Blanc Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Louis Blanc’s essay series is regarded as the foundation of state socialism. Blanc used it to attack wage labor as a cause of poverty and misery in society. His appealing solution of creating social workshops to end worker exploitation was briefly tried in the Paris Revolution of 1848 but was undermined from the start. Karl Marx criticized Blanc’s naïve utopian socialism, as opposed to his own scientific socialism.

Summary of Event

L’Organization du travail (1839; The Organization of Labour, 1848; also as Organization of Work, 1911) was first published serially in the Revue de progress, a journal that the twenty-eight-year-old lawyer and journalist Louis Blanc founded after publishing articles in several other journals. Written at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full steam, Blanc, in a powerfully persuasive manner, described the root causes of poverty for the urban working class and offered a remedy to correct this problem. Blanc had been born in Madrid in 1811 as the son of King Joseph Bonaparte’s general inspector of finances, but his family’s fortunes changed with Napoleon I’s defeat. The pain of poverty was something he experienced firsthand as a law student living in Paris without aid from his family. Before writing his famous essay, Blanc read the work of other theorists diagnosing the cause of poverty in the industrial age and suggesting solutions. Organization of Labour, The (Blanc) Blanc, Louis Labor unions;The Organization of Labour (Blanc)[Organization of Labour (Blanc)] [kw]Blanc Publishes The Organization of Labour (1839) [kw]Publishes The Organization of Labour, Blanc (1839) [kw]Organization of Labour, Blanc Publishes The (1839) [kw]Labour, Blanc Publishes The Organization of (1839) Organization of Labour, The (Blanc) Blanc, Louis Labor unions;The Organization of Labour (Blanc)[Organization of Labour (Blanc)] [g]France;1839: Blanc Publishes The Organization of Labour[2070] [c]Philosophy;1839: Blanc Publishes The Organization of Labour[2070] [c]Economics;1839: Blanc Publishes The Organization of Labour[2070] Saint-Simon, Henri de Fourier, Charles Marx, Karl Marx, Karl [p]Marx, Karl;and Louis Blanc[Blanc] Owen, Robert Cabet, Étienne Tristan, Flora

Henri de Saint-Simon Saint-Simon, Henri de was one such theorist. He envisioned a society run by scientists, engineers, and philosophers. These technocrats would make decisions based upon a growing body of knowledge about the science of society. Saint-Simon believed that social scientists would be able make decisions in a manner similar to scientists working in the natural sciences. He also believed that a “New Christianity” based upon secular humanism would help change values. Harmony and prosperity would prevail in this new type of industrial society run on scientific principles by a centralized state. In this society, people would contribute according to their ability and take according to their need. Also advocating a state-planned economy was Blanc’s fellow French lawyer, Étienne Cabet Cabet, Étienne , who in his widely read Voyage et aventures de Lord Villiam Carisdall en Icarie (1840; Travels in Icaria, 2003) made a strong argument for a state-planned economy that would take the place of capitalistic competition. This new cooperative state he termed “communistic.”

Charles Fourier.

(Library of Congress)

Blanc was also influenced by the French utopian Charles Fourier Fourier, Charles , who sought to eliminate private ownership of industry by reorganizing society into phalanxes (each consisting of about sixteen hundred people) that would work in both industry and agriculture for the general good and share profits equally with all their members. Exploitation would end, as would arbitrary and fluctuating prices. Fourier looked not to government but rather to the private sector to build his first model phalanx. Although he advertised in newspapers, he never found a contributor.

A project similar to Fourier’s was attempted by Robert Owen Owen, Robert , a Welsh industrialist who organized a model community for his workers at New Lanark, Scotland, based upon cooperation, profit sharing, and a wholesome community environment devoid of poverty. For Owen, the foundation of an endless series of self-help organizations taking the form of producer cooperatives and consumer cooperatives would eventually replace private property. The French socialist Flora Tristan Tristan, Flora advocated another type of initiative that would avoid government intervention. In her Union ouvrière (1843; The Worker’s Union, 1983), she advocated the organization of workers into large powerful unions to end poverty and exploitation. She coined the slogan that the workers had nothing but their chains to lose and a world to win, which was later adapted by Karl Marx.

In his The Organization of Labour, Blanc agreed with Owen Owen, Robert and Fourier Fourier, Charles that cooperation needed to replace competition and that class struggle was a negative thing. In a story about four workers applying for the same job, Blanc dramatically portrayed the extent to which competition for workers led to those workers who had the least needs accepting the lowest possible wages to obtain a job. The end result was suffering for those workers with the greatest needs due to large families, some of whom would turn to crime rather than face starvation. Even cheaper than “rock-bottom” labor were new machines that could individually take the place of one thousand workers, causing further unemployment and a further lowering of wages.

To remedy the poverty problem, Blanc agreed with Saint-Simon Saint-Simon, Henri de and Cabet Cabet, Étienne about the need for the state to act as supreme regulator of production. Blanc argued that government should provide loans to erect social workshops in all major sectors of national industry, as well as a standard system of fair laws governing their operation. Capitalists would be allowed to invest in the social workshops but would only draw interest on their investment. Like Fourier Fourier, Charles , Blanc wanted the workshops to be limited at first and in competition with private industry.

Given its inherent advantages, Blanc believed the social workshop system would gradually eclipse private factories. Speeding up the process, part of the profits made by the social workshops would be returned to the government to aid the development of other social workshops. As a natural process, social workshops in the same industries would form bonds of cooperation. In Blanc’s new industrial world, competition and conflict would ultimately end, and poverty would be eliminated. Instead of taking away jobs, new machines would lighten the burden of labor, increase profits, and even provide leisure time.

Blanc’s ideas spread during the 1840’s, gaining him popularity among the Parisian public. He began to take part in political agitation against the free enterprise policies of King Louis-Philippe’s administration and scholarly research. In 1847, he published the first two volumes of what was to be a twelve-volume history of the French Revolution (1789). French Revolution (1789);histories of The Paris Revolution Revolutions of 1848;Paris Paris Revolution of 1848 France;Paris revolution of 1848 of 1848 halted publication for a while, but it catapulted Blanc into political power as a member of the Provisional Government.

Here was a golden opportunity for Blanc to institute his dream of establishing social workshops. On February 25, Blanc got through a proposal guaranteeing the right to work to all citizens, and in May the government passed a proposal to establish national workshops to relieve unemployment. The workshops that resulted, however, were a series of sham workshops where workers received salaries for doing nothing. This was done to set off a national reaction against welfare payments to the urban poor. The backlash was expressed in the legislative elections in June. In response, Paris revolted, producing a revolution within a revolution.

With his dream of social workshops turned into a nightmarish parody, Blanc fled France. He remained in exile in London for the next twenty-eight years. There, Blanc completed his massive history of the French Revolution, as well as studies on English politics and society.

Significance

While real events shredded Blanc’s social workshop plan, an intellectual attack also came in the form of Karl Marx’s Marx, Karl Marx, Karl [p]Marx, Karl;and Louis Blanc[Blanc] critiques of Blanc, culminating in his characterization of Blanc and the other social reformers as “utopian socialists.” Marx would argue in his Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848, with Friedrich Engels; The Communist Manifesto, 1850) that struggle was inevitable in society and part of the dialectical process of history. As capitalism progressed, taking power away from the former landed aristocracy, the creation of a large exploited working class was inevitable and part of the inherent contradictions of the capitalist stage of history.

Eventually, Marx claimed, a huge working class would seize control of the means of production and dominate the next historical stage. Marxists Marxism could do little except increase class consciousness, thus speeding up the process. After seizure of power by the working class, a state of socialism would be instituted in which the government owned the means of production in trust for the people. At this stage, with the government structuring the work, some modicum of Blanc’s plan would be realized. After socialism would come communism. State socialism would wither away and an exploitation-free society would be created in which all would contribute according to their ability and take according to their need. Only then would utopia be achieved. To get there, the path would be Marx’s Marx, Karl Marx, Karl [p]Marx, Karl;and Louis Blanc[Blanc] scientific socialism, not Blanc’s utopian socialism.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beecher, Jonathan. Victor Considerant and the Rise and Fall of French Romantic Socialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. A massive analysis of the life of a follower of Charles Fourier with the rise and fall of French utopianism as a background. Footnotes and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Busky, Donald. Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian Socialism to the Fall of the Soviet Union. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. A critical analysis of pre-Marxian and Marxian thought. Footnotes and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loubere, Leo A. Louis Blanc: His Life and His Contribution to the Rise of French Jacobin-Socialism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Footnotes and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Keith. The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists. Totowa, N.J.: F. Cassells, 1982. A comparative analysis of the ideas of the major utopian socialists. Footnotes and bibliography.

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