The Unfinished Revolution: Louis Auguste Blanqui and the Jacobin Tradition

Publication Date



Nathanael Greene


History (HIST)


English (United States)


Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) was an important figure of the revolutionary socialist movement in 19th century France, a legendary leader notable for his genius as a conspirator, commitment to insurrection, propagation of radical egalitarian ideals, and justification of political violence. The two dominant strands of historiography of Blanqui are problematic. Marxist historians have improperly incorporated Blanqui into their narrative of the linear development of scientific socialism, and popular French historians have neglected the realities of the later years of Blanqui’s life that complicate the pervading violent legend. I propose a truer conceptualization of the political mythology of Blanqui, one contextualized in the Jacobin tradition that carried into the 19th century. Blanqui was revered among the left for his ascetic commitment to the ideals of 1793 and the notion of the unfinished revolution, but he was also feared by the general public as a terrorist type who aimed to establish a revolutionary dictatorship in the vein of Robespierre. With this theoretical infrastructure in place, I isolate the neglected history of Blanqui’s life from before the Paris Commune to his death, 1870-1881. During this period, the imprisoned Blanqui was adopted as a symbolic representative for the Communards’ amnesty movement. He was elected Deputy of Bordeaux in 1879, an event that exploded into one of the most controversial of the early Third Republic. My history of this period demonstrates Blanqui’s attempt to gain recognition as a genuine republican statesman at the end of his life, thus challenging popular historiography that compartmentalizes him solely in the anti-democratic tradition. The event also confirms the strength of Blanqui’s Jacobinized reputation, demonstrated by a thorough analysis of the polarized reactions that characterized French and international public opinion. In essence, this thesis is an attempt to revise a dominant narrative and propose a new framework for understanding both the man and mythology of Blanqui while also illuminating a neglected historical moment.

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