This article provides short bio of Gracchus Babeuf.
Gracchus Babeuf was an eighteenth century socialist thinker who propagated the basic ideas of socialism. He believed that only socialism could save toiling masses from all types of misery and hardship and in this respect he was at par with Saint- Simon.
Immediately after the French Revolution he jumped upon the task of propagating the socialist ideas. Upon the socialist ideas of Gracchus Babeuf and his co- socialists there was a clear influence of Rousseau. Of course all the revolutionaries were inspired by Rousseau.
Gracchus Babeuf and his followers wanted to set up a society in which there would be no exploitation and private property because they believed that the system of private property sanctioned by the state and possessed by the capitalists was the root cause of corruption and inequality.
Let us quote few lines from Kolakowski’s monumental work; Main Currents of Marxism. Gracchus Babeuf and Babouvists took their philosophy in the main from Rousseau and utopianists of Enlightenment and regarded themselves as the successors of Robespierre.
Their basic premise was the idea of equality as Bounarroti wrote:
“The perpetual cause of the enslavement of the peoples is nothing but inequality and as long as it exists the assertion of national rights will be illusionary”.
In Babeuf’s judgment, though the French Revolution brought about an end of despotic rule in France, its success in ending the capitalist system was nil. But so long capitalism would continue to exits emancipation of people would remain a distant hope.
The constitution of 1793 proclaimed the right to equality and Babeuf demanded that that must be translated into reality. It must be removed from the confinement of the constitution.
Gracchus Babeuf and his followers were convinced that the forcible removal of the despotic ruler could ensure a free, fair and equal society. So in Babeuf’s philosophy we find an endorsement of armed revolution.
In order to reach the final goal his followers preferred secret activities and on that ground they were generally called conspirators. The fearless conspirators would be endowed with undaunted spirit.
Under the Directory a conspiracy hatched by Babeuf and his followers was detected. He was tried and guillotined in 1797. In this way the life of a revolutionary and a Utopian came to an end.
The students of Western political thought, especially the socialist thought, will remember Gracchus Babeuf and his comrades for their bold step and firebrand leadership. They revolted against autocratic rule and openly challenged the anti-people policies of the government and powerful ruling class.
Gracchus Babeuf dreamt of a future society which will be free from exploitation though the dream never saw the light of sun.
Kolakowski sums up the importance of Babeuf and Babouvist in the following language:
“The Babouvist movement is important because it reflected for the first time a conscious conflict between the revolutionary ideal of freedom and that of equality. Freedom meant not only the right of assembly, but the abolition of legal differences between estates of the realm but also the right of every man to carry an economic activity without hindrance.”
Gracchus Babeuf and Babouvists assumed that the poverty and sufferings of the workers were due to the luxury and excessive consumption of the rich people. The privileged classes enjoyed the wealth depriving the larger section of the society. If the wealth were distributed properly among all the people, the ideal prosperity for all would then appear.
The early socialists including Morelly and Mably based their socialist principles on the normative theory. They said that every man had identical right to whatever nature provides.
Sometimes they supported their view with the help of quotations from the New Testaments and sometimes with the help of materialism. But the argument was always that the inequality of consumption was to be done away with.
What is the contribution of Babeuf? He, at a very tender age, was guillotined. But with his death the movement for socialism or communism did not end. The movement rather gathered momentum.
Marx and Engels were inspired by the Utopian socialism. He was the first revolutionary. The term “socialism” may be associated with the names of Saint-Simon or Fourier or Owen, but communism is identified with the name of Babeuf.
He disliked to confine himself within the boundary of democracy and wanted to embark upon the vaster field of communism. In fact, the revolutionary movement started with Babeuf. He failed, but not his ideas.