[Marxism] Day of the People: Gracchus Babeuf and the Communist Idea

Daniel Koechlin d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Thu Feb 21 18:50:03 MST 2013

The significance of Babeuf, as a leader of the radical wing of the 
French revolution, is that he stands at the beginning of what evolved 
into the socialist movement of today. There were other strands, 
obviously, but it was that current that most directly broke with 
bourgeois revolutionism and began the struggle for proletarian 
revolution. Not without a great degree of confusion, of course.

For all his virtues, there's little continuity from Winstanley and his 

Babeuf is a product of the the French Revolution just as Winstanley is a 
product of the English revolution. They were both participants in an 
essentially popular and bourgeois revolution against the efforts of the 
monarchy to maintain an absolutist state which strove to preserve the 
aristocracy by fusing it with the emergent moneyed-class.

Do not let Winstanley's references to the Bible fool you. Winstanley 
uses the Bible to criticize the teachings of the Church. As far as 
Winstanley is concerned, the bible is merely an allegorical story which 
illustrates the fact that every individual is born free and that heaven 
and hell only exist in a person's mind. When he turns to evil, he stops 
loving his neighbour, and thus becomes entangled in his own desires and 
lust for power. The Diggers were extremely radical when it came to 
freeing the individual from the clutches of Church, State and conformity 
: divorce is a better alternative than a loveless marriage, all human 
beings are equal, paying rent is acknowledging servitude, Africans have 
as much a right to the bounties of the earth than Englishmen so slavery 
is abhorrent, ...

Modern readers do not appreciate the psychological/allegorical 
understanding Winstanley has of the bible which leads him to practice 
non-violence and extreme Pacifism as no human being is any better than 
his neighbour. Only determined and peaceful non-violent action on the 
part of the down-trodden can bring about a true revolution. Any other 
course of action will only lead to "some setting themselves as rulers 
and masters over others".

Babeuf is certainly not as astute as Winstanley,  there is a certain 
patriarchal quality to Babeuf's vision of Utopia that some modern 
readers will find disturbing. He lacks an interest in the psychological 
and sociological factors inherent in revolution, which led Marx to lump 
him together with the "Utopian socialists".

As for Babeuf's abortive "Conspiracy of the Equals", it was poorly 
planned and built on far less introspection, far less trial-and-error 
than Winstanley's "St George's Hill".

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