E. Belfort Bax

The National Workshops of ’48

(31 March 1906)

National workshops of ’48, Justice, 31st March 1906, p.6. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrade, – I cannot agree with Mrs. Mahler’s contention that the conversation of Marie with Emile Thomas, referred to by me, that related exclusively to the commission at the Luxembourg. This and the “national workshops” scheme were part and parcel of one and the same policy which was, in its entirety, forced upon the Provisional Government by the Paris proletariat through their leaders, chief of whom was Louis Blanc, a policy which the Government accepted unwillingly and which the reactionary party in the Government was determined should lead to nothing if it could help it. The strongest evidence of the fact of the “ work-shops” having been organised for failure, however, lies not in any conversation, but in the way in which the enterprise was organised and conducted. At the moment of writing, unfortunately, I have not a copy of Thomas’s book at hand. But on turning up the account given in Selgnobos’ Histoire Politique de l’Europe Contemporaine, I find that that accurate and singularly impartial historian entirely takes my view of the import of the conversation in question. In a note to page 149 occurs the following statement: “The director of the national workshops, E. Thomas, pupil of the Ecole Centrale, relates that he proposed to create true workshops, and that Marie refused, remarking ‘that the definitive intention (intention bien arretée) of the Government had been to allow the experiment to be made in order to demonstrate to the workmen themselves his (Louis Blanc’s) impracticable theories in all their hollowness and falsity.’”

It may be quite true, as Mrs. Mahler says, that the Government wished to give Louis Blanc enough rope that he might hang himself, but the mere placing of him at the head of a Commission with no powers to do anything would certainly not have effected this object, By sending the popular leaders to the Luxembourg, the reactionary authorities got rid of their “troubling” at the Hotel de Ville, the seat of the Provisional Government, it is true, which was, of course, a gain for them, but they did nothing more. On the other hand, the actual discrediting of Louis Blanc was to be worked by pretending to adopt his suggestion of national workshops and organising them in an impossible manner so as to ensure failure within as brief a period as was convenient.

The two institutions, the Luxembourg Commission and the National Workshops, moreover, although not directly dependent on one another, can hardly be spoken of as “entirely distinct,” seeing that they both emanated from the same source, on the same occasion, and, as already said, formed part of a common policy – a policy which it was the (even at the time) scarcely-concealed object of the dominant reactionary elements in the Provisional Government to wreck, notwithstanding that they were forced by the situation to nominally give it a trial. – Yours,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 10.7.2004