Louis-Auguste Blanqui



A profile of the French revolutionary, a XNUMXth century Che Guevara

Socialism or Republic? The extraordinary trajectory of Louis-Auguste Blanqui, French socialist republican theorist and revolutionary, was the living expression of the transition from radical Jacobin democracy to proletarian socialism, associated with the names of Marx, Lassalle and Engels (not by chance, in France, this socialism it was called “German socialism”).

Born in 1805 in Puget-Théniers, Alpes-Maritimes, Louis-Auguste was the son of Jean Dominique Blanqui, a Girondin elected to the Convention, who participated in the vote on the death penalty of Louis XVI, and was imprisoned during the Terror, before become sub-prefect in the First Empire. Blanqui was frail and sickly in appearance, but also obstinate and violent in character.

He was educated in Paris at the Massin College where his brother, Jérôme-Adolphe, who was seven years older, (a liberal thinker who would become the most famous economist in France) taught. Already in 1822 (at the age of 17) he militated against the trial of the four sergeants of Rochelle, accused of belonging to a conspiratorial society and of agitating in their barracks. A young student at the time of the Restoration, in 1824 Louis-Auguste joined the Charbonnerie, the Carbonari, a revolutionary organization that clandestinely fought against the Bourbon monarchy.

Blanqui thus began the world of secret societies and conspiracies that would make him legendary in the 1827th century. He was wounded (three bullets) in 1828 in student demonstrations in the Latin Quarter. In 1829 he tried to leave for Greece to help in that country's insurrection against Ottoman rule. In XNUMX he entered the newspaper The globe, founded in 1824 by the liberal Pierre Leroux, as a stenographer and later as an editor. He fought the regime of Charles X, in the July Revolution of 1830, weapons in hand; a law student, he participated in the “Committee of Schools” which, in January 1831, demonstrated against the “July Monarchy” (that of Louis Philippe, the “bourgeois king”, who succeeded Charles X).

Arrested, he was convicted in 1832, in the “Process of the Fifteen” as a member of the Society of Friends of the People, where he linked up with other revolutionaries, such as Philippe Buonarroti (1761-1837, a descendant of Michelangelo, veteran of Babeuf's "Conspiracy of Equals" in 1796), François-Vincent Raspail (1794-1878) and Armand Barbès (1809-1870 ). To the judge's first question he replied: “Profession, proletarian; fixed domicile: prison”.

Cornered in the interrogation by the magistrate, he countered: «Oui, Messieurs, c'est La guerre entre les riches et les pauvres : les riches l'ont vouluainsi ; ils sont eneffetles agresseurs. Its consideration is considered with an action that is not as fast as it is necessary to oppose a resistance. Ils diraient volontiers, in parlant Du peuple: cet animal est si féroce qu'il se défend quand il est attaqué».

In 1836 he was leader of the Family Society, founded by Barbès, being sentenced to two years in prison for manufacturing explosives. Pardoned by the amnesty of 1837, he militated in the Society of the Seasons; prepared the insurrection of May 12, 1839 in Paris, which failed after taking the Prefecture: the balance was 50 dead and 190 wounded. Blanqui, arrested, was condemned to death in January 1840 (unexecuted sentence). Although he had a university education (Law, he also studied medicine), when asked about his profession by the judge, he replied: “Proletarian” – making popular the term of Latin origin (those who only had offspring) in its contemporary sense (later Marx would use it at the end of the Communist Manifesto: “Proletarians of the world, unite!”). And he said: "It is my duty as a proletarian, deprived of the rights of citizenship, to reject the competence of a court in which there are only members of the privileged classes, who are not my equals."

Blanqui fought for universal suffrage, equal rights for men and women, and the abolition of child labor. He spent 36 years (almost half of his life) in prison, which is why he is known by the nickname “The Incarcerated” (The nurse, in French). “Utopian socialist”? Certainly not, as a supporter of violent revolutionary action (unlike Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier, Considerant). One of the collections of texts by Blanqui is called Instruction pour une Prize d'Armes, but also non-Marxist, for not assigning any differentiated historical role to the working class (or its government). For George Lichteim, "what made Blanquism decisive in the revolutionary movement in France were the techniques of conspiracy and armed insurrection, and the idea of ​​a brief transitory dictatorship". Blanqui insisted on the need for an intermediate stage of “temporal dictatorship”, although he did not refer to a “dictatorship of the proletariat”.

Blanqui, on the other hand, clearly defended the idea of class struggle, in clear (and explicit) opposition to the “utopians” (“There is not a community, but an opposition, of interests; there is no other relationship than the struggle between them”). He was, for Arno Münster, “the first to formulate – after Babeuf – the theory of the revolutionary class struggle”. But he did not do so based on the analysis of capitalist specificity, but on the logic of the most radical Jacobins, who defended that the right to existence should prevail over the right to property. A privileged minority, for Blanqui, violated the principle of equality prevailing in primitive society.

As a theorist (or “economist”) who was critical of capitalism, he subscribed to the doctrines of underconsumption, understanding that goods were evenly sold above their value, not believing that capitalist accumulation was due to the exploitation of the working class (the upper class). value extorted in the production process), but to the “excess” that capitalists charged consumers. The profit of capital, for Blanqui, did not originate in the sphere of production (the factory), but in the sphere of circulation (commerce). He came to the conclusion of the need for a demonetized economy, in which producers exchanged their goods for their exact cost value, a pre-Proudhonian theory that had its roots in a country still riddled with small rural and urban producers.

Blanqui saw the basic content of history in the movement leading from the absolute individualism of savages, through successive phases, to communism, "future society" and "crown of civilization". The means to overcome individualism would be (public) instruction: “The work is the people; the intelligence is the men who run it,” he came to write. But his preaching was anti-capitalist: “Capital is stolen labor”, he said, before Proudhon (“property is theft”) or Marx.

The workers' organization through secret societies obeyed the strong repression of the governments of the Holy Alliance, throughout Europe. In 1844, the uprising of German weavers in Silesia (immortalized in Gerhart Hauptmann's play, the weavers), proved that workers' unrest extended across the continent. In 1843, the great French worker organizer, Flora Tristán (daughter of a French woman and a Peruvian aristocrat), made a call: “I come to propose the general union of workers and workers, throughout the kingdom, without distinction of trades. This union would aim to build the working class and build establishments (the Palaces of the Union of Workers) distributed throughout France. Children of both sexes, from six to 18 years of age, would be educated there, and sick, injured and elderly workers would also be received. There are in France five million workers and two million workers”.

Blanqui's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, he was committed to Mont Saint-Michel, then to the prison-hospital of Tours, and pardoned in 1847. Arriving in Paris on February 25, 1848, with the outbreak of the revolution, he founded the Central Republican Society. He demanded, with the entire left, the postponement of the elections, organizing the demonstrations on March 17th and April 16th (when he was at the head of a demonstration of... one hundred thousand workers!). On March 22, he sent a letter “To the democratic clubs of Paris”, stating that the replacement of a monarchy by a republican system would not change anything, if it did not put an end to the exploitation of workers by the bosses: “The Republic would be a lie, if it were only the replacement of one form of government by another. The Republic is the emancipation of workers, the end of the reign of exploitation, the arrival of a new order that will free labor from the tyranny of capital”. Popular patriotism should be anti-bourgeois: “War to death between the classes that make up the nation! The truly national party to which patriots must unite is the party of the masses. The bourgeois choose the regime that makes trade work, even if it is allied with foreigners”.

On May 15, he tried a new insurrection, but failed, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison in Belle-Île-en-Mer. Alexis de Tocqueville, Conservative MP, in souvenirs 1848, recalled Blanqui as “horrible”: “He had sallow and wrinkled cheeks, white lips, a sick, bad and filthy air, a dirty pallor, the appearance of a decaying body, without a visible line, with an old black levita glued to scrawny, skinny limbs; I felt like I lived in a sewer.”

He again militated against the Second Empire, proclaimed in 1851, grouping together students and workers; he enjoyed brief freedom between 1859 and 1861, when he was again imprisoned at Belle-Île-en-Mer (from prison he addressed a letter of appeal to the London Socialist Committee, which was published, with a preface by Karl Marx). He again escaped and took refuge in Belgium (Brussels) in August 1865, returning to Paris four years later thanks to a general amnesty; he continued to organize insurrections (actually, putschs armed forces) that always ended in failure (and imprisonment). For Anton Pannekoek, “linked to Blanqui, the intrepid revolutionary conspirator, was the segment of the proletariat that understood as necessary the conquest of political power by a determined minority, which, leading the mass through its experience and activity, could maintain power through of narrow centralization. For Engels, on the other hand, “the Blanquists were, formerly, among the great mass, socialists, endowed only with a proletarian-revolutionary instinct”.

With the fall of Napoleon III, Blanqui reappeared in Paris in 1870: on January 12th, he attempted an armed insurrection during the funeral of Victor Noir, the journalist murdered by Pierre Bonaparte (cousin of the Emperor). After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (with the Battle of Sedan, in September 1870), Blanqui created a newspaper, La Patrie en Danger, to support Gambetta's resistance against the Prussians. He took part in the riot of October 31, 1870, occupying the Prefecture of Paris for a few hours: arrested, for this reason, on the eve of the Commune of March 1871, and condemned to deportation by the government of Adolphe Thiers, he was interned in Clairvaux on account of his age (66 years old).

The majority in the legendary Commune was made up of followers of Blanqui: the “Blanquist party” was a reality, organized into “sections”, according to the Jacobin-radical tradition of the First Republic. Said Engels: "The members of the Commune were divided into a majority, the Blanquists, who predominated in the Central Committee of the National Guard, and a minority, the members of the International Workers' Association (AIT), who made up the socialist school predominantly formed by supporters of the Proudhonists”.

Edouard Vaillant, educational officer of the Commune, for example, was a member of the Blanquist party (however, according to Engels, “he knew German scientific socialism”). The Blanquists, who were not part of the AIT (founded in 1864), were from the beginning the majority in the Central Committee of the National Guard, and sought to overthrow the provisional government of Louis Jules Trochu and, later, of Thiers. Twice before March 18, 1871 (proclamation of the Commune), in October 1870 and January 1871, they organized insurrections that had the explicit objective of establishing the Commune, but they were unsuccessful. The Blanquists cultivated a conspiracy theory and "avant-garde" of the revolution, they thought that the revolution would be led in the beginning by the vanguard of a small group of dedicated revolutionaries, in the mold of the Jacobins of the French Revolution of the end of the XNUMXth century.

But, at the same time, maintaining a clandestine and cohesive organization of disciplined and dedicated militants, the Blanquists were able to carry out a broad work of revolutionary dissemination among the proletariat, even under the repressive conditions of the Napoleon III regime, and forged a group of fighters who knew each other and they were recognized by the other workers for their honesty and selflessness. This group was able, when the revolutionary situation was established, to make quick and decisive decisions, and more or less in tune with the state of mind of the class as a whole. The concrete and living connection with the life of the class ended up making up for the weaknesses of its ideology.

For Engels, “the Proudhonists were, in the first line, responsible for the economic decrees of the Commune, both for their glorious and inglorious aspects, just as the Blanquists were for their political actions and omissions. And, in both cases, the irony of history – as usual, when doctrinaires take the helm of the ship – wanted both to do the opposite of what their school doctrine prescribed: the Blanquists, educated in the School of Conspiracy , kept cohesive by the iron discipline that corresponds to it, started from the conception that a relatively small number of determined and well-organized men would be able, at a certain favorable moment, not only to assume the helm of the State, but also, through the dynamization of great and implacable energy, to keep it going as long as necessary, until they managed to draw the mass of the people into the revolution, to be grouped around the small ruling group. To this end, the most severe and dictatorial centralization of all power in the hands of the new Revolutionary Government would be indispensable”.

And, again according to Engels, “what did the Commune do, the majority of which was composed precisely of these Blanquists? In all his proclamations, addressed to the provincial French, he urged them to form a Free Federation of All French Communes with Paris, to form a national organization which, for the first time, had to be truly created by the nation itself. Precisely the oppressive power of the Centralist Government, then existing – the armed forces, the political police, the bureaucracy, created by Napoleon, in 1798, and which, since then, were assumed by all the new governments as welcome instruments, to be used against its adversaries – precisely this power was to succumb, on all sides, just as in Paris it had already succumbed”.

After the “bloody week” of May and the end of the Commune, the Blanquists, most of whom were arrested or exiled (Blanqui himself was, again, condemned to deportation in 1872), ended up joining the AIT in its last years of existence, but they did not surpass his ideas, and disappeared as a current of the movement in the following years. For Friedrich Engels, in The Program of the Blanquist Exiles of the Commune: “Blanqui is essentially a revolutionary politician. He is a socialist only through feeling, through his sympathy for the plight of the people, but he has neither a socialist theory nor any definitive practical suggestions for social solutions. In his political activity he was essentially a man of action, believing that a small, well-organized minority would attempt a political coup d'état, in due time, and could take the mass of the people with them, through a few successes, and thus start to a victorious revolution”.

Among anarchists, the Commune had the consequence of weakening Proudhonian cooperative conceptions, and reinforcing Bakuninist tendencies. Neither anarchist nor Marxist, but always a “Blanquist”, Blanqui wrote hundreds of articles and, in L'Eternite par les Astres (from 1872) defended the theory of the “eternal return” (well before Nietzsche): the atoms of which we are composed are reproduced an infinity of times in an infinite number of places, in such a way that we would all have an infinity of doppelgangers…

Post-Commune France was the birthplace of the currents that became predominant in European anarchism in the following decades: anarcho-syndicalism and individual terrorism, in whose body of ideas the lessons of the Parisian revolution had little space. In 1871, therefore, when the last Communards hit by the bullets of reaction, a chapter in the history of the labor and socialist world movement ended. A curtain of violence descended on the European political scene. Liberals and conservatives, republicans and monarchists have united in a new holy alliance against the revolutionary proletariat.

Yet in Belgium, the relatively more industrialized country in Europe, Bakunin and Blanqui still found an echo among Francophone (Walloon) workers, but German (Marxist) Social Democracy had more influence among the German-speaking Flemish people. Elected deputy in Bordeaux in April 1879, Blanqui had his election invalidated, as he was arrested, he could not assume the chair, but he was pardoned and released in June. In 1880, he launched the newspaper Ni Die uni Maître, which he directed until his death, victim of a stroke, after delivering a speech in Paris on January 1, 1881. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery, in a tomb created by the artist Jules Dalou. His main book, Social criticism, from 1885, actually a vast collection of articles, was published posthumously.

With Blanqui dead, is “Blanquism” over? As an epithet, it has long outlived the person who inspired it. Blanquism heavily influenced Russian populists (narodniki). In the early days of Russian socialism, and even much later, there was no lack of those who wanted to oppose the “democratic spontaneism” of the young Trotsky to the “dictatorial blanquism” of Lenin, with his theory of the centralized and professional party, which he had expounded at the what to do, although Lenin himself claimed that the Blanquists believed that “mankind would free itself from wage slavery not through the class struggle of the proletariat, but thanks to the conspiracy of a small minority of intellectuals”. Even after the Soviet victory of 1917, the Bolsheviks continued to be accused of “Blanquism”, both by their opponents on the right (social democrats) and on the left (the “councilist communists”).

Em Il Popolo d'Italia, the fascist newspaper founded and edited by Benito Mussolini, the epigraph was a sentence by Blanqui: “Chi hadel iron hadel pan” (“He who has iron [weapons] has bread”). Walter Benjamin considered him, in his “Theses on History”, as the character most closely linked to the XNUMXth century. Blanqui did not become a face on a T-shirt or a poster, like Che Guevara. But it is, currently, in Paris and other French cities, street name, boulevard, square, and even a subway station. It was “recovered” by official iconography.

French revolutionary, perhaps the greatest of all, Blanqui did not overcome, doctrinally or politically, the historical, economic and political conditions of his own environment, in the broadest sense. His policy and his theory (in his case, practically one and the same) did not stand the test of time, not even in the short term. But they decisively marked his time, which is why the ghost of Blanqui reappears again and again in political debates.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History and Revolution (Shaman).


Alexis de Tocqueville. Memories of 1848. Paris, Gallimard, 1964.

AngiolinaArru. Class and Party in the I Internacional. The debate on organization between Marx, Bakunin and Blanqui 1871-1872. Madrid, Communication, 1974.

Anton Pannekoek. Die neue blanquisme. Der Kommunist no. 27, Bremen, 1920.

Arthur Rosenberg. Democracy and Socialism. Sao Paulo, Global, 1986.

Friedrich Engels. The program of the Blanquist exiles from the Commune. In: Osvaldo Coggiola (ed.). Writings on the Paris Commune. São Paulo, Shaman, 2001.

George Lichtheim. Los Origins of Socialism. Barcelona, ​​Anagram, 1970.

Gustave Geffroy. L'Enfermé. Paris, 1897.

Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Maintenant, Il Faut des Armes. Paris, Editions La Fabrique, 2007.

Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Écrits sur La Révolution. Textes politiques et lettres de prison. Paris, Galilée, 1977 (preface by Arno Münster).

Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Texts Choisis. Paris, Editions Sociales, 1955.

Maurice Dommanget. auguste blanqui. Des origines à la Révolution de 1848 (Premiers combats et premières prisons). Paris, Mouton, 1969.

Maurice Dommanget. blanqui. Paris, EDI, 1970.

Maurice Dommanget. Les Idées Politiques et Sociales d'Auguste Blanqui, Paris, Fayard, 1957.

Maurice Paz.A Professional Revolutionary. auguste blanqui. Paris, Fayard, 1984.

Samuel Bernstein. Blanqui. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1970.


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