Gracchus Babeuf

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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).


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


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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
On the extreme ideas about equality held by Gracchus Babeuf see Alexander Gray, The Socialist Tradition.
The Russian revolution was indeed the only example of a resounding and lasting success at a time when the working-class movement delighted in celebrating its martyrs and in extolling abortive insurrections--the Paris Commune being the most sensational example among many others, such as Gracchus Babeuf or Carlo Pisacane.
O jacobino Gracchus Babeuf, ele proprio guilhotinado em 1797, exigiu: "Garantam a cada cidadao individual um nivel de felicidade permanente, a satisfacao das necessidades de todos e um rendimento fixo, independentemente de suas incapacidades, de sua imoralidade ou das mas intencoes dos poderosos" (apud TALMON 1961, p.
(6.) Philippe Buonarroti, Gracchus Babeuf et la Conjuration des egaux (Paris: Armand Le Chevalier, 1869), pp 89-102.
(8) Per Lucia Re l'uccisione del falchetta, che porta il cognome del difensore dei diritti dei lavoratori e teorizzatore dell'uguaglianza universale Gracchus Babeuf, rappresenta invece "the hopelessness of the partisans' quest for self-fulfillment and freedom, and the burial of the hawk is equally emblematic of the burial of the highest hopes of the Resistance itself" (255).
Essi rappresentano un illustre gruppo di teorici del pensiero politico socialista che include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Gracchus Babeuf e Charles Fourier.
This was certainly the aim for Mably, one of the earliest enlightenment thinkers to advocate a radically egalitarian ideology and whom Gracchus Babeuf would later cite as the inspiration behind his own communism.
The energies of the French Revolution reached a conclusion and a beginning in the conspiracy of Gracchus Babeuf of 1795.
To the extent that government had anything to say about it, schooling was designed to create obedient and useful citizens who would serve in the army, pay taxes, and acquiesce in every new revolutionary scheme undertaken by the disciples of Robespierre and Gracchus Babeuf. The net effect was a continuous depression of intellectual and moral standards until we reached the temporary nadir at which Bill Bennett could serve as education czar, Bill Clinton pose as a national education leader, and Michelle Rhee and her lover could cut their public capers as reformers--all of them paid for by gullible taxpayers.