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The will to act: The life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui

Doug Enaa Greene presented a talk on the life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui to the Center for Marxist Education in February 2014.

By Doug Enaa Greene

Dedicated to my father

October 24, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- “I am accused of having said to thirty million French people, proletarians like me, that they had the right to live”.[1] These words are the opening remarks of then 27-year-old revolutionary, Louis-Auguste Blanqui's defence speech when he was tried for treason by the French state in 1832. Blanqui's words were nothing less than a declaration of war upon the rule of the bourgeoisie on behalf of a mercilessly exploited proletariat.

Blanqui delivered no idle boast. For 50 years of his life, he would organise multiple conspiracies and launch a half-dozen failed insurrections to topple the rule of capital and inaugurate a socialist republic. All of these efforts would fail and Blanqui would spend 37 years of his life in prison, enduring torture, disease and deprivation.

Yet Blanqui was never conquered. Although Blanqui's conception of insurrection never prevailed, and his theories were eclectic and ill conceived, I would argue that Blanqui possesses an open view of history where revolutionary will and action unveils new possibilities -- virtues lacking in much of the contemporary left. Before outlining the key insights of Blanqui's thought, I would like to begin by discussing the life of this remarkable, courageous and incorruptible communist revolutionary.

I. Blanqui's life ‘Defiance of all suffering’

Blanqui was born on February 1, 1805, to a well-off Napoleonic prefect and a devoted mother (who later in life would smuggle him letters in prison and assist in varied escape attempts). The family was quite wealthy under the First French Empire and although they suffered a downturn with the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1815, the family still had enough wealth to send Blanqui and his elder brother to Paris to be educated at the finest universities. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1822 at age 17, Blanqui as a student of law and journalism developed an intense love for the French capital, which would be the focus of his innumerable revolutionary conspiracies.

Blanqui was radicalised that same year when he witnessed four radical soldiers, members of the underground revolutionary group known as the Carbonari, publicly executed for plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Following this event, Blanqui pledged fidelity to the revolutionary and republican cause, an oath he would not break for the rest of his life.

Although Blanqui was a brilliant student, he devoted most of his time to reading, and more importantly, to active involvement in revolutionary politics such as the Carbonari, where he learned the art of conspiracy. As the 1820s progressed, opposition to the restored Bourbon monarchy was mounting from republicans, radicals, and other royal houses. Blanqui was in the thick of this developing struggle. In 1827 during an anti-Bourbon demonstration in Paris, he participated in street fighting and was gravely wounded. In 1830, King Charles X attempted to roll France back to before 1789 and re-establish an absolute monarchy. This provoked a revolution in Paris with barricades, gun fights and heroism of ordinary working people, and even sections of the bourgeoisie – “the three glorious days of July” (portrayed most dramatically in the painting, “Liberty Leading the People”). Blanqui was in the thick of this revolution, leading insurgents, constructing barricades and pushing for power for the masses.

The revolution of 1830 was successful in ending forever the reign of the Bourbon monarchy in France and bringing about the new liberal regime of the Orleanist dynasty. However, I hasten to add, this was the only success Blanqui ever experienced in his revolutionary career, but the revolution of 1830 was in many ways only half a revolution. In place of a Bourbon king, France now had an Orleanist one, King Louis-Philippe. The dreams of a republic were betrayed by a bourgeoisie that was more afraid of the aspirations of the proletariat than of the aristocracy. And under the new king there was no alleviation for the working class, which was exploited to the hilt, starving and treated like animals.

Blanqui had every intention of fighting for a real revolution that would establish a republic based upon popular sovereignty. Blanqui recognised that merely changing the form of government was not enough. As he said, “It’s not enough to change words: things must be changed”.[2] And that meant overthrowing not just the government, but the underlying exploitation and class structure. For Blanqui, the republic meant “the emancipation of workers, it’s the end of the reign of exploitation, it’s the coming of a new order that will free labor from the tyranny of capital”.[3]

Blanqui's revolutionary strategy to achieve this end was decidedly simple: a secret conspiracy, highly organised in a hierarchical cell structure and trained in the use of arms and the clandestine arts, would rise up on an appointed day and seize political power in Paris. Once the revolutionaries had power in the capital then legitimacy would pass to them, and they would establish a transitional dictatorship which would do two things: serve as a police force “of the poor against the rich” and educate the people in the values of a new society.

Once these twin tasks were completed, the dictatorship would give way to a communist society. It is important to note that secret societies were deeply rooted in the French revolutionary tradition, with the most famous examples being Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals (the first modern communist organisation active during the Great Revolution and popularised by a history written by one of its central organisers that was published in 1828) and the Carbonari. Furthermore, organising underground was the only way revolutionaries could operate since open agitation invited state repression.

So the art of conspiracy was a clear necessity for revolutionaries of Blanqui's time.
Blanqui organised several secret societies in the 1830s, the Society of Families (which was broken up by the police) and the Society of Seasons. The Seasons was led by Blanqui and another famous republican revolutionary, Armand Barbes, and contained at most 1000 members. On May 12 1839 the Seasons launched an insurrection in Paris that managed to seize several key strategic points. Unfortunately the revolt was quickly put down. The insurgents rose alone, the masses did not join them. And without the masses, Blanqui's revolution was doomed to defeat.

In the aftermath, Blanqui and his comrades were rounded up and given long prison terms. For the next 10 years, Blanqui and other members of the Society of Seasons were kept in deplorable prison conditions: for example they could not properly sit down nor stand up in their cells. Vermin was everywhere. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Blanqui's health was nearly broken by the ordeal, but he never broke. By 1844, the conditions in the prisons had been made public knowledge, causing outrage among the public. Not only this, but Blanqui’s health was shattered and he was given little time to live. It would have been a scandal for the monarchy if Blanqui had died in prison, so he was offered a pardon. Blanqui responded with these words:

Tell the gentleman that I proclaim solidarity with my comrades. Does he believe, by any chance, that the tortures of our imprisonment have broken that solidarity? It was that which upheld us in our terrible struggle; it was that which has been our strength. Let the Minister send me back into the nearest prison. This prospect would be a pleasure to me, compared with that of an odious pardon.[4]

Blanqui miraculously survived his illness and he was freed anyway, and kept under such close surveillance by the police that he may as well have still been in jail. It was only with the outbreak of the 1848 revolution that Blanqui was finally freed unconditionally and able to rejoin the fray.
Now, a slight digression if I may. During the 1830s and 1840s, the French working-class movement was developing trade unions and cooperatives to protect themselves from ruthless exploitation. There were uprisings, such as in Lyons, and the proliferation of republican and socialist ideas among the proletariat. The era of mass independent working-class politics was coming to birth. In short, the working class did not believe in the words of Alain Badiou “that the fate of the wretched of the earth was a law of nature, but that it can, if only for a few battles be revoked”.[5] And in February 1848, the working class of Paris, after fierce street fighting, brought down the Orleanist monarchy and established the Second Republic.

Yet this time, the workers did not plan on being cheated of their gains by the bourgeoisie. They demanded not merely a democratic republic, but a social one that would protect their right to live and to work. For instance, the Second Republic provided for the right to work in the new national workshops for the unemployed. The radicalism of the workers was feared by the moderate and conservative bourgeois leaders of the Republic, who quickly began preparing for a bloody confrontation that would roll back the concessions the workers had gained. Blanqui threw himself into the thick of this movement, becoming the spear point of the radical opposition to the moderate republic and a passionate advocate for a revolutionary communist road.

As Karl Marx observed, Blanqui was a symbol of terror to symbol of terror to the capitalist class and the beacon of hope for the working class: “the proletariat rallies more and more around revolutionary socialism, around communism, for which the bourgeoisie has itself invented the name of Blanqui. This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionising of all the ideas that result from these social relations”.[6]

After elections in April in which a conservative majority was returned to the new National Assembly, it appeared that the popular gains of the revolution were in danger. In revolutionary circles, there was a desire for decisive action to combat the counterrevolutionary threat. On May 15, Blanqui was part of a demonstration to the Chamber of Deputies that turned into a coup d'etat to establish a new radical government. The coup was quickly put down and Blanqui was thrown into prison once more, for a term of 10 years.

It is a tragedy that Blanqui was in prison during this time. A little over a month later, the Republic abolished the National Workshops, provoking an insurrection in Paris – the famous “June Days”. For three days, the working class fought heroically on the barricades until they were overwhelmed by government troops. Tens of thousands were slaughtered and thousands more were sent into prison and exile. The forces of law and order had triumphed. The June Days were a missed encounter of the revolutionary energy and fighting spirit of the working class and the political and military leadership of Blanqui. Yet despite the triumph for the bourgeoisie, the Second Republic remained unstable and was overthrown by Louis-Napoleon in 1851, who established the Second French Empire.

For the next decade, Blanqui remained in jail keeping a strict regimen and planning several failed escapes. When Blanqui was finally released in 1859, Emperor Napoleon III wasted no time in manufacturing charges against him and throwing him back in prison. Blanqui remained completely defiant and devoted to the revolutionary cause as this exchange with his prosecutor in 1861 demonstrates:

Prosecutor: “This proves that despite twenty-five years in prison you have held the same ideas?"
Blanqui: "Quite so."
Prosecutor: "Not only the same ideas, but to see their triumph?"
Blanqui: "I shall desire it until death”.[7]

By this time, Blanqui was a legend in radical circles, known as the “Imprisoned One”. Young revolutionary students visited him in prison seeking guidance and adopted his ideas. Blanqui's disciples brought word of the new waves of radicalism that were blowing across the Second Empire. Blanqui’s revolutionary integrity was also held in high esteem abroad. For example, even Karl Marx, who opposed Blanqui's ideas, recognised him as the ”man whom I have always regarded as the brains and inspiration of the proletarian party in France”.[8]

In 1865, Blanqui was finally able to escape from prison and made his way to exile in Belgium. He went to work organising yet another conspiracy -- staying in close contact with his followers in France, keeping abreast of the developing radical mood. The party devoted to him published atheist journals, and spread anti-Bonapartist propaganda, and trained in arms for a planned coup.

Yet Blanqui's party possessed at most 2500 members and stayed apart from the maturing working-class movement and the mushrooming French section of the First International, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Blanqui could not see the potential of independent mass working-class action. To him the main blow against the regime had to be delivered by a revolutionary elite.

In 1870, as France fought Prussia in a losing war, Blanqui believed that the revolutionary moment had finally come. On August 14, Blanqui's followers attempted another coup, which failed to elicit any popular response and quickly collapsed. Yet a mere month later, the Second Empire was delivered a decisive defeat at the battlefield of Sedan when the emperor was captured. On September 4 in Paris, a Third Republic was proclaimed. Blanqui feared, correctly as it would turn out, that the leaders of the Third Republic were more fearful of the working class at home than of the Prussians at the gates. In an effort to provide revolutionary leadership to the faltering war effort, Blanqui partook in another failed seizure of power on October 31. Blanqui was sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for his participation in the coup. However, he managed to evade arrest for several months, being captured on March 17, 1871.

It was a tragic irony of history that the day following Blanqui's capture, the Paris Commune (the first dictatorship of the proletariat) was proclaimed in Paris. Although the Commune lasted only 72 days, it was a courageous effort by the oppressed masses to overturn social, economic and political inequality. In its place, the Commune created new institutions of collective power that broke the existing repressive and bureaucratic state apparatus in favour of a system based on universal suffrage, the instant recall of elected delegates, modest pay for elected officials and the fusion of legislative and executive functions. Yet the Commune lacked an effective leadership, organisation and a military command to combat the threat of counterrevolution.

No doubt, Blanqui's presence in squabbling chambers of the Commune would have provided the moral, political and military leadership which the Communards lacked. As Marx remarked on the failed attempts by the communards to exchange all their prisoners for Blanqui: "Thiers [counterrevolutionary leader of the Third Republic] obstinately refused. He knew that with Blanqui he would give the Commune a head."[9]

Blanqui was in solitary confinement as the revenge of the bourgeoisie ravaged Paris. During the Bloody Week of May 21-28, at least 20,000 communards were systemically slaughtered to re-establish “order” and Blanqui could only suffer in silence. In the aftermath of the bloodbath, Blanqui wrote an extended work on astronomy, Eternity by the Stars.[10] This work of science was also his answer to a lifetime of failure of revolutionary struggle. Blanqui postulated a theory that the universe is made up of multiple worlds and that there is no progress for humanity, but rather that we are doomed to repeat events eternally on different worlds. While Blanqui argued that “nature has inflexible and immutable laws,”[11] humans with their particular wills can introduce variation into this equation. That is, while humanity can “never affect the natural working of physical phenomena a great deal ... they do turn their own kind upside down”.[12] Thus, despite the repetition of history that exists on countless other worlds, there is still a space to be created for a radical act. Despite his life of torment and struggle, in this text Blanqui argued that despite the impossible odds, a revolutionary should struggle because the future remained open (a point I will expand on below). He would not be conquered. He could not be.

During the 1870s, as Blanqui languished in prison, the labour and socialist movement revived in France. The movement's energies were focused on gaining amnesty for the remaining exiled communards. The growing amnesty movement centred around Blanqui, the old man of revolution. By this time, Blanqui had amassed respect far beyond radical circles for his dedication to the revolutionary cause. He was nominated for political office and was elected as deputy for Bordeaux in 1879, only to have his election invalidated by the state. Yet the French government saw which way the wind was blowing and shortly afterwards released him from prison and granted amnesty for the remaining communards.

For the remaining two years of his life, Blanqui continued his revolutionary work. He founded a political journal No Gods, No Masters and travelled the country agitating for a social republic. After giving a political speech in late December 1880, Blanqui was struck down by a stroke and passed away five days later at the beginning of 1881. At his funeral, more than 200,000 people followed his coffin to its final resting place. Among those who gave speeches were the anarchist communard Louise Michel and the Russian revolutionary Peter Tkachev, who said of Blanqui: "Our inspirer and model ... the matchless leader who conveyed to us faith in the revolution, firmness in the struggle and defiance of all suffering."[13]

II. The revolution alone will reveal the horizon

The name of Blanqui is more remembered today as an epithet of a failed political orientation, a lack of theory or as infantile “ultra-leftism”. I would argue that there is much to defend in Blanqui's legacy. And this legacy goes beyond his impeccable record of courage, determination and fidelity to the communist ideal. What is contained in Blanqui that we should defend is the following: a view of the world where history is radically open, an orientation for revolutionary action even in the most hopeless moments, thinking carefully about the ways and means of winning as opposed to the false solutions of reformists and utopians, an ethic of revolutionary faith.

Blanqui himself was not a theorist; he was above all a person of action. He applied the same method to try to seize power again and again – a coup led by an elite conspiracy, which failed each and every time. Despite this, Blanqui never lost faith in the revolution. Even in the darkest prison cells at his most hopeless moments, when everything appeared lost, he was always plotting escape and ready to resume the struggle. What then constitutes Blanqui's theoretical basis for a an open view of history and revolutionary action?

To answer this question, let me discuss some themes found in Blanqui's 1872 work, Eternity By the Stars, which is an astronomical work that is seemingly divorced from politics. Yet I hold that this work is one of the keys to understanding Blanqui's view of the world, history and revolutionary praxis. Blanqui begins his work by describing the nature of the universe as “infinite in time and space: eternal, boundless, and undivided”.[14] According to Blanqui, space is material and infinite, with matter also infinite. At the same time, all matter is also the result of a limited number of elements. All matter can only be organised into solar systems. Thus worlds are constantly being born, grow, decay and die. However, due to the limited set of elements, and because the combination of these elements was finite, “resorting to repetition becomes necessary”.[15]

Blanqui argues that every person, creature and event is repeated on a different world where “every man possesses an endless number of doubles across space, and they live his life exactly like he lives it himself”.[16] Thus everything we have done has already been done, will be done and will always be done. For Blanqui, this means that the universe consists of “ever-old newness and ever-new oldness”.[17]

If everything in the universe is an ever-repeating circle, this leads Blanqui to declare in despair that:

So many identical populations come to pass without having suspected each other's existence!... Moreover, so far the past represented barbarity, and the future meant progress, science, happiness and illusion! This past has witnessed the disappearance of the most brilliant civilizations on every one of our globe doubles, they disappeared without leaving a trace, and they will do so again, without leaving more of a trace... What we call progress is locked up on each earth and disappears with it.[18]

And it is here that Blanqui offers his critique of the ideology of progress and teleology in history. Blanqui could not conceive of progress in a universe when his civilisation had already vanished on a far distant earth. How could he envision progress when everything had already been repeated billions of time before? In fact, in this haunting vision, humanity was condemned to the same labour of Sisyphus. Yet Blanqui hastened to hold the door open for hope and action, despite it all.

As he says:

For tomorrow, the events and the people will follow their course. For now on, only the unknown is before us. Like the earth's past, its future will change direction a million times...the future shall come to an end only when the globe dies. Until then, every second will bring its new bifurcation, the road taken and the road that could have been taken.[19]

I believe that the view of history Blanqui outlines in Eternity by the Stars means the following in regards to political action: that while the objective conditions are overwhelmingly stacked against revolutionaries, this does not mean that there is no space to be created for a revolutionary act. Rather, the revolutionary effort, the will to fight and to win against insurmountable odds can unveil unseen roads to communism. And these roads are not given to anyone in advance but are revealed in the course of struggle.

As he said:

No! No one has access to the secret of the future. Scarcely possible for even the most clairvoyant are certain presentiments, rapid glimpses, a vague and fugitive coup d'oeil. The Revolution alone will reveal the horizon, will gradually remove the veils and up the roads, or rather the multiple paths that lead to the new order. Those who pretend to have in their pocket a complete map of this unknown land - they truly are the madmen.[20]

Blanqui believed that while there was no progress and, on the surface, the rule of capital appeared all-powerful and the people were apathetic and not open to the message of revolution, he still said:

To judge from the current disposition of people's minds, communism isn't exactly knocking on the door. But nothing is as deceptive as the situation, because nothing is so changeable.[21]

This idea of revolutionary praxis is practically dialectical. True, Blanqui is not informed by any detailed analysis of political economy, class struggle or discussion of modes of production, but it is a recognition that the apparent surface stability of bourgeois society contains deep contradictions that are explosive and can potentially produce a revolution. Yet just because capitalism is marked by major contradictions does not mean that a successful revolution is guaranteed. As Blanqui argues elsewhere, “No, there was no inevitable, otherwise the history of humanity, which is written by the hour, is all written in advance."[22]

What is needed then to resolve the contradictions of bourgeois society? Blanqui's answer is the revolution. He recognised the very clear truth that “there is a war to the death between the classes that compose the nation”,[23] that could only be overcome by way of an armed communist revolution. Blanqui scoffed at the ideas of reformists who believed that they could capture the state via elections or appeal to the better nature of the ruling class. Rightfully, Blanqui recognised the nature of the state as "the gendarmerie of the rich against the poor”.[24] The ruling class, as proven throughout history, would never willingly surrender its power and privileges without a struggle.

Blanqui spoke of the inadequacy of even the most well-meaning reforms to fix underlying social ills:

The extension of political rights, electoral reform, and universal suffrage can be excellent things, but only as means, not as goals. What our goal is the equal sharing of the charges and benefits of society, is the total establishment of the reign of equality. Without this radical reorganisation all formal modifications in government will be nothing but lies, all revolutions nothing but comedies performed for the benefit of the ambitious.[25]

While the reforming socialists of Blanqui's day recognised the reality of class divisions, they shrunk from the implications of that acknowledgment. As opposed to thinking seriously, sincerely and without illusion of how to put an end to the rule of capital, and developing the means to really win, the reformers carried on with the same failed methods, which have not gotten a step closer to socialism in the last 200 years (either those in Blanqui's day reformers such as Louis Blanc, or in the early 20th century the German Social Democratic Party and later social-democratic parties or revisionist communists across the world). While the methods of reformers have mitigated to a very slight degree the exploitation of workers in the First World, they have not altered in the slightest, the underlying class system in the centres of imperialist power. Furthermore, they have joined forces with imperialism to enforce the horrors of capitalist exploitation across the world.

And that is the most charitable view that can be given to reformers. Reformers (and utopians) have oft assumed that history was “on their side”, that they were the representatives of progress and believed that their victory was preordained. This denied the essential role of revolutionary action needed to bring about communism.

And it wasn't that the reformers advocated a different (i.e. reformist) road as opposed to a revolutionary one to the same communist end. Rather, the reformers of Blanqui's day, just like their latter-day descendents, ultimately acted as a brake on revolutionary struggle and the handmaidens of capital in the murder of revolutionary workers and communists.

As Blanqui said in an 1851 work: Warning to the People:

What reef menaces tomorrow’s revolution?

The reef that broke that of yesterday: the deplorable popularity of bourgeois disguised as tribunes of the people… The crime is that of the traitors the trusting people accepted as guides, but who instead gave them reaction.[26]

For Blanqui, reformers who protected the interests of capitalism under a socialist guise were not just another section of the working-class movement, they were its implacable enemies and its executioners.

For Blanqui, it was clear that a successful revolution could only come via force of arms:

Arms and organisation, these are the decisive elements of progress, the serious method for putting an end to misery.[27]

That meant it was imperative for workers and revolutionaries to be trained in the use of arms and military tactics. And this is certainly a lesson that has been learned throughout history. Only those revolutions that have been able to defend themselves have prevailed (Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). On the other hand, revolutions that, in advance, reject or deny the use of arms have been defeated (e.g. Chile). As Blanqui recognised, to deny the use of arms is not to pursue a peaceful or bloodless road to socialism. To preach disarmament is ultimately to dig the grave of revolutionaries since they will be powerless to resist the capitalist system which will not hesitate to crush any challengers.

The utopians fell into a similar error. While they recognised the injustices of capitalist society and the division between classes, they believed that classes could be reconciled via an appeal to the better nature of the ruling class. The utopians were willing to appeal not only to the bourgeoisie to bring about a better society, but also to aristocrats and kings. They were willing to develop all sorts of elaborate schemes, mutual aid programs or cooperatives and grandiose plans for the ideal society which were totally divorced from the class struggle that could bring their ideals to realisation.

The utopians denied, in advance, the need for political action. As Blanqui rightfully pointed out in opposition to this attitude:

Let us concern ourselves with the present day, for tomorrow does not belong to us...our only obligation is to ready good materials for the building of that tomorrow, the rest does not lie within our capabilities.[28]

For Blanqui, the utopians were not grounded in actual material conditions and were denying the role of human action in bringing about communism, replacing revolutionary praxis by idle speculation and appeals to gradualism.

Blanqui possessed an overwhelming faith in the ability of communists and workers to overcome obstacles by the force of arms. Although he was not oblivious to the massive power of the capitalist state, he believed that this could be surmounted by an act of will and unbreakable faith in an idea.

As he said:

Revolutions desire men who have faith in them. To doubt their triumphs is to already betray them. It is through logic and audacity that one launches them and saves them. If you lack these qualities, your enemies will have it over you; they will only see one thing in your weaknesses -- the measure of their own forces. And their courage will grow in direct proportion with your timidity.[29]

Blanqui's ethic is: if you lack the will to win or hesitate in carrying out what the revolution demands of you, not only will you lose to the enemy, but you are a traitor to the cause you claim to serve.

Blanqui was framing the revolutionary struggle in terms of winning and losing. He was not thinking just of “fighting back” but of what it would take to ultimately win. And he knew that if you didn't think clearly and plan about what it would take to win then you have already lost.

His many conspiracies and his faith that the revolution that was just around the corner should not be dismissed solely as that of a failed endeavour, but rather that Blanqui was driven by the practical concerns of what it meant to organise a revolutionary project that could confront the class enemy and take the offensive in battle and win.

Yet Blanqui's lack of revolutionary theory and reliance on will alone meant that his vanguard was ultimately incapable of winning. He possessed no theory to analyse social contradictions, identify allies, plan strategy and to decide the right moment to strike. And his organisation did not rely on the masses, but was divorced from them. None of this mattered to him because “the duty of a revolutionary is always to struggle, to struggle no matter what the odds, to struggle to extinction".[30] Yet there is an eerie fatalism to all this. We should not throw ourselves into hopeless battles when the conditions are not ripe. Rather, a well-developed theory guided by revolutionary practice is needed for us to be able to fight and to win. Blanqui lacked this theory and could only rely on the same failed methods of struggle, which in the end could only produce a tragic hero and not a successful revolution.

All of this being said, let me say that Blanqui's open view of history, despite it all, his willingness to take the offensive and his revolutionary faith are qualities that are sorely lacking on the far left.

Blanqui still held out hope, despite everything, that revolutionary will could open new roads unseen in the fog of the present.

As he said:

Certainly after a revolution, there is no sudden transformation. Men and things are the same as before. But hope and fear have changed sides, the chains have fallen, and the horizon opens ...[31]

We should not by any means ignore the weaknesses of Blanqui both in terms of his theory and practice, but our criticism of him should not be those of so many leftists, using their rejection of “Blanquism” or revolutionary action as an excuse to justify a conservative reformist practice. While always keeping in mind his weaknesses, we should criticise them from the angle of how to achieve the communist revolution in actuality. In this way, we may move past him in our means, but remain faithful to his revolutionary spirit. And in orienting ourselves, as Blanqui did, to thinking practically about what we are up against and what it really takes to achieve communism and rejecting false roads, we should all without a moment's hesitation proudly declare ourselves to be Blanquists.

[Doug Enaa Greene is a member of the Kasama Project and an independent historian living in the greater Boston area. He has been published in Socialism and Democracy, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, MRZine, Kasama, Counterpunch, Socialist Viewpoint, Green Left Weekly, Open Media Boston, Cultural Logic and Red Wedge magazine. He was active in Occupy Boston and is a volunteer at the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge. He is the author of a fothcoming book Specters of Communism on the French communist Louis-Auguste Blanqui from Haymarket Books.]


[1] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Defence Speech of the Citizen Louis-Auguste Blanqui
before the Court Of Assizes”. Marxist Internet Archive. [accessed February 1, 2013].

[2] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “To the Democratic Clubs of Paris.” Marxist Internet Archive. [accessed October1, 2014].

[3] Ibid.

[4] William J. Fishman, The Insurrectionists (London: Metheun & Co., 1970), p. 66.

[5] Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds (New York: Continuum, 2009), p. 53.

[6] Karl Marx, “Class Struggles in France.” Marxists Internet Archive. [accessed October 1, 2014].

[7] Quoted in Samuel Bernstein, Auguste Blanqui and the Art of Insurrection (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), p. 252.

[8] Marx to Louis Watteau November 10, 1861, Marx and Engels Collected Works, volume 41, p. 326.

[9] Karl Marx, “Civil War in France.” Marxists Internet Archive. [accessed September 22, 2014].

[10] See my essay, Despite It All for a longer review of Blanqui's work, Eternity By the Stars at:

[11] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Eternity By the Stars (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013), p. 133.

[12] Ibid. p. 134.

[13] Bernstein 1971, p. 350.

[14] Blanqui 2013, p. 66.

[15] Ibid. p. 113.

[16] Ibid. p. 142.

[17] Ibid. p. 146.

[18] Ibid. pp. 148-9.

[19] Ibid. p. 125.

[20] Quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 736.

[21] “The Imaginary Party' Introduces Blanqui.” Not Bored [accessed September 10, 2013].

[22] Quoted in Michael Lowy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin's 'On the Concept of History' (New York: Verso, 2005), 84.

[23] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Speech before the Society of the Friends of the People.” Marxist Internet Archive. [accessed February 1, 2013].

[24] Quoted in “Presentation of Blanqui,” New Left Review I/65 (January-February 1971): p. 27.

[25] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Democratic Propaganda.” Marxist Internet Archive. [accessed February 1, 2013].

[26] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Warning to the People.” Marxist Internet Archive. [accessed February 1, 2013].

[27] Ibid.

[28] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Critique Sociale Volume 1 (Paris: Fexix Alcan, 1885), p. 196.

[29] “The Imaginary Party' Introduces Blanqui.” (Note 21)

[30] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Manual for Armed Insurrection,” Marxists Internet Archive. [accessed February 7, 2014].

[31] Blanqui 1885, p. 203.

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