Bullets and barricades: On the art of insurrection

By Doug Enaa Greene To my friend and comrade Francesca. November 6, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — “What side of the barricades are you on?” This phrase expresses the poignant meaning that the term barricades has in the revolutionary lexicon. Barricades represent a line of demarcation in the class war between the exploiters and the exploited. To stand with the exploited on the barricades is to pick a side, it is an action of solidarity with one's comrades, and shows that one is read to sacrifice their life for the cause. Although barricades dominated the insurrectionary movements during the nineteenth century, as time passed the barricade was found wanting as a effective tactic to topple the state, especially as the forces of order redesigned cities to prevent uprisings and revolutionaries pursued legal channels for political advance. When revolutionary opportunities came following the Russian Revolution, the barricade was relegated to the background in favor of more sophisticated approaches to insurrection. I. History to 1848 The origin of the barricade can be traced back to 13th century Ghent when its citizens rose up to defend their autonomy. One of their tactics was the use of chains to kill soldiers by closing off “individual quarters and prevent isolated units from coming to each others' aid.”[1] At this time, the method of stretching chains across streets was not reinforced by barrels or other heavy objects. However, the French later copied the Flemish technique. It wasn't until the 16th century during political disturbances in Paris that the first widespread uses of the barricade occurred. On May 12, 1588, the Duke of Guise and the Catholic Holy League challenged the authority of King Henry III – a Protestant. The people of Paris rose in rebellion against the Crown and proceeded to impede the movement of the 6,000 royal troops into the city. The method employed by the insurgents involved using chains, now stretched by attaching them to the corners of buildings to serve as roadblocks. To further reinforce the chains, barrels filled with stones, furniture and other heavy material was used – hence the origin of the term “barricade.”[2] The barricades were able to block the movement of royal troops into the Latin Quarter and King Henry III fled. Subsequently, barricades would be used in Lyons the following year and during the Fronde of 1648. Though the Bourbon monarchy feared further outbreaks of urban insurrection and barricades, their usage remained dormant for the next 150 years (although they were used in Belgium in 1787). Despite barricades sometimes being associated with the French Revolution of 1789-95, in reality, “few such structures were built, and that they played, at best, an ancillary role.”[3] It was in the 19th century that barricades made their greatest contributions to political change, revolutionary struggle and became a powerful symbol of popular insurrection. In 1827, barricades were erected when insurgents clashed with King Charles X. One of the participants in the street-fighting was a 22-year old student named Louis-Auguste Blanqui, who was severely wounded after being shot in the neck. Three years later, barricades were erected when the Belgians revolted against the Orange dynasty, and won their independence. That same year, the people of Paris overthrew the restored Bourbon dynasty in the “Three Glorious Days of July.” During the July Revolution, “no fewer than 4,000 barricades were built ... by far the highest total ever recorded in a single event. This equates to one barricade for every 200 men, women, and children living in a city of roughly three quarters of a million inhabitants.”[4] The high level of popular participation in the Revolution of 1830 gave it a legendary status which was depicted in Eugène Delacroix's 1830 commemorative painting “Liberty Leading the People” (La Liberté guidant le peuple). “Liberty” is symbolized by a young and vigorous woman who wears a Phrygian cap (worn by the sans-culottes during the 1789 Revolution as a symbol of freedom). Following “Liberty” are three figures: a well-dressed member of the bourgeoisie, a student, and an urban worker carrying two pistols. The “Three Glorious Days of July” are idealized as the common struggle undertaken by members of different social classes who mounted the barricades of Paris to achieve the enlightened liberal ideals of the First French Revolution. However, the July Revolution ended up replacing one monarchy with another. The era of common struggle of liberals and radicals on the barricades was quickly passing away. The working class was emerging onto the historical stage as a combative and revolutionary class – as evidenced by the uprisings of 1831 and 1834 in Lyon.[5] By 1848, fear of the “dangerous classes” terrified the bourgeoisie throughout Europe. The bourgeoisie forgot its revolutionary past, now they were ever-ready to settle for mere political change of a regime to give their class more power. Radical demands and universal (male) suffrage could embolden the working class and revolutionaries. To secure their power, the bourgeoisie was willing to make deals with reactionaries, the army and aristocracy at the expense of the “lower orders.” This new reality was evidenced during the June Days of 1848, when the revolutionary workers - demanding work and rights - were slaughtered by the French army sent in with the blessings of the bourgeois republic. The old days of joint struggle by the radical bourgeoisie and the proletariat in pursuit of freedom gave way to the brutality of class war. As Marx wrote of the June Days, “The bourgeoisie declared the workers to be not ordinary enemies who have to be defeated but enemies of society who must be destroyed.”[6] Social advance was no longer possible under the banner of the Tricolor, the flag of the bourgeois revolution. The bloodletting of the June Days proved otherwise. Marx declared that, “The tricolor republic now displays only one color, the color of the defeated, the color of blood. It has become a red republic”[7] During 1848, knowledge of the barricades quickly spread across Europe - thanks to emergence of the modern press and the participation of foreign workers, students and political exiles in the French Revolution of 1848.[8] II. Blanqui[9] In the nineteenth century, no figure represented the bourgeois nightmare of the revolutionary proletariat, barricades and the specter of communist revolution more than Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881). Blanqui participated in five abortive revolutions from 1830 to 1870. Every French government since 1830 had seen fit to lock Blanqui up, hoping to silence his uncompromising voice of class war. As Karl Marx observed, Blanqui was a 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.”[10] However, the only method of action open to Blanqui was an elite and tight-knit conspiracy that would strike capital at the appointed time to usher in communism. Each time he failed. And Blanqui paid the price by spending more than three decades in prison. Despite his failures, Blanqui emerged from the dungeons each time, ready to resume the struggle against capitalism and the monarchy. A. Conspiracy Blanqui’s revolutionary strategy was decidedly simple: a secret conspiracy, highly organized in a hierarchical cell structure, trained in the use of arms and the clandestine arts - who would rise up on an appointed day and seize political power. Once the revolutionaries had power, they would establish a transitional dictatorship that would accomplish two things: serve as a police force “of the poor against the rich” and educate the people with virtue to enable them to rule a new society. Once these twin tasks were completed, the dictatorship would give way to a communist society. However, Blanqui's method of conspiracy was limited by elitism, an organizational divorce from the masses, and no theory to analyze social contradictions, identify allies, plan strategy and decide the right moment to strike. Rather, Blanqui believed that for the revolution to succeed, it simply required perfecting the conspiracy. B. Investigation For Blanqui, it was taken for granted that the decisive revolutionary engagement would occur in a major urban center such as Paris. Victory would come through striking at the centers of political and repressive power of the ruling regime and distributing arms to the insurgent populace. For a planned insurrection to succeed entailed not just arms, training and organization, but also investigating where the planned engagements were to take place. An insurrectionist needed not only to know the centers of political and repressive power in a city, but develop the strategy and tactics which would expedite success. The development of appropriate tactics and strategies depended upon knowing the following: 1. Where to attack (where was the enemy undefended and where insurgents could take advantage). An attack should be delivered where the stakes are highest by utilizing the greatest possible resources at the command of the insurgent forces. 2. The best defensive positions (what buildings are the most defensible, where could barricades be constructed which would best neutralize the enemy's superiority in both numbers and firepower). 3. Knowing the forces at the command of the enemy. Investigate how they are deployed, where, in what strength and numbers. Learn how the enemy would act in battle in order to anticipate their contingency plans. While an insurrection is likely to catch the enemy unprepared, it is imperative to know how to take advantage of this and to follow it up with blow upon blow. However, an enemy force likely has an idea of how they would operate in case of an insurrection. If possible, learn what that plan is, and learn to anticipate their movements. 4. Know the forces at your command. How many can the insurgents count on? What are their strengths and weaknesses in terms of training, organization, and morale? An insurrectionist should know who is at their command and what they can do. The advantage of insurgent forces lies not only in arms and organization, but in their political consciousness. The soldiers of a revolutionary force should be willing to fight and win with the certainty of the justice of their cause. 5. Where can the insurgents hide? Where can they set up obstacles? Make use of the terrain to facilitate the movement of insurgent forces (such as by use of flying columns). 6. Knowing the terrain means that also knowing where to block off the line of sight for the enemy and where they can be ambushed (such as on rooftops, sewers or on crowded streets where enemy troops have restricted movement). If the insurgents don't use the advantages that come from ambushes and surprises, they will lose it to the enemy. Investigation also means developing a plan of battle (or strategy) for a particular campaign. A strategy should have a clear objective (the overthrow of the enemy regime and the establishment of revolutionary power) and tactics should be in pursuit of this end. Knowledge of the terrain means not only knowing where to launch the opening strikes of an insurrection, but also how to follow up an offensive, maintain the initiative and control where the next engagement will take place. If the insurgents control where the engagement is fought, then they can determine on what terms the enemy will meet you in battle. However, it is important to be able to keep the initiative throughout the course of a campaign; if it is lost and if the enemy is still sufficiently strong and intact, then they will be able to keep it. Knowledge of the terrain of engagement allows insurgent force to know not only where to strike, defend and in what capacity, but enables revolutionaries to coordinate their forces and to possess freedom of action during a campaign. If the insurgents possess freedom of movement and action, they not only control the terms of engagement, but choose the right moment to strike (where the advantage is most in your favor and your enemy is at their greatest disadvantage) and can keep the adversary guessing. Blanqui grasped the central truth of Sun Tzu's maxim that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”[11] According to Blanqui an insurgent force needed both a plan of battle and to take the offensive in order to win. Blanqui's plans depended upon organization (disciplined by reliable revolutionaries with a clear chain of command), arms, and a clear strategy (insurrection and the seizure of key points in a city) and objective (the establishment of a revolutionary regime). It is true that the offensive and surprise allows the attacker to have control of the field of engagement, but this is not a permanent feature of battle. Eventually, the enemy will be on their guard and launch their own counter-strikes which will likely be able to throw off the best-planned offensives. Blanqui made the error of codifying his ideas on insurrection into a series of fixed rules. Blanqui only really possessed a single means of insurrection, which just needed to be put into action on the appropriate day. He took not account for chance or accidents in war. He could not grasp what Moltke understood so well, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength.”[12] As Trotsky observed,
Blanqui’s mistake lay not in his direct but his inverse theorem. From the fact that tactful weakness condemns an insurrection to defeat, Blanqui inferred that an observance of the rules of insurrectionary tactics would itself guarantee the victory....Conspiracy does not take the place of insurrection. An active minority of the proletariat, no matter how well organized, cannot seize the power regardless of the general conditions of the country.[13]
C. Barricades Despite the weaknesses of Blanqui's conspiracies, he did possess a sense of revolutionary action and a keen grasp of insurrectionary, especially barricade fighting, tactics. Blanqui's 1868 work, Manual for an Armed Insurrection presented his mature views on street fighting. Here, Blanqui argued that it was necessary for revolutionaries to carefully plan, learn the terrain, and know where to construct barricades. Blanqui highlighted the importance of barricade fighting to the success of any revolutionary endeavor. He said that the construction of barricades must be decided upon in advance of the insurrection by the revolutionary organization. In surveying the failure of the June Days, Blanqui criticized the haphazard manner in which barricades were constructed. He describes the situation in June as follows:
In June, one could count more than sixty barricades; about thirty or so alone carried the burdens of the battle. Of the others, nineteen or twenty did not fire a shot. From there, glorious bulletins made a lot of noise about the removal of fifty barricades, where there was not a soul.[14]
Although Blanqui believes the revolutionary organizations need an overall plan for insurrection, he cautions that in June 1848, the main clashes between revolutionaries and soldiers occurred in areas chosen by chance and not necessarily be military utility:
Little by little, however, a certain number of barricades, higher, stronger, better built, are chosen by defenders, who concentrate there. It is not calculation, but chance which determines the site of these principal fortifications. Just a few, by a kind of military inspiration rather than design, occupy the large intersections.[15] One advantage which insurgents possess is that they were motivated by a revolutionary ideal - knowing not only what they were fighting against (capitalism and reaction), but what they were fighting for (“a new order that will free labor from the tyranny of capital”):
In the popular ranks ... what drives them is enthusiasm, not fear. Superior to the adversary in devotion, they are much more still in intelligence. They have the upper hand over him morally and even physically, by conviction, strength, fertility of resources, promptness of body and spirit, they have both the head and the heart. No troop in the world is the equal of these elite men.[16]
However, Blanqui warns that all the revolutionary faith and fervor in the world could not ensure victory for the insurgents if they were not organized. A lack of organization prevents revolutionary insurgents from coordinating their defense, planning strategy, disrupts communication, and makes the allocation of resources difficult, if not impossible. As he said,
The essential thing is to organize. No more of these tumultuous risings, with ten thousand isolated heads, acting at random, in disorder, without any overall design, each in their local area and acting according to their own whim! No more of these ill-conceived and badly made barricades, which waste time, encumber the streets, and block circulation, as necessary to one party as the other. As much as the troops, the Republican must have freedom of his movements.[17]
Blanqui's case for an insurrection organization with clear leadership, strategy, program and fired by revolutionary faith is strong, but his weakness comes in focusing wholly on the technical or military end and his neglect of political agitation (something we will expand on below). Blanqui's system did not involve preparatory work among the masses to build a base for revolutionary politics. He simply assumed that on the day of the revolution, the masses would simply rally to the leadership of his organization. This proved to be a fatal flaw in Blanqui's theory. Yet there were obvious strengths to Blanqui's vision: organization, coordination, and concern for the larger picture in place of disorder, randomness, and individualism. These were the lessons that Blanqui taught the militants under his command, but they were not taken up by the Paris Commune. Blanqui understood that if you were going to succeed at an insurrection, that you needed to take and hold the initiative. Engels' military writings echoed this lesson:
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 ascendant which the first successful rising has given to you; rally thus 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 l’audace, de l’audace, encore de l’audace![18]
III. Cluseret A transition figure from the era of barricade fighting to new forms of revolutionary warfare was Gustave-Paul Cluseret (1823-1900). Cluseret spent his early life as a soldier in the French army, taking part in the suppression of the workers during the June Days. For his actions, Cluseret was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor. Despite this, he opposed Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which led to his demotion and a brief exile. Returning to France in 1853, Cluseret rejoined the army and fought in Algeria and the Crimean War, before finally ending his service in 1858. Cluseret was to become a freelance adventurer, fighting as a volunteer in a number of progressive and revolutionary causes. In 1860-1, he fought with Garibaldi to liberate Italy, then made his way to the United States where he enlisted in the Union Army to crush the Slaveholders' Rebellion (receiving the rank of general), and joined in the Fenian Movement (1867).[19] Eventually, Cluseret returned to France upon the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, taking part in failed revolutionary insurrections in Lyon and Marseilles. Upon the proclamation of the Paris Commune, he made his way to the capital, where he was appointed as its Delegate of War. Although the Paris Commune lasted only 72 days, it was a courageous effort by the oppressed to overturn social, economic and political inequality. In its place, the Commune created new institutions of collective power which broke the existing repressive and bureaucratic state apparatus and replaced it with direct democracy based upon universal suffrage, the instant recall of delegates, limited the pay of elected officials to 6,000 francs (no more than the wage of a skilled worker) and fused the legislative and executive functions of government. The Commune made a number of sweeping changes during its short existence: the separation of church and state, nationalization church property, institution of free, compulsory, democratic and secular education, the replacement of the standing army with the people in arms, advances in the rights of women, encouragement of the formation of cooperatives under workers' control to run abandoned workshops. The Commune challenged the militarism and chauvinism of French society, putting its faith in the unity of all peoples and internationalism.[20] However, the Commune was hampered by the lack of a decisive leadership, disorganization and an ineffective army. The Commune possessed a potential military force of 200,000 National Guard troops which could have taken an offensive against the few soldiers remaining with the counterrevolution at Versailles.[21] Many Communards preferred to avoid war by negotiating with Versailles. All these efforts came to naught. The Commune's delay gave Thiers precious time to rearm and reorganize his forces, and negotiate with the Prussians to release of French POWs to bolster his army. When the Commune launched its first offensive, after a delay of several weeks, the counterrevolution was ready for them and the National Guard was routed. Still the Commune was unable to create a disciplined and centralized army. In two months, the Commune went through five War Delegates. Cluseret, served as Delegate of War for a few weeks until being removed on May 1. Cluseret argued for a strategy based on a defense in-depth and attrition to wear down the enemy. He tried to improve the discipline and efficiency of the National Guard by relying upon experienced officers as opposed to political activists and creating a better logistical system to supply the army. According to Robert Tombs, a historian of the Commune, Cluseret
is usually cast as villain in histories of the Commune, arrogant, indolent, incompetent and blamed for defeat. Yet he seems to have been the only man to have thought about how the Commune could survive, rather than trusting in the miraculous power of Revolution, or fantasizing about an invincible levee en masse.[22]
Ultimately, Cluseret's efforts failed and the Commune was placed under siege. By late May 1871, Thiers possessed an armed force of 170,000 troops who cordoned off Paris and, in a horrendous bloodbath, massacred the Commune with 20,000-30,000 dead. Cluseret survived and after returning to France from exile, wrote his Memoirs (1887), where he reflected on the military experience of the Commune. There was a change in Cluseret's thinking on the deployment of barricades, which needed to constructed as quickly as possible meaning
Their construction was, consequently, haphazard and makeshift: It is therefore not necessary for these barricades to be perfectly constructed; they can very well be made of overturned carriages, doors torn off their hinges, furniture thrown out of windows, cobble-stones where these are available, beams, barrels, etc.[23]
Cluseret saw the purpose of barricades, similarly to Blanqui, not as shelter for insurgents, but as paralyzing enemy movements and leaving them vulnerable to attack. However, Cluseret's reflections point toward a new method of urban warfare, far different than the romance of barricade fighting. He understood that barricades were obsolete, stating: “street warfare does not happen on the street, but in houses, not in the open, but under cover.”[24] Instead, Cluseret said that insurgents needed to use corner houses, break through their walls to the adjourning structures in order to join them together, and maintain communication. This would provide the revolutionaries with easily defensible positions, while the enemy's movements, supplies, and communication would be frozen, allowing for the insurgents to attack them using flying columns. Furthermore, Cluseret argued for striking the enemy by night, using concealment and focusing attacks on bourgeois property. Cluseret understood that the objective of the “war of the streets” is the overthrow of the old regime and the establishment of a new one: “The work of the second and supreme Revolution will be to replace anew the social axis of capital in order to hand it over to labor.”[25] This war required a general staff of revolutionaries to coordinate the war by seizing the centers of state power: ministries, the police, ministry of the interior etc. Secondly, the insurgents had to take the banks, capture the main centers of communication, armaments, and medical supplies. Once this was done, the revolutionaries needed to supply, organize and arm their own militia who would launch well-organized offensives to crush the old regime and establish their own revolutionary dictatorship. According to the conservative historian James Billington, Cluseret “modernized revolutionary violence. He infused revolutionary thinking with the knowledge of modern, mass warfare he had gained through firsthand participation in the two bloodiest wars of the century...”[26] During the 1905 Russian Revolution, Lenin believed that armed struggle was on the agenda and to that end he translated selections of Cluseret's Memoirs. For Lenin, Cluseret's work had immense educational and practical value in its depiction of the necessities of urban warfare: “Cluseret’s original ideas should serve the Russian proletariat only as material for an independent analysis of the experience of the West-European comrades with a view to its adaptation to our own conditions.”[27] Blanqui and Cluseret both understood that socialism was not going to come by chance or spontaneity, or appealing to the ruling class for reform of the overall system; it would take revolutionary organization, action and the seizure of power. Yet they focused overwhelmingly on the technical side of insurrection while neglecting the necessary political organizations and mass involvement needed for its success. It would take the experience of Lenin, Trotsky and the Russian Revolution to overcome these weaknesses. IV. Function of the barricade Blanqui's highlighted the importance and the nature of the barricade in the Manual for Armed Insurrection. In this work, he discussed in meticulous detail the proper way to construct barricades during an insurrection. As mentioned, Blanqui believed that barricades needed to provide cover for insurgents, block the movement of enemy troops and be able to withstand heavy fire. While we agree with Blanqui's overall observations, his focus on the organizational and military side of the barricade means he completely neglects other important functions of the barricade. Barricade historian Mark Traugott identifies the following practical and social considerations that barricades have served in revolutionary insurrections (some of these overlap with Blanqui, but we are including all of Traugott's points for the sake of completeness). Traugott says that the focus on the military dimensions of barricades ignores that its social side was “more likely to determine the outcome of civil conflict”:[28] 1. Providing protective cover to insurgents from the fire of government troops. 2. To bar the passage of the enemy and to impede the circulation of outsiders in the insurgent zone. 3. Halting the movement of troops, by cutting off their lines of supply, barracks, armories, storehouses and depriving the enemy of intelligence relating to the insurgents. This disrupts the enemy's chain of command and their logistical superiority, providing a more equal footing between the two sides. 4. The mobilization of the insurgent masses by showing their outright defiance of the regime and ability to win over the general population over to their side. Insurgents and barricade construction has a way of captivating outsiders. 5. Claiming turf, challenging the legitimacy of the regime and building solidarity. The rituals of insurgents in announcing barricade construction and suspending the ordinary routine create a sense of shared solidarity. Barricade construction means that insurgents have to use of tools, materials, vehicles etc. along with arms and ammunition – all of which have to be requisitioned from the populace. If the populace was sympathetic to the insurgent cause, this created a sense of community and an alternative set of authority. And if the insurgents defended their positions via force of arms with the general population obeyed their authority and not that of the government, this created a situation of dual power. 6. The construction of barricades is a way to gauge popular support and the possibilities for success. A negative example of this is provided by Blanqui's own coup in 1839. During the coup, the Society of Seasons constructed barricades in order to defend key positions they seized in the revolt. However, the populace did not assist in their construction. The lack of popular involvement helped to doom the success of Blanqui's coup, despite the heroism of the insurgents. As Traugott argues, barricades created “a space that fostered social interactions – among the rebels to be sure, but also between them and the public – and thus allowed these various parties to gauge the costs and benefits of progressing to the stage of outright hostilities.”[29] 7. Barricades create an appropriate level of insurgent organization. While the revolutionary energy of the masses manifested itself in their daring to fight and win in the face of the enemy, they were also hampered by the lack of a general command. For example, insurgents would rebel against the discipline and the structures of the old regime, but would neglect to develop their own (with a clear chain of command, knowledge of the bigger picture, able to distribute arms and ammunition, able to plan maneuvers). The construction of barricades during the insurrection meant the development of some kind of coordination in the heat of battle. However the relation between the spontaneity and structure is a recurrent problem in each insurrection. 8. The emergence of a division of labor. Traugott argues that while barricade construction never involved a clear choice between spontaneity and structure, initially distinctions of class, gender and race are temporarily erased in the face of a common enemy (which was part of the power of the barricade as a symbol). Traugott also says that “as the insurrectionary situation progressed from incipient combat to lethal conflict, the confusion that initially reigned behind the barricade gave way to an informal hierarchical order – one that mirrored, however imperfectly, arrangements in society at large. The logic of the barricade began to restructure the social as well as the physical space that the insurgents sought to control.”[30] During the nineteenth century, barricade fighting involved including previously underrepresented and/or oppressed groups in an insurrection (such as women during the Paris Commune). As a revolution develops, a clear division of labor would be necessary for the insurgents if they are to prevail (those with knowledge of construction would be more valuable in construction while those with military experience would be in command). 9. Barricades create a space allowing insurgents to fraternize with the army and the police. The military forces of the state possess superiority in terms of arms, organization and discipline over those of a revolutionary force. However, if armed forces moved against insurgent positions, there was the possibility that the soldiers would refuse to fire. As Traugott says: “the goal of insurgents was, of course, to break down that isolation, communicate directly with troops, and sap their willingness to fight by putting a human face on the insurrection and its goals.”[31] However, such appeals are not always guaranteed to succeed. Insurgents who exposed themselves by appealing to the army were just as likely to be shot down. Yet the cover of barricades allowed rebels to appeal to the soldiers without necessarily being killed. For soldiers, the effect of seeing unarmed civilians (particularly women and children) sometimes had the effect of causing the soldiers to mutiny and to go over to the enemy. Blanqui recognized that the army fought unwillingly against the masses and an important task for insurgents was to isolate and win over dissatisfied soldiers:
In civil disorders, with rare exceptions soldiers march only with loathing, by force and brandy. They would like to be elsewhere and more often look behind than ahead. But an iron hand retains them as slaves and victims of a pitiless discipline; without any affection for authority, they obey only fear and are lacking in any initiative. A detachment which is cut off is a lost detachment. The commanders are not unaware of this, and worry above all to maintain communication between all their forces. This need cancels out a portion of their manpower.[32]
V. The obsolescence of the barricade Blanqui's Manual for Armed Insurrection is essentially a set of fixed rules for an urban revolution which are to be rigorously followed by insurgents. However, he neglected to take into account adaptions on the side of the bourgeois state which diminished the military ability of barricades: improved communications, the development of railroads, the use of artillery which could obliterate most barricades, etc.[33] Furthermore, the forces of the state utilized methods of city planning and modernization to prevent future urban insurrections. During the reign of Napoleon III, he appointed Baron Haussmann, who carried out a massive public works program for Paris. Haussmann's plans involved making Paris a modern capital city to reflect imperial power and encourage capital investment by demolishing overcrowded and unhealthy neighborhoods, constructing wider avenues, parks, sewers and fountains. According to Walter Benjamin, “the true goal of Haussmann's projects was to secure the city against civil war.... [by] widening the streets is designed to make the erection of barricades impossible, and new streets are to furnish the shortest route between the barracks and the workers' districts. Contemporaries christen the operation ‘strategic embellishment’.”[34] The new widened streets not only made barricade construction difficult, but also furnished the shortest distance between barracks and working class districts in case of an insurrection. These streets were also to be used by modernized armed forces, backed by effective artillery, that could quickly demolish barricades. Blanqui recognized that separating soldiers from sites of insurrection made sense on the part of the state: “They are corrupted by contact with the rebels and refuse to fire freely when repression becomes necessary .... The best system: construct citadels dominating the suspect towns and ready at any moment to crush them. Soldiers must be kept garrisoned, away from the popular contagion."[35] As a result of Haussmann's city planning, crowded working class districts were moved away from strategic locations in Paris. The close-knit working class neighborhoods, where people had lived and worked which spawned barricade insurrections, now vanished. Working class struggle shifted from the streets into the factories.[36] Although barricades continued to be a regular feature of European revolts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, (spreading globally) their revolutionary role changed. By the last third of the nineteenth century, the age of revolutionary offensives and barricade fighting was passing away. The Paris Commune was not so much a repetition of the French Revolution of 1793, but its last gasp and a demonstration of the power of the new working class and the birth of modern mass socialist politics. By the last third of the nineteenth century, the socialist parties of the Second International were emerging and growing across Europe, winning the support of millions of workers and electing members of parliament. For many, it seemed reasonable to expect a peaceful transition to socialism at the ballot box. These developments were noted by Engels who observed in his 1895 Introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France that the classical era of street fighting and barricade construction had come to an end. Engels said socialists should focus on the legal struggle since a frontal clash with the army was bound to lead to defeat. While the advocates of reformism and revisionism inside the socialist parties would turn Engels into a proponent of legality at any price (Engels protested that his work was heavily edited for publication by the German Social Democrats), this was not his actual position:
I was amazed to see today in the Vorwärts an excerpt from my ‘Introduction’ that had been printed without my prior knowledge and tricked out in such a way as to present me as a peace-loving proponent of legality quand meme (trans. come what may). Which is all the more reason why I should like it to appear in its entirety in the Neue Zeit in order that this disgraceful impression may be erased. I shall leave Liebknecht in no doubt as to what I think about it and the same applies to those who, irrespective of who they may be, gave him this opportunity of perverting my views and, what’s more, without so much as a word to me about it.[37]
Engels believed that while the conditions against street-fighting had grown more unfavorable since 1848, he said that in future insurrections, these disadvantages could be overcome. One task Engels believed socialists needed to seriously undertake was to spread revolutionary ideas inside the army to weaken the soldiers' morale in the face of an urban insurrection:
Let us have no illusions about it; a real victory of insurrection over the military in street fighting, a victory as between two armies, is one of the rarest exceptions. And the insurgents counted on it just as rarely. For them it was solely a question of making the troops yield to moral influences ... If they succeed in this, the troops fail to respond, or the commanding officers lose their heads, and the insurrection wins. If they do not succeed in this, then, even where the military are in the minority, the superiority of better equipment and training, of uniform leadership, of the planned employment of the military forces and of discipline makes itself felt. The most that an insurrection can achieve in the way of actual tactical operations is the proficient construction and defense of a single barricade ... Hence passive resistance is the predominant form of struggle; an attack will be mounted here and there, by way of exception, in the form of occasional thrusts and assaults on the flanks; as a rule, however, it will be limited to the occupation of positions abandoned by retreating troops...
Even in the classic time of street fighting, therefore, the barricade produced more of a moral than a material effect. It was a means of shaking the steadfastness of the military. If it held out until this was attained, victory was won; if not, the outcome was defeat. This is the main point which must be kept in view, also when examining the outlook for possible future street fighting.[38]
Engels' strategy was not revolution at the ballot box, but more akin to a war of position - for socialists to focus on the legal struggle (for the moment), while building their influence among the masses (among the workers and the army), so that if an insurrection occurs, they will have the sympathy of enough soldiers to make up for their military disadvantage. Then street-fighting would take an offensive form, not a defensive one. In other words, Engels said that the current focus on the legal struggle and a war of position was not a permanent strategy for socialists – as it was interpreted by revisionists in the Second International. Despite Engels' nuanced position, the Second International continued with their “tried and trusted” tactic of reformism and the electoral road. The development of military tactics and strategy by Marxists in Western European (with the notable exception of James Connolly)[39] was neglected. The outbreak of the First World War and the revolutionary wave in its aftermath showed that Social Democracy was more committed to gradualist reform, defense of the bourgeois state and empire, than their stated goal of socialism. Social democracy had not merely failed to create socialism, but had actively betrayed it, while the Bolsheviks in 1917 had successful made a revolution and defended it by force of arms. Henceforth, the development of revolutionary military tactics and strategy came from Lenin and Trotsky - the leading figures of the Bolshevik Revolution. VI. The October Road A. Lenin[40] Leninism was qualitative leap and rupture with both Blanquism and the Second International in terms of its military doctrine and strategy by stressing the primacy of revolutionary politics. In developing a new mode of politics, Alain Badiou says:
Lenin draws the following fourfold lesson from the crushing of the Commune:
1. It is necessary to practice Marxist politics, and not some local romantic revolt, whether workerist or populist. The profound meaning of What Is To Be Done? is entirely contained in this difficult and original call: let us be absolutely and irrevocably political activists (meaning professionals, that goes without saying: who has ever seen amateur political leaders?).
2. It is necessary to have an overall view of things, in the national framework at least, and not be fragmented into the federalism of struggles.
3. It is necessary to forge an alliance with the rural masses.
4. It is necessary to break the counter-revolution through an uninterrupted, militarily offensive, centralized process.
And what of the party, the famous Leninist party, in the midst of all this? The party as the core of steel, an army moving with the rhythmic step of seasoned professionals? For Lenin, the party is nothing but the operator of the concentration of these four requirements, the mandatory focal point for a politics.[41]
In terms of warfare, only a few points of Lenin's approach need concern us here. Lenin argued, following Marx, that it was necessary for the proletariat to smash the old state and establish their own based on the strength of the armed people. Lenin said that the seizure of power, contrary to Blanquism was not the work of a small group of conspirators, but of a revolutionary class. The difference in their approach to revolutionary insurrection is summarized as follows:
Marxists are accused of Blanquism for treating insurrection as an art! Can there be a more flagrant perversion of the truth, when not a single Marxist will deny that it was Marx who expressed himself on this score in the most definite, precise and categorical manner, referring to insurrection specifically as an art, saying that it must be treated as an art, that you must win the first success and then proceed from success to success, never ceasing the offensive against the enemy, taking advantage of his confusion, etc., etc.? To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism. Once these conditions exist, however, to refuse to treat insurrection as an art is a betrayal of Marxism and a betrayal of the revolution.[42]
Lenin understood the need to treat insurrection as an art by studying the terrain of engagement and careful planning in contrast to a fatalistic approach. Lenin and Trotsky agreed with Blanqui that it was necessary to carefully plan, learn the terrain, and be ready to strike, but the similarities between their approaches ended there. Blanqui was willing to strike as soon as the conspiracy was perfected, not after the sharpening of societal contradictions and the emergence of a favorable moment. By contrast, the Bolsheviks, guided by Marxism and a flexible strategy, based their revolution on the masses of Russia and the maturation of a revolutionary moment. Although Lenin stressed the need for careful planning, he knew that a party had to be flexible. The party needed practice, initiative and daring, otherwise they would be paralyzed by immobility and passivity.[43] Lenin didn't neglect the technical side of the insurrection, saying that the masses needed to be more organized so the enemy does not catch them off-guard. When the time comes to strike, and to treat insurrection as an art, with a centralized command needed to plan the seizure of strategic points in the capital, and move against the leaders of the government and the army. Lenin argued for revolutionary politics through the mediation of a vanguard party capable of intervening between subjective and objective factors. It was the task of the party to organize and lead the masses, to take advantage of a revolutionary situation, and to focus on the conquest of power.[44] And Lenin's strategy was able to succeed in Russia in 1917 and make communism into a world historical force. B. Trotsky[45] One of the main organizers of the October Revolution was Leon Trotsky, who wrote a number of works on the art of insurrection – its political and social factors, the nature of dual power, the necessity for a vanguard party connected with the masses and the need for careful planning. Trotsky also recognized that a party's leadership would often lag behind the masses during a revolutionary situation which could lead to a split. When revolutionaries develop their plans this necessitated a general staff, adaptability in changing conditions, and the will to win. It is interesting to note that Trotsky writes little on the barricade. While Blanqui's conception of revolutionary insurrection had depended on barricades for victory, for Trotsky, the barricade is more important for the moral role it plays in breaking down military discipline:
we should not forget that a barricade -- clearly a mechanical element in the rising -- plays, above all, a moral role. In every revolution, the significance of barricades is not at all the same as that of fortresses in a battle. A barricade is not just a physical obstacle. The barricade serves the cause of insurrection because, by creating a temporary barrier to the movement of troops, it brings them into close contact with the people. Here, at the barricades, the soldier hears -- perhaps for the fist time in his life -- the talk of ordinary honest people, their fraternal appeals, the voice of the people's conscience; and, as a consequence of such contact between citizens and soldiers, military discipline disintegrates and disappears.[46]
In order to split the army, the revolutionaries must have the will to win and be ready to die for their cause. When the soldiers, infected by revolutionary propaganda in a deepening crisis, see the resolution and courage of insurgents, this will demoralize the soldiers and the ruling class. Ultimately, the army will shatter as soldiers go over to the side of the people, ensuring the triumph of the revolution. Even in a situation of dual power, the ruling class still possessed overwhelming strength in the army. Therefore, it was necessary for revolutionaries to agitate there and split the army. Trotsky outlined these problems in 1905 as follows:
The army's political mood, that great unknown of every revolution, can be determined only in the process of a clash between the soldiers and the people. The army's crossing over to the camp of the revolution is a moral process; but it cannot be brought about by moral means alone. Different motives and attitudes combine and intersect within the army; only a minority is consciously revolutionary, while the majority' hesitates and awaits an impulse from outside. This majority is capable of laying down its arms or, eventually, of pointing its bayonets at the reaction only if it begins to believe in the possibility of a people's victory.[47]
Thus, the task of fanning the flames of discontent entailed the greatest audacity and courage among the revolutionary party and masses. And since the ruling class would not allow their power to just disintegrate without a struggle, not only through patient explanation, but daring could win over the army:
Under what conditions, then, did we think -- and do we think now -- that the army can be expected to pass over to the side of revolution? What is the prerequisite for this? Machine guns and rifles? Of course, if the working masses possessed machine guns and rifles they would wield great power. Such power would even largely remove the inevitability of an insurrection. The undecided army would lay down its arms at the feet of the armed people... However important weapons are, it is not in weapons that the most essential strength lies. No, not in weapons. Not the capacity of the masses to kill, but their great readiness to die, that, gentlemen of the court, is what we believe ensures, in the last count, the success of a people's rising.[48]
Due to the October Revolution's success in creating the world's first socialist state, many communists universalized its experience and expected that future revolutions would follow a similar course by the seizing power in the major industrial and political centers. This was codified by the Communist International in its book, Armed Insurrection – written to serve as a manual for communists in the art of insurrection.[49] However, the path to power of all subsequent revolutions came by way of guerrilla warfare. Trotsky, who participated in early discussions around the development of the manual for Armed Insurrection warned against rigid codification: “every war unfolds in a situation and under conditions no one can see.”[50] Despite this warning, Trotsky sees new revolutions following a similar path as the Bolsheviks. Trotsky's planned contribution to the Comintern manual, Problems of Civil War, was an incomplete draft, which did not consider the possibilities of guerrilla warfare or organizing the peasantry (who were given an auxiliary role). Some version of the October Road with the development of soviets (or equivalent organization) and urban insurrection based on the proletariat was the only scenario Trotsky seriously considered for the conquest of power. However, the communists who came after Trotsky, whether Mao or Giap developed new modes of revolutionary warfare that broke with his model. C. Impasse Despite the triumph of the Bolsheviks in 1917, other urban insurrections led by communists and socialists were not successful (Easter Rising 1916, Berlin 1919, Hamburg 1923, Estonia 1924, Canton 1926, Shanghai 1926-7, El Salvador 1932, Vienna and Spain 1934[51]). The Spanish Civil War, despite the initial insurrection to thwart the Nationalist coup, involved mobile warfare with revolutionaries divided into three camps over the proposed strategy: militia, centralized regular army, and a red army.[52] Even in the October Revolution of 1917, there was no reliance on barricades, but on a carefully timed and executed insurrection led by an organized mass party seizing the key points in a city. While other communist-led insurrections did see barricade fighting, most often, these efforts involved taking the offensive in a bid to take power. In Armed Insurrection, Red Army Marshal Tukhachevsky discusses the use of barricades in an insurrection (how they should be constructed, where to set up, digging defensive trenches, type of weapons to use, etc.). He saw barricades as playing an “active character” as part of a wider defensive strategy (similarly to Cluseret):
The defense must be given an active character, for only thus can it hope for success. When defenses are organized and barricades constructed, the defenders must constantly bear in mind the possibility, indeed necessity, of striking swift, decisive blows. To this end, special squads of shock troops must be formed and placed in well-protected positions; their mission will be to attack the enemy at the first opportunity, under cover of the fire from the houses. [53]
Although the Comintern displayed far more sophistication in the development of insurrectionary tactics and strategy, they codified the Bolshevik model similarly to Blanqui's universalization of barricades. Ultimately, Comintern turned away from revolutionary insurrections, following its Seventh Congress in 1935, and its sections sought alliances with the “liberal” and “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie. Yet the age of guerrilla warfare, already rising to prominence in China, was stepping onto the stage of history. VII. Conclusion Blanqui's insurrectionist strategy centered around the barricade. However, Blanqui's rigid codification of barricade fighting was obsolete before his death in the face of adaptation by the state and the emergence of mass socialist politics. The next generation of communist revolutionaries, relegated the barricade to an auxiliary role. Despite this, the barricade remains impregnated in our minds as a symbol of revolutionary heroism and idealism by summoning us to choose our side in the revolutionary struggle. Notes [1] Mark Traugott, Insurgent Barricade (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 47-8. [2] Ibid. 31. [3] Ibid. 91. [4] Ibid. 105 and 262-3 [5] Eric Hazan, A History of the Barricade (New York: Verso, 2015), 53-59 and Robert J. Bezucha, The Lyon Uprising of 1834: Social and Political Conflict in the Early July Monarchy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974). [6] “The 25th of June,” Marx and Engels Collected Works 7.139. Henceforth MECW. [7] “The June Revolution,” MECW 7.144. [8] Traugott 2010, 145-177. [9] For this section, I have freely borrowed (often with little alteration) my previous writings on Blanqui. Aside from my book, Specters of Communism: Blanqui and Marx (forthcoming from Haymarket), see “The will to act: The life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui,” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4115; “Despite It All: Blanqui’s Eternity By the Stars,” Counterpunch. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/13/blanquis-eternity-by-the-stars/; “The First Words of Common Sense,” Kasama Project. http://k2.kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/the-first-words-of-common-sense; “Because We Want to Win, We Want the Means,” Kasama Project. http://k2.kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/because-we-want-to-win-we-want-the-means; “The Historical Memory and Legacy of Louis-Auguste Blanqui” (forthcoming). [10] Karl Marx, “Class Struggles in France.” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/class-struggles-france/ch03.htm [11] Sun Tzu, “On the Art of War.” Marxists Internet Archive http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sun-tzu/works/art-of-war/ch03.htm [Accessed February 10, 2014]. [12] Helmuth Graf von Moltke, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, ed. Daniel J. Hughes (Novato: Presido Press, 1995), 45. [13] Leon Trotsky, “The History of the Russian Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch43.htm [14] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Manual for an Armed Insurrection,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1866/instructions1.htm [15] Ibid. [16] Ibid. [17] Ibid. [18] Frederick Engels, “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/germany/ch17.htm [19] Biographical information on Cluseret came from the following sources: Memoires du General Cluseret: Tome Second (Charleston: Nabu Press, 2012); V. I. Lenin, “Street Fighting,” Marxists Internet Archive; Alban Bargain-Villeger, “From Middle-of-the-Road Republican to Reactionary Socialist: General Gustave Cluseret’s Multiform Crusade Against Capitalism,” Academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/6919389/_From_Middle-of-the-Road_Republican_to_Reactionary_Socialist_General_Gustave_Cluseret_s_Multiform_Crusade_Against_Capitalism_ [20] The literature on the Commune is vast. For a sampling see Karl Marx, Civil War in France (New York International Publishers, 1993); Donny Gluckstein, The Paris Commune: A Revolution in Democracy (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011); Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune 1871 (New York: Longman, 1999). [21] Alistair Horne, The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870–71 (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 329 and 280. [22] Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune 1871 (New York: Longman, 1999), 155. [23] Quoted in Kristin Ross, “Rimbaud and the Transformation of Social Space,” Yale French Studies 97 (2000): 43. [24] Quoted in ibid. 44. [25] Quoted in James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1980), 358. [26] Ibid. 357. [27] V. I. Lenin, “Street Fighting” (note 19). [28] Traugott 2010, 185. The following points have been drawn from pp. 178-224. [29] Ibid. 195. [30] Ibid. 198. [31] Ibid. 208. [32] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Manual for Armed Insurrection.” (note 14). [33] Insurgents attempted to blunt the army's firepower with several barricades, separated by 100 yards, which allowed for the forward line to retreat to more defensible positions. Another method was to construct barricades in the shape of a V, with the point which was aimed at the position from where cannon fire was expected to originate. The force of artillery fire would collapse this section of the barricade, compressing the materials further and preserving the structural integrity. A third method was to tie barricades into adjoining buildings which allowing for greater structural strength and to make use of covering fire from nearby windows. Traugott 2010, 216. [34] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 12. [35] Quoted in ibid. 144. [36] Hazan 2010, 124-6. [37] “Engels to Karl Kautsky,” MECW 50.486. See also A. Neuberg, Armed Insurrection (New York: St. Martin's, 1970), 35-7. [38] Frederick Engels, “Introduction to Karl Marx’s The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850.” Marxist Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1895/03/06.htm [39] James Connolly, “Insurrectionary Warfare,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1915/rw/revwar.htm [40] For more on the relation between Leninism and Blanquism, see my “Blanquism and Leninism,” Cultural Logic. http://clogic.eserver.org/2012/Greene.pdf and “At the Crossroads of Blanquism and Leninism,” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4708 [41] Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject, Trans. Bruno Bosteels (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 46. [42] “Marxism and Insurrection,” Lenin Collected Works 26. 22-23. (henceforth LCW) [43] “To Combat Committee of St. Petersburg Committee,” LCW 9.346. [44] "The revolutionary party does not make 'the revolutionary situation.' Nor does it, by itself, make 'the revolution.' It organizes and leads it. This is a task heavy with responsibility; a task whose execution is influenced mote directly by such 'subjective' factors than any one 'objective' aspect of the revolutionary situation. A revolutionary situation does not automatically come to fruition. Unless a revolutionary party exists, free from the twin faults of sectarianism and opportunism, and therefore capable of properly exploiting every lead towards the seizure of power, the situation may lose its potentialities for revolutionary change. But it is not only at such moments that the political party is of central importance. Long before the revolutionary situation develops, it must be active on every front which there is social discontent. It seeks to broaden the base of mass struggles, to organize and educate the working class politically, and to build up its own ranks in preparation for the coming revolutionary situation." Sidney Hook, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2002), 278 [352]. Brackets indicate the updated edition. [45] This section is drawn largely from my “Leon Trotsky and revolutionary insurrection,” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/3637 [46] Leon Trotsky, 1905 (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 397. [47] Ibid. 268-9. [48] Ibid. 396-7. [49] Trotsky argues that the manual on armed insurrection was originally conceived by the Military Science Society in 1924, but was shelved as part of the struggle against Trotskyism. See Trotsky's The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970) 146-7. See also Neuberg 1970. [50] Leon Trotsky, “Problems of Civil War,” in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-1925) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 198. [51] Ilona Duczynska, Workers in arms: the Austrian Schutzbund and the Civil War of 1934 (New York; London: Monthly Review Press, 1978) and Manuel Grossi, The Asturian Uprising: Fifteen Days of Socialist Revolution (London: Socialist Platform, 2000). [52] For more on the Spanish Civil War, see my “The POUM: Those who would?” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4229 [53] Neuberg 1970, 249.