LONG before its scientific principles had been laid down by Marx and Engels, communism had arisen from time to time as a powerful movement frightening the ruling classes. Communism is a movement of the lowest classes to terminate private property in the means of production for the general social advancement. No matter how strong or powerful the State, always the slave, the serf, and the laborer had been prone to remember that the race had originated with a communism which had been for the benefit of all and that, in the course of the development of private property and the State, the people had been deprived of their possessions and with them of their power. (*1) Thus the discontented masses who took to communism only were following the old rule that revolutionary classes always look to the past for their inspiration. “The tradition of all past generations weighs like an Alp upon the brain of the living. At the very time when men appear engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves in bringing about what was never before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crisis do they anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past, assume their names, their battle cries, their costumes to enact a new historic scene in such time-honored disguise and with such borrowed language.” (*2)

At the dawn of the human race, a primitive communism had existed among the savages and barbarians that then peopled the earth. The low productivity of labor of mankind in the hunting and fishing stage or agriculture and the domestication of animals made necessary a pooling of the resources of all in order to survive.

Indeed, the existence of the herd, or rather the horde, was the factor that enabled homo sapiens to emerge from the ape stock. It was the horde that provided the plastic milieu by which every innovation that improved the ability of the stock to survive could be imitated and passed on. The collective form of labor of the horde with its rude subdivisions mightily increased the ape-stock’s strength and power. Through the existence of the horde, pithecanthropos erectus was able to utilize tools and to rise to the dignity of man. Naturally, the ties that held the individual to the group were extraordinarily strong and, in the early period of savagery, each one thought himself bound to the group as the finger is bound to the hand.

In such a low stage of technical development, where man was far more the victim of nature than its master, the ecological arrangements of such social animals had to be in the form of primitive communism, where each shared alike and where the means of production as well as the general product belonged to no one individual. Some of the primitive tribes, indeed had no word for “I” separate from the term “we.” (*3)

The implications of this early stage of social life are drawn with a skillful hand by Friedrich Engels: “How wonderful this gentile constitution is in all its natural simplicity! No soldiers, gendarmes, and policemen, no nobility, kings, regents, prefects or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits, and still affairs run smoothly. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the entire community involved in them, either the gens or the tribe or the various gentes among themselves. Only in very rare cases the blood revenge is threatened as an extreme measure. Our capital punishment is simply a civilized form of it, afflicted with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilization. Not a vestige of our cumbersome and intricate system of administration is needed, although there are more public affairs to be settled than nowadays: the communistic household is shared by a number of families, the land belongs to the tribe, only the gardens are temporarily assigned to the households. The parties involved in a question settle it and in most cases the hundred-year-old traditions have settled everything beforehand. There cannot be any poor and destitute—the communistic households and the gentes know their duties toward the aged, sick and disabled. All are free and equal—the women included. There is no room yet for slaves, nor for the subjugation of foreign tribes.” (*4)

During the Middle Ages, the opposition of the serfs to the oppression of the Catholic Church and of the landlords took the form of religious communistic schemes that were denounced as heresies by the church and were put down with a great deal of bloodshed. In Southern France, for example, the mass of poor took to the heretical beliefs of the Waldenses. (*5) Veritable crusades were launched against them and, after they had defeated several armies, they were practically exterminated with ferocious beastliness by order of the church.

The communism that flourished in the Middle Ages must be carefully distinguished from primitive communism and the religious communism that had preceded it, as well as from the communism of modern capitalist times. The communism of the Middle Ages stood for the equality of the beggars’ wallet, for a communism of consumers, for communal housekeeping, not communal labor. “Wherever we find co-operative production among the communistic sects of the Middle Ages, it is the effect, not the cause of housekeeping in common.” (*6)

While “The character of Christian asceticism in its beginning was chiefly determined by the ragged proletariat whose prominent peculiarities were idleness, dirt and stupidity,” (*7) the communism of the Middle Ages had a truly revolutionary spirit. The early Christian communists were unpolitical and passive, the communists of the Middle Ages took to the theory of the apocalypse and the active doctrines of the Old Testament. Reading the Bible for themselves, they ended their humility before the powers that be.

As feudalism broke down, the peasants, in their struggles to emancipate themselves from serfdom, became the natural allies of the merchants and other groups in the cities which also were struggling against the feudal forces and supporting the development of absolutism in the monarchy. Peasants’ revolts burst out in England whenever the ruling group was in difficulties and was pressing too hard upon the peasantry, as in 1381 under John Ball and in 1449 under Jack Cade. These peasants combined heterodox religious beliefs such as those of Wyclif and Huss, with political views that hailed communism on the one hand and the King on the other. Their chief enemy was the feudal lords. Similar eruptions occurred in France, in the wars known as the Jacqueries. Finally, in the sixteenth century, they broke forth in prolonged Peasants Wars.

In this last outburst the peasants were aided by the mass of plebeians in the cities. What the conditions of the latter were may be seen from the Statute of Labourers passed in 1547 in England. “By this Act of 1547 it was laid down as law that every able-bodied loiterer should be branded with a hot iron and handed over as a slave to the person who denounced him. Thus if an employer wanted a slave to work for him, he had only to drag the first vagrant he met before a magistrate and his need was supplied. The slave might be kept on bread and water … he might be compelled to undertake the most filthy tasks by means of flogging or other torture. If he ran away for a fortnight he was condemned to perpetual slavery, and to be branded with the letter S on his cheek and on his forehead; if he ran away again, death as a felon was his doom. His master could sell him, bequeath him, or let him like a horse or a mule. Death is the punishment of slaves who ‘contrive aught against their masters. When one of the vagabonds is caught on the roads by the public officers he is to be branded with the letter V on his chest, and brought back to his birthplace, where he must work in chains on the public works. If a vagrant gives a false birthplace he becomes a slave of the municipality, and is branded again. His children become the apprentices of the first-comer who want them—the lads up to the age of twenty-four, the girls up to the age of twenty. If these poor creatures take to flight they then become … slaves to their masters, who may put them in irons, whip them to their heart’s content, put rings around their necks and the like.” (*8)

By the sixteenth century, the situation came to a head under the leadership of the Anabaptists in Germany. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Germany under the Hanseatic League had made considerable progress and was getting out of medieval barbarism. None the less it was still behind other countries. It had no central city like London or Paris; the means of communication were poor and civilization existed only in scattered territories near the towns. Germany was marked by a political decentralization with the feudal Holy Roman Empire falling apart and big independent princes arising.

The Emperor was only a prince among other princes who acted independently and were absolute despots within their own provinces, each with a strong centralized machinery of state. As Germany decayed, with the shift of the trade routes to the West and the rise of superior manufactures elsewhere, the princes heavily increased their taxes. Since they could not enforce their taxes against the big cities which were able to protect themselves, the entire burden fell upon the peasantry, who hated the princes as outright bandits. Also pressed to the wall were the elements of the lower nobility, the knights’, whose castles had become pregnable to attack, who were useless as cavalry since the introduction of gunpowder, and who had now become impoverished and had turned into robbers.

As the oppressed elements of the countryside, in their desperate need to strike back against the system, looked around them for the weakest link in the armor of the rulers, the Catholic Church met their hungry eyes as a fat parasitic organism sucking their blood. The upper clergy were part of the prince-caste and partook of all the spoils obtained by the princes. Yet by this time the clergy were fast losing all trace of social usefulness. The printing press had deprived them of their intellectual monopoly and the civil magistrates were driving them out of jurisprudence.

The peasantry could remember the good times when the German tribes were run by the system of the Mark where land was held in common and a blood brotherhood was recognized. (*9) Then the land had been cultivated in common and the products divided among the families that settled round the village land or Mark. As the peasants bore the yoke of the Catholic Church of Rome they could not help but feel that this was an alien master having nothing to do with the Germanic peoples. They betook themselves to the doctrines of primitive Christianity that had prevailed when the disciples of Christ had lived in common. They raised as a virtue the ascetic rule that all should be poor and that the wealthy and idlers should be put out of the way. Asceticism and mutual poverty were inevitably the ethics of the rebels of this time owing both to the impossibility then for all to be wealthy with the prevailing low productivity of labor of the agrarian, and to the natural revulsion from the orgiastic parasitism of the church.

Finally in the sixteenth century, the desperation of the peasants broke forth in the prolonged Peasants’ Wars, in which the peasants were aided by the mass of plebeians in the cities.

Organizations such as the Union Shoe and Poor Konrad and the religious communist sect of the Anabaptists focused the discontent of the peasants. Outbreaks of peasants throughout Europe occurred until finally, concurrently with the Reformation agitation of Luther, the great Peasants’ War broke out in 1525 under the leadership of Thomas Muenzer. The demands of the peasants envisaged relief from serfdom and the excessive oppression of the lords. Their program consisted of twelve articles: the right to choose their own pastor; the right to pay reasonable tithes only; release from serfdom; abolition of the hunting rights of the lords; the return of the woods back to the people; the termination of the oppressive demands of the lords; the abolition of exorbitant dues; fair rent; the institution of a formal code and the end of arbitrary justice; the restoration of the commons to the people; the abolition of heriot; submission to the scripture, and willingness to withdraw any demand if proven against the scriptures.

Because of the naivety of the peasants and their general backwardness and isolation and because also of the vacillations of the cities, the Peasants’ War was crushed with dreadful slaughter.

After the peasant forces under Muenzer were annihilated, the lot of the agrarian in Germany became much worse. The only gainers in the struggle were the princes. Germany became more definitely decentralized than ever. The masses were defeated because the peasants, plebeians, and middle classes could not unite. They localized their actions and were crushed separately. From now on it was not the country that would lead the city, but the reverse; the urban middle classes would have to take the leading roles. The religious argument would give way to the political and social polemic.

The Anabaptist communists appeared for the last time as an important force in the English Civil Wars, where they formed part of the group of Diggers. As though suffering from an intermittent fever, society from now on must feel itself sweat every so often under the internal fires of communism. Up to the nineteenth century the intervals between communist spasms lasted about six score years; after the introduction of machinery, the intervals become much shortened, the fever more intense. With the twentieth century, communism had become chronic and all pervasive.


Over a century elapsed after the English Civil Wars before the communists raised their heads again. This time it was not the peasantry that spoke, looking back to the ideals of primitive communism, but the plebeian and proletarian masses of the foremost city of the world-Paris. The wretches in the slums of Paris had seen the French Revolution unfold from the movement calling for the cours de lit of the nobility to the directorate of Robespierre. In every case the revolution had rested within the framework of private property and had not succeeded in solving the problems of the poorest layers of the people of Paris. Under Robespierre, the Committee of Public Safety had enacted severe regulations against workmen’s combinations or other assemblies having in view the raising of wages or the affecting of trade interests in any other manner. Many hundreds of workmen had been brought to the guillotine and, when the Commune under Hebert rose in revolt, the people’s leaders were summarily executed. This in turn so weakened the regime of Robespierre as to allow the Right Wing to do away with him and usher in the power of the Directory.

All of these revolutionaries had been ardent supporters of private property; when the Thermidorians took power there was an unconscionable scramble for loot. Barras obtained five estates, de Thionville seized immense landed property, as did Tatien and Legendre. During the five revolutionary years before Thermidor, the paper currency, the assignat, based on land values, had been kept within some sort of bounds, being restricted to seven billion francs; but under the Directory it soon reached the staggering total of thirty-eight billion, causing an immense rise in the prices of necessities, chaos in the city, and great suffering among the masses. Among the poor there was generated the most intense hatred for these nouveaux riches and for their entire system of property. The basis was laid for a genuine communist movement. A leader was soon found, Baboeuf.

Baboeuf was one of those middle class Jacobins who had moved steadily to the Left with the unfolding of the revolution. While in jail he had become immensely impressed with the work of Morelly, utopian communist litterateur. Morelly was among the first to put forward the idea “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

According to Morelly’s system, which had much in common with that of Rousseau, all primitive instincts were good and had resulted in a primitive communism which later had become spoiled. Avarice was the only vice in the world; property was the source of avarice. (*10) The root of all conduct was self-love, but man to be happy must be a social person, and the key to happiness was to be found in moral rectitude. Fixed moral rules were to govern society which was to be divided along some mechanical scheme similar to the phalanstaries of Fourier who, indeed, seems to have borrowed some of his ideas from Morelly. There was to be common ownership of all wealth and equal enjoyment of it. (*11) Men do not avoid labor but the unpleasantness of it. (*12) The directors of this society should be the talented ones and, if necessary, should be empowered to use force to prevent any backsliding into the present immoral system.

Morelly undertook to lay down the rules even to marriage. All must marry; only those over forty years of age could remain celibate. The first marriage was to be for ten years. Then divorce could be granted on the demand of one party. The only condition to the divorce was that the same persons could not remarry each other within a year, or any person younger than the original pair. In this way, with such familial and property rules worked out, mankind could reach his highest happiness and perfection.

Another contemporary to inspire Baboeuf was Mably. (*13) Mably spoke most longingly of communism, but to him it was an ideal impossible to achieve. The primitives had practiced communism, but it was now gone never to return. The next best thing was a modified feudalism. “The distance between Mably’s idea of a republican communism and his improved feudalism which was to serve as the first step towards reform was so wide and filled in by so many alternative stages that it became easy for nearly all parties to appeal to him for support.” (*14)

To Mably the Law of Nature was the law of equality among men. This equality had originally existed but had been obscured by the establishment of private property, that root of all immorality. He was opposed to equal distribution of goods, since in a short time such a distribution would cause the same evils to arise again. He was for a communized production rather, of the type that had existed in primitive society. This agrarian communism was based not on economics, but on ethics. Men would do that type of work for which they are best suited; their products would be gathered into common store houses, from which magistrates would distribute them according to the needs of the recipients.

Deeply affected by these ideas, and disgusted with the unequal results of the revolution, despite the rivers of blood that had been shed by the people, Baboeuf, in 1795 began his secret organization of the Society of the Equals. The Manifesto of the Equals declared: “The French Revolution is but the precursor of another, and a greater and more solemn revolution, and which will be the last! … 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…. Let disappear, once for all, the revolting distinctions of rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and valets, of governors and governed.” (*15)

The constitution of the Society of the Equals had for its motto: equality, liberty, universal well-being. According to its principles, the poor were to get the houses and furniture of the rich; a national community of goods was to be established; the right of inheritance was to be abolished; the national community was to guarantee to all an equal and moderate existence and assure to each person a dwelling, clothes, food, heat, light, laundry, and medical aid; all members of society were to work except the aged and the sick; each industrial group was to be organized, elect Officers, and see that labor was carried out. The length of the working day was to be definitely determined, machinery was to be introduced to relieve toil. Those who refused to work were to be arrested. Public meals were to be served. The military were to be treated the same as the civil institutions. The use of money was to be abolished within the country and the saving of money prohibited. All private trade with foreign countries was to be forbidden and a national monopoly of foreign trade established. Taxes were to be placed only on non-members of the community. The national debt was to be extinguished for Frenchmen. As for the foreign debt, the republic would repay the capital loaned, but not the interest. Pupils were to be brought up in national institutions. The program was acute enough to call for the use of the telegraph, although this invention was perfected only in the middle of the nineteenth century. (*16)

Here was a program pregnant for the future, a close comparison demonstrating how much of it the Russian Revolution actually carried out. Even the most extreme of the revolutionists, such as Hebert, Roux, Clootz, and others of an Anarchist trend, had not dared to advocate the termination of private property; the few writers who had attempted to work out such dread pictures had no influence upon the masses. It was Baboeuf’s unique contribution to France that he was the first to attempt actually to realize a communist society by means of insurrection. Baboeuf was the first genuine communist revolutionary.

Instinctively he understood that to accomplish this program he must base himself upon the poor and not upon the wealthy, and that among the poor it was the working class that was to make up the core of his army. All of his program was designed to win that class in a practical and thorough manner. And in his program there was very little of the utopian wish-mongering that characterizes the genteel literary men who want to reform the world. There were no fantastic religious, nor ethical theories. There was, instead, a practical concrete economic and political program worked out for the consideration of the masses.

None the less, the program was an impossible one to realize. The only ones who could fight for such a program were the proletariat and the propertyless. But these constituted but a small proportion of the population. The great majority of the nation was made up of either peasants, shopkeepers, artisans, and such petty owners, or those who ardently desired to obtain some property. The technical level of society was still insufficient to have generated masses of city factory workers who would pool their collective labor in large-scale plants for the production of articles in an intricate network of subdivision of labor. Baboeuf amply forecast the orientation and direction of future champions of the working class, but he came too early upon the scene to be able to realize that goal himself.

Baboeuf himself, however, could not predict the tragic nature of his actions. Optimistically, he believed that all that was necessary was an irrefutable program and a vanguard of determined fighters. Thus, at bottom, Baboeuf revealed himself incapable of appreciating the actual situation. Will and determination were to make up for numbers. In his Manifesto he declared, for instance, “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?” (*17)

Baboeuf soon was to realize the premature character of his attempts. With extraordinary ability he was able to organize his secret society and prepare for the insurrection which took place in 1796. But alas, with all his will, his determination, his care and his secrecy, the adventure was soon over, the organization shattered, and Baboeuf himself brought to trial. Here Baboeuf behaved like a hero, but the movement perished with him and might have been lost to posterity had not Buonarotti preserved the record with his work on the Babouvist movement. This work of Buonarotti was to furnish the inspiration for the movement of the Blanquists, the logical heirs of the Babouvists in the nineteenth century.

The time was now at hand when the industrial revolution in England was doing its quiet work in creating a working class, and when all of Europe was beginning to be convulsed in modern capitalist crises. On the continent there was a great deal of ferment. Thinkers were building all sorts of utopian schemes of harmony and social justice. Soon the proletariat would make its first great bid for power, in the June days of the 1848 insurrection.

During this period, from the band of German exiles in Paris there was formed in 1836 the Federation of the Just. This Federation became an active factor in French proletarian communism and carried on the Babouvist tradition, demanding a community of goods and dividing its activity between propaganda and conspiratorial work. The organization was in close touch with Blanqui and Barb’es, and fought shoulder to shoulder with them in the abortive 1839 Paris revolt.

The League of the Just was strongly influenced by the views of the contemporary Frenchman Cabet. Cabet had been one of the actives in the Carbonari and, after the Revolution of 1830 in France, had been exiled for five years. In England he became a utopian Communist. As a transition to Communism Cabet wanted to set up a democratic republic composed of self-governing communes. National workshops were included in his plan, together with a tax on income and the communization of public lands.

“By the absorption of inheritances under an extended law of escheat, by the mode of imposing taxes, by the legal regulations of wages, and by the development of large national industries, the state would absorb all private property and all industrial and social functions, so that, at the end of half a century, the people would find themselves transformed into a vast partnership—a great national hive, where each labored according to his abilities and consumed according to his necessities; where crime had vanished with poverty, and idleness with luxurious wealth; where peace and plenty, liberty and equality, virtue and intelligence reigned supreme. Thus the former political unit of the commune would have developed by a gradual and simple process into the unit of social and industrial cooperation. The waste of competition would have been replaced by the economy of general organization. Buying and selling and all monetary operations would obviously have become obsolete.” (*18)

At the start, the most influential member of the League of the Just was the German tailor, Wilhelm Weitling, who joined the organization in 1837 and divided his time between propaganda work explaining communism and practical organizational activity. In 1839 he wrote his book, Mankind as It Is and as It Should Be and in 1842 his Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom. His Gospel of the Poor came out in 1845.

Weitling borrowed much of his “Guarantees of Harmony” from Fourier and, like the latter, founded his plan of reorganization of society upon the nature of man whose desires are to be placed in three categories, to acquire, to enjoy, and to know, and whose means to satisfy these desires are his capabilities as embodied in production, consumption, and administration. Private property causes the lack of satisfaction of the desire of knowledge; labor produces wealth or money, which is taken away by the employer. This is capital. Capital is, therefore, originally the property of the laborers, and the greater the capital, the greater the exploitation of labor.

Against this capitalist system Weitling proposed to build a social State. Like other utopian thinkers, Weitling would have the power in society rest not in a dictatorship of majority rule but in intelligence. At the head of his society there would stand the three greatest philosophers, a triumvirate, with supreme control and administration. These triumvirs would adjust the needs of consumption. Six hours of labor were to be the average. All material products and intellectual labor were to be estimated according to their value in labor hours. Authorities would set the rate of exchange. Each worker would have a labor book with labor notes. Full education was considered necessary for progress and for the evolution of the race. Education was to cease to be a privilege and was to be given to all under the rule of Philosophy.

From these views it can be seen that although Weitling still had his head in the clouds of petty bourgeois utopias and still was dazzled by Saint-Simon and Fourier, yet he was entirely different from these others in that he had his feet in the ranks of the workers. Thus Weitling furnished a peculiar bridge between the utopianism of the French and the later materialism of the Marxists. He was a true forerunner of proletarian communism.

According to Weitling, the new order was to be established when a majority of the proletarians in any locality decided to introduce it. “If resistance is offered, then more drastic measures are resorted to. The proletarians are to declare a provisional government, depose all existing offices, especially the police and judges, and elect new officers from their own ranks. The rich are to be disfranchised and compelled to support the poor and destitute while reconstruction is pending. The property of the State and of the church at once becomes communal. Those who choose to leave the country may do so, their property being confiscated. The rich who offer their means for the support of the new society are promised a pension during life; the rest, by limitations on their activity, by punishments and penalties, will be forced to succumb. If all these means fail, then a moral must be preached which no one now dares to preach. A revolution after the order of Baboeuf is the ‘moral’.” (*19)

The works of Weitling made a profound impression upon the advanced German workers of his time. It was of Weitling that Marx later wrote, “It must be admitted that the German proletariat is the theorist of the European proletariat, just as the English proletariat is its political economist, and the French proletariat its politician.” (*20)

But Weitling was not only a propagandist but a splendid organizer and an excellent agitator, surpassed only by Lassalle among the Germans. The plan of the League of the Just was to organize innocent “surface” groups, such as singing societies, educational and sport clubs, etc.; within which there were to be established the nuclei of the Federation and also unions of the workers for struggle on the economic field. In the course of his work, Weitling was able to build up a considerable network of such societies.

Weitling was unable long to remain a pioneer. The prominence of his writings prompted him to take a sort of messianic role and, like Saint- Simon and Auguste Comte, he took to religion, fighting for the belief that Jesus Christ was the first communist. After the defeat of the workers in 1848, he moved to America, where he tried to set up a communist colony. In Europe, Weitling was a revolutionary; removed to the happy hunting grounds of America, he became a pure utopian.

Upon the collapse of the Blanquist putsch, in which some of the leaders of the Federation of the Just, such as Schapper and Bauer, were involved, these people were forced to leave France. In England in 1840 they formed a German Workers Educational Society, recruiting members for a local of the Federation in London and successfully building up branches in a number of cities. Gradually, the Federation became international in character, the London Workers Educational Society was turned into the Communist Workers Educational Society, a secret organization being retained.

The Federation at this time was composed mostly of craft workers employed in small shops. With such elements it could not advance much farther along the lines of scientific communist struggle. But at this juncture the Federation of the Just was enriched by the aid of Marx and Engels, who had formed a German Workers Society in Brussels in 1845. The views of Weitling and of French equalitarianism proving inadequate, the Federation of the Just asked Marx and Engels to join and put forth their views, some of which had already become known in the English Chartist paper, the “Northern Star,” and in the French organ, “La Re’forme.” Under the guidance of Marx and Engels, the Federation changed its rules and adopted a new purpose, brilliantly affirmed in the document, the Communist Manifesto, which these two revolutionists had been asked to draw up and which had been accepted. Conspiratorial methods were abolished and the Federation functioned as a propaganda society until the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1848. Entering this revolution, the Federation of the Just became the Communist League.


The Communist Manifesto is one of the most astounding documents in the history of revolutionary movements. Boldly it declares: “The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling class tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!” (*21)

In this “Bible of the working class” there are to be found all the fundamental principles of revolutionary communism. The document traces the history of civilized society as a history of class struggles and, basing itself on the materialistic conception of history, shows that the rise of the bourgeoisie to power only creates its own grave-diggers, the proletariat. No sooner are the capitalists firmly in the saddle than the executioner is at the door. The Manifesto then enters into an analysis of why the bourgeoisie cannot control the forces it has generated and how the proletariat inevitably must take power and usher in the new society. To do this, the proletariat must organize its own party, the Communist Party, since every class struggle is a political struggle, and since the organization of a class is its organization into a political party.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority…. Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country, must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie…. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” (*22)

The Communist Manifesto then lays down the principles governing the relation of communists to the class they represent. It declares, “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat independently, of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. The communists, therefore, are, on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. The immediate aim of the communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties; formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.” (*23)

As the Revolution of 1848 began, the Communist League understood well that it would have to work hand in hand for the while with the petty bourgeois democrats to struggle for immediate demands. Communists were to support every revolutionary movement against the existing order and to bring to the front the property question, no matter what the degree of development of property prevailing at the time. Although the Communists were to labor to unite all democratic parties of all countries, by no means were they to lose their identity. “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of the movement.” (*24)

In the struggle against the old order by the democratic forces, the communists were to take part actively and as soon as possible to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, that is to win the battle of democracy. Once in control under the situation that existed, the workers were to introduce communism, not immediately, but step by step. “The proletariat will use its political supremacy, to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as a ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” (*25)

The measures that were to be introduced at once were: the abolition of property in land and the application of all rents of land to public purposes; a heavy progressive or graduated income tax; abolition of all right of inheritance; confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels; centralization of credit in the hands of the State by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly; centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State; extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan; equal liability of all to labor; establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture; combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; the gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of population over the country; free education of all children in public schools; abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form; combination of education with industrial production; and similar measures.

After the French revolution of 1830, Europe was sitting on a powder keg which not all the water of the Metternich Holy Alliance could prevent from blowing up. Recognizing this situation, the smaller States of Germany had granted constitutions to the people in order to rally the population of these principalities against possible aggrandizement by the big States of Austria and Prussia. To play with liberalism was not too dangerous for these petty rulers, since the big States would see that the people did not go too far. These constitutional and republican tendencies were much advanced by the French Revolution of 1830. But as time went on, the petty potentates began to retract the constitutional rights given the people.

Within Prussia, the stupid tactics of Frederick Wilhelm IV compelled the bourgeoisie to resist. Business, with the lower nobility, forced the King to create a “Diet.” When this body was granted only consultative powers, the bourgeoisie continued its resistance by refusing the financial aid necessary to the State and, as it needed to appeal to the people for support, it began to pose in a way as socialistic. In Germany there was no separate republican party, the people being either constitutional monarchists or socialists and communists. In the meantime, the proletariat was starting to organize on its own account. The Rhenish Gazette, edited by Marx, fired the first shot in 1842. In 1844 there occurred the big strike movements of the Silesian and Bohemian workers which were bloodily suppressed. French socialism won headway and the Communist League was formed.

By 1848, Germany was on the eve of revolt, and the French Revolution opened up the way. At the same time, in Vienna itself, under the blows of a unanimous popular revolt, the whole rotting reactionary system of Metternich crashed. No sooner, however, was the old Austrian regime removed than differences began to appear among the groups which had revolted. While a Committee of Safety was being formed with the bourgeoisie at the head, another and dual power was arising in the form of a student “Aula” body which had borne the brunt of the fighting and was an intermediary between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. While in the city the students and workers were trying to push forward their claims, in the countryside the peasantry smashed feudalism once and for all.

It was now the turn of Berlin to rise, but the situation here was entirely different from that in Paris. In France, the proletariat from the start had taken a hand in the political turn of affairs and had prevented the formation of a constitutional monarchy. Instead, the monarchy was overthrown and a republic was created. Thus the French revolt was against the very system which the Germans were trying to install. The German bourgeoisie, fearful that their workers also would go too far, capitulated to the King against the lower classes and, believing that the old absolutism could not return, granted a new loan to the government and established an indirect system of voting.

At the same time there arose a petty bourgeois People’s Democratic Party which demanded reforms similar to those won in France, namely, direct and universal suffrage, single legislative assembly, open recognition of the March, 1848, Revolution and of the National Assembly at Frankfort. Within this Party, the Right Wing wanted a democratic monarchy, the Left Wing called for a Federal Republic.

Far to the Left was the proletarian party whose kernel was the communist groupings. At the beginning, the workers functioned as the tail to the petty bourgeoisie but gradually they increased their strength and put forth their own claims, defending the extreme party in France and calling for a unified German Republic.

In Germany, the liberal bourgeoisie took power directly and formed its National Assembly in Frankfort; in Austria, the liberal bureaucracy took the power in trust for the bourgeoisie. The German Assembly should have dissolved the reactionary Diet and created an armed force for action. Instead, it talked and talked, until it talked itself to death. When the Poles revolted, these liberal bourgeois gentlemen, instead of declaring war on Russia to support Poland, helped Russia to overwhelm the Poles. Simultaneously, the Austrian monarchical forces, by means of reactionary slogans catering to pan-Slavism, were able to rally the Czechs and Croats for counter-revolution.

As the Liberals exposed their impotence on the continent, reaction began to consolidate its forces. The Bohemian movement was crushed; in Italy, King Bomba regained his throne and Italian unification was thwarted; the Hungarians were stifled into legality; in Germany, the conservative assemblies became stronger. In England, an ill-timed Chartist movement ended in defeat. There remained but one place whence decisive action could come and that place was Paris.

But in Paris the only force capable of carrying forward the revolution was the proletariat. “If Paris, because of political centralization, dominates France, so do the workers dominate Paris in moments of revolutionary earthquakes.” (*26) The bourgeoisie imagined that only Louis Philippe would be overthrown and that the old system would remain. However, the workers, in compelling the formation of a republic opened up to all classes the fight for power and came to the front as an independent class and party. Now the workers compelled the revolution to move to the left and carried out measures of social reform. While the officialdom, as a sop to the toilers, formed a “Labor Commission” to discover means of improving the condition of the masses, it was busy with plans to provoke the workers into battle and to annihilate them. At the same time, the provisional government did its best to make the republic palatable to the bourgeoisie. The old officials were invited to remain. The government drained its treasury to pay in advance its debt to private bankers. Then to fill its unnecessarily depleted coffers, the government taxed the peasantry and forced them to fall into the hands of the financiers. Concurrently sharp pressure was put against the workers.

The strategy of the French bourgeoisie against labor contained two main features: first, to increase the strength of its own armed forces; and second, to divide the workers. The first aim was realized by adding to the army and the National Guard a new force, the Mobile Guard. This was recruited from elements of the slum proletariat residing in workers’ quarters. Here the working class committed a great error. Believing that the Mobile Guard was theirs because of its composition, the workers made no efforts to counter this force. They were to learn, to their sorrow, that the slum elements composed of degenerate sections of the workers are easily bribed by reaction to shoot down their own brothers and friends.

On the other hand, the government organized its National Workshops as a measure of winning over the unemployed and separating them from the other workers. Here the government miscalculated, since the unemployed refused to take the part of the government, but sided with their rebel fellow workers. The government did succeed, however, in discrediting entirely the Louis Blancs by giving the impression that these National Workshops were synonymous with socialism. The petty bourgeois, looking at the wasteful work at which the government put the unemployed, hated the expense and blamed the workers. Thus by means of their method of distributing unemployed relief, the government bureaucrats won away the petty bourgeoisie from the idea of socialism.

Having carefully prepared its way, the government now entered into a series of provocations, calling in the army into Paris, forbidding public meetings, throwing many workers out of the National Workshops and thus off relief, and so forth. Upon this, the workers were forced to take up the challenge and they revolted in June, 1848. With the brutal stamping down of this insurrection all illusions as to the kind of “fraternity” workers may expect within a bourgeois republic disappeared; the republic now became only another instrument of oppression in the eyes of the masses.

Confused as the proletarians were with all sorts of schemes of State socialism, their defeat was inevitable. It soon became clear to all that the defeat of the proletariat in France meant the downfall of the democratic liberal bourgeois elements throughout all Europe. Because the workers could not win in France, none of these latter groups could succeed in liberating itself. Neither Hungary nor Poland nor other countries could realize their freedom precisely because the French workers could not win socialism. Here is an excellent illustration how the struggle for socialism coincides with the struggle for democracy.

“Finally, Europe, through the victories of the Holy Alliance, took on such shape that every new proletarian insurrection in France would at once become coincident with a world war. The new French revolution would be forced at once to go beyond the national confines, and to conquer the European terrain upon which alone the social revolution of the 19th century can establish itself.

“Only through the June defeat were created all the conditions within which France can take the initiative in the European revolution. Only when dipped in the blood of the June insurgents did the Tricolor become the ‘banner of the European revolution-the Red Flag.” (*27)


After the proletarian resurrection in France was broken, the petty bourgeoisie was the next to lose control; the industrial bourgeoisie took the helm while the monarchists who were hiding as republicans now openly showed themselves as a minority opposition. The reforms were abrogated, imprisonment for debt was re-established, freedom of the press and the ten-hour work law were repealed. An immense pressure was put on the shop keepers, and many were forced into bankruptcy. The government worked hand in glove with the financiers. The “right to work” which previously had been affirmed theoretically was now taken away. The progressive tax was banned, thus throwing the tax burden on the petty bourgeoisie. The judges were made indeposable, thereby aiding the monarchists.

In revenge against these measures, the peasantry and petty bourgeois groups voted for Louis Bonaparte for President rather than for the Assembly candidate. Now the industrial bourgeoisie was kicked out of all the posts of government and the royalists were put in charge. Bonaparte opened fire upon the Assembly. He dissolved the Mobile Guard. He attacked the Republic of Rome which fell under the weight of French arms. He engaged in a reactionary foreign policy in aid of the Czar.

Again the petty bourgeoisie were forced to take the lead in the opposition, since the workers had been suppressed and the big bourgeoisie was too small a group. But by June, 1849, the little property holders miserably ran away from the struggle. Now the National Guard was dissolved, leaving only the regular army. The press was gagged, Paris put in a state of siege, the right of association destroyed; reaction was completely victorious. Because of the deadlock created, the adventurer Louis Napoleon ultimately was crowned Emperor.

With the defeat of the proletariat in France, reaction raised its head throughout Europe. In Vienna, the bourgeoisie attempted to attack the student petty bourgeois dual government and, when that failed, the National Guard broke with the proletariat over the question of unemployed relief and shot down the workers. The students vacillated and did not come to the aid of the workers who were disarmed. Thus in Vienna confusion reigned, with no adequate leadership. Now was the time for the Emperor to act and, with the help of the Slavs, he stormed the city. Although the Viennese had defended the Hungarians, the latter did not come to the aid of the Viennese. The German people did not help because they were paralyzed by the inactivity of the Frankfort Assembly. Thus Vienna fell. This was decisive for Germany.

The King of Prussia marched on Berlin, which was yielded without a struggle, the Liberals displaying such cowardice as to bring down upon themselves only the greatest contempt. In a revolution, he who commands a decisive position and surrenders it instead of forcing the enemy to try his hand at an assault, invariably is treated as a traitor.

Now the final act of liquidation of the revolution was possible. In Austria, the Emperor turned savagely upon the Slavs who had helped him against Vienna and flayed them mercilessly; in Germany, the King of Prussia dissolved the National Assembly created at Frankfort. As the Prussian King began hostilities, the mass of people took up arms. Especially the workers fought bravely in Dresden, Rhenish Prussia, and Westphalia, in the Palatinate, Wurtemberg, and Baden. But here again it was of no avail, since everywhere the liberal bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces abandoned the struggle. It became crystal clear that from now on all revolutionary movements would have to be led by the proletariat, and that the proletariat would embrace communism.

What would also be further learned is that insurrection is an art the basic rules of which are: “Firstly, never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very indefinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day; the forces opposed to you have all the advantage of organization, discipline, and habitual authority; unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined. Secondly, the insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive. The defensive is the death of every armed rising; it is lost before it measures itself with its enemies. Surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering, prepare new successes, however small, but daily; keep up the moral ascendancy which your first successful rising has given to you; rally those vacillating elements to your side which always follow the strongest impulse, and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to a retreat before they can collect their strength against you; in the words of Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known, de I’audace, de I’audace, encore de I’audace.” (*28)

The fact of the matter is that the revolution could not be sustained for any great length of time. It had been precipitated by the panic of 1847; it was terminated by the prosperity of 1849. The crisis did not last long, and good times were restored to the workers and the petty bourgeoisie. (*29)

At the earliest possibility, Marx and Engels hastened to Germany to take part in the revolutionary events, Marx to edit the new Rhenish Gazette and Engels to serve as an adjutant in the army against the Prussians. Engels was among the very last to give up the fighting; he retreated with his group only under the heaviest odds. With the close of the revolution, the members of the Communist League were tried in Koeln and, although some of them were acquitted, the Communist League was dissolved.

The Communist League had been a secret conspiratorial organization. ("He is a coward that under certain circumstances would not conspire just as he is a fool who under other circumstances would do so."(*30)) To the genuine revolutionist, the necessity of illegal conspiratorial work is unquestioned, and, in forming secret bodies, the advanced proletariat is only imitating the bourgeoisie itself. This, such secret orders as the Masons, the Illuminati, the Carbonari, the American Committees of Correspondence, and similar societies, amply show.

For hundreds of years the Masons have flourished in secret bodies, being part of the bourgeois apparatus of struggle ever since the Reformation. Whatever the original purpose of the Masons or of their Rosicrucian mysticism, it is certain that they frequently developed into congregations of business men who plotted how to control affairs during times when they were forced into revolutionary struggles. Examine, for example, the constitutions of Anderson: “If a Brother,” writes Anderson, “should be a Rebel against the State, he is not to be countenanced in his rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy man; and if convicted of no other crime … they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his relations to it remain indefeasible.” (*31) At a time of narrow provincialism and bigoted nationalism, the Masons adopted as two of their basic principles, indifference in matters of religion and a tendency to cosmopolitanism or internationalism. The Masonic oath is "to sustain by all means and under all circumstances” liberty of speech, liberty of thought and liberty of conscience in religion and political matters. Freemasons are supposed to stick together whether right or wrong.

In the struggle against the Catholic Church, the Freemasons’ secret order became an important appendage to the capitalists. The British Party in Ireland relied especially upon it. The Dublin police, for example, were excluded from all secret societies save Freemasons. “In the two Home Rule Acts for Ireland, those of 1914 and of 1920, the Irish Parliaments were definitely precluded from any power to abrogate or prejudicially affect any privilege or exemption of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Ireland, or any lodge or society recognized by the Grand Lodge."’ (*32)

According to Cahill, in 1930, of the 580 deputies in France, 300 were Freemasons, though there are only 52,000 in the country, and of the Senate Of 300 members, 180 Freemasons were to be counted. In the United States, 356 out of the 531 in the House of Representatives belong to the order. It is estimated that in the United States there are about 3,250,000 Masons, 700,000 Knights of Columbus, and 850,000 Elks, to mention merely three of the many secret orders that abound among the business men, bourgeois and petty bourgeois. (*33)

Connected with the Masonic order in the eighteenth century was Adam Weishaupt who founded the secret order of Perfectibles later changed to the Illuminati. His creed embraced support for philosophical Anarchism, while it stood opposed to despotism, nationalism, the State, races and patriotism. “Reduced to simple formula, the aims of the Illuminati may be summarized in the following six points: 1. Abolition of monarchy and all ordered government. 2. Abolition of private Property. 3. Abolition of inheritance. 4. Abolition of patriotism. 5. Abolition of the family (ie., marriage and all morality and the institution of the communal education of children). 6. Abolition of all religion.” (*34)

Of course this “terrible” program was known only to the few initiated into the highest secret layers of the organization which Weishaupt built up. On the surface, the Illuminati appeared similar to the Masons. This was the method of the intellectuals for promoting their ideas and was perhaps the only method feasible under the despotisms prevailing in Central Europe at the time.

In the nineteenth century, bourgeois liberals created all sorts of secret societies such as the Carbonari (charcoal burners) in Italy and France, just as the Americans had formed their secret revolutionary “Committees of Correspondence” in 1775. Similarly, various other property owning groups built their covert organizations, such as the Catholics in their secret orders, and the Jews in their synagogues.

But with what horror the secret organizations of the proletariat have been regarded, since the ruling class always will attempt to extirpate with the greatest ferocity any and all revolutionary groups upon which it can lay hands! Revolutions are no delicate affairs. In the ruthless struggle for power, the victims who plot revolt must gather together in secret formations. The law which is on the side of the strong and the wealthy compels the poor and downtrodden to form their vanguard organizations in the cellars and secret corners of the social order. We shall see that one of the most important problems of the communists is precisely the question of organization, of illegal conspiratorial work so as to take advantage of all the opportunities open for revolutionary activity.

The Revolution of 1848 was the first great attempt of the proletariat to take power. After their defeat, a serious discussion took place among the communists as to the value of the barricades which the workers had set up during those days. It was the opinion of Friedrich Engels in the latter part of the nineteenth century that the fighting methods of 1848 were obsolete. He stated: "The rebellion of the old style, the street fight behind barricades, which up to 1848 gave the final decision, has become antiquated.” (*35) “ Thus, Engels created the impression that the workers no longer would utilize barricade fighting. The opportunist socialists distorted his arguments to mean that Engels did not believe revolutionary methods should be used any more; this was a distinct forgery of Engels remarks and nothing further need be said about it. The question of barricade fighting, however, is important and must be discussed.

Engels made the point that insurgents never really plan a victory over the military in street battle, that such a victory is rare. What the insurgents really hope to do is to disintegrate the military by moral influence when they make such a barricade stand. If the soldiers are not demoralized, then the military have an excellent chance of winning the fight, because of their equipment, training, and organization. The rebels cannot do much more than offer passive resistance in fact. Paris, June, 1848, Vienna, 1848, Dresden, 1849, all showed that the people could not overwhelm the army. Wherever the people were successful in 1848 it was because the Citizens Guard went over to their side against the army or caused the army to waver. Where the civil guard was not won over, there the insurrection was lost. In the case of Berlin, 1848, the people won because the troops were exhausted and badly nourished. Also because of the poor command and because the new forces went over to the rebels. Hence Engels came to the conclusion, “… even during the classic period of street battles, the barricade had a moral rather than a material effect. It was a means to shake the solidity of the military. If it held until that had been accomplished, the victory was won; if not, it meant defeat.” (*36)

According to Engels, the evolution of military technique made mass barricade fighting increasingly difficult. The soldiers became accustomed to the barricades and developed new tactics; the armies were larger and the mobilization was quicker; there was great technical advance in armaments; the streets were wider and well paved, thus making barricades more difficult to build; finally, it was now much harder to get arms. Engels, however, closed by saying that of course the communists have not abandoned the right to revolution.

Engels was a military expert and his opinion was based on a thorough study not only of 1848 but above all of the Paris Commune in 1871 wherein the workers had been signally defeated in such barricade fighting. Nevertheless, Engels did not say the last word on this question. In the Russian Revolution of 1905 the workers were able to develop a new type of barricade fighting which required but few men to hold the barricades and which wearied larger numbers of the Czar’s soldiery. Instead of maintaining the barricades with massed men, a few picked cadres held off the soldiers until the barricades were stormed or blown away, whereupon the defenders would retreat to others built directly behind them, and so on. And no sooner was a quarter taken by the soldiers than they would find that the barricades had been rebuilt in their rear.

Even Karl Kautsky had to point out the contribution of the Russian workers in their new style of barricade fighting, an immense improvement over 1848. (*37) There is now far more material than ever to build such barricades and to obstruct the military, what with the enormous number of vehicles such as automobiles that can be commandeered by the proletariat. But should barricade fighting prove it cannot endure before perfected military technique, yet it may have to be undertaken, if only for its moral effect, if only to enable the workers to meet the militia face to face and to show that they are ready to die for their cause.

There is one further fact of the greatest importance. Engels had spoken of the need to crack the army and to demoralize it if the workers were to win. Engels did not live in a period of perpetual warfare such as the present where practically the entire population has been trained in the most frightful wars and where every worker knows how to shoot and has faced death in the trenches. The French and the German proletariat, for example, do not fear the soldiers; they understand discipline and methods of fighting as well as the armed forces of the state. Indeed, such proletarians are simply disbanded soldiers now turned worker-revolutionists. Under such circumstances, it is no longer a case of trained troops against mere rabble, but rather more generally a case of callow mercenaries pitted against well- trained veterans of whom there are to be found literally millions among the people. Thus the relation of forces becomes entirely reversed. And it may well be that Engels’ hard and fast rule—either to demoralize the army or suffer defeat—no longer applies. The February, 1934, days in Paris, for example, showed how former veterans could stand their ground before the most determined charges of regular troops. Had the situation been more acute, there is no question that the veterans would have been able to return blow for blow, even though the regular army had not cracked at all.

In short, regarding barricade fighting, the last word must yet be worked out in practice. Always new technique is being developed on both sides, whether in Paris, in the Chapei district of Shanghai, China, in Spain or elsewhere.


The period of 1848 to 1871 was one in which the proletariat was slowly getting on its feet and arriving at an understanding of matters political. In this period, the intellectual elements of the middle class who were acute enough to realize that their class had lost its historical force and to attach themselves to the workers played an enormous educational and organizational role. It was a period of transition, in which the declassed intellectual relied upon the working class, preached revolution, and yet could not conduct the revolutionary movement with proletarian methods, but rather ran it for the proletariat. On the other hand, the skilled worker, turning to revolution, remained tied to the petty bourgeoisie by an umbilical cord which he could not as yet sever. In this period occurred the extraordinary revolutionary movement developed by Auguste Blanqui.

Blanqui himself started out in his youth as a republican and, in 1821, at the early age of sixteen, joined the Carbonari in Paris. Here he imbibed the traditions of militant Jacobinism and learned of the movement of Baboeuf in the French Revolution. All through his youth, up to the time of the Revolution of 1830, Blanqui remained no more than a loyal and vigorous member of the republican movement. This adherence to militant Jacobinism, however, only prepared him for his career as a revolutionary Communist.

After all, it had not been a far cry from Jacobinism to Babouvism, and Blanqui was the legitimate heir of Baboeuf. Militant Jacobinism had always stressed equality; what was a step forward in Baboeuf’s plan was the insuring of economic equality and security for the working class by means of methods of revolution to which the Jacobins could heartily aspire. In closely following Baboeuf, Blanqui was able to win over to his side many intellectuals who had admired the Jacobins of the French Revolution. While Proudhon and Louis Blanc were preaching reform and quiet peaceful action, both Blanqui and the nineteenth century Jacobins were advocating the solution of all problems by means of the insurrection and coup d’e’tat.

“Although subscribing thoroughly to the democratic implications of Rousseau’s general will, Jacobinism habitually drew a distinction between the general will and the will of all, quite destructive of democratic practices and policies. However equal men might be at birth in their natural inheritance of reason and goodness, the environment provided by contemporary society was not universally conducive to the development of the qualities necessary to the free man and the citizen. Not only was the ruling class, the clergy, and their servitors disqualified, but the peasantry was in large part so steeped in the tradition of servility as to be unfitted, immediately, for the performance of the functions of citizenship. Jacobinism tended to mean, therefore, a minority dictatorship of the elect.” (*38)

From all of these traits Blanqui could not break. Thus we may say that Auguste Blanqui, like Baboeuf, was an example of Jacobin turned socialist and, while he became an heroic figure and a true leader of the proletariat, yet he was such only in consideration of his environment and the general immaturity of the working class. His views would be inadequate to meet the situation of today. As Friedrich Engels put it, “Blanqui is really a political revolutionary, socialist only in his emotions, sympathizing with the suffering of the people, but without a socialist theory or definite, practical proposals for social reform; in his political activities he is essentially a man of deeds, and of the opinion that a small, well-organized minority, which strikes at the right moment, can carry with it the mass of the population and thus consummate a successful revolution. One sees that Blanqui is a revolutionary of a past generation.” (*39)

Like the Jacobins generally, and like Bakunin, who borrowed much from him, Blanqui adopted views which were essentially a-historical, individualist and idealist, rather than materialist. Ideas and habits to him evidently were not determined by any such instrumentality as the mode of production; on the contrary, human institutions apparently were the product of the human mind. It was not necessary to wait until the proletariat, the class that could usher in the future, could mature and grow strong. The society of the future could be built by the unaided action of the intellectual, guided by reason, and institutions could be built in a logically rigid way according to certain postulates of justice and morality.

While believing in the labor theory of value and the right of the laborer to the full product of his toil, like Baboeuf, Blanqui did not develop these ideas in any scientific manner but made them flow from ethical premises confusedly jumbled with economics. Like Bakunin, Blanqui considered the church as his chief enemy. Thus in a nutshell, his program could be put as atheism, communism and revolution. (*40)

After the Revolution of 1830, Blanqui began to move to the Left. He joined the “Friends of the People” headed by Godefrey Cavaignac. (*41) When this group was suppressed in 1834-35, he started his own organization, “The Society of, the Families,” with a communistic program. (*42) Through this organization he suffered his first arrest. Upon his emergence from jail he began seriously to work along the line of revolution and, in 1838, organized his “Society of the Seasons.” Now he carefully picked his men. Political discussion and theoretical arguments were restricted, and the men were trained for action. Blanqui’s party was Blanqui’s army.

In 1839 he made his first attempt to overthrow the government by means of an insurrection staged with six hundred men. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, Paris woke up to find that there had been an insurrection. A small determined handful of men had stormed the city hall and the police stations, but had been routed , and completely overwhelmed. Many of his followers had been bourgeois Jacobin youth but included were also some workers. Although most of the Parisians smiled at this hare- brained attempt, the government took the matter more seriously and sentenced Blanqui to ten years in prison. This was the first of a series of long sentences that was to place this indefatigable fighter behind the bars for practically all of his life. It was only just before the Revolution of 1848 that Blanqui was released.

By no means had Blanqui given up his plans. As soon as he was freed, he became a tremendous figure among the proletariat as the foremost veteran revolutionist. He had learned, however, from the past. Instead of urging premature adventures, he now bent his efforts to prevent the workers from being provoked too early into battle. The government recognized in him its foremost enemy and took the earliest pretext to arrest him as part of its policy of provoking the workers and removing their leadership at the same time. Thus the historic June days occurred with the workers leaderless and the foremost champion of their insurrectionary tactics in jail. This was to become the tragedy of Blanqui’s life; in all the decisive battles of the revolutionary proletariat he was to find himself out of the events and in jail.

With the fatal ending of the June days, and with the elimination of its principal leaders, either through death or incarceration, the proletariat was forced to retreat. The leaders who now stepped forth were shabby mediocrities and the workers turned to doctrinaire experiments of co-operative banking and labor exchanges. It was the day of Proudhon and Louis Blanc. By giving up their insurrectionary weapons for such schemes, the proletariat went into movements whereby it gave up its own task of revolutionizing the old world With its own large collective weapons and, on the contrary, sought to bring about its emancipation behind the back of society, in private ways, within the narrow bounds of its own class conditions. These attempts inevitably had to fail. It was the petty bourgeoisie that now took the lead.

During this whole period, Blanqui’s essential views and plans constituted the very opposite of those of Louis Blanc, whom he hated furiously. Blanc had proposed that the workers rely on the State for the constructive measures of ushering in socialism. With Blanqui the foremost duty was first to destroy the old State, that monster of the people. While Blanc had a complete blue print plan ready in his pocket, Blanqui was strongly averse to such intellectualizing and “idiotic” plans. He had come out against the type of planning of Saint-Simon and the utopians and he was against the rationalist strictures and preachings of the Blancs. His own positive program was rather vague but he trusted to the future. “As one of his followers put it, As socialism the Blanquist theory can be summed up as follows: nihilism first; then at the mercy of evolution."’(*43)

Although Blanqui had great respect for Proudhon, especially because of the latter’s fight against the Church and his adoption of the traditions of the French Revolution, yet the two had really very little in common. Blanqui was the political conspirator par excellence. Proudhon advocated peaceful reforms; Blanqui was against fighting for reforms, even those which improved the lot of the workers, but stood for the insurrection only. Proudhon was in favor of banks and co-operatives and against strikes; Blanqui was opposed to all such co-operative schemes, and advocated strikes by workers as preparation for insurrection. In his whole plan of struggle Blanqui was opposed to the Proudonists, so much so that they never were able to get together, even within the First International.

Having crushed the workers, the government felt itself safe enough to release Blanqui, who immediately went to work to organize his new society. This time he saw to it that the intellectuals were in a minority and that the workers were represented in the proportion of two to one. He was now careful and patient, and urged the necessity of winning the peasantry over to the side of the workers. As the government moved to the Right, however, and the petty bourgeois opposition collapsed, the authorities again arrested him and sentenced him to another ten long years in prison.

When he emerged from prison this time the world was quite changed. The working class was growing far more mature and ever more ready to understand his views. He, on his part, had become the most hardened and tested revolutionist of his age. It was true that his former partner, Barb’es, had weakened enough under the mental strain of prison to believe that Blanqui had become a traitor and an informer to the police, but the mass of workingmen knew better and the scandal that broke out between the two had no fatal results for Blanqui’s work. Between his release and the time of the Paris Commune, Blanqui found a wife, obtained some rest, and worked out his theories more thoroughly.

In this interim the struggle between the Blanquists and the Proudhonists reached its sharpest point. Strangely enough, Proudhon himself sprang from the proletariat, yet had placed himself “above” the class struggle, while Blanqui, who had gathered around him many student and intellectual elements of the middle classes, favored the workers’ insurrection. The Blanquists’ lack of contact with the masses of workers was closely bound up with their underestimation of the proletariat; they operated like a sect rather than a political party and, when the Paris Commune burst forth, instead of really leading the people, they were found moving in an exclusive circle of friends. (*44) This isolation was fatal, not only for the Blanquists, but for the workers who found themselves without adequate leadership. No doubt this particular turn of history contributed to the tendency of the French masses to rely upon themselves without too great organization or leadership.

The Proudhonists, on the other hand, were closely in touch with the workers and had taken over the trade unions and co-operatives. Thus at this time there were three groups in France, the co-operatives under Proudhon’s influence of mutualism, the trade unions made up of skilled workers and under the patronage of Napoleon III’s family, but also connected with Proudhonism, and the insurrectionary party under Blanqui. When the First International was formed, it was the Proudhonist unionists who joined and attempted to take an international point of view. Blanqui and his Jacobin friends could never take such an international point of view but rather tended to ardent nationalism, at times even to chauvinism. The Blanquists, therefore, did not join the First International before the Paris Commune.

Proudhon relied on slow economic forces; Blanqui was an impatient political revolutionist. Proudhon favored federalism and fought any and all authority. Proudhon’s chief distinction was that between authority and liberty. Under the rubric of authority he had put 1. the government of all by one, or monarchy, and 2. its counterpart the government of all by all, panarchy, or communism. Both these regimes were to be combated. On the other side, under the rubric of “liberty” there was 1. the government of all by each,—democracy, and 2. the government of each by each,—Anarchy or self-government.(*45) Proudhon advocated the last.

But for insurrection there was needed centralization, Dictatorship of the Proletariat, force, coups d’e’tat, terrorism, etc. In all of this the Blanquists stood at the opposite pole to Proudhon. In short, if Proudhon made all the mistakes of the opportunist and collaborator with the bourgeoisie, Blanqui made the mistakes of the sectarian Leftist who conceives of the revolution as made by a small minority for the proletariat, but not of them. Both were doomed to failure. After the Paris Commune, the Blanquists came to appreciate the value of international solidarity and working class aid throughout the world; also they were made to feel that they no longer could be the sole cocks of the walk, and, as they fled in exile to London, they were brought into the circle of the First International. However, as the fight grew hot against Bakunin, they soon withdrew with the following statement:

“For us the International was neither a union of trade unions nor a federation of trade societies. It should have been the international vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat. We recognized the utility of these vast workers’ associations, organizing revolt upon the economic field, and time and again breaking by their unity, by the strike, the stifling circle of oppression. We recognized the indissoluble unity of proletarian revolutionary activity in its double character (economic and political) too well to fall into the error of our adversaries and to deny one side on the pretext of stressing the other. We knew that it was by economic struggles that the proletariat began to organize, by them that it began to be conscious of itself as a class and a power, by them, finally, that were created the conditions that permit it, formed into a proletarian party, to accept battle on all fields—a struggle without mercy or truce, which will only end when by the conquest of political power and by its own dictatorship the proletariat has broken the old society and created new elements of the new….

“But for the realization of this emancipation of the workers, this abolition of the classes, aim of the social revolution, it is necessary that the bourgeoisie be deprived of its political privilege by which it maintains all its others. It is necessary during a period of revolutionary dictatorship for the proletariat to employ for its freeing the power till then used against it, to turn against its adversary the very weapons that till then have held it down in oppression. And only then, when tabula rasa has been made of its institutions and privileges which make up present society, will this dictatorship of the proletariat cease as being without objective, the abolition of all classes carrying with it naturally the disappearance of class government. Then groups like individuals will be autonomous, then will be realized that federation, result and not means of victory, that anarchy which victory will produce and which during the struggle is failure and disorganization where it is not imbecility or treason.” (*46) Here we see the Jacobinical Blanquists lean heavily towards Bakunin, not understanding the value of the First International, despite its broad and amorphous character, not understanding the meaning and importance of the trade unions, not seeing the necessity of the economic processes as factors in the political revolution. After the Commune, the Blanquist movement comes to an end.



1. See, for example, M. Beer: Social Struggles in Antiquity, also M. Beer: Social Struggles in the Middle Ages.

2. Karl Marx: Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pp. 9-10. (Kerr ed.)

3. See Mary Austin: The American Rhythm, p. 20.

Lewis Morgan in his Ancient Society explains how the horde develops into the tribe.

4. F. Engels: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, p. 117.

5. Lack of space prevents us from giving the views of these sects in detail.

6. K. Kautsky: Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation, p. 12.

7. The same, p. 22.

8. H. M. Hyndman: The Historical Basis of Socialism in England, pp. 41-42.

9. Compare F. Engels: The Mark, pp. 5-6.

10. Morelly: Code de la Nature ou le Veritable Esprit de Ses Loix, p. 15. (No English translation available.) Paris, 1910 edition.

11. The same, Fourth Part.

12. See W. B. Guthrie: Socialism before the French Revolution, p. 262.

13. Mably was astute enough to have predicted the course of the French Revolution as far back as 1758, even to the extent of showing how the States General would have to be called, how it would split into factions, and in the end give way to a dictatorship.

14. E. A. Whitfield: Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, p. 30.

15. See E. B. Bax: The Last Episode of the French Revolution, pp. 109-110.

16. The same, pp. 124-134.

17. The same, pp. 112-113.

18. A. Shaw: Icaria, pp. 13-14.

19. F. C. Clark: “A Neglected Socialist,” in Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. V, pp. 736-737. (1894-1895.)

20. Karl Marx: “On the King of Prussia and Social Reform,” in Selected Essays, p. 124.

21. Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto, p. 58. (Kerr Ed.)

22. Communist Manifesto, pp. 28-29.

23. The same, pp. 30-31.

24. The same, p. 57.

25. The same, pp. 40-41.

26. Karl Marx: Class Struggles in France (Socialist Labor Party edition), p. 42.

27. The same, p. 72.

28. Karl Marx: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, p. 120. (London, 1896 edition.)

29. A comparison of the figures for wages and prices, taking 1837-1841 as 100, shows that in 1846 wages stood at 104 and prices at 95.5; in 1847 wages fell to 96 while prices rose to 115; in 1850 the figures were 96 and 71 respectively. See P. W. Slosson:. The Decline of the Chartist Movement, p. 137.

30. Karl Marx: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, p. 137.

31. E. Cahill: Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement, p. 5. (1930 edition.)

32. The same, p. 10.

33. See M. J. Bonn: The American Experiment, p. 196.

34. N. H. Webster: World Revolution, pp. 22-23.

35. F. Engels: “Preface” in K. Marx: Class Struggles in France, p. 19.

36. The same, p. 21.

37. See V. I. Lenin’s comments on Kautsky’s article in Selections From Lenin, II, p. 170.

38. E. S. Mason: The Paris Commune, p. 15.

39. The same: quoting F. Engels’ “Program der blanquistischen Kommune,” Fluchtlinge Volkstaat (1874, No. 73), p. 19.

40. Blanqui at one time put out a paper with the title "Neither God nor Master.”

41. A brother to the general Cavaignac who put down the 1848 June insurrection with so much slaughter! It is interesting, too, that the brother of Jean Jaures, leading socialist, was an Admiral in the French Navy and an ardent Royalist.

42. See R. W. Postgate: Out of the Past, p. 5 and following.

43. E. S. Mason: The Paris Commune, p. 20.

44. Compare Lissagaray: History of the Commune of 1871, p. 26.

45. See P. J. Proudhon: Du Principe Federatif, pp. 13-14 (1868 edition).

46. Given in R. W. Postgate: Out of the Past, pp. 51-53.