The Butcher of the Commune

“It is a lie—their Priests, their Pope,
Their Saints:—their . . all they fear or hope
Are lies, and lies …”

Had Robert Browning’s victim of the Inquisition lived in our own time she could have added “their Press” to her list of lying agents. The truth of this is never more clearly seen than on the occasion of a popular military “hero” shuffling off this mortal coil.

On July 8th, at his house in Paris, expired General the Marquis of Gallifet, Prince of Martigues, etc., at the advanced age of 79. This old Bonapartist scoundrel, referred to by capitalist journals, both French and English, as “Famous French Fighter,” “Friend of King Edward,” “Great loss to France,” etc., etc., was in reality an unscrupulous and abandoned wretch, who, by his cold-blooded murders at the time of the Commune, earned the undying hatred of all who hold dear the cause of working-class freedom.

As Socialists we cannot fail to be struck by the wonderful and significant unanimity displayed by the organs of Capital on both sides of the Channel, when estimating the dead “hero’s” character.

Thus the Daily News, peaceful persuader and mouthpiece of reform, whilst lightly touching on his “severe repression in 1871,” gave due prominence to “his services to France.” The Petit Journal of July 9th wrote as follows :

“Eccentricities of character could not justify the story of executioner in civil warfare. It is said he took a fiendish pleasure in butchering conquered federals who had fallen into his hands. No trustworthy evidence of any weight has ever come to light to support these accusations, against which he was always unwilling to defend himself; finding that, as he himself once wrote in a letter, ‘to apologise would be wanting in elegance’ !”

No trustworthy evidence !

The Commune was dead. The last barricade had been captured and its brave defenders either massacred or taken prisoners.

The special correspondent of the Daily News (how “the whirligig of time brings in his revenges”) whilst searching for appropriate “copy” amongst the barricades, had the misfortune to fall in with Gallifet’s soldiers, who, despite the fact that the pressman held a pass from the Versailles Government, forced him to join a herd of unarmed prisoners.

These poor wretches were being marched from Paris to Versailles.

The description by this eye-witness of the scenes on the road has often been quoted.

“The column of prisoners halted in the Avenue Uhrich, and was drawn up, four deep, on the footway, facing to the road. General the Marquis de Gallifet and his staff, . . . dismounted and commenced an inspection from the left of the line. Walking down slowly and eyeing the ranks, the General stopped here and there, tapping a man on the shoulder or beckoning him out from the rear ranks. In most cases without further parley, the individual thus selected was marched out into the centre of the road, where a small supplementary column was thus soon formed. . . It was evident that there was considerable room for error. A mounted officer pointed out to Genera! Gallifet a man and a woman for some particular offence. The woman, rushing out of the ranks, threw herself on her knees, and, with outstretched arms, protested her innocence in passionate terms. The General waited for a pause, and then with most impassive face and unmoved demeanour, said : ‘Madame, I have visited every theatre in Paris ; your acting will have no effect upon me’ (ce n’est pas la peine de jouer la comedie) . . It was not a good thing on that day to be noticeably taller, dirtier, cleaner, older, or uglier than one’s neighbours. One individual in particular struck me as probably owing his speedy release from the ills of this world to his having a broken nose. . . Over a hundred being thus chosen, a firing party told off, and the column resumed its march, leaving them behind. A few minutes afterwards a dropping fire in our rear commenced, and continued for over a quarter of an hour. It was the execution of these summarily convicted wretches.” Daily News, June 8th, 1871.

This description was deemed worthy of a leading article on the next day. The following is a brief abstract:

“. . For the touch of M. de Gallifet’s fingers meant death. The appearance of the unfortunate men and women who were thus singled out for execution is described as being something horrible. One already wounded, his shirt soaked with blood, sat down in the road and howled with anguish . . . others wept in silence ; two soldiers, presumed to be deserters, pale but collected, appealed to all the other prisoners as to whether they had ever seen them amongst their ranks. . . The huddled mass of corpses which was subsequently seen by several horror-stricken correspondents showed where M. le Marquis had passed.”—Daily News, June 9, 1871.

From the “Manifesto of the Working Men’s International” we take the following:

“The captured soldiers of the line were massacred in cold blood ; . . . Gallifet, the kept man of his wife, so notorious for her shameless exhibitions at the orgies of the Second Empire, boasted in a proclamation of having commanded the murder of a small troop of National Guards, with their captain and lieutenant, surprised and disarmed by his Chasseurs.”

Does the Petit Journal want any further evidence ?

Our message is to the working class. We bid them to remember that at all times the powers that be are determined to maintain their supremacy by every means in their power. If they cannot gull the workers by political cheating, lying and chicanery, they are prepared to shoot down men, women and children by thousands rather than surrender one jot or tittle of their beloved “rights of property.”

Like every other class in the course of history, the ruling class came into power by means of the command they held of armed force. When we have sifted and winnowed out the chaff of “comforts of religion,” “respect for law and order,” “adaptability.” and all the other canting phrases beloved of labour niisleaders we find that the ultimate appeal is to force. Ignorance plays a great part in helping to keep the workers in subjection, but it is by force the “super” class hold their position. We must consciously organise therefore for the capture of the armed forces in order to convert them from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation. Let this “consummation devoutly to be wished” once become a fact, then those brave souls who perished in the Commune will not have died in vain.


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