Manifesto of the equals
Francois Noel BABEUF
"GRACCHUS" AND THE CONSPIRACY OF THE EQUALS
(From Fried and Sanders, Socialist Thought, Doubleday
Anchor, pp, 43-71)
On May 11, 1796, after almost two years of the moderate republican rule that
had succeeded Robespierre's dictatorship and was to last until Napoleon's coup
d'etat in 1799, the leaders of a group that called itself the Society of the
Pantheon were accused of plotting to overthrow the government and arrested.
This "conspiracy of the equals," as it came to he called, was at first regarded
as one of many plots uncovered during the period of the Directorate, and the
government even treated it as a royalist conspiracy. But the leader of the group,
the journalist Francois Noel Babeuf, who had indicated his choice of spiritual
antecedents by styling himself "Gracchus," used the trial as an opportunity
to denounce the decline of the Revolution, and to restate its aims in terms
of a vision of communist egalitarianism. Babeufwas sentenced to death, along
with Darthe, another of the group's leaders, and they were executed the following
year; the others were sentenced to short terms and ultimately released.
Among those whose lives were spared was an Italian named Buonarroti, a descendant
of the family of Michelangelo, who went on to write an account of the conspiracy
that transformed Babouvism into a legend. The book became a source of inspiration
for such middle-class revolutionary movements as the Carbonari, as well as for
socialist movements such as Chartism. Babeuf can be said to be the bridge between
eighteenth-century communism and modern socialism.
Graccus Babeuf was among the humblest in social origin of those who achieved
political eminence in this period. Not that he was from the very bottom of the
social scale–such a thing could not have come about in eighteenth-century France,
even at the time of the Revolution. His father, an ex-army major, claimed to
trace his ancestry back to the founder of the village of Babeuf in Picardy;
but he had been reduced for a time to working as a hired laborer. The Babeufs
came of a line of independent peasant proprietors, in a part of France where
yeoman traditions were strong–Robespierre was also from Picardy. By the time
his son was born, on November 23, 1760, the elder Babeuf had obtained the modest
post of a local tax-collector in the town of Saint-Quentin. The future conspirator
for equality seemed to have no greater prospects than his father for any other
life than that of a provincial functionary; after marriage to a servant girl
at the age of twenty-two, he settled down as a struggling family man and clerk.
His post was that of commissaire a terrier, a minor professional position
widespread in provincial France at that time, which had as its primary function
the task of keeping straight the archives and transactions of feudal estates.
Babeuf thus came to know a great deal about feudal property and its abuses.
Even before the outbreak of the Revolution, he developed higher aspirations
than prudence should have allowed him. He steeped himself in the writings of
the philosophes, and came to think of himself as a man of letters. In 1785 in
response to the annual prize question posed by the Academy of Arras, he submitted
an essay on ways of improving the roads in the province of Artois. As it turned
out, his essay was submitted too late to be eligible for that year, but the
secretary of the Academy, a nobleman named Dubois de Fosseux, found it so interesting
that he began a correspondence with its author. This remarkable exchange of
letters, which continued for three years, provided Babeuf with his first opportunity
to write down his ideas on a range of subjects-literature, politics, agriculture,
and many others–that might be frightening in its scope to any but the eighteenth-century
imagination, In these letters he first set down his glimmers of a radical egalitarian
social vision, one that was apparently taken far more seriously by the earnest
clerk than by his aristocratic correspondent. Babeuf's later letters barely
conceal his growing impatience with the mere play of sensibility that the dialogue
was becoming. He stopped writing altogether immediately after the death of his
daughter. It needed only the catalyst of 1789 to turn him into a full-blooded
agitator, first in Arras, where he was sentenced to a long prison term but managed
to evade arrest, and then in Paris, where he became the editor of his own newspaper,
the Tribune of the People, and the center of attraction for the group
of radicals who were rounded up and imprisoned in May 1796.
. . .
The Manifesto below was delivered by Babeuf's associates in the Society of
the Pantheon in April 1796, to announce their somewhat vaguely conceived revolutionary
program. Its author was Sylvain Marechal, a poet, whose radicalism apparently
had more violent propensities than did Babeuf's. Nevertheless Babeuf did not
repudiate the program, and positively endorsed the Analysis of the Doctrine
of Babeuf, written by other members of the group, which follows the Manifesto.
The final selection is from Babeuf's defense at the trial; it is especially
remarkable for its confident affirmation that all of its author's ideas had
come out of the eighteenth-century French philosophical tradition. His argument
carried no weight with the court, but it was true, even if those philosophes
would not likely have gone to the barracades for their beliefs.
MANIFESTO OF THE EQUALS
BY SYLVAIN MARECHAL (APRIL 1796)
De facto equality, the final goal of the social art. (Condorcet)
PEOPLE OF FRANCE!
For fifteen centuries you have lived as slaves, and have therefore been
miserable. For the past six years you have scarcely been able to breathe,
awaiting independence, happiness, and equality.
EQUALITY! The first desire of nature! The first need of man, and the
principal bond that ties together all legitimate association! People of France!
You have not been more favored than the other nations that vegetate on this
unfortunate globe! Everywhere and at all times the poor human species, delivered
over to cannibals of varying degrees of adroitness, has served as the plaything
of ambitions, the grazing-ground of tyrannies. Everywhere and at all times man
has been rocked to sleep with fine speeches: nowhere and at no time has he
received the real thing along with the word. Since time immemorial it has been
repeated to us hypocritically: men are equal; and since time immemorial
the most debasing and widespread inequality has insolently weighed upon mankind.
For as long as civil societies have existed, man's finest appanage has been
acknowledged without protest, but so far it has not been realized even once:
equality was nothing but a fine and sterile fiction of the law. Today, when it
is being demanded in a stronger voice, we are told: "Be quiet, you poor
wretches! De facto equality is nothing but a chimera; be satisfied with
conditional equality: you are all equal before the law. You vulgar mob, what
more could you need? What we need?" Legislators, governors, rich
property-owners, now it is your turn to listen.
We are all equal, are we not? This principle remains incontestable, because
nobody would seriously claim, unless he were willing to be considered mad, that
it is night when it is really day.
Well, then, we henceforth lay claim to living and dying equal, as we were
born. We want real equality or death; that is what we need.
And we will have it, this real equality, at any price. Woe to those whom we
encounter standing between it and ourselves! Woe to those who would resist a vow
The French Revolution is only the herald of another revolution, far greater,
far more solemn, which will be the last of them all.
The People have marched over the bodies of the kings and priests who were
allied against them. They will do the same to the new tyrants, to the new
political Tartuffes who are now seated in the place of the old ones.
What is it, you ask, that we need above and beyond equality of rights?
We not only need that equality which is set down in the Declaration of the
Rights of Man and Citizen; we want it right in our midst, under our own
roofs. We consent to everything for the sake of this, and will renounce
everything else in order to have this alone. Let all the arts perish, if
necessary, as long as real equality remains to us!
Legislators and governors, you who have no more ingenuity than you have good
faith, rich property-owners without insides, it is in vain that you try to
neutralize our sacred undertaking by saying: "They are only trying to bring
about that agrarian law that has been asked for more than once before."
Calumniators, you be quiet now, and in the silence of your confusion, listen
to our aspirations, dictated by nature and founded upon justice.
The agrarian law, or the division of the land, was the immediately avowed
desire of a few unprincipled soldiers, of a few mobs that were moved by their
instinct rather than by reason. We are speaking of something more sublime and
more equitable, the COMMON GOOD, or the COMMUNITY OF GOODS! No more individual
ownership of the land: the land belongs to no one. We are demanding, we
desire, communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth: the fruits belong to
We declare ourselves unable any longer to tolerate a situation in which the
great majority of men toil and sweat at the service and at the pleasure of a
For a long enough time now, for too long a time, less than a million
individuals have had at their disposal what belongs to more than twenty millions
of their fellows, of their equals.
Let it come to an end at last, this great scandal that our posterity will
never believe! Disappear at last, revolting distinctions between rich and poor,
great and small, masters and servants, governors and governed.
Let there be no differences between human beings other than those of age and
sex. Since all have the same needs and the same families, there should be a
common education and a common supply of food for all. Everyone is satisfied with
having the sun and the air in common. Why could not the same portion and the
same quality of food suffice for all?
But already the enemies of an order of things that would be the most natural
one possible are declaiming against us. Disturbers of the pence, they say to us,
faction-mongers, you want only pillage and slaughter.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
We will waste no time in answering them, but first we want to say to you: the
sacred undertaking that we are organizing has no other aim than to put an end to
civil dissension and widespread suffering.
Never has a more immense scheme been conceived and put into effect. Every
once in a great while, throughout history, a few sages, men of genius, have
spoken of it in low and trembling voices. None of them has had the courage to
speak the whole truth.
The moment for great measures has arrived. Evil is at its saturation point;
it covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the guise of politics, has reigned
for too many centuries. Let everything now return to order and resume its proper
place. Let the elements of justice and happiness be organized in response to the
voice of equality. The moment has come to found the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS, this
great refuge open to all men. The day of general restitution has arrived.
Suffering families, come sit at the common table that Nature has set for all her
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
The purest of all glories has therefore been reserved for you! Yes, it is you
who are to be the first to offer this moving spectacle to the world.
Old habits, worn-out prejudices, will rise up anew to try to block the
establishment of the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS. The organization of true equality, the
only equality that will answer to all needs without demanding victims or
sacrifices, will perhaps not please everybody at first. The selfish man, the
ambitious man, will quiver with rage. Those who now possess unjustly will cry
out against the injustice.
The loss of exclusive possessions, solitary pleasures, personal comforts,
will arouse some lively regrets among a few individuals who have no regard for
the sufferings of others. The lovers of absolute power, the vile pillars of
arbitrary authority, will only reluctantly allow their haughty chiefs to be bent
down to the level of true equality. Their nearsighted vision will have trouble
penetrating into the imminent future, with its prospect of common welfare. But
what can a few thousand malcontents do against a mass of completely happy men,
who will be surprised that it took them so long to discover a felicity that had
always been right under their noses?
On the morrow of this true revolution they will say to themselves in
amazement: "What! It took so little to achieve the common welfare. We had but to
want it. And why did we not want it sooner? Did it have to be spoken of over and
over again so many times?" Yes, most certainly; it takes only one man on earth,
more resolute and more powerful than his fellows, than his equals, to upset the
equilibrium; then crime and misery return to the earth.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
What signs do you need in order to recognize an excellent Constitution when
you see one? The one founded entirely upon de facto equality is the only
one that can suit you and satisfy all your desires.
The aristocratic charters of 1791 and 1795 simply rivet down your chains
instead of breaking them. The one of 1793 was a great de facto step
toward real equality; never had anything come so near to real equality. Yet even
this latter Constitution did not reach the goal and bring about the common
welfare, the great principle of which it nevertheless solemnly consecrated.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
Open your eyes and your hearts to the fullness of felicity. Recognize and
proclaim along with us THE REPUBLIC OF EQUALS.
ANALYSIS or; THE DOCTRINE OF BABEUF BY THE BABOUVISTS (1796)
- Nature has given every man an equal right to the enjoyment of all its goods.
- The purpose of society is to defend this equality, which is often attacked
in the state of nature by the wicked and the strong, and to increase, through
universal cooperation, the common enjoyment of the goods of nature.
- Nature has imposed upon everyone the obligation to work; no one has ever
shirked this duty without having thereby committed a crime.
- All work and the enjoyment of its fruits must be in common.
- Oppression exists when one person exhausts himself through toil and still
lacks everything, while another swims in abundance without doing any work
- No one has ever appropriated the fruits of the earth or of industry exclusively
for himself without having thereby committed a crime.
- In a true society, there must be neither rich nor poor.
- Those rich men who are not willing to renounce their excess goods in favor
of the indigent are enemies of the people.
- No one may, by the accumulation of all the available means of education,
deprive another of the instruction necessary for his well-being: instruction
must be common to all.
- The aim of the Revolution is to destroy inequality and re-establish the
- The Revolution is not finished, because the rich are absorbing all goods
and fire exclusively in command, while the poor are toiling in a state of
virtual slavery; they languish in misery and are nothing in the State.
- The Constitution of 1793 is the true law of Frenchmen, because the People
have solemnly accepted it.
(FROM THE TRIAL AT VENDOME, FEBRUARY-MAY 1797)
After the 13th of Vendemiaire, I observed that the majority of the people,
tired of a Revolution whose every fluctuation and movement had only brought
death, had been–one can only say–royalized. I saw that in Paris the simple and
uninstructed multitude had actually been led by the enemies of the people into a
cordial contempt for the Republic. This multitude, who are capable of judging
things only by their sensations, had been easily persuaded to make a comparison
that goes something like this: What were we under royal domination, what are we
under the Republic? The answer was entirely to the detriment of the latter. It
was then quite simple to conclude that the Republic was something detestable and
that monarchy was better. And I was unable to see anything in the new
constitutional structure or in the attitudes of the men whose task it was to run
the machinery of government that would bring people to like this Republic any
more than they did. I said to myself: the Republic is lost, barring some stroke
of genius that could save it; surely monarchism will not hesitate to regain its
hold upon us. I looked around me and saw many people who were defeated, even
among those patriots, once so fervent and courageous, who had made so many
successful efforts to strengthen Liberty. The sight of universal discouragement,
of–if I can go so far as to say this–absolute muzzling all around; then
the sight of disarmament, the complete stripping away of all the guarantees that
the people had once been given against any unwarranted undertakings on the part
of those who govern them; the recent imprint of irons that almost all energetic
men bore on their flesh; and what seemed to me the almost complete conviction of
many people who were not able to offer very good reasons for their attitude,
that the Republic might really, after all, be something other than a blessing;
these various causes had very nearly brought all spirits to a state of total
resignation, and everyone seemed ready to bend under the yoke. I saw no one who
might be disposed to revive the outrageous mood of earlier days. And yet, I told
myself, the same ferment of zeal and of love for all men still exists. There are
perhaps still ways of keeping this Republic from being lost. Let every man make
all effort to summon back his strength; let every man do what he can. For my own
part, I am going to do whatever I believe to be within my power.
I gave words to these feelings in my Tribune of the People I said to
everyone: Listen: Those among you who have apparently come around to feeling, as
a result of a long series of public calamities, that the Republic is worthless
and that the Monarchy might be preferable–you people are right, I swear it. I
spelled it out in capital letters: WE WERE BETTER OFF UNDER THE KINGS THAN WE
ARE UNDER THE REPUBLIC. But you must understand which Republic I mean by that. A
Republic such as the one we see is totally worthless, without a doubt. But this,
my friends, is not the true Republic. The true Republic is something that you do
not yet even know about.
All right then, if you wish, I will try to tell you something about it, and I
am almost certain that you will idolize it. The Republic is not a word–not even
several words–empty of meaning. The words Liberty and Equality,
which have continuously resounded in your ears, cast a spell over you in the
early days of the Revolution because you thought that they would signify
something good for the People. Now they mean nothing to you at all, because you
see that they are only vain articulations and ornaments of deceitful formulas.
You must be made to learn that in spite of all this, they can and must signify a
good that is precious for the greatest number.
The Revolution, I went on in my discourse to the people, need not be an act
totally without results. So many torrents of blood were not spilled merely to
make the lot of the people worse than it had been before. When a people makes a
revolution, it is because the play of vicious institutions has pushed the best
energies of a society to such an extreme that the majority of its useful members
can no longer go on as before. It feels ill at ease in the situation that
prevails, senses the need to change it, and strives to do so. And the society is
right to do so, because the only reason it was instituted in the first place was
to make all its members as happy as possible: The purpose of society is the
It is this formula, comprised within the first article of the covenant of the
Year I of the Republic, that I have always held to as my own, and I will
continue to do so.
The aim of the revolution also is the well-being of the greatest number;
therefore, if this goal has not been achieved, if the people have not found the
better life that they were seeking, then the revolution is not over, even though
those who want only to substitute their own rule for somebody else's say that it
is over, as you would expect them to. If the revolution is really over, then it
has been nothing but a great crime.
So I strove to make people understand what the nature of the common
welfare, which is the aim of society, or of the welfare of the greatest
number, which is the aim of the Revolution, might be.
I inquired into the reasons why at certain given periods the greatest number
were not more fortunate. This inquiry led me to the following conclusion, which
I dared to print in one of my first issues after the 13th of Vendemaiare:
"There are periods in which the ultimate effect of the cruel social order is
that the whole of the society's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.
Peace, the natural state of things when all men are happy, is necessarily
threatened at a time like this. The masses can no longer exist; they are
completely dispossessed, and encounter only pitiless hearts among the caste that
is hoarding everything. Effects such as these determine what will be the eras of
those great revolutions predicted in books, in which the general upheaval of the
system of property is inevitable. and in which the revolt of the poor against
the rich is driven by such necessity that nothing can vanquish it."
I had observed that the principal enactors of the revolution before me also
concluded that their goal had to be that of rectifying the evils of our old
vicious institutions, and of bringing about the well-being of society.
I had even, in this matter, painstakingly collected the observations of one
of our legislator-philosophers, who died in his prime. Pains have also been
taken to turn this simple collection into a piece of evidence against me, even
though it was obvious that it had been faithfully copied from well-known texts.
. . . Since it is being used against me in its entirety, it will surely be
permitted to extract a part of it in order to justify myself:
"The welfare of men is a new idea in Europe. You cannot endure the existence
of an unfortunate or of a poor man in the State. . . . Let Europe come to
realize that you no longer wish to have either unfortunates or oppressors in the
territory of France. The unfortunate are the powers of the earth; they have the
right to speak as masters to the governments that neglect them. . . . Need makes
the people who labor dependent upon their enemies. Can you conceive of the
existence of an empire whose social relationships are contrary in their
tendencies to the form of government?
I reproduced these insights in the issues of my newspaper. I wanted to make
the people realize what the result of the revolution had to be, what the
republic had to be. I felt that I could perceive the people's response quite
distinctly; they were ready to love such a republic. I even dared to flatter
myself with the thought that it was my writings that had given rise to the hope
of bringing about the new republic, and that had done so much to deroyalize the
present one. In whose eyes is this, thus far, not a good work?
You pressed your maxims too far, someone might tell me. This is what we must
The plaintiffs have described on page 78 of the supplement of their Expose',
a document that has as its title: Analysis of the Doctrine of Babeuf.
There are a great many questions concerning it in various parts of the record
of the trial, and it has been regarded as the extreme among all ideas
of social upheaval. Therefore, it will be useful to examine this work in detail.
(The Analysis follows. See previous document)
When I was cross-examined during the trial, I declared that this document had
not been drawn up by me, but, acknowledging that it was a fair analysis of the
principles I had proclaimed, I approved it, and consented to its being printed
and published. It was in effect a faithful summary of the doctrine that I had
scattered throughout the various issues of my newspaper. This doctrine appears
to play the essential and fundamental role in a conspiracy. It figures in the
accusation under the title, "Pillage of Property"; it is what terrifies the
plaintiffs as they reproduce it in every odious form. They call it,
successively, "agrarian law," "brigandage," "devastation," "disorganization,"
"dreadful system," "horrible upheaval," "subversion of the social order,"
"atrocious project," the sole result of which would necessarily be "the
destruction of the human species; the reversion to the savage state, a life of
roaming about in the woods, anyone who survived . . . the total abandonment of
all culture, of all industry . . . nature left to her own resources . . . the
strong setting up their superiority over the weak as the sole source of rights;
men becoming, if this doctrine is accepted, more ferocious than brute animals,
fighting furiously over every scrap of food that they come upon."
This is most certainly the crux of the accusation. The other points are only
accessories, appendages to it. The ends justify the means. To reach a certain
goal, one must vanquish everything that stands in the way. Now, as to the
hypothesis of social change in question, whether one chooses to describe it,
after the fashion of the plaintiffs, as subversive of the whole social order, or
to characterize it, in chorus with the philosophers and the great legislators,
as a sublime regeneration, it is indubitable that this change could not be
brought about except by the overthrow of the established government and the
suppression of everything in the way. These acts of upheaval and suppression
would therefore be only the accessory, the necessary means for achieving the
principal object, which is the establishment of what we and the philosophers
call the general or common welfare, and what our accusers call
devastation and pillage. It therefore stands proven as if mathematically,
that the part of the accusation based upon my alleged resolve to found a system
which has been appreciated in such greatly varying ways, is the principal and
almost the sole part of the accusation, since the others are only branches
emanating from it.
It follows from this, it seems to me, that we must necessarily examine the
following questions: did I really preach such a system? If so, in what spirit
did I preach it–in the form of mere speculation, or with the hope of conspiring
to bring it about by force and in spite of the people? Has this system been
genuinely proven bad and destructive? Has it never been preached by anyone but
me? Was it not preached before me, and did anyone before this, including even
the kings themselves, ever aspire to punish its foremost apostles?
Several of these questions will soon be resolved. The first in two words. I
really did preach the system of the common welfare; I mean by these
words, the welfare of all, the general welfare. I said that the social
code which established in its opening line that the welfare of men was the
sole purpose of society, consecrated in this line the unassailable
standard of all truth and of all justice. It entirely sums up the Law of Moses
and the prophets. I defy anyone to maintain to me that men, when they form
themselves into an association, can have any other purpose, any other desire,
than the happiness of all. I defy anyone to argue that they would have consented
to this union if they had been told that it would be made up of institutions
that would soon place the burden of toil upon the greatest number, force them to
sweat blood and die of hunger, in order that a handful of privileged citizens
could be maintained in luxury and idleness. But meanwhile all this has come
about, as if the eternal laws did not in any way proscribe it, and so I have the
right, as I am a man, to reiterate my demand that we carry out the original
compact, which, though tacitly conceived, I admit, was nevertheless written in
ineffaceable letters into the fiber of every human heart. Yes, it is one voice
that cries out to all: the purpose of society is the common welfare. This
is the primitive contract; it needs no other terms to clarify its meaning; it
covets everything because all institutions must be made to flow from this
source, and nothing can be allowed to deviate from its standard.
As for the second question, I have preached the system of the welfare of all
only as a simple philanthropic speculation, as a simple proposition to the
people, depending entirely upon the condition of their acquiescence. One can
see, then, how far I was from being able to realize such a scheme; for no man
can, without deluding himself excessively, flatter himself that this
acquiescence would be easy to obtain and I can assure you that it is far easier
to calculate all the obstacles that stand in the way of obtaining it: the
endless opposition that would be encountered, and to judge all this
insurmountable in advance.
In the course of my narration I will prove that I have done nothing to
establish this system by force and in spite of the people.
In order to see if this system is really as bad, destructive and
reprehensible as the plaintiffs make it out to be, citizen Jurors, you must
weigh against their views some of the reasons that I offered in justification of
it during the course of my propagandistic work. In addition to the Analysis
already presented, which, as I have pointed out, I did not compose, but which I
have nevertheless approved and adopted, I myself offered in one of my writings a
resume justifying this doctrine. I will present it to you faithfully,
citizen Jurors. What I am about to give you is my frank and sincere confession.
Considering the notion of "getting along" with your fellows in which everybody
is steeped nowadays, there will perhaps be several things in what I am about to
say to you that will appear shocking. But, I beg of you, do not become alarmed
before hearing me to the end. It is my soul not my intentions that you must
judge; it is upon the depths of my heart and the final meaning of my avowals
that I hope you will want to fix your attention. I hope to make you realize that
my reflections upon the basic principles of society have always been founded
upon pure philanthropy. Here then presented with the utmost confidence, is the
declarations that I believe I must make to you, expressed exactly as it was in
my writings, concerning the purposes and motives of men when they form
themselves into a civil order.
"The lot of the individual (I said in my Tribune of the People, No.35,
page 102) did not have to worsen when he passed from the natural to the social
"By its origins, the land belongs to no one, and its fruits are for
"The institution of private property is a surprise that was foisted upon the
mass of simple and honest souls. The laws of this institution must necessarily
bring about the existence of fortunate and unfortunate, of masters and
"The law of heredity is supremely abusive. It produces poor men from
the second generation on. The two children of a man who is sufficiently rich
divide up his fortune equally. One of them has only one child, the other has a
dozen. Each of these latter children then has only one-twelfth of the fortune of
the first brother, and one-twenty-fourth of that of the grandfather. This
portion is not sufficient to provide a living. Some of them are obliged to work
for their rich first cousin; thus emerge masters and servants from among the
grand children of the same man.
"The law of alienation is no less unjust. This man who is already the
master of others descended from the same grandfather pays arbitrarily for the
labor that they are obliged to do for him. This wage is still not enough to
enable them to subsist; they are obliged to sell their meager portion of the
inheritance to him upon whom they are now dependent. Thus they have been
expropriated; if they leave any children, these poor waifs will have nothing but
their wits to rely on.
"A third cause hastens the emergence of masters and servants, of the overly
fortunate and the extremely unfortunate: it is the differences in wage and
esteem that mere opinion attaches to the different forms of production and
industry. A fantastic opinion of this sort leads people to attribute to the
work-day of someone who makes a watch twenty times the value of that of someone
who plows a field and grows wheat. The result is that the watchmaker is placed
in a position whereby he acquires the patrimony of twenty plowmen; he has
therefore expropriated it.
"These three roots of public misfortune, all the progeny of
property-heredity, alienation and the diversity of value that arbitrary
opinion, as sole master, is able to assign to the various types of production
and labor-give rise to all the vices of society. They isolate all the
members of society; they make of every household a little republic consecrated
to a murderous inequality, which call do nothing but conspire against the large
When I arrived at these conclusions, citizen Jurors, and found that I had to
regard them as irrefutable truths, I was soon led to derive the following
consequences from them:
"If the land does not belong to anyone; if its fruits are for all; if
possession by a small number of men is the result of only a few institutions
that abuse and violate the fundamental law, it follows that this possession by a
few is an usurpation. It follows that, at all times, whatever an individual
hoards of the land and its fruits beyond what he needs for his own nourishment
has been stolen from society."
And then, moving from consequence to consequence, believing firmly in the
importance of not concealing the truth from men, I, came to the following
conclusions, and published them:
"Everything that a member of the social body lacks of what would suffice for
his various needs on any given day, has been taken from him. He has been
despoiled of his natural individual property by the hoarders of the goods of the
"Heredity and alienation are homicidal institutions.
"The superiority of talents and of efforts is only a chimera and a specious
trap, which has always unduly served the schemes of the conspirators against the
equality and welfare of men.
"It is both absurd and unjust to pretend that a greater recompense is due
someone whose task demands a higher degree of intelligence, a greater amount of
application and mental strain; none of this in any way expands the capacity of
"No grounds whatever can justify pretension to a recompense beyond what is
sufficient for individual needs.
"Such a pretension is nothing but a matter of opinion, in no way validated by
reason, and perhaps–it remains to be seen–not even valid in accordance with a
principle of force, at least of a force purely natural and physical in
"It is only those who are intelligent who have fixed such a high price upon
the conceptions of their brains and if the physically strong had been able to
keep up with them in regulating the order of things, they would no doubt have
established the merit of the arm to be as great as that of the head, and the
fatigue of the entire body would have been offered as sufficient compensation
for the fatigue of the small part of it that ruminates.
"If this principle of equalization is not posited, then the most intelligent
and the most industrious are given a warrant for hoarding, a title to despoil
with impunity all those who are less gifted.
Thus the equilibrium of well-being in the social state is destroyed, is
overthrown, since nothing has been better proven than this maxim: that one
succeeds in having too much only by causing others to have not enough.
All our civil institutions, our reciprocal transactions, are nothing but nets
of perpetual brigandage, authorized by barbarous laws, under whose sway we are
occupied only in tearing each other apart.
Our society of swindlers brings all sorts of vice, crime and misfortune in
the wake of its atrocious primordial conventions, against which good men ally
themselves in a vain attempt to make war upon them. In this they cannot be
victorious because they do not attack the evil at its roots, because their
measures are only palliatives drawn from the reservoir of false ideas created by
our organic depravity.
It is clear, then, from all that has been said, that everything owned by
those who have more than their individual due of society's goods, is theft and
"It is therefore just to take it back from them.
"Even someone who could prove that he is capable, by the individual exertion
of his own natural strength, of doing the work of four men, and so lay claim to
the recompense of four, would be no less a conspirator against society, because
he would be upsetting the equilibrium of things by this alone, and would thus be
destroying the precious principle of equality.
"Wisdom imperiously demands of all the members of the association that they
suppress such a man, that they pursue him as a scourge of society, that they at
least reduce him to a state whereby he can do the work of only one man, so that
he will be able to demand the recompense of only one man.
"It is only our species that has introduced this murderous folly of making
distinctions in merit and value, and it is our species alone that knows
misfortune and privation.
"There must exist no form of privation but the one that nature imposes upon
everyone as a result of some unavoidable accident, in which case these
privations must be borne by everyone and divided up equally among them.
"The products of industry and of genius also become the property of all, the
domain of the entire association, from the very moment that the workers and the
inventors have created them, because they are simply compensation for earlier
discoveries made through genius and industry, from which the new inventors and
workers have profited within the frame work of social life, and which have
helped them to make their discoveries.
"Since the knowledge acquired is the domain of everyone, it must therefore be
equally distributed among everyone.
"A truth that has been impertinently contested by bad faith, by prejudice, by
thoughtlessness, is the fact that this equal distribution of knowledge among
everyone would make all men nearly equal in capacity and even in talent.
"Education is a monstrosity when it is unequal, when it is the exclusive
patrimony of a portion of the association: because then it becomes, in the hands
of this portion, an accumulation of machinery, an arsenal of all sorts of
weapons that helps this portion of society to make war against the other, which
is unarmed, and to succeed thereby in strangling it, deceiving it, stripping it
bare, and shackling it down to the most shameful servitude.
"There are no truths more important than those that one philosopher has
proclaimed in these terms: 'Declaim as much as you wish on the subject of the
best form of government, you will still have done nothing at all so long as you
have not destroyed the seeds of cupidity and ambition.'
"It is therefore necessary that the social institutions be such that they
eradicate within every last individual the hope that he might ever become
richer, more powerful, or more distinguished because of his talents, than
any of his equals.
"To be more specific, it is necessary to bind together every one's
lot; to render the lot of each member of the association independent of
chance, and of happy or unfavorable circumstance; to assure to every man and
to his posterity, no matter how numerous it may be, as much as they need, but no
more than they need; and to shut off from everybody all the possible paths
by which they might obtain some part of the products of nature and of work that
is more than their individual due.
"The sole means of arriving at this is to establish a common
administration; to suppress private property; to place every man of talent
in the line of work he knows best; to oblige him to deposit the fruit of his
work in the common store, to establish a simple administration of needs,
which, keeping a record of all individuals and all the things that are available
to them, will distribute these available goods with the most scrupulous
equality, and will see to it that they make their way into the home of every
"This form of government, proven by experience to be practicable, since it is
the form applied to the 1,200,000 men of our twelve Armies (what is possible on
a small scale is possible on a large scale as well), is the only one that could
result in unqualified and unalterable universal welfare: the common welfare,
the aim of society.
"This form of government," I continued, "will bring about the disappearance
of all boundary lines, fences, walls, locks on doors, trials, thefts, and
assassinations; of all crimes, tribunals, prisons, gibbets, and punishments; of
the despair that causes all calamity; and of greed, jealousy, insatiability,
pride, deception, and duplicity–in short, of all vices. Furthermore (and the
point is certainly essential), it will put an end to the gnawing worm of
perpetual inquietude, whether throughout society as a whole, or privately within
each of us, about what tomorrow will bring, or at least what next year will
bring, for our old age, for our children and for their children."
This, citizen Jurors, was the interpretation of the code of nature with which
my mind was occupied. I believed that I could see everything that was written on
the immortal pages of this code. I brought these pages to light and published
them. Certainly it was because I loved my fellow man, and because I was
persuaded that the social system which I conceived was the only one that could
bring about his happiness, that I wanted so much to see him disposed to adopt
it. But I did not imagine-it would have been a most illusory presumption–that I
could have converted him to this idea: it would have taken no more than a
moment's contemplation of the hood of passions now subjugating us in this era of
corruption that we have come upon, to become convinced that the odds against the
possibility of realizing such a project are more than a hundred to one. Even the
most intrepid partisan of my system ought to be convinced of this.
All this then, citizen Jurors, was more than anything else a consolation that
my soul was seeking. Such is the natural and palpable inclination felt by every
man who loves his fellows, who gives thought to the calamities of which they are
the victims, who reflects that they themselves are often the cause of these
afflictions, to examine in his imagination all the possible curative measures
that could be taken. If he believes that he has found these remedies, then, in
his powerlessness to realize them, he afflicts himself for the sake of those
whom he is forced to leave to their suffering, and contents himself with the
feeble compensation of tracing for them the outlines of the plan that he feels
could end their woes for all time. This is what all our philosopher-legislators
did, and I am at best only their disciple and emulator, when I am doing anything
more than merely repeating, echoing, or interpreting them. Rousseau said: "I
fully realize that one should not undertake the chimerical project of trying to
form a society of honest men, but I nevertheless believed that was obliged to
speak the whole truth openly.'' When you condemn me, citizen Jurors, for all the
maxims that I have just admitted stating, it is these great men whom you are
putting on trial. They were my masters, my sources of inspiration–my doctrine
is only theirs. From their lessons I have derived these maxims of "pillage,"
these principles that have been called "destructive." You are also accusing the
monarchy of not having been quite as inquisitional as the government of our
present Republic; you accuse them of not having prevented the corrupting books
of a Mably, a Helvetius, a Diderot, or of a Jean Jacques Rousseau, from falling
into my hands. All those who govern should be considered responsible for the
evils that they do not prevent.
Philanthropists of today! It is above all to you that I address myself. It is
because of these philosophical poisons that I am lost. Without them, I would
perhaps have had your morality, your virtues. Like you, I would have detested
brigandage and the overthrow of the existing social institutions above all
things; I would have had the tenderest solicitude for the small number of
powerful men of this world; I would have been pitiless toward the suffering
multitude. But no, I will not repent of having been educated at the school of
the celebrated men whom I have just named. I will not blaspheme against them, or
become an apostate against their dogmas. If the axe must fall upon my neck, the
lictor will find me ready. It is good to perish for the sake of virtue.
I was not being fanciful, citizen Jurors, when I said that this trial would
be the trial of all those philosophers whose remains have been placed in the
Pantheon, as long as you would condemn us for our popular and democratic
opinions, out of which the principal count in the accusation has been forged
under the title, "project for pillaging all property." These philosophers too,
formulated and published such projects. Various fragments of their projects are
in the volumes that have been placed in evidence against us. And for this reason
I believe I have the right to suspect rather strongly that the court is
presuming to judge them along with us. What else could be the meaning of those
fragments in the accusation that I am about to cite, which are the work of the
author of the Social Contract ?. . . Let me rend from them :
"Before these terrible words mine and thine were invented;
before the existence of this cruel and brutal species of men called
masters, and of that other species of rogues and liars called
slaves; before there were men so abominable as to dare to have too
much while others were dying of hunger; before mutual dependence had forced
them all to become cunning and jealous traitors. . . . I would like someone to
tell me what their vices and crimes could then possibly have consisted of. . . .
I am told that people have been long disabused of the chimera of a golden age.
It should be added that men have been long disabused of the chimera of
It says in the volume printed by the court that the draft of this statement
is written in Babeuf's hand. I tell you that it is only a copy. The proof that
I am about to give you of this will perhaps suffice to place other such attributions
in question. The original is from the hand of Jean Jacques Rousseau. I have
no fear of compromising this new conspirator by mentioning him here, since he
can be neither harmed nor tainted by the judgment of this tribunal. I therefore
do not hesitate to say that it was he who presided over the Society of Democrats
of Floreal; he was one of their principal instigators. But what is the date
of this statement of his that I have cited? 1758. It is a response made by the
philosopher to M. Bordes, Academician of Lyons, having to do with the discourse
on the sciences and the arts. These words are therefore somewhat prior to the
conspiracy that is now being examined. Oh! what does it matter! For that matter,
this conspiracy dates its origins from a much earlier time. Poor Jean Jacques!
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