In the revolutionary tradition, the name of the nineteenth-century French communist Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) is remembered either with derision or—at best—as a noble failure. Yet during his lifetime, Blanqui was a towering figure of revolutionary courage and commitment as he organized nearly a half-dozen failed revolutionary conspiracies and spent half of his life in jail. His first street fight was in 1827. Blanqui inspired an uprising in 1839 by the League of the Just, a forerunner of the Communist League of which Marx was a member in Paris. He was imprisoned for his role in the revolutionary wave of activity in 1848. During the Commune of 1871, his ability to inspire was felt to be so strong that Thiers would not exchange him for the captured archbishop of Paris. He is known well for his phrase that we have inherited as “No Gods, No Masters”. Blanqui’s perspective was diametrically opposed to the reformers and utopians who abhorred revolution. Rather, he thought earnestly and without illusions about what it would take to actually make a revolution. In a time like today, when the old formulas of following the lesser evil, social democracy, and other such schemes are falling short, it is worthwhile to take a fresh look at Blanqui.
Doug “Enaa” Greene is a Marxist writer and historian living in the greater Boston area. He is the author of Specters of Communism: Blanqui and Marx, forthcoming from Haymarket Books.