The “First Professional Revolutionary”

The “First Professional Revolutionary”

THE REVOLUTIONARY THEORIES OF Louis AUGUSTE BLANQUI, by Allan B. Spitzer. Columbia Univ. Press, 1957.

This is a painstaking, if somewhat pedestrian, study of the theories of the “first professional revolutionary” of Europe. Blanqui spent forty of his seventy-six years in the prisons of all the regimes which governed France betwee 1830 and 1881, and during these years of enforced idleness he read widely and wrote profusely. Much of this material has been lost but parts of it are available in twenty volumes of unpublished manuscript at the Paris Bibiiothe que Nationale.

Blanqui was sometimes a shrewd historical observer, as when he talked of the strange “eclecticism of the guillotine” during the last stage of Jacobin terror, but he was not an original thinker. Disciple of eighteenth century Enlightenment and of Babouvisme, his doctrine consisted in an amalgam of messianic belief in The Revolution, confidence that small revolutionary minorities could sieze power and in due course “educate the masses,” strong doses of French nationalism and a romantic trust in “the people.” Blanqui’s importance in the history of the socialist movement resides not in his ideas but in his conspiratorial actions. His theory of permanent revolutionary action influenced several generations of the French Left and was not without influence on Lenin and his co-thinkers. Blanqui attempted to set up a revolutionary dictatorship of the enlightened which by controlling the political machinery would gradually educate the masses and change the economic institutions of a still largely agricultural France. This makes it understandable why he should have fascinated Lenin. Like Lenin, he attempted to “force history,” to transcend objective conditions, by an effort of the revolutionary will.