The Commune of Paris

France was at war with Prussia. On September 4th, 1870, Paris proclaimed the Republic. A similar proclamation immediately followed throughout France.

The real leaders of the working class were in the Bonapartist prisons, and Thiers, one of the foremost men in the Bonapartist regime, was allowed to act as their statesman, and Trochu as their general, on the one condition that they held these posts for the sole purpose of


against the Prussian invaders.

Now Paris armed its workers to defend itself against the Prussians, but here a difficulty presented itself to the capitalist class. If the workmen of Paris should gain a victory over the invader, they would undoubtedly take the Government of the town into their own hands—a thing most undesirable to the master class—and as the Manifesto of the International puts it, “In this conflict between duty and class interest the Government, of National Defence did not hesitate one moment to turn into a Government of National Defection.”

Thiers and Trochu, playing the game of the capitalist class, did all in their power to assist in the fall of Paris. From the first Trochu admitted that Paris could not stand a seige, yet Thiers, Trochu, Favre, and the rest, of the so-called Government of National Defence, had bombastic and lying manifestoes issued, declaring that “the Government of Paris will never capitulate,” “Jules Favre, the Foreign Minister, will not cede an inch of our territory nor a stone of our fortresses.” But Favre admitted in a letter to Garnbetta, that they were defending Paris


and not against the Prussian army.

Documentary evidence has since been produced which plainly shows that, amongst those in command, it was well understood that Paris should capitulate, and on January 28th, 1871, the Government of National Defence fully exposed the treacherous game it was playing by assuming the title, with the permission of Bismark, of “The Government of France.”

When the Commune was established a good deal of evidence of the treachery was discovered, to regain which, says a manifesto of the Commune, “these men would not recoil from battering Paris into a heap of ruins washed by a sea of blood.” This prognostication proved to be absolutely correct.

Paris was invested, and five months later the gates were thrown open to the beseigers. The National Guard (consisting chiefly of workmen) had been provided with armaments by public subscription, and their weapons therefore were their own property. As such they were recognised and


On the eve of the capitulation the Government took no precautions to safeguard these weapons, but cunningly left them where they would be most likely to fall into the hands of the enemy. The National Guards had elected a Central Committee, and they had the guns removed to Montmartre, out of the reach of the Prussians.

Prior to this Thiers had travelled Europe in an endeavour to “barter the republic for a crown.” The great obstacle in the way of the restoration of the monarchy was armed Paris, the stronghold of the republicans, and “Paris armed was the Revolution armed.” This in itself explains why the guns of the National Guard were left to be captured by the Prussians. This move having failed, the question that presented itself to the arch-traitors, Thiers & Co., was how to disarm the Parisian workers. So, under the pretext that “the artillery of the National Guard belonged to the State,” Thiers ordered them to deliver it to the Government.

The National Guards refused to comply, and, thwarted in their trickery, the National Assembly sent regular troops in the night to take the 250 pieces of ordnance from Montmartre. This was nearly successfully accomplished, but, with astonishing lack of foresight, no means of transport were provided, and the delay which ensued enabled the citizens—men, women, and children–to surround the guns and fraternise with the soldiers. General Lecompte ordered his men to


Four times the order wan given, but when they did fire it was to dispatch Lecompte himself.

So sure were the Government of success that they had beforehand printed their bullitin of victory, and Thiers held ready the placards announcing his measure of coup d’etat; but now these had to be replaced by an announcement that he had resolved to leave the National Guard in possession of their arms, with which, he said, he felt sure they would rally round the Government against the rebels. “Out of 300,000 National Guards,” says the Manifesto of the International, “only 300 responded to this summons. . . The glorious working men’s revolution of the 18th of March took undisputed sway of Paris. The Central Committee was its provisional Government.”

If the Government blundered in the attempt to seize the guns, an even worse blunder was committed by the revolutionaries in allowing the National Assembly to escape when they had them at their mercy. Instead of arresting them they allowed them to march to Versailles, which town they made their headquarters. And here, with the assistance of the Prussians, who released the prisoners of war on condition that


they were enabled to get together an army.

On the 18th March the Central Committee issued a manifesto which said : “The Proletarians of Paris, amidst the failure and treason of the ruling class, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of Public affairs. They have understood that it is their imperious duty and their absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies by seizing upon the Governmental power.”

The Commune was proclaimed, and its officials, elected by universal suffrage, were the acknowledged representatives of the working class. The police were converted into the responsible and revocable agents of the Commune, as were all the other officials. All services were rendered for workmen’s wages. “The vested interests and the representation allowances of the dignitaries of State disappeared along with those dignitaries themselves.” The Church was disestablished. All Educational institutions were thrown open free to all. The Post Office, placed under the direction of a workman named Theisz, raised the salaries of all its employees and reduced their hours. Night work in bakehouses was abolished. A labour exchange was established which recommended the return of pledges to all necessitous persons, and the suppression of the pawnshops, as the Commune intended to give guarantees of support to workmen out of employment. All offices appear to have been most ably administered, except the War Department, which made a series of blunders. But with the Versailles army being reinforced by Bismark,


Sunday, the 21st of May, saw the Communards gathered in the Tulleries Gardens at a concert held in aid of the widows and orphans of the National Guards slain in the defence of Paris. A similar concert was to take place the following Sunday, but already the Versailles troops were in the city, having entered by the gate of St. Cloud without opposition. And in a few hours black smoke was pouring over Paris from her blazing buildings, and her gutters ran with the blood of her workers.

Consternation reigned among the Communards when the news was announced, and the sitting of the Commune then in progress—the last as it proved—was soon afterwards dissolved. The one thing that now seemed to occupy the minds of all was how to defend their own particular quarters. Barricades were erected at all points, men, women and children assisting in the work—but all was hopeless endeavour. One by one the barricades were battered down and their defenders butchered.
Hundreds were taken prisoners by the Versailles Government. The “London Daily News” said that General Gallifet ordered hundreds of


out of a column and had them shot down without even the pretence of a trial. The correspondent of the same journal says : “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 struct 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 was 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 a quarter of an hour. It was the execution of these summarily-convicted wretches.”

No great care was taken to see that life was extinct before the bodies were buried. Owing to groans issuing from the spot where burials had taken place exhumations were sometimes made, only to reveal the fact that the wounded had been buried alive. The Paris correspondent of the “Evening Standard” says in that paper on June 8th, 1871 : “That many wounded have been buried alive I have not the slightest doubt. One case I can vouch for. When Brunel was shot with his mistress on the 24th ult. in the courtyard of a house in the Place Vendome, the bodies lay there until the afteroon of the 27th. “When the burial party came to remove the corpses they found


and took her to an ambulance. Though she had received four bullets she is now out of danger.”

But enough. Let us no longer dwell upon the terrible atrocities perpetrated by the party of “Order.”

All the powers of the lying Press were directed against the Communards. All the terrible deeds enacted by the agents of the capitalist class were laid at the door of the Communards themselves. Yet the only crime that could be truly brought against them was that they had been far too lenient toward their enemies.

While the Versailles Government were massacring their prisoners wholesale, the workers were treating theirs with respect, and not until thousands of their comrades were slaughtered did they retaliate.

Then, acting in accordance with recognised principles of warfare, they took a few of their hostages, including Archbishop Darboy, Judge Bonjeau, Jackers (a high financier), and some gendarmes, and had them shot. Thiers could have saved the life of the prelate, for he, with four others, was offered in exchange for one of the Communards, but the ogre refused.

And what a cry was raised by the capitalist Press over the execution of the archbishop ! Ten thousand proletarians could be butchered in cold blood, and with every detail of barbarity—men, women, and children—without a protest being raised, but an Archbishop ! And to think he had been shot by the working class, too ! Yet the man who was responsible for his death was Thiers, the bloodthirsty gourmand of the capitalist class.

Incendiarism is another charge brought against the Communards. But the buildings of Paris were burned by both sides. The workers used this as a means of covering their retreat, a resource recognised as


For over twelve months the slaughter of the prisoners continued, until the total reached the appalling number of 30,000.

Many are the lessons taught us by the Paris Commune. Remembering the price paid for those lessons let us not forget them.

We have seen two sections of the capitalist class at war with each other join hands immediately the working class rise against one section, and together turn to crush them.

The revolution of the 18th March 1871 was a failure from the first, as all such local or national upriwings must be. The capitalist class is international, and all its force will be brought to bear to crush any uprising if necessary. The working class must organise like the master class—internationally. Remember the significant words of Professor Thorold Rogers: “They [the masters] are an organisation, and the workers are too apt to be a mob.”

Fellow workers, be no longer a mob. Get to understand your true historic mission. Organise with the wage-slaves the world over, with one object in view—


by the establishment of Socialism.

H. A. Y.

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