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L'Atelier (1840-1850)

L'Atelier (1840-1850), a journal published by working class followers of the Christian Socialist, Philippe Buchez, which appeared monthly from Sep tember, 1840 to July, 1850, with the exception of the period from February to June, 1848 when it appeared weekly.

L'Atelier was established in September, 1840, by a group of skilled workers influenced by Philippe Buchez. They found in Buchez's synthesis of Saint Simonianism, Catholicism, and democracy, the inspiration for a cooperative transformation of society. L'Atelier 's staff of seventy-four and its editor, Anthime Corbon, were all workers and believed that the workin g class must liberate itself. Twenty-six printers formed the largest component of the editorial organization, and there were also jewelry makers, hatters, carpenters, mechanics, and tailors. Their journal printed articles by Buchez, but as a bourgeois intellectual he was not allowed to participate in its management. L'Atelier 's circulation was small and limited almost exclusively to skilled workers. In 1847 it only had 550 subscribers, but due to multiple readers reached a larger audi ence than that number would indicate.

Though L'Atelier violently attacked the shortcomings of the clergy and was relatively indifferent to dogma, it emphasized the social value of Catholicism. It advocated a community based on selfless cooperation, believing that Catholic tradition could provide the moral basis for this transformation of society by inspiring workers with a sense of their dignity, their rights and their revolutionary obligations.

L'Atelier assumed a more militant stance than Buchez and his bourgeois disciples. Permeated by a strong sense of class struggle, uncategorically rejecting capitalism, yet it also opposed state socialism and "communism." It consequently was sympathetic to Le National rather than to La Réforme. In discussions at Alexandre Thomas Marie's home in 1847 with Marie and Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin, the staff of L'Atelier rejected Louis Blanc's ideas and supported a proposal of M ichel Goudchaux for voluntary producers' cooperatives promoted by cheap state-supplied credit. L'Atelier advocated electoral reform as a prerequisite to a social transformation; producers' cooperatives would end the subjection of workers to capital and allow a just distribution of the products of labor. Short of this ultimate goal, L'Atelier called for legislation: a minimum wage and maximum hours for labor; assistance for the sick and aged; a reform of the labor courts or conseils de prud'hommes, which arbitrated minor disputes between labor and management; and workers representation equal to that of employers.

L'Atelier enthusiastically supported the revolution of 1848 and the establishment of the republic, and influenced politics until the election of Louis Napoleon. Corbon, who was on the electoral list recommended by Le National, was one of four workers from Paris elected to the constituent assembly. When the assembly me t and Buchez was elected its first monthly president, Corbon was elected as one of the six vice presidents. L'Atelier applauded the May 27 law which reformed the conseils de prud'hommes long advocated by the journal. It also regarded the July 5 bill providing three million francs in credit to workers' cooperatives as a great victory. Corbon and contributors to L'Atelier composed a third of the members appointed by General Eugene Cavaignac to the council admini stering the loans. L'Atelier survived the August 9 press law requiring a twenty four thousand franc deposit for newspapers. In the struggle between the social republicans and the moderate republicans L'Atelier unambiguously supported the moderates. It regarded the denunciation by some as "bourgeois" and by others as "communist" as proof of its moderation.

While objecting to the form given to the National Workshop, L'Atelier opposed a precipitous dissolut ion, which would not provide for the workers' needs. It opposed the June insurrection, criticized the repressive measures of General Cavaignac, supported the socially oriented moderate republicans rather than the Democ-Socs, and promoted the presidential candidacy of Cavaignac against Louis Napoleon. During this period, subscriptions to L'Atelier rose to their highest level, 896.

L'Atelier 's opposition to Louis Napoleon grew with the termination of state funding for c ooperatives, the ending of maximum hours for labor, and the intervention against the Roman Republic. L'Atelier 's circle was so deeply disillusioned by the reactionary role played by the French clergy in the failure of the 1848 revolution that it ceased to view Catholicism as a source of emancipation. Some of the journal's staff abandoned Catholicism altogether. The journal ceased publication with the July 31, 1850 issue when its staff was unable to provide the deposit required by the new pr ess law of July, 1850, and its editorial organization dissolved on October 19, 1851.

Bernard A. Cook


Cuvillier, Armand Un journal d'ouvriers: "L' Atelier" 1840-1850 (Paris: Les Editions Ouvrieres, l954).

De Luna, Frederick A. The French Republic Under Cavaignac, 1848 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969).

Dolleans, Edouard Histoire du mouvement ouvrier, volume I: 1830 to 1871 (P aris: A. Colin, 1948).

Duroselle, Jean B. Les débuts du catholicisme social en France (1822-1870) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1951).

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Holly Johnston revised this file ( on March 11, 1997.

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© 1997 James Chastain.