Anselme Bellegarrigue on “The Revolution”

Bellegarrigue’s Anarchy: A Journal of Order only lasted for two issues, although he had projected several more. The first issue contained his “Manifesto”  — translated and published in part by Benjamin Tucker in Liberty, and in full by the Kate Sharpley Library — and the second was dedicated to “The Revolution.” Like Proudhon, Bellegarrigue was a strong critic of the direction that the 1848 revolution had taken: “In theory, the Revolution is the development of well-being. In practice, it has only been the extension of malaise.” And, like Proudhon, he pointed to certain essential contradictions which prevented that “development of well-being.” His analysis of the problem is a little different, however:

“The essential genius of the Revolution is the acquisition of wealth; the dominant instinct of the revolutionaries is the hatred of riches, and this is precisely why, by becoming wealthy, the revolutionaries cease to be revolutionary.”

Bellegarrigue sees the Revolution as a mechanism for extending prosperity. People want to prosper, he argues, but they also associate prosperity with their own domination, so they can’t seem to remain truly revolutionary and prosperous at the same time. The problem is another sort of “conflation” between class-based capitalism and a generally thriving market society, a “vulgar revolutionism” that ultimately just amounts to a failure to come to grips with either the realities of pre-revolutionary society or those of the society we presumably desire. It’s a provocative argument, particularly since we have largely treated this sort of position as a product of much later periods. But here is Bellegarrigue, promoting laissez faire, laissez passer and consistent anti-governmentalism in 1850.

There are, I think, some good reasons to criticize Bellegarrigue’s overtly market-anarchist program, but very few reasons to question his anarchist credentials. There’s a lot to be said, ultimately, about Bellegarrigue’s contribution, some of which will have to wait for the complete translations (nearly accomplished!) of his Au Fait! Au Fait!! (To the Point! To Action!!) and the second issue of Anarchy. But, for now, I can give a pretty clear sense of his general approach in those works. Here, for example, is the “Advertisement” from the second issue:


The editor of Anarchy, in tackling head-on a word with the aid of which politicians have intimidated and held for ransom the population, has proposed two things:

First, to prove that order is a popular and anti-government element. The best argument that one can furnish in support of this thesis is that the monarchist papers openly greet the civil war as a Providence.

Second, to establish that the Revolution is purely and simply a matter of business. The indifference and political skepticism to which the people abandon themselves more and more, the disgust that they show for the quibbles and the contempt they profess for the men who want to command them, come to corroborate that opinion and show that the editor of Anarchy is in agreement with public sentiment.

The royalist parties being historically and materially ruined, it is not necessary to combat them. That which it is important to destroy is the pretension of the new parties who, under the pretext of burying royalty, wish to inherit its power. Anarchy has then to unmask the revolutionaries, for the benefit of the Revolution.

The old journalism goes, hated by the interests that it has compromised, loaded with curses by the people, about whom it has understood nothing, damned by the civilization that it has fouled.

The old journalism understands nothing of finance, nor of industry, nor of commerce, nor practical philosophy; in proportion to the establishment of the positive sciences, its dull ignorance is revealed and, in a few months, it will disappear in its own shame.

When the fictions are overwhelmed by the facts, the controversialists no longer have anything to say.

And here is the conclusion of that work on “The Revolution:”

But what is it that authorizes the crimes of the State? What is it that makes the governments deduct an enormous premium on the time, the industry, the goods, the life and the blood of individuals? Fear. If no one in society was afraid, the government wouldn’t have to protect anyone, and if the government didn’t have to protect anyone, it would no longer have any pretext for demanding from each an account of the use of their time, the character of their industry, or the origin of their goods; it would no longer demand the sacrifice of the blood or life of anyone.

When, to speak only of our profession — and all professions are obstructed like our own — we seek the reason for the numerous hindrances which are placed in our path; when we ask why we have to consult the minister, and then the procurator of the Republic, and then again ten prefect of police in order to publish a journal, we find that the government is afraid, but we also discover that the government is stronger than us; what gives that strength to the government? Everyone’s money, the public wealth; but if it is accepted that the public wealth pays the government for being afraid, it remains to show that it is the public wealth itself which is afraid.

Why is the public wealth afraid? Precisely because it is the stake of political or insurrectionary struggles; precisely because public wealth, which is by nature revolutionary or circulating, finds itself constantly suppressed by the governmental piston of agitation and idleness.

Public wealth sustains government, not for the good that it does — that good is always and everywhere elusive — but for the evil that it is supposed to prevent. The evil that public wealth dreads and that government is supposed to avert can only com from government itself, or from the initiative of men who want to bring to the government one system or another; it sustains the politics of Peter because it fears the politics of Paul. Let the Paul-opposition withdraw from politics and the Peter-government is ruined; for the wealth sustaining Peter only for the evil that he prevents Paul from accomplishing, as soon as Paul no longer inspires fear and can no longer do evil, as soon as he labors, wealth circulates to him by right, Peter is no longer sustained, his action becomes null, his influence is dead, and his authority evaporates.

Confidence reborn in all minds, free credit is established, the interests develop on the largest scale, well-being is generalized, prosperity becomes universal, civilization is extended to all classes, and the Revolution is accomplished.

Abandon politics completely, and get seriously back to business — this then is what the true revolutionary tactic consists of; it is simple like all that is true, easy like all that is simple, and it is simple, true and easy like all that is just.

The government of the people is neither a doctrine nor an idea, but a fact; that government does not sum itself up in a motto or a color; it has for a symbol an ecu [a coin].

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.