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Who was Blanqui?

Louis Auguste Blanqui was the quintessential angry revolutionist, insurrectionist, conspiratorial socialist, who was in conflict with every French government from the 'July monarchy' of Louis-Philippe, the 1848 National Assembly, Napoleon III's Empire, to the Third Republic. Anarchist Michael Bakunin was won over to ideas of socialism through the influence of Blanqui. Blanqui lived for 76 years and spent 44 of those years in prison! Blanqui was nicknamed 'L'Enfermé' which translates as the 'the enclosed' or 'the locked one' or even 'the prisoner'. Engels in the 1874 article The Program of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune wrote: 'Blanqui is essentially a political revolutionist. He is a socialist only through sentiment, through his sympathy with the sufferings of the people, but he has neither a socialist theory nor any definite practical suggestions for social remedies. In his political activity he was mainly a "man of action", believing that a small and well organized minority, who would attempt a political stroke of force at the opportune moment, could carry the mass of the people with them by a few successes at the start and thus make a victorious revolution.'

Blanqui, the revolutionist prisoner of the French state wrote a curious book while imprisoned which was published in 1872 but was unknown until re-discovered by Walter Benjamin in 1938. It is called L'Eternité par les astres which translates as Eternity According to the Stars and is a formulation of a theory of the Eternal Recurrence of Time which is commonly associated with the philosophy of Nietzsche in the 1880s. The origin of the idea of the Eternal Recurrence of Time can be located to the poet Heinrich Heine, Marx's good friend in Paris in the 1840s although, quaintly, Heine envisages the altering of time experience. With Nietzsche there is no existential comfort; it is quite literally the eternal recurrence of every moment ad infinitum. To Nietzsche this is 'the greatest burden' or 'heaviest weight', but with a belief in 'amor fati' (love of one's fate) coupled with a nobility of the spirit one can avoid the trap of nihilism and endeavour to engage in a life of existential authenticity and have an impact on time and existence.

But with Blanqui, 44 years in prison has reduced this permanent revolutionist to seeing himself eternally as the confined man; bourgeois society is hell on earth, and every defeat and suffering of the working class in history are replicated throughout history. He does not envisage a socialist future, writing: 'Until now, the past has for us, meant barbarism, whereas the future has signified progress, science, happiness, illusion! This past, on all our counterpart worlds, has seen the most brilliant civilizations disappear without leaving a trace, and they will continue to disappear without leaving a trace. The future will witness yet again, on billions of worlds, the ignorance, folly, and cruelty of our bygone eras.' Nietzsche's psychological conceit is here an astronomical hypothesis of resignation and defeat. Blanqui's pessimistic 'weltanschauung' is reminiscent of Lenin's statement of the future when he wrote, 'if socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see socialism for at least five hundred years.'