An Echo of the Commune
The Federation of the Seine, S.F.I.O., (French section of the Workers’ International), had issued its annual call to the Paris comrades to fall in and march in procession before the historic wall of Père Lachaise Cemetery, where in May, 1871, many communard prisoners were shot and buried. The occasion was to be the more interesting because a memorial tablet upon the wall itself, and a monument upon the grave of Eugène Pottier, the writer of our song, the “Internationale,” were to be unveiled, and appropriate addresses delivered.
Arriving rather late at the cemetery, we found the procession slowly coming out and the avenue along which it was passing closely walled in by a line of Republican Guards infantry assisted by numerous policemen. These guardsmen, by the way (cavalry and infantry), are no easy-going two-year conscripts, but are picked professional soldiers, who are maintained for the express purpose of providing a perpetual menace to the Parisian working class.
Trying another avenue by which to find the tail-end of the procession, we, with many others, found our way blocked by squads of policemen, and so decided to visit other parts of the famous cemetery, hoping to get access to the historic wall later when the crowd should have left.
But what was our surprise to find shortly, a party of soldiers, rifle on shoulder, step down from among the tombs and press us down the avenue towards the main entrance. And as we proceeded the folk gathered in the avenue bordered by the resting-places of famous men— artists, poets, statesmen, generals ; while from between the tombs on either side came the rifle, cartridge-pouch, uniform, and flesh and blood within it that make up the soldier—hundreds of him. They were clearing the cemetery. Passing out and walking a few streets from the cemetery we saw a troop of Guards cavalry pass. They have no barracks in the quarter, neither do they mount guard at any public building there. Their presence could have but one meaning, namely, to remind the Parisian working class of the murderous powers at the disposal of the master class. And, indeed, what menace was there not in these rifles, swords, and trampling hoofs ? What more was needed to call to mind the bloody week of May, ’71, when some 35,000 men, women, and children of the working class were massacred by the army, which had been released by the German Government for that purpose ?
Indeed must the master class feel its position shaky that it should think necessary such exhibitions of force ! Meanwhile, for us, do not history and passing events reveal the despotic and murderous characteristics necessarily provoked in a master class ? Yes! beyond all question. And therefore we must order our conduct, our teaching, and our organisation in conformity with the knowledge so acquired.
J. H. Halls