1761-1837 • Italy
Communist insurrectionary • Babeuf • Blanqui
Born in Tuscany, a direct descendant of Michaelangelo’s brother, he was enthused by the French Revolution and moved, first to Corsica, then to Paris. Nominated by Robespierre as a Commisioner responsible for newly conquered territories to the East of France, after Robespierre’s overthrow in 1794 he was imprisoned in the Plessis prison in Rue Saint-Jacques for allegedly having decided illegal to confiscate the land of a Genoan wealthy man.
Prison was where Buonarroti first met Gracchus Babeuf (1760-1797). Arguably, Babeuf was the first revolutionary socialist.
As Buonarroti’s biographer, Jean Marc Schiappa wrote, the Paris prisons at this time were “real schools of political confrontation and education”. After many political prisoners were amnestied in October 1795, Babeuf’s supporters became active in the political ferment of the Club du Panthéon in Rue Clovis.
In 1795 Buonarroti attended meetings of the future Conspiracy of Equals at 54
rue de la Ville l’Évêque. There, they organised what the “Conspiracy of the Equals” of 1796 (“Conspiracy” was the name given to the organisation by the government that repressed it.
Babeuf and Buonarroti aimed to agitate as openly as possible. Buonarroti was an organiser, but also wrote one of the key documents of the organisation, the remarkable Draft Economic Decree, which proposed full citizenship for both sexes a hundred and fifty years before it was achieved in France.
After a ninety-six day trial in Vendôme (the authorities were afraid that holding the trial in Paris would lead to disorder) Babeuf was guillotined, but before he died Buonarroti promised his comrade that he would tell the story of the “conspiracy”.
Buonarroti was imprisoned for six years, and then exiled, first to Geneva and then to Brussels, Grenoble (then in Savoy) and back to Geneva. He lived in considerable poverty, working as a music teacher, accompanied by his faithful partner Teresa Poggi. But he continued to try to organise, though the organisations he formed, sometimes concealed within Freemasonry, were of necessity highly secretive in form.
In 1828 he published his History of Babeuf’s Conspiracy for Equality, which circulated widely in Paris, and established a continuity between Babeuf’s ideas and a new generation of activists.
Utopian socialist and influential propagandist for Babeuf in Paris, he was a strong influence on Auguste Blanqui. He returned to Paris in August 1830, and spent his last years developing contacts with the new generation of revolutionaries.
One of his associates described him then as “a man of seventy… with a Prometheus-like energy, bidding defiance to the powers of the earth, arousing all far and near to break the chains of despotism”.