James Joll, The Anarchists, Second Edition, 1979.

Chapter II
The myth of the Revolution

The French Revolution is only the forerunner of a much bigger, much more solemn revolution, which will be the final one.
Gracchus Babeuf


In 1909, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the leading anarchist theorist of his generation,1 published a history of The Great French Revolution. 'What we learn today from the study of the Great Revolution', he wrote, 'is that it was the source and origin of all the present communist, anarchist and socialist conceptions.' And he ended his book with a fervent invocation of the spirit of the French Revolution.

The one thing certain is, that whatsoever nation enters on the path of revolution in our own day, it will be heir to all our forefathers have done in France. The blood they shed was shed for humanity -- the sufferings they endured were borne for the entire human race; the struggles, the ideas they gave to the world, the shock of those ideas, are all included in the heritage of mankind. All have borne fruit and will bear more, still finer, as we advance towards those wide horizons opening out before us, where, like some great beacon to point the way, flame the Words -- LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY.2

By the end of the nineteenth century, indeed, the French Revolution was an established myth which historians of various schools were busy interpreting for their own ends; and, shortly before Kropotkin wrote his book, Jean Jaures, the French socialist leader, had already embarked on a 'socialist' history of the Revolution. The events of 1830, 1848 and 1871 in France had all been consciously enacted as in some way imitations of 1789 or [26] 1792. The great moments of the French Revolution had provided terms to describe certain types of revolutionary action, such as the Commune or the Eighteenth Brumaire. Like most major historical events, the French Revolution left its effects at two levels. It had immediate, irreversible and profound consequences in France and Europe; and it left a legend that has continued to operate in men's minds right down to the present. To understand the influence of the French Revolution on the origins and history of the anarchist movement, therefore, it is necessary to see how the French Revolution both started a belief in the possibility of successful insurrectionary movements against the established order and also provided legends to which subsequent anarchists were to look back for inspiration. In fact, of course, the French Revolution was not in the least anarchistic in aims, achievements or even methods. Neither decentralization nor the abolition of property -- both prerequisites of all anarchist conceptions of society - followed. Instead the Revolution resulted in a strong, centralized state and in the establishment in political power of an active middle class. While it freed the peasants from feudal ties, it created a nation of peasant proprietors. Nevertheless, it was the spectacle of the greatest political upheaval for centuries that was most impressive, the very fact that by revolutionary methods a powerful monarchy and an entrenched aristocracy had been overthrown, and the political and social structure of a great nation radically reformed. What had happened once might happen again, and consequently, even if the final results were not what were in fact required, there was always the possibility that the next revolution might have better success.

However, there were in the revolution certain movements which later anarchists and communists were perhaps justified in regarding as similar to their own, movements which seemed to be more concerned with social and economic problems than with political and constitutional ones. The great period of the Revolution, in their view, was the spring and summer of 1793, when the sans-culottes were in the streets and when the constant pressure of their agitation contributed to the overthrow of the Girondins and to the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship. The rise in food prices and the general scarcity encouraged popular agitation, and Robespierre knew how to use this against his opponents: 'Pour [27] vaincre les bourgeois, il faut rallier le peuple.'3 But the leaders of the more extreme sections of the sans-culotte movement --Hebert or Jacques-Roux -- were soon disappointed at the results of Robespierre's success, and, like Trotsky in a later revolution, they fell victim to the reign of terror they themselves had helped to instigate. The popular agitation of these months, though, was prompted by the same basic human reactions which had led men to follow the popular movements of the Middle Ages -- a primitive desire for a more just distribution of the necessities of life. 'You have a pretty dress,' one woman was heard to say to another in 1793. 'Be patient; before long, if you have two, you will give me one and that's how we want it to be; it will be like that with everything else.'4 Or, as the Sans-Culottes de Beaucaire put it in their address to the Convention in September 1793, 'We are poor and virtuous sans-culottes; we have formed an association of artisans and peasants ... we know who our friends are: those who have delivered us from the clergy and nobility, from the feudal system, from tithes, from the monarchy and all the ills which follow in its train; those whom the aristocrats have called anarchists, followers of faction (factieux), Maratists.'5 The epithets were significant; 'anarchist' was the term adopted by Robespierre to attack those people on the left whom he had used for his own ends but whom he was determined to be rid of. Marat, after his murder in 1793, became the hero of all the extremists, each of whom claimed to be his true successor.

Among these 'anarchists' there were a few leaders who struck the true note of social revolt that was to be characteristic of later anarchists. Jacques-Roux, for example, the lapsed priest who for a short time was an influential mob orator and journalist, is mainly remembered as the man who escorted Louis XVI to his execution and who refused the king's request to take charge of his will with the words 'Je ne suis ici que pour vous metier a l'echafaud' -- an example of brutal cold-heartedness or of revolutionary devotion to duty as you choose to look at it. Jacques-Roux was the most violent of the extremists known as the Enrages, and it is the violence and brutality of his speeches and action that have kept him a place in the histories of anarchism and communism. Moreover, he insisted, more vigorously than any other revolutionary, on the fact that political freedom without economic [28] freedom was meaningless, and that it was social revolution and not just political change that was important. 'Freedom', he said, 'is but an empty phantom if one class of men can starve another with impunity. Freedom is but an empty phantom when the rich man can through his monopoly exercise the right of life and death over his fellow men.'6

What Jacques-Roux contributed to later anarchist practice was a demonstration of the revolutionary power of the mob, an example of what could be done by direct action -- in this case the seizure of goods in the grocers' shops -- and of the way in which acts of pillage and robbery could be represented as acts of social justice. Jacques-Roux had soon served his purpose as a mob leader. Robespierre ordered his arrest, and he committed suicide in prison.

Among the other 'Enrages' and 'anarchists' of 1793, Jean Varlet was the most explicit and eloquent. A young man of good family, he was already, at the age of twenty, one of the most violent of the mob orators, and he coined slogans with a real anarchist ring -- 'We cannot prevent ourselves being distrustful even of those who have won our votes'; 'Kings' palaces are not the only homes of despots.'7 He, too, was arrested and imprisoned, but survived the terror to write an indictment of Jacobin government under the title of L'Explosion, which expresses the disgust of a man of revolutionary principles -- who had exclaimed, 'Perisse le gouvernement revolutionnaire plutot qu'un principe!' -- when confronted with the practice of revolutionary government. 'What a social monstrosity, what a masterpiece of Machiavellism is this revolutionary government,' he wrote. 'For any rational being, government and revolution are incompatible -- unless the people is willing to set up its delegates in a permanent state of insurrection against themselves -- which is absurd.'8

Two other features of the Jacobin era were to leave their mark on anarchist thinking. First of all, there was the terror itself. Subsequent attitudes towards it were ambivalent, and reveal yet another of the clashes of temperament among anarchists. On the one hand they disapproved of all dictatorship and its methods. Yet there was much in Robespierre's theory and practice that appealed to them. Many responded eagerly to the ruthlessness and violence of a regime whose supporters could talk enthusiastically [29] of seeing 'the heads of despots fall like apples in Normandy in the autumn';9 and, to many, terror seemed an indispensable, and indeed desirable, means of achieving the success of the revolution. Moreover, although the Revolution was primarily political in its results, both Robespierre and Marat had had a social aspect to their thought. Robespierre dreamt of a community not entirely unlike that imagined by Proudhon, a society of peasants and artisans working to support themselves and voluntarily exchanging their products with one another. Marat, in a passage Kropotkin quoted with approval, wrote of the dangers of the betrayal of the Revolution.

Thus it is that the Revolution has been made and maintained only by the lowest classes of society -- by the workers, the artisans, the little tradesmen, the agriculturalists, by the plebs, by those luckless ones whom the shameless rich call canaille and whom Roman insolence called proletarians. But who would ever have imagined that it would be made only in favour of the small landowners, the lawyers, the supporters of fraud.10

Moreover, the Jacobins had propounded ideals of genuine equality and of Republican virtue which were to find their echoes in the anarchist groups, particularly of Spain. The use of 'tu' instead of 'vous' and of 'citoyen' instead of 'monsieur' acquired a symbolic value. 'Under the happy reign of equality, familiarity is simply the image of the philanthropic virtues we carry in our soul', one revolutionary newspaper wrote in 1792.11 In the eyes of the ever-optimistic anarchists these virtues were to remain more vivid than the brutality and meaningless violence which accompanied them. Even if the anarchists claimed descent from specific groups like the Enrages, it was the fact that the Revolution had happened at all that was important. From now on revolution could go on working like a leaven below the surface of society until the next great outburst came. The prophecy which Marat -- always the favourite revolutionary character among later extreme revolutionaries -- made at the end of 1789 could be extended to cover a whole century.

The lot of the poor, always downtrodden, always subjugated and always oppressed can never be improved by peaceful [30] means. This is doubtless one of the striking proofs of the influence of wealth on the legal code. Besides, laws only rule as long as people are willing to submit to them; the people have broken the yoke of the nobility; in the same way they will break that of wealth. The great point is to enlighten them and make them aware of their rights, and the revolution will function infallibly without any human power being able to oppose it.12

The Revolution, too, sanctified the act of conspiracy and, indeed, some of its heirs were to adopt conspiracy as a way of life. The 'Conspiration des Egaux' of Gracchus Babeuf and his friends in 1796 became a model to which all later revolutionaries felt obliged to pay homage. In this way a comparatively unimportant episode has been given more historical weight than it seemed to have at the time. Babeuf had been a commissaire a terrier, a kind of land-agent, working on behalf of feudal lords, and he wanted passionately to overthrow the society which made such a profession necessary. Already in 1787 he had proposed to the Academy of Arras an essay competition to discuss the following theme: 'With the general accumulation of knowledge now achieved, what would be the state of a people whose social institutions should be such that the most perfect equality would reign among the individual members, and that the land on which they lived belonged to no one -- if, in short, everything was in common, including the products of all kinds of industry.'13 It was not a subject the Academy of Arras was prepared to hear discussed. Once the Revolution had started, however, Babeuf was proclaiming his views once more: 'Private property is the principal source of all the ills which burden society. . . the sun shines on everyone and the earth belongs to no one. Go on then, my friends, batter, upset, overturn this society which does not suit you. Take what suits you everywhere. What is superfluous belongs by right to him who has nothing.' Violence alone could bring about the new order, and, as passionately as Thomas Muntzer had done 250 years earlier, he exhorted his hearers: 'Cut without pity the throats of the tyrants, the patricians, the gilded million, all the immoral beings who might oppose our common happiness.'14 With the coming of the Directory in 1795 and the end of any [31] prospects of a social revolution, Babeuf and his friends started a conspiracy against the government. 'The moment has come', the conspirators proclaimed in their Manifeste des Egaux, 'to found the Republic of Equals, this great hospice open to all men. The days of general restitution are at hand. Groaning families, come and seat yourselves at the table as it was laid by nature for all her children.'15

Babeuf came from the north-east of France, and it was the condition of the peasants in Picardy, and his own experiences of poverty among them, that first inspired his political ideas. The fundamental necessity, in his view, was a thoroughgoing land reform - and he took the name of Gracchus to emphasize his links with earlier agrarian reformers. From advocating land reform, he went on, in an often confused and contradictory way, to develop ideas which he had found in Mably, Morelly and Rousseau, and turned them into a programme for revolutionary political action. He was, in fact, never an anarchist, although his insistence on the abolition of private property links him to later anarchist thinkers. But the results which, for a true anarchist like Godwin, would come about through the free cooperation of individuals would, according to Babeuf, be brought about by the state. 'The government', he wrote, 'will get rid of boundary marks, hedges, walls, locks on the doors, quarrels, litigation, theft, murder, every kind of crime; envy, jealousy, greed, pride, deceit, duplicity, in short all the vices, as well as the worm of general, individual and perpetual anxiety about tomorrow, next week, next year, our old age, our children and grandchildren, which gnaws at each of us.'16 If the aims are those of the anarchists, the means are not. Babeuf believed in a strong state, run by a kind of revolutionary dictatorship, responsible for the organization of economic life, with collective ownership of the means of production and wide powers to direct labour. Thus he is rightly claimed as a predecessor by communist writers. He is, however, an important legendary figure for all later revolutionaries because of his insistence on the necessity of turning a political revolution into a social and economic one, and, above all, because of his belief in conspiracy as being the right way to achieve this.

His own Conspiration des Egaux was totally ineffective, in part because he and his friends combined the preparation of a [32] conspiracy with the public discussion of their aims, so that it was easy for the police to penetrate their organization, and the plot was quickly and easily suppressed. But although Babeuf was executed and many of his associates deported, the idea of a conspiracy to make the social revolution remained. There were, indeed, opponents of the revolution very ready to take up the idea that the whole thing was the result of a universal plot. 'In this French Revolution everything including its most terrible outrages was foreseen, premeditated, arranged, determined, decided; everything has been prepared and induced by the men who held the thread of conspiracies, long pondered in secret societies, men who knew how to choose and hurry on the moment favourable to their plots.'17 These suspicions of an emigre priest in 1797 are typical of beliefs that were to be held throughout the nineteenth century by many conservatives; and, indeed, those people in our own time who are ready to attribute any untoward event to the international machinations of the communists (or the freemasons, or the Catholics or the Jews) are victims of the same illusion. As a result, it has been easy for conspirators both to overestimate their own importance and, in some cases, to lead historians to overestimate it too.

In the generation after the Conspiracy of Equals the great prototype of the conspirator, the example to which many later professional revolutionaries looked back, was Filippo Buonarroti, whom Bakunin was to call the 'greatest conspirator of the century'.18 He was born in Tuscany and at the university acquired the revolutionary ideas of the philosophes as well as being influenced by the struggle for independence in Corsica. As soon as the Revolution broke out in France he was there. He met Babeuf and became involved in his conspiracy, of which he later wrote the history. In exile in Switzerland and Belgium, and after his final return to France, he devoted the rest of his life to the foundation of innumerable, and often mythical, secret societies which contributed nevertheless to the spread of his ideas. He believed that it was he who was to redeem the errors of his revolutionary predecessors: 'The infatuation of the atheists, the errors of the Hebertists, the immorality of the Dantonists, the humbled pride of the Girondists, the dark plots of the Royalists, the gold of England, disappointed on the Ninth Thermidor the hopes of the French [33] people and the human race.'19 The revolution, in fact, had still to be made.

In France, where he returned after the revolution of 1830, Buonarroti continued, totally without effect, to invent secret societies and carry out what, as a young man, he had called his 'deep conviction that it was the duty of a man of means to work towards the overthrow of the social system which oppresses civilized Europe, in order to substitute an order which would conserve the happiness and the dignity of all'.20 He lived till 1837, embodying for younger revolutionaries the traditions and virtues of the great revolution, 'a brave and venerable old man', who, as the English Chartist leader Bronterre O'Brien noted, 'at the advanced age of seventy-eight shed tears like a child at the mention of Robespierre's name'.21 Sometimes he was on the fringe of real conspiracies, in Belgium or in Italy. More often he was simply a conspiracy in himself, an indispensable patron of revolutionary gatherings, an unbending and argumentative member of all republican societies, such as the Societe des Droits de l'Homme, which was -- quite wrongly -- held responsible for the attempts on the life of Louis-Philippe in 1835 and 1836. [The second of these was, in fact, an act of social protest, strangely like some of the anarchist crimes at the end of the nineteenth century. The assassin, Alibaud, stated: 'I wanted to kill the king because he is the enemy of the people. I was miserable through the fault of the government; and as the king is its chief, I decided to kill him.' When asked who his fellow conspirators were, he replied: 'The chief of the conspiracy was my head; the accomplices are my arms.' And on the scaffold he shouted: I die for liberty, for the good of humanity, for the extinction of the infamous monarchy.' (Thureau-Dangin, Histoire de la Monarchic de Juillet, vol. III, 3rd ed., Paris 1892, p. 35.)] Buonarroti was the first of a series of figures, such as Blanqui and Bakunin in the next generation, who seemed to their contemporaries, and still more to their successors, the embodiment of the spirit of revolution, the dedicated apostles of revolution for revolution's sake.

The French Revolution had left behind at least three myths which were to contribute to the revolutionary creeds of the nineteenth century and which became part of the beliefs of the anarchists. First there was the myth of the successful revolution. Henceforth violent revolution was possible; and, second, the next revolution would be a true social revolution and not just the substitution of one ruling class for another. 'La Revolution francaise', [34] as Babeuf put it, 'n'est que I'avant courriere d'une autre revolution plus grande, plus solennelle, et qui sera la derniere.'22 Finally, this revolution could only be brought about after existing society had been undermined by a conspiracy of devoted revolutionaries. These are doctrines which were to be shared by German Marxists, Russian populists and French and Spanish anarchists. From now on revolutions were to be made in the streets as much as in philosophers' studies.


The myth of the revolution satisfied the temperamental need for action of those who, in earlier ages, might have embarked on a crusade or a religious revolt. At the same time, however, the economic and social changes in Europe in the early nineteenth century were giving rise to new discussions about what society would be like after the revolution, and what kind of life men could hope for in a new industrial age. In the generation following the revolution new visionary Utopias were developed, based on an awareness (which Godwin, as we have seen, also shared) of the productive capacities of industry and machines, and on a realization of the failure of the French Revolution to satisfy more than a small part of the economic and social aspirations of the poor. To the myth of the revolution were added new myths of a future society.

The utopian socialists, of whom Fourier and Saint-Simon are the most remarkable and the most influential, were, like Godwin, concerned with the future state of society rather than with the means by which the revolution could be made. They believed, and in this they were the true heirs of the eighteenth century, that reason and human progress would bring about the necessary changes without the need for violence. As Friedrich Engels put it, 'Socialism is for all of them the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice, and need only be discovered in order to conquer the world through its own power.'23 There was much in their visions of a new society, however, that was to recur in future anarchist thought; and the beliefs of Saint-Simon and, especially, Fourier contributed much to the peaceful, rational, mild type of [35] anarchist, just as the actions of the Enrages or Babeuf or Buonarroti provided examples for the violent, revolutionary apostles of anarchist terror.

Fourier, who died in 1837, the same year as Buonarroti, was a not very successful commercial traveller, a dim and quiet bachelor who lived a totally uneventful life. Like Godwin, he believed that a new society could be brought about by rational cooperation between men. His society, which he called Harmony, was in some ways very odd indeed, and it is made odder by the symbolism with which it is described, and the endless tables in which the human passions are somehow equated to colours or the notes of the scale. It is tempting, too, to remember only the most eccentric aspects of life in Harmony -- the use, for example, of small children to clear the refuse, since, after all, it is well known that children like playing with dirt, or the picture of three-year-olds shelling and sorting peas for the kitchen (with the aid of a sort of bagatelle board with holes of different sizes) before going off to their breakfast of sugared cream, fruit, jam and light white wine. Behind all the fantasy, however, there are one or two fundamental ideas that account for Fourier's influence, and which later thinkers about social organization borrowed from him.

Fourier believed that the evils of society largely derived from the fact that men's natural instincts and their social environment were constantly opposed to each other. The solution therefore lay in adapting society and the natural world to men's natures and needs. A society which would satisfy men's desire for variety, for social life and intrigue, for good food and refined pleasures, could be made to run itself. By an advanced degree of division of labour, by making work in itself attractive and ensuring that no one worked at one task for more than two hours at a stretch, the bitter monotony of the new industrial society would be abolished. By a rationalization of agriculture and improved methods of transport there would be enough food for all, and industry would be reduced to a minimum necessary for men's simple requirements. (Commodities such as bread, which required a great many processes in their preparation -- threshing, grinding, kneading, baking -- would be dispensed with and simpler products substituted.) Production on a large scale would simplify life and reduce costs, while mass consumption would provide a stable market so that [36] the anomalies of overproduction would be avoided. (Fourier had once worked for a merchant who had dumped a cargo of rice into the sea in order to keep the price up, and he had never forgotten it.)

Fourier's communities -- the 'phalansteries' -- were to be cooperative enterprises in which each member had a varying number of shares. For all the self-disciplined routine of the lives of the inhabitants of Harmony, it was not an egalitarian society and it was based on the ownership of capital. As Charles Gide pointed out, the phalansteries were something between a vast hotel and a vast cooperative department store. While they would have been a little more comfortable than Godwin's ideal society (at least there was central heating), they represent a similar extreme of selfless and impersonal cooperation. It is a world where children are taken away from their parents, all meals are in common, and a bedroom and dressing-room the only private accommodation its members require. Yet it is a truly anarchist society. Fourier at no point requires the intervention of a state to regulate the relations within and between the various phalansteries. He condemns the use of force: 'All that is founded upon force', he wrote of the Jesuit communities in Paraguay, 'is fragile and denotes the absence of genius.'24 His communities are the ancestors of those attempts at cooperative Utopian enterprise with which idealists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have tried to escape from the industrial world, sometimes directly inspired by him, like the famous settlement at Brook Farm, Massachusetts, sometimes reflecting similar beliefs and hopes, like the kibbutzim of contemporary Israel. His influence was by no means exclusively on anarchists: his insistence on large-scale production and on mass consumption by standardized associations foreshadowed the methods of later capitalism. In his emphasis on the possibility of changing the environment to suit man rather than changing (and perverting) man's nature, he is a forerunner of all who have believed in economic planning and social engineering, whether socialist or capitalist. Nevertheless, he is an essential part of the world of ideas from which true anarchism emerges. No social theorist of the 1840s and 1850s could ignore his ideas, even if many of them seemed too fantastic to be taken seriously. 'For six whole weeks I was the captive of this bizarre genius', Proudhon [37] wrote.25 He was at other times to deny Fourier's influence on him: 'I certainly read Fourier and I have talked of him more than once, but in the long run I don't think I owe him anything.'26 Yet the ingenious, childlike vision of Fourier underlies much of Proudhon's picture of the world and, consequently, that of many of the anarchists who are Proudhon's intellectual descendants.

If Fourier, with his emphasis on the gregarious nature of man and his belief in what could be achieved by cooperation -- so oddly contrasting with his own solitary, bachelor existence -- provides a picture of what society might be like after the revolution, the other great Utopian socialist thinker of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Henri de Saint-Simon, though contributing much to the development of the concept of revolution, was never an anarchist. True, he believed that, in the ideal society, the state would become unnecessary and political action pointless. 'The men who brought about the revolution, the men who directed it, and the men who, since 1789 and up to the present day, have guided the nation, have committed a great political mistake. They have all sought to improve the governmental machine, whereas they should have subordinated it and put administration in the first place.'27 This is an earlier version, in fact, of the phrase of Karl Marx about the 'government of men giving way to the administration of things'. However, the 'administration' which Saint-Simon so much admired was far removed from the spontaneous cooperation of Fourier's phalansteries or the workers' control of industry which later anarchists were to advocate. Saint-Simon's true heirs in this respect were indeed the bankers and capitalists who were among his first disciples. It is the great industrialists and financiers of the nineteenth century who should claim Saint-Simon as their ancestor, and not the revolutionary leaders.

Nevertheless, the influence of Saint-Simon on Marx was enormous. Saint-Simon was the first thinker to analyse historical change in terms of the struggle between social and economic classes. He also believed that the process of history was on the side of the revolution, a belief which, when given its Hegelian form by Marx, has been the biggest single psychological factor in the spread of Marxism. Saint-Simon's untidy, unsystematic, capricious teaching was diffused and discussed in the decades after his death in 1827. Some of his disciples turned Saint-Simonianism [38] into a new religion: others developed his cult of science and originated the study of sociology: others became successful entrepreneurs, and indeed, such undertakings as the Suez Canal or the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee railway were directly inspired by him. Although it cannot be claimed that he was an anarchist, his ideas, like those of Fourier, contributed much to the intellectual climate in which the two great anarchists of the nineteenth century, Proudhon and Bakunin, grew up.

If the Utopian socialists in France supplement the work of the French Revolution by suggesting what society might be like after the next successful revolution, it is the German philosophers who provide the other essential element in the thought of the new generation of practical as well as theoretical revolutionaries who were emerging in the 1830s and 1840s. 'My true masters are three in number,' Proudhon wrote, 'the Bible first, Adanfiimith second, and lastly Hegel':28 and his work shows more traces of the last than of the two former. About the same time, Bakunin was, like all the Russian intelligentsia of his generation, experiencing the impact of Hegel and responding to it with all the violence of his passionate nature. Through the study of Hegel he had, he wrote, 'risen never to fall again'.29

The French Revolution had shown that it was possible to destroy the old forms of government. The Utopian socialists suggested idealized pictures of what the new world might look like. It was the Hegelians who provided the new generation of revolutionaries with the conviction that history was on their side, and with a philosophy of radical change. The successors of Hegel -- the 'Young Hegelians' -- took the master's doctrine and turned it to revolutionary ends. While Hegel himself had used his philosophy as a means of justifying the existing Prussian state, his successors, as Marx put it, stood the dialectic on its head, and turned it into a philosophy of revolution. Since, according to Hegel, all that was real was rational, it should, the Young Hegelians thought, be possible to remodel the existing world so that it corresponded to the demands of Reason. Since, again, history moved dialectically so that all conflicts contributed to a new synthesis, the clash of classes or the succession of revolutions must inevitably produce a new order. It was, of course, in this way that Marx elaborated the doctrine of the class struggle which [39] would end in the dictatorship of the proletariat, but others who had fallen under Hegel's spell contributed to the development of purely anarchist doctrine. While Marx and others, such as Moses Hess, combined the doctrine of the class struggle with the Hegelian conception of the state, to produce the idea of state communism in which an all-powerful, all-rational state would finally abolish the various classes and weld all the citizens into a harmonious whole before ultimately withering away itself, some of those who were influenced by Hegel saw the final synthesis, as Proudhon did, as being the immediate disappearance of the state. Of the revolutionaries of the 1830s and 1840s who contributed directly to the anarchist doctrines of the next generation, Wilhelm Weitling is the most important. Weitling himself came from the humblest and poorest origins. He was born in 1808, the illegitimate son of a German housemaid and an officer in Napoleon's army. He became a tailor and moved to Paris, where he was in touch with Marx and Bakunin, whom he had met on a visit to Switzerland. Bakunin and Mjyx did not really succeed in making him a Hegelian, and it was from Saint-Simon and Fourier^that his ideas were mostly derived. He never lost, however, a kind of primitive Christianity, a belief that Christ was the first communist, who had preached against property and wealth, who had been a bastard like Weitling himself, and associated with whores and fishermen. He constantly referred to Thomas Müntzer and John of Leyden, and in some ways regarded himself as their successor in preaching that democratic ideas are 'an emanation of Christianity'.30 In 1838 he published his Humanity as it is and as it ought to be (Die Menschheit wie sie ist und wie sie sein sollte), and in 1842 his Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom (Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit). In those works he combined a belief in the class struggle leading to the inevitable revolution, with many ideas of a sketchy anarchist kind and in his Gospel of a Poor Sinner, published three years later, he linked these to his own version of Christian teaching. 'The perfect society', Bakunin quoted him as saying, 'has no government, but only an administration, no laws only obligations, no punishments only means of correction.'31 Here, indeed, are ideas very near to those of Godwin, whom Weitling had almost certainly never read, as well as of Saint-Simon, whom he almost certainly had. From Hegel comes [40] the belief in an ideal society whose laws are identical with the dictates of morality, so that there is no conflict between the individual and the community. Weitling's views can perhaps be better described as Utopian communism rather than anarchism, for he thought of the state as being administered by a very Saint-Simonian committee of doctors, scientists and philosophers who would have powers to direct labour. At the same time, he disliked centralization and he hated the whole idea of the money economy - a very anarchist trait. He would have liked to have based the whole economy on barter, so that each man's labour could be directly related to what he produced, and the products directly exchanged within the community. It was an idea which haunted social reformers: Robert Owen had dreamed of a 'National Equitable Labour Exchange', and one of his American disciples, Josiah Warren, in 1826 opened a 'time store' in Cincinnati, where the customers obtained credit according to the amount of labour which they had put into the products which they delivered to the store. Proudhon was to develop the idea; and the abolition of money became a standard part of many anarchist programmes.

When they met in Switzerland, Bakunin had been impressed by Weitling's Guarantees. In the Guarantees Weitling had written that revolutions would come about 'either through harsh physical force of through spiritual power, or both. The sword has not yet wholly given way to the pen; but a time will come in which this will be the case. Then revolutions will no longer be bloody.'32 In practice, however, time was short. It is only by appealing to people's material interests that the revolution will come about: 'to wait till everybody is patiently enlightened as is usually suggested means giving up the whole business.'33 When he left Paris for Switzerland, Weitling's activities got him into trouble not only with the Zurich authorities, but also with some of his own friends. 'A time will come', he had said, 'when we shall not ask and beg, but demand. Then we shall light a vast fire with banknotes, bills of exchange, wills, tax registers, rent contracts and IOUs, and everyone will throw his purse into the fire. . . .' About the time of his meeting with Bakunin, Weitling was busy organizing a series of clubs, and he seems to have hoped that the means of revolution were already there, and that his followers would soon be ready to take what they wanted and to open the jails to receive help from [41] the inmates.34 Whatever specific ideas about the use of violence Weitling had at this period, there is no doubt that he was convinced -- and here again Bakunin was to follow him -- that true revolutions are made by those with nothing to lose. The new ethics of revolution, he wrote, 'can only be effectively taught among the bewildered masses swarming in our great cities and plunged in the utmost boundless misery'.35

It is the really poor, the Lumpenproletariat so despised by the Marxists, the people with no stake in society, and not the successful artisans who have made some sort of place for themselves in the world, who will be the revolutionaries. In fact, the successful anarchist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were based on a combination of men like Weitling himself -- skilled, independent, self-educated artisans - and men in a state of social and economic desperation, like, for example, the landless labourers of Andalusia.

However, Weitling himself was not a violent revolutionary in practice, although several times imprisoned because of the subversive nature of the ideas discussed in the Communist Workers Clubs which he founded. After the revolution of 1848, when he had hurried back to Germany, he left for the United States, where he spent the rest of his life involved in a series of unsuccessful attempts to set up Utopian communities.

It was not their often rather pathetic attempts to put their ideas into immediate practice that made the Utopian socialists important in the development of the great revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether anarchist or communist. What they had achieved was to create the belief that social and economic change must take precedence over purely political reform, and that the discussion of the relations between producer and consumer, or between capital and labour, was more important than argument about constitutional forms and political institutions.

This awareness of the 'social question' had, of course, originated in the social and economic conditions of the early nineteenth century, a time when new forms of industry and new technical processes, together with an urban population which was increasing all over western Europe, were creating all sorts of new social and political clashes and problems. The riots of the weavers [42] of Lyons in 1834 or of those of Silesia in 1841 had shown how formidable the new working class could be. The outbursts of violent radical working-class feeling in Paris or Berlin or Vienna which disturbed the sedate course of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 served to show what forces were now available to the revolutionary leaders who knew how to organize them and to canalize their vague aspirations into a true revolutionary philosophy. 'On a fait une revolution sans une idee', Proudhon complained in 1848. Revolutions were not to lack for ideas in the future. After 1848 Marx and Engels, Proudhon and Bakunin, were drawing their respective lessons from what had happened. With them the modern revolutionary movement begins, and Marxists and anarchists start to teach rival views of what revolution might achieve and to issue rival instructions for its success.


1 See Chapters V and VI below.

2 P. A. Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution (New York 1909), pp. 581-2.

3 Robespierre, 2 June 1793, quoted Albert Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes parisiens en l'An II (Paris 1958), p. 419.

4 Soboul, op. cit., p. 461.

5 ibid., p. 411.

6 Quoted ibid., p. 459.

7 Quoted in A. Sergent and C. Harmel, Histoire de l'anarchie (Paris 1949), p. 59.

8 ibid., p. 82.

9 Soboul, op. cit., p. 211.

10 L'Ami du Peuple, no. 647, quoted Kropotkin, op. cit., pp. 265-6.

11 Chronique de Paris, 3 October 1792, quoted Soboul, op. cit., p. 655.

12 Quoted Maxime Leroy, Histoire des idees sociales en France, vol. I: De Montesquieu a Robespierre (Paris 1946), p. 282.

13 Advielle, Histoire de Gracchus Babeuf et du Babouvisme I, 30, quoted Leroy, op. cit., vol. II: De Babeuf a Tocqueville (Paris 1950), p. 57. The best account in English is David Thomson, The Babeuf Plot (London 1947).

14 Leroy, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 69-70.

15 ibid., p. 73.

16 Quoted ibid., p. 76.

17 Abbe de Barmel, Memoires pour servir a l'histoire du jacobinisme, de l'impiete et de l'anarchie (London 1797), quoted Leroy, op. cit., vol. I, p. 346. See also J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (London 1972).

18 On Buonarroti, see esp. A. Galante Garroni, Buonarroti e Babeuf (Turin 1948) and Filippo Buonarroti e i Rivoluzionari dell' Ottocento (Turin 1954). Also, in English, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Filippo Michele Buonarroti (Cambridge, Mass. 1959). See also Arthur Lehning, 'Filippo Buonarroti' in From Buonarroti to Bakunin (London 1970).

19 Eisenstein, op. cit., p. 69.

20 Armando Saitta, Filippo Buonarroti (Rome 1951), vol. I, p. 3, quoted Eisenstein, op. cit., p. 10.

21 Quoted Eisenstein, op. cit., p. 149.

22 Quoted Leroy, op. cit., vol. II, p. 47.

23 F. Engels, Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft, quoted Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (London 1960), p. 220.

24 Quoted Charles Gide, Selections from the Works of Fourier, tr. Julia Frankton (London 1901), p. 22.

25 Quoted G. Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (London 1956), p. 13.

26 J. A. Langlois, Notice sur Proudhon in Proudhon, Correspondence, vol. I (Paris 1874), p. xxii. See also A. Cuvillier, Introduction to Proudhon, De la creation de l'ordre dans l'humanite (Oeuvres completes, Paris 1927), pp. 21 ff.

27 H. de Saint-Simon, On Social Organization in Henri, Comte de Saint-Simon: Selected Writings, ed. and tr. F. M. H. Mark-ham (Oxford 1952), p. 78. For an excellent discussion of Saint-Simon's life and doctrines, see Frank E. Manuel, The New World of Henri Saint-Simon (Cambridge, Mass. 1956).

28 Quoted E. Dolleans, Proudhon (Paris 1948), p. 41.

29 E. H. Carr, Michael Bakunin (London 1937), p. 62.

30 Wilhelm Weitling, Evangelium eines armen Sunders (Bern 1845), p. 17.

31 Quoted Carl Wittke, The Utopian Communist (Baton Rouge, Calif. 1950), p. 39.

32 Wilhelm Weitling, Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit (Berlin 1908), p. 247.

33 ibid.

34 For this somewhat obscure episode, see Die Kommunisten in der Schweiz nach den bei Weitling vorgefundenen Papieren (Zurich 1843). This is the report drawn up by order of the Zurich authorities by Bluntschli, later a famous professor of jurisprudence, at the time of Weitling's arrest. See also Wittke, op. cit, pp. 35-44.

35 Weitling, op. cit., p. 236.