1809-1870 • France
Organiser with Blanqui of the republican Rights of Man society, he was wounded in the 1839 insurrection and sentenced to life imprisonment. Called ‘the scourge of the establishment‘ by Marx , in 1892 perceptions had changed. The 18th arrondissement’s Boulevard Barbès and in 1903 the new Barbès metro station were named after him as a republican icon.
Barbès was one of the many left political prisoners who were jailed in the Sainte Pélagie prison from 1831.
On May 9 1839 Barbès arranged for a trunk to be left that evening with the 55-year-old Catherine Rouchon, a widow who made trimmings for furniture, at 23 Rue Quincampoix. On May 12 when she wasn’t there some of the Society knocked down her door and collected its contents, ammunition. After the insurrection she identified Barbès to the police in the infirmary at the Conciergerie.
When the Society of Seasons insurrection finally took place on May 12 1839 Barbès and Blanqui took part in the pillaging of the Lepage armoury at 22 Rue du Bourg l’Abbé. Today, after the Haussmann rebuilding of Paris under the Second Empire, this is where the buildings stand at 64-66 Boulevard de Sébastopol.
Blanqui’s headquarters during the insurrection was in a café at 1 Rue Mandar. Barbès led another column to seize the Palais de Justice on the Cité island on the Seine, where they also attacked the police station, killing its commander.
The insurrectionaries, in the low thousands, including an estimated 200-300 students, occupied the Hotel de Ville. During the attack Barbès was wounded in the head. He was arrested outside 79 Rue des Gravilliers (now 248 Rue St Martin) at about 7 pm on May 12.
In 1848 Blanqui and Barbès were both released from prison, but they were no longer close allies. They did, however, found the Political Prisoners’ club at a meeting in the Salle Valentino at 251 Rue St Honoré with Barbès as President and Blanqui Vice-President.
On March 21 Barbès founded the Club de la Révolution at a meeting in the Salle Molière at 159 Rue St Martin. At the same time he was meeting Proudhon, Pierre Leroux and Étienne Arago. With Leroux at 12ter Rue Coquilliere Barbes founded the newspaper, The True Republic, whose first issue stated: ‘Without labour reform, there is no true Republic‘. It produced 104 issues before being banned in August by Cavaignac.
On May 15 1848 the Republican left (Barbès, the worker Albert, Louis Blanc, François-Vincent Raspail and others) organised a demonstration in Paris to the Palais Bourbon, the Chamber of Deputies in support of the Polish revolution. While not being planned as an insurrection, Barbès took centre stage in the Constituent Assembly and announced the formation of a new government. Soon after they are all arrested.