Lest We Forget
How the capitalists suppressed the Parisian workers in 1871.
At last the smell of the carnage began to choke even the most frantic. The pest, if not pity, was coming. Myriads of flesh-flies flew up from the putrefied corpses. The streets were full of dead birds. The “Avenir Libéral” singing the praises of MacMahon’s proclamations, applied the words of Flechier; ‘He hides himself, but his glory finds him out.’ The glory of the Turenne of 1871 betrayed him even up to the Seine. In certain streets the corpses encumbered the pathway, looking at the passers-by from out of their dead eyes. In the Faubourg St. Antoine they were to be seen everywhere in heaps, half white with chloride of lime. At the Polytechnic School they occupied a space of 100 yards long and three deep. At Passy, which was not one of the great centres of execution, there were 1,100 near the Trocadero. These, covered over by a thin shroud of earth, also showed their ghastly profiles. ‘Who does not recollect,’ said the Temps, ‘even though he had seen it but one moment, the square, no, the charnel of the Tour St. Jacques? From the midst of this moist soil, recently turned up by the spade, here and there look out heads, arms, feet, and hands. The profiles of corpses, dressed in the uniform of National Guards, were seen impressed against the ground. It was hideous. A decayed, sickening odour arose from this garden, and occasionally at some places it became fetid.’ The rain and heat having precipitated the putrefaction, the swollen bodies reappeared. The glory of MacMahon displayed itself too well. The journals were taking fright. ‘These wretches,’ said one of them, ‘who have done us so much harm during their lives, must not be allowed to do so still after their death.’ And those that had instigated the massacre cried ‘Enough!’
‘Let us not kill any more,’ said the Paris Journal of the 2nd June, ‘even the assassins, even the incendiaries. Let us not kill any more. It is not their pardon we ask for, but a respite.’ ‘Enough executions, enough blood, enough victims,’ said the Nationale of the 1st June. And the Opinion Nationale of the same day: ‘A serious examination of the accused is imperative. One would like to see only the really guilty die.’
The executions abated, and the sweeping off began. Carriages of all kinds, vans, omnibuses, came to pick up the corpses and traversed the town. Since the great plagues of London and Marseilles, such cart-loads of human flesh had not been seen. These exhumations proved that a great number of people had been buried alive. Imperfectly shot, and thrown with the heaps of dead into the common grave, they had eaten earth, and showed the contortions of their violent agony. Certain corpses were taken up in pieces. It was necessary to shut them as soon as possible into closed wagons, and to take them with the utmost speed to the cemeteries, where immense graves of lime swallowed up these putrid masses.
The cemetries of Paris absorbed all they could. The victims, placed side by side, without any other covering than their clothes, filled enormous ditches at the Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Mont-Parnasse, where the people in pious rememberance will annually come as pilgrims. Others, more unfortunate, were carried out of the town. At Charonne, Bagnolet, Bicêtre, etc. the trenches dug during the first siege were utilized. ‘There nothing is to be feared of the cadaverous emanations,’ said La Liberté ‘an impure blood will water the soil of the labourer, fecundating it. The deceased delegate at war will be able to pass a review of his faithful followers at the hour of midnight; the watchword will be ‘Incendiarism and assassination.’ Women by the side of the lugubrious trench endeavoured to recognize these remains. The police waited that their grief should betray them, in order to arrest those ‘females of insurgents.’
The burying of such a large number of corpses soon became too difficult, and they were burnt in the casemates of the fortifications; but for want of draught the combustion was incomplete, and the bodies were reduced to a pulp. At the Buttes Chaumont the corpses, piled up in enormous heaps, inundated with petroleum, were burnt in the open air.
The wholesale massacres lasted up to the first days of June, and the summary executions up to the middle of that month. For a long time mysterious dramas were enacted in the Bois de Boulogne. Never will the exact number of the victims of the Bloody Week be known. The chief of military justice admitted 17,000 shot, the municipal council of Paris paid the expenses of burial of 17,000 corpses; but a great number were killed out of Paris or burnt. There is no exaggeration in saying 20,000 at least.
Many battlefields have numbered more dead, but these at least had fallen in the fury of the combat. The century has not witnessed such a slaughtering after the battle; there is nothing to equal it in the history of our civil struggles. St. Bartholomew’s Day, June 1848, the 2nd December, would form but an episode of the massacres of May. Even the great executioners of Rome and modern times pale before the Duke of Magenta. The hecatombs of the Asiatic victors, the fetes of Dahomey alone could give some idea of this butchery of proletarians.
Such was the repression ‘by the laws, with the laws.’ And during these atrocities of incomparably worse than Bulgarian type, the bourgeoisie, raising to heaven its bloody hands, undertook to incite the whole world against this people, who, after two months of domination and the massacre of thousands of their own, had shed the blood of sixty-three prisoners.