A short-lived secret society born and destroyed in the ferment of Revolutionary France, the Conspiration des Égales or Conspiracy of Equals was the brainchild of François “Gracchus” Babeuf and Filippo Buonarroti, two supporters of the radical Jacobin party who met in prison in 1795, after the Jacobin defeat. Babeuf had been an associate of Nicholas de Bonneville, founder of the first important secret society of the Revolution, the Social Circle. During their imprisonment, the two men discussed the Circle and its goals, and resolved to use similar methods to promote the radical agenda in France and oppose the new, more conservative government, the Directory. See Babeuf, François “Gracchus”; Buonarroti, Filippo; French Revolution; Social Circle.
On their release in October 1795, Babeuf and Buonarroti launched a political organization called the Societé du Panthéon (Society of the Pantheon) to promote Jacobin ideas, copying most of the details from Bonneville’s organization. They also launched a radical newspaper, the Tribun du Peuple – a title borrowed directly from Bonneville’s first paper. When the Society was suppressed by Directory authorities in February 1796, its leaders immediately organized its core members into a secret society, the Conspiracy of Equals.
Instead of trying to incite a popular rebellion, the plan Babeuf and Buonarroti devised focused on a seizure of power by a small elite of committed revolutionaries, and concentrated on recruiting government and military personnel and spreading propaganda. By May, the Conspiracy felt ready to strike, but the Directory had an informer in its inner circle and struck first, arresting 200 members. Babeuf and one other member were executed, and Buonarroti and most of the other members ended up in jail for long terms.
The Conspiracy of Equals would have been no more than a footnote to the history of the French Revolution except for the fact that Filippo Buonarroti went on to become the most famous organizer of political secret societies in the early nineteenth century. His 1828 book Conspiration pour l’Egalité, a history of Babeuf’s conspiracy, was the Bible of liberal revolutionaries throughout Europe, and the model of revolution by elite takeover became the standard for secret societies from then on. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Russia and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 Germany are only among the most dramatic echoes of the Conspiracy’s original plan. See National Socialism; Russian revolution.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006