Works of Louis-Auguste Blanqui 1832

le blanqui jeune

The Trial of the Fifteen.

Defence Speech of the Citizen Louis-Auguste Blanqui
before the Court Of Assizes

Source: Auguste Blanqui, Textes Chosisis, with foreword and notes by V.P. Volguine, Editions Social, Paris 1971;
Translated: Andy Blunden, proofed and corrected by Mitchell Abidor;
Transcribed: for the Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden April 2003,
Subject to “CopyLeft” GNU Free Documentation License.

January 12, 1832

Messrs Jurors,

I am accused of having said to thirty million French people, proletarians like me, that they had the right to live. If that is a crime, then it seems to me at least that I should answer for it not to judges and prosecutors. However, Messrs, note well that the Prosecuting Attorney did not address himself to your sense of equity and your reason, but to your passions and your interests; he did not call on you to be strict in responding to a breach of morals and the laws; he only seeks to unleash vengeance against what he represents to you as a threat to your existence and your property. I am thus not in front of judges, but in the presence of enemies; so it would be quite useless to defend myself. Also, I have no fear of any sentence that you may pass on me, while protesting nevertheless with energy against this substitution of violence for justice, for this frees me in the future of any inhibition against repaying the law with force. However, if it is my duty as a proletarian, deprived of all the rights of the city, to reject the competence of a court where only the privileged classes who are not my peers sit in judgment over me, I am convinced that you have enough courage to appreciate with dignity the role which honor imposes on you in a circumstance where more or less disarmed adversaries are delivered to you for execution. As for our role, it is written in advance; the role of accuser is the only one which is appropriate for the oppressed.

For one should not imagine that men who have today fraudulently been given a one-day power by stealth and fraud, can drag, at their will, patriots before their justice, and by showing us the blade, force us to beg mercy for our patriotism. Do not believe that we came here to justify the offences for which we are charged! Far from it! We are honored by this charge, and it is an honor to sit today on the same bench with criminals, for we will launch our charges against the wretched ones who have ruined and dishonored France, while waiting for the natural order of the opposing benches be restored in this court, and in which accusers and accused are in their true place.

What I will say will explain why we wrote the lines for which we are accused by the Crown, and why we will continue write more still.

The Prosecuting Attorney has, so to speak, summoned before your imaginations the a revolt of the slaves, in order, by fear, to excite your hatred: “You see,” he says, “it is the war of the poor against the rich; all those who have property must repel the invasion. We bring you your enemies; strike them now, before they become any more fearsome!”

Yes, Messrs, this is the war between the rich and the poor: the rich wanted it thus, because they are the aggressors. Only they find it evil that the poor fight back; they would readily say in speaking of the people “This animal is so ferocious that it defends itself when attacked.” The entire philippic of Mr. Prosecuting Attorney is summed up in this one sentence.

They never cease denouncing the proletarians as robbers ready to throw themselves on the men of property: why? Because they complain of being crushed by taxes for the profit of the privileged classes. As for the privileged, who live in luxury on the sweat of the proletariat, they are legal owners of property who are threatened with plunder by a greedy populace. It is not the first time that executioners take on the air of victims. Who are then, these robbers worthy of so much of hatred and torment? Thirty million French people who pay to the tax department a billion and half, and about an equal amount to the privileged classes. And the people of property who live off the labors of the whole society, they are two or three hundred thousand idlers who peacefully devour the billion paid by these “robbers.” It seems to me that it is here, in a new form, and between other adversaries, that we find the war of the feudal barons against the merchants they robbed on the highways.

In fact, the present government does not have any other base apart from this iniquitous distribution of benefits and burdens. The restoration of 1814 was instituted courtesy of foreigners, with the aim of enriching an imperceptible minority by depriving the rest of the nation. One hundred thousand bourgeois form what is called, by a bitter irony, the “democratic element.” What, good God, are the other elements Paul Courier already immortalized the “representative machine”; this suction-and-force pump which compresses the mass called the people, to suck out of them milliards which flow continuously into the coffers of idlers, this pitiless machine which crushes one by one, twenty-five million peasants and five million workers to draw out the purest extract of their blood and to transfuse it into the veins of the privileged. The wheels of this machine, combined with a marvelous art, reach the poor at every moment of the day, intruding into every moment of their humble life, taking a cut of their smallest earnings, the most miserable of their pleasures. And it is not enough that such an amount of money travels from the pockets of the proletarians to those to the wealthy in passing through the abysses of the tax department; more enormous sums still are raised directly from the masses by the privileged classes, by means of the laws which govern industrial and commercial transactions, laws which these same privileged people have the exclusive right to make for themselves.

In order for the large-scale landowner to draw from his fields a high rent, foreign corn is hit by an import duty which increases the price of the bread; well, you know a few centimes more or less on a loaf of bread is life or death for thousands of workers. The grain law hits especially hard the maritime population of the south. To enrich some large manufacturers and the owners of forests, iron from Germany and Sweden is subject to enormous duty, so that the peasants are forced to buy bad tools at high cost, while they could get the excellent ones at a cheap rate; the foreigner in his turn avenges himself for our prohibitions by pushing French wine out of his markets, which, together with the taxes which weigh on this food product inside the country, reduces the richest regions of France to misery, and strangling the wine industry, the most natural industry of this country, a truly indigenous form of cultivation, which promotes the enrichment of the soil and favors small-scale property. I will not speak about the tax on salt, the lottery, the tobacco monopoly, in a word, this inextricable network of taxes, monopolies, prohibitions, customs duties and government contracts. Who enchains and atrophies its members? Suffice to say that this mass of taxes is always to distributed so as to benefit the rich, and to weigh exclusively on the poor, or rather that the idlers practice a shameful plundering of the masses. Plundering is essential indeed.

Doesn’t one need a large civil list to pay the cost of the royal family, to console it for the sublime sacrifice which it has made of its peace and quiet for the happiness of the country? And, since one of the principal titles of the junior Bourbons to heredity consists in its numerous family, the State will not act in a petty fashion and will not refuse privileges for the princes and dowries for the princesses. There is also this immense army of sinecurists, of diplomats, and civil servants for whom France, for its happiness, must provide a huge budget, so that they can enrich by their luxury the privileged bourgeoisie, because all the money of these contributing to the budget is spent in the cities, and should not turn over to the peasants even one penny of the billion and half of which they pay the five-sixths.

Isn’t it necessary also that this new financial star, this Gil Blas of the 19th century, courtier and apologist of all the ministries, favourite of the Count d’Olivarès as of the Duke of Lerme, sell high offices for great lumps of cash? It is essential to lubricate the large wheels of the representative machine, to richly endow brothers, nephews, cousins. And shouldn’t the courtiers, the courtesans, the intriguers, the croupiers who gamble the honor and future of the country on the Stock Exchange, the middle-men, the mistresses, the dealers, the informers, those who speculate on the fall of Poland, all this vermin of the palaces and the salons, mustn’t they all be gorged on gold? Shouldn’t one promote the fermentation of this manure that so successfully fertilizes public opinion?

Here we have a government that the silver tongues of the ministry present to us as the masterpiece of all systems of social organisation, the summation of all that was good and perfect in the various administrative mechanisms since the flood; here are what they praise as the last word in human perfectibility as regards government! It is all nothing more than the theory of corruption pushed to its outer limits. The strongest proof that this order of things is instituted only for the exploitation of the poor by the rich, that they have sought no other base than an ignoble and brutal materialism, is the parochial idiocy which grips their minds. Indeed, this is a guarantee of morality, and the morality inadvertently introduced into such a system could enter there only as an infallible element of destruction.

I ask, Messrs, how men of noble heart and intelligence, rejected as pariahs by the aristocracy of wealth, would not resent such a cruel insult? How could they remain indifferent to the shame of their country, to the suffering of the proletariat, their brothers in misfortune? Their duty is to invite the masses to smash the yoke of misery and ignominy; this duty I have fulfilled in spite of imprisonment; we will fulfil this duty until the end by facing our enemies. When one has behind oneself a great people that is marching to the conquest of its welfare and its freedom, one must know how to throw oneself into the trenches as an inspiration and to make for it a way forward.

The ministerial organs repeat with kindness that there are ways open to the complaints of the proletarians, that the laws present regular means for to them to pursue their interests. This is an insult. The tax department is there, which hounds them its insatiable appetite; it must work, work night and day incessantly in order to ceaselessly throw feed to the ever-reborn hunger of this chasm; quite happy if there remains to them some scraps to disguise the hunger of their children. The people do not write in the newspapers; they do not send petitions to the chambers: it would be a waste of time. Much more, all the voices which have repercussion in the political sphere, the voices of the salons, those of the boutiques, of the cafés, in a word of all the places where what is called the public opinion is formed, these voices are those of the privileged; not one of these voices belongs to the people; it is mute; it vegetates far from these high areas where its destiny is determined. When, by chance, the tribune or the press lets escape some words of pity about the misery of the people, they hasten to impose silence in the name of public safety, which forbids touching upon these extreme questions, or such talk is declared to be anarchy. If someone persists, prison renders justice to this rabble-rousing which disturbs the ministerial digestion. And then, when there is a great silence, they say: “See, France is happy, it is peaceful: order reigns! ...”

But in spite of all these precautions the cry of hunger, emitted by thousands of poor wretches, reaches the ears of the privileged classes, they howl, they exclaim: “Force must remain with the law! The only passion a nation should feel is for the law!” So Messrs, according to you, all laws are good? Have you never come across a law that struck horror into you? Do you not know of any law that is ridiculous, odious or immoral? Is it possible to be so cut off behind an abstract word, a word that refers to a chaos of forty thousand laws, among which there is both the best and the worst? You answer: “If there are bad laws, ask for legal reform; but in the meantime obey...” This is an even more bitter insult. The laws are made by a hundred thousand voters, applied by a hundred thousand magistrates, carried out by a hundred thousand urban national guards, because you have deliberately disorganized the national guard in the countryside because they are too close to the people. However these voters, these jurors, these national guards, they are the same individuals, who accumulate the most opposed functions and are all at the same time legislators, judges and soldiers, so that the same man in the morning created a deputy, that is, the law, applies law at midday in his capacity as a juror, and carries it out in the evening in the street in the costume of the national guard. What do the thirty million proletarians do in all these transformations? They pay.

The apologists of the representative government have mainly founded their praises for this system on the separation of the three powers: legislative, legal and executive. They cannot think of enough words of praise for this marvelous balance that has solved the longstanding problem of reconciling order with freedom, of movement with stability. Eh bien! That is precisely what the representative system is, exactly as the apologists describe it, which concentrates the three powers in the hands of a small number of privileged people all linked by the same interests. Is this not a confusion that constitutes the most monstrous of tyrannies, by the very avowal of its apologists, so that there isn’t any confusion about what constitutes the most monstrous of tyrannies, by the admission of these same apologists?

So what is the upshot? The proletarian remains on the outside. The Deputies, elected by the monopolists of power, imperturbably continue their manufacture of tax laws, penal codes, administrative regulations, all directed with a same aim of exploitation. Now that are the people going about, shouting of their hunger, demanding of the elite that they abdicate their privileges, of the monopolists that they give up their monopoly, and of all of them to renounce their idleness, they will laugh at them, looking down their noses at them. What would the nobility have done in 1789 if one had humbly begged them to give up their feudal rights? They would have punished the people’s insolence... Things are done differently now.

The most skilful of this gutless aristocracy, sensing all that is threatening to them in the despair of a starving multitude, propose to reduce the misery of the people a little, not for reasons of humanity, God forbid! But to reduce the danger. As for political rights, one cannot say anything of them, it is only a question of throwing the proletarians a bone to gnaw upon.

Other men, with better intentions, pretend that the people are tired of freedom and only ask to live. I do not know what whim of despotism impels them to exalt the example of Napoleon, who knew how to rally the masses by giving them bread in exchange for freedom. It is true that this populist dictator was supported for a time, particularly because he tried to flatter the passion of egalitarianism, and because he shot corrupt traders, who would today be penalized by being made deputies. He didn’t perish any the less for having killed freedom. This is a valuable lesson for those who want to follow in this tradition.

Today one cannot respond to the cries of distress from a starving population, by repeating the insulting words of Imperial Rome: panem et circenses! Let it be known that the people do not beg any more! There is no question of dropping from a splendid table some crumbs to amuse them; the people do not need alms; it intends to secure its well being by its own efforts. The people want to make and will make the laws that must govern them: then laws will no longer be made against them; they will be made for them because they will be made by them. We do not recognise the right of anyone to grant such generosities which a contrary whim could revoke. We ask that the thirty-three million French people choose the shape of their government, and name, by universal suffrage, the representatives who will have the mission of making laws. This reform accomplished, the taxes which strip the poor for the profit of the rich will be promptly destroyed and replaced by others established on a contrary base. Instead of taking from the hardest workers to give to the rich, taxes must seize the superfluity of the idlers to distribute it among the poor masses, condemned to unemployment because of the lack of money; taxes must hit the unproductive consumers so as to fertilize the sources of production; facilitate the reduction of the public debt, which is the ruin of the country; finally to substitute for the disastrous swindle of the Stock Exchange, a system of national banks where the active men will be able to find the capital they need. Then, but only then, will the taxes be a benefit.

Voilà, Messrs, that’s what we mean by the republic, not otherwise. ‘93 is a bogeyman good for porters and domino players. Take note, Messrs, that it is quite intentionally that I pronounced these words ‘universal suffrage’, to show our contempt for certain rapprochements. We all know well that a government backed into a corner puts to work lies, calumnies, and ridiculous or perfidious tales to restore some credence to the old tale that it has been exploiting for such a long time, of an alliance between the republicans and the Carlists, that is, between things which are totally antithetical to each other. This is its only port in a storm, its great resource in finding some support. It can only find support by basing itself on such filth; and the most stupid conspiracy stories, the most odious farces invented by the police do not appear too dangerous a game for them if it manages to frighten France with Carlism, to turn it for a few days more from republicanism, where its instinct for salvation leads it. But what can persuade people of the possibility of this union against nature? Don’t the Carlists have on their hands the blood of our friends who died on the scaffolds of the Restoration? We are not so forgetful of our martyrs. Isn’t it against the revolutionary spirit, represented by the tricolor behind which the Bourbons assembled all Europe for twenty-five years, and behind which they still seek to assemble? This flag is not yours, apostles of quasi-legitimacy! it is that of the Republic! It is we, the republicans, who raised it in 1830, without you and in spite of you, who burned it in 1815; and Europe knows well that republican France only will defend it, when it is again attacked by the monarchy. If there is a natural alliance, it is between you and these Carlists; it’s not that you are in agreement on the same man at the moment; they are holding on for theirs, who is not here yet; but you will sell yours cheaply, to be more accommodating, and to better arrive at that which you have in common with them, all the more because in doing so you do nothing but return to your old racket.

Indeed, the very word “Carlists” is nonsensical; they are, and can only be in France royalists and republicans. Political opinion divides itself every more sharply between these two principles; the good people who had believed in a third principle, some species of neutral kind called a “happy medium,” are gradually giving up this absurdity, and will wriggle their way to one or the other flag, according to their passion and their interest. However, you, monarchists, who exude monarchy as you speak, everyone knows under which banner your doctrines belong. You did not wait eighteen months to choose it. On July 28, 1830, at ten o’clock in the morning, in the newspaper office, having said that I was going to get my rifle and my tricolor rosette, one of the today’s powerful individuals exclaimed, filled with indignation: “Sir, the tricolor can well be yours, but they will be never mine; the white flag [of the royalty] is the flag of France.” Then as now, these gentlemen held France with a small group.

Eh bien! We conspired fifteen years against the white flag, and it is with grinding teeth that we see it floating above the Tuileries and the Hôtel de Ville, where the foreigner had planted it. The most beautiful day of our life was when we dragged it through the mud of the gutters, and where we trampled underfoot the white rosette, this prostitute of the enemy camp. One needs a rare amount of impudence to throw in our face this charge of complicity with the royalists; and on another hand it is a clumsy hypocrisy to take pity on our alleged credulity, on our simplistic good-naturedness, which lead us, according to one of you, to be so easily deceived by the Carlists. If I speak thus, it is not to insult our enemies while they are down; they say that are strong, they have their Vendée; let them start up again, and we’ll see what we’ll see!

As to the rest, I repeat, one will soon have to choose between the monarchical monarchy and the republican republic; we will see whom the majority support. Still, if the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, as national as it is, cannot rally the whole country; if it allows the government to accuse it of incapacity and impotence, it’s that even while clearly rejecting royalty, it hasn’t dared declare itself, with the same frankness, for the republic; in saying what they did not want, they nevertheless did not articulate what they did want. It solves nothing to avoid using this word republic, with which the men of Corruption endeavor to frighten the nation, knowing well that the nation wants the republic almost unanimously. They have distorted history, for forty years, with incredible success, so as to frighten people; but the last eighteen months have corrected many errors, dissipated many lies, and the people will not much longer accept the situation. They want freedom and well-being. It is a calumny to represent it as a trade off, that the people must give up all their freedoms for a piece of bread: we must cast this imputation back at the political atheists who threw it. Is it not the people who, in all the crises, were ready to sacrifice their welfare and their lives for moral interests? Is it not the people who asked to die in 1814, rather than to see the foreigner in Paris? And yet what material need pushed it to this act of devotion? It had bread on April 1 as well as on March 30.

These privileged people, on the contrary, that one would have supposed so easy to stir up by the great ideas of Fatherland and Honor, due to the exquisite sensitivity that they owe to opulence; who could at least have calculated better than others the disastrous consequences of the foreign invasion; isn’t it they who raised the white rosette in the presence of the enemy, and kissed the boots of the Cossack? What! Classes which applauded the dishonor of the country, which make a profession of the most disgusting materialism, which would sacrifice a thousand years of freedom, of prosperity and glory for a three day cease-fire purchased by infamy, these classes would have in their hands exclusive custody of national dignity ! Because corruption has made them made stupid, they recognize in the people only the appetites of beasts, in order to assume the right to allow them only such food as is necessary to maintain the people as fodder for them to exploit!

It is not hunger either which, in July, pushed the workers into the streets; they were motivated by sentiments of the loftiest morality, the desire to redeem themselves from servitude by rendering a great service to the country, and especially by the hatred of the Bourbons! Because the people never recognised the Bourbons; their hatred smoldered for fifteen years, waiting in silence for the chance of vengeance; and, when their strong hand smashed their yoke, they believed that they had torn up the treaties of 1815 at the same time. The thing is that the proletariat has a more profound political sense than the statesmen; its instinct told it that a nation does not have a future, so long its past is burdened with a shame of which it has not been cleansed. And so war! This does not mean that France should again embark on absurd conquests, but rather to raise France from its status as an outlaw, to restore its honor, the first condition of prosperity; War! in order to prove to our sister nations of Europe that, far from bearing a grudge for what was a fatal error both for us and for them, which led them to carry their arms into France in 1814, we could avenge both them and us by punishing the lying kings, and at the same time bring peace and freedom to our neighbors! This is what 30 million French people wanted when they greeted the new era with enthusiasm.

This should have been the outcome of the revolution of July. It came to serve as the complement to our forty revolutionary years. Under the Republic, the people had conquered freedom at the price of famine; the Empire gave them a kind of prosperity while stripping them of their freedom. The two regimes gloriously knew how to enhance dignity beyond our borders, the primary need for a great nation. All this perished in 1815, and this victory of the foreigners lasted fifteen years. So what was the battle of July, if not a revenge for this long defeat, and it revived again the bonds of our national feeling? And any revolution having been a step forward, shouldn’t this one have assured us the complete enjoyment of those goods which we had till then only had partial enjoyment of, finally restoring to us all that which we had lost by the Restoration?

Freedom! Well-Being! National dignity! Such was the currency entered on the plebeian flag of 1830. The ultra-royalists read instead: Maintenance of all the privileges! Charter of 1814! Quasi legitimacy! In consequence, they gave to the people servitude and misery within our borders, and infamy beyond them. Did the proletariat thus fight just for a change of the effigy placed on these banknotes which they so seldom see? Are we at this point concerned with new medals, for which we have overturned thrones to bring such fantasies to pass? It is the opinion of a ministerial propagandist who swears that in July we persisted in demanding a constitutional monarchy, with the variant of Louis-Philippe in place of Charles X. The people, according to him, took part in the fight only as an instrument of the bourgeoisie; that is, that the proletarians are gladiators who kill and have themselves killed for the amusement and profit of the privileged classes, who applaud from their balconies…. once the battle has ended, of course. The booklet, which contains these beautiful theories of representative government, appeared on November 20; Lyon answered on the 21st. The response of the Lyonnais appeared so swiftly, that nobody said another word of the work of this propagandist.

What devastation the events of Lyon have just revealed to our eyes! The whole country was moved by pity at the sight of this army of spectra, half consumed by hunger, running into the grapeshot to die at least in one fell swoop.

And it is not only in Lyon; it is everywhere that the workmen die crushed by taxes. These men, once proud at the moment of the victory which marked their arrival onto the political scene and the triumph of freedom; these men who brought about the regeneration of all Europe, they struggle against hunger, a hunger does not leave them even enough strength to protest at each new dishonor added to the dishonor of the Restoration. Even the cry of dying Poland could not divert them from contemplation of their own miseries, and they kept what remains to them of their tears to cry over their lot and that of their children. What sufferings could make such people so quickly forget the exterminated Poles!

Here is the France of July as the ultra-royalists have given it to us. Who would have imagined it! In those intoxicating days, as we wandered automatically, rifle on shoulder, through unpaved streets and barricades, quite heedless of our triumph, our chests inflated with happiness, dreaming about the pale faces of the royalty and the joy of the people as the far-off roar of our singing of the Marseillaise would reach their ears; who would have imagined that such joy and glory would change into such mourning! Who would have thought, seeing these great six-foot tall workmen, before whom the bourgeoisie were left trembling their cellars, trembling, kissing their rags, and speaking again of their disinterestedness and their courage with sobs of admiration, who would have thought that they would die of poverty on these streets, of their being conquered, and that their former admirers would now call them the plague society!

Magnanimous spirits! Glorious workmen, whose dying hand my hand grasped in final adieu on the battle field, where I veiled the faces of the dying with rags, you died happy in the victory which was to redeem your race; and, six months later, I found your children lying in dungeons, and each evening I fell asleep on my bunk, with the noise of their moaning, the curses of their torturers, and the whistle of the whip which obscured their cries.

Is there not, dear sirs, some imprudence in lavishing these insults cast at men who withstood the test of their strength, and who suffer under conditions worse than those which pushed them into battle? Is it wise to teach the people such a bitter lesson how easily it was deceived by their moderation in triumph? Are you so certain that you will not need the clemency of the workers, that you can with full safety expose yourself to finding them pitiless? It seems that you take no other precautions against popular revenge than exaggerate the picture in advance, as if this exaggeration, these imaginary scenes of murder and plunder were the only means of forestalling their reality. It is easy to put the bayonet and grapeshot into men who surrendered their arms after the victory.

What will be less easy is to erase the memory of this victory. Almost eighteen months have been spent rebuilding bit by bit what was undone in forty-eight hours, and the eighteen months of reaction did not even shake the work of three days. No human power could eradicate that which was achieved. Ask of those who complained of an effect without a cause, if he flatters himself that there can be causes without effects. France conceived in the bloody embraces of six thousand heroes; childbirth can be long and painful; but the wombs are robust, and the ultra-royalist poisoners will not cause it to abort.

You confiscated the rifles of July. Yes; but the bullets have taken off. Every bullet of the Parisian workers is on its way around the world: they strike without cease; they will continue to strike until not a single enemy of the happiness of the people and of freedom is left standing.