‘The Conspiracy of Babeuf and His Comrades’ by Max Beer from Social Struggles and Thought. Small, Maynard, and Company, Boston. 1925.

The trial of Babeuf and Darthe.
‘The Conspiracy of Babeuf and His Comrades’ by Max Beer from Social Struggles and Thought by Max Beer. Translated by H.J. Stennings. Small, Maynard, and Company Publishers, Boston. 1925.

1. Causes, Objects

ROBESPIERRE’S fall at the end of July, 1794, the domination of the Convention by counter-revolutionary elements, the consequent acceptance of the anti-democratic Constitution of 1795, could not but induce all social reformers and Jacobins who remained true to the Revolution to offer a united front to the Directory. Both revolutionary sections cooperated; in peaceful discussions the Jacobins were convinced that democracy was impossible without an economic transformation, and that the political revolution would have to be supplemented by the abolition of the old property relations, the institution of common property in the soil, general obligation to labour, and social equality. A virtuous and simple mode of life, the education of the young into capable citizens, the stamping out of egoism and the lust for power were to consolidate the foundations of the new society, and make France a model nation for all the peoples. Although this conspiracy is connected with the name of Babeuf, (1) the latter was not its intellectual author and leader. He was only its public spokesman and writer. The proper originator of this movement was Buonarroti.


2. Filippo Buonarroti and the Revolutionary Dictatorship

We are now concerned with a man who may be ranked among the greatest of his time. He was rich in knowledge, but richer still in the attributes of character. He may be described as a social-revolutionary Francis d’Assisi. His book, ” Conspiration pour l’egalite ” (Brussels, 1828) is the description of that conspiracy. It is written in a fascinating style which no translation can reproduce. Buonarroti (or Buonarotti) was descended from an Italian family which gave the great Michelangelo to the world. He was born in Pisa in 1760, and at an early age was pro moted to high official honours, which, however, he gave up at the outbreak of the French Revolution. At first he was active in Corsica (1790–1792), where the young Napoleon Bonaparte was attached to him as an admiring friend , then he repaired to Paris , where the Convention entrusted him with various missions. He became an intimate friend of Robespierre, and received from the Convention the right of French citizenship. Unlike Babeuf, who underwent various changes of opinion , Buonarroti consistently adhered to the viewpoint that in the years 1789-1792 the aims of the French Revolution were confined to the establishment of constitutional monarchy and a middle-class anti-landlord government, whereas from 1792 onwards the struggle between the possessing class and the propertyless came to the front , and that, whilst the Constitution of 1793 was defective from the social standpoint, its democratic provisions were likely to be helpful to the propertyless in their struggle, provided the latter were educated in communism. Soon after the fall of Robespierre, Buonarroti founded the Union of the Pantheon (so-called after the meeting – place of the Union), which grew so rapidly that in 1796 it numbered 17,000 members, and gained friends among the garrisons of Paris.

The president of the Union was Buonarroti. He gathered around him the ablest spirits, formed a secret executive committee, in order to prepare the rising to overthrow the Directory and abolish the Constitution of 1795. The executive committee directed its immediate attention to the question as to what political form should be introduced when the Directory was overthrown. They were all agreed that the Constitution of 1793 could not be put into force immediately. Buonarroti writes upon this point as follows:

“The experiences of the French Revolution, and especially the disunion and failures of the Convention, have shown sufficiently that a people whose opinions have been formed under the domination of inequality and despotism are ill-equipped, in a period of revolutionary reconstruction, to elect the men who are to be entrusted with the task of guiding and completing the Revolution. This difficult task can only be entrusted to men at once wise and courageous, patriotic and benevolent, who have long investigated the causes of social evils and emancipated themselves from prejudices and common vices, whose knowledge is in advance of their contemporaries, and who, despising gold and the general titles of honour, seek their happiness in procuring the victory of equality. Perhaps it might be necessary at the commencement of a political revolution, out of respect for real democracy, to place less stress upon votes than upon putting the supreme power into wise and strong revolutionary hands.”

After long discussion, in which the advantages and drawbacks of dictatorship were considered, the executive committee came to the conclusion that, after the abolition of the tyranny, the insurrectionists of Paris and of the departments should elect a national assembly which would be invested with the supreme power. The secret executive committee should, however, remain in existence, to institute inquiries concerning the candidates and otherwise supervise the conduct of the new assembly.

“Attack of the Grenelle camp by conspirators: 24 Fructidor, 4th year of the Republic.’

In these ideas and considerations lay the origin of the notion of revolutionary dictatorship.

3. The Upshot of the Conspiracy

Among the secret agents of the conspiracy was a certain Captain Grisel, who betrayed the whole plot to the Directory. The War Minister, Carnot, instructed the young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, to dissolve the Union of the Pantheon and to arrest the leading members. At the end of February, 1796, he dissolved the Union; on the 10th May the leaders were arrested. The investigation lasted for a period of eleven months. Fearing a rising on the part of the working population of Paris, the Directory had the prisoners transferred to the provincial town of Vendome. Here also sat the Court, which condemned Babeuf and Darthe to death, and Buonarroti and others to banishment, on the 26th May, 1797. Babeuf and Darthe at once attempted to make an end of their lives by a stab from a dagger, but were prevented from doing so, and, bleeding from their wounds, were hustled out of the Court of Justice, in order to die under the guillotine the following morning.

The traitor, Grisel, was later shot by Camille, the eldest son of Babeuf.

‘”Twelve of the defendants in the Grenelle affair: executed on the 4th complementary day of the 4th year of the French Republic”, anonymous print, 1796.’

Buonarroti remained in prison in Cherbourg, where his erstwhile admirer and ” youthful friend,” Napoleon, now become First Consul and the real ruler of France, offered him a high post in 1801. Buonarroti contemptuously rejected this offer. In 1807 he was set at liberty and lived on the south-western frontier of France, where he consorted with the Italian revolutionaries; then he settled in Switzerland, and picked up a scanty livelihood by teaching music and languages; expelled from Switzer- land, he repaired to Brussels, where, in 1828, he published his work on the conspiracy and the trial of Babeuf and his comrades. The book exercised a strong influence upon the revolutionary-communistic movement during the years 1828—1840. After the July Revolution (1830) Buonarroti returned to Paris, where he was venerated as a saint by the revolutionary movement. One of his disciples was August Blanqui. In 1834 the police attempted to expel Buonarroti from France, but the citizenship bestowed on him by the Convention protected the noble old man from banishment. He then lived in Paris as a music teacher, under the pseudonym of Raymond, and died in 1837.


1. Francois Noel Babeuf, who as a land reformer adopted the Roman name of Gracchus, was born in 1764, and acquired by self-instruction considerable stores of general knowledge. He served the French Revolution with mouth and pen, advocated democracy and land reform in the ” Tribune du peuple,” and died as a social-democratic martyr on the 24th May, 1797.

Social Struggles and Thought by Max Beer. Translated by H.J. Stennings. Small, Maynard, and Company Publishers, Boston. 1925.

Contents: I) THE ECONOMIC REVOLUTION IN ENGLAND, Ascendancy of the Commercial and Trading Class, Mechanical Inventions and the Factory System, Smith Bentham and Ricardo, II) ENGLISH SOCIAL CRITICS DURING THE FIRST PHASE OF THE ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION, Robert Wallace: Communism and Over population, Spence and Land Reform, Godwin and Anarchist Communism, Charles Hall: Expounder of the Class Struggle, III) THE ATTEMPTED ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION IN FRANCE, From Tutelage to Freedom, The Physiocrats: Economic Freedom: Laissez faire, laissez Aller, IV) THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, The Classes and the Constitutional Conflict, The Revolutionary Dictatorship, The Constitution of 1793 and Social Criticism, Lange and Dolivier, V) THE CONSPIRACY OF BABEUF AND HIS COMRADES, Causes Objects, Filippo Buonarroti and the Revolutionary Dictatorship, The Upshot of the Conspiracy, VI) REACTION UPON GERMANY, Economic Revival and Political Oppression, Wieland and Heinse on Communism, Heretical Social and Religious Tendencies: Weishaupt (The Illuminati), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger, Fichte and his Social Policy, VII) THE FRANCE OF NAPOLEON AND THE RESTORATION, War Imperial Policy and Commercial Speculation, Charles Fourier, Saint- Simon, The Saint- Simonians, VIII) THE BEGINNINGS ENGLISH OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT (1792–1824), The Influence of the French Revolution, The Luddites, Storm and Stress, Robert Owen, Combe Gray Thompson Morgan Bray, Individualistic Social Reformers, IX) ENGLAND’S FIRST SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARY MOVE MENT (1825—1855), 1st Stage: Alliance Between Working and Middle Classes for the Franchise (1825-1832), 2nd Stage: Anti-Parliamentarism and Syndicalism (1832—1835), 3rd Stage: Chartism (1836–1855), X) FRANCE (1830-1848), The Citizen Monarchy, The Class Division into Bourgeoisie and People, Secret Conspiracies and Revolts, August Blanqui, Socialists and Social Reformers: Pecqueur Proudhon Cabet Leroux Blanc, February Revolution of 1848, INDEX. 232 pages.

PDF of original book: https://books.google.com/books/download/Social_Struggles_and_Thought.pdf?id=BUkGAAAAMAAJ&output=pdf

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