Translator's Introduction to

The Imaginary Party's Essay on Blanqui

Let's put it this way, my friend. If you were putting together a collection of texts written by a "historical figure" (someone noteworthy who lived and died many years ago), you would probably give the job of writing the collection's preface to someone who knows a great deal about this person and who could thus offer insights into the life and times of the author and the value of the collection itself. Because the author in question here -- the French revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui -- has long been a highly controversial figure, you would probably try to get someone who is not only an expert on Blanqui, but also capable of explaining, if not defending Blanqui to today's readers. No reader wants a book written by a completely unsympathetic or detestable author. There'd be no reason to produce such a collection in the first place.

The problem in this particular instance is the fact that, today, no one calls him or herself a "Blanquist." There probably haven't been sincere Blanquists, i.e., actual followers of Blanqui's ideas and/or leadership since 1881, the year that Blanqui himself died and his followers patched up their differences with the Marxists (or vice verse). For the last 125 years, "Blanquist" has not been a neutral, objective or "historical" description, but a condemnation and an insult. As the authors of the preface write:

The partisans of waiting have always used the adjective "Blanquist" as an unanswerable insult. The purists among the anarchists use it as a synonym for "Jacobin," while the Stalinists used it as the equivalent of "anarchist." The cultivated imbeciles of the Encyclopedia of Nuisances, who for twenty years have had the lucid courage to relentlessly bet on counter-revolution, have [also] spoken of the Unabomber's "imaginary Blanquism" so as to better dissociate it from his gestures, and thereby introduce their grossly falsified translation of his Manifesto. Among Marxists, "Blanquist" is a synonym for "putschist" that denounces an avant-garde adventurism and a haste to get organized without due care for theory, while the masses are not always ready for it.

Who are "the partisans of waiting"? What are they waiting for? They are waiting for the People to rise up against capital and the State. In the meantime, the waiters are careful to act, but in such a way that they can't ever be accused of being "adventurist," "avant-gardist," "vanguardist" or anything else that moves too fast and thus supposedly works against the interests of the people.

The responses to the posting of our translation of this preface to a British "libertarian communist" website confirm the accuracy and on-going relevance of these insights. Because we originally included a footnote that referred to Blanqui as "a French anarchist" -- following but not citing D. Thomson, Democracy in France (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 25: "Blanqui represents the simplest form of the revolutionary tradition, anti-parlimentarian and anarchist" -- none of the comments that were posted in response concerned the essay itself, but focused exclusively on this one point. Blanqui wasn't an anarchist! If anything, he was a "red Jacobin," the leader of a "self-contained vanguard," an insurrectionary, of course, but . . . certainly not an anarchist. Since then, we have corrected our mistake.

The ingenuity of the Imaginary Party's essay on Blanqui is that it goes way beyond merely contextualizing Blanqui; it even goes beyond trying to defend the indefensible Blanqui, the revolutionary who is unacceptable to everyone, especially self-proclaimed revolutionaries. "To a friend" (as the preface is also known) aims to be a modern Blanquist statement: an advancement of Blanqui's own ideas and actions by people unafraid to be called "Blanquists." Who will stop these "agents" of the Imaginary Party from seizing these positions? No one. This terrain is completely empty of other combatants; and no one will want to re-take it once it has been seized. A very neat trick: affirm Blanqui by negating his absence. And, more importantly, a very meaningful gesture: there are other once-revolutionary terrains can be re-taken by agents of the Imaginary Party without firing a single shot.

3 June 2009