Letter to Louis Blanc

Translator: Paul Sharkey

Paris, 8th April 1848

To Citizen Louis Blanc, Secretary of the Provisional Government


I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of the first print run of my Solution au problème social, as well as of the accompanying Spécimen relating to circulation and credit.

To be blunt with you, these two pamphlets contain things vexatious to the provisional government and to yourself. I regret those things; and I have come unsolicited, citizen, to offer you an explanation and do amends. It is for you to determine how you must act should my declarations strike you as heartfelt. Given the unanticipated nature of the position in which it found itself, the provisional government made mistakes; that goes without saying. Like everyone else, I am within my rights to point them out; but maybe it was out of place for me to be flagging them up with quite the vehemence I put into all my discourse. It is my misfortune that my passions are at odds with my ideas; the light which illuminates other men burns me. Should I happen to devise a critique of a theory, on foot of the unwitting assumption that the author is a man after my own heart, I reason as if determination and judgement were one and the same. And when I go astray, I get confused and blame myself as if over some crime. No matter what I may do, there is no way for me to alter this unfortunate frame of mind.

If I have weighed you up correctly, citizen Blanc, the very opposite has been the case with you. You are a man of sentiment, love and enthusiasm. Whereas with me passions spring from the head, in your case all your ideas seem to well up from the heart. Maybe, between the pair of us, we would make one complete person: but until such time as we swap our respective qualities, it is inevitable that we should not see eye to eye: and almost certain that we are going to be enemies. Deep down, that with which I reproach you is precisely the thing in which I am found wanting and what I envy you: in the light of which you will overlook a number of attacks which cannot add to or subtract from your success, I am weary of warfare; I should rather have something to defend; besides, the common foe is not the government. Give me yours and I shall let you have mine. Which is the only way we can earn self-respect and render good service to the Republic. Such reciprocity sums up my entire secret formula for a solution to the social question.

Your plan to organise national workshops contains an authentic idea, one that I endorse, for all my criticisms.

Of that thought you yourself are aware: but it seems that you regard it as merely secondary, whereas, in my view, it is everything: I mean to say that by national workshops you mean core workshops, main works, so to speak, for all the workshops are owned by the nation, even though they remain and must always remain free.

Your preoccupation, therefore, is with the need to make a reality of a principle: to invest the new institution with flesh and face and then to let it develop unaided on the basis of the virtues of the idea and vigour of the principle.

Would you, citizen, make it your business to have my scheme for the organisation of loans looked at and, if appropriate, welcomed by the provisional government? In return I will make it my business to organise your workshops.

My scheme for an Exchange Bank, which lies at the heart of my Spécimen, is an idea that is as much yours as it is mine. It is what you were looking for and may well have had in mind in your studies of [John] Law’s system; and what every economist has been questing for. By virtue of its over-arching mandate, the Exchange Bank is the organisation of labour’s greatest asset.

If, after reading, your considered opinion is that I am mistaken, it only remains for me to drop my gaze, cease all publication and cease all further engagement with economic issues.

Conversely, afford my idea your protection and hand yours over to me; forgive me for saying so, citizen, but the organising of workshops is a venture beyond your remit, not because of any lack of ability on your part but because you are precluded from it by your office.

You are a member of the government; you no longer stand for a faction but represent the general interests of society. No longer are you the man of La Réforme nor the man of L’Organisation du Travail; and any initiative that seems to conflict with the interests of any class within society is off limits to you. You belong as much to the bourgeoisie as you do to the proletariat. Sponsor and encourage the emancipation of the labouring classes: teach the workers what it is they should be doing; but keep out of it yourself and do not compromise your responsibility. You are a statesman; you stand for the past as well as the future.

With this thought in mind, citizen, whilst asking your support for an idea that falls entirely within the remit of government, I place myself at your disposal for another idea which is not at all within its competence. If my services were to be accepted by you, citizen, I should ask that the items and documents already amassed by the commission be passed on to me; it should then be my honour to put before you a project relating both to the course to be followed and to the new form of society to be defined and created among the workers.

I write to you, citizen, at a time when, sensitivity having gained the upper hand in me, it restores my soul to an even keel. My overtures to you are all devotion and I hope that you will appreciate them as such. Yet, no matter my wish to be agreeable to you, allow me to add that I am above all prompted by the overriding interests of the Republic.

I am relying, citizen, upon the honour of a response. The second run of my book is ready: given the difficulties of the situation, I propose to suspend publication. To which end I need to know if, instead of writing, I might be able to make a more effective contribution to the consolidation of the Republic.

My cordial greetings, citizen