Babeuf, Gracchus

Babeuf, Gracchus

 

(François Noel Babeuf). Born Nov. 23, 1760, in St. Quentin; died May 27, 1797. French revolutionary Utopian communist, leader of the movement for equality under the Directory. Born into the poverty-stricken family of a former soldier.

In 1780, Babeuf became commissaire a terrier (jurist). The social conditions around him filled him with a passionate hatred against the feudal regime. Acquaintance with the ideas of Rousseau and Mably (and later Morelly) turned Babeuf into a fervent proponent of a society of “absolute equality” where there would not be any private property. As early as 1785, Babeuf drew up a plan for creating “collective farms” that were to replace big landed estates. He played a prominent role in the revolution in Picardy; while never losing sight of his final ideal, Babeuf displayed an excellent political intuition in using the events of the day-to-day struggle to mobilize the popular masses. In 1790, Babeuf was incarcerated in the Paris prison for organizing a movement against indirect taxes but was released with the assistance of J.-P. Marat. In the following years Babeuf drew up a bold agrarian program: complete liquidation of feudal rights without compensation, elimination of large land holdings, distribution of confiscated church property for long-term lease instead of sale, division of communal land, and, finally, an “agrarian law” that he had formulated in 1789 in the book Perpetual Cadastre. At the time of the flight of the king in 1791, Babeuf proposed the establishment of a republic. In 1793 he was secretary of the provisions committee of the Commune of Paris. Throughout the revolution Babeuf was a consistent defender of the interest of the propertyless classes, especially the strata of the factory proletariat who still lived in the village but who came to depend on the wage as their sole means of livelihood. He criticized the Jacobin Convention and even Marat for insufficient attention to the “welfare of the propertyless class.” The experience of the Jacobin dictatorship and of the distribution of food in the capital convinced Babeuf of the practical possibility of a society of absolute equality. In late 1793–94, Babeuf was imprisoned on a false accusation of forgery. Released just in time for the Ninth Thermidor, he became a few weeks later a resolute opponent of the Thermidor Convention and attacked it in his newspaper, Journal de la liberté de la presse, later renamed Le Tribun du peuple. In February 1795, Babeuf was again arrested. Released on amnesty in October 1795, he resumed the publication of Le Tribun du peuple. In the same year he set up, jointly with F. Buonarroti, A. Darthé, C. Germain, and others, the communist movement for equality and became one of its leaders. In spring 1796 he led the Secret Directory for an Uprising and prepared a mass action. Following betrayal by Grisel, one of the members of the movement, all the leaders of the movement were arrested. Babeuf was sentenced to death and executed in Vendóme.

Babeuf and the Babouvists, as his followers are called, hold an important place among the forerunners of scientific communism. The course of the French Revolution convinced Babeuf that pure democracy cannot be put into effect at once and that a temporary revolutionary dictatorship must be established during the transition from the old society to the communist society. The recognition of the need for a dictatorship is one of the most important elements in the ideological heritage of Babouvism. In case the uprising would be successful, Babeuf and his allies envisaged several expedient economic measures to improve the conditions of the masses and had a plan for creating a national commune that was to replace private enterprise. The weak aspect of their views was a “primitive leveling,” which Marx and Engels condemned. On the whole Marx and Engels had a high opinion of Babeuf’s role and, in the Communist Manifesto, characterized his works as literature that “expressed the demands of the proletariat” (Works, 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 455).

WORKS

Correspondance de Babeuf avec l’ Académie d’Arras (1785–1788). . . Paris, 1961.
Pages choisies de Babeuf recueillies . . . Edited by M. Dommanget. Paris, 1935.

REFERENCES

Frantsuzskii ezhegodnik, 1960. Moscow, 1961. Pages 5–278.
Buonarroti, F. Zagovor vo imia ravenstva[2nd ed.], vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from French.)
Volgin, V. P. Frantsuzskii utopicheskiikommunizm. Moscow, 1960.
Dalin, V. Grakkh Babef nakanune i vo vremia Velikoi frantsuzskoi revoliutsii (1785–1794). Moscow, 1963.
Advielle, V. Histoire de Gracchus Babeuf et du babouvisme, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1844.
Babeuf et les problémes du babouvisme. Paris, [1963].
Dalin, V., A. Saitta, and A. Soboul. Inventaire des manuscrits et des imprimés de Babeuf. Paris, 1966.
Dommanget, M. Babeuf et la conjuration des Egaux. Paris, 1969.

V. M. DALIN

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