Who was Louis Blanc? Information on French political theorist, politician, and writer Louis Blanc biography, life story, works and political career.
Louis Blanc; (1811-1882), French political theorist, politician, and writer. He was born Jean Joseph Louis Blanc on Oct. 29, 1811, in Madrid, Spain, where his father was an official of the Napoleonic government.
Shortly after the Bevolution of 1830, Louis Blanc, with his younger brother Charles, went to Paris to seek his fortune. After a stint as a private tutor, Louis became a successful republican journalist on such papers as Le National and Le bon sens (1834). In 1839 he founded a periodical called Revue du Progrès, in which his most widely read work, The Organization of Labor, first appeared.
In this short work Louis Blanc outlined his solution to the problems of social inequality and unrestrained competition. The state was to provide credit to producers’ cooperatives, which would form a network that would gradually displace private enterprise. By means of social insurance the state would also banish such evils as unemployment and the insecurities of sickness and old age. Blanc, rejecting the idea of class conflict, hoped for wide acceptance of his theories among all classes. His ideological position may best be described as Jacobin-socialist in combining the most optimistic democratic tradition of the French Revolution with the concept of organized social and economic cooperation espoused by the socialists.
During the 1840’s, Blanc, without abandoning his political journalism or his interest in the republican cause, turned historian and wrote the 5-volume History of Ten Years ( 1830-1840). A best seller in its day, the book is still the most readable, if not the most impartial, chronicle of the July Monarchy. Blanc followed this success in 1847 with the first volume of a mammoth History of the French Revolution. During these years, Blanc was politically identified with the left-wing republicans of La Réforme, to which he contributed.
Following the February 1848 Bevolution, Blanc became the only Socialist member of the popularly proclaimed provisional government. He first joined the government in a minor capacity before being accepted as a full-fledged member by the reluctant moderates, who were in the majority. As the lone Socialist, Blanc found himself in the position of being an intermediary between colleagues who rejected his ideas and working class demonstrators who clamored for them. He was unable to convince his colleagues of the need for a ministry of labor and was persuaded to settle for the virtually powerless Luxembourg commission for the workers, which he headed with Alexander Albert. Blanc failed in an attempt to organize “his” workers into an effective political force through mass demonstrations and through the ballot.
In the national elections of April 23, 1848, Blanc was barely elected in Paris. There and throughout France, Socialist candidates met a crushing defeat. The Luxembourg commission for the workers was abolished, while Blanc’s request for a ministry of labor was turned down by an unsympathetic and violently anti-Socialist National Assembly. Following the tumultuous demonstration of May 15, which almost overturned the National Assembly, Louis Blanc, although not implicated as an organizer of the demonstration, came under attack because he personified a hated ideology. Cleared by the National Assembly of wrongdoing by a slim margin on June 4, his parliamentary immunity was nevertheless lifted on August 4, forcing him into exile in England.
Exile and Return
In his 18 years of exile, during which he earned his living as a journalist and historian, Blanc’s influence as a social theorist or as a politician was minimal. He preached and practiced a complete political boycott of the Second Empire.
With the empire’s overthrow in September 1870, Blanc returned to Paris in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War. His popularity revived and so did his parliamentary career. Rejecting the insurrectionalism of the Paris Commune, he led the radical republican faction in parliament, the Republican Union, and later the so-called Intransigeants. He died at Cannes on Dec. 6, 1882.
While Blanc learned and changed, his consistent Jacobin-socialism frames his political activity and thought. Never a revolutionary, he was an egalitarian democrat advocating the economic reorganization of society to consecrate the principles of fraternity. Until 1848 this idea took the form of a state-sponsored cooperative socialism; after 1870, it was translated into political democracy tempered by whatever social reform seemed politically feasible.