OF all the leading actors in the great drama of the French Revolution, there is probably none less known to the average reader of history than the subject of the present volume. All that has appeared in English in book form up to the present time consists, I believe, in Bronterre O’Brien’s translation of Buonaroti’s account of the Movement of the “Equals”, now long since out of print. The reason for this neglect, and for the lack of interest generally shown in Babeuf, is probably in part to be looked for in the fact that Babeuf’s public activity consisted of a kind of aftermath of the great historical events of the Revolution. The Revolution, properly speaking, had run its course before Babeuf appeared on the scene. The principal leaders were fallen or dispersed, the ragged levies of the people’s quarters of St Antoine and St Marceau had risen en masse for the last time, and had been beaten and disarmed by the forces of the new governing class that had installed itself in the seats of the old royal and feudal authorities. François Noel Babeuf, the subsequent Gracchus, played no political role of any importance while the Revolution was at its zenith. His name became first prominent in the year IV. (1795), when the Society, which later on met near the Pantheon, was formed. The usual fate of secret movements, of conspiracies, overtook Babeuf’s. It was killed by treachery – killed, as its promoters fondly believed, on the eve of success. In a word, the movement was a failure, and its memory with the great world soon tended to pass into oblivion. Nevertheless, for students of the earlier democratic movements, and of the precursors of modern Socialism, the agitation of Babeuf in the last decade of the eighteenth century must be of keen interest.
I may mention that the following monograph represents the carrying out of a wish, expressed some years before he died, of my old friend, William Morris, who thought that a clear and concise account of the Babeuf incident in English was wanted, and who urged me to undertake the task. Whether this little volume answers the requirements of the case must be left for the reader to judge.
Last updated on 21.6.2003