The Programme of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune. by Frederick Engels


 [The general line running through this criticism of the Programme of the Blanquist refugees is still so applicable that despite the praise given to the German Workers’ Party, it is well worth reprinting. The misunderstanding of social development by the Blanquists has been parallelled during the war period by groups both here and in Germany and Russia. Engels’ criticism tells with even greater force against these groups than it did against the Blanquists, because the social conditions are more highly developed now than then, and there is, therefore, even less excuse for the misunderstanding.]


After the failure of every revolution or counter revolution, a feverish activity develops among the fugitives, who have escaped to foreign countries. The parties of different shades form groups, accuse each other of having driven the cart into the mud, charge one another with treason and every conceivable sin.


At the same time they remain in close touch with the home country, organise, conspire, print leaflets and newspapers, swear that the trouble will start afresh within twenty-four hours, that victory is certain, and distribute the various government offices beforehand on the strength of this anticipation.


Of course, disappointment follows disappointment, and since this is not attributed to the inevitable historical conditions, which they refuse to understand, but rather to accidental mistakes of individuals, the mutual accusations multiply, and the whole business winds up with a grand row. This is the history of all groups of fugitives from the royalist emigrants of 1792 until the present day. Those fugitives, who have any sense and understanding, retire from the fruitless squabble as soon as they can do so with propriety and devote themselves to better things.


The French emigrants after the Commune did not escape this disagreeable fate.


Owing to the European campaign of slander, which attacked everybody without distinction, and being compelled particularly in London, where they had a common center in the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, for the time being, to suppress their internal troubles before the world, they had not been able, during the last two years, to conceal the signs of advancing disintegration. The open fight broke out everywhere. In Switzerland a part of them joined the Bakounists, mainly under the influence of Malon, who was himself one of the founders of the secret alliance. Then the so-called Blanquists in London withdrew from the International and formed a group of their own under the title of “The Revolutionary Commune”. Outside of them numerous other groups arose later, which continue in a state of ceaseless transformation and modulation and have not put out anything essential in the way of manifestos. But the Blanquists are just making their program known to the world by a proclamation to the “Communeux”.


These Blanquists are not called by this name, because they are a group founded by Blanqui. Only a few of the thirty-three signers of this program have ever spoken personally to Blanqui. They rather wish to express the fact that they intend to be active in his spirit and according to his traditions.


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. Of course, he could organize such a group under Louis Phillippe’s reign only as a secret society. Then the thing, which generally happens in the case of conspiracies, naturally took place. His men, tired of beings held off all the time by the empty promises that the outbreak should soon begin, finally lost all patience, became rebellious, and only the alternative remained of either letting the conspiracy fall to pieces or of breaking loose without any apparent provocation. They made a revolution on May 12th, 1839, and were promptly squelched. By the way, this Blanquist conspiracy was the only one, in which the police could never get a foothold. The blow fell out of a clear sky.


From Blanqui’s assumption, that any revolution may be made by the outbreak of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small minority that has made the revolution, and who are themselves previously organized under the dictatorship of one or several individuals.


We see, then, that Blanqui is a revolutionary of the preceding generation.


These conceptions of the march of revolutionary events have long become obsolete, at least for the German Workingmen’s party, and will not find much sympathy in France, except among the less mature or the more impatient laborers. We shall also note, that they are placed under certain restrictions in the present program. Nevertheless our London Blanquists agree with the principle that revolutions do not make themselves, but are made; that they are made by a relatively small minority and after a previously conceived plan; and finally, that they may be made at any time, and that “soon”.


It is a matter of course that such principles will deliver a man hopelessly into the hands of all the self-deceptions of a fugitive’s life and drive him from one folly into another. He wants above all to play the role of Blanqui, “the man of action”. But little can be accomplished by mere good will. Not every one has the revolutionary instinct and quick decision of Blanqui. Hamlet may talk ever so much of energy, he will still remain Hamlet. And if our thirty-three men of action cannot find anything at all to do upon what they call the field of action, then these thirty-three Brutuses come into a more comical than tragic conflict with themselves. The tragic of their situation is by no means increased by the dark men which they assume, as though they were so many slayers of tyrants with stilettos in their bosoms, which they are not.


What can they do? They prepare the next “outbreak” by drawing up lists of proscription for the future, in order that the line of men, who took part in the Commune, may be purified. For this reason they are called “The Pure” by the other fugitives. Whether they themselves assume this title, I cannot say. It would fit some of them rather badly. Their meetings are secret, and their resolutions are supposed to be kept secret, although this does not prevent the whole French quarter from ringing with them next morning. And as always happens to men of action that have nothing to do, they became involved first in a personal, then in a literary quarrel with a foe worthy of themselves, one of the most doubtful of the minor Parisian journalists, a certain Vermersch, who published during the Commune the “Pére Duchene“, a miserable caricature of the paper published by Hébert in 1793. This noble creature replies to their moral indignation, by calling all of them thieves or accomplices of thieves in some leaflet, and smothering them with a flood of Billingsgate that smells of the dungheap. Every word is an excrement. And is with such opponents that our thirty-three Brutuses wrestle before the public !


If anything is evident, it is the fact that the Parisian proletariat, after the exhausting war, after the famine in Paris, and especially after the fearful massacres of May, 1871, will require a good deal of time to rest, in order to gather new strength, and that every premature attempt at a revolution would bring on merely a new and still more crushing defeat. Our Blanquists are of a different opinion.


The rout of the Royalist majority in Versailles forebodes to them “the fall of Versailles, the revenge of the Commune. For we are approaching one of those great historical moments, one of those great crises, in which the people, while seemingly sunk in misery and doomed to death, resume their revolutionary advance with new strength.”


In other words, another outbreak will “soon” come. This hope for an “immediate revenge of the Commune” is not a mere illusion of the fugitives, but a necessary article of faith with men, who have their mind set upon being “men of action” at a time when there is absolutely nothing to be done in the sense which they represent, that of an immediate outbreak.


Never mind. Since a start will be made soon, they hold that “the time has come, when every fugitive, who still has any life in him, should declare himself.”


And so the thirty-three declare that they are: (1) atheists; (2) communists,; (3) revolutionaries.


Our Blanquists have this in common with the Bakounists, that they wish to represent the most advanced, most extreme line. For this reason they often choose the same means as the Bakounists, although they differ from them in their aims. The point with them is, then, to be more radical in the matter of atheism than all others. Fortunately it requires no great heroism to be an atheist nowadays. Atheism is practically accepted by the European working men’s parties, although in certain countries it may at times be of the same calibre as that of a certain Bakounist, who declared that it was contrary to all socialism to believe in God, but that it was different with the virgin Mary, in whom every good socialist ought to believe. Of the vast majority of the German socialist working men it may even be said that mere atheism has been outgrown by them. This purely negative term does not apply to them any more, for they maintain no longer merely a theoretical, but rather a practical opposition to the belief in God. They are simply done with God; they live and think in the real world, for they are materialists. This will probably be the case in France also. But if it were not, then nothing would be easier than to see to it that the splendid French materialist literature of the preceding century is widely distributed among the laborers, that literature; in which the French mind has so far accomplished its best in form and content, and which, with due allowance for the condition of the science of their day, still stands infinitely high in content, while its form has never been equalled since.


But this cannot suit our Blanquists. In order to show that they are the most radical, God is abolished by them by decree, as in 1793: “May the Commune for ever free humanity from this ghost of past misery (God), from this cause of its present Misery.” (The non-existing God a cause !) There is no room in the Commune for priests; every religious demonstration, every religious organisation, must be forbidden.”


And this demand for a transformation of people into atheists by order of the star chamber is signed by two members of the Commune of the first place, that a multitude of things may be ordered on paper without being carried out, and in the second place, that persecutions are the best means of promoting disliked convictions. So much is certain, that the only service, which may still be rendered to God to-day, is that of declaring atheism an article of faith to be enforced and of outdoing even Bismarck’s anti-Catholic laws by forbidding religion altogether.


The second point of the program is Communism.


Here we are more at home, for the ship in which we sail here is called “The Manifesto of the Communist Party, published in February 1848.” Already in the fall of 1872 the five Blanquists who withdrew from the International had adopted a socialist program, which was in all essential points that of the present German Communism. They had justified their withdrawal by the fact that the International refused to play at revolution making after the manner of these five. Now this council of thirty-three adopts this program with its entire materialist conception of history, although its translation into Blanquist French leaves a good deal to desire, in parts where the “Manifesto” has not been almost literally adopted, as it has, for instance, in the following passage: “As the last expression of all forms of servitude, the bourgeoisie has lifted the mystic veil from the exploitation of labor, by which it was formerly obscured: Governments, religions, family, laws, institutions of the past and the present, finally revealed themselves in this society, reduced to the simple antagonism between capitalist and wage workers, as instruments of oppression, by the help of which the bourgeoisie maintains its rule and holds the proletariat down.”


Compare with this “The Communist Manifesto“, Section 1: “In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. The bourgeoise has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverend awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation, etc.”


But as soon as we descend from theory to practice, the peculiarity of the thirty-three manifests itself: “We are Communists, because we want to reach our goal without stopping at any intermediate stations, at compromises, which merely defer the victory and prolong the slavery.”


The German Communists are Communists, because they clearly see the final goal and work towards it through all intermediate stations and compromises, which are created, not by them, but by historical development. And their goal is the abolition of classes, the inauguration of a society, in which no private property in land and means of production shall exist any longer. The thirty-three, on the other hand, are Communists, because they imagine that they can skip intermediate stations and compromises at their sweet will, and if only the trouble begins, as it will soon according to them, and they get hold of affairs, then Communism will be introduced the day after to-morrow. If this is not immediately possible, then they are not Communists.


What a simple hearted childishness, which quotes impatience as a convincing argument in support of a theory !


Finally the thirty-three are “revolutionaries.”


In this line, so far as big words are concerned, we know that the Bakounists have reached the limit; but the Blanquists feel that it is their duty to excel them in this. And how do they do this? It is well known that the entire socialist proletariat, from Lisbon to New York and Budapest to Belgrade has assumed the responsibility for the actions of the Paris Commune without hesitation. But that is not enough for the Blanquists. “As for us, we claim our part of the responsibility for the executions of the enemies of the people” (by the Commune), whose names are then enumerated; “we claim our part of the responsibility for those fires, which destroyed the instruments of royal or bourgeois oppression or protected our fighters.”


In every revolution some follies are inevitably committed, just as they are at any other time, and when quiet is finally restored, and calm reasoning comes, people necessarily conclude: We have done many things which had better been left undone, and we have neglected many things which we should have done, and for this reason things went wrong.


But what a lack of judgment it requires to declare the Commune sacred, to proclaim it infallible, to claim that every burnt house, every executed hostage, received their just dues to the dot over the i! Is not that equivalent to saying that during that week in May the people shot just as many opponents as was necessary, and no more, and burnt just those buildings which had to be burnt, and no more? Does not that repeat the saying about the first French Revolution: Every beheaded victim received justice, first those beheaded by order of Robespierre and then Robespierre himself! To such follies are people driven, when they give free rein to the desire to appear formidable, although they are at bottom quite good natured.


Enough. In spite of all follies of the fugitives, and in spite of all comical efforts to appear terrible, this program shows some progress. It is the first manifesto, in which French workingmen endorse the present German Communism. And these are moreover workingmen of that calibre, who consider the French as the chosen people of the revolution and Paris as the revolutionary Jerusalem. To have carried them to this point is the undeniable merit of Vaillant, who is one of the signers of the manifesto, and who is well known to be thoroughly familiar with the German language and the German socialist literature. The German Socialist workingmen, on the other hand, who proved in 1870 that they were completely free from jingoism, may regard it as a good sign that French workingmen adopt correct theoretical principles, even when they come from Germany.


(From “Der Volksstaat,” No. 73, 1874. Translated by Ernest Untermann.)