowardice which it contained marked the beginning of a mortal hostility which was to separate the two men forever.

The rising was set for the twelfth of May, 1839. The members were instructed to come out upon certain designated places in the city for one of the usual mobilization exercises at which the revolutionary agents saw their troops pass by. Only the three chiefs knew that this time it was going to be more than an ordinary "fire drill." This method of keeping the membership altogether in the dark as to what was going to happen was part of the conspiratorial technique of the time. Another part of that technique was the systematic deception of the members in many other respects. They were made to believe that their army was much larger than it actually was. And when finally they were apprised of the fact that a real uprising was on, Blanqui in his appeal spoke of the "great Central Committee" -- which never existed.

The strategical plan of the uprising was all worked out by Blanqui himself. Military science -- even though he had never served in the Army -- was one of his favorite hobbies; and he was more than a mere amateur in the matter of directing troop movements and building barricades.

Only a few hundred workers joined in the fight. The masses stayed away -- they refused to be emancipated upon the orders of three men who kept their secret too well. The insurgents, repulsed, decimated, and dispersed, took up the desperate struggle on the following day, hoping against hope to arouse the masses or to get support from the students of the Polytechnical Institute. But it was all in vain.

According to the assertions of his personal enemies within the movement, Blanqui had left the field before the fight was over. There were also those who declared they had seen him trembling at the moment when under his orders arms were seized from a store. His face, they said, was livid when the fight actually started. And they compared his attitude with that of Barbes, who had immediately rushed into the thick of the battle and was badly wounded.

Were these accusations true? Assertions of Barbes and his friends stand here against those of the admirers of Blanqui, who, however, prefer not to dwell much upon this point. The great conspirator was sickly, weak, and of very slight build. All his strength, and his courage as well, was apparently in his mind and in his will-power. Many men are ready to risk their lives for their cause. But not all of them are prepared to do it in the same way. Jean Galtier-Boissiere, in his Histoire de la Troisieme Republique, points to the disgrace of the French General Boulanger, aspiring military dictator of the late eighties, who at the decisive moment ran away ignominiously for fear that he; might be arrested. And yet he had a heroic record of service, and had been wounded several times at the head of his troops in 1870. Blanqui's tragedy was exactly of the opposite kind. The same historian might have had him in mind when he wrote that "many a revolutionary militant who was ready to pass his life in the shadow of a dungeon would perhaps present a sad figure during an attack." When all is said, physical courage is chiefly a physical virtue, like a strong biceps or a healthy nervous system.

In any case, Barbes, as well as many others of a heroic mold, lost on that occasion all their respect for the man who, after all, had been the soul of the uprising.

In the Dungeon of Mont Saint-Michel

Blanqui kept in hiding for several months and was not arrested until October, when he was on the point of crossing over into Switzerland. Tried the following year, he was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, just as in the case of Barbes, who had been convicted a few months before.

The four years that followed were perhaps the most terrible in his life. His wife died in despair, slowly wasting away within the first year after their separation. After her death Blanqui was as if in a daze for many months. He had few friends in that island prison between Normandy and Brittany. Armand Barbes' hostility was not diminished by the fact that they were interned in the same jail. More than ever Blanqui sought refuge in the loneliness of his own thoughts, mourning his beloved wife, dreaming his dreams of power, reading and writing.

After a vain attempt at escape, undertaken jointly with Barbes and two other "lifers," Blanqui's health, never very good, began slowly to break down. Early in 1844 the physicians recommended Blanqui's transfer to the prison in Tours. However, his condition did not improve even there, and he had to be transferred to the prison hospital. By the end of the year he was pardoned. The authorities, his friends explained, did not expect him to live long, and, afraid of arousing public opinion, preferred not to have the famous republican die in prison.

His "freedom" changed little in his life. He remained most of the time in the hospital of Tours. By 1846 he was able to get up and have his walks in the gardens of that institution. At the same time he recovered his old combative spirit, as expressed by that sarcasm for which he was both hated and feared: "On the days of Holy Communion," he wrote, "the Sisters of the Hospital of Tours are ferociously unapproachable. They have eaten God. The pride of that divine digestion gives them convulsions. These Vessels of sanctity become vials of vitriol."

Eighteen Forty-Eight

From Tours he was transferred to a small provincial town where he stayed in semi-banishment until the overthrow of the monarchy. The news of the establishment of the Republic reached him on February 24, 1848. That very day he left for Paris.

During the nine years of his enforced absence, the struggle against the regime had been going on. However, the secret societies had lost much of their glamour and much of their importance. Those still in existence were headed by declasses of mediocre gifts and without vision. They were manned largely by semi-educated workers professing, as a sort of religion, various shades of equalitarian communism. The intellectuals were likewise conspiring against the monarchy, but their plotting was carried on in broad daylight, contradictory as this may sound. The link between open and secret activities was supplied by the various liberal newspapers. Their editorial offices were to a certain extent used as clearing houses for republican activities all over the country. Those activities found continuous nourishment in the restriction of the franchise, which was enjoyed by only two hundred and twenty thousand of the highest taxpayers; and in the exceedingly hard times which befell the country in, 1847, when an economic crisis, a bad crop, and a famine exasperated the masses of the population, while the regime refused to do anything for the poor. Typical of the callousness of the ruling spheres was a statement made by the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who declared that "We are here to make laws and not to get work for the people."

The uprising of February, 1848, was the outcome of a campaign for the extension of the franchise. That campaign had been launched by the middle-class liberals, who organized protest banquets and public street manifestations. Curiously enough, the Society of the Seasons, the creation of Blanqui and Barbes, then still in existence though under a very mediocre leadership, did not think much of the forthcoming manifestation and advised its members to stay away from it. It was only a small group of conspirators, called Societe Dissidente -- they were in fact dissident members of the Seasons -- who favored active participation. There were not more than four hundred of them; but their savage determination, under conditions of general discontent, acted as the spark that set off the revolutionary explosion.2

As usual, it was not those who had borne the brunt of the fight on the barricades who reaped the fruits of victory. No sooner had the Government's resistance broken down than two groups of middle-class politicians began to wrangle for the succession. There were the near-radical representatives of the lower middle classes, who had their mandate, as it were, from the victorious armed masses. They came out openly in favor of the Republic. And there was a more respectable group, the Left opposition in the old Chamber of Deputies, who would have preferred a constitutional monarchy with a somewhat extended franchise. They feared lest the proclamation of a republic might whet the appetite of the masses for still greater changes in the social system. At last, however, confronted by the sentiment of the masses, they had to accept the Republic. These two groups divided among themselves the various Government departments. As a concession to the horny-handed proletarians, Cabinet posts without portfolio were given to two men who enjoyed the confidence of the working masses -- the socialist writer Louis Blanc, and a worker known as "Albert," who had an honorable record as a leader of uprisings and of secret societies during the Thirties and Forties.

There was no place for secret societies now that the main object of all of them, the overthrow of the monarchy, had been achieved. The Republic was here; and the workers, in the words of one of their champions on the barricades in the February uprising, were ready to suffer three more months of misery -- a period during which the Government was expected to satisfy the demands and the hopes of the masses.

Not all the revolutionists, however, were willing to wait as long as that. Upon his arrival in Paris on February 25, Auguste Blanqui found himself surrounded by many of his old followers and admirers who instinctively felt that the Provisional Government would betray the hopes of the masses. They were ready to take up arms again, in order to establish the republic of their dreams, that republic in which all the power would be wielded not by the lawyers, professors, and other representatives of the middle and upper middle classes, but by the people themselves, that is, by the old conspirators and revolutionary agitators. . . .

Blanqui shared their sentiments, but he had to dissuade his friends from any rash action. His first impulse seems to have been the same as theirs -- to gather a few hundred determined men and to wrest the power from the hands of the moderate politicians. However, he had taken the precaution of seeing first a number of old-time revolutionists from whom he could obtain a true picture of the situation. He had visited Marc Caussidiere, an old conspirator, now installed as chief of police, who was absolutely opposed to any move of this kind. Blanqui was forced to concede that a revolutionary coup by his own group would have no chance of success; that it would meet with immediate resistance on the part of the small shopkeepers, not to mention the National Guard, who would not stand for a Government composed of former political prisoners. So he decided to wait and see. In the meantime, he proceeded in the same way as did practically every other prominent republican of the period: he founded a club.

The Tower of Babel

It did not take long for Paris to be covered by nearly five hundred clubs, each of them centering around a particular theorist, writer or politician. The number of socialist and communist systems propounded to a bewildered population was appalling. There were the followers of Louis Blanc, the advocate of the "Organization of Labor," now member of the Government. He headed a special commission on ways and means of satisfying the aspirations of the workers without at the same time infringing upon the interests of the propertied classes. His basic idea was to form workers' producers' associations with Government credits, but he got neither credits nor any power to enforce the decisions of his commission. Opposed to the idea of the class struggle, he expected the realization of his aspirations from the good will of the middle classes. Then there were the "Communists," swearing by the name of Etienne Cabet, author of a Utopian novel, A Voyage to Icaria. They dreamed of leaving the shores of old decaying Europe and of establishing a terrestrial paradise of liberty and equality, with their leader as dictator, on the virgin soil of Texas or any other American territory. They were anything but revolutionary; they preached patience and abhorred violence.

Then there was Proudhon, one of the precursors of modern anarchism, with his brilliant criticism of all political parties and socialist systems, but altogether helpless to offer a sensible remedy for all the difficulties besetting a revolution which in his words "was called forth by lawyers, carried out by artists, and conducted by novelists and poets." There was also Pierre Leroux, one of the last offshoots of the school of Saint-Simon; an original thinker whose humanitarian anti-Malthusian fervor sometimes led him astray: as when he preached his theory of the "Circulus," which based man's right to live upon the ability of every human being to provide for his own needs through his biological-functions of creating an amount of fertilizer sufficient for the reproduction of the necessary foodstuffs. There was still alive and active that communist ex-priest Pillot -- later to be found in the ranks of Blanqui's followers -- who, a few years before 1848, ended one of his books with the threat that if mankind did not want communism it would be forced to accept it, just as the inmates of an insane asylum had to take shower baths whether they wanted them or not. Which, without any satiric intent, was a naive anticipation of Manuel Komroff's lampoon on the communist conception of the millennium where everyone would have to have strawberries and cream for breakfast, whether he liked them or not.

The workers were bewildered by these countless theories which they could not understand and which one of the contemporary cartoonists once represented as the Socialist Tower of Babel. Instinctively they might have felt that the radicalism of the various clubs was chiefly the expression of the "illusions and the ambitions of the various dreamers and quacks, most of whom did not belong to the working class." In despair, some of the workers seriously proposed to arrest Cabet, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, and all the other creators of systems, and to keep them all in the same prison cell until they would agree upon a common program.

Blanqui alone did not offer a system of his own. He had none. As one of his admirers among the contemporary writers put it: "He [Blanqui] did not express himself about the systems which were abounding. He was above all a man of politics, ready for action. Possibly he did not have the strength that is necessary for mounting a horse. But he had something greater than that. He had moral courage. He would be a dictator and would have accepted all the responsibilities."

But he understood that the time for his dictatorship had not come as yet. For the time being he had to remain satisfied with the sway which he held over a thousand or fifteen hundred persons who crowded the hall of his club, the Societe Republicaine Centrale, or Club Blanqui, as it was more commonly called. In the hall of his club, Blanqui commented every evening upon current events, and answered questions. There were many visitors who came only to have a glance at the terrible man whose reputation was somewhat comparable to that enjoyed nowadays by Trotsky.

There was something uncanny about his appearance. Small, shrunken and gray-haired, an old man at forty-three, he overwhelmed his audience with his logic and the eloquence of his sharp, shrill voice. The black suit in which he was invariably dressed, and the black gloves which he never took off, added an element of the macabre to the appearance of the man who predicted the doom of the Republic -- and whose prediction was to come literally true.

Birth-and-Death Pangs of a Republic

The situation was full of contradictions. Here were the workers of Paris asking for a legitimate reward for their sacrifices in overthrowing the old system. They clamored for a decree recognizing their "Right to Work," which would do away with unemployment, long hours, and inhuman living conditions. But the industrial workers were very far from forming a considerable section of the population in the country at large. Even in Paris they hardly constituted a majority.

The Government was going to make proper use of that "three-months-of-misery" truce granted it by the workers. In an appeal issued on February 25, that is, on the morrow of the Revolution, the Government undertook to "guarantee work to all citizens." It kept its promise in a peculiar fashion. The youngest among the workers, and particularly among the slum dwellers -- boys between sixteen and twenty -- were organized into a special police force, the Garde Mobile. For the other unemployed the Government improvised public works which were given the high-sounding name of "National Workshops." That enterprise had two purposes: first, to use these "Government pensioners," as it were, as a pawn against the rest of the workers; and, second, to discredit the idea of socialism in the eyes of the general public. For these National Workshops -- earth-digging works for the most part -- were undertaken without any practical purpose at all. They were an "organization of alms," as somebody called them, or, in the words of Marx, "open-air workhouses." Four months later, when the regime felt strong enough, these public works were simply closed down, without any provision for the hundred thousand wretches who had no other means of support. And when fifty thousand of them took up arms in what is known as the "June Insurrection," they were massacred by their own kin, the new army of twenty-five thousand Mobile Guards -- the boys from the slums who for a regular meal acted the immemorial part of the poor man in uniform against the poor man in rags.

While thus safeguarding its rule against a possible attack on the part of the horny-handed underdog, the new regime was at the same time undermining its own base by alienating the lower middle classes, particularly the peasantry. The Treasury was practically empty. Heroic measures were necessary to fill it. But instead of "making the rich pay," the Government threw the burden largely upon the small man through a forty-five per cent increase in all taxes.3 Yet the prosperous bourgeoisie was not placated; for it was frightened by the grandiloquent speeches of these near-radical Cabinet members who were fond of posing as successors to Robespierre.

Moreover, the bourgeois politicians were fighting among themselves -- the "difference of opinions," in the words of the poet Beranger, being only a shield for the "similarity of their ambitions." That struggle assumed forms vividly recalling the present-day mud-slinging campaigns, the reproach of "communism" being flung by the moderates against the progressives, and by the reactionaries against the moderates.

"Parisian Dictatorship"

Blanqui had one answer to the dangers threatening the Republic: his favorite idea of a "revolutionary dictatorship"; that idea to which Marx largely owes his concept of the "proletarian dictatorship," and which was later to find concrete realization in the reign of Lenin and of Stalin. He wanted what he often called "a Parisian dictatorship" because "Paris was the head, the provinces merely the intestine." That idea was a negation of universal suffrage, the ultra-democratic tenet for whose sake the monarchy had been overthrown. Blanqui realized better than most of his contemporaries that, as things then stood, an appeal to the electorate would mean the end of all hopes for the advanced republicans. The peasants, as well as the small shop- keepers of the provincial towns, were all still steeped in the reactionary prejudices which had been fed to them under the Restoration and the July Monarchy, and, as a result, their vote, a short while after the establishment of the Republic, would be to a large extent a reflection of their old mentality. He foresaw a reactionary majority in the National Assembly that would thwart all the hopes of the workers and the advanced section of the intellectuals. So he insisted upon an indefinite postponement of the elections. In his opinion "a majority acquired by terror and gag-rule is not a majority of citizens but a herd of slaves. It is a blind tribunal which for seventy years has heard only one of the two parties. It owes it to itself to listen [now] to the opposite party for seventy years. As they were unable to plead together, they will plead one after the other." Twenty and not seventy years of such a benevolent dictatorship in Russia have thrown in relief all the tragedy of the human race, which seems to have no choice but to be ruled either by the politicians of a spurious democracy dealing in demagogic catchwords, or by irresponsible despots dealing in a new mystique of one kind or another. Those "seventy years" were apparently merely a polemical phrase, for in another passage of the same book Blanqui speaks of twenty years which would be necessary for the destruction of "the formidable bastion of ignorance."

The struggle against ignorance, the question of public education, is paramount in his entire political philosophy. In his judgment "no man will be the dupe of another man" as soon as "education will have become universal. On that day nobody will be willing to stand for the inequality of fortunes." He, therefore, had no intention of attacking these fortunes by forcible means. The only measures of compulsion he would impose upon the capitalists after the seizure of power would be to force them to refrain from dismissals and from wage reductions. He was also in favor of various other measures of Government control or coercion against the employers, similar to those adopted nowadays by the totalitarian regimes, as well as by the Bolsheviks during the first year of their rule, before various circumstances had impelled them to proceed to the nationalization of the industries.

However, all these measures to be taken after the establishment of his dictatorship played a very subordinate part in Blanqui's thoughts and plans during the first weeks after the downfall of the monarchy. His club -- notwithstanding the "communist" reputation of its leader -- merely represented the extreme Left Wing of those republicans who were alive to the danger of monarchist restoration. As a result, the Societe Republicaine Centrale (Club Blanqui) had among its leading members a large number of progressive intellectuals -- philosophers, writers, poets, lawyers, Government officials -- who never, either before or later, showed any interest in the labor problem.

To counterbalance the danger impending from the conservative section of the Government, the old conspirator Caussidiere, who had become Chief of Police, was anxious to have Blanqui get together with Ledru-Rollin, the idol of the lower middle class, who represented the more progressive faction within the Cabinet. Blanqui was willing, but Ledru-Rollin refused. "What for?" he is reported to have replied. "Blanqui is a man who has a gallbladder where the heart should be. If I received him, he would boast that he had forced his will upon me."

One might say that the fate of the Revolution of 1848 was sealed by this attitude of Ledru-Rollin. The growing influence and self-assertion of the Rightists within the Government, and of the more prosperous elements within the National Guard, finally called forth a mass protest on the part of the workers and the "forgotten men" of the lower middle classes. On March 17 a crowd of two hundred thousand marched to the City Hall to demand the removal of the troops from Paris and the postponement of the elections both for the officers of the National Guard and for the representatives to the National Assembly. These demands were partly inspired by Blanqui, whose apprehensions were now shared by many other republicans. The moment was very favorable for a well-nigh bloodless revolution which would have removed the Right from the Provisional Government. But such a victory would have meant the ascendancy of the Richelieu of the Revolution, as some historians have called Blanqui. He was Richelieu and Robespierre in one -- a dangerous associate for any ambitious politician. As a result, not only near-radical Liberals like Ledru-Rollin, and moderate socialists like Louis Blanc, but even revolutionary communists like Armand Barbes, who incidentally had a personal grudge, preferred to remain passive -- thus paving the way for a complete victory of the Right.

A few years before his death, while serving his last sentence as a man of seventy, Blanqui wrote in a retrospective mood, apparently thinking of the lost opportunity of March 17: "One year of Parisian dictatorship in 1848 would have spared France and history the quarter of a century now ending. If ten years will be needed this time, there should be no hesitation."

Blanqui's Leftist contemporaries probably agreed with him; but the principle of dictatorship appealed to each of them only upon one condition -- that their ambitious rival should not do the dictating.

The Taschereau Document

The hesitation of the Left Wing republicans on March 17 revealed their great fear of a dictatorship by Blanqui. For his influence was growing. Something effective had to be done to counteract his popularity. Finally a secret document entitled The Affair of May 12, 1839 was published on March 31, 1848, in a magazine called Revue Retrospective, which was edited by a certain Taschereau. The document purported to contain the "Declarations made by -- before the Minister of the Interior." The name of the man who made those declarations was neither signed nor mentioned. But it was obvious to any reader who was at all familiar with the history of the last few years that it could be no one else but Auguste Blanqui.

The "Declarations" were dated October 22-23-24, 1839. Blanqui had been arrested a week earlier for his participation in the uprising of May 12. They gave a very intelligent and comprehensive history of the secret societies since 1835. They likewise contained very deft and often quite uncomplimentary characterizations of the principal actors in these conspiracies and of the uprising of May 12, 1839. The author spoke about himself as the creator of the secret organizations, and in two places referred in the third person to "B" when he mentioned his attempted flight to Switzerland. It had been established that Blanqui occasionally spoke about himself in the third person.

As mentioned before, there was no signature attached to the document, nor was the original used by the Revue Retrospective written in Blanqui's hand. It was merely a copy from some original which apparently had been lost. This was extremely suspicious and certainly made the document look like a fabrication intended to destroy the character of a political opponent. Yet -- strangely enough -- the extreme Left, though stunned at first, was rather inclined to give credence to the accusation of treason implied in the document. Armand Barbes, second only to Blanqui in the leadership of the revolutionary forces in 1839, declared immediately that only Blanqui and himself knew all the facts reported in the Declarations, and that therefore it could have been made only by Blanqui. He quite naturally and naively ruled out all the suspicion against himself -- but so did everybody else. He certainly could not have written a document so full of sharp and penetrating remarks and characterizations. Nor would anybody connect him with the idea of treason or cowardice. On the other hand, Blanqui's defenders insisted upon the fact that the secrets alleged to have been betrayed by the great conspirator had been known to all of them, and that Lucien de la Hodde, the stool-pigeon historian, was likewise in possession of inside information. Again, according to four of the most prominent members of the Seasons -- all of whom turned against Blanqui -- the description of their characters, as given in the Declarations, corresponded exactly to what he, in his "confidential moments," had said to each of them about all the others. To this, the defenders of Blanqui replied that one of these four, Lamieussens by name, had apparently been a stool-pigeon from the very beginning, and that he might have inspired the insertion of these passages. (The accusation against Lamieussens has since been generally accepted.)

Thousands of pages of controversy have been published on this question. It has not yet come to rest. Blanqui was in fact in a very difficult situation. He was asked to prove that he was not the author of the document, although in all fairness it was up to his accusers to prove his guilt, particularly as the document was not in his handwriting. But the attitude of the man accused tended to aggravate the suspicions rather than to dispel them. The very day after the appearance of the "document" he called it a forgery in a short note sent to the daily press. But it took him two weeks to come out with a full-fledged reply. In that statement "Poor Job," as he called himself, spoke of his crushed life, of the agony of his beloved wife who died in despair, of his extreme poverty, of his broken health, and of his premature old age.

It was all very moving -- but it contained only what one of his biographers calls "moral proofs" in his defense. A court of honor was formed to establish whether he was guilty or innocent. It was composed of old revolutionists -- yet Blanqui refused to appear before it.4 The court of honor, which was constituted five days after the publication of the Taschereau docu ment, eventually suspended its activities without coming to any definite conclusion. Nor has a final verdict been reached by history to this very day. Writers of the extreme Left, intent upon keeping clean the record of one of the major heroes of the Proletarian Pantheon, still go on presenting the entire affair as a Machiavellian plot hatched for the purpose of destroying the character of one of the greatest rebels of modern history. Liberal French historians, if they take a stand at all, discount the possibility of "treason" but agree that Blanqui may well have had a moment of weakness, a mental or moral breakdown, when he became suddenly obsessed with the idea that his personal happiness, his political ambitions, and very life had come to a close. Blanqui himself was all his life reluctant to speak about that episode.


The publication of the Taschereau document did not altogether destroy the influence of the old conspirator. But it checked its spread considerably. Blanqui remained the idol of the members of his club, as well as of many other groups of workers and declasses who saw the Revolution becoming more and more respectable. The misgivings of Blanqui's followers were shared by many moderates as well. Reports from the provinces indicated a very ugly mood among the electorate -- a direct outcome of the increased taxation whose burden fell chiefly upon the peasantry. The Catholic clergy in the rural regions added to the danger of a reactionary, near-monarchist, if not outright monarchist majority. The election of officers to the National Guard in Paris showed the growing disgust and indifference of the workers. They either did not vote or voted for the candidates of their employers. Louis Blanc, leader of the moderate Socialists and in charge of the Labor Commission, saw that his days were numbered. The general elections to the National Assembly, which were to take place on April 23, were barely two weeks off. Ledru-Rollin, near-radical Minister of the Interior, who talked like Robespierre, and who, like the latter, was equally afraid of the Right and Left, now began to realize the great danger threatening the Revolution from the Right. Even Lamartine, the great poet, once an ardent monarchist, and now a very conservative Foreign Minister in the Republican Cabinet, saw the impending doom of the new system which he had embraced.

Something had to be done. Members of the clubs, members of the Labor Commission, members of the Cabinet began to conspire among themselves and -- against each other. April 16, the day on which the workers were to elect fourteen officers of their own as members of the general staff of the National Guard, was selected as the day on which the masses were to show their loyalty to the Republic. The workers, organized in the various labor unions, were to appear on the Champ de Mars where the elections were to take place. But there was no unity of purpose.

The two men upon whom the attention of all the Republicans was focussed in those two days were Ledru-Rollin and Auguste Blanqui. Louis Blanc of the Labor Commission, the actual initiator of the demonstration, did not count. He was not a man of action or of bold determination. An extremely peaceful man, opposed to all violence, he merely wanted to impress the rest of the Cabinet with the importance of his Department in the hope of thus quickening the tempo of social reform and strengthening the workers' enthusiasm for the Republic. The other Republicans, both the followers of the middle-of-the-road liberal Ledru-Rollin and the extreme Left Wingers associated with Blanqui, seriously contemplated a sort of "cleaning-out" of the Provisional Government. But they were not in agreement among themselves as to who was to benefit by the impending "purge." Contemporary reports are full of contradictions as to the plans and intrigues hatched behind the scenes. It seems that the followers of Ledru-Rollin toyed with the idea of a dictatorship by their leader, to whom they might have added Louis Blanc as a sort of innocuous proletarian-socialist ornament. At the same time the revolutionary clubs, under the direct or indirect influence of Blanqui, were thinking of another set-up: their aim was the establishment of a Committee of Public Safety including four of the most outspoken republican members of the Provisional Government and a number of leaders of the revolutionary clubs. Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc were of course slated to be among these four; but the contemplated inclusion of Blanqui, when reported to Ledru-Rollin, made the latter turn in rage against the idea. He knew that with the old conspirator in the Government he himself would play the same ornamental role that he was willing to assign to Louis Blanc in his own plans for a reorganized administration. As between the Scylla of a Right turn, expected to result from the coming elections, and the Charybdis of a possible dictatorship by Blanqui, he decided for the status quo, that is, for the Right, whose danger was more remote. He called upon all the "safe" legions of the National Guard, composed mainly of middle-class elements, as well as upon the proletarian mercenaries of the Mobile Guard, to protect City Hall on the day of the proposed manifestation. When on April 16 the masses, coming from the Champ de Mars, tried to reach City Hall, the approach was barred by armed forces. Among the legions of the National Guard entrusted with that task was one commanded by Armand Barbes. Barbes was at that time President of the Club of the Revolution, which had many old revolutionists among its members. There he propounded a strange sort of communism which, as a French historian has defined it, constituted a mixture of the cult of God, of Joan of Arc, of the Convention of 1793, and of Equality. At bottom, the principal element that united all the members of that club was their common dislike for and fear of Blanqui.

However, the personal attitude of Ledru-Rollin and Barbes would have been of no avail if the masses had actually been arrayed behind Blanqui. But the masses were not united. In the first place, the workers of the National Workshops still felt loyal to the Government for the alms they were receiving; some of them were undecided as to what to do; others left the demonstration and joined their National Guard battalions. The great mass of the organized workers still seems to have put their hopes in the peaceful reforms championed by Louis Blanc's Labor Commission. Their refusal to place either Blanqui or Barbes on the list of their candidates to the National Assembly proves that they still had faith in the good intentions of the Republic. Thus it would appear that Blanqui could marshal only a comparatively small following, that of the declasses, the "lawyers without clients and doctors without patients," 5 as well as a number of semi-educated workers yearning for positions which do not require physical labor. In short, that very same crowd which constitutes the backbone of the various communist and fascist movements of the present day.

The Red Herring of Poland

The fiasco suffered by the radicals on April 16 marked the beginning of the triumph of the Right. Members of radical clubs were attacked on the streets, and every Left Wing democrat was dubbed a "Communist." Blanqui had to go into hiding to avoid being lynched. But before he did so, he had organized a secret committee with ramifications in all the various districts of Paris.

The elections held on April 23 gave the result expected by Blanqui. The vote of the provinces was solidly conservative. Even Paris, which elected a few progressives, gave twice as many votes to conservatives like Lamartine as to liberals like Ledru-Rollin, or to moderate socialists like Louis Blanc. Blanqui was not elected.

There is no doubt that many workers of Paris gave their votes to the conservatives. It must not be forgotten that at that time the question of wages and hours played practically no part in the vocabulary of the various radical preachers. Thus the workers had to choose between various political philosophies. Of these they understood very little, so that in reality they had merely the choice between well-known and obscure politicians. They gave the preference to those for whom the government itself had been acting as publicity agent.

However, it was not long before a revolutionary fever again seized the masses of Paris. That mood resulted in the violent events of May 15, which became the turning point in the history of the Republic of 1848. There were various causes for strong dissatisfaction. The Administration, formed after the elections of April 23, refused to organize a Ministry of Labor, which had been one of the fond hopes of a large section of the working class. The members of the revolutionary clubs were very bitter about the defeat of their candidates. Their bitterness was intensified by the breakdown of their hopes for a European revolution. They had expected France to lead a republican crusade across Europe. Now they saw the doom or the impending doom of the revolutionary uprisings of the Germans, Italians, and Poles. The fate of the Poles, whose insurrections in Posen and in Galicia had just been crushed by the Prussian and Austrian authorities respectively, aroused the particular sympathy of the Parisians.

A clamor arose to help the Poles -- if necessary by means of armed intervention. It has never been established where that propaganda originated. Some suspect that it came from the Right, which saw in the blood-letting accompanying a foreign war a distraction from difficulties at home. There were also those who, like Proudhon, suspected the republican Left of desiring a war as a means of temporarily dodging the labor problem, or of maintaining themselves in power against a reactionary majority. Others suspect the Legitimist partisans of the Bourbons, who had been overthrown in 1830. Others again see the hand of Louis Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon, who like the Legitimists may have gambled on the country's domestic and foreign complications.

Blanqui and most of the other leaders of the extreme Left were opposed to this movement -- either because of their objection to war, or because they did not expect the demonstration to be successful. But as the agitation gained momentum, they were forced to join in it even against their better judgment. The demonstration scheduled for May 15 turned out to be much larger than anybody had expected. The Government had taken no precautionary measures, and a crowd of one hundred and fifty thousand moved towards the building of the National Assembly. The followers of Blanqui placed themselves at the head of the marching men. Louis Heritier, a historian close to the Blanquist point of view, assumes that, now that the die was cast, Blanqui may have had the idea that this enormous mass could be used for a coup that would overthrow the Government and raise him to power.

Almost without any resistance the paraders were able to invade the Hall of the Assembly while that body was in session. Blanqui was hoisted upon the shoulders of several men and delivered a speech in which he demanded the reestablishment of Poland within her old historical boundaries of 1772. He likewise spoke of the situation of the French working masses -- but was interrupted by other revolutionists to whom faraway Poland seemed to be more important. He had to revert to the main subject. In the midst of the turmoil that followed his speech, a former political prisoner, named Huber, mounted the Speaker's platform and declared the National Assembly "dissolved in the name of the People." At the same time lists were circulated offering to the crowd a new Government representing all shades of radical opinion -- from Blanqui and Barbes, on the extreme Left, to Louis Blanc and Albert who stood for the moderate Socialist element.

Blanqui realized immediately that the big demonstration had wound up as a noisy farce; so notwithstanding his nomination to the new "Government," he decided that the only thing to do was to go into hiding. Not so Barbes. One of the prominent revolutionary heroes of 1830 had once told him, "Barbes, you will always be seven years old, never more." He actually thought a real victory had been won, although the armed forces of the Government were still intact, and he went with part of the crowd to City Hall, where the new regime was established. No sooner had he started editing his first decree, dissolving the National Guard, than a few members of that body appeared in the room and laid their hands upon him and Albert. And that was the end of the uprising of May 15.

The Aftermath

Blanqui was arrested a few days later. His friends had urged him to flee abroad, but he insisted on staying in the capital in order to prepare a network of secret organizations which could resume the struggle. But the game was up. The Republic, after this spectacle of the helplessness of the Left and the extreme Left, was moving more and more towards the Right. Out of the quarrels among the various reactionary, conservative, near-liberal and near-radical groups, there began to emerge a new political factor: Louis Bonaparte. The story of his rise, his approach to the Haves who saw their property threatened, and to the Have-nots who had nothing to lose; the subtle way of veiling his real aim; the playing with socialist catchwords; the exploitation of nationalist sentiments by evoking the glories of the Corsican's great victories; the organization of a vast army of adventurers, declasses, and underworld characters; and the helplessness with which the bourgeois politicians watched this new phenomenon of political "highjacking" -- all show many analogies with the rise of Italian and German Fascism. In fact, it is altogether obvious now that the fascist movements of the postwar days were to a large extent modernized replicas of the ingenious political stratagems used by Louis Bonaparte.6

Blanqui had to watch all these developments from behind the bars. In the prison of Vincennes, not far from Paris, he heard of the many strikes that began to break out after the affray of May 15. While in that prison he might have heard the echo of the desperate June uprising of the Paris unemployed which followed the closing down of the public works; an uprising that perhaps would have had a chance of winning if it had been assisted by the military genius of Blanqui. But the few radical intellectuals of a revolutionary temperament who had not been arrested after May 15 stood aloof or even took up arms against the workers during the June uprising. Eduard Bernstein in his annotations to Heritier's History of the Revolution of 1848 (p. 528) says that "under other circumstances they would decidedly have sided with the workers" -- apparently if the workers had fought for something nobler than merely the preservation of their dole paid in the form of "National Workshop" wages. However, there is no doubt that many French radicals suspected a Bonapartist intrigue behind that uprising. At any rate, the tragic confusion reigning in the heads of the starving June insurgents is best characterized by the fact that the lists of members proposed for the Provisional Government which were circulated on the barricades included, besides Blanqui, Barbes, Louis Blanc and Albert, also the name of Louis Bonaparte!

The trial of the leading participants in the events of May 15 was held in 1849.7 It was marred by a very ugly scene. Blanqui had mentioned the Taschereau document as an instance of the unscrupulous methods used by the Government in order to destroy his reputation. This caused Barbes to jump up and to repeat to Blanqui's face all the old accusations of treason, to remind him of his pardon in 1844 while his comrades remained in prison, to dismiss Blanqui's argument that he was considered a dying man then, with the remark that others were left to die. . . . A few years later Blanqui could have turned the tables on him. For Barbes was released in 1854, without soliciting a pardon, while Blanqui had to serve his whole term of ten years.

Civil War in Prison

They never spoke to each other again. Yet a merciless fate willed it that they should be condemned to stay for years in the same prison -- until Barbes' pardon in 1854 and his self-imposed exile removed him forever from politics and from Blanqui's life.

The prison of Belle-Ile-en-Mer was, like that of Mont Saint- Michel, situated on an island near the coast of Brittany. It housed about two hundred political prisoners whose allegiances were divided almost equally between the two enemies. There were those who were attracted by the genius of Blanqui, and those who admired the personal heroism of Barbes. In the beginning most of the prisoners were in favor of a reconciliation. Nothing came of it. An attempt was made to have the two men fight it out between them, when the accusations raised against Blanqui were to be aired before all the prisoners, who were then to give their final decision. However, no agreement could be reached as to the manner in which the trial should be conducted.

The split among the prisoners converted the jail into a battlefield of two hostile camps. The fight of the two parties assumed the ugliest and the most brutal forms. The adherents of each of the two leaders saw themselves as the masters of the country's destinies as a result of a revolution which they expected to win in the very near future. The methods used by the followers of Barbes in order to win over the rank-and-filers of Blanqui's party occasionally reached the level of Tammany Hall. "You are a fool to go with Blanqui," they would say. "He will never amount to anything. He has not got the slightest chance, and you will not get anything out of the next revolution. It is Barbes who will be the master, and then he will pass you over."

It was apparently impossible to remain neutral in this struggle once one was in prison. Even those who saw in Proudhon the great oracle on all theoretical matters -- he was in fact the most prolific and the most brilliant writer of the period -- were split among themselves. They appealed to their teacher, who at that time was interned in a prison in Paris. The answer which they received was a partial exoneration of Blanqui; yet the latter was hardly happy about it. The most important passages of that letter read as follows: --

I believe Blanqui has made some confessions, confessions which are no doubt more or less distressing for his fellow-accused, yet confessions which, coming at a moment when everything was over and when the societies were dissolved, could no longer constitute what is called a disclosure. In my opinion, Blanqui has written history too early and he has let his confidential communications fall into the wrong hands. His former friends may be justified in complaining about it; but in my opinion this does not deprive him of his claim to be a revolutionist and a democrat.8

What displeases me is the fact that he denies it as if it had been a bad action; and whereas, in accordance with the sentiment which he has himself expressed, he should be most eager to have the matter cleared up at all costs, without haggling about the technicalities of the procedure, he always finds some dilatory ways, some pretexts for postponement. ... In my opinion, this conduct of Blanqui is due less to his bad conscience than to that false and petty spirit of revolutionarism which would hold up to scorn a poor working- man who asks for the suspension of his sentence in exchange for a promise to abstain from politics. [It seems that] one has to be ferocious in order to deserve the respect of certain people. And as Blanqui, whether rightly or wrongly, enjoys to the highest degree the reputation of being a ferocious beast, he thinks he is lost if he admits that he weakened before his judges. Such are the detestable scruples to which the republican religion has lowered itself, scruples which are more worthy of brigands than of citizens. Hence this ostentatious stoicism which causes people to refrain from soliciting what they accept voluntarily if they have to have it offered to them. [This was a gibe at Barbes, whose life was spared in 1839 after his sister had demanded mercy from the Queen.]

Alone Against the World

In time the quarrel died down. Blanqui organized a course of lectures on social sciences and political economy. But this was about his only contact with his fellow sufferers. Whenever he could, he preferred to be alone, solitude being the one great consolation for the never-healing wounds. A traitor, a coward, a would-be dictator in the eyes of so many nonentities who had never suffered or risked one tenth of what he had, he began to seek solace in the attitude of the superman who despises the crowd that cannot understand him. "Alone, with the truth," he wrote in one of his letters, "against the whole world, even in a garret -- that is a sweet and consoling solitude." That solitude kept him away from the crowd. "Let others burn incense to that idol. It will not have mine. I do not worship the crocodile." At best, the people was bonasse, that is, genially stupid because "it gives too much credence to speeches and to professions of faith." Revolutionists, though often holding such views, seldom put them down on paper. For it is part of the official democratic myth that the people is a sleeping giant rather than a sometimes good-natured crocodile. . . .

His disappointments made him suspicious in the extreme. Everywhere he saw enemies -- and he was convinced that the Government had attempted to poison him. He had always been a "crank" in matters of diet, living only on vegetables, fruit and milk. He never ate the dishes as they were served to him; he carefully washed every single pea, bean and what-not before he would venture to touch it. Firmly convinced that it was necessary to exterminate his political opponents, he could not understand why the Government had not disposed of him long before. One day the rumor was circulated that they were going to be deported to Cayenne.9 One of his fellow-inmates at Belle-Ile had welcomed the news, for there was hope that one might escape from that penal colony. Blanqui was incredulous. "You are forgetting the main thing," he said. "In order to escape, one would first have to arrive in Cayenne." The other failed to understand Blanqui's implication. "Well," Blanqui explained, "don't you know about the boats with removable bottoms?" He was firmly convinced that the Administration would have them drowned in transit. His interlocutor was indignant. "Do you really think the Government would dare?" "Well," Blanqui retorted sententiously, "if it does not dare, it will be making a mistake." He himself would not have made that mistake.

The "Toast"

In his prison retreat the old conspirator was not altogether cut off from the world. The pre-Fascist adventurer Louis Bonaparte was still steeped in certain humanitarian prejudices which have since been shelved by his Communist and Fascist emulators as ridiculous remainders of a "bourgeois" and "liberalistic" era. He would grant his prisoners the right to read and to write and to follow the political events all over the world.

True, little was happening in France during the early Fifties that could give Blanqui much encouragement. The country had been thoroughly combed for all radicals, liberals and even conservative republicans. Political life was gradually disappearing, as it has now done in all the totalitarian countries. The workers did not stir. It was a period of economic upswing, and there was more or less steady employment.

Those opponents of the usurper who had succeeded in fleeing abroad did not disarm. In their London exile they discussed, quarreled, and hatched plans. They would often forget what had separated them in the days of Forty-eight, when the possession of power by one group was bitterly disputed by another coterie of ex-conspirators, and when the various rebels of yesteryear were dreaming of arresting each other. Now that the short spell of power or near-power was over, they began to think in terms of a united front of all revolutionary forces. And so it happened that the followers of Blanqui in London organized a banquet for the celebration of the third anniversary of the February Revolution of 1848. Blanqui was stung to the quick when he heard that Louis Blanc was to preside at this banquet -- Louis Blanc, former member of the Provisional Government, palest of all pink socialists, and on top of it, a personal friend of Barbes. In his indignation he wrote a letter to his friends which was to become known as his "Toast" of 1851. In it he foreswore any solidarity with the other leaders of 1848; in his opinion, the were all traitors to the Revolution. He insisted upon what was to become the liturgical formula of the Leninist Communists off the early Twenties: Disarmament of all bourgeois guards and arming of the workers. There he launched his famous slogan which was later adopted by all revolutionary socialists: He who has iron, has bread. Forty years after the great conspirator's death, Mussolini, on entering upon his Fascist phase, inscribed; this saying upon the masthead of his daily Popolo d'Italia.

That "Toast" was meant only for the private consumption of his own followers. Through the indiscretion of his own brother-in-law, it was published in the press, causing a revival of internecine quarrels and hostilities.

And Now Mazzini

Blanqui returned to the subject in a long letter written to one of his friends in 1852. That letter contained many truths but also many contradictions. Referring to his friend's complaint about the internal struggles within the radical camp, he stated that "these personal conflicts are the result of human infirmity: one has to accept them with resignation and take humans as they are. It is puerile, if not stupid, to get indignant about defects of nature." In discussing the existence of so many socialist doctrines, he made the correct remark that "Light emerges only from discussion." Yet as a partisan of a strict dictatorship he would have found it quite natural to extinguish that light by prohibiting all discussion. For the quest of truth is no longer necessary as soon as the power has found its way into the proper hands. He hails with satisfaction the fact that "there are many bourgeois in the proletarian camp," and that "the bourgeois were the first to raise the banner of the proletariat and to formulate the equalitarian doctrines." But on the next page he makes the naive complaint that it was "the misfortune of our party that the alliance of the majority of the bourgeois with the workers is not sincere. Ambition and cupidity push them into the camp of the proletarians who rise against oppression. They place themselves at their head; they lead them in their attack against the government; they seize it; they establish themselves in it; they entrench themselves in it; they become conservatives from that moment on, and turn against the poor people, who get confused when they see how the champions of yesterday become the chastisers of today." In lucid sentences he shows how this trick has been played upon the people by one radical party after another ever since 1789. Yet it does not occur to him that this too is an immutable "defect of nature," and that he and his party in power would re-enact exactly the same farce.

The second half of his letter was devoted to Mazzini, the great champion of Italian independence. Mazzini was in London at the time, an exile like so many other Italian, Hungarian, German and Polish democrats who were forced to flee after the break-down of all republican and democratic hopes aroused by the "mad year" of 1848. Jointly with Ledru-Rollin, leader of the French Left Wing republicans, now in exile, and the Hungarian patriot Kossuth, Mazzini organized an international revolutionary committee, the European Central Committee, which was to work towards a democratic republican renovation of the European continent. But to Mazzini any international association was merely a means for furthering the cause of Italy and of the particular form of political and religious salvation which he was determined to give her. (In this respect he was not different from Lenin and his disciples, to whom the Communist International was never more than an instrument for furthering Russia's national interests.) But, incomparable conspirator that Mazzini was, he would occasionally forget his role as an "internationalist" and make a most violent display of anti-French chauvinism. This he did in 1852 in an article printed in a Belgian newspaper, in which -- for the purpose, as many suspected, of pleasing the English bourgeoisie -- he attacked all French socialists on the ground that they placed material improvement above moral improvement, and the like. That article also advanced the idea that the great initiative towards democratic progress was no longer to be looked for in France but in Italy.

Mazzini's outburst aroused the great rage of all French radicals. Blanqui, in his letter, became quite personal, calling the great Italian patriot a coward and a charlatan. He had suffered too much himself to be able to be just towards others. But he certainly saw through Mazzini when he accused him of wanting "to make of Italy a power of the first rank, of which he would be the chief, of course," and that he intended to pose "as the dictator of European democracy, as a champion of the Universal Revolution." And after attacking Mazzini on account of his nationalism, Blanqui continued as follows: "Mazzini cannot forgive France her intellectual and political superiority. He would like to destroy her in order to make [the world] forget the fact that she has emancipated the human race." Mazzini's claim to be the champion of the Universal Revolution was obviously preposterous and immodest; for that role incontestably belonged to the great conspirator of the nation which had "emancipated thej human race." 10

That letter also contains an exceedingly curious defense of socialism against the attacks of Mazzini. "Mazzini forgets," writes Blanqui, "that no influence in the world is today able to set in motion the arm of the proletarian except the influence of social ideas; that the time of religious fanaticism is gone; that one can no longer move populations with empty formulas, with miracles and incomprehensible dogmas." However justified Blanqui's thrust against Mazzini, it is hard to dismiss a certain suspicion as to what meaning those "social ideas" had for him. His interests always centered exclusively around the question of power. Is it going too far if one asumes that "socialism" to him was primarily not a good in itself, as the "classless" society of the future which it purports to be, but a means of propaganda, a popular slogan intended to "set in motion the arm of the proletarian" for the enthronement of Blanqui and other adventurous intellectuals ready to risk their lives?

It was during the same year, in another letter speaking of the ulterior aspects of socialist aims and ideals, that he made his bow to the ideal of a harmonious society that would go along without compulsion, that is, without a government, by declaring that "regulated anarchy is the future of humanity." It is worth noting that during his discussions with the followers of the anarchist Proudhon and later Bakunin, who were quite influential during the Sixties and the Seventies, Marx, too, made his bow to the beauty of that unearthly ideal by accepting "anarchy" as the political form of a classless society. Thus both Blanqui and Marx proclaimed themselves "anarchists" in order to allay the apprehensions of those revolutionists who suspected them of dictatorial propensities. The necessity of a strong government they recognized only for a transitional phase. But so did the Anarchist Bakunin. And so did the Spanish Anarchists of 1936-1937 when they participated in the Government of Valencia.

A New Generation

A general amnesty at last set Blanqui free in 1859. At that time the Catholic Church was opposed to the Imperial Government because a changed international situation had induced Napoleon III to side with the Italian struggle for national unity -- which involved a threat to the temporal power of the Pope. To counteract the opposition of the Church, the Government was trying to obtain the benevolent neutrality of the Left. Hence the amnesty to all republicans, a relaxation of the repressive measures, and even a mild flirtation with the incipient labor movement, then under the influence of the Proudhonists.

Back in Paris, under the loving care of his two sisters, who were in comfortable circumstances, Blanqui revived. He had almost resigned himself to his fate, and a few months before his release had written in his diary the ominous words "Vanitas vanitatum." But now he found a new generation of intellectuals, university students, writers and professionals, who had grown up under the absolutism of the Empire. That generation had either never heard of or was not interested in the internecine quarrels of the republicans of 1848. Those who had heard of the Taschereau Document did not believe in its authenticity. Blanqui to them was the great martyr of the republican cause. In speaking of him they did not have to mention his name -- he was le Vieux, "the Old Man."

His followers did not constitute an organized political group. They were, so to speak, the extreme Left Wing of the "Republican Party," which was not a party at all in the proper sense of the term. The Blanquists distinguished themselves from the rest of the "Republicans" chiefly by their insistence upon revolutionary methods and by a vaguely socialist phraseology. In the course of the following years there developed two categories among them: those who accepted the Master's authority without questioning -- these were the "Blanquists of the first rank"; and those who had the temerity occasionally to disagree and to discuss things with him. The Old Man did not like to be contradicted; those of his followers who did so were relegated to a lower rank among the Blanquists. Georges Clemenceau, at that time still a very young student, was among the "Blanquists of the seconds rank."

But Blanqui was not satisfied with the mere allegiance of unorganized individuals. He wanted a regular underground organization, as in the days before 1848. He was not given the opportunity to carry out his plan. Aware of his activities, the Government ordered his arrest in 1861, when he was condemned to four years' imprisonment as "chief of a secret society."

The Gay Prison

The four years Blanqui spent in the prison of Sainte-Pelagie in Paris had none of the elements of tragedy that characterized his stay in Mont Saint-Michel and in Belle-Ile-en-Mer. There were no hostile fellow prisoners; there was no Barbes as a living reproach for his moments of physical weakness; there were no brutal guards. Even the judge who sentenced him seems to have conducted the trial in the spirit of a sympathizing liberal who wanted to give the old rebel a chance to reassert the greatness of his character. "You have kept the same ideas in spite of your twenty-five years in prison?" he asked. "Precisely," Blanqui answered. "And not only your ideas but also the desire to make them triumph?" "Yes, to my very death."

The desire to placate the liberal elements made the imperial authorities extremely lenient towards political non-conformists. The prison of Sainte-Pelagie became for the "politicals" a place of rest rather than a penal institution. For Blanqui it became a sort of headquarters from which he could continue his activities against the Empire. He was able to receive visitors and he invariably impressed them with his ideas and his personality. The Government may have winked at this sort of revolutionary activity in order to keep an eye on his sympathizers. Yet while this situation was not conducive to the creation of a secret organization in the classical style, it greatly contributed to the spread of anti-monarchist sentiments among the younger generation of the educated middle classes -- particularly the high school and university students. The medical students seem to have felt a particular fondness for the Old Man. They were most susceptible to the ideas of philosophical materialism then sweeping across Europe -- ideas of which Blanqui had been the champion ever since his student days. The support which the Church had given to the absolutism of Napoleon III during the first ten years of his reign had its share in discrediting among the educated classes the religious mysticism which had prevailed during the Previous decades.

Yet this new spirit worked also against Blanqui. Mazzini had correctly analyzed the situation in complaining about the new generation, which, as he said, "has no faith, it has opinions." In fact, the younger generation insisted upon its own opinions even against the venerated Old Man. It was a mental attitude which, while undermining the authority of the Government, was at the same time sapping the psychological basis of conspiratorial activities as well. For these, as a rule, require blind, or even religious, submission to the Leader.

A man intellectually alert, yet blindly devoted to him, Blanqui found in the young lawyer Gustave Tridon, who later achieved fame by his book about the Hebertists. Tridon became Blanqui's favorite disciple and remained to his very death second in command in the Old Man's following. He was trying to group around himself both students and workers who would becomes the nucleus of the expected uprising.

The "Dark Prince of Democracy"

However, Blanqui did not succeed in attaching to himself many first-rank personalities outside of Tridon. His long-suffering had intensified those elements in his nature which had made him the very opposite of the genial, talkative, lovable Barbes. He remained suspicious, unsocial, and taciturn. The "Dark Prince of Democracy," as his sympathetic biographer Geffroy calls him, had no patience with those who would not accept the role of subservient instruments. This alienated from him many persons of high intelligence whom he apparently suspected of contesting his leadership. He preferred the collaboration of second-raters who renounced any thoughts of their own. He would see intrigues everywhere and remove valuable men, such as Georges Clemenceau, from all conspiratorial activities because of their association with other revolutionists whom he did not like.

It is, therefore, hardly astonishing when one reads that the great rebel's favorite book was The Prince, by Machiavelli. With all due allowances for the patriotism of the great Florentine and the excellence of his other writings, one can hardly deny that a predilection for that particular book looks suspicious in a champion of freedom. For if there are no ethical inhibitions of any sort in striving towards a great aim; if the respect for human life and the ordinary demands of human decency are mere squeamishness and "bourgeois prejudice" -- then where is the guarantee that the "ideal" itself is not merely a screen hiding the will to power of a new "Prince" and a new oligarchy? Karl Marx is reported to have been a great admirer of Machiavelli, and so was Lenin, who actually recommended him as "required reading" to the younger and less sophisticated Communists. A glance at what has become of the first "dictatorship of the proletariat" shows that the preference for Machiavelli is characteristic of the real sentiments animating most "emancipators."

A hard-boiled realist in politics, Blanqui sometimes expressed judgments on literature which might be deemed naive, if it were possible to fling such a reproach at Blanqui. He actually gave his preference to -- Paul de Kock, whom he proclaimed the greatest novelist of the century, at a time when French literature had a Stendhal and a Balzac. In his opinion, the author of the Human Comedy slandered the human race by presenting its members as chiefly motivated by greed. Always ready to risk his life for the possession of the whole country, he apparently could not understand how people could give all their thoughts to possessions which amounted only to a small fraction of the object of his ambitions. This also may partly explain his indifference, and even hostility, toward the workers' strikes for higher wages.

Years of Freedom

Blanqui's sentence was to expire in 1865. But the law which enabled the Government to send any prisoner to the penal colonies after the termination of his sentence was still in force -- and the prisoner preferred not to take any chances. The comparative freedom which he enjoyed at the hospital enabled his friends to organize his flight -- his only attempt at escape which actually succeeded.

After his flight from prison, Blanqui lived in Belgium. From time to time he would secretly go to Paris to maintain personal contact with his lieutenants. Owing to their efforts, about two thousand five hundred young men, mostly students and other Members of the educated middle and lower middle classes, rallied to his cause. They constituted the most determined, the most I daring outpost of the Republican Party.

These men actually formed a sort of secret army which was divided into sections of ten, fifty and a hundred men. The members of one group of ten did not know anything about any other detachment. Thus a traitor could betray only a group of ten persons. Each group elected a chief who was in direct contact with a commander of a higher unit. On the day on which the revolutionary forces were to be reviewed, each commander was to lead his soldiers to a special place, for example to the corner of a side street and a boulevard. Blanqui, when he happened to be secretly in Paris, would then pass by unnoticed and examine I the various groups one after another.

Fighting Competition

As during the previous decades, Blanqui's practical program was very simple. His followers were to seize power, proclaim the Republic, proceed immediately to the introduction of compulsory, non-sectarian public school education, thus breaking the power of the Church, carry on various social reforms -- with socialization as a hazy promise of a distant future. It was the very opposite of utopianism. The "Old Man" had never had a ready-made social system of his own which was to be substituted for capitalism. Reduced to its crudest terms Blanqui's "socialism" meant simply: Give us power and we will do the right thing.

This sort of radicalism could appeal to the educated sophisticates who hoped to become the beneficiaries of power immediately after the overthrow of the old regime. However, to the Paris workers Blanqui's followers appeared merely as cynical aspirants to power, as job-hungry adventurers who had already distributed among themselves in advance all the good positions that would become their spoils as the price of victory. They had seen such things before, during the previous revolutions of 1830 and 1848, when revolutionists wearing the "coat" and the "hat" -- the workers wore blouses and caps -- had simply seized power and forgotten all about the workers. As a result, the workers, particularly those of Paris, insofar as they were interested in political matters, gave their preference to another gospel: it was that of Proudhon's peaceful anarchism, a theory which altogether disregarded the question of power and offered to the skilled workers vistas of economic independence through the establishment of free credit. Naive as this political philosophy was, its spread was a logical consequence of the disappointment of the workers with the two purely political methods that had been tried out before: the method of conspiracies and uprisings as advocated by Blanqui, which had failed in 1839; and the method of the universal suffrage which had failed just as miserably in 1848.

Only a few of the most temperamental workers joined Blanqui. No wonder there was a great deal of bitterness between the followers of Blanqui and those of Proudhon, the former often accusing the latter of being agents of Napoleon III. For the Imperial Government, fully aware of the harmless utopianism of Proudhon's gospel, had little objection to that sort of anarchism.

That bitterness between the adherents of Blanqui and those of Proudhon found its echo in the deliberations of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International). The French members of that body, exclusively workers or ex-workers who were followers of Proudhon, demanded the exclusion of any delegates who were not manual workers. The proposition -- which was not adopted -- was aimed at the Blanquists, who were not yet members of the International but of whose possible influence and competition the horny-handed leaders of the Paris workers were afraid. They declared as enemies of the working class "all members of the classes which are privileged either by virtue of their capital or of their diploma." They did not care to see that the conflict was much deeper than that; and that even workers (or rather ex-workers) like themselves, who could talk as intelligently as they did, were under-the-skin brothers of the "economists, journalists, lawyers" and all other owners of "diplomas"; and that -- with a few honorable exceptions -- they, too, were bound, as a group, to become misleaders of the working class, little different from any other group of leaders.

Blanqui's chief preoccupation was to unite all classes of the population against the Imperial Government and not to separate them along class or "caste" lines. He had originally been in favor of joining the International, but had subsequently changed his mind and forbidden his followers to attend its conventions.12 The proposal to admit only manual workers aroused his indignation. In his eyes it meant a return to the medieval system of guilds, with the proclamation of the workers' "inferiority as a caste." His indignation was chiefly prompted by the fact that he laid great emphasis upon the revolutionary role of the declasses, of the educated, enlightened scions of the middle and lower classes, who had become enemies of the existing system, just as certain members of the nobility, such as Mirabeau and Robespierre, passed over to the ranks of the Third Estate. "The declasses" he wrote, "the invisible army of progress, are today the hidden leaven which secretly raises the mass and prevents it from falling into apathy. Tomorrow they will be the reserve of the Revolution." Fifty years later, those declasses were to show the less romantic aspects of their historical role. They became the "reserve" of the totalitarian dictatorships of all hues.

Instructions for an Uprising

By 1868 it had become more and more clear that the days of the Empire were numbered. Democratic, republican opposition was growing bolder both in Parliament and in the press. The possibility of a Left victory was in the air. But what would be the consequence of the victory? The beneficiaries would be men of about the same caliber as those of 1848, moderate liberals, middle-of-the-roaders -- and the revolution would be lost once more as it had been two decades before. As a result, the young men constituting the general staff of Blanqui's army were in favor of an early uprising that would give all the power to them. They had eight hundred men at that time, organized in groups of tens, fifties and hundreds. One hundred of them had rifles; the other seven hundred guns could be seized either from arms stores or by attacking some barracks. At that time, in 1868 or 1869, Blanqui wrote for the inner circle his Instructions for an Uprising,13 a regular military treatise dealing with the art of building barricades, of organizing an insurrectional army on the spur of the moment, of avoiding all the traditional mistakes which are bound to lead to failure. Blanqui had greatly improved his knowledge in these matters since the first uprising which he himself organized in 1839 -- yet the main idea was the same as thirty years before: to undertake the action on a Sunday or some other holiday when "the population would think of anything but an uprising." Jaclard, one of the chiefs of his general staff, objected that such an enterprise would fail, just as it had in 1839. Blanqui finally admitted that his disciple was right -- but the difference of opinion cooled the relations between the two men. Blanqui decided to postpone action. This, in turn, led to a partial dispersion of the "army," which was itching for immediate action. Outside of his regular staff, there were men of no small importance, "free Blanquists," as Blanqui's biographer Geffroy calls them, who were not always in full agreement with the Master, or of whom the latter did not always approve. These men, though not initiated in the most intimate plans, were ready to join as soon as anything was undertaken. Most of them were to play their heroic part during the Paris Commune of 1871. And there were also the "Blanquists of the second rank," -- many of them in fact were intellectuals of the first rank, -- who were in favor of taking advantage of all the opportunities of open, legal activities by publishing papers and thus preparing men's minds for the coming republican overturn.


, The last year of the Second Empire started with a bloody incident. A young liberal journalist, Victor Noir, was murdered in cold blood by Pierre Bonaparte, one of the princes of the imperial house. His funeral brought to their feet two hundred thousand indignant Parisians. Blanqui and his friends decided that this was a favorable occasion. His two thousand men -- his army had grown again -- arrived in orderly fashion, unnoticed by outsiders, yet in such a way as to be reviewed by the little old man whose presence no one of his own soldiers suspected.

However, nothing happened. Two men held sway over the masses of Paris at that time, but Blanqui, who officially lived in Brussels, was not among them. One was Henri Rochefort, a young republican journalist of genius -- the greatest master of invective France had produced prior to Leon Daudet, the present leader of the French Monarchists. The other was Charles Delescluze, a man of Blanqui's generation, journalist, political prisoner and exile implicated in most of the republican battles of the July Monarchy and of the Empire. But neither of the two men wanted to assume the responsibility for a clash with the armed forces.14 So they dissuaded the masses from following al route that would result in a massacre. Did Delescluze know that Blanqui was waiting for a chance? If he did, it was one more reason for his inaction; for the two men were mortal enemies.

In the meantime, Napoleon III was rushing headlong towards his downfall. His many diplomatic humiliations on both hemispheres had greatly undermined his authority in his own country. He could still muster a majority of votes -- but that majority was formed exclusively by a practically illiterate peasantry. All other sections of the population -- the workers, the intellectuals, the middle classes, the prosperous bourgeoisie, even the Catholic clergy -- were against him. He had succeeded in turning them all against himself, through his corrupt, hesitating and inept policy; a policy devoted exclusively to the private interests of the dynasty and of a parasitic budget-plundering crowd of bureaucrats and army officers. In this respect the system of Napoleon III was to a certain extent akin to various Fascist regimes of half a century later, which are "above the classes," robbing them all for the benefit of a countless army of officeholders. There was only one great difference: the regime had no mystique to rest its prestige on; for the Napoleonic legend, based on military glory, had been torn to shreds by the continual diplomatic humiliations of the last few years. So a victorious war became a necessity for arousing those sentiments of national enthusiasm which would make all classes rally around the banner of the Emperor. A somewhat less expensive method for winning over the middle classes had been attempted in 1869 but proved ineffective; large numbers of agents provocateurs were used for stirring up riots that would frighten the bourgeoisie. But the worthies did not know how to go about it.

When the war finally broke out on July 19, 1870, Blanqui had just returned to Brussels to escape the dragnet that was spread for all radical militants in anticipation of the war. However, a few weeks later his followers called him back to Paris. Something had to be undertaken; his "army," which only a few months before had counted twenty-five hundred fighters, was falling to pieces. Lack of activity had made it shrink to less than five hundred. The French Army was suffering continual defeats, and Blanqui's lieutenants in Paris thought the outraged national feeling would help them to win the support of the population for the coup they were planning. The "Old Man," who arrived in Paris on August 12, saw no chances of success. However, his arguments were of no avail. All his followers were determined to take the risk, and not only the existence of the organization but also his personal prestige was at stake. So he gave his assent.

The uprising was slated for August 14. Only a hundred men showed up for an attack upon a barracks of the Fire Department where they expected to obtain arms without encountering any resistance. But the firemen did resist, and Blanqui did not want to use force against them. His small army went down the boulevard in the workers' district of Villette shouting: "Long live the Republic! Death to the Prussians! To arms!" But nobody joined them. It was a complete failure -- as Blanqui had predicted. The troop scattered in time.

In Parliament the Minister of War, in speaking of the insurgents of that day, said: "They are Prussian agents. I have in my pocket proofs which I could show." Cromwell had proofs that the Levellers were agents of the Stuarts and of Spain; Robespierre had proofs that the followers of Danton and of Hebert were agents of England; Kerensky had proofs that Lenin was an agent of the Kaiser; and Stalin had proofs that all Old Bolsheviks were agents of Germany, Japan, Poland and England. There is nothing new under the sun. . . .

The Fatherland in Danger

Three weeks after that abortive attempt, the Empire broke down of its own weight as a result of the capitulation of Napolleon III at Sedan. It was a bloodless uprising of practically the entire population of the capital. The liberal and progressive Parisian Deputies, in the Chamber, constituted themselves as the Provisional Government.

With one exception the men in charge of the new Government were exceedingly moderate. Blanqui's past revolutionary merits and his erudition in military matters were rewarded in a peculiar way. Georges Clemenceau, his admirer during the early Sixties, was now the Mayor of the District of Montmartre -- a Left Wing Liberal, or "Radical," as they call it in France. The days of his advocacy of violence were over, but his friendship for the Old Man was unshaken. Now he recommended him as Chief to fifteen hundred members of the National Guard in his working class district. He had to make a speech and explain to the astonished men who the white-haired little man was. For, while many of Blanqui's disciples had risen in the world, the Teacher himself was forgotten. He was elected -- and perhaps regarded this modest position of Commander of a Battalion as the steppingstone to leadership in the defense of Paris.

Three days after the establishment of the Republic, Blanqui started the publication of a daily paper called La Patrie en Danger ("The Fatherland in Danger"). At the same time a club was founded in which, just as in 1848, he spoke every evening about the events of the day. The first issue of the paper carried an appeal signed by himself and his most outstanding followers. There he pledged loyalty to the Government and insisted that in the face of the enemy there should be "neither parties nor shades of political opinion."

At times his patriotism would turn into ordinary chauvinism. Referring to the Prussians, he wrote: "They are now running over our fertile plains, these men with flat feet and the hands of apes, who claim to be the elite of the human race, and who have never been anything but its scourge, and who are coming now in order to push us back a thousand years into the dark mists of the Baltic." And in a leaflet entitled A Last Word he claimed that "Ignorance and corruption infect the other countries much more than France. Our conquerors exceed us in egoism and cupidity." Which may seem astonishing, coming as it does from the pen of a great champion of socialism. But it must not be forgotten that the socialism of the early nineteenth century was a child of militant democracy; and that democracy and nationalism were going hand in hand at that time. To Blanqui, France was identical with the cause of humanity. French superiority to all other nations of the earth was accepted as an axiom by all French radicals; but they did not deduce from that superiority the notion of their right to oppress other races, the gospel of the Fascist nationalism of today. On the contrary, their consciousness of superiority gave rise to a conviction of their duty to be the "liberators" of the oppressed nationalities; a sort of "humanitarian" imperialism which took for granted the annexation of the Left Bank of the Rhine and a benevolent hegemony over sundry parts of the old Continent.

Before long it began to dawn upon Blanqui that the defense was not being conducted in a way to assure success. He insisted upon the arming of the entire adult population of Paris; but the Government would take no chances with arming the workers of the French capital. General Trochu, the commander of Paris, had no plan; he considered defense of the city a "heroic folly" and passed his time in prayers. Blanqui asked quite pertinently how the Government could be expected to fight if it was sure of defeat. Some people expected salvation from inoculating a million dogs with rabies and releasing them against the Prussians.

Meanwhile the people at large had lost hope in victory. Blanqui saw that the provinces were anxious for peace, even for peace [64] at any price. So he feared the results of the forthcoming elections to the National Assembly. For these, he realized, would return a majority of cowards who would conclude a shameful peace. He therefore wrote: "If elections are held, then the victory of the reactionaries is inevitable. Assemblies of deputies are an antiquated, doomed, bad method, not only in times of crisis, or war, but at any time." And in another editorial he insisted that "Those who do not fight have no right to decide the destiny of France." It was an open demand for a military dictatorship -- with the best military mind at the head of it. Neither he nor his friends had any doubts as to where to find that mind.

A Few Hours of Power

The loss of the fortress of Metz and the defeat at Le Bourget at the very gates of Paris aroused the masses of the city. On October 31 enormous crowds assembled in front of City Hall protesting against the contemplated armistice, cursing the Commander of Paris, clamoring for arms, and shouting Vive la Commune! In the end the building was invaded, and the National Guard battalion commanded by Flourens, a follower of Blanqui, arrested the members of the Government who were assembled in conference. A new Provisional Government was nominated on the spot -- including those names which at the time were most popular with the masses of Paris. Among them was Victor Hugo, who, like most of the other members of the new Government, was not consulted; there was the young pamphleteer, Rochefort; and there were the old war-horses of 1848, Auguste Blanqui, Louis Blanc, and Ledru-Rollin. Blanqui went to work immediately. But while he was writing his first orders Army detachments, loyal to the old Administration, invaded the building -- and the dream of power was over. The victors had the good sense to treat the incident as a family quarrel, and they promised not to prosecute anybody for his part in the affray. The promise was not kept. Some of the most prominent of Blanqui's followers were arrested. Blanqui himself went into hiding. In the meantime rumors were spread that during those feW-l hours of power he had tried to obtain fifteen million francs from the Treasury! [65]

From his hiding place he continued editing his daily. Early in November he had the great disappointment of learning that after all Paris was not with him. A plebiscite decided in favor of the existing Government by a vote of more than 3 21,000 to 53,000. The vote of the Army was still more depressing for those who opposed the Administration. It cast 236,000 votes for, to 9,000 votes against, the Administration.

Blanqui expressed his disappointment in an article in which he summed up all his bitterness against the Government of National Defense, which he charged with having manufactured neither rifles nor cannon. Nor did he spare the common people, who were ready to "sell the Fatherland, the Universe, for a cup of milk." And he wound up with the words of a poet: "One thrives on shame; one does not die of it."

Before the Great Storm

On December 8, 1870, his daily had to cease publication. It could not meet its expenses. In his club, Blanqui continued his patriotic propaganda for resistance to the bitter end. But there was no faith in victory, and a few weeks later, on January 28, 1871, Paris had to capitulate. Six days before that date an attempt had been made by a few of the most foolhardy followers of Blanqui to wrest the power from the Government. They had a few detachments of the National Guard with them, and the leaders were determined, desperate men. Blanqui was apprised of the plan on the very day on which the attempt was to be made; so he was unable to stop an adventure which he saw had no chance of success. There was an element of deep tragedy in the Teacher's watching from a cafe while some of his most courageous disciples went to their death in a form of revolutionary warfare in which he himself no longer firmly believed. It was a futile combat, in which soldiers who were too tired to fight the enemy had strength enough to disperse those of their brothers in arms who wanted to continue the war. On the following day, some clubs were closed, papers were suppressed, and a number of persons arrested. Blanqui was not molested.

Early in February the country was to vote for those who, in the National Assembly, were to shape the future destiny of [66] France. Blanqui was now eager to be sent to the Assembly in order to defend revolutionary Paris against the reactionary provinces. All Paris voted as one constituency, and Blanqui obtained only fifty-two thousand votes -- not sufficient for carrying the election. Men of lesser merit in the radical movement, but who were known as popular orators, were luckier. For the first time since the death of his wife and of his mother, Blanqui had tears in his eyes, when he heard the result. As one of his biographers put it, "In the eyes of the moderate republicans he was either a dangerous maniac or a pariah, in the eyes of the new generation of advanced republicans he was one who had disappeared long ago, who was forgotten, who was too old."

Shortly after the elections, Blanqui went south to Bordeaux, where the National Assembly convened. Here he saw that there was no hope. Sick at heart and physically exhausted, he went to rest in the home of his relatives. In the meantime, a military court in Paris had condemned him to death for his participation in the uprising of October 31, 1870. On the strength of this sentence, he was arrested on March 17, 1871.

The Commune of 1871

No sooner was Blanqui arrested than the great event occurred which would have given him the chance of his life, had he been in Paris at that time. It was that uprising which has gone down in history as the Paris Commune of 1871. That event has been greatly misrepresented by most historians -- those of the Right as well as those of the Left. To the former it was a senseless uprising of a bloodthirsty rabble which used its short spell of power in committing unspeakable atrocities. The Leftists, on the other hand, usually treat it as the first attempt to establish the "dictatorship of the proletariat," with all its anti- capitalist implications. It was neither. It was a patriotic-democratic protest against a humiliating peace and against the threat of a monarchist restoration. The elections to the National Assembly had returned a crushing majority of reactionaries who were bent upon extinguishing the Republic and punishing the republican population of Paris. Two bills, one terminating the moratorium on debts and the other restoring the obligation to [67] pay rent, which had been suspended during the siege, drove both the small traders and the workers of Paris into the ranks of the extreme Left. So did the stoppage of the payment of the daily one-franc-fifty-centimes to the members of the National Guard -- the only succor given to the unemployed. All of which engendered the mood which resulted in the uprising of March 18, 1871. The Government and the most prosperous sections of the population fled, making their headquarters in Versailles. Paris, now in the hands of the extreme Left, held elections and set up a Government of its own, the Commune, which defied the National Assembly. Blanqui, spurned by the voters a month before, was now elected and proclaimed honorary chairman at the very first session of the Commune. His followers, jointly with other groups closely related to them, constituted an overwhelming majority in the Government. The minority was composed of the members of the First International who at that time were in France still largely under the influence of the ideas of Proudhon. They represented the working class element, while the chiefly Blanquist majority was backed largely by the lower middle classes, and particularly by various groups of educated and semi-educated declasses.15

The seventy-one days during which the Commune lasted, before it was drowned in the blood of its combatants, is a history of heroism and confusion, martyrdom and futility. In possession of power at last, the Blanquist daredevils did not know what to do with it. Alleged enemies of the bourgeoisie, they proved in reality to be merely imitators of the Jacobins of the Great French Revolution. They were either unwilling or afraid to undertake anything that could be construed as a radical departure from the system of private property. They had at their disposal the three billions of the National Bank -- yet they were afraid to touch them: they were too anxious to maintain the patriotic and republican-deniocratic character of their regime, lest they might forfeit all the sympathies of the country at large. [68]

But worse still, they lacked leadership and missed the best strategic opportunities for a victory over the military forces of their opponents. There was only one man who could have given them that leadership -- but that man had been arrested exactly one day before the uprising. An attempt was made to rescue Blanqui from the hands of his captors; seventy-four hostages, including an archbishop, were offered in exchange for the one man. But Thiers, the chief of the Versailles Government, frankly admitted to the delegate of the Commune that "to return Blanqui to the insurrection would mean to send it a force equal to an entire army corps."

Eternity through the Stars

That equivalent of an "army corps" had in the meantime been brought to the castle of Taureau, which was built on a lone rock in the midst of the sea near the coast of Brittany. The only prisoner on that island, he had no name like the Iron Mask. He was referred to only as the "Prisoner of the Castle," and orders were given to shoot him at the slightest sign of an attempt at flight.

In his solitary cell the old man realized that his dream was over. He was sixty-seven years old. His party, for a while in j power, was now crushed and dispersed, its best men killed in 3 battle, executed, imprisoned, or in exile. He was too old ever to come back. The persons whom he had loved best -- his wife and his mother -- were dead. His most gifted, favorite disciple, the young lawyer and historian, Gustave Tridon, an exile now, was slowly dying in Belgium. And there was no consolation for all these sufferings, no belief in a reunion after death. There had been skeptics who, having lost in the gamble of life, returned to the bosom of religion as an alternative to utter despair. Blanqui's political life had been too much spent in the struggle against those who were "selling the Sky for the Earth." He could not possibly accept their Beyond. Yet he needed some sort of material immortality -- not merely the belated recognition of posterity. So he went to work and created an immortality of his own which had all the characteristics of his lifelong [69] materialist philosophy. The result of this effort was his Eternity through the Stars, an Astronomical Hypothesis.

That book, written partly in a humorous, partly in a serious vein, proceeds from the hypothesis of an infinite universe and of a finite number of component elements, which can enter into a finite number of combinations, each of them repeating itself endlessly throughout infinite space and time. Thus, "Ever since the world has been the world, nature has been producing daily billions of solar systems, slavish copies of our own, with regard both to material and to personnel." As a result there are and there will be billions of Blanquis, exact copies of the Blanqui of our present biography, who, brought forth on the various celestial bodies all through the endless space and time, have repeated and will repeat all the phases of his life. "What I write at this moment in a dungeon of the Fort of Taureau, I wrote and I will write during an eternity upon a table, with a pen, with clothes and other circumstances which are altogether identical." There is no progress. Everything that we may call progress on our planet is only a repetition of what has already happened on billions of other planets. And considering the possibility of the various combinations, it stands to reason that the double of the same person on another planet might at a given moment of his life make another possible decision which would give his career another turn. "Let us not forget that what one might have become here, one has become somewhere else." In other words, there is a mathematical possibility, nay, a certainty, that on some other planet, either now or a billion years before, or in some indefinite future, there was, is, or will be not one but countless Wellingtons who have lost Waterloo, and Napoleons who have lost their initial battles.

And apparently (here the old man leaves things to our imagination) there are also countless Auguste Blanquis -- past, present and future, spread all over the endless space and time -- who were victorious on their May 12, 1839; who became masters °r their country; whose beloved wives did not die in despair, and whose sons had higher ambitions than to become chiefs of the village Fire Department. For the son of the great conspirator, physically an exact replica of the young Auguste lanqui, having been brought up by the conservative family of [70] his mother, had blossomed out into a narrow-minded, prosperous farmer, completely estranged from his father.

The Last Trial

Eternity through the Stars was published in February, 1872. Its author was brought to trial during the same week. It was a military court, composed exclusively of monarchist officers. Blanqui, who eleven months before had been condemned to death because of his participation in the uprising of October 31, 1870, was now tried again on the same charge. His condemnation was a foregone conclusion. The court imposed a life sentence and Blanqui was sent to the prison of Clairvaux in Central France. There he spent his next seven years -- completely isolated from all the other prisoners. At seventy he was more feared by the Republic than he had ever been under the July Monarchy or under the Empire.

True, it was a Republic of a very peculiar kind. Its President, General MacMahon, was a monarchist who had been elected by a monarchist majority in Parliament. But the monarchists were split into Legitimists, Orleanists and Bonapartists. With three pretenders to the throne, the Republic could keep on living. It was not a very honorable life -- but the Republic lived and eventually overcame the danger of a restoration.

Buried in his prison, Blanqui watched these developments from a distance. The country was recovering from the misfortunes caused by the war of 1870; a growing industry was enhancing the importance of the urban middle classes; public education, the general accompaniment of the industrial era, was gradually doing away with the illiteracy of the workers and peasants. The nightmare of militarist and clerical reaction that had weighed upon the country was gradually disappearing. The intellectuals, the middle classes, the workers, even the peasants, began to show more boldness and to drift toward the Left. The parliamentary elections of 1876 brought a Republican majority. The following year the Left Wing elements among the Republicans became bold enough to launch a campaign for an amnesty. In 1879 this propaganda resulted in the pardon of about one hundred and fifty prisoners and exiles. Blanqui, how- [71] ever, was not among them. He was still too dangerous a man in spite of his seventy-four years.

The campaign for his pardon was kept up. His candidacy was put forward at various by-elections. Those to be held at Bordeaux eventually presented the greatest chances, for the radical elements of that city, the Left Wing Republicans and the Socialists, put up a solid front in his favor. Blanqui was elected -- one of the few political successes of his life. But this success was as ephemeral as his elevation to power on October 31, 1870. His prison sentence had carried with it the loss of all civil rights, and he was declared ineligible. However, pressure of public opinion eventually resulted in administrative pardon by the President of the Republic.


Blanqui was free. It was a somewhat changed Blanqui that left the prison on June 11, 1879. He was no longer the irreconcilable conspirator speaking in the name of the "proletariat" -- as he had nearly half a century before. While death was slowly creeping upon him in his last prison, the dream for which he had given, most of his adult life was coming true. France was a Republic, and there was no longer any danger of a monarchist restoration. The revolutionary dictatorship to which he had been aspiring was no longer needed to save the new order. Such social changes as were necessary and possible, he thought, would be accomplished gradually within the framework of the Republic.

But was he really happy in beholding the longed-for child which owed its origin less to his daring than to Prussian military efficiency; less to revolutionary idealism than to monarchist disunity and industrial progress? In short, was it really the Republic for which he had given his life -- or, rather, the ambition of becoming its Father?

The first friend to call on him in Paris was Georges Clemenceau. To Blanqui the rising statesman was the great hope of the Republic. In a letter written a few months prior to his liberation he had urged him to become the leader of the Left w the Chamber. He had also proposed to him an entire [72] program of reforms such as "unlimited liberty of the press, right to hold meetings and to form associations, suppression of courts martial, the jury system for all political trials, separation of the Church from the State, suppression of religious congregations, municipal liberties, restitution to the soldiers of the right to vote, restoration of divorce, etc., etc."

Those practical reforms did not contain even a word about direct material improvements in the lot of the industrial workers. These he envisaged as a natural corollary of the extension of democratic rights. Five years before, likewise in a letter written from prison, Blanqui had said that "the organization of the proletariat, the abolition of exploitation of man by man" would be solved by "the future generation thanks to the instrument which we have bestowed upon it since 1848: universal suffrage." The progress of public education had gradually converted him to the methods of democracy.

He restated these ideas a few months after his liberation. "The social question," he said in a letter, "could be subjected to a serious discussion and to a practical application only later and only as a result of the most energetic and the most irrevocable solution of the political question. To act otherwise would be to put the cart before the horse." Thus, his chief preoccupation was the consolidation and democratization of the Republicar. system. Until that task was completed -- apparently by a Leftis majority -- the workers had better forget their specific grievances and wait. Blanqui had never been a friend of strikes and of independent activity on the part of the workers themselves. Once he had given up conspiring against the Government, he became a very moderate liberal.


Two weeks after his liberation he was in Bordeaux to thar his constituents and to push again his candidacy for the Chamber. But his moderate Republican opponent was likewise anxious to win, and so the old Taschereau document was dug up -- for the last time. The slur on Blanqui's honor had its effect upon a certain section of the electorate; so had likewise his imprudent remark about the President of the Republic, whom he called [73] a "bandit" when he was asked what he thought of him. The term was prophetically correct, for eight years later Grevy had to resign from the Presidency in one of the most outrageous corruption scandals of the century. Yet that invective shocked many voters who probably considered it bad taste on the part of a man who had been pardoned by that "bandit." Blanqui lost the election. A year later he was running in Lyons; but this time, as in Bordeaux, though he had polled a plurality in the first vote, he was defeated in the run-off election, when the middle-class voters of the various parties combined against him.

In the meantime, he was trying to make up in propaganda for all the years that he had spent in prison. Those last eighteen months of his life were one uninterrupted succession of mass meetings and triumphant receptions all over the country. The Government, now fully converted to the safety-valve conception of open propaganda, no longer objected to his activities. He was not an enemy now, but merely an opponent. And the working masses, now awakened to political consciousness, as the most intelligent statesmen of the bourgeoisie began to realize, were not dangerous so long as they had a faraway socialist ideal that fulfilled the role of any other religion, by offering them consolation, by giving them hope and enjoining them to be patient.

Old Blanqui, a skeptic in matters of socialist theory, became one of the saints of the new proletarian religion. Though he usually closed his speeches with a "Vive la Republique!" to the workers this cry meant justice, equality, in short, all the beautiful promises which the word Socialism spelled to them. The veneration with which men and women, children and old people greeted him in every city and town, the religious fervor with which they listened to his very faint voice, the frenzy with which women fought for a chance to kiss his hands or at least to touch his clothes -- all this a few months before his death -- did these compensate him for all his sufferings?

In November, 1880, he went to Milan to participate in a celebration held in honor of Garibaldi. The Italian hero of scores °f battles and the French martyr of a score of prisons had come from the same district in Southern France. They were both over [74] seventy and at the end of their careers. Their ambitions had never clashed, and Blanqui had that admiration for Garibaldi which the intellectually stronger may feel for the more courageous, while the lucky rebel's generous heart went out in deep sympathy to the Poor Job whom the winged goddess had persistently spurned. It was no consolation to Blanqui that, at bottom, Garibaldi too was defeated; for the republican hero, having chased from his country the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, now had to bow to a native royal dynasty which he loathed; and he had to acquiesce to the lot of the Italian peasant, who remained the landless pauper he had been prior to his "liberation."

In the speech delivered at that celebration Blanqui revealed himself as the "gradualist" he had always been in matters of economic reorganization. "One should not attempt to make leaps, but human steps, and one should always keep on marching." He had not changed. The overthrow of the monarchy and the curbing of the power of the Church had been the one great "leap" on which he had staked his life. Socialist and Communist hopes were the tonic administered to the masses to make them join in that leap. But once the leap had been made, there was nothing left but slow progress and confidence in the good intentions of the politicians. "My program?" he had exclaimed once when asked about it. "I do not know what it will be; I do not know what I will do; I will act according to circumstances." Half a century later Mussolini, when confronted by the same question, gave exactly the same answer, only flavored with that peculiar candor which is all his own: "Our program is very simple; we want to rule Italy."

Back in Paris, Blanqui and his surviving friends of the Sixties and Seventies started a daily paper entitled Ni Dieu Ni Maitre -- Neither God nor Master. At the same time he continued his restless activity, hurrying from one meeting to another, presiding, lecturing, and exhorting.

He died in harness. After returning from a meeting, at two in the morning, he was felled by a stroke and expired a few days later -- on January 1, 1881.

All of Paris that was radical, liberal, progressive, took part in his funeral. The old hatreds and suspicions were forgotten. He had conquered the Capital at last. [75]


There are no revolutionists at present who openly proclaim themselves to be followers of Blanqui -- in France, or in any other country. But his methods have left their mark upon the ideas of the two greatest revolutionary figures of nineteenth-century Europe: Marx and Bakunin. Curiously enough, neither the followers of the German scholar nor those of the Russian rebel are anxious to acknowledge their indebtedness. On the contrary, they are only too eager to insist that their philosophy is the very opposite of that of the French conspirator. In the twentieth century the followers of Lenin, who succeeded where Blanqui had failed, have shown the same ingratitude as their predecessors in the Marxist and Bakuninist camp. For it is part of the post-Blanquist cant to pretend that it is "the workers themselves" and not an elite of determined declasses who are to take possession of the Government.

Only from one modern revolutionist has there come an open acknowledgment of his debt to Blanqui. That man was -- Mussolini, who mentions the French martyr among those who have contributed to the formation of his Fascist philosophy. The "Old Man" might have protested against this desecration of his name. But the principle of one-party rule, contained in Blanqui's idea of a revolutionary dictatorship, is the ideological basis of all the varieties of modern despotism and of all the crimes committed against the masses and against the human spirit by a self-perpetuating bureaucratic caste of revolutionary-counterrevolutionary usurpers.

The triumphant strides of this principle are history's ironic comment upon Blanqui's tragic struggle for . . . liberty.


1 Lucien de la Hodde, Histoire des Societes Secretes et du Parti Republicain de 1830 a 1848, Paris, 1850, pp. 205-206. Data about the Society of the Families differ in the various sources. The most complete and to a certain extent plausible account of its workings is given in the above-mentioned book. The present writer was unable to find any other source containing a description of the hierarchical structure of the Families. So, willy-nilly, he was forced to use some of the data contained in a book written by a conspirator who later turned police informer. As no comprehensive history of the French secret societies has been written as yet -- G. Perreux's Au temps des Societes Secretes deals only with the period of 1830-1835 -- many historians, even revolutionists like Louis Heritier, were often compelled to have recourse to certain data supplied either by De la Hodde, or by the Police Chief Gisquet in his Memoires.

2 This information, first given by Lucien de la Hodde, the stool-pigeon hisonan of France's secret societies, has since been generally credited by many radical historians as well. They admit that, on the whole, the French radicals, deluding the members of the secret societies, had been opposed to the idea of a violent uprising in view of the fact that the Government had concentrated large troop contingents in the capital.

3 Karl Marx, in his Class Struggles in France, correctly pointed to the fact that "while the Revolution of 1789 right at the start relieved the peasants of the feudal burdens, the Revolution of 1848, anxious not to threaten capital and to keep the Government machine going, announced its entry to the rural population by imposing a new tax upon it."

4 One of the witnesses -- who might have been prejudiced because that Document contained a none too flattering description of his character -- paid back in kind by giving the following picture of his former chief: "As regards Blanqui, I think he is very personal, very egotistical, without sympathy, living exclusively with his head, playing with human beings as if they were tokens, not attached to anything; in short an evil spirit, a genius who prefers the bad to we good and to the noble. When I first met him I was a fanatic for equality; I Went along with him; I left him when I saw how he sacrificed human lives." (J. F. Jeanjean, Artmand Barbes, Paris, 1909, p. 182.) These words have a faniiliar ring. They express sentiments which three generations later thousands of disillusioned enthusiasts were to apply with equal justification to both Stalin and Trotsky.

5 These words were used in the pamphlet L'Alliance de la Democratie Socialiste (1873) written by Lafargue, Engels and Marx, and directed against Bakunin and his following. However, the same phrase occurs in a work written twenty-three years before (1850) by the stool-pigeon historian Lucien de la Hodde who, in his Histoire des Societes Secretes (p. 13) uses the winged phrase "les avocats sans cause, les medecins sans consultations." The present writer was unable to ascertain whether or not that expression is of still older origin.

6 Karl Marx, who, in his London exile, insisted upon calling Louis Bonaparte a fool, showed in this case as little political penetration as did, two generations later, his disciples in their attitude towards Mussolini and Hitler.

7 The trial confirmed the suspicion that mysterious forces had been at work behind that attempted uprising. Huber, the man who after the invasion of the National Assembly had pronounced the "dissolution" of that body "in the name of the people," was found out to be a traitor. He had been a sincere revolutionist under the monarchy; had been given a life sentence, and had completely broken down after a few years. The part he played on May 15 had helped to turn that originally peaceful demonstration into a tragic farce which later on served so well the interests of Louis Bonaparte.

8 At that time the term "democrat" was often used in the meaning of communist or extreme radical.

9 Maurice Dommanget, Blanqui a Belle-Ile, Paris, 1935, p. 141.

10 It will be seen in the subsequent chapters that Marx in behalf of the Germans, and Bakunin in behalf of the Russians, nourished similar ambitions for the first place in the leadership of the international revolutionary movement, and that each of them was indignant at the dictatorial propensities of the other.

11. These words of the prominent Proudhonist leader H. L. Tolain are quoted in A. Zevacs' Le Syndicalisme Contemporain, Paris (1911), p. 55.

12 Those who went to the Convention in 1868 in defiance of his orders were expelled from the party and ostracized. It was only toward the end of the Sixties, when the imperial authorities decided to outlaw the French branches of the International and to prosecute its members, that the Blanquists began to join that organization.

13 The most important sections of these "Instructions" were reprinted in the ctober, 1931, issue of the Paris magazine La Critique Sociale. The manuscript is in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris.

14 In an article directed against Rochefort about twenty years later, Lissagaray, the historian of the Paris Commune of 1871, quoted the following remark made by an Englishman with regard to the great journalist's none too heroic behavior on that occasion: "If one is a leader of a party one does not take an enema on such a day."

15 According to the Histoire de la Commune (p. 176) by P. O. Lissagaray, he most authoritative historian of the Commune, only 25 of the 87 members of ne Assembly -- usually called the Commune -- were manual workers. As regards their allegiance, these workers were about equally divided between followers of the International and Blanquists. The uprising had apparently greatly enhanced Blanqui's prestige among the workers as well.