le blanqui jeune

Works of Louis-Auguste Blanqui 1832

Auguste Blanqui's defence speech at the 'Trial of the Fifteen', 12 January 1832

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Source: Auguste Blanqui, Textes Chosisis, with foreword and notes by V.P. Volguine, Editions Social, Paris 1971;
Translated: Mitchell Abidor and Philippe Le Goff;
Subject to “CopyLeft” GNU Free Documentation License.

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January 12, 1832

Members of the jury,

I am accused of having told thirty million French people, proletarians like me, that they had the right to live. If that is a crime, then it seems to me at least that I should only respond to those who are not parties to the very question they are judging. Indeed, gentlemen, be sure to note that the public prosecutor did not appeal to your sense of equity and your reason, but to your passions and your interests. He is not calling for severity in response to a breach of morals and the laws; he seeks only to unleash vengeance against what he presents to you as a threat to your existence and your property. I am thus not standing before judges, but am in the presence of enemies. As a result, there would be no point in defending myself. I have resigned myself to every possible sentence you might pass upon me, while nevertheless vigorously protesting against this substitution of violence for justice by trusting in the future to restore force to right. However, if it is my duty as a proletarian deprived of all the rights of the city, to reject the competence of a court where only the privileged, who are not my peers, can sit, I am convinced that your hearts are noble enough to honourably appreciate the role that honour imposes on you in a situation where disarmed adversaries are, in a sense, handed over to you to be sacrificed. As for our role, it is written in advance; the role of accuser is the only one appropriate for the oppressed.

For one could not imagine how men who have been invested with a momentary power through stealth and fraud can, at their will, drag patriots before their courts and force us to beg mercy for our patriotism by showing us the sword. Do not think that we came here to justify the offences for which we are charged! Far from it. We are honoured by this accusation, and it is from this very criminal’s bench, where we have the honour of sitting today, that we will launch our own accusations against the scoundrels who have ruined and dishonoured France, while waiting for the natural order of roles – for which the opposing benches of this courtroom are designed – to be restored, and for accusers and accused to take their rightful places.

What I want to say will explain why we wrote the lines for which we stand accused by the Crown, and why we will continue to write more still.

The public prosecutor has, so to speak, conjured up in your minds a slave revolt in order to stir up your hatred through fear: ‘You see,’ he says, ‘this is the war of the poor against the rich; all those who have property have an interest in repelling the invasion. We bring your enemies before you. Strike them now, before they become any more fearsome!’

Yes, gentlemen, this is the war between rich and poor: the rich wanted it so, for they are the aggressors. But they find it wrong that the poor fight back; they would readily say, in speaking of the people: ‘This animal is so ferocious that it defends itself when attacked.’ The prosecuting lawyer’s entire philippic can be summed up in this one sentence.

Proletarians are constantly denounced as thieves prepared to launch themselves on property: why? Because they complain of being crushed by taxes that are for the benefit of the privileged few. As for the privileged few, who live off the backs of the proletariat, they are the legal owners who are threatened with pillaging from a greedy rabble. This is not the first time that the executioners act as if they are the victims. So who are these thieves worthy of such anathemas and torment? Thirty million French people who pay a billion and half to the tax department and about an equal amount to the privileged few. Meanwhile the owning class, whose power must be protected by the whole of society, comprise two or three hundred thousand idlers who calmly devour the billions paid to them by the ‘thieves’. It seems to me that is it here, in a new form and between different adversaries, that we discover the war of the feudal barons against the merchants they robbed on the highways. Indeed, the present government has no base other than this iniquitous distribution of benefits and burdens. It was established in 1814 by the Restoration and by grace of the foreign powers with the aim of enriching an imperceptible minority from the nation’s spoils. One hundred thousand bourgeois form what is called, by a bitter irony, its ‘democratic element’. What, good God, will happen to the other elements?

Paul Courier has already immortalised the parliamentary stewpot; that suction and relief pump that treads upon the matter called the people in order to suck the billions out of them that are continuously paid into the coffers of a few idlers; this pitiless machine that grinds down twenty-five million peasants and five million workers one by one in order to extract their purest blood and transfuse it into the veins of the privileged few. The cogs of this machine, devised with amazing artistry, affect the poor every minute of the day, pursuing them in the most basic necessities of their humble lives, taking half of their smallest of earnings and their most miserable of pleasures. And yet it is not enough that so much money travels from the pockets of the proletarians to those of the rich in passing through the abysses of the tax department; even greater sums are levied directly on the masses by the privileged few, by means of the laws which govern industrial and commercial transactions, laws that the privileged few have the exclusive right to make. In order for the landowner to get a high rent for his land, foreign corn is hit by an import duty that increases the price of the bread; and you know that a few centimes more or less on a loaf of bread is a matter of life or death for thousands of workers. The grain law hits the maritime population of the Midi especially hard. To enrich some large manufacturers and forest owners, iron from Germany and Sweden is subject to enormous duties, such that peasants are forced to pay a high price for poorly-made tools, even though they could get excellent ones at a good price. The foreigner in turn takes revenge on our prohibitions by forcing French wine out of his markets, which, together with the taxes that weigh on this commodity inside the country, reduces the richest regions of France to destitution, and kills viticulture – this country’s most natural and indigenous form of agriculture, that which best promotes the enrichment of the soil and small-scale property. I will not speak about the tax on salt, the lottery, the tobacco monopoly – in a word, this inextricable network of taxes, monopolies, prohibitions, customs duties and octroi charges that envelops the proletariat, that enchains and atrophies it. Suffice to say that this mass tax burden is always partitioned such a way as to benefit the rich and to weigh exclusively on the poor, or rather so that the idlers can carry out a shameful plundering of the working masses.

In fact, plundering is essential. Should there not be a large civil list to defray the cost of the royal family, to console it for the sublime sacrifice it has made of its peace and quiet for the happiness of the country? And, since one of the principal qualifications of the younger hereditary Bourbons consists in its large family, the state will not be stingy and refuse the princes their prerogatives or the princesses their dowries. There is also an immense army of holders of sinecures, of diplomats and civil servants to whom France, for its own happiness, must pay huge salaries so they are wealthy enough to enrich the privileged bourgeoisie. For all the money of those contributing to the budget is spent in the cities, and not a single sou of the billion and half livres, five-sixths of which they contribute, must return to the peasants.

Likewise, should not this new financial star, this nineteenth-century Gil Blas, courtier of and apologist for all the ministries, darling of the Count d'Olivarès and the Duke of Lerme alike, be able to sell high offices for hard cash? It is essential to oil the large cogs of the representative machine, to richly endow sons, nephews, cousins. And the courtesans of both sexes, the schemers, the croupiers who gamble the honour and future of the country on the stock exchange; the brothel madames, the mistresses, the dealers, the writers bought off by the police who speculate on the fall on Poland, all the vermin of the palaces and salons speculate on the fall of Poland – should they not all be gorged on gold? Should one not encourage the fermentation of this manure that fertilises public opinion so successfully?

This is the government that the silver tongues at the ministry present to us as the highest form of social organisation, the encapsulation of all that was good and perfect in the various administrative mechanisms since the deluge. This is what they praise as the ne plus ultra of human perfectibility as far as government is concerned! It is quite simply the theory of corruption pushed to its furthest limits. The strongest proof that this order of things has been established to serve only the exploitation of the poor by the rich, that no other foundation has been sought than an ignoble and brutal materialism, is that intelligence has been made abject. Indeed, this is a guarantee of morality, and the morality inadvertently introduced into such a system could only enter as an infallible element of destruction.

I ask, gentlemen, how men of heart and intelligence, rejected as pariahs by an insipid aristocracy of wealth, could not be profoundly affected by such a cruel affront? How could they remain indifferent to the shame of their country, to the suffering of the proletariat, their brothers in misfortune? Their duty is to call on the masses to smash the yoke of misery and ignominy. I have carried out this duty and, regardless of imprisonment, we will carry it out until the bitter end by defying our enemies. When you have behind you a great mass of people marching towards the triumph of its well-being and freedom, you must know how to throw yourself into the ditch in order to act as a fascine and fill it in and build a road for them. The organs of the ministries smugly repeat that avenues are available for proletarians to voice their grievances; that the law provides them with the regular means through which to advance their interests. This is an insult. The tax department hounds them with its gaping maw; they must work, work night and day, in order to constantly feed this chasm’s insatiable hunger. They can consider themselves lucky if some scraps remain for them to disguise the hunger of their children. The people do not write in the newspapers; they do not send petitions to the Chambers: it would be a waste of time. Moreover, all the voices that have an echo in the political sphere: the voices of the salons, those of the boutiques, of the cafés; in a word all the places where what is called public opinion is formed are the voices of the privileged few. Not one belongs to the people; they are mute; they vegetate far from these high places where their destiny is determined. When, by chance, the tribune or the press lets slip some words of pity about the people’s poverty, they hasten to impose silence in the name of public safety, which forbids touching upon these burning issues, or instead they cry out about anarchy. If some persist, prison enacts justice on these vociferations that trouble the ministerial digestion. And then, when there is silence all around, they say: ‘You see: France is happy, it is peaceful, order reigns!’

But in spite of these precautionary measures the cry of hunger issued by thousands of poor wretches still reaches the ears of the privileged few. They roar, they exclaim: ‘The law must retain its force! A nation’s sole passion should be for the law!’ Gentlemen, in your opinion, are all laws good? Have there never been any that horrified you? Do you not know of any that are ridiculous, odious or immoral? Is it possible to entrench oneself in this way behind an abstract word that applies to a chaos of 40,000 laws, and which equally signifies what is best and what is worst? You respond: ‘If there are bad laws, ask for legal reform; in the meantime, obey.’ This is an even more bitter insult. The laws are made by a hundred thousand voters, applied by a hundred thousand jurors, enforced by a hundred thousand urban national guards, for the rural national guard, which too closely resembles the people has been disorganized with great care, And these voters, these jurors, these national guardsmen are the same individuals, those who accumulate the most conflicting roles and are once legislators, judges and soldiers, such that the same man who in the morning created a deputy, that is, the law, applies this law at midday in his capacity as a juror, and carries it out in the evening in the streets while wearing the national guard uniform. What are the thirty million proletarians doing while all these changes occur? They pay.

The apologists of representative government have largely based their praise on the system having successfully established the separation of the legislative, judicial and executive powers. They couldn’t find sufficient expressions of admiration for this marvellous equilibrium that has solved the longstanding problem of reconciling order with freedom, movement with stability. Well, well! It would seem that it is precisely the representative system, as the apologists describe it, that concentrates the three powers in the hands of a privileged few, united by the same interests. Does this chaos not constitute the most monstrous of tyrannies, even by its apologists’ own admission?

So what is the upshot? The proletarian remains on the outside. The Chambers, elected by the monopolisers of power, continue unperturbed, manufacturing tax, penal and administrative laws, all with the same aim of exploitation. If the people, crying of their hunger, were to ask the privileged to abdicate their privileges, the monopolists to relinquish their monopolies, and all of them to renounce their idleness, they will be laughed at. What would the nobility have done in 1789 if they had been humbly begged to give up their feudal rights? They would have punished the insolence... Things, though, were done differently then.

The most skilful of this gutless aristocracy, sensing all that threatens them in the despair of a starving multitude, suggest their misery be slightly alleviated, not out of humanity, God forbid!, but to save itself from the danger. As for political rights, not a word is to said. It is simply a matter of throwing the proletarians a bone to gnaw on.

Other men, with better intentions, claim that the people are tired of freedom and ask only to live. I am not sure what vague despotic impulses lead them to exalt the example of Napoleon, who knew how to rally the masses by giving them bread in exchange for freedom. It is true that this despotic leveller was supported for a time, and it was above all through flattering the passion for equality by shooting corrupt traders who today would get off with becoming deputies. He did not perish any the less for having killed freedom. This is a valuable lesson for those who seek to be his heirs.

It’s not permissible to respond to the cries of distress of a starving population by repeating the insulting words of Imperial Rome: panem et circenses! Let it be known that the people no longer beg! It is not a question of dropping some crumbs from a splendid table to amuse them. The people do not need alms; they intend to secure their own well-being. They want to make and they will make the laws that govern them. Laws will then no longer be made against them; they will be made for them because they will be made by them. We do not recognise anyone’s right to grant largesse which a contrary whim could revoke. We call for the thirty million French people to choose the form of their government and elect through universal suffrage, the representatives whose mission will be that of making laws. Once this reform is accomplished, the taxes that strip the poor for the benefit of the rich will be promptly abolished and replaced by others established on the contrary basis. Instead of taking from the proletarian workers to give to the rich, taxes must seize the superfluity from the idlers to distribute it among this mass of destitute men, condemned to inactivity by the lack of money. Taxes must strike the unproductive consumers so as to stimulate the sources of production; taxes must facilitate the further reduction of the public debt, the purulent scourge of the country; finally taxes must substitute for the stock exchange’s disastrous swindling with a system of national banks where active men will be able to find funds for investment. Then, but only then, will taxes be a benefit.

This, gentlemen, is what we mean by the republic, and only this. The spectre of ‘93 is scarecrow meant for porters and domino players. Note, gentlemen, that I deliberately said the words ‘universal suffrage’ to show our contempt for certain parallels. We all know well that when a government is backed into a corner it makes use of lies, calumnies, and ridiculous or perfidious tales to restore some credence to the old tale it has been exploiting for so long, that of an alliance between the republicans and the Carlists – that is, between that which is most antithetical in the world. This is its sheet anchor, its great resource for finding some support. And the most idiotic conspiracies straight out of a melodrama, the most odious farces invented by the police do not appear too dangerous a game to them if they manage, in frightening France with the Carlism it detests, to divert it a few days longer from the republican paths where its instinct for its salvation leads it.

But who can be convinced of the possibility of this unnatural union? Do the Carlists not have the blood of our friends who died on the Restoration’s scaffolds on their hands? We do not forget our martyrs so easily. Was it not in opposition to the revolutionary spirit represented by the tricolour flag that the Bourbons stirred up Europe for twenty-five years, and against which they still seek to rile it up? This flag is not yours, apostles of quasi-legitimacy! It is that of the Republic! It is we, the republicans, who raised it in 1830, without you and in spite of you, you who burned it in 1815; and Europe knows that only a republican France will defend it when the kings attack once again. If there is a natural alliance anywhere, it is between you and the Carlists. Not that the same man suits you both for the time being: they are sticking to their man, who isn’t here, but you will probably sell yours down the river so as to be more accommodating and more surely arrive at what you both wish for, not least because doing so will simply return you to your old stable. Indeed, the very word ‘Carlists’ is nonsensical. In France there are and can only be royalists and republicans. With each day the question becomes clearer between these two principles; the good people who had believed in a third principle, a gender-neutral species called a juste milieu, are gradually abandoning this absurdity, and they will all return to one or the other flag, according to their passion and their interest. […]

It will soon be necessary to choose between the monarchical monarchy and the republican republic; we will see whom the majority are for. Still, if the Chamber of Deputies’ opposition, as national as it is, cannot rally the whole country; if it allows the government to accuse it of incompetence and impotence, it is because, even though clearly rejecting royalty, it has not dared to declare itself as for the republic with the same frankness; it is because in saying what it did not want, it did not articulate what it did want. It hasn’t resolved to accept the word ‘republic’, with which the corrupt endeavour to frighten the nation, knowing full well that the nation wants it almost unanimously. For forty years that have successfully disfigured history with the goal of causing fear. But the last eighteen months have corrected many errors, dispelled many lies, and the people will not allow themselves to be deceived for much longer. They want both freedom and well-being. It is slanderous to portray them as prepared to exchange all their freedoms for a piece of bread: we must cast this imputation back at the political atheists who threw it. Is it not the people who, in every crisis, showed they were ready to sacrifice their welfare and their lives for moral interests? Was it not the people who asked to die in 1814, rather than seeing foreigner invaders in Paris? And yet what material need pushed them to this act of devotion? They had bread on 1 April just as they did on 30 March.

These privileged few, who one would have assumed would be easily roused by the grand ideas of fatherland and honour owing to the exquisite sensitivity they owed to opulence, and who could at least have calculated better than others the disastrous consequences of the foreign invasion, was it not they who, in fact they displayed the white rosette before the enemy and kissed the boots of the Cossack? What! Classes that applauded at the country’s dishonour, which openly profess a most disgusting materialism, that would sacrifice a thousand years of freedom, prosperity and glory for a three-day cease-fire bought by infamy – these classes have in their hands exclusive custody of national dignity! Because they are debased by corruption, they only recognize in the people the appetites of beasts in order to arrogate to themselves the right to distribute what food is necessary to sustain the dehumanized vegetation that they exploit! Neither is it hunger which pushed the proletarians into the streets in July; they were motivated by feelings of the highest morality – the desire to redeem themselves from servitude by performing a great service to the country – and especially by the hatred of the Bourbons! For the people never recognised the Bourbons. Their hatred smouldered for fifteen years; they waited in silence for the chance to take revenge. And, when their mighty hand smashed the Bourbon yoke, they believed that they had also torn up the treaties of 1815. For the proletariat is a greater politician than the statesmen; its instinct told it that a nation does not have a future so long its past is burdened with a shame of which it has not been cleansed. […]

And so, to war! Not to recommence absurd conquests, but to lift the interdiction on France, to return to it its honour, the basic condition for prosperity. War in order to prove to the nations of Europe, our sisters, that far from holding a grudge against them for the error, mortal for us and them, that led them with their arms into the heart of France in 1814, we know how to avenge both them and us by punishing the lying kings and bearing peace and freedom to our neighbours. This is what the thirty million Frenchman wanted who enthusiastically greeted the new era!

This is what should have come out of the July revolution. It came to serve as a complement to our forty revolutionary years. Under the Republic, the people had won freedom at the price of famine; the Empire gave them a kind of well-being while stripping them of their freedom. The two regimes were able to gloriously enhance our dignity abroad, the basic requirement for a great nation. All of this perished in 1815, and the foreigner’s victory lasted fifteen years. What, then, was the battle of July, if not revenge for this long defeat and the reforging of the chain of our nationality? And since every revolution is progress, should not this one have guaranteed us the full enjoyment of those gains which until then we had only partially secured and finally returned to us all that we had lost with the Restoration?

Freedom! Well-Being! Dignity abroad! Such was the motto inscribed on the plebeian flag of 1830. The ultra-royalists read: uphold all privileges! The Charter of 1814! Quasi-legitimacy! As a result, they gave the people servitude and misery within, infamy without. Did the proletariat then fight simply to change the face on the banknotes they so seldom see? Are we that curious about new medals that we overturned thrones in order to give free rein to this whimsicality?

This is the opinion of a ministerial propagandist who claims that in July we continued to want a constitutional monarchy, with Louis-Philippe taking the place of Charles X. The people, according to him, fought only as an instrument of the middle classes; that is to say that the proletarians are gladiators who kill and are killed for the amusement and benefit of the privileged few, who applaud from their balconies…. once the battle has ended, of course.

The pamphlet containing these fine theories on representative government appeared on 20 November; Lyon responded on the 21st. The response of the people of Lyon was so decisive nobody mentioned the propagandist’s work again.

What an abyss the events of Lyon have just revealed before our very eyes! The whole country was moved with pity at the sight of this army of ghosts, half consumed by hunger, running into the grapeshot so that at least they could die instantly.

And it is not only in Lyon; workers are dying everywhere, crushed by taxes. These men, once so proud of a victory that linked their arrival on the political stage to the triumph of freedom, whose revival required all of Europe, are fighting hunger that does not leave them enough strength to protest against so much dishonour being added to the dishonour of the Restoration. Even the cry of the dying Poland could not turn them away from the contemplation of their own miseries, and they held back what tears remained to shed them over themselves and over their children. What sufferings these were, that could lead them to so quickly forget the exterminated Poles!

This is the France of July as the ultra-royalists have made it. Who would have thought it! In those intoxicating days, as we wandered without thinking, our rifles on our shoulders, through streets with their paving stones torn up and barricades, stunned by our triumph, our breasts filled with happiness, dreaming about the pale faces of kings and the joy of their people as the distant roar of our Marseillaise reached their ears; who would have said that such joy and glory would turn into such affliction! Seeing these great, six-foot tall workers, whose rags the bourgeoisie, as they came trembling from their cellars, willingly kissed, and whose disinterestedness and courage they spoke of with sobs of admiration, who would have thought that they would die of poverty on these streets, streets they themselves had conquered, and that their admirers would now call them the scourge of society!

Magnanimous shades! Glorious workers, whose dying hand I grasped in a final farewell on the battlefield, whose dying faces I covered with rags, you died happy in the midst of a victory which should have redeemed your race. And yet, six months later, I found your children in the deepest dungeons, and each evening I fell asleep on my pallet to the sound of their moaning, to the imprecations of their torturers, and to the whistle of the whip that silenced their cries.

Gentlemen, is there not some imprudence in these insults cast at men who have tried their strength, and who find themselves in worse conditions than those that pushed them into battle? Is it wise to so teach the people so bitterly that it was the dupe of its own moderation in victory? Can you be sure that the proletarians’ clemency will no longer be needed, that you can safely risk finding them merciless? It seems that the only precautions taken against popular vengeance is to exaggerate the picture in advance, as if this exaggeration, these imaginary scenes of murder and plunder, were the only means to avert the reality. It is easy to aim the bayonet at the chests of men who surrendered their arms after victory.

What will be less easy is erasing the memory of this victory. Almost eighteen months have been spent rebuilding piece by piece what was toppled in forty-eight hours, and the eighteen months of reaction have failed weaken the work of three days. No human force can cast into the void what was achieved. Ask those who complained of an effect without a cause if they believe there can be causes without effects. France conceived in the bloody embraces of six thousand heroes; the childbirth can be long and painful, but the wombs are robust, and the ultra-royalist poisoners will not cause it to abort.

You confiscated the rifles of July. Yes, but the bullets have been fired. Every bullet of the Parisian workers is making its way around the world. They strike without cease, and they will continue to strike until not a single enemy of freedom and the happiness of the people is left standing.