Louis Blanc

Louis Jean Joseph Charles Blanc (/blɑːn/; French: [blɑ̃]; 29 October 1811 – 6 December 1882) was a French politician and historian. A socialist who favored reforms, he called for the creation of cooperatives in order to guarantee employment for the urban poor.

Louis Blanc
Born(1811-10-29)29 October 1811
Died6 December 1882(1882-12-06) (aged 71)
ResidenceParis, France
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Politics, history, economy
Notable ideas
Right to work, national Workshops

Following the Revolution of 1848, Blanc became a member of the provisional government and began advocating for cooperatives which would be initially aided by the government but ultimately controlled by the workers themselves. Blanc's advocacy failed and caught between radical worker tendencies and the National Guard he was forced into exile. Blanc returned to France in 1870, shortly before the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war and served as a member of the National Assembly. While he did not support the Paris Commune, Blanc successfully proposed amnesty to the Communards.

Although Blanc's ideas of the workers' cooperatives were never realized, his political and social ideas greatly contributed to the development of socialism in France.


Early years

Blanc was born in Madrid. His father held the post of inspector-general of finance under Joseph Bonaparte. His younger brother was Charles Blanc, who later became an influential art critic.[2] Failing to receive aid from Pozzo di Borgo, his mother's uncle, Louis Blanc studied law in Paris, living in poverty, and became a contributor to various journals. In the Revue du progres, which he founded, he published in 1839 his study on L'Organisation du travail. The principles laid down in this famous essay form the key to Louis Blanc's whole political career. He attributes all the evils that afflict society to the pressure of competition, whereby the weaker are driven to the wall. He demanded the equalization of wages, and the merging of personal interests in the common good—"De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins",[3] which is often translated as "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." This was to be affected by the establishment of "social workshops", a sort of combined co-operative society and trade-union, where the workmen in each trade were to unite their efforts for their common benefit. In 1841 he published his Histoire de dix ans 1830-1840, an attack upon the monarchy of July. It ran through four editions in four years.

Revolution of 1848

In 1847, Blanc published the two first volumes of his Histoire de la Revolution Française. Its publication was interrupted by the Revolution of 1848, when he became a member of the provisional government. It was on his motion that, on 25 February, the government undertook "to guarantee the existence of the workmen by work"; and though his demand for the establishment of a ministry of labour was refused—as beyond the competence of a provisional government—he was appointed to preside over the government labour commission (Commission du Gouvernement pour les travailleurs) established at the Palais du Luxembourg to inquire into and report on the labour question.

The revolution of 1848 was the real chance for Louis Blanc's ideas to be implemented. His theory of using the established government to enact change was different from those of other socialist theorists of his time. Blanc believed that workers could control their own livelihoods, but knew that unless they were given help to get started the cooperative workshops would never work. To assist this process along Blanc lobbied for national funding of these workshops until the workers could assume control. To fund this ambitious project, Blanc saw a ready revenue source in the rail system. Under government control the railway system would provide the bulk of the funding needed for this and other projects Blanc saw in the future.

When the workshop program was ratified in the National Assembly, Blanc's chief rival Émile Thomas was put in control of the project. The National Assembly was not ready for this type of social program and treated the workshops as a method of buying time until the assembly could gather enough support to stabilize themselves against another worker rebellion. Thomas's deliberate failure in organizing the workshops into a success only seemed to anger the public more. The people had been promised a job and a working environment in which the workers were in charge, from these government funded programs. What they had received was hand outs and government funded work parties to dig ditches and hard manual labor for meager wages or paid to remain idle. When the workshops were closed the workers rebelled again but were put down by force by the National Guard. The National Assembly was also able to blame Blanc for the failure of the workshops. His ideas were questioned and he lost much of the respect which had given him influence with the public.

Between the sans-culottes, who tried to force him to place himself at their head, and the National Guards, who mistreated him, he was nearly killed. Rescued with difficulty, he escaped with a false passport to Belgium, and then to London. He was condemned to deportation in absentia by a special tribunal at Bourges. Against trial and sentence he alike protested, developing his protest in a series of articles in the Nouveau Monde, a review published in Paris under his direction. These he afterwards collected and published as Pages de l'histoire de la révolution de 1848 (Brussels, 1850).


During his stay in Britain he made use of the unique collection of materials for the revolutionary period preserved at the British Museum to complete his Histoire de la Revolution Française 12 vols. (1847–1862). In 1858 he published a reply to Lord Normanby's A Year of Revolution in Paris (1858), which he developed later into his Histoire de la révolution de 1848 (2 vols., 1870–1880). He was also active in the masonic organisation, the Conseil Suprême de l'Ordre Maçonnique de Memphis. His membership in the London-based La Grand Loge des Philadelphes is unconfirmed.

Return to France

As far back as 1839, Louis Blanc had vehemently opposed the idea of a Napoleonic restoration, predicting that it would be "despotism without glory", "the Empire without the Emperor." He therefore remained in exile until the fall of the Second Empire in September 1870, after which he returned to Paris and served as a private in the National Guard. On 8 February 1871 he was elected a member of the National Assembly, in which he maintained that the Republic was "the necessary form of national sovereignty", and voted for the continuation of the war; yet, though a leftist, he did not sympathize with the Paris Commune, and exerted his influence in vain on the side of moderation. In 1878 he advocated the abolition of the presidency and the Senate. In January 1879 he introduced into the chamber a proposal for the amnesty of the Communards, which was carried. This was his last important act. His declining years were darkened by ill-health and by the death, in 1876, of his wife Christina Groh, whom he had married in 1865. He died at Cannes, and on 12 December received a state funeral in Père Lachaise Cemetery.


Blanc possessed a picturesque and vivid style, and considerable power of research; but the fervour with which he expressed his convictions, while placing him in the first rank of orators, tended to turn his historical writings into political pamphlets. His political and social ideas have had a great influence on the development of socialism in France. His Discours politiques (1847–1881) was published in 1882. his most important works, besides those already mentioned, are Lettres sur l'Angleterre (1866–1867), Dix années de l'Histoire de l'Angleterre (1879–1881), and Questions d'aujourd'hui et de demain (1873–1884).

The Paris Metro Station Louis Blanc is named after him.


Blanc is sometime cited as the first person to use the word capitalism in something like its modern form. While he did not mean the economic system described by Karl Marx in Das Kapital, Blanc sowed the seeds of that usage, coining the word to mean the holding of capital away from others:


Reformist socialism

Blanc was unusual in advocating for socialism without revolution first.[5]

Right to work

Blanc invented the right to work with his Le Droit au Travail.[6]


Blanc resisted what he perceived as the atheism implicit in Hegel, claiming that it corresponded to anarchism in politics and was not an adequate basis for democracy.[7] Engels claimed that "Parisiann reformers of the Louis Blanc trend" could only imagine atheists as monsters.[8]

Instead, Blanc claimed that religion was foundational for revolution to take place, in keeping with the romantic tradition.[9] He regarded liberalism and Protestantism as part of the same historical and ideological movement[10] and accordingly considered the French Revolution of 1789 as a political outgrowth of the individualistic rejection of authority inherent in Protestantism and heretical movements.[11][12] Blanc thought the best of the revolution was the Jacobin dictatorship in the communitarian spirit of Catholicism.[13] Blanc himself sought to combine Catholicism and Protestantism in order to synthesize the values of authority, community, and individualism that he both affirmed as necessary for community.[11] He was unusual in combining Catholicism and socialism.[14]

Along with Etienne Cabet, Blanc advocated for what he understood as true Christianity while simultaneously critiquing the religion of Catholic clergy.[9] He was hopeful about the religious innovation taking place in early revolutionary france.[14] His understanding of God was shaped by romanticism and was similar to Rousseau, Phillipe Buchez and Respail.[15]


At the turn of 1830–1840's made in France with the ideas of social reform, Blanc, who had to then play a significant role in the history of the 1848 revolution in the 1840s, he was one of the prominent representatives of the democratic opposition against leaders of French socialism. Blanc received secondary education in one of the provincial cities of France, he was very young made on a literary career with two poems in verse, and then with the political articles. In 1834 he moved to Paris and soon began working here in the newspaper "Common Sense." Articles Louis Blanc drew attention to themselves, and Armand Carrel invited him to collaborate in «Le National» his newspaper. Somewhat later and Godefrua Cavaignac (Cavaignac), one of the leaders of the Republican Party, invited him to write in the "reform" to publish them. In 1839, a young publicist could have set up their own body, to which he gave the name of the "Review of the political, social and literary progress” (“La revue du progrès politique, social et littéraire”).

All the newspapers, which previously was Louis Blanc, belonged to a democratic direction, but dominant in their view was mainly political, although already in them Louis Blanc concerned purely social relations. On the contrary, a new newspaper from the very beginning made an organ of social reform. It appeared first and most important journalistic work of Louis Blanc's "Organization of Labor" (1839), immediately proposed him forward as a harbinger of a new social order. Subsequently, this small work is not reprinted, being subject to alterations. "Organization of labor" was a huge success among the workers. Shortly after Louis Blanc published another work of large dimensions, which made a strong impression on the bourgeoisie. This was the famous "History of Ten Years" (1830 - 1840), the first half of the reign of Louis Philippe. In this work, Louis Blanc was able to take advantage of very many materials remain until it completely unknown to the public.

Characteristically, many Louis Blanc was reportedly hated the July monarchy Legitimists, accept it welcome in their salons. The July government has been in this book is very harsh, and in general a very fair criticism. In a very short time, the book ran through several editions.

This success led Blanc to take up a major historical work already on the history of the Great French Revolution. The first volume of this story appeared already in 1846, but her finish Louis Blanc had been in exile after the December 1851 coup. Taking up of historical works, Louis Blanc was forced to cease publication of its own body, but he continued to participate in Cavaignac newspaper. Under his influence, the newspaper adopted gradually definitely socialist character. Incidentally, at the beginning of 1848, when it was very much the fermentation, to prepare the February revolution, "reform" has published its political program, which, in fact, repeated the main provisions of the "Labor Organization".

Already in 1846, he was offered a place in the Chamber of Deputies, but then he turned away from candidacy. When the popularity which he enjoyed in the working class, while the outstanding position which he occupied in the Republican Party, he certainly could not stay in the shade when flushed February revolution. It can be stated that his "History of ten years", he severely damaged the July monarchy, and his other writings, to a certain extent determined the general nature and direction of the revolution, reviving Jacobin tradition and giving the social movement of a specific program. These are the main ideas of Louis Blanc. Everyone has the right to work and to ensure that this right was exercised in reality, it is necessary to entrust the duty of society to organize work in accordance with this requirement. In considering this issue, and all of the content is "labor organizations" of Louis Blanc. From the fact the importance that belonged to the "right to work" in the revolution of 1848, it is worthwhile concluding about the widespread and deeply influenced by the ideas of Louis Blanc in the French society of the forties. He created a plan of social reform was understandable, seemed simple and easy to implement. The state had to form a pool of money through the big national loan with which to major industries were based so-called “social workshops” (ateliers sociaux). To work in these workshops were to be allowed to work, standing in a certain moral level, and all of them for their work would receive exactly the same fee. At first, the internal regulations of such workshops would be established by the Government. It is appointed to and heads for work occurring in them, but after the first year should be the workers themselves to grant the right to choose their leaders.

The main task of these institutions, on the proposal of Louis Blanc, was to strike a blow to all private industry. As a principle, an enemy of free competition, he thought to use this competition in order to make it in the future completely impossible. Private industry would have gradually disappeared, and the entire industry would have then strictly social organization. Public workshops same specialty could get along with each other quite peacefully. Old competition would now replace the coincidence of effort. In the end, it was to and solidarity between the different branches of industry. An important tool for carrying out its plan in practice, Louis Blanc seen in the compulsory and gratuitous public education: it would have for its aim to educate the younger generation in the ideas, feelings and inclinations, which should require a new social system of people. In general, the state had by this theory not only to create a new order of things, but also to guide social activities. Louis Blanc himself called the state the “supreme regulator of production” and said that his intervention is needed everywhere, where only the need to “maintain a balance between the rights and protect the interests”. On the same state it also imposes a duty “to put all citizens in equal conditions of moral, intellectual and physical development”. Of course, it stipulated Louis Blanc, where the power on one side and the people on the other, being organized democratically. The state is only the people leading their own affairs through their representatives, the state may not be of interest other than the interest of the people. Such a state, adds Louis Blanc, cannot be the master: it can only be a servant and protector of inexperienced, weak, miserable. mental and physical development. However, the state could fulfill its purpose, Louis Blanc, saw fit to give him greater power to restore in its favor the authority principle.

From this point of view, he even attacked in the "History of a decade" for liberals restoration era because they weaken the power, and expressed sympathy. That, on the contrary, worked in favor of the strengthening of the public authority. Nevertheless, Louis Blanc wanted to retain the minority a certain freedom from the tyranny of the majority. He did not want to bring their socialism to the extreme, and in his works, there are direct statements against communism. The preaching of absolute equality, he openly called nonsense. According to him, the distribution of wealth in society must be done even for the formula which proclaimed Saint-Simonianism ("To each according to his ability, to each capacity according to its works"). "To each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" - this is the principle of Louis Blanc expressed them, in addition, and in the following formula: "debt commensurate with abilities and powers, the right to commensurate with the needs." This, as he puts it, "a just equality" already made in family life: each member of the family works, and their work contributes to the overall welfare of the extent of its powers, but when all sit at the table, the one who is more hungry and eat more without encountering any obstacles on the part of others. All requirements of the socialist Louis Blanc came to the fact that the society has been organized as a family.

See also


  1. Finn, Margot C. (2003). After Chartism: Class and Nation in English Radical Politics 1848-1874. Cambridge University Press. p. 176.
  2. Varouxakis, Georgios (2004). "Blanc, (Jean Joseph) Louis (1811–1882), political thinker and exile". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  3. Louis Blanc, Plus de Girondins, 1851, p. 92.
  4. Conceptualizing Capitalism: Institutions, Evolution, Future
  5. Herzog et al. 1884, p. 2205.
  6. Day 1914, p. 85.
  7. Moggach 2011, p. 319.
  8. Marx & al 2001, p. 63.
  9. Joskowicz 2013, p. 46.
  10. Stirner, Byington & Martin 2012, p. 106.
  11. Furet & Ozouf 1989, p. 902.
  12. Malia & Emmons 2006, p. 59.
  13. Comay 2011, p. 187.
  14. Furet & Ozouf 1989, p. 700.
  15. Eisenstein 1959, p. 136.
  • Leo A. Loubère, (1961) Louis Blanc: His Life and His Contribution to the Rise of French Jacobin-Socialism


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Blanc, Louis". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. This work in turn cites, in addition to Blanc's own works:
    • L. Fiaux, Louis Blanc (1883)

Further reading

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