'Emile Digeon and Socialism in the Narbonnais'
by Christopher E. Guthrie
French History, Volume 12 no. 1 (Mar. 1998)
Emile Digeon (1822-1894)
was a French Socialist writer and journalist who is perhaps best
remembered as the leader of the short-lived Narbonne Commune of
late March 1871. But he also earned a degree of fame in his native
region of Bas-Languedoc as a twicedefeated Socialist candidate
for the Chamber of Deputies in the early 1880s and as the author
of several books and numerous articles on revolutionary strategy
and principles. However, this relative obscurity should not detract
from his value as a way to better understand the intellectual
processes which lead certain individuals to embrace a populist,
neo-Jacobin version of socialism which rejected both the 'orthodox'
Marxism of the Guesdists and the reformist tactics advocated by
many others. Digeon placed economic analysis in a clearly secondary
position to his primary emphasis on political change. This emphasis
was the result of accumulated personal experiences sifted through
the filter of a slightly overbearing and self-righteous, but highly
moral and steadfast, personality. But it played well with the
petit peuple of the Narbonnais. His glorification of the common
man through his stress on the benefits of direct democracy corresponded
to their own political desires, which were, at least in part,
created by the unique economic and social development of the region
and through the influence of a radical democratic tradition born
of their brief experience with real political power in 1848-49.
This tradition did not determine the content of Digeon's thought
but it did provide him with a loyal following for his ideas. These
ideas also contained many of the same biases, such as the acceptance
of women in a subordinate position within the private sphere and
a cavalier attitude towards practical organizational efforts,
as his Narbonnais audience and thereby provided articulate and
reasoned confirmation of what they already believed. And, perhaps
above all, he gave them his personal example, a man who was willing
to sacrifice all in order to implement his political principles
and who truly believed in the 'drapeau rouge de nos martyrs.'
Digeon personified the impassioned and dedicated militant political
machismo of the Narbonnais and illustrated, in both his actions
and thoughts, its strengths as well as its weaknesses.