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Emanuel Garrett

Men and Women of Labor

Out of the Past

Louis Auguste Blanqui
(Feb. 1, 1805–Jan. 1, 1881)

(21 March 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 17, 21 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

“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.”

Nineteenth century France was chock full of people who had worked up beautiful schemes for the betterment of society. Some of them added to their pictures of a future perfect world a really vivid and potent criticism of contemporary society, thus answering in part the demands of the masses. Virtually all of these schemers, Utopians, were found wanting when events, the successive series of revolutions which culminated in the Paris Commune, actually required leadership and program.

The truth was that “organizers” of a future world had no real idea of how their own world operated, or what to do about it; they were not, in short, revolutionists. All, that is, except a few, and of these few, one in particular. That one was Louis Auguste Blanqui who was in every sense of the word a real revolutionist, and who paid for his convictions and activities with forty years imprisonment.

Masters Held Him Prisoner

Blanqui was born into a family whose members had been active participants in the great French Revolution of 1789. Before he was twenty, he joined a conspirative insurrectionist society as a member of which he participated in the Revolution of 1830. From then on, he was a prominent and leading figure in every revolutionary action of the French masses up to the day of his death.

Sentenced to death after an abortive attempt at insurrection in 1839, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Released shortly before the Revolution of 1848 (because his jailers expected him to die), he advocated a more socialist policy in the conduct of the revolution, and criticized the coalition government that was then established. Arrested again, he was interned until 1859. Released, he began to organize secretly, and built up a secret armed force of 4,000 men.

On the eve of the Paris Commune, on March 17, Thiers who was preparing to seize the arms of the Paris National Guard, had him arrested. Though kept under lock and key by Thiers, who knew his enemy well, Blanqui was elected to a

seat in the Commune. Again sentenced to a life term, he was freed in 1879 after a great agitation for his release which ended in his election as a deputy. For the remaining two years of his life, he edited a journal, Neither God, Nor Master!

Advocated Proletarian Dictatorship

There was more however to Blanqui than singleness of purpose, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Few men have ever been more resolutely devoted to the cause of the oppressed than was Blanqui who never for a moment wavered despite persecution and hounding. But Blanqui contributed more to the working-class than an incorruptible spirit and a body wracked by revolutionary labors. Blanqui brought to French socialism the life-blood of the class struggle. In that respect he may be said to have built the bridge between the Utopian philosophers (“political reactionaries,” he called them) and the fighting Marxists.

Most important, however, is that he was among the first to advocate in action the dictatorship of the proletariat. Unfortunately, a stigma has been attached to his theories which belittles the tremendous value they had in the middle of the last century. It was his view that the workers and declassed bourgeoisie had to band together, arm themselves, seize power, disarm the bourgeoisie and establish a working class dictatorship. Inasmuch as communism cannot be introduced by decree (he overlooked his own warning on this score), it would be the duty of the new government to educate the masses to communism. The actual seizure of power need not involve the bulk of the masses; it would be accomplished by a conscious minority that would win over the majority after the transfer of power had been accomplished.

Lifted Utopian Fog

It is possible to explain at great length the flaws in this theory. Today we know that the great majority of the working class must be won over to revolutionary action by a well-conceived plan of action. Without the support of the masses, the revolution cannot possibly succeed, or defend itself from attack.

But his views in the context of their generation helped lift the fogginess of Utopian hopes from the working class movement. Like Marx he was primarily concerned with the world around him, and how to destroy it, and not with the world to be.

And if today with the greater precision and understanding of Marxism, we can give a more complete and adequate answer to the problem of how to seize power, it is nevertheless well-worth pausing for a moment to pay tribute to the contributions and devotion of a truly great proletarian leader, Auguste Blanqui.

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Last updated: 28 November 2015