Blanqui, Auguste

views updated


BLANQUI, AUGUSTE (1805–1881), French republican political activist.

Louis-Auguste Blanqui is among the most romantic figures in the nineteenth-century European revolutionary tradition. As a conspirator in secret societies, a journalist for ephemeral newspapers, and a popular club orator, he aspired to foment popular insurrections against the authoritarian regimes of mid-nineteenth-century France—from the Bourbon Restoration to the Second Napoleonic Empire. Frequently imprisoned, he acquired a legendary reputation as an idealistic pariah willing to suffer for the cause of social justice.

Blanqui was born on 8 February 1805 in Puget-Théniers (Alpes-Maritimes), where his father was a sub-prefect during the First Napoleonic Empire. Intellectually precocious, the young Blanqui studied law and medicine in Paris, though he never earned a degree. Instead, he drifted into the political underground of secret societies and left-wing journalism during the Bourbon Restoration. He manned the barricades during the popular insurrection in Paris in July 1830, through which the Bourbon monarchy was toppled. Unhappy with its Orleanist successor, he again went underground, organizing two secret societies during the following decade. He played a supporting role in a spectacular but failed coup d'état against the regime in 1839. Periodically, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to lengthening prison terms (in total forty-three years). Free at the outset of the revolution of 1848, he returned to Paris to become a ubiquitous club orator and an agitator rousing the crowds that menaced the National Assembly. In the midst of this campaign, his reputation was irreparably damaged by the highly publicized charge that he had betrayed his comrades-in-arms to the police in the abortive coup of 1839. During the early years of the Second Empire, he was sent to remote prisons, and his legend, now tarnished, began to fade.

The aging Blanqui was rediscovered by a younger generation of would-be republican revolutionaries in the early 1860s (appropriately in a political prison), and he became their mentor, educator, and guide in the tactics of insurrection. With his oversight, they organized a secret society and carried out street demonstrations against the imperial regime. Blanqui remained hidden on the margins, but emerged publicly once more as journalist, club orator, and national guard commander while Paris was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War in the fall of 1870. Arrested after the armistice by a moderate provisional government that had grown tired of his strident opposition, he was again imprisoned and so never participated in the Paris Commune of 1871, though several of his disciples played major roles therein. He was freed in the amnesty of 1879 and died two years later on 1 January 1881, by then revered among the left generally as the grand old man of the revolutionary tradition.

Though he traveled in a left-wing milieu increasingly drawn to socialist ideas as the century progressed, Blanqui can be characterized as a socialist only in loose terms. He was dismissive of the ideas of both Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) and Karl Marx (1818–1883) and was suspicious of rival factions on the left, notably the First Workingmen's International Association. His credo, insofar as he articulated one, might be characterized as a religious atheism. He argued for facing the trials of life courageously, free of sentimental illusions about otherworldly human destiny. He preached uncompromising activism in the face of political oppression, with faith in its existential value if not much hope for its efficacy in fashioning a different kind of human future. His atheist materialism assumed metaphysical proportions in his L'Eternité par les astres (1871), a philosophical meditation on the idea of the eternal return of the cycles of the material forces of the cosmos. His ideas had more influence on the Free Thought movement than on the socialist cause. Committed to a conception of revolution modeled on the popular uprisings of the French Revolution, his political method had become obsolete in the emerging democratic politics of mass political parties of the late nineteenth century in western Europe. The most direct parallel of his politics is with Vladimir Lenin's (1870–1924) leadership of the Russian Bolshevik party in the early twentieth century.

Until the mid-twentieth century, Blanqui was portrayed sympathetically by his left-wing biographers for his combative politics and by some literary critics for his purity of heart in his devotion to his cause. Late-twentieth-century scholarship, however, reveals a man of complex motives, selfdoubt, political irresolution, and narcissistic selfishness behind his mask of selfless resolve.

See alsoFrance; Republicanism.


Primary Sources

Blanqui, Louis Auguste. Lettres familières d'Auguste Blanqui et du Docteur Louis Watteau. Edited by Maurice Paz. Marseille, 1976.

——. Un Révolutionnaire professionnel, Auguste Blanqui. Paris, 1984.

Secondary Sources

Bernstein, Samuel. Blanqui. Paris, 1970.

Dommanget, Maurice. Auguste Blanqui: Des origines à la révolution de 1848. Paris, 1969. See also his other works on Blanqui.

Howorth, Jolyon. Edouard Vaillant: La création de l'unité socialiste en France. Paris, 1982.

Hutton, Patrick H. The Cult of the Revolutionary Tradition: The Blanquists in French Politics, 1864–1893. Berkeley, Calif., 1981.

Spitzer, Alan B. The Revolutionary Theories of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. New York, 1957.

Patrick H. Hutton

About this article

Blanqui, Auguste

Updated About content Print Article