Louis Blanc: “To each according to his needs…”

On February 25, 1848, the rebels who had driven King Louis Philippe from the throne camped in arms in front of the Paris Town Hall.

“On the steps of the great gate of the town hall, in the courts, on the steps, in the rooms, the intruders, their eyes burning, their words loud, huddled in groups, discuss the events of the day and the new government”, says Paris Mayor Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès.

But this time the workers who were in the vanguard of the victorious uprising do not want to relive the upheavals of 1830, when their deaths of the “Famous Three” served only as a springboard to the Duke’s triumph. Orléans and the Bourgeoisie. They don’t just want a “Republic”, they demand a “social”.

In the town hall, the provisional government, whose president is the poet Alphonse de Lamartine, who does not hide his disgust and fear “jail and dungeon flow”, passes decree after decree to respond to the desire for democracy: the proclamation of a republic (but “subject to ratification”), the opening of prisons, freedom of the press, the abolition of the death penalty in political matters… But as for the workers who are starving for lack of employment, and therefore the salary, nothing!

Guarantee work

In the morning, the group gets emboldened and pushes on the door, the young worker Marche introduces himself and demands “right to work”. Lamartine and most of the government are offended.

Louis Blanc enjoys great prestige and at the same time the hatred of the rich

But one of its members took up the pen. He is 37 years old and his name is Louis Blanc. Like Lamartine and most of his colleagues, he was not brought into the provisional government by the defeated monarchist chamber, but by the working people, among whom he enjoyed great prestige, and at the same time with the opposition of the rich.

Louis Blanc was one of the leaders of the “banquet campaign”, launched by republican newspapers against the Guizot government, which led to the uprising on 22 February. His oratory skills – including his famous formula: “When the fruits are rotten, they are just waiting for the wind to come through to separate them from the tree », uttered at a meeting in Dijon – ignited opinion in the suburbs against the despotism of the “bourgeois king”.

On the corner of the table, Louis Blanc writes a few lines:

“The Provisional Government of the Republic is determined to guarantee the existence of workers through work. It is determined to guarantee work (…) for all citizens. He realizes that workers must associate with each other in order to benefit legitimately from their work. »

Coming from Legitimism, the brilliant son of a civil servant, he developed a republican and socializing doctrine in contact with the workers of the Halette Foundries in the 1830s. He became a journalist and defended the republicans condemned after the rebellion in 1834. Four years later he found progress overview, he then published a pamphlet entitled “Organization of work”. He criticizes the principle of competition which “is an extermination system for humans” he writes because the weak succumb to the strong, but he also is “the cause of ruin for the bourgeoisie”because every bankruptcy makes competitors “heirs” their customers.

Organize workers

Louis Blanc bets that cooperation between actors, supported politically by democracy and financially by the state, would show its superiority compared to “capitalist societies” and free competition. In other writings (esp Questions of today and tomorrow in 1879), Louis Blanc would insist:

“I know very well that there is a strong stimulus in antagonism. But this incentive is immoral and subversive. »

praises “The excellent principle of association, its unlimited fertility, the innumerable wastes it avoids”. The association, which should donate part of the profit to the social protection system, which was completely non-existent at the time, should make it possible to achieve “grand socialist formula” : “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

This would end the company with “greed and gluttony of men”fruit from “the state of non-solidarity in which they live, and this constant fear of future want…”

Louis Blanc wants to invite the workers to join together in cooperatives

As historian Maurice Agulhon explains, Blanc does not claim “to organize the economy by means of some kind of planning”but rather “organize the workers, call on them to join together in cooperatives and manage exchanges on this self-directed basis avant la lettre”.

The author of the decree of the Provisional Government therefore had a political project in perspective: to set in motion a large-scale workers’ union movement, directed by the Ministry of “Labour”, subsidized by a budget (supplied by the royal civil list, no longer necessary). Alas, “Upon receipt of this paper, writes the historian Hyppolite Castille, Marche believed he had something. By writing this decree, Louis Blanc imagined that he was binding the Provisional Government. They were both wrong”.

No Promised Land

Far from the right to work for all under “social workshops” and the Ministry of Progress, the conservative majority of the Provisional Government created the National Workshops on the military model (groups employed on construction sites) with the simple aim of occupying tens of thousands of unemployed workers at two francs a day.

For his part, Blanc reluctantly accepts the presidency and Government commission for workers, “with the express and special mission of taking care of their destiny”. To add some gloss to it, the aforementioned commission meets in the Luxembourg Palace, instead of the dismissed Collegyn. This commission receives opinions and delegations from the amazing number of corporations and mutual aid societies that have sprung up almost out of nowhere with the revolution.

200 delegates of all trades meet under the gilding of the princely palace. From the minutes of the commission it follows:

Among the demands made on behalf of the working class, two are the subject of particular insistence by the Assembly, which demands an immediate solution: the reduction of working hours and the abolition of bargaining, i.e. the exploitation of subcontracted workers. »

For a few weeks, Luxembourg will be the scene of an amazing labor parliament without powers. Karel Marx will have fun with it “a socialist synagogue whose high priests Louis Blanc and Albert (worker Albert, appointed vice-chairman of the commission, editor’s note)he was tasked with discovering the promised land…”

“government socialism”

We know that there will be no promised land. The national workshops and their bad management (up to 120,000 employees) provide the pretext for the furious repression of the workers in the days of June 1848. The army of the conservative republic kills 3,000 to 5,000 insurgents or potential insurgents, we count 1,500 shot, 25,000 condemned and deported in Algeria.

Louis Blanc, the victim of political slander, will be accused of inciting the uprising, even though he played no part in the June days. He fled before being sentenced to 20 years of deportation.

The exile, first in Belgium and then in England, lasted more than twenty years. On his return in 1870, still popular, he was elected to the Constituent Assembly with a score that would surpass that of Victor Hugo and Gambetta! He then became close to Clémenceau before he died in 1882, aged 71.

His camp will blame him for the failure of the revolutionary experience

Posterity will have a hard time: the doctrine of Louis Blanc naturally met with the wrath of an ultra-liberal economist like Frédéric Bastiat. Conversely, his camp will blame him for the failure of the revolutionary experience. As early as 1849, the anarchist Proudhon wrote Confessions of a Revolutionary that Louis Blanc represents government socialism, a revolution by power, just as I represent democratic socialism, a revolution by the people. »

Lenin makes him the archetype of the social democrat “useful idiot” by making fun of him petty-bourgeois illusions wrapped in phraseology with socialist pretensions (WHO) in fact it only served to strengthen the influence of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. (On Louis Blanc, 1917). But there remains a formula capable of defining in a few words what socialism would be, which Marx and Engels themselves created and which still defines our health insurance: From each according to his possibilities, to each according to his needs…”


  • 1848, the forgotten revolution. Maurizio Gribaudi and Michèle Riot-Sarcey La Découverte 2011.
  • Louis Blanc (1811-1882) introduced by Jean-Michel Humilière, Les éditions Ouvrières 1882
  • Organization of Work (book), wikirouge.net/Organisation_du_travail_(book)

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