François-Noël Babeuf

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François-Noël Babeuf (23 November 1760 Saint-Quentin, Aisne - 27 May 1797 Vendôme, Loir-et-Cher), known as Gracchus Babeuf (in tribute to the Roman tribunes of the people and reformers, the Gracchi brothers, and used alongside his self-designation as Tribune), was a French political agitator and journalist of the Revolutionary period. In spite of the efforts of his Jacobin friends to save him, Babeuf was arrested, tried, and convicted for his role in the Conspiracy of the Equals. Although the words "anarchist", "socialist" and "communist" did not exist in Babeuf's lifetime, they have all been used to describe his ideas, by later scholars. The word "communism" was coined by Goodwyn Barmby in a conversation with those he described as the "disciples of Babeuf".


Early life

Babeuf was born at St. Nicaise near the town of Saint-Quentin. His father, Claude Babeuf, had deserted the French Army in 1738 for that of Maria Theresa of Austria, rising, it is said, to the rank of major. Amnestied in 1755, he returned to France, but soon sank into poverty, and had to work as a casual labourer to earn a pittance for his wife and family. The hardships endured by Babeuf during his early years contributed to the development of his political opinions. His father gave him a basic education, but until the outbreak of the Revolution, he was a domestic servant, and from 1785 occupied the invidious office of commissaire à terrier, assisting the nobles and priests in the assertion of their feudal rights over the peasants.

Revolutionary activities

Babeuf was working for a land surveyor at Roye when the Revolution began. His father had died in 1780, and he now had to provide for his wife and two children, as well as for his mother, brothers and sisters.

He was a prolific writer, and the signs of his future socialism are contained in a letter of 21 March 1787, one of a series - mainly on literature - addressed to the secretary of the Academy of Arras. In 1789 he drew up the first article of the cahier of the electors of the bailliage of Roye, demanding the abolition of feudal rights. From July to October 1789, he lived in Paris, superintending the publication of his first work: Cadastre perpetuel, dedié a l'assemblée nationale, l'an 1789 et le premier de la liberté française ("National Cadastre, Dedicated to the National Assembly, Year 1789 and the First One of French Liberty"), which was written in 1789 and issued in 1790. The same year he published a pamphlet against feudal aids and the gabelle, for which he was denounced and arrested, but provisionally released.

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