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Blanc, Jean-Joseph-Charles-Louis

Blanc, Jean-Joseph-Charles-Louis Born in Madrid, 1811; died in Cannes, 1882. As the provisional government's maj or spokesman for both socialism and Jacobin democracy, Louis Blanc personified the contradictions inherent in la République social et démocratique, and suffered the fate of a leader torn between conflicting commitments. An object of suspicion and hostility to Lamartine and other republicans because of his socialism, his belief in majoritarian democracy conversely put him at odds with putschist socialists like Blanqui. The manoeuvres of the republican center and the far left progressively eroded his popularity among the crowds who had forced the provisional government to accept him in February. By April his sole genuine base of support consisted of working class delegates within the Luxembourg Commission. In the elections of April 23 the votes he received placed him twenty-seventh among the thirty-four deputies elected in Paris.

His power declined further when the constituent assembly convened. The conservative republican majority excluded him from the gove rnment and closed the Luxembourg Commission. The reaction following the June Days put him wholly at the mercy of the right. A large majority voted to lift the immunity which he enjoyed as a deputy in order to try him for his putative role in provoking the worker rising, a threat that drove him out of France and effective public life for the next 22 years.

Blanc's failure as a political leader is partly explained by the limited opportunities open to a "Jacobin socialist" in 1848. The more pertine nt fact about Blanc, however, is that he did not seize the few opportunities which he had. From late February until the decisive decline of his influence in April his standing within the Parisian working class gave him a means for intimidating the moderate majority in the provisional government. Yet rather than use this advantage to force the majority's hand he acquiesced in half-measures which maintained the government's credit among the workers but ultimately worked against the establishment of any kind o f social democracy. He thus renounced his demands for a ministry of progress, which would have given him a budget and put functionaries at his disposal, and accepted the presidency of the Luxembourg Commission, which had the circumscribed mission of preparing social legislation for the future constituent assembly. More gravely, he continued to serve in the provisional government even after it created "national workshops" whose make-work jobs parodied his plans and discredited his idea of state-fostered ind ustrial employment.

After the assembly convened Blanc failed equally signinficantly to use his remaining credit with the workers to moderate their militancy and save them, and the republic, from the reprisals which he realized would follow defiance of the conservative majority. As a deputy he seems indeed to have lost touch with his putative constituency. The journée of May 15 took him by surprise, and he was literally carried along by the crowds which invaded the assembly. H e predicted the risings caused by the closing of national workshops but did little to prevent them, and made only modest efforts during the June Days to plead the workers' case.

As limited as Blanc's political achievements proved to be, his writings made him a major figure in 1848. The detailed and impressively documented account of the July Monarchy's corruption which he provided in his Histoire de Dix Ans (1841-43) was a decisive factor in preparing public opinion for a republican revolution. His Organisation du Travail (1840) was no less decisive in converting the Parisian working class to socialism. Subsequent commentators, notably Marx, have emphasized the book's idealism; but in February and March of 1848 most of the socialist concepts for which the workers fought were ultimately traceable to it. The idea of state-organized labor was a major source of the demand for government-guaranteed employment, the celebrated "right to work." Concomitantly, the working class leaders who spoke of national workshops were was not thinking of Emile Thomas'plans for outdoor relief, but of Blanc's scheme of worker-run industrial cooperatives coordinated into a national structure under the supervision of a unicameral democratic parliament.

Marvin R. Cox


Louis Blanc Histoire de dix ans: 1830-40 (Paris, 1844), 2 vols.

_______. Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris, 1870), 2 vols.

_______. Histoire de la Révolution francaise (Paris, 1847-62), 12 vols.

_______. L'Organisation du Travail (Paris, 1840).

Maurice Agulhon, The Republican Experiment (Cambridge, U.K., 1983).

Leo A. Loubere, Louis Blanc, his life and his contribution to the rise of Jacobin Socialism (Evanston, Ill., 1961).

Edouard Renard, Bibliographie relative à Louis Blanc (Toulouse, 1922).

_______. Louis Blanc, sa vie, son oeuvre (Toulouse, 1922).

Jean Vidalenc, Louis Blanc (Paris, 1948).

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