Ernest Belfort Bax

Gracchus Babeuf

V. The Secret Directory and its Principles

THERE was now only one course left to the Babouvists, and that was the concentration of the movement in the hands of a secret committee of insurrection.

It should be mentioned that before this, while the Society of the Pantheon was still flourishing, a secret committee to prepare an insurrection against the new tyranny had been formed, and met at the house in the Rue Clery, of Amar, the former member of the Committee of General Security during the Terror. It consisted of Amar himself, Darthé, Buonarroti, Massart (an adjutant-general of the army), and Germain, and was subsequently enlarged by the addition of other members.

Among the above-mentioned persons, Philippe Buonarroti is worthy of special note. Descended from Michael Angelo Buonarroti, born in Pisa in 1764, exiled from Italy owing to his enthusiastic adoption of French revolutionary principles, he became a prominent Jacobin, and was honoured by the Convention with the title of French citizen, joined the Society of the Pantheon, and became an enthusiastic supporter of Babeuf at the period at which we have arrived.

The theory of this committee was that the existing government established by the Constitution of the year III. was illegitimate and an usurpation; that, in addition, its intentions were oppressive and tyrannical, and that the public welfare demanded its destruction. Amar and one or two other members whose ideas were not clear were soon brought over by Darthé and Buonarroti to be enthusiastic adherents of the communistic doctrines of Babeuf and the “Equals”. This committee, however, for various reasons, chief of which was the unjust denunciation of Amar by a former colleague of his, named Héron, who seems to have borne him implacable hatred, was dissolved. An attempt during the next few weeks to form various similar groups also came to nothing, and it was not until April that the celebrated committee composed of Babeuf, Debon, Buonarroti, Darthé, Félix Lepelletier, and Sylvain Maréchal was founded, and became the centre of the renowned Conspiracy of the “Equals”, which only just missed overthrowing the Constitution of the year III., and the government founded upon it.

A striking unanimity of view associated the members of this head centre of the conspiracy; political liberty and economic equality were the objects animating all. Sylvain Maréchal, already known as a prominent orator at the Pantheon, drew up the celebrated Manifesto of the Equals as a condensed exposition of the aims of the movement, and proposed its acceptance by his colleagues. Sylvain Maréchal, it may be noted, was not unknown to literary fame, having suffered four months’ imprisonment during the ancien régime for a publication entitled the Almanack of Honest Men (Almanach des honnêtes gens). He also wrote a work entitled the Atheist’s Dictionary (Dictionnaire des Athées). The Secret Directory, as the committee was called, not altogether approving certain expressions in the manifesto, did not authorise its publication as an authoritative statement of the views held by it, but its historical importance, nevertheless, as the best known short statement of the aims of the movement, induces us to give it here in its entirety. The manifesto of the Equals bears for its motto a phrase of Condorcet’s – “Equality of fact, the final aim of social art.” It proceeds as follows:–

People of France! During fifteen centuries you have lived as slaves, and in consequence unhappily. It is scarcely six years that you have begun to breathe, in the expectation of independence, happiness, equality! The first demand of nature, the first need of man, and the chief knot binding together all legitimate association! People of France! you have not been more favoured than other nations who vegetate on this unfortunate growth! Always and everywhere the poor human race, delivered over to more or less adroit cannibals, has served as a plaything for all ambitions, as a pasture for all tyrannies. Always and everywhere men have been lulled by fine words; never and nowhere have they obtained the thing with the word. From time immemorial it has been repeated, with hypocrisy, that men are equal; and from time immemorial the most degrading and the most monstrous inequality ceaselessly weighs on the human race. Since the dawn of civil society this noblest appanage of man has been recognised without contradiction, but has on no single occasion been realised; equality has never been anything but a beautiful and sterile fiction of the law. To-day, when it is demanded with a stronger voice, they reply to us: ‘Be silent, wretches! Equality of fact is nought but a chimera; be contented with conditional equality; you are all equal before the law. Canaille, what do you want more?’ What do we want more? Legislators, governors, rich proprietors, listen, in your turn! We are all equal, are we not? This principle remains uncontested. For, unless attacked by madness, no one could seriously say that it was night when it was day.

Well! we demand henceforth to live and to die equal, as we have been born equal. We demand real equality or death; that is what we want.

And we shall have it, this real equality, it matters not at what price! Woe betide those who place themselves between us and it! Woe betide him who offers resistance to a vow thus pronounced!

The French Revolution is but the precursor of another, and a greater and more solemn revolution, and which will be the last!

The People has marched over the bodies of kings and priests who coalesced against it: it will be the same with the new tyrants, with the new political hypocrites, seated in the place of the old ones! What do we want more than equality of rights? We want not only the equality transcribed in the declaration of the Rights of Man and the citizen; we will have it in the midst of us, under the roof of our houses. We consent to everything for its sake; to make a clear board, that we may hold to it alone. Perish, if it must be, all the arts, provided real equality be left us! [1] Legislators and governors, who have neither genius nor good faith; rich proprietors without bowels of compassion, you will try in vain to neutralise our holy enterprise by saying that it does no more than reproduce that agrarian law already demanded more than once before! Calumniators! be silent in your turn, and, in the silence of confusion, listen to our demands, dictated by nature and based upon justice!

The agrarian law, or the partition of lands, was the immediate aim of certain soldiers without principles, of certain peoples moved by their instinct rather than by reason. We aim at something more sublime and more equitable – the common good, or the community of goods. No more individual property in land; the land belongs to no one. We demand, we would have, the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, fruits which are for everyone!

We declare that we can no longer suffer, with the enormous majority of men, labour and sweat in the service and for the good pleasure of a small minority! Enough and too long have less than a million of individuals disposed of that which belongs to more than twenty millions of their kind!

Let this great scandal, that our grandchildren will hardly be willing to believe in, cease!

Let disappear, once for all, the revolting distinction of rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and valets, of governors and governed! [2]

Let there be no other difference between human beings than those of age and sex. Since all have the same needs and. the same faculties, let there be one education for all, one food for all. We are contented with one sun and one air for all. Why should the same portion and the same quality of nourishment not suffice for each of us? But already the enemies of an order of things the most natural that can be imagined, declaim against us. Disorganisers and factious persons, say they, you only seek massacre and plunder. People of France! we shall not waste our tune in replying to them, but we shall tell you: the holy enterprise which we organise has no other aim than to put an end to civil dissensions and to the public misery.

Never has a vaster design been conceived or put into execution. From time to time some men of genius, some sages, have spoken of it in a low and trembling voice. Not one of them has had the courage to tell the whole truth.

The moment for great measures has come. The evil is at its height. It covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the name of politics, reigns there throughout too many centuries. Let everything return once more to order, and reassume its just place!

At the voice of equality, let the elements of justice and well-being organise themselves. The moment has arrived for founding the Republic of the Equals, that grand refuge open for all men. The days of general restitution have come. Families groaning in misery, come and seat yourselves at the common table prepared by nature for all her children! People of France! the purest form of all glory has been reserved for thee! Yes, it is you who may first offer to the world this touching spectacle!

Ancient customs, antiquated conventions, would anew raise an obstacle to the establishment of the Republic of the Equals. The organisation of real equality, the only kind that answers all needs without making victims, without costing sacrifices, will not perhaps please everybody at first. The egoist, the ambitious man, will tremble with rage. Those who possess unjustly will cry aloud against its injustice. Exclusive enjoyments, solitary pleasures, personal ease, will cause sharp regrets on the part of individuals who have fattened on the labour of others. The lovers of absolute power, the vile supporters of arbitrary authority, will scarcely bend their arrogant chiefs to the level of real equality. Their narrow view will penetrate with difficulty, it may be, the near future of common well-being. But what can a few thousand malcontents do against a mass of men, all of them happy, and surprised to have sought so long for a happiness which they had beneath their hand?

The day after this veritable revolution they will say, with astonishment, What? the common well-being was to be had for so little? We had only to will it. Ah! why did we not will it sooner? Why had we to be told about it so many times? Yes, doubtless, with one man on earth richer, more powerful than his neighbours, than his equals, the equilibrium is broken, crime and misery are already in the world. People of France! by what sign ought you henceforward to recognise the excellence of a constitution? That which rests entirely on an equality of fact is the only one that can benefit you and satisfy all your wants.

The aristocratic charters of 1791 to 1795 have only riveted your bonds instead of rending them. That of 1793 was a great step indeed towards real equality, and never before had it been approached so closely; but yet, it did not achieve the aim and did not touch the common well-being, of which, nevertheless, it solemnly consecrated the great principle.

“People of France! open your eyes and your heart to the fullness of happiness. Recognise and proclaim with us the “Republic of the Equals”!

As already stated, the Secret Directory did not sanction the publication of the above document as its own, exception being taken to certain expressions, chiefly the phrase “Perish, if it must be, all the arts, provided real equality be left us.” This we learn from Buonarroti. But the reason given seems insufficient, since the elision or modification of two or three phrases would have been an easy matter, and indeed is a very common proceeding under similar circumstances; and we may reasonably suspect some other reason as having influenced the committee against publishing the statement, which certainly in substance represented the views of all its members. Be this as it may, the “Secret Directory” decided, in its place, to publish and circulate the somewhat shorter and certainly less rhetorical document, probably drawn up by Babeuf himself, and entitled Analysis of the Doctrine of Babeuf, Tribune of the People, proscribed by the executive Directory for having told the truth (Analyse de la doctrine de Babeuf, tribun du peuple, proscrit par le diréctoire exécutif, pour avoir dit la vérité). It is divided into fifteen paragraphs, and is as follows:–

1. Nature has given to every man an equal right to the enjoyment of all goods.

2. The object of society is to defend its equality, often attacked by the strong and the wicked in the state of nature, and to augment, by the co-operation of all, the common means of enjoyment.

3. Nature has imposed upon each one the obligation to work. No one can evade work without committing a crime.

4. Labour and enjoyment ought to be common to all.

5. There is oppression when one man, after exhausting himself with work, wants for every thing, while another swims in abundance without doing anything.

6. No one, without committing a crime, can appropriate to himself exclusively the products of the earth and industry.

7. In a true society there ought to be neither rich nor poor.

8. The rich who are unwilling to renounce their superfluity in favour of the indigent are the enemies of the people.

9. No one should be able, by the accumulation of all the means necessary thereto, to deprive another of the instruction essential to his welfare; instruction ought to be in common.

10. The object of a revolution is to destroy any inequality, and to establish the well-being of all.

11. The Revolution is not finished, because the rich absorb all the good things of life and rule exclusively, while the poor labour as veritable slaves, languishing in misery, and counting as nothing in the State.

12. The Constitution of 1793 is the true law of the Frenchman because the people have solemnly accepted it; because the Convention had not the right to change it; because, in order to do so, it has had to shoot down the people who demanded its execution; because it has driven out and murdered the deputies who did their duty in defending the people; because the terror of the people and the influence of the emigrant aristocrats has presided at the drawing up and the pretended acceptance of the Constitution of Anno III (1795), which has not obtained even the fourth part of the votes cast for that of 1793; because the Constitution of 1793 has consecrated the inalienable right of every citizen to consent to the laws, to exercise political rights, to hold public meetings, to demand that which he believes to be useful, to educate himself, and not to die of hunger, – rights which the counter-revolutionary Act of Anno III (1795) has openly and completely violated.

13. Every citizen is bound to re-establish and to defend the Constitution of 1793 – the will and the well-being of the people.

14. All the powers derived from the pretended Constitution of Anno III. (1795) are illegal and counter-revolutionary.

15. Those who have raised their hand against the Constitution of 1793 are guilty of treason against the people.

Such is the official statement of the general aims of the Insurrectionary Committee or Secret Directory, of which Babeuf was the leading spirit. The view expressed as to the illegality of the Constitution of the year III (1795) is indisputable. The earlier Constitution of 1793, drawn up by the party of the Mountain in the Convention, which was of a thoroughly democratic character, had not only been accepted by the Convention itself, but had been ratified in a subsequent referendum by an overwhelming majority of the communes throughout France in their primary assemblies. Hence for the Convention, two years later, of its own authority, arbitrarily to tear up an Act of constitution, not merely adopted by itself, but solemnly ratified by a vote of the French people, was clearly a violation of all law, custom, or constitutional procedure whatever. It was, in short, an impudent and unscrupulous usurpation of power by the nouveaux riches of France and their satellites. As such, the “Secret Directory” was fully justified in declaring it to be an outrage on the people, and in no way binding on any Frenchman.

From this point of view, all authority deriving its sanction from the new Constitution of the year II. was null and void, and any exercise of power or act of violence on the part of such authority was, without doubt, justifiably to be regarded as mere brigandage. It was the primary objective, so to say, of the movement, the rehabilitation of the Constitution of 1793, that attracted all the old revolutionary elements to it, and united them in one accord. Old “Mountainists” and committee-men, partisans of Hébert and Chaumette, worked side by side with their old opponents, partisans of Robespierre, and both with the new Communist democrats, Babeuf and his friends. The realisation of the Constitution of ’93 was the link which bound them. In one respect, the “Secret Directory” was simply a continuation of the Society of the Pantheon, in so far as the work of propaganda and the educating and organising of public opinion was the chief object. At the same time, while steadily keeping in view their ultimate aims, Babeuf and his friends, who formed the soul of the new movement, made it the chief point at this time to rally the scattered revolutionary forces under the banner of the Constitution of ’93, an object upon which all could unite.

But it must not be supposed that the Babouvists regarded this work of the Convention in its revolutionary period as by any means perfect. For one thing, they naturally objected to its reaffirmation of the articles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man concerning the principles of private property-holding. Even the constitution itself they considered as offering insufficient guarantees against usurpations on the part of the legislative body. But they proposed to remedy these defects by additions and modifications after the constitution had been once in principle adopted. It was enough for them that the Constitution of ’93 was the best as a whole, and the most democratic up to date; that it had been accepted almost unanimously by the French democracy, and that it was the one possible rallying-point for all the revolutionary parties.

Part of the work of the “Secret Directory” was to establish and keep going throughout Paris, now that public discussion on a large scale, as at the old convent of St Genéviève with the Pantheonists, was suppressed, small groups in private houses and elsewhere, beyond the observation of the authorities, which were often unknown to each other, but were under the direct supervision of the “Secret Directory” itself. In order to carry on this organisation effectively the committee established twelve revolutionary agents, the selection of these agents occupying an important part of the time of the “Secret Directory”. Several were chosen to disaffect the army, one being selected for each of the battalions stationed in Paris and the suburbs. Thus a certain Fion was sent to the Invalides; another, Vanek, had a roving commission among the various bodies of troops in the capital.

Charles Germain, of whom we have already spoken, and who made Babeuf’s acquaintance in the prison of Arras, was allotted the task of winning over the legion of police; and an army captain, George Grisel, of whom we shall hear more presently, was appointed to work on behalf of the “Secret Directory” at that important military centre, the camp at Grenelle, near Paris, where he himself was stationed. Grisel had made the acquaintance of Darthé, who, with Germain, were now the right hands of Babeuf in the “Secret Directory” in the matter of organisation. The Cafe of the “Bains aux Chinois” was at the time a rendezvous of the democratic party. It was here that Grisel, a man of plausible speech, soon ingratiated himself with Darthé and the other leaders of the Equals, and became before long one of their most trusted and valued agents.

Great attention was now given also to the work of general propaganda by means of fly-sheets and placards, the analysis of the doctrine of Babeuf, already given, being distributed and placarded in great profusion. Another broadsheet was entitled An Opinion on our Two Constitutions – a letter of France Libre to his friend the Terror. Yet others were, Do we owe Obedience to the Constitution of the year III? and the Address of the Tribune to the Army; the Triumph of the French People against its Oppressors, etc. There was scarcely a day at this time which did not see some new publication of the Babouvists. They were all eagerly read by thousands, for the distress consequent on the startling depreciation of the assignats was growing rapidly every day. The success of the “Secret Directory” became now everywhere apparent. The secret or semi-secret groups founded by the “Secret Directory” had borne such good fruit that public meetings in the streets and open spaces, in which the Constitution of ’93 was demanded and the new communist doctrines discussed, sprang up, as it seemed, spontaneously.

It was now the beginning of May. Babeuf became more than ever the responsible leader of the whole insurrectionary movement. He it was who almost exclusively carried on the correspondence and issued the instructions to his agents, through the intermediary of a colleague and old friend, Didier, and in his retreat were deposited all the documents and the official seal of the conspiracy. It was clear that the time was becoming ripe for action. The only question was what form the action should take, and what form of governmental organisation should be established in the place of the hated Constitution of the year III, with its executive directory, which it was proposed to overthrow. To have called together the primary assemblies at once to elect a legislative body conformable to the Constitution of ’93 being impracticable, it was obvious that an interval of time must elapse between the insurrection and the putting of the constitution into force. The question to be decided therefore was, what form should the interim public authority take? This question of the provisional government to be established on the success of the coup de main, which circumstances now pointed to as the next important step to be taken by the committee, became urgent.

Amar, the old member of the Committee of General Security during the revolutionary period, proposed to reconstitute the National Convention as the only legitimate authority. But since, by arbitrary acts, a certain section of the Convention had rendered their authority null and void, and since a large number of the original members, to wit, those constituting the old party of the Mountain, had been driven out, exiled, or deprived of their political rights by the usurping dominant power, he proposed to recall all those members of the Convention who had been expelled and declared ineligible for re-election, together with that third of the old Convention at the time of its dissolution, which, not having formed part of the new legislative body (namely, the Council of “Five Hundred and the Ancients”), had not been responsible for the usurpation. To this it was objected that many of those it was proposed to readmit had been guilty of arbitrary acts in their capacity of Thermidoreans, such as the closing of the popular societies, the proscription of good democrats, the reintroduction into the Convention of the seventy-three expelled Girondins, and the liberation of aristocratic conspirators, etc.

These and other considerations were deemed by the committee as a whole to outweigh the advantages to be gained by the movement in giving it a certain colour of legality, which, it was admitted, was before all things desirable to prevent the return of the reaction. To this end men were wanted at the helm of affairs, and to effect a control over them, whose principles and whose courage were alike beyond suspicion; hence the “Secret Directory” decided that the insurgents in Paris should elect a provisional authority to which the government of the nation should be confided, until such time as it was possible to put the Constitution of ’93 into force. The question of the form this provincial government should take in a narrower sense still remained to be decided. Debon and Darthé proposed the dictatorship of one man. In support of their ideas, the inevitable examples from Roman history were put forward by them, while they drew a warning as to the disastrous results of divided councils from the divisions in the late Committee of Public Safety during the Terror. However, the proposition was not favourably received by the committee as a whole, and so it was decided that the provisional government should consist of a committee with a limited number of members. The conspirators met nearly every evening in the house where Babeuf was concealed. Babeuf himself was formally recognised as the leader of the movement, with whom was deposited the documents and the correspondence of the organisation and the official seal of the conspiracy, which bore the words “Salut Publique” on the border, and with which every important document had to be stamped before transmission to the revolutionary agent for whom it was destined. The following is given by Buonarroti as the usual agenda of the meetings: – 1. Reports of agents, and replies thereto. 2. Documents to be printed. 3. Propositions on the form of the insurrection. 4. The tendency of the legislation to be followed. 5. The institutions and organisation of the Republic. Decisions were taken by a simple majority, and were consigned to a register, in which, however, no signatures appeared.

To this period probably belongs the following draft of a Constitution found amongst the papers seized in connection with the conspiracy. The two decrees there given are interesting, as affording us a glimpse, the second especially, into the ulterior programme of the movement.

The documents in question each bear the heading Equality, Liberty, Universal Well-being.

Considering that the people has long been lulled with empty promises, and that it is time at last to set to work actively on behalf of its welfare, the only object of the revolution

Considering that the majestic insurrection of this day shall once for all make an end of want, the constant source of all oppression, the Insurrectionary Committee of Universal Welfare orders as follows:–

I. On the success of the insurrection, those poorer citizens whose present habitations are insufficient shall not return again to their old places of abode, but shall be quartered immediately in the houses of the conspirators [by ‘conspirators’ is understood here the parties actually in power]:

II. The furniture of the above – mentioned rich shall serve the purpose of providing the sans – culottes with sufficient household effects

III. The revolutionary committees of Paris are empowered to take the necessary steps for the immediate and accurate carrying out of the above decree.

The draft of another decree, bearing the same motto and superscription, ordains as follows:–

I. A great national community of goods shall be established in the republic. A national community of goods comprises the following objects Such property as has been declared national property, and which was not yet sold on the 9th of Thermidor, year II.

II. Such effects of the enemies of the revolution, according to the decrees of the 8th and 13th Ventose of the year II, as were reserved to the poor; such as, in consequence of a judicial decision, have accrued to the republic, or as shall do so later on; buildings at present used for public services; such property as before the law of 1793 belonged to the communes; such property as appertains to hospitals, or to public educational institutions; such effects as have been voluntarily given to the republic by their proprietors; the property of those who have enriched themselves in administering public functions; lands left uncultivated by their proprietors.

III. The right of inheritance is abolished; all property at present belonging to private persons on their death falls to the national community of goods.

IV. As existing property owners, the children of a living father, who have not been called to the army as by law ordained, shall also be reckoned.

V. Every French citizen, without distinction of sex, who shall surrender all his possessions in the country, and who devotes his person and work of which he is capable to the country, is a member of the great national community.

VI. All who have passed their 16th year, as well as all who are weak in health, in so far as they are poor, are ipso facto members of the national community.

VII. Young persons placed in the national educational institutions are also members of this community.

VIII. The property belonging to the national community shall be exploited in common by all its healthy members.

IX. The great national community guarantee to all its members an equal and moderate existence; it will furnish them with all that they require.

X. The republic invites all its citizens, by the voluntary surrender of their possessions to the community, to contribute to the success of this reform.

XI. From [date not given] no person may hold civil or military office who is not a member of the community.

XII. A great national community of goods shall be administered by locally elected officers, according to the laws, and under the direction of the supreme administration.

A section follows on “public works”, containing the following articles:–

I. Every member of the community is pledged to perform all labour of which he is capable in agriculture and in industry.

II. Those are excepted who have passed their sixtieth year, as also the weak in health.

III. Those citizens who, in consequence of the voluntary surrender of their possessions, have become members of the national community, will not be compelled to any coarse labour if they have passed their fortieth year, and have practised no handicraft before the publication of this decree.

IV. In every community the citizens shall be divided into classes, of which so many shall be formed as there are useful callings; each class shall comprise all persons carrying on the same calling.

V. Each class has to elect its own officers from its members; these officers shall control the labour and see to equal distribution of the same, shall carry, out the regulations of the communal authorities, and shall afford an example of zeal and industry.

VI. The law shall determine for each season the length of the working day.

VII. In every existing communal governing body shall exist a council of elders delegated from the different callings; this council shall advise the executive body, especially as to the distribution, the more agreeable arrangement, and the improvement of the conditions of labour.

VIII. The executive authority shall introduce into the work of the community the application of such machines and processes of labour as are suited to relieve the burden of human toil.

IX. The communal authority shall supervise continually the condition of the working classes, and the arrangements within its province, and shall furnish a report to the central authority regularly concerning the matter.

X. The transfers of workers from one community to another will be carried out by the central authority, on the basis of its knowledge of the capacities and needs of the community.

XI. The central community shall hold, under the supervision of the communes, at whose initiative it shall act, those persons, of either sex, to compulsory labour whose deficient sense of citizenship, or whose laziness, luxury, and laxity of conduct, may have afforded injurious example: their fortunes shall accrue to the national community of goods.

XII. The foremen of each class shall furnish the storehouses of the community with such products of agriculture and industry as it may be necessary to keep in hand.

XIII. As to the amount of this stored wealth, an accurate report shall be made regularly to the central authority.

XIV. The administrators belonging to the agricultural class shall watch over the breeding and improvement of such animals as are useful for nourishment, clothing, transport, and relief of toil.

Of the distribution and utilisation of the property of the community:–

I. No member of the community may claim more for himself than the law, through the intermediary of the authorities, allows him.

II. The national community assures from this time to each of its members a healthy, convenient, and well-furnished dwelling; clothes for work and clothes for leisure, of linen or wool, as the national costume demands; washing, lighting, heating; a sufficient quantity of the means of nourishment, as bread, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, or oil, wine and other drinks, such as are customary in different districts; vegetables, fruits, spices, and other comestibles, such as belong to a moderate and frugal station; medical aid.

III. In every commune public meals should be held at stated times, which members of the community shall be required to attend.

IV. Civil and military officers shall receive the same treatment as other members of the national community.

V. Every member of the national community who accepts payment or treasures up money shall be punished.

VI. The members of the national community should only receive the commune rations in the district in which they reside, except in cases where public authority shall have sanctioned change of residence.

VII. Existing citizens shall be deemed to have their domicile in the commune where they are on the publication of the present decree; the domicile of the pupils brought up in the national educational institutions shall be in the commune in which they were born.

VIII. In every commune there shall be officials who shall distribute to the members of the national community the products of agriculture and industry, and convey such to their dwellings.

IX. The principles of this distribution shall be determined by law.

Of the management of the national community of goods:–

I. A national community of goods stands under the legal direction of the highest power.

II. As regards the management of the community of goods, the republic is divided into regions.

III. A region comprises all adjoining departments which furnish nearly the same kind of products.

IV. In every region a subordinate management for the purposes of mediation shall be appointed, to which the directing bodies of each department shall be subordinated.

V. Telegraph lines shall serve to expedite communication between the management of departments, and the intermediate management and the supreme management. [Crude forms of telegraphy, by means of signalling and otherwise, had already been invented and experimented with (although not turned to general practical account) in the second half of the eighteenth century. The introduction of the modern electric telegraphic system in general use dates from more than a generation later than Babeuf’s time.]

VI. The supreme management shall determine, according to law, the manner and extent of the apportionment of goods to the members of the different regions.

VII. On the basis of these regulations, the departmental managements shall report to the intermediate managements the deficit or excess of products in their several arrondissements.

VIII. The intermediary managements shall equalise, as far as possible, the deficit of one department by the excess of another; shall give the necessary instructions, and furnish the supreme management with general accounts of their deficit or excess.

IX. The supreme management shall supply the needs of those regions having a deficit by the difference from those having a surplus, or by foreign exchanges.

X. Before everything else, the supreme management shall cause the tithe of the total produce of the community to be appropriated and stored in the warehouses of the military authority every year.

XI. Care shall be taken that the surplus of the republic shall be conscientiously held in reserve for years of bad harvests.

Of Trade:–

I. All private trade with foreign countries is forbidden; commodities entering the country in this way will be confiscated for the benefit of the national community; those acting to the contrary will be punished.

II. The republic shall acquire for the national community those objects of which it has need by exchanging its surplus of agricultural and industrial products against those of other nations.

III. For this purpose suitable warehouses shall be erected on the frontiers and on the coasts.

IV. The supreme management effects foreign trade by means of its agents; it has the surplus which it wishes to exchange warehoused in the above buildings, in which also commodities ordered from abroad shall be received.

V. The appointed agents of the supreme management in the trade warehouses shall be often changed. Untrustworthy officials shall be severely punished.

Of Transport:–

In every commune there shall be officers appointed to superintend the transport of communal goods from one commune to another.

II. Every commune shall be provided with adequate means for water and for land transport.

III. The members of the national community will be ordered in turn to supervise and carry out the conveying of goods from one commune to the other.

IV. Every year the intermediary managements shall commission a certain number of young people from all the departments under their care to deal with the more remote transport of goods.

V. The maintenance of the citizen concerned with transport service devolves upon the commune where he happens to be at the moment.

VI. The supreme management shall see to it that the conveyance of goods serving to supply the deficit of those regions which are in want shall be carried out as expeditiously as possible, under the superintendence of the intermediary management.

Of Taxes:–

I. Only persons not belonging to the community are liable to taxation:

II. They have to pay the taxes previously fixed.

III. These taxes are to be paid in kind, and to be delivered to the warehouses of the national community.

IV. The total contributions of those liable to taxation is each year to be double that of the previous year.

V. This total contribution shall be distributed over all persons liable to taxation, progressively, on an ascending scale, according to the department.

VI. Non-members of the community may, in case of need, be required to advance the surplus of the necessaries of life and the products of industry, on account of future taxes, and deliver them into the warehouses of the national community.

Of Debts:–

I. The national debt is extinguished for all Frenchmen.

II. The republic will reimburse to foreigners the capital value of the funds it owes them. Until this is done it will continue to pay interest on the loans contracted by it, also annuities payable to foreigners.

III The debts of every Frenchman who is a member of the national community towards another Frenchman are annulled.

IV. The republic shall assume the responsibility for the debts of members of the community towards foreigners.

V. Every fraud in this respect shall be punished with penal servitude for life.

Of Finance:–

I. The republic coins no more money.

II. Such money as accrues to the national community shall be utilised for the purpose of purchasing commodities required by the community from foreign nations.

III. Every individual not belonging to the community who is convicted of having offered money to one of its members shall be severely punished.

IV. Neither gold nor silver shall be in future imported into the republic.

The foregoing document, which was never more than a draft, may or may not have been drawn up by Babeuf himself. In any case it is instructive, as illustrative of the notions of socialistic reorganisation held by the most clear-thinking heads of the party of Equals, and not less of eighteenth-century sociology in general. The common fallacy inherent in the latter, and in which the Babouvists shared, was the notion that a new society could be voluntarily built up overnight, based on abstract concepts, and finished off in its details, by the artistic sense of a few capable leaders. What further strikes us in reading the Babouvists’ manifestoes, drafts, and programmes, as in the other proposals and speeches of the time bearing on social reform or revolution, is the comparative simplicity of the economic structure of society before the rise of the great machine-industry, and all that the latter has involved. As William Morris used to say, the change in social conditions between the first Egyptian dynasty and the end of the eighteenth century was, take it all in all, less profound than the change between the end of the eighteenth and the end of the nineteenth centuries. The theory of the Equals, as that of their successors, the Utopian Socialists of the earlier nineteenth century, was a scheme of social reconstruction. To-day, in the earlier twentieth century, we have done with schemes. Modern Socialism has no scheme: it has certain principles, and certain tactics and methods of action for the furtherance and carrying out of those principles, but as to the precise construction of the detail of life in the society of the future it ventures no prophecy. The complexity of modern social conditions and our knowledge of the doctrine of evolution in general, and of its application to historical growth in particular, has taught us the futility and puerility of attempts, however well-meaning, to mechanically mould conditions of life which must be dependent in great part at least upon a complex series of unforeseeable events. To criticise the draft programme above given in detail would serve no purpose. The general sentiment and view of life of the petit bourgeois, of the frugal, thrifty, simple-living peasant, small master, or independent craftsman, dominates the whole, as it dominated contemporary revolutionary thought generally.

The only point that was new in the theory of the Equals, and that showed a unique foresight, at least in one respect, with Babeuf and his friends, was the notion of the transformation of the entire French republic, by the seizure of the political power, into one great communistic society, thereby anticipating the modern notion of the dependence of organic social change on political means.

  1. This was one of the sentences objected to by other members of the committee.
  2. The idea of the abolition of governors and governed was also, as we are informed by Buonarroti, objected to by some of his colleagues

Last updated on 21.6.2003