François Noël Babeuf, who was later called “Gracchus” Babeuf, was born in Saint-Quentin, sub-prefecture of the current department of Aisne, on November 23, 1760, in conditions of great poverty. Nothing extraordinary or abnormal, especially in small provincial towns.
He did not occupy any leading role in the Revolution. Neither minister, nor deputy, not even substitute for any national assembly, nor mayor, nor soldier. His most famous newspaper, the People’s Tribune, with irregular publication, saw 40 issues between the Journal of Freedom of the Press, its first title in September 1794, and number 43 of April 24, 1796. Its maximum circulation is supposed to be 2000 copies for several hundred subscribers, it is not much. Note that if the form and composition were uncertain, the journalistic style was essential. Babeuf is undoubtedly one of the great feathers of the time by its power, its inventiveness and its verve. He dynamites journalism (a bit like Hébert), literally boxes the reader, transmits his fever and anger to him.
His functions were rare and poor: administrator of the district of Montdidier in 1792, employed in the subsistence of Paris in 1793. It must be recognized that his frequent stays in prison did not help a public career. We read here and there that he was a thinker or a philosopher. Certainly he read and wrote considerably. If the continuity with his thought before the Revolution, which did not generally go beyond a personal framework, is remarkable, Babeuf entered history not as a thinker but as a politician, an activist, an activist, whatever the term. . As the organizer of the conspiracy for Equality. Babeuf did not think like the Bible “At the beginning, was the Word” but like Goethe “In the beginning, was the action”.
In July 1789, he wrote to his wife: “It is said loudly that we no longer want nobles, no titles of lordship, no castles, no high clergy, etc. We are right a hundred times over, and I readily agree with all these changes; I am even quite prepared to give a good nudge to operate on the one who has to overturn my pot; the egoists will tax me with madness, no matter what. “ Because Babeuf was at that time a specialist in feudal law and personally interested in the old system. He resolutely turns his back on her.
Let us be clear: part of Babeuf’s popularity also comes from his personal destiny, his guillotined death, his deep humanity, not to say his sensitivity. Sometimes, we even invented: his son would have sought, pursued and killed in a duel the traitor Grisel … As if reality were not enough: Buonarotti took more than thirty years, despite exiles and prisons, to write the book which is not just a pious homage to his comrade and to their common endeavor.
Why, then, is Babeuf the only character of the French Revolution that the black book of communism mentions, and twice? Crown of laurels for some, crown of thorns for others, but it is always the same man that we want to single out. It therefore deserves a certain interest.
Because, to study “Babeuf after Babeuf”, to use the fine phrase of the Amiens conference in 1989, makes sense because there was a Babeuf stricto sensu. We mention two important but secondary elements regarding its place in history. The first, it brings together the supporters of absolute equality (or, if one prefers, of the abolition of private property), what Marx called a ” left “, a “Meeting of men who profess the same political doctrine”, said Benjamin Constant. It also draws on the experience of the revolutionary government of Robespierre and Saint-Just to sketch the outlines of the provisional revolutionary dictatorship. But, I would tend to think that in the context of a short presentation, it would miss the point.
The Revolution affirmed – and much more than affirmed – equality of rights. This is his brand. Indelible. All counter-revolutionaries willfully forget this question. “Babeuf went further by presenting the abolition of ownership of the means of production and the creation of a communist democracy as the only ones capable of fully achieving equal rights”, said Georges Lefebvre. Once again, we must bow to the precision and depth of vision of the great historian, unjustly forgotten.