François-Noël Babeuf

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François-Noël Babeuf
Francois-Noel Babeuf.jpg
François-Noël "Gracchus" Babeuf
Born(1760-11-23)23 November 1760
Died27 May 1797(1797-05-27) (aged 36)
Era 18th-century philosophy
RegionWestern Philosophy
School "Babouvism" (precursor to anarchism and communism)
Main interests
Political philosophy

François-Noël Babeuf (French:  [fʁɑ̃swa nɔɛl babœf] ; 23 November 1760 – 27 May 1797), known as Gracchus Babeuf, [3] was a French political agitator and journalist of the French Revolutionary period. His newspaper, Le tribun du peuple ("the tribune of the people"), was best known for its advocacy for the poor and calling for a popular revolt against the Directory, the government of France. He was a leading advocate for democracy and the abolition of private property. He angered the authorities who were clamping down hard on their radical enemies. In spite of the efforts of his Jacobin friends to save him, Babeuf was executed for his role in the Conspiracy of the Equals.

French Directory Executive power of the French Constitution of 1795-1799

The Directory or Directorate was a five-member committee that governed France from 2 November 1795, when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety, until 9 November 1799, when it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Coup of 18 Brumaire, and replaced by the French Consulate. It gave its name to the final four years of the French Revolution. On the other hand, according to the mainstream historiography - for example F. Furet and D. Richet in “French Revolution” - with the aforementioned terms is indicated also the regime and the period from the dissolution of the National Convention of Tuileries Palace on 26 October 1795, which was superseded by the two new elected Councils, and the coup d’état by Napoleon. Only in 1798 the Council of Five Hundred moved to the Palais Bourbon.

Private property legal designation of the ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities

Private property is a legal designation for the ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities. Private property is distinguishable from public property, which is owned by a state entity; and from collective property, which is owned by a group of non-governmental entities. Private property can be either personal property or capital goods. Private property is a legal concept defined and enforced by a country's political system.

A Jacobin was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary political movement that was the most famous political club during the French Revolution (1789–99). The club was so called because of the Dominican convent in Paris in the Rue Saint-Jacques where they originally met.

Contents

The "Gracchus" nickname likened him to the ancient Roman tribunes of the people. Although the words " anarchist " and " communist " did not exist in Babeuf's lifetime, they have both been used by later scholars to describe his ideas. The word "communism" was first used in English by Goodwyn Barmby in a conversation with those he described as the "disciples of Babeuf". [4] He has been called "The First Revolutionary Communist." [5]

Gracchi Ancient Roman brothers known for their social reforms

The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, were Romans who both served as tribunes of the plebs between 133 and 121 BC. They attempted to redistribute the occupation of the ager publicus—the public land hitherto controlled principally by aristocrats—to the urban poor and veterans, in addition to other social and constitutional reforms. After achieving some early success, both were assassinated by the Optimates, the conservative faction in the senate that opposed these reforms.

Anarchy The state of a society being without authorities or a governing body.

Anarchy refers to the state of a society being without authorities or a governing body, and the general confusion and chaos resulting from that condition. It may also refer to a society or group of people that totally rejects hierarchy.

Communism socialist political movement and ideology

In political and social sciences, communism is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

Early life

Babeuf was born at St. Nicaise near the town of Saint-Quentin. His father, Claude Babeuf, had deserted the French Royal Army in 1738 for that of Maria Theresa of Austria, reportedly rising to the rank of major. Amnestied in 1755, he returned to France, but soon sank into poverty, and had to work as a casual labourer to support his wife and family. The hardships endured by Babeuf during his early years contributed to the development of his political opinions. His father gave him a basic education, but until the outbreak of the Revolution, he was a domestic servant, and from 1785 occupied the office of commissaire à terrier, assisting the nobles and priests in the assertion of their feudal rights over the peasants. [6] [7] Accused of abandoning the feudal aristocracy, he would later say that "the sun of the French Revolution" had brought him to view his "mother, the feudal system" as a "hydra with a hundred heads." [8]

French Royal Army (1652–1830)

The French Royal Army served the Bourbon kings beginning with Louis XIV and ending with Charles X with an interlude from 1792 until 1814, during the French Revolution and the reign of the Emperor Napoleon I. After a second, brief interlude when Napoleon returned from exile in 1815, the Royal Army was reinstated. Its service to the direct Bourbon line was finished when Charles X was overthrown in 1830 by the July Revolution.

Major is a military rank of commissioned officer status, with corresponding ranks existing in many military forces throughout the world.

French nobility privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790

The French nobility was a privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790. The nobility was revived in 1805 with limited rights as a titled elite class from the First Empire to the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, when all privileges were abolished for good. Hereditary titles, without privileges, continued to be granted until the Second Empire fell in 1870. They survive among their descendants as a social convention and as part of the legal name of the corresponding individuals.

Revolutionary activities

Babeuf was working for a land surveyor at Roye when the Revolution began. His father had died in 1780, and he now had to provide for his wife and two children, as well as for his mother, brothers and sisters. [6]

Roye, Somme Commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Roye is a commune in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France.

He was a prolific writer, and the signs of his future socialism are contained in a letter of 21 March 1787, one of a series mainly on literature and addressed to the secretary of the Academy of Arras. In 1789 he drew up the first article of the cahier of the electors of the bailliage of Roye, demanding the abolition of feudal rights. From July to October 1789, he lived in Paris, superintending the publication of his first work: Cadastre perpetuel, dedié a l'assemblée nationale, l'an 1789 et le premier de la liberté française ("National Cadastre or land register, Dedicated to the National Assembly, Year 1789 and the First One of French Liberty"), which was written in 1789 and issued in 1790. The same year he published a pamphlet against feudal aids and the gabelle (salt tax), for which he was denounced and arrested, but provisionally released. [6]

Arras Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Arras is the capital (chef-lieu/préfecture) of the Pas-de-Calais department, which forms part of the region of Hauts-de-France; prior to the reorganization of 2014 it was located in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The historic centre of the Artois region, with a Baroque town square, Arras is located in Northern France at the confluence of the Scarpe river and the Crinchon River.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

A cadastre is a comprehensive land recording of the real estate or real property's metes-and-bounds of a country.

Political writings and imprisonment

In October, on his return to Roye, he founded the Correspondant Picard, [6] a political journal that would have 40 issues. Babeuf used his journal to agitate for a progressive taxation system, and condemned the "census suffrage" planned for the 1791 elections to the Legislative Assembly in which citizen votes would be weighted by their social standing. Due to his political activities, he was arrested on 19 May 1790, but released in July before the Fête de la Fédération, thanks to pressure exerted nationally by Jean-Paul Marat. [9] In November Babeuf was elected a member of the municipality of Roye, but was expelled. [6]

A progressive tax is a tax in which the average tax rate increases as the taxable amount increases. The term "progressive" refers to the way the tax rate progresses from low to high, with the result that a taxpayer's average tax rate is less than the person's marginal tax rate. The term can be applied to individual taxes or to a tax system as a whole; a year, multi-year, or lifetime. Progressive taxes are imposed in an attempt to reduce the tax incidence of people with a lower ability to pay, as such taxes shift the incidence increasingly to those with a higher ability-to-pay. The opposite of a progressive tax is a regressive tax, where the average tax rate or burden decreases as an individual's ability to pay increases.

<i>Fête de la Fédération</i> ceremony

The Fête de la Fédération was a massive holiday festival held throughout France in honour of the French Revolution. It is the precursor of the Bastille Day which is celebrated every year in France on 14 July, celebrating the Revolution itself, as well as National Unity.

Jean-Paul Marat politician and journalist during the French Revolution

Jean-Paul Marat was a French political theorist, physician, and scientist. He was a journalist and politician during the French Revolution. He was a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes and seen as a radical voice. He published his views in pamphlets, placards and newspapers. His periodical L'Ami du peuple made him an unofficial link with the radical Jacobin group that came to power after June 1793.

In March 1791, Babeuf was appointed commissioner to report on the national property (biens nationaux) in the town, and in September 1792 was elected a member of the council-general of the département of the Somme. A rivalry with the principal administrator and later deputy to the Convention, André Dumont, forced Babeuf to transfer to the post of administrator of the district of Montdidier. There he was accused of fraud for having altered a name in a deed of transfer of national lands. The error was probably due to negligence; but, distrusting the impartiality of the judges of the Somme, he fled to Paris, and on 23 August 1793 was sentenced in contumaciam to twenty years' imprisonment. Meanwhile he had been appointed secretary to the relief committee (comité des subsistances) of the Paris Commune. [6]

The judges of Amiens pursued him with a warrant for his arrest, which took place in Brumaire of the year II (1794). The Court of Cassation quashed the sentence, through defect of form, and sent Babeuf for a new trial before the Aisne tribunal, [6] which acquitted him on 18 July 1794, only days before the Thermidorian Reaction.

Babeuf returned to Paris, and on 3 September 1794 published the first issue of his Journal de la Liberté de la Presse, whose title was changed on 5 October 1794 to Le Tribun du Peuple. [6] The execution of Maximilien Robespierre on 28 July 1794 had ended the Reign of Terror and begun the White Terror. Babeuf – now self-styled Gracchus Babeuf – defended the fallen Terror politicians with the stated goal of achieving equality "in fact" and not only "by proclamation". However about the Terror, he said "I object to this particular aspect of their system." Babeuf attacked the leaders of the Thermidorian Reaction and, from a socialist point of view, the economic outcome of the Revolution. He also argued for the inclusion of women into the political clubs.

This was an attitude which had few supporters, even in the Jacobin Club, and in October Babeuf was arrested and imprisoned at Arras. Here he was influenced by political prisoners, notably Philippe Buonarroti, Simon Duplay, and René-François Lebois, editor of the Journal de l'Égalité and afterwards of the L'Ami du peuple papers of Leclerc which carried on the traditions of Jean-Paul Marat. Babeuf emerged from prison a confirmed advocate of revolution and convinced that his project, fully proclaimed to the world in Issue 33 of his Tribun, could only come about through the restoration of the Constitution of 1793. [6] That constitution had been ratified by a national referendum by universal male suffrage but never implemented.

In February 1795, Babeuf was arrested again, and the Tribun du peuple was solemnly burnt in the Théatre des Bergeres by the jeunesse dorée , young men whose mission was to root out Jacobinism. Babeuf might have faded into obscurity like other agitators, but for the appalling economic conditions caused by the fall in the value of assignats . [6]

Societé des égaux

The attempts of the Directory to deal with the economic crisis gave Babeuf his historical importance. The new government wanted to abolish the system which benefitted Paris at the expense of all France. To this goal, the government planned to abolish the sale of bread and meat at nominal prices, on 20 February 1796. The announcement caused widespread consternation. Workers and the large class of proletarians attracted to Paris by the system, as well as rentiers and government officials, whose incomes were paid in assignats arbitrarily set by the government, felt threatened with starvation. The government yielded to the outcry, and tried to mitigate the problem by dividing people entitled to relief into classes, but this only increased alarm and discontent. [6]

The universal misery gave point to Babeuf's virulent attacks on the existing order and gained him a hearing. He gained a small circle of followers known as the Societé des égaux, soon merged with the rump of the Jacobin Club, who met at the Panthéon. In November 1795, police reported that Babeuf was openly preaching "insurrection, revolt and the Constitution of 1793". [6] The group was influenced by Sylvain Maréchal, the author of Le Manifeste des Egaux and a sympathiser of Babeuf.

For a time, the government left Babeuf alone but observed his activities. The Directory benefitted from the socialist agitation because it counteracted royalist movements for overthrowing the Directory. Most workers, even of extreme views, were repelled by Babeuf's bloodthirstiness; and police reported that his agitation increased support for the government. The Jacobin Club refused to admit Babeuf and Lebois, on the ground that they were "throat-cutters" ("égorgeurs"). [6]

However, the economic crisis increased Babeuf's influence. After Napoleon Bonaparte closed the club of the Panthéon on 27 February 1796, Babeuf increased his activity. In Ventôse and Germinal (late winter and early spring) under the pseudonym Lalande, soldat de la patrie, Babeuf published the paper "Scout of the People, or Defender of Twenty-Five Million Oppressed" (Eclaireur du Peuple, ou le Défenseur de Vingt-Cinq Millions d'Opprimés), which was passed from group to group secretly in the streets of Paris. [6]

At the same time, Issue 40 of Babeuf's Tribun caused immense sensation as it praised the authors of the September Massacres as "deserving well of their country" and declared that a more complete "2 September" was needed to destroy the government, which consisted of "starvers, bloodsuckers, tyrants, hangmen, rogues and mountebanks". [6]

Distress among all classes continued. In March, the Directory tried to replace assignats by a new issue of mandats and this raised hopes, but they were soon dashed. A rumour that national bankruptcy had been declared caused thousands of the lower class of workers to rally to Babeuf's ideas. On 4 April 1796, the government received a report that 500,000 Parisians needed relief. From 11 April, Paris was placarded with posters headed "Analysis of Babeuf's Teaching" (Analyse de la Doctrine de Baboeuf) [ sic ], Tribun du Peuple, which began with the sentence "Nature has given to every man the right to the enjoyment of an equal share in all property", [6] and ended with a call to restore the Constitution of 1793. [6]

Arrest and execution

Babeuf's song "Dying of Hunger, Dying of Cold" (Mourant de faim, mourant de froid), set to a popular tune, began to be sung in cafés , with immense applause. Reports circulated that the disaffected troops of the French Revolutionary Army in the camp of Grenelle were ready to join an insurrection against the government. The bureau central had accumulated through its agents (notably ex-captain Georges Grisel, who was initiated into Babeuf’s society) evidence of a conspiracy (later called the "Conspiracy of Equals") for an armed uprising fixed for 22 Floréal, year IV (11 May 1796), [10] which involved Jacobins and socialists.

The Directory thought it time to react. [6] On 10 May Babeuf, who had taken the pseudonym Tissot, was arrested. Many of his associates were gathered by the police on order from Lazare Carnot: among them were Augustin Alexandre Darthé and Philippe Buonarroti, the ex-members of the National Convention, Robert Lindet, Jean-Pierre-André Amar, Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier and Jean-Baptiste Drouet, famous as the postmaster of Sainte-Menehould who had arrested Louis XVI during the latter's Flight to Varennes, and now a member of the Directory's Council of Five Hundred.[ citation needed ]

The government crackdown was extremely successful. The last issue of the Tribun appeared on 24 April, although René-François Lebois in the L'Ami du peuple tried to incite the soldiers to revolt, and for a while there were rumours of a military uprising. [11]

Babeuf and his accomplices were to be tried at the newly created high court at Vendôme. When the prisoners were removed from Paris on 10 and 11 Fructidor (27 August and 28 August 1796), there were tentative efforts at a riot hoping to rescue the prisoners, but these were easily suppressed. On 7 September 1796, 500 or 600 Jacobins tried to rouse the soldiers at Grenelle but also failed. [11]

The trial was held at Vendôme beginning on 20 February 1797. Although more important people were involved in the conspiracy, the government depicted Babeuf as the leader. His own vanity played into their hands. On 7 Prairial (26 May 1797) Babeuf and Darthé were condemned to death; some of the prisoners, including Buonarroti, were deported; the rest, including Vadier and his fellow-conventionals, were acquitted. Drouet managed to escape, according to Paul Barras, with the connivance of the Directory. Babeuf and Darthé were guillotined the next day at Vendôme, 8 Prairial (27 May 1797), without appeal. [11]

Babeuf's body was transported and buried in a mass grave in the Vendôme's old cemetery of the Grand Faubourg, in Loir-et-Cher.

Quotes

— "Society must be made to operate in such a way that it eradicates once and for all the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others." [12]

— "The French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last." [13]

See also

Notes

  1. "Babeuf's Defense (From the Trial at Vendôme, February-May 1797)". you accuse them of not having prevented the corrupting books of a Mably, a Helvétius, a Diderot, or of a Jean Jacques Rousseau, from falling into my bands. All those who govern should be considered responsible for the evils that they do not prevent. Philanthropists of today! It is above all to you that I address myself. It is because of these philosophical poisons that I am lost. Without them, I would perhaps have bad your morality, your virtues. Like you, I would have detested brigandage and the overthrow of the existing social institutions above all things; I would have bad the tenderest solicitude for the small number of powerful men of this world; I would have been pitiless toward the suffering multitude. But no, I will not repent of having been educated at the school of the celebrated men whom I have just named. I will not blaspheme against them, or become an apostate against their dogmas. If the axe must fall upon my neck, the lictor will find me ready. It is good to perish for the sake of virtue.
  2. R. B. Rose, Gracchus Babeuf, The First Revolutionary Communist (California: Stanford, 1978), pp. 32 and 332.
  3. EB (1878).
  4. Harper, Douglas. "communist". Online Etymology Dictionary .
  5. R. B. Rose, Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist (1978)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Phillips 1911, p. 93.
  7. Birchall, Ian (September 1996). "The Babeuf Bicentenary: Conspiracy or Revolutionary Party?". International Socialism (72). Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  8. Bax, E.B. "The last episode of the French Revolution: being a history of Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals." pp.66, Neil and Co, LTD, Edinburgh: 1911.
  9. Bax, E.B. "The last episode of the French Revolution: being a history of Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals." pp.64-66, Neil and Co, LTD, Edinburgh: 1911.
  10. Phillips 1911, pp. 93–94.
  11. 1 2 3 Phillips 1911, p. 94.
  12. The defense of Gracchus Babeuf before the High Court of Vendôme, University of Massachusetts Press, 1967, p. 57.
  13. Manifesto of the Equals Full text of trans. by Mitchell Abidor.

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References

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