Your metal domes fired by the sun,
Your theatre queens with enchanting voices,
Your bells, cannons, deafening orchestra,
Your magic cobbles erected into fortresses,
Your little orators with baroque turns of phrase
Preaching love, and then your sewers full with blood,
Pouring into hell like so many Orinocos.
– Baudelaire, projected epilogue to the
1861 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal
The small building in Charonne, on the corner between Rues Saint-Blaise and Riblette, has an entrance like thousands of others, except for two marble plaques that face each other in the doorway. The one on the left reads:
F. T. P. Français.
Shot by the Germans
at the age of 17.
Died for France
26 May 1943.
On the right side, framing the serious face of a boy of about fifteen, the inscription recalls:
The home of
F. T. P. F.
Soldier with the Fabien brigade.
Fallen on the field of honour
18 January 1945
at Habsheim, Alsace.
It was perhaps Cadix who brought his friend Henri into the Resistance – I imagine him with the insolent look and fine Slavic features of Marcel Rajman on the ‘red poster’ (‘The killer is a Polish Jew, age 20, seven attacks’, including the execution of the SS general Julius Reitter in the heart of Paris, close to the Trocadéro). His parents had probably arrived from Poland in the 1920s, like so many others living in Belleville-Ménilmontant:
My father was what you call a gentleman’s outfitter. He could make a jacket, a suit, a man’s waistcoat, he could make an overcoat . . . This was a trade that Frenchmen didn’t follow. At the Ramponeau school we were all little reds. We didn’t know what the words ‘Communist’ and ‘popular front’ meant, but see a red flag, and all the kids would line up behind it! All our brothers and sisters, who’d arrived from Poland illegally, without papers, language, resident permit, trade or money, went to work on the sewing machine.1
It was only natural that the children of these immigrants should join the Resistance:
I spent my childhood there, Rue des Cendriers, my childhood until the age of eighteen, when I was wanted by the Vichy police and left for the unoccupied zone in order to hide and do forestry, as I was wanted for Resistance activities. In other words: distribution of leaflets, scattering leaflets in cinemas in Rue de Ménilmontant – the Phénix, the Ménil-Palace . . . There were two of us, me and André Burty, who was shot. My group was decimated and came to an end. There were three or four survivors out of a group that had sections in each of the four quarters of the 14th arrondissement: Belleville, Père-Lachaise, Pelleport and Charonne . . . It’s a miracle, to have survived all that we went through in those days. One evening, we released a red flag with a system of metal hooks that fastened to the electric line above some waste ground between Rue des Panoyaux and Rue des Cendriers, and it was only the next day that the firemen came to remove it.2
Poles – whether Jewish or not – were a regular part of the scene in Red Paris. The two best generals of the Paris Commune were Poles.3 Dombrowski, whom the Russians had condemned to death after the Warsaw uprising, was in command of the forces on the Right Bank at the moment when everything collapsed. Louise Michel, on the barricade of Rue Delta, found a phrase worthy of Victor Hugo to relate his end: ‘Dombrowski passed with his officers. “We are lost,” he told me. “No,” I replied. The next time he passed he was on a stretcher; he was dead.’4 It was 23 May when Dombrowski was struck down on the barricade of Rue Myrha. His body was taken to Père-Lachaise to receive its honours, but during the procession, ‘the Fédérés stopped the cortège and placed the corpse at the foot of the July column; some men, torches in their hands, formed into a circle, and all the Fédérés, one after the other, came to place a last kiss on the brow of the general’.5
Wroblewski, likewise a career officer and a participant in the Warsaw insurrection, led the only counterattack during Bloody Week, from the Butte-aux-Cailles which he defended with the 101st battalion, ‘all citizens of the 13th arrondissement and the Mouffetard quarter, undisciplined, undisciplinable, wild, rough, their clothes and flag torn, obeying only one order, that to march forward, mutineering when inactive, when hardly out of fire rendering it necessary to plunge them in again’.6
Thanks to plaques showing where those who were shot or deported lived and met, it is possible to sketch the outline of a Resistance Paris, northeast of a line running from the Porte de Clignancourt to the Porte de Vincennes, passing through the Gare Saint-Lazare, the République and the Bastille, and spilling broadly out into the banlieue, from Saint-Ouen and Gennevilliers to Montreuil and Ivry.
If certain places are ambivalent in this respect – such as the Latin Quarter where Cavaillès could frequent the same café as Carcopino, or Saint-Germain where Antelme could have passed (and greeted?) Drieu La Rochelle in Rue Jacob – the other Paris, that of the Germans and their collaborators, closely corresponds to what it is customary to call the beaux quartiers. The Kommandantur Gross-Paris was on Place de l’Opéra, at the corner of Rue du Quatre-Septembre. The Gestapo had its headquarters in a private hotel on Avenue Foch, close to the Porte Dauphine, with a number of offices across the city, the most important of these being on Rue des Saussaies, in the premises of the Sûreté Générale. Its French acolytes, the notorious Bonny and Lafont, established themselves on Rue Lauriston, near the Trocadéro. For some people, the very words Rue Lauriston or Rue des Saussaies still raise a shudder: ‘Certain streets in Paris are as degraded as a man covered with infamy,’ as Balzac wrote at the start of Ferragus. The Propaganda-Staffel, where Ernst Jünger worked, was in the Hôtel Majestic, on Rue Dumont-d’Urville near the Étoile. General Speidel stayed at the Hôtel George-V. The pass office was a couple of steps away, on Rue Galilée. The German military tribunal7 was on Rue Boissy-d’Anglas, and the recruitment office for the Waffen SS on Avenue Victor-Hugo. The (French) commissariat for Jewish affairs was on Rue des Petits-Pères, behind Place des Victoires. Brinon, ‘Paris delegate of the vice-president of the council of ministers’, had his offices in the Hôtel Matignon, and he lived in a ‘little palace’ on Avenue Foch.8
‘When I think that I passed on my way the church of Saint-Roch, on the steps of which César Birotteau was wounded, and that at the corner of Rue des Prouvaires the pretty salesgirl Baret took Casanova’s measurements in the back of her shop, and that these are just two tiny facts in an ocean of real or fantastic events – I am overwhelmed by a kind of joyous melancholy, a painful pleasure’, Jünger wrote on 10 May 1943. Few Parisians would have been capable of such a diary entry, so disenchanted and accurate. But Jünger also limited his customary itineraries to the elegant quarters of the Right Bank and the Faubourg Saint-Germain. He stayed at the Raphaël on Avenue Kléber, and frequented such luxury establishments as the Pâtisserie Ladurée on Rue Royale (3 June 1941), the Ritz, ‘along with Carl Schmitt who gave a lecture yesterday on the significance, from the point of view of public law, of the distinction between land and sea’ (18 October 1941), and the Brasserie-Lorraine on the Place des Ternes, ‘after returning up Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré where I always experience a feeling of well-being’ (18 January 1942). He dined at Prunier’s (6 March 1942), at Lapérouse’s (8 April 1942), at Maxim’s (‘where I was invited by the Morands. We spoke among other things of American novels, in particular Moby Dick and A High Wind in Jamaica’: 7 June 1942), and at the Tour d’Argent ‘where Henri IV already ate heron pâté’ (4 July 1942). He walked to the Bagatelle, where a French woman friend told him how ‘students are now being arrested for wearing yellow stars with various inscriptions such as “idealist” . . . These individuals do not yet know that the time for discussion has passed. They also imagine that the adversary has a sense of humour’ (14 June 1942).
In the western part of the city, therefore, cultivated German officers, Francophile and even anti-Nazi, signed orders for the execution of young people who, in the eastern part, were making posters and throwing leaflets in the Ménilmontant cinemas.9
The Champs-Élysées was the major axis of Paris collaboration, following an established tradition. Back in 1870, Louise Michel noted how café chairs and counters were broken there, after they had been the only cafés in Paris to open to the Prussians.10 After the Popular Front, ‘the elegant crowd acclaimed Hitler in the Champs-Élysées cinemas at 20 francs a seat . . . The culmination of ignominy was perhaps reached in 1938, on this cagoulard Champs-Élysées where elegant ladies acclaimed Daladier’s horrendous triumph and squealed: “Communists, pack your bags; Jews, off to Jerusalem”.’ Later on, ‘the whole cagoulard elite of the country, hurrying back to its Champs-Élysées and its Boulevard Malesherbes, went into ecstasy over the politeness of the big blond Aryans. On this point there was only one cry from Auteuil to Monceau: the gentleman-executioners were correct, and even men of the world in their own way.’11 The changing of the Wehrmacht guard took place on the Champs-Élysées every day for four years: at midday, starting from the Rond-Point, the new guard paraded to music up to the Étoile, where it passed in review, before dispersing to the palaces of the general staff.
This political division of Paris goes back a long way. On 20 May 1871, just before the Versaillais entered Paris, Lissagaray took an imaginary friend, ‘one of the most timid men from the timid provinces’, on a walk through the city. In the popular quarters – on the Place de la Bastille, ‘gay, animated by the gingerbread fair’, at the Cirque Napoléon (Cirque d’Hiver) where five thousand people filled the place from the arena to the dome – the revolutionary festival continued despite (or because of?) imminent catastrophe. The fashionable quarters were silent, plunged in darkness – even though, by an irony of fate, it was here that the shells fired by the Versaillais from Mont Valérien and Courbevoie fell, and the arch of the Arc de Triomphe had to be walled in against the gunfire coming up the Champs-Élysées. Their inhabitants, who only yesterday had animated the salons of the Empire, in the Tuileries and at Compiègne, expressed their feelings with no beating about the bush. Edmond de Goncourt, in the first few days: ‘The quay and the two large streets leading to the Hôtel de Ville are closed by barricades, with lines of National Guard in front of them. One reacts with disgust at the sight of their stupid and abject faces, on which triumph and drunkenness have the shine of a radiant villainy.’12 And later, while Thiers was bombarding Paris: ‘Still waiting for the attack, for the deliverance that does not come. It is impossible to depict the suffering we experience, amid the despotism on the streets of this scum disguised as soldiers.’13
For Maxime Du Camp, awarded the cross of the Légion d’Honneur for his conduct at the time of the ‘criminal insurrection’ of June 1848, the Commune was ‘a fit of moral epilepsy; a bloody bacchanalia; a debauchery of petroleum and cheap spirits; a tempest of violence and drunkenness that made the capital of France into the most abject of swamps’.14 For Théophile Gautier:
Under all the great cities there are dens for lions, cellars sealed with thick bars in which savage, stinking, poisonous beasts are kept, all the refractory perversities that civilization has been unable to tame, those who love blood, those who enjoy real fires as if they were fireworks, those with the taste for theft, those for whom an assault on modesty represents love . . . One day it so happened that the distracted keeper forgot the keys to the menagerie doors, and the wild animals spread out across the city with savage cries. It was from these opened cages that the hyenas of 1793 and the gorillas of the Commune broke loose.15
Two subjects aroused particular hatred: women, and Gustave Courbet. Arsène Houssaye held that ‘with a kick to their skirts we should cast into the hell of malediction all these horrible creatures who have dishonoured women in the saturnalias and impieties of the Commune’. For another writer:
Their women, these nameless harpies, roamed the streets of Paris for a whole week, pouring petrol into cellars and lighting fires everywhere. They are hunted down with muskets like the wild beasts that they are . . .16 This infamous Courbet, who wanted to burn the Louvre museum, not only deserves to be shot if he has not been already, but the filthy pictures that he sold to the state should also be destroyed.
It was Leconte de Lisle who expressed himself in these terms. And Barbey d’Aurevilly, in Le Figaro for 18 April 1872:
The atrocious bandits of the Commune, with Monsieur Courbet as their clown, are not political enemies. They are the enemies of any society and any order. Can you say what their political ideal is? Of course not! Any more than you can say what is Monsieur Courbet’s aesthetic ideal. Their ideal is to steal, and to kill and burn if need be, just as his ideal is to brutally paint the concrete fact, the vulgar and even abject detail.
In the great tradition of intelligence with the enemy against Red Paris, the Versaillais right were collaborators. The same men who pressed for the capitulation of Paris in the face of an army of inferior numbers, begged the Prussians to assist them against the Commune. Bazaine, under siege in Metz, wrote to Bismarck that his army was the only force that could control the anarchy – and indeed, it was the arrival of prisoners freed by the Prussians that gave the Versaillais, from the first days of May, a decisive advantage. On 10 March, even before the uprising of the Commune, Jules Favre wrote to Thiers:
We have decided to put an end to the strongholds of Montmartre and Belleville, and we hope this will be done without spilling blood. This evening, judging a second category of those accused for the events of 31 October, the council of war condemned Flourens, Blanqui, and Levrault to the death penalty in their absence; and Vallès, present, to six months in prison. Tomorrow morning, I shall go to Ferrières to meet with the Prussian authorities on a number of points of detail.17
Flaubert, though very hostile to the Commune, wrote to George Sand on 31 March: ‘Many conservatives who wanted to preserve the republic [in 1851] will regret Badinguet. And call on the Prussians with all their hearts.’ And on 30 April: ‘“Thank God the Prussians are here” is the universal cry of the bourgeoisie.’ In Le Drapeau tricolore for 2 May, you could read that the Germans were ‘good people who are slandered. The rumour went round, a week ago, that they were leaving. No more Prussians, no more police, no more order, no more security!’ Collaboration did not stop at sentiments such as these, there was also military collaboration. The Fédérés believed that the Versaillais would not attack from the side held by the Prussians.18 But the Prussians who occupied the northern and eastern forts let the Versaillais advance in a sector that was forbidden them by the armistice, thus enabling them to seize the defences of Paris from behind.
When it was all over, in September, Francisque Sarcey noted that
the bourgeoisie found themselves, not without a certain melancholy, between the Prussian feet on their throat and those whom they called the Reds, and could only see as men armed with daggers. I do not know which of these two evils frightened them most; they hated the foreigner more, but they feared more the people of Belleville.
This metonymy is justified if we take ‘Belleville’ in the broad sense, as stretching to Ménilmontant on the one side, to the Popincourt quarter and the Faubourg du Temple on the other, and spilling into the 10th arrondissement along the Canal Saint-Martin. The central committee of the National Guard was formed at two popular meetings held during the siege, the first at the Cirque d’Hiver and the second in the Wauxhall on Rue de la Douane (now Léon-Jouhaux) close to the canal – in the course of which Garibaldi was appointed an honorary general of the National Guard by popular acclamation. It was in front of the mairie of the 12th arrondissement that the guillotine was burned by the 137th battalion, in a great moment of joy – ‘that shameful machine of human butchery’, as Louise Michel called it. This Red Paris was constantly crossed by fighters on their way to the forts:
Like figures in a dream, the Commune’s battalions went past – Flourens’s Vengeurs, the Commune’s zouaves, the Fédéré scouts who looked like Spanish guerrilleros, the Enfants Perdus who leapt from trench to trench with such gusto, the Commune’s Turcos, the Montmartre terrors.19
It is true that the Commune began not in Belleville but Montmartre. This was where the artillery of the National Guard had been parked, at the top of Rue des Rosiers (now du Chevalier-de-la-Barre). Victor Hugo relates this first confrontation in his inimitable fashion. He was in Brussels, having resigned his seat in the Chamber of Deputies – that ‘assembly of rurals’ who booed and manhandled him in Bordeaux when he defended Garibaldi, and ‘at the first session, could not make himself heard, the abuse drowning his voice when he offered his sons to the Republic’.20
The moment chosen is a dreadful one.
But was the moment really chosen?
Chosen by whom?
Let us examine the matter.
Who acted on 18 March?
Was it the Commune?
No. The Commune didn’t exist.
Was it the central committee of the National Guard?
No. This seized the opportunity, but did not create it.
So who acted on 18 March?
It was the National Assembly; or strictly speaking, its majority.
An attenuating circumstance is that it did not act deliberately.
The majority and its government simply wanted to remove the cannon
from Montmartre. A small motive for such a great risk.
That’s it. Remove the cannon from Montmartre.
That was the idea; how did they set about it?
Montmartre was asleep. Soldiers were sent in the night to seize the cannon. When the cannon were seized, it was realized that they had to be taken away. This needed horses. How many? A thousand! Where to find them? No one had thought about that. What to do? Send people to look for them. Time passed, the day broke, Montmartre woke up; the people came running and wanted their cannon; they had almost stopped thinking about them, but because the cannon had been seized, they demanded them; the soldiers gave in, the cannon were taken back, an insurrection broke out, a revolution began.
Who did that, then?
The government, without wanting to or knowing what it was doing.
This innocent party really is guilty.21
Louise Michel expressed the spirit that prevailed in Montmartre during these weeks better than anyone else.22 During the siege by the Prussians, ‘Montmartre, the mairie, the vigilance committees, the clubs and inhabitants, were along with Belleville the nightmare of the party of Order’. The vigilance committee of the 18th arrondissement met at 41 Chaussée de Clignancourt, ‘where we warmed ourselves more often with the fire of ideas than with logs’. When Louise chaired the meetings, either there or at the club La Patrie en Danger, or again at the Reine-Blanche, she had beside her ‘on the desk a little old pistol without a hammer, which, positioned right and grasped at the right moment, often stopped the Order crowd’. During the Commune, she only left Montmartre to go and fight at the fortifications. She read Baudelaire with a student in a trench outside Clamart while the bullets were whistling past, she shot with the defenders of the fortress of Issy (‘The fortress is magnificent, a spectral fortress . . . I spend a good part of the time with the gunners, we’ve been visited there by Victorine Eudes . . . she also doesn’t shoot badly’), she worked with an ambulance ‘in the trenches of the Hautes-Bruyères, where I got to know Paintendre, the commander of the Enfants Perdus. If ever that name was justified, it is by him, by all of them; they were so bold that it no longer seemed possible they could be killed’:
On 22 May, when all was lost, the Fédérés of the 61st battalion joined us at the mairie [of the 18th arrondissement]. ‘Come with us’, they said to me, ‘we’re going to die, you were with us on the first day, you must be with us on the last.’ . . . I set off with the detachment to the Montmartre cemetery, where we took up our position. Although there were very few of us, we thought we could hold out a good while. In some places we had crenellated the walls by hand. Shells struck the cemetery with increasing frequency . . . This time the shell fell close to me, coming down through the branches and covering me with flowers, close to Murger’s tomb. The white figure throwing marble flowers on this tomb made a charming effect . . . There were ever fewer of us; we fell back on the barricades, which still held out. The women passed by, red flag at their head; they had their barricade on the Place Blanche . . . More than ten thousand women fought for freedom in those May days, mixed or together.
At the moment when the Versaillais entered Paris, a remarkable turnaround took place. The Fédérés, tired of being pinned down in the forts and trenches, were almost happy to find themselves back on their home ground, in their cobbled streets. Delescluze,23 who a few days before had been appointed delegate for war, drafted a declaration on 22 May which the Barcelona anarchists of summer 1936 would not have disavowed:
Enough of militarism! No more staff-officers with their gold-embroidered uniforms! Make way for the people, for the combatants bare-armed! The hour of the revolutionary war has struck . . . The people know nothing of learned manoeuvres. But when they have a gun in their hands, and paving-stones under their feet, they fear not all the strategists of the monarchical school.24
The barricades sprung up with all haste.
That of Rue de Rivoli, which was to protect the Hôtel de Ville, was erected at the entrance of the Place Saint-Jacques, at the corner of Rue Saint-Denis. Fifty workmen did the mason-work, while swarms of children brought wheelbarrows full of earth from the square . . . In the 9tharrondissement, Rues Auber, de la Chaussée-d’Antin, de Châteaudun, the crossroads of the Faubourg Montmartre, of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, la Trinité and Rue des Martyrs were being unpaved. The broad approaches, La Chapelle, Buttes-Chaumont, Belleville, Ménilmontant, Rue de la Roquette, the Bastille, the Boulevards Voltaire and Richard-Lenoir, the Place du Château-d’Eau [now Place de la République], the Grands Boulevards especially from the Porte Saint-Denis; and on the Left Bank the whole length of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, the Panthéon, Rue Saint-Jacques, the Gobelins, and the principal avenues of the 13th arrondissement.
‘On the Place Blanche,’ Maroteau wrote the following day in Le Salut public, ‘there was a barricade completely constructed and defended by a women’s battalion of around a hundred and twenty. At the moment that I arrived, a dark form detached itself from a carriage gate. It was a girl with a Phrygian bonnet over her ear, a musket in her hand, and a cartridge-belt at her waist: “Halt, citizen, you don’t pass here.” ’25
But the majority of these fragile barricades were quickly taken. The Commune had to evacuate the Hôtel de Ville, and the fighting focused around the Place du Château-d’Eau and the Bastille. The Versaillais ‘went to occupy the Saint-Laurent barricade at the junction of the Boulevard Sébastopol, erected batteries against the Château d’Eau, and reached the Quai Valmy by the Rue des Récollets . . . In the 3rd arrondissement they were stopped in the Rue Meslay, Rue Nazareth, Rue du Vert-Bois, Rue Charlot and Rue de Saintonge. The 2nd arrondissement, invaded from all sides, was still disputing its Rue Montorgueil.’ On 26 May, in the Place de la Bastille, ‘at seven o’clock the presence of soldiers at the top of the faubourg was announced. The Fédérés hurried thither with their cannon. If they do not hold out, the Bastille will be taken. They did hold out. The Rue d’Aligre and the Avenue Lacuée vied with each other in devotion . . . The house at the corner of the Rue de la Roquette, the angle of the Rue de Charenton, disappeared like the scenery of a theatre.’26
What remained of the Commune and the central committee fell back on the mairie of the 11th arrondissement. On the steps of the staircase, women silently sewed sacks for the barricades. In the main hall, the Commune was in session: ‘Everyone mingled together, officers, ordinary guards, NCOs of various ranks, belts with white or yellow tassels, members of the Commune or the central committee – and all took part in the deliberations.’27 In this dramatic confusion, it was Delescluze who spoke. Everyone listened in silence, for the slightest whisper would have drowned out his almost lost voice.
When Oscar Wilde was asked what had been the saddest event of his life, he replied that it was the death of Lucien de Rubempré in Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life. If I had to answer the same question, I would choose the death of Delescluze on the barricade of the Château d’Eau. In the account Lissagaray gives, he rises to the level of Plutarch:
He said all was not lost; that they must make a great effort, and hold out to the last . . . ‘I propose’, said he, ‘that the members of the Commune, engirdled with their scarfs, shall make a review of all the battalions that can be assembled on the Boulevard Voltaire. We shall then at their head proceed to the points to be conquered.’ The idea appeared grand, and transported those present . . . The distant firing, the cannon of the Père-Lachaise, the confused clamours of the battalions surrounding the mairie, blended with, and at times drowned his voice. Behold, in the midst of this defeat, this old man upright, his eyes luminous, his right hand raised defying despair, these armed men fresh from the battle suspending their breath to listen to this voice which seemed to ascend from the tomb. There was no scene more solemn in the thousand tragedies of that day.
Of course, things very quickly took a turn for the worse:
The Place du Château-d’Eau was ravaged as by a cyclone . . . At a quarter to seven . . . was saw Delescluze, Jourde, and about a hundred Fédérés marching in the direction of the Château-d’Eau. Delescluze wore his ordinary dress, black hat, coat, and trousers, his red scarf, inconspicuous as was his wont, tied round his waist. Without arms, he leant on a cane. Apprehensive of some panic at the Château-d’Eau, we followed the delegate. Some of us stopped at the Saint-Ambroise church to get arms . . . Vermorel, wounded by the side of Lisbonne, whom Theisz and Jaclard were carrying off on a litter, leaving behind him large drops of blood. We thus remained a little behind Delescluze. At about eight yards from the barricade the guards who accompanied him kept back, for the projectiles obscured the entrance of the boulevard.
Delescluze still walked forward. Behold the scene; we have witnessed it; let it be engraved in the annals of history. The sun was setting. The old exile, unmindful whether he was followed, still advanced at the same pace, the only living being on the road. Arrived at the barricade, he bent off to the left and mounted upon the paving-stones. For the last time his austere face, framed in his white beard, appeared to us turned towards death. Suddenly Delescluze disappeared. He had fallen as if thunderstruck on the Place du Château-d’Eau.
Just to make sure, the Versaillais had him condemned to death in his absence in 1874.
The two last days, Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 May, in superb weather, Red Paris was slowly reduced to the Faubourg du Temple. On Saturday evening, the Versaillais were installed on the Place de Fêtes, Rue Fessart, and Rue Pradier as far as Rue Rébeval, where they were contained. The Fédérés occupied a quadrilateral between Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, Rue de la Folie-Méricourt, Rue de la Roquette and Boulevard Belleville. By Sunday morning, resistance was reduced to the small square formed by the Rues du Faubourg-du-Temple, des Trois-Bornes, des Trois-Couronnes, and the Boulevard de Belleville. Which was the last of the Commune’s barricades to hold out? In Lissagaray’s account, it was that on Rue Ramponeau: ‘For a quarter of an hour, this was defended by a single Fédéré. Three times he broke the pole of the Versaillais flag displayed on the barricade of Rue de Paris [now de Belleville]. As reward for his courage, this last Commune soldier managed to escape.’ Legend has it that this was Lissagaray himself. For others, the last barricade was on Rue Rébeval. But that most often cited is that on Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi. Louise Michel:
An immense red flag floated over the barricade. The two Ferré’s were there, Théophile and Hippolyte, J. B. Clément, the Garibaldian Cambon, Varlin, Vermorel, Champy. The barricade on Rue Saint-Maur had just fallen, that on Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi stubbornly held, spitting fire in the bloody face of the Versaillais . . . The only ones still standing, when the Père-Lachaise cannon fell silent, were those of Fontaine-au-Roi. At the moment that they fired their last shots, a young girl coming from the barricade on Rue Saint-Maur arrived, offering to help. They told her to go away from this place of death, but she remained despite them. It was to this ambulance girl of the last barricade and the last hour that J. B. Clément dedicated, much later, his song Le Temps des Cérises.
When you think of the Commune, the first image is that of the barricade, although the ‘magic cobbles’ only arose in the last week of its brief existence. But if the Commune became a paradigm of revolution in its purest form, it was by the way it faced death on the barricades rather than by the measures it took, however strong their political and poetic charge. The barricade, in fact, had never been effective as a fighting instrument. In the ascending phase of uprisings, erected in a few minutes with whatever came to hand – an upturned cart, a couple of cupboards, a few barrels hoisted onto a heap of paving-stones – it was not defended for long, but was there simply to impede the movement of regular troops, weighed down with their kit, and to make their horses stumble. When it became a major defensive work, like ‘the Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the Scylla of the Faubourg du Temple’ in June 1848, described at the start of Volume Five of Les Misérables, or the gigantic redoubt constructed to block Rue de Rivoli at the level of Rue Saint-Florentin in May 1871, it only held out a few hours, as after June 1832 the forces of order no longer had any hesitation in using cannon.
Right from the start, the barricade played a role that doubled its fighting status with that of a stage set. A comic scene, when the fighters on both sides called out to one another, insulting each other as under the walls of Troy, or trying to convince the other side, either to capitulate before they were massacred, or, conversely, to join the ranks of their brothers. A tragic scene, all’ antica, in which the hero descends from the barricade and walks alone towards the soldiers, in a final effort of persuasion or simply to avoid experiencing defeat, to end it along with life. It is this theatrical role of the barricade that explains its resurgence in the twentieth century, from St Petersburg to Barcelona, from Spartakist Berlin to Rue Gay-Lussac, even when its military effectiveness has fallen asymptotically over time to nearly zero.
The Birth of the Barricade
Even if several streets of Old Paris keep the memory of risings and insurrections, going back at least to Étienne Marcel, even if one could recall a ‘Red’ Paris stretching across centuries, I have decided to focus this narrative on the heyday of that great symbolic form of Parisian revolution that is the barricade, in other words on the nineteenth century.
The barricade made its reappearance in Paris in the late 1820s, after two centuries of absence. There had been time to forget the ‘day of the barricades’ in May 1588, when, against the troops that Henri III had deployed in the city, ‘all men hastily took up arms, set out through the streets and sections, and in no time brought chains and made barricades at the street corners’.28 Far back too were the barricades of the Fronde, erected on an August night in 1648, which Cardinal de Retz describes in terms strangely familiar for anyone who has read Lissagaray:
The movement was like a sudden and violent fire, which spread from the Pont-Neuf to the whole city. Everyone without exception took up arms. You could see boys of five or six years with daggers in their hands, and mothers who brought these themselves. In Paris there were more than twelve hundred barricades in less than two hours, decorated with flags and with all the weapons that the League had left intact.
Since then, there had indeed been the barricades of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine during the days of Prairial, but this was not much in the great annals of revolutionary events. And if Chateaubriand noted in his Memoirs that ‘for the rest, the barricades are retrenchments that belong to the Paris spirit: they are found in all our disturbances, from Charles V to our own day’, there was none the less a long hiatus in the history of the barricade between the baroque and the romantic age.
The barricade made its reappearance on 19 November 1827.29 This was an election day. Two weeks previously, had dissolved the Chamber of Deputies and named seventy-six new peers so as to keep control of the upper house. The Liberal opposition won a great success in Paris. On the evening of the 18th, the newly elected deputies held banquets and lit up their windows. The director-general of the police warned his prefect: ‘Since it is possible that the movement led by the revolutionaries may go further than we had envisaged, I urge that preparations be made to suppress any disorder . . . I have arranged with the major of the royal guard that three hundred cavalry will remain on duty to be available as soon as they are needed.’ And indeed, on the evening of the 19th, in Rue Saint-Denis, a police informer noted that ‘rockets and petards are being thrown on the public way; men, mainly sales clerks, are walking about with an unfurled umbrella in their hand, topped with a lighted candle. Every now and then, musket or pistol shots can be heard fired from within buildings; in a word, in the streets above mentioned where the crowd is assembled, there is a repetition of all the scandalous scenes that took place when the law on the license of the press was withdrawn.’ At ten in the evening the crowd attacked a police station on the Rue Mauconseil. The prefect sent fifty mounted police to disperse them. The officer in command later explained to the commission of inquiry that ‘when the troops arrived, they found Rue Saint-Denis without cobbles in many places, and four barricades in succession, behind which a large number of bad characters had assembled, armed with stones’. From the tallest barricade, where the Passage du Grand-Cerf opens into Rue Saint-Denis, came a hail of bullets. The police finally reestablished order. In withdrawing, they fired into Rue aux Ours and wounded several people including a twenty-two-year-old student, Auguste Blanqui, who received a bullet in the neck.
The following evening, several bands again roamed Rue Saint-Denis and its surroundings. The investigation of the high court indicated that
unknown individuals broke into the houses under construction in front of the Saint-Leu church and the Passage du Grand-Cerf, removing the fences; to erect barricades they seized tools and materials that had been used the previous day and which had been locked up in the houses instead of being taken away. The new barricades were constructed with greater care and intelligence than the day before. This work, performed by young people mostly between fifteen and eighteen, continued for two hours without meeting any obstacle, or any public force being commissioned to prevent it.
At eleven o’clock, Colonel de Fitz-James, who commanded the regular troops, reached Rue Saint-Denis via Rue Greneta:
At a distance of about fifty yards we perceived a strong barricade, from behind which the crowd’s shouts could be heard, and before we could clearly make out the insults and provocations, stones began to reach the advance squad and gave us positive warning of the intentions of those behind the barricades.
The troops fired and killed four people. The adjacent streets were cleared by cavalry. Le Journal des débats for the next day, 21 November, deemed that the forces of order had shown insufficient vigour: ‘It is impossible to regret too much that this mob were not hunted down and arrested by the troops.’ But the prefect of police maintained that ‘the events of this evening inspired in the quarter a salutary fear that we must hope will prevent the return of similar disorders’.
This hope was not to be realized. In the course of the half-century between the anonymous nighttime barricades of November 1827 and the seventy sunny days of the Commune, the list of Paris demonstrations, riots, coups, uprisings and insurrections is so long that no other capital can claim anything similar. Their geography, and their distribution between the quarters of Paris, reflects the industrial revolution, the new relationship between bosses and workers, the centrifugal migration of the labouring and dangerous population, the development of major works, and the ‘strategic embellishment’ of the city. The same street names, and the same quarters, return constantly throughout the century, but we do see the centre of gravity of Red Paris shift slowly to the north and east, with interruptions and accelerations that stamp on the map of the city the mark of an old notion now fallen into disrepute, that of class struggle.
The unfurling of Paris insurrections in the nineteenth century is well known, but the story is often presented as a succession of images d’Épinal – Delacroix and his Liberty, Lamartine with his tricolour, Hugo’s Chastisements and his rock, Gambetta’s balloon. This constructs an ideal republican genealogy, complete with names of Métro stations and fictionalized biographies, which gives a reassuring version of what was in reality a series of bloody and pitiless confrontations. The care taken to give all this the most bowdlerized presentation is still more manifest today, when, in the name of rejecting the archaic, we are pressed to abandon the ‘dusty philosophical and cultural corpus’ of the nineteenth century.30 I shall try to retrace the stages of this insurrectionary history, limiting myself to what happened in the streets and quarters of Red Paris, but without forgetting that these events served as calls to action for the whole of Europe, as theoretical models and reasons for hope.
On 27 July 1830, the day after the publication of decrees on the press and the electoral law, the police turned up at Le Temps, on Rue de Richelieu, to break up the presses.31 The printers in this quarter, fearing unemployment, dismissed their workers:
The printing workers never worked on Mondays. Now, it was precisely Monday 26 July that they learned of the publication of decrees that deprived them of bread by undermining the freedom of the press . . . They left the city, spread out beyond the barriers and dined in the taverns there, with the avowed intention of neglecting nothing to move the minds of builders, carpenters, locksmiths and other workers.32
The following day they mingled with students, including those of the École Polytechnique, crying: ‘Down with Polignac!’ At the Palais-Royal, stones were thrown at the gendarmes. An infantry company opened fire on the crowd; one demonstrator fell. Immediately, men surged forward as if from nowhere and seized the body, which they paraded with cries of revenge. The inflamed crowd began to raid the armourers, and erected a barricade on Rue de Richelieu. Yet by the evening Paris seemed calm, the deputies had gone to ground, there seemed to be neither leaders nor organizations. These appeared during the night. The Carbonari and officers on half-pay formed twelve directing committees, seized and distributed weapons and took control of the Imprimerie Royale. On the morning of the 28th, the royal army found itself facing on the barricades former soldiers of the Empire who taught the Parisians how to fight. Paris was at boiling point:
They dragged down and burnt the arms of France; they hung them from the cords of broken street-lamps; they tore the fleur-de-lis badges from the postmen’s uniforms; the notaries took down their escutcheons, the bailiffs removed their badges, the carriers their official signs, the Royal suppliers their warrants. Those who had previously covered their oil-painted Napoleonic eagles with Bourbon lilies in distemper only needed a sponge to wipe out their loyalty; nowadays empires and gratitude are effaced with a little water.33
At midday, the state of siege was proclaimed. Marshal Marmont, major-general of the guard, ‘a man of intellect and merit, a brave soldier, and a wise but unlucky general, proved for the thousandth time that military ability is insufficient to handle civil disturbances; any police officer would have had a better idea than he what should be done . . . He had only a handful of men with him, but devised a plan which would have needed thirty thousand soldiers for its execution.’34 This plan was to send four columns out from the Louvre: one via the boulevards towards the Bastille, another to the same destination but along the quays, an intermediary column towards the Innocents market (Les Halles) and a fourth up Rue Saint-Denis.35 ‘As they advanced, the communications posts established en route, being too weakly defended and too far apart, were isolated by the mob, and separated from one another by fallen trees and barricades.’36
On the morning of the 29th, a column of insurgents left the Panthéon in the direction of the Louvre, defended by the Swiss guards. Along the way, two regular regiments who were occupying the Place Vendôme went over to the side of the people. Marmont was forced to remove guards from the Louvre. Students scaled the façade, the Swiss retreated, and Marmont’s forces surged back in disorder towards the Champs-Élysées. Charles X had to flee, for, as Benjamin Constant replied to emissaries seeking a compromise: ‘I will only say that it would be all too convenient for a king to open fire on his subjects and then be quit of it by claiming: He did nothing. The statue of Henri IV on the Pont-Neuf held a tricolour flag, like a standard-bearer of the League. Men of the people said, looking at the bronze king: “You would never have done anything so stupid, you old rascal.”’37
A lithograph by Granville, titled Révolution de 1830, shows a clutch of terrifying beings – animals with nightmarish heads, dressed in bourgeois frock-coats – attacking a flight of stairs on top of which a bizarre creature is enthroned, apparently made up of banknotes. It bears the epigraph: ‘The people are victorious, these gentlemen are sharing out the spoils.’ The streets of Paris were not yet cleared of the heaped-up cobbles and felled trees, but the people were already expressing their discontent at the musical-chairs trick that had brought to the throne the ‘best of republics’ in the person of Louis-Philippe. On 6 August, a week after the fighting had ended, a procession of several thousand students, led by Ulysse Trélat and François Raspail, doctors to the poor, set out from the Latin Quarter to take an address to the Palais-Bourbon, refusing constituent power to the Chamber elected under Charles X.38
At the end of August, the Société des Amis du Peuple,39 inspired by Trélat, sent a battalion to fight alongside the Belgian revolutionaries against the Dutch. In November, the students of the grandes écoles formed brigades to go and support the uprising in Warsaw.
On 21 September, an immense crowd came into the streets to commemorate the anniversary of the execution of Jean-François Borie and the three other sergeants of La Rochelle, executed on the Place de Grève eight years before. The new school year at the École Polytechnique was so agitated that the minister was forced to appoint François Arago, very popular with the students, as director of the school.
On 10 December, the funeral carriage of Benjamin Constant, drawn to Père-Lachaise by the students, was followed by all the republican leaders. Trélat gave a speech at the graveside: ‘Friends of the people, let us all swear that our July days, so dearly bought by the lives of our brothers, will not be lost.’40
In December again, a riot broke out in front of the Luxembourg, where the trial of Charles X’s ministers was under way. The crowd, who had literally waited for days, expressed its fury at sentences limited to prison terms. The repression was violent. Those wounded included a law student aged twenty-two, Charles Delescluze.
On 13 February 1831, the Legitimists celebrated a mass at Saint-German-l’Auxerrois, for the anniversary of the assassination of the Duc de Berry. A collection was organized for the benefit of the Swiss guards wounded during the July days.41 When news got round, the crowd invaded and sacked the church. The following day, the archbishop’s residence was attacked and completely devastated. In The Atheist’s Mass, a little masterpiece from 1836, Balzac used the event – a memorable one, therefore, even if Martin Nadaud sees it as a police provocation42 – to date the meeting that serves as a coda to his story: ‘At last, seven years later, after the Revolution of 1830, when the mob invaded the Archbishop’s residence, when Republican agitators spurred them on to destroy the gilt crosses which flashed like streaks of lightning in the immensity of the ocean of houses; when Incredulity flaunted itself in the streets, side by side with Rebellion. . .’ Following this explosion of anticlerical fury, the king was forced to remove the fleur-de-lis from the French coat of arms, and ceased attending mass in public. (But this was not without precedent: in January 1815 the people had ravaged the church of Saint-Roch – where the priest had refused to conduct a funeral service for an actress of the Comédie-Française, Mlle Raucourt – to the cry of ‘Death to the priests!’)
7 September 1831 brought the capitulation of Warsaw, under siege by the troops of Paskievitch. When the news reached Paris, a crowd gathered on Boulevard des Capucines in front of the foreign ministry, to cries of ‘Long live Poland! Down with the ministers!’ Dispersed by dragoons, the rioters reached the Porte Saint-Denis, pillaging on their way an armourer on Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. The next day, barricades were erected on Boulevard Montmartre, and it took the troops and the National Guard three days to reestablish order.
Such agitation was constant. George Sand, who had been in Paris for a few weeks, wrote on 6 March 1831: ‘It really is very funny. The revolution is in permanent session, like the Chamber; and we live as merrily, in the midst of bayonets, riots and ruins, as if there was complete peace.’43Political refugees flocked in from all countries where insurrections, launched in the wake of Paris, were crushed one after the other.44 Casimir Perier, the energetic prime minister appointed after the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois affair, banished them to zones of residence where they were subject to all kinds of political harassment, and were not allowed to change their domicile or their employer without administrative authorization.
Early in 1832, just after the first insurrection of the Lyon silk-workers had been crushed by a regular army under the command of Marshal Soult, Paris was gripped by cholera. On 13 February, the disease struck down a porter in Rue des Lombards, then a little girl from Rue du Haut-Moulin on the Île de la Cité, then a street salesman on Rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul, then an egg-seller on Rue de la Mortellerie.45 By March, some eight hundred people were dying each day. The nature of the disease and the way it spread were as mysterious as at the time of the Black Death five centuries earlier. After a study trip to London, Magendie decided that the disease was not contagious. At the Hôtel-Dieu, directed by Broussais – a convinced republican but a dangerous doctor – the mortality was frightful. The hearse of his most famous patient, Casimir Perier, took with it the master’s ‘physiologism’.46 Heinrich Heine, 19 April 1832:
Many disguised priests are now gliding and sliding here and there among the people, persuading them that a rosary which has been consecrated is a perfect preservative against the cholera. The Saint-Simonists regard it as an advantage of their religion that none of their number can die of the prevailing malady, because progress is a law of nature, and as social progress is specially in Saint-Simonism, so long as the number of its apostles is incomplete none of its followers can die. The Bonapartists declare that if any one feels in himself the symptoms of the cholera, if he will raise his eyes to the column of Place Vendôme he shall be saved and live.
The epidemic harshly showed up social inequality in the face of death: Jules Janin referred to ‘this plague of a population that is the first and only one to die, formidably giving the lie by its bloody death to the doctrines of equality that have been preached to it for half a century’. Hatred broke out in the city. The bourgeois accused the poor of having unleashed and spread the plague: ‘All individuals affected by this epidemic disease’, you could read in Le Journal des débats for 28 March 1832, ‘belong to the class of the people. They are shoemakers and those working on the manufacture of woolen garments. They live in the dirty and narrow streets of the Île de la Cité and the Notre-Dame quarter.’ The people, for their part, accused the government of poisoning the public water-sources, the barrels of the water-carriers, the sick in the hospitals. Heine noted how ‘the multitude murmured bitterly when it saw how the rich fled away, and, well packed with doctors and drugs, took refuge in healthier climes. The poor note with discontent that money has also become a protection against death.’
‘The great city is like a piece of artillery. When it is loaded, a spark need only fall and the gun goes off. In June 1832, the spark was the death of General Lamarque.’47 Maximilien Lamarque, deputy for the Landes, had defeated Wellington in Spain and was popular among the young. On 5 June, an immense crowd followed his coffin, which was being taken to Mont-de-Marsan. The procession mingled Bonapartists and republicans, with students from the Alfort veterinary school and the Polytechnique at its head. (Lucien Leuwen, we recall, ‘had been expelled from the Polytechnique for having gone for an inappropriate walk, on a day that he and all his fellow students were detained: that was the time of one of the famous days of June, April or February 1832 or 1834’.) Setting out from Rue d’Anjou, the hearse reached the Madeleine and followed the boulevards as far as the Bastille. Here, ‘a circle was formed around the hearse. The vast throng was hushed. Lafayette spoke, and bade Lamarque farewell . . . All at once a man on horseback, dressed in black, appeared in the middle of the group with a red flag.’48
Heine also noted how ‘there was indeed some mysterious influence in this red flag with black-fringed border, in which were in black the words “La Liberté ou la Mort!” and which rose like a banner of consecration to death above all heads on the Pont d’Austerlitz’.49 Tradition has it that this was the first appearance of the red flag on the side of the uprising, in a remarkable turnaround since it had served until then as the final warning given by the forces of order before the unleashing of repression (‘At the signal of the red flag, any assembly becomes criminal and must be dispersed by force’ – such had been the law since October 1789).
Meantime, the Municipal cavalry galloped along the Left Bank to bar all passage of the Pont d’Austerlitz, while on the Right Bank the dragoons came from the Célestins and deployed along the Quai Morland.50 The people . . . suddenly perceived them . . . and cried: ‘The dragoons!’ The troops advanced at a walk, silently, with their pistols in the holsters, their swords in their scabbards, their muskets slung in their leather sockets, with an air of gloomy expectation.
Where did the first shots come from? History does not say, but what had to happen did happen:
The tempest was unchained, stones showered, the fusillade burst forth. Many rushed to the water’s edge, and crossed the small arm of the Seine, which is now filled in. The timber-yards on the Île de Louviers, that ready-made citadel, bristled with combatants; stakes were pulled up, pistols were fired, a barricade began. The young men, driven back, crossed the Pont d’Austerlitz with the hearse at a run, and charged the Municipal Guard. The carabineers galloped up, the dragoons cut and slashed, the crowd dispersed in all directions; a rumour of war flew to all four corners of Paris . . . Passion spread the riot as the wind does fire.51
In the evening, the crowd roamed the Marais, and the Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis quarters, calling out: ‘To arms! Long live liberty! Long live the Republic!’ In Rues Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis, lampposts were broken and barricades erected. The police stations on the Place du Châtelet, Rue de la Verrerie and Rue Mauconseil were disarmed, and the armourer Lepage on Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé pillaged.52 At seven o’clock the insurgents were in control of the Châtelet, the Quai de la Mégisserie and the Quai de Gesvres, but the government had gathered 25,000 soldiers in Paris and this time the National Guard were on its side – except for the artillery which refused to fire on the people.53 The following day, 6 June, the insurgents had to abandon almost all their positions, and the fighting centred on the Saint-Merri cloister, a labyrinth of little streets where the Centre Beaubourg is now, along with its esplanade and the Horloge quarter. Rey-Dussueil:
Within less than an hour they improvised a fortress. A house facing Rue Aubry-le-Boucher was their headquarters, and a barricade five feet high defended its approaches . . . Two lit stoves were placed outside the door; molten lead was poured into moulds to be rounded into bullets, each one of which seemed to have a ready destination.54 To the south, in front of the Saint-Merri church, piled-up stones closed off Rue de la Verrerie and Rue des Arcis; behind, another barricade stopped any enemy who sought to advance through Rue de Cloître. There was no way out to the north, nor through Rue Maubuée, nor the Passage de Venise, nor Rue de la Corroierie. It was necessary to attack either from the front through Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, or from behind through Rue Saint-Martin . . . This Thermopylae did not occupy, in length, a space of more than a hundred paces; its width was that of Rue Saint-Martin.55
This fortress could not be taken without artillery. A gun battery was accordingly installed on Rue Saint-Martin, which it enfiladed from the church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs. Another battery fired from the Innocents market through Rue Aubry-le-Boucher. This was the first time that artillery was used against the people of Paris, and these days of June 1832 thus saw two innovations with a great future – the red flag of the people, and the cannon of the party of order. On the evening of the 6th, the central barricade was demolished by a convergent attack of overwhelming force from both north and south of Rue Saint-Martin. The barricade leader, a workman named Jeanne who had been one of the July insurgents, went down in legend for refusing to surrender, and single-handedly opening a passage with his bayonet through the battalions of the 4th legion of the National Guard. Heine:
It was the best blood of France which ran in Rue Saint-Martin, and I do not believe that there was better fighting at Thermopylae than at the mouth of the alley of Saint-Merri and Aubry-le-Boucher, where at the last a handful of some sixty Republicans fought against sixty thousand troops of the line and National Guards, and twice beat them back . . . the few who remained alive in no wise asked for mercy . . . they rushed with bared breasts before the enemy, offering themselves to be shot.
Martial law was proclaimed the next day, and to identify the dead ‘many people visited the Morgue, where there was a queue like that at the Opéra when Robert le Diable is performed.’ Anger mounted in these lines waiting outside the Morgue:
As remedy for the long series of ills they have visited on us, as consolation for their order of things in which everything goes to despair, they open wide to us the doors of the morgue, and their police push us in with their swords in our sides! The day is not far off when they will be afraid to confess the crimes of the night; there will be talk of massacre, bridge, and river, and the rest will be passed over in silence.56
In April 1834, Thiers, interior minister in the Soult government, had a law passed on the subject of public criers and hawkers, which immediately deprived the people of their main source of information, as well as a further law requiring preliminary authorization for any associations: ‘Hardly was this monstrous law promulgated, than it was right away applied; clubs were closed, the sale of newspapers was banned on the public way, and, as the high point of infamy, the right of assembly was completely suppressed, since for more than twenty-one citizens to gather without authorization in any place was a crime.’57 Lyon then rose in a second insurrection, while the leaders of the first one were being tried. The workers of La Croix-Rousse were massacred by cannon fire, and on 10 April, Soult was able to make a second triumphal entry into the city in the company of the crown prince, the Duc d’Orléans.
In Paris on 12 April, Armand Marrast, publisher of the republican newspaper La Tribune, printed a special issue calling the sixty-three sections of the Société des Droits de l’Homme to come out in the streets. The police raided the print works, seized the paper and arrested Marrast and his deputy. Too late: on the night of the 12th, barricades arose once more in the quarter that was still called Maubuée: Rue Beaubourg, Rue de Montmorency, Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, Rue Transnonain, Rue Geoffroy-Langevin, Rue aux Ours and Rue du Grenier-Saint-Lazare. But the few hundred insurgents were rapidly overwhelmed by the soldiers of the 25th regiment of the line. When the fighting was over, someone fired a musket from a window in 12 Rue Transnonain, where the barricade had resisted longer than elsewhere.58 The soldiers entered the house and massacred all its inhabitants – men, women and children. In his Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, Pierre Larousse states that ‘the regiment that had sullied the glorious French uniform by this crime was an object of horror in its various garrisons for the rest of Louis-Phillipe’s reign’.59 And Bugeau, who commanded these troops in their application of techniques perfected in Algeria, would always remain ‘the butcher of Rue Transnonain’. Repression came down hard on the republican leaders. A big trial, with 121 accused, was held in April 1835, before the Court of Peers sitting in the Luxembourg palace. All those who had not managed to take flight were imprisoned. In July 1835, Armand Carrel, publisher ofLe National, was killed in a duel by Émile de Girardin. As his friend Chateaubriand wrote, ‘it seemed there was never enough danger for him’.60 His death weakened the republican camp further, and the days of April 1834 were its last armed uprising until 1848.
But there was still Blanqui. If he took part in most of the journées of the 1830s, this was without the slightest illusion as to the manner in which the republican bourgeoisie conceived equality and fraternity. In January 1832, before the court of assizes where he was accused of infringing the press laws, the procurer asked his profession. He replied: ‘proletarian’. The procurator objected that this was not a profession. Blanqui responded: ‘It is the profession of the majority of our people, who are deprived of political rights.’61 The magistrates acquitted Blanqui for the press offence, but condemned him to a year in prison for insulting the court. Early in 1834, after serving this sentence, Blanqui established Le Libérateur, journal des opprimés, in which he wrote, by way of programme: ‘Our flag is equality . . . The Republic means the emancipation of the workers, the end of the reign of exploitation, the coming of a new order that will free labour from the tyranny of capital.’ There were not many people who could express these thoughts in 1834, either in France or elsewhere. (Marx was sixteen years old at this time. Much later, he would say that he learned these essentials from the Paris workers, who were largely Blanquists.)
In 1835, Blanqui and Barbès, who had not yet quarrelled, founded the Société des Familles. In 1836 they were arrested for having established, on Rue de Lourcine, a workshop for making gunpowder. After being amnestied, Blanqui organized the Société des Saisons, and early in 1839, cadres were prepared for the army of revolt.62 The day was fixed for 12 May, a Sunday, as Paris was then relatively empty of police, and the bourgeois were at the races in Neuilly. The thousand men whom Blanqui counted on to start the uprising were to gather between Rue Saint-Denis and Rue Saint-Martin, in the back rooms of wineshops, and in buildings near the store of the armourer Lepage on Rue du Bourgl’Abbé. Around midday, Blanqui arrived at the café on the corner of Rue Mandar and Rue Montorgueil. He briefly announced the object of his summons. Everyone came out, his supporters thronged into the neighbouring streets, and the cry ‘To arms!’ was heard. The doors of Lepage’s establishment were broken down, Barbès and Blanqui handed out muskets and cartridges through the windows. But the affair got off to a bad start, and Parisians watched in bemusement as these armed groups passed by. Victor Hugo:
Towards three o’clock two or three hundred young men, poorly armed, suddenly broke into the mairie of the 7th arrondissement, disarmed the guard, and took the muskets. Thence they ran to the Hôtel de Ville and performed the same freak . . . When they had the Hôtel de Ville, what was to be done with it? They went away . . . At this moment barricades are being made in Rue des Quatre Fils, at the corner of all the little Rues de Bretagne, de Poitou, de Touraine, and there are groups of persons listening . . . It is seven o’clock; from my balcony in the Place Royale platoon-firing is heard.63
The insurgents had not been understood and supported. They returned to the Saint-Martin quarter, to Rues Simon-le-Franc, Beaubourg and Transnonain. Blanqui and Barbès found three barricades in Rue Greneta as defence against the National Guard. But very soon they had to retreat to Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé under a hail of bullets. The last barricade, in the Saint-Merri quarter, was taken, and the uprising was over. At the trial of nineteen insurgents, in June, Barbès and Blanqui were condemned to death – Blanqui in his absence, as he had managed to escape, though he was captured not long after. Both men had their sentences commuted, and spent long years in Mont Saint-Michel. This was the end of Parisian uprisings for a long time. Heine wrote on 17 September 1842:
A very great calm reigns here. All is as silent as a winter night wrapped in snow. Only a little mysterious and monotonous noise, like falling drops. This is the interest on capital, falling into the strongboxes of the capitalists and almost spilling over. The continual swell of the riches of the rich can be distinctly heard. From time to time there is mixed with this dull ripple the sob of a low voice, the sob of poverty. Sometimes you can also hear a light metallic noise, like that of a knife being sharpened.64
The knives would emerge from their sheaths in 1848, on the occasion of a banquet that did not actually take place. To close the election campaign going on in the provinces, the opposition had prepared an enormous banquet in Paris, organized by the 12th legion of the National Guard (the legion of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau under the command of François Arago), along with the students of the Latin Quarter who were in ferment: Michelet and Quinet had been suspended from lecturing, and on 4 and 6 January the students demonstrated en masse to demand their recall. On 14 January, Guizot banned the banquet. After much hesitation, the opposition decided to go ahead. On 19 February, Le National affirmed that this would be held at noon on the 22nd. Rodolphe Apponyi, an attaché at the Austrian embassy, wrote in his diary on the 18th:
In the last few days, all the talk is of this famous banquet that is to be held. We do not yet know either the time or the place, but the very idea of such a gathering, to which not only the rioters of Paris are invited, but also those of towns a hundred leagues around, makes one tremble. The sponsors themselves are afraid, since if the head of the procession, which is supposed to cross the whole of Paris, keeps calm, it is by no means sure that the tail will do the same.65
Tocqueville wrote in his Recollections: ‘On the 20th February almost all the opposition newspapers published a programme for the forthcoming banquet, which was really a proclamation calling on the schools and the National Guard itself to attend the ceremony as a body . . . One might have taken it for a decree of the Provisional Government, which was formed three days later.’66 This ‘programme’ envisaged that the deputies, peers, and other guests at the banquet would assemble at eleven o’clock at the regular gathering place of the parliamentary opposition, on the Place de la Madeleine. The procession was to go via the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées, ending at Chaillot where the banquet would be held.
The 22nd was a rather well-behaved journée. At nine o’clock the students gathered without weapons at the Panthéon, where they were joined by workers from the Faubourgs Saint-Marceau and Saint-Antoine. The procession reached the Madeleine at around eleven. After a little scuffle with the local police, it headed down Rue Royale, crossed the Place de la Concorde, pushed aside the Municipal Guards defending the bridge and invaded the courtyard of the Palais-Bourbon. The dragoons and gendarmes cleared the Assembly, it rained throughout, and the journée was over.
In the morning of the 23rd, it was still raining. Duchâtel, the interior minister, ordered two battalions of each legion of the National Guard to occupy strategic zones: the Place de la Bastille, the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the Place des Victoires, the Pointe Saint-Eustache and the Porte Saint-Denis. In the morning, however, the majority of these legions, far from attacking the barricades that were rising throughout the city centre, refused to fight, shouted ‘Long live Reform, down with Guizot!’, and interposed themselves between the regular troops and the insurgents. On hearing this news, Louis-Philippe, who up till then had been optimistic – ‘You call a carriage turned upside down by two ruffians a barricade’, he said – collapsed. He dismissed Guizot and replaced him with Molé.67 News of this led to celebrations throughout Paris.
The boulevards took on a fairyland appearance. A long garland of multicoloured lights, hanging from every floor, linked the buildings as a joyful emblem of the union of hearts. From time to time, you could see groups pass along the road carrying flags and allegorical streamers, and singing theMarseillaise in chorus . . . Towards half past nine a much larger group appeared, a long column waving torches and a red flag, on the boulevards at the crossing of Rue Montmartre. This came from the depths of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine . . . Attracted by the beauty of the chanting, a large number of curious persons joined in this demonstration, which seemed inoffensive. In the effusion of this common festival, bourgeois and proletarians clasped each other’s hands.68
The republican leadership, however, were not satisfied with this conclusion, which they saw as a comic dénouement. This party’s men of action kept their weapons and prepared fortifications in the old centre of popular uprisings, Rues Beaubourg, Transnonain, etc.
The course of the revolution quickened on the night of 23 February. Apponyi had a grandstand view. He had left the Princesse de La Trémoille in the Faubourg Saint-Germain and was on his way home:
The boulevards were filled with promenaders: women, children, those simply curious like myself. But the foreign ministry building was so well guarded that there was no more room to walk by; you had to go down to Rue Basse-du-Rempart, which was still more filthy than usual.69 A crowd of young people, most of them in workers’ clothes, were advancing down the boulevards, preceded by lanterns in red and yellow paper that were carried on long poles. This jubilant mob wanted to enter Rue de la Paix, but the soldiers stationed there prevented them and they came towards us. To avoid finding myself in the midst of this mass of proletarians, whose attitude was in no way reassuring for an individual armed only with an umbrella, I thought it best to walk as close as possible to the metal railing that runs along Rue Basse-du-Rempart at that point. I had not taken more than a few steps towards the crowd, when all at once the regiments of the line opened platoon-fire on us, and there we were, a hundred persons, lying, falling, rolling on the ground; on top of one another, with cries and whimpers . . . The two little women [whom he had described talking with some minutes before] were now dead bodies, along with more than fifty others struck by a second round of firing before those wounded in the first had time to stand!
What followed is one of the most famous revolutionary images: the cart pulled by a white horse, the heap of bodies lit up by a torch held by a child, the circuit round the centre of Paris to shouts of ‘Revenge! They’re butchering the people!’ On the morning of the 24th, ‘the troops, who had bivouacked in the rain with their feet in the mud, their minds troubled and their bodies numb with cold, perceived with the first glimmers of dawn a bold and resolute multitude, flocking in through Rues Saint-Martin, Rambuteau, Saint-Merri, du Temple and Saint-Denis, where barricades had been raised at a number of places’.70
Tocqueville, who had heard nothing of this, left home in the early morning.
As soon as I had set foot in the street I could for the first time scent revolution in the air . . . The boulevard along which we passed presented a strange sight. There was hardly anyone to be seen, although it was nearly nine o’clock in the morning; no sound of a human voice could be heard; but all the little sentry boxes the whole way along that great street seemed on the move, oscillating on their bases and occasionally falling with a crash, while the great trees along the edge came tumbling into the road as if of their own accord. These acts of destruction were the work of isolated individuals who set about it silently, methodically and fast, preparing materials for the barricades that others were to build . . . Nothing that I saw later that day impressed me so much as that solitude in which one could, so to speak, see all the most evil passions of humanity at work, and none of the good ones.71
It is clear here what Tocqueville saw as the ‘good passions’. A little later, he crossed an infantry column retreating to the Madeleine: ‘Their ranks were broken and disorderly, and they marched with hanging heads, shamefaced and frightened. Whenever one of them left the main body for an instant, he was immediately surrounded, caught, clasped, disarmed and sent back; all this in the twinkling of an eye.’72 These were the troops of General Bedeau, falling back from the Bastille to the Tuileries via the boulevards. On that day, at nine in the morning, the insurgents held four of the strategic points that the forces of order were supposed to defend at any price: the Bastille, the Porte Saint-Denis, the Place des Victoires and the Pointe Saint-Eustache. The Prefecture of Police and the Hôtel de Ville were taken without a struggle. Only a company of the 14th Regiment of the line, badly informed about the development of events, got themselves killed at the Palais-Royal. Turgenev noted that the only serious fighting in the February days was on the Place du Palais-Royal.73 ‘Two companies of regular army regiments occupied the position that forms the left wing of the Château d’Eau. This building . . . could only be destroyed by cannon. It was from there that the troops fired on the people positioned opposite in the courtyard of the Palais-Royal, and whose own shots only hit the stonework . . . Finally, they made their way into the royal stables, carriages were rolled under the windows of the army post and set on fire.’74 By one o’clock, the king had abdicated and left the Tuileries for Saint-Cloud, repeating in a daze: ‘Like Charles X, like Charles X!’ The insurgents invaded the Tuileries, the royal throne was carried to the Bastille and burned. This was the end of the first phase of the revolution, which for Tocqueville was ‘the shortest and the least bloody that the country had known’.
Throughout the following days, calm reigned in the streets. ‘I went around very easily in a cab,’ Apponyi noted on 27 February, ‘the barricades were still in place, but a wide enough space was left for a carriage to pass. So I could go to Rothschild’s; it would be impossible to depict the terror of the bankers and notaries, they were in a deplorable state.’ The self-proclaimed Provisional Government met in the Hôtel de Ville, in unprecedented conditions:75 for two weeks, until 5 or 6 March, it deliberated under the direct pressure of the crowd that massed there. Every minute the debates were interrupted by the clamour of popular delegates. The nascent power was beset by mistrust, the swindle of July 1830 was still too close to be forgotten. It was in these conditions that the affair of the red flag developed on the evening of the 25th, suddenly revealing the hidden antagonisms. Lamartine:
The arches, the courts, the steps of the great staircase, the Salle Saint-Jean, were strewn with dead bodies . . . Bands of senseless men and ferocious boys sought here and there for the dead bodies of horses, drowned in the pools of blood. They passed cords around their breasts, and dragged them, with laughter and howling, over the Place de Grève, and then threw them into the vault at the foot of the staircase [of the Hôtel de Ville].76
At the head of the ‘seditionists’, a worker named Marche spoke:
His face, blackened by the smoke of powder, was pale with emotion; his lips trembled with rage; his eyes, sunk beneath a prominent brow, flashed fire . . . He rolled in his left hand a strip of ribbon or red stuff. He held in his right hand the barrel of a carbine, the butt-end of which he struck with force upon the floor at every word . . . He spoke not as a man, but in the name of the people, who wished to be obeyed, and did not mean to wait . . . He repeated . . . all the conditions of the programme of impossibilities which the tumultuous cries of the people had enjoined it to accept and to realize on the instant: the overthrow of all known society; the destruction of property and capitalists; spoliation; the immediate installation of the proletarian into the community of goods; the proscription of the bankers, the wealthy, the manufacturers, the bourgeois of every condition above the wage-earners; a government, with an axe in its hand, to level all the superiorities of birth, competence, inheritance, and even of labour; in fine, the acceptance, without reply, and without delay, of the red flag, to signify to society its defeat; to the people, their victory; to Paris, terror; to all foreign governments, invasion: each of these injunctions was supported by the orator with a blow of the butt of his musket on the floor, by frantic applause from those who were behind him, and a salute of shots fired on the square.77
Lamartine, who speaks of himself in the third person in this History, ends up making his famous speech – an essential marker in republican genealogy – on the red flag, ‘which had only made the tour of the Champs-de-Mars, drawn through the blood of the people’, whereas the tricolour ‘has made the circuit of the world, with the name, the glory, and the liberty of the country’. Apponyi was very grateful to him for having carried the day: ‘We owe this victory to the courage and unheard-of devotion of M. de Lamartine, who spent sixty hours without eating or drinking, without sleeping . . . he was everything and did everything with a miraculous force of mind and body.’ It was in this way, wrote Herzen, that ‘the flag of the people, waved under fire, the flag of democracy, of the future Republic, was rejected . . . and the flag that served as shop-sign for seventeen years to Louis-Philippe, the flag behind which the Municipal Guard fired on the people, the flag of the royalist bourgeoisie, was taken as the standard of the new republic . . . As soon as the bourgeoisie learned of the affair of the tricolour flag, the shops opened, and they were lighter of heart. For this concession, they had to make one in return, and agreed to recognize the Republic.’78
The confrontation rapidly moved to new ground, and the big affair became the date of the election to the Constituent Assembly. The bourgeois parties tried to have the vote set for as early as possible, whereas the republican left wanted time for an election campaign that would address the new electors, especially in the provinces.79 On 17 March, 150,000 demonstrators came to calmly demand the postponement of the elections: ‘From every quarter, from every faubourg, from the whole banlieue, groups of workers converged on the Place de la Révolution [de la Concorde]. They had neither the dress nor the physiognomy of men torn from their workshops by riot . . . Soon an enormous organized column covered the great avenue of the Champs-Élysées, from the railings of the Tuileries to the barrier of the Étoile.’80 The procession, in which the flags of Poland, of Italian and German unity and the green flag of Ireland could be seen, set out for the Hôtel de Ville along the quays of the Seine. Some fifty delegates, including Blanqui, Raspail, Cabet and Barbès, were received by the Provisional Government. Blanqui spoke, demanding the removal of troops and the postponement of elections. Lamartine eloquently lied: ‘There are no troops in Paris, aside perhaps for some fifteen hundred or two thousand men, divided between the external positions, to protect the city gates and the railways, and it is false that the government has any thought of bringing them into Paris . . . The Republic, internally, wants no other defenders than the armed people.’81 Louis Blanc, hesitating between the people and the government, succeeded in aborting the movement that had begun, by siding with the established power. Proudhon remarked that he used the same terms as Guizot to characterize the demonstrators.82 Finally, the ballot would only be delayed for two weeks, an insufficient time to ‘call the people to meetings, enlighten them, conduct their political education’, as Blanqui said during the Bourges trial.
On Sunday, 16 April, a week before the date set for the elections, a crowd of workers gathered on the Champ-de-Mars to choose its officers for the National Guard. Here and there the question of elections was heatedly discussed. A delegation left for the Hôtel de Ville, to take the proceeds of a collection, but Ledru-Rollin had sounded the call to arms, and the astonished workers had to pass between the bayonets of the bourgeois National Guard and the Mobile Guard to reach the Maison du Peuple. In the evening, the National Guard of the beaux quartiers patrolled the streets with shouts of ‘Down with the communists! Death to Blanqui! Death to Cabet!’
But there was a section of the elegant bourgeoisie that had learned their habits from Blanqui’s club, the Société Républicaine Centrale, in the hall of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers:
Parisian society, after the first reaction of consternation, and still too disturbed to renew its customary gatherings and pleasures, ran from club to club . . . Blanqui’s club was in favour with people who had this kind of curiosity. The boxes and galleries where in previous years people had come to hear in rapt communion the masterpieces of musical art, were besieged every night by a singularly mixed and noisy crowd. They recognized each other at a distance, and greeted one another with a hasty gesture, lost as they were in this crowd in workmen’s clothes whom many believed to be armed.83
The members of the Société Républicaine Centrale included Charles Baudelaire, who published in March, together with Champfleury and Toubin, the two issues of Le Salut public. It was certainly in this hall that Baudelaire drew the pencil portrait of Blanqui that Walter Benjamin mentions, in the singular intuition that leads him to compare the poet and the man in black: ‘The solitude of Baudelaire as a counterpart to that of Blanqui’; ‘the enigmatic stuff of allegory in one, the mystery-mongering of the conspirator in the other’. And in Baudelaire’s ‘The Litany of Satan’: ‘You who give the outlaw that calm and haughty look/That damns the whole multitude around his scaffold’, Benjamin sees ‘the dark face of Blanqui shine through between the lines’.
A few days later, after the feast of Fraternité, Blanqui predicted that ‘the fruit of this fraternity between the bourgeoisie and its army will be a Saint Bartholemew of the proletarians’.84 The journée of 15 May was a prelude to this – along with the events in Rouen, where the National Guard fired on an unarmed demonstration of workers. The clubs had decided on a big demonstration in support of Poland. Blanqui was opposed to this, as the proceedings of the Bourges trial note:
M. Blanqui . . . explained that after having resisted the demonstration, he was forced to accept it and took part. ‘The point is,’ he said, ‘that handling the popular element is not like commanding a regiment that stands ready, arms in hand, to which you say “march” and it marches, “stop” and it stops. No, gentlemen, it isn’t like this at all, and I had to accept this popular invasion in support of Poland.’
Setting off from the Bastille, the demonstration headed towards the Madeleine via the boulevards, crossed the Place de la Concorde, and reached the Palais-Bourbon where the new Constituent Assembly had met for the first time a week or so ago. Blanqui, Barbès and Raspail were there; Tocqueville as well, who had been elected deputy for the Manche in his constituency of Valognes:
The sitting began like any other; and, what was very odd, twenty thousand men had surrounded the Chamber before any sound from outside had indicated their presence. Wolowski was at the rostrum; he was mumbling between his teeth some platitude or other about Poland when the people suddenly demonstrated how close they were by a terrible shout which, bursting through all the windows at the top of the Chamber, left open on account of the heat, fell upon us as if it came from the sky . . . the doors of the galleries burst open with a crash; a flood of people poured into them, filled them, and soon overflowed them. Pressed forward by the crowd following them . . . the first arrivals climbed over the balustrades . . . they let themselves down at the sides of the walls and jumped the last five or six feet into the middle of the Assembly . . . While one group of the people fell into the hall, another, composed mainly of the leaders of all the clubs, invaded us through every door. These latter carried various emblems of the Terror, and they waved a lot of flags, some of them with a red cap on top . . . Some of our invaders were armed . . . but not one seemed to have a fixed resolve to strike us . . . there seemed to be no obedience to a common leader; it was a rabble, not a troop. I did see some drunks among them, but most of them seemed to be prey to a feverish excitement . . . they were dripping with sweat, although the nature and state of their clothing should have made the heat not particularly disagreeable, for sometimes a good deal of naked skin was showing . . . Throughout this disorder the Assembly remained passive and motionless on its benches, neither resisting nor giving way . . . Some members of the Mountain fraternized with the people, but furtively and in whispers.85
Raspail read from the tribune a petition in support of Poland, amid great confusion. The president rang his bell. But suddenly silence fell, Blanqui was about to speak:86
It was at that moment that I saw a man go up onto the rostrum, and, although I have never seen him again, the memory of him has filled me with disgust and horror ever since. He had sunken, withered cheeks, white lips, and a sickly, malign, dirty look like a pallid, mouldy corpse; he was wearing no visible linen; an old black frockcoat covered his lean, emaciated limbs tightly; he looked as if he had lived in a sewer and only just come out. I was told that this was Blanqui.87
This description is worth dwelling on. Blanqui had just spent eight years in the worst prisons; his health was ruined, he spat blood, his wife had died, and one might well believe that these cruel tests had marked him. On top of this, he can hardly have been at his best that day, forced into a confrontation that he did not want. But in Tocqueville’s words there is hatred, the same as he expresses towards the mob, the ochlos, these ‘disgustingly sweaty and quite ragged’ men – the same as he would soon express for the June insurgents. Tocqueville, that cynosure of the Institut des Sciences Politiques and the late lamented Fondation Saint-Simon, the idol of the liberals, was literally possessed by a hatred for the people, and though highly polite in general, he expresses himself in a vulgar fashion, to use one of his own adjectives.88
The affair turned disastrously wrong. Blanqui was not very convincing, wavering between Poland and the situation in France. Barbès spoke after him, undoubtedly in a fit of crazy outbidding directed against Blanqui, now that they had become enemies, and demanded an immediate tax of a billion francs on the rich. A certain Huber – who turned out to be an agent provocateur – proclaimed the dissolution of the Assembly, amid total chaos. The majority of deputies left the chamber. Soon the call to arms was heard, and the Mobile Guards arrived and expelled the demonstrators; thejournée was over. In the evening, Barbès, Albert and Raspail were arrested. The clubs of Blanqui and Raspail were closed. Blanqui himself went underground, but was arrested on 26 May along with his faithful friends, the chef Flotte and the doctor Lacambre. The most evident result of thisjournée was that of depriving the Paris proletariat of its leaders at the very moment when it had most need of them.
‘Rather an end with terror than a terror without end!’ – this was the cry that the bourgeois ‘madly snorted at his parliamentary republic’.89 During the five weeks that elapsed between the journée of 15 May and the June insurrection, the bourgeoisie made preparations for this ‘end with terror’. Aunion sacrée came into being against Red Paris – Orleanists, Legitimists, republicans of all shades, including the quasi-totality of socialists, had only one idea in mind: to put an end to all this. Discordant voices were very rare, such as that of Pierre Leroux in the Assembly on 10 June: ‘You have no other solution than violence, threats and blood, the old, false, absurd political economy. There are new solutions, socialism can bring them, allow socialism to let humanity live!’ Daniel Stern noted how ‘nothing could appear more singular to this Assembly, which was beginning to find that it was a bit too republican, after hearing that it was not republican enough’.
The preparations for the battle against the Paris proletariat were made in the broad light of day. Lamartine presented the general lines of these to the Executive Commission, which had replaced the Provisional Government in May:
I do not wish to take upon my name the responsibility of a position of weakness, and of disarming society, which may degenerate into anarchy. I demand two things: laws of public security respecting the rioters, the clubs, the abuses of complaint in anarchical journals, the power of banishing from Paris to their communes the agitators convicted of public sedition, and lastly a camp of twenty thousand men, under the walls of Paris, to assist the army of Paris and the National Guard in the certain and imminent campaign which we would inevitably have to make against the National Workshops, and against the more guilty factions which might arise and become masters of this army of all the seditions.90
This gentle elegiac poet, the head of the angelic school as Balzac ironically called him, would obtain satisfaction of his demands – a law against rioting, with a penalty of twelve years in prison and withdrawal of civil rights for any citizen taking part in an armed riot that did not disperse at the first summons. Thanks to this law, ‘the prisons of the Republic opened again for those who had grown old in the prisons of the monarchy’.91
The memories of February were still fresh. The party of Order knew that the military could change sides and that the National Guard from the popular arrondissements was unreliable. A new body was therefore created, specially recruited and trained for repression: the Mobile Guard, recognizable by its green epaulettes. It was in relation to this force that Marx used for the first time, I believe, the term ‘lumpenproletariat’. According to Victor Marouk, this was formed from ‘people with no allegiance’; in Hippolyte Castille’s words, ‘the scum of Paris’. For Louis Ménard, ‘since no precautions were taken with recruitment, this floating population that pullulates in the big cities had no trouble in joining’.92 These were very young men, including a large unemployed number of working-class origin, who were attracted by the pay of 30 sous a day, and by uniform and adventure.93 The bourgeoisie was unsure until the last moment whether they would not betray it. Tocqueville expressed this fear at the feast of Concorde on the Champs-de-Mars, a sinister parody of the feast of the Fédération of 1790:
The sight of those two hundred thousand bayonets will never leave my memory . . . Only the rich sections sent out any large number of the National Guard wearing military uniform . . . Among the legions from the suburbs, which by themselves stretched out into whole armies, one saw little but jackets and blouses, although that did not prevent them marching with very warlike expressions. Most of them, as they came by us, shouted, ‘Long live the democratic Republic!’ or sang the Marseillaise or the Girondins’ song . . . The various exclamations which we could hear from the battalions of the Garde Mobile left us full of doubts and anxiety about the intentions of these young men, or rather children, who, more than anybody else at that time, held our destinies in their hands. The regiments of the line, who closed the review, marched past in silence. My heart was filled with sadness as I watched this prolonged spectacle . . . I felt that these were the two armies of the civil war that we were just beginning.94
The proletariat was also preparing for battle in its workshops. This was above all a question of manufacturing gunpowder and firearms, as weapons were not lacking. Even a cannon was constructed in the Faubourg du Temple. In July, a certain Allard, police chief in charge of public security, testified before the parliamentary commission of inquiry:
I had the houses searched on the right and left sides of the whole length of Rue de Charenton. We were sometimes forced to knock down the doors. We found muskets that were still hot, and hands black with powder. But what caught our attention above all was a veritable factory for gunpowder and other ammunition in a small passage on Rue du Chantier, between Rue de Charenton and Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine . . . Here, at no. 10, was a locksmith’s foundry where gunpowder, bullets and cartridges were being made. Bullets were moulded in thimbles, others in musket barrels. The lead ingots produced in these were then cut into sections.95
To make an end a pretext was needed, and this was provided by the National Workshops. Established in the wake of the February revolution, after an idea of Louis Blanc, these were supposed to relieve poverty by organizing new forms of work. But very soon the enormous demand transformed these cooperative and generous projects into meaningless tasks; by May-June, more than 100,000 men were employed, and 20,000 women, with all trades mixed together and functioning as navvies or seamstresses; 2 francs per day for men, and 1 franc for women.96 There was no money left to finance the major works originally envisaged, as the economic crisis that had begun in 1846 was aggravated by a flight of capital.97 The overwhelming majority of the National Assembly wanted the immediate closure of the National Workshops, as not only did they cost a great deal, but they aroused fear. Daniel Stern:
This confused and floating population that had been pressed here to clear the public space was tacitly inspired by a common spirit. It was disciplined and organized by its own strength; it constituted a veritable army . . . which elected leaders of its own choice that would be the only ones obeyed on the decisive day. But if some spirits, taking account of circumstances, sought a mode of slow and managed dissolution which would not suddenly cast into distress the families of valiant workmen whose only wrong was to lack employment, others on the contrary treated the equity of the former as culpable complicity, and wanted immediately, without transition or arrangement, to expel these lazzaroni, these janissaries – as they called them in terms both unjust and imprudent – from Paris and disperse them at any cost, without worrying about where they would find bread.
Under the influence of Falloux, chair of the labour committee, the Assembly and the Executive Commission decided to act quickly. On 20 June, Victor Hugo demanded the dissolution of the National Workshops in terms very close to those of Falloux, to whom he specifically referred: ‘Independently of the dismal effect that the National Workshops have on our finances, these Workshops in their present form, and as they threaten to continue, could in the long term – a danger that has already been pointed out to you – seriously alter the character of the Parisian worker.’ On 21 June, the Commission decreed that all male workers between 18 and 25 years of age would be immediately enrolled in the army. Others would be sent to provincial departments that would be allocated them, to do navvying work. The first contingent was to leave Paris for the swamps of the Sologne the next day, 22 June. This decree fell on a city that was already in ferment: ‘On 6 June, new rioting on Rue Saint-Denis, constantly increasing. At ten o’clock there was a compact crowd on the boulevard . . . detachments of National Guard, Mobile Guard and regular forces arrived from all sides . . . Same rioting on the 8th. The crowded is bigger every day, the repression more energetic . . . On the 11th the agitation continued, and 134 seditionists were arrested.’98
By the evening, groups of hungry people roamed the streets calling out in a low voice: ‘Bread or lead, bread or lead’, a dark and contracted version of the battle cry of the Lyon silk-workers: ‘Live working or die fighting’.
The Executive Commission’s provocation would trigger the June insurrection, which Tocqueville saw as:
the greatest and the strangest that had ever taken place in our history, or perhaps in that of any other nation: the greatest because for four days more than a hundred thousand men took part in it, and there were five generals killed; the strangest, because the insurgents were fighting without a battle cry, leaders, or flag, and yet they showed wonderful powers of coordination and a military expertise that astonished the most experienced officers. Another point that distinguished it from all other events of the same type during the last sixty years was that its object was not to change the form of the government, but to alter the organization of society. In truth it was not a political struggle (in the sense in which we have used the word ‘political’ up to now), but a class struggle, a sort of ‘Servile War’.99
On 22 June, when news of the decree reached them, tens of thousands of workers came out in the streets, crying: ‘Down with Marie! Down with Lamartine!’, and chanting in unison: ‘We won’t leave, we won’t leave.’ A procession made its way to the Luxembourg, where the Executive Commission and the labour committee were in session, to ask for the suspension of the decree. A delegation led by Pujol, an official of the National Workshops, was received by Marie, the minister of public works. The tone grew rapidly heated, and Marie ended up uttering the fatal words: ‘If the workers are unwilling to leave for the provinces, we shall compel them by force.’ The delegates left the Luxembourg in a fury, and headed for the Place Saint-Sulpice, where Pujol, standing on the fountain, informed them of the response of the government and summoned the workers to the Panthéon that same night.
During the evening, an immense crowd of men and women from the working-class quarters, the Faubourg du Temple and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, made their way up Rue Saint-Jacques and massed around the Panthéon. Pardigon, a law student who was to take part in the insurrection, recalled:
Several speakers spoke at once, but without leading to confusion. Each of them had their own audience. At certain moments, low murmurs and oscillations among these groups, in which even faces could not be distinguished, showed that all minds were moved by a single thought, a thought as cold and severe as it was passionate, for the shouts, cheers, applause and enthusiasm customary at popular meetings were lacking . . . The spectre of the Sologne was present in everyone’s mind, like a French Siberia, to which the workers of the National Workshops were to be exiled, thus putting an end to the question of the Right to Work and ridding Paris of its revolutionary forces.100
Finally, Pujol, perching on a fence post, invited the workers to assemble the next day in the same place. ‘Acclamations greeted his incendiary words, the torches were extinguished, the crowd melted away, and the night passed in dull and horrible preparations.’101
That night, the prefect of police received the order to occupy the Place du Panthéon and arrest the fifty-six delegates of the National Workshops of the 12th arrondissement, which housed what Lamartine called the ‘famished masses’, along with those of the Latin Quarter and the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. This order was not carried out, and at six in the morning several thousand workers massed on the Place du Panthéon. Coming down through Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue de la Harpe, they erected barricades in the little streets around the church of Saint-Séverin, occupied the Petit-Pont, and built fortifications in the labyrinth of the Île de la Cité, where they threatened the police prefecture.102
At the same time, another mass of insurgents gathered at the Poissonière and Saint-Denis barriers (now the Barbès-Rochechouart and La Chapelle crossroads) and in the Clos Saint-Lazare – the construction site of the Louis-Philippe (now Lariboisière) hospital. This group built fortifications around the new church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and on the Place La Fayette (now Franz-Lizst). On Rue de Bellefond, Rue Rochechouart and Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, railway engineers erected barricades.
The third focus of insurrection was the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. This joined the Faubourg du Temple in the Popincourt quarter, and established its forward positions right against the Hôtel de Ville, fortifying the little streets around the church of Saint-Gervais:
In all the little streets around that building [the Hôtel de Ville] I found the people busy constructing barricades. They went about the work with the methodical skill of engineers, not taking up more paving-stones than were needed to provide squared stones for a solid and even fairly tidy wall, and they usually left a narrow opening by the houses to allow people to circulate.103
The Place du Panthéon and the Clos Saint-Lazare, on the Left and Right Banks respectively, were thus the two outer strongholds of the insurrection. They were linked to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine which was its headquarters – the former through the Place Maubert, the Cité, and the Hôtel de Ville quarter, and the second via the Faubourgs Saint-Martin and du Temple and their respective boulevards. In this way, the insurrection controlled a great semicircle in the eastern part of Paris, the most populous and the poorest, where the narrow streets and the nature of the buildings made any attack very problematic:
Once in control of this broad space, and having expanded its ranks with the whole working population of these quarters, the insurrection could advance on the Right and Left Banks simultaneously, through the boulevards and along the quays, towards the other half of Paris that was richer and less populated, that containing the Tuileries, the Palais-Royal, the ministries, the National Assembly, the Bank, etc.104
But an offensive of this kind required a strategic conception, and this was lacking. ‘The June insurrection was made without an overall plan, without a conspiracy in the strong sense of the term, without a headquarters, but it was certainly not made without work by the people on itself, without advance agreement’, writes Pardigon. Louis Ménard thought likewise: ‘The leaders of the democratic forces played no part in the insurrection. The most talented and energetic of them were imprisoned at Vincennes. The others lacked boldness and faith; hence, in the party of the People, this absence of unity, of overall plan, that made possible the victory of its enemies.’105
At all events, by midday on the 23rd, half of Paris was in the hands of the people without a shot being fired. In the afternoon, the Executive Commission transferred all military power to the minister of war, General Cavaignac (‘Lamartine’s fireworks have turned into Cavaignac’s incendiary rockets’, Marx wrote in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung). The son of a member of the Convention, a student at the Polytechnique when the school was a focus of republicanism, and the brother of Godefroy Cavaignac who had been a leading light in the republican opposition (‘our Godefroy’, Delescluze called him), there was something ambiguous about this character, but it was the African general in him who carried the day: ‘This time they will not escape us . . . I am charged with crushing the enemy and I shall act massively against him, as in war. If need be, I shall attack in the open country and I shall succeed in defeating him.’106
Cavaignac’s forces were made up of three bodies, designed to operate, as he put it, in compact masses, so as to avoid fragmentation and demoralization when they came in contact with the insurgents:
The three headquarters were: 1) the Porte Saint-Denis, to act against the Clos Saint-Lazare, the Faubourg Saint-Martin and the Faubourg du Temple; M. de Lamoricière, in command of this side, would distinguish himself by the swiftness of his vision and his brilliant courage; 2) the Hôtel de Ville, where Duvivier prepared operations against the Saint-Antoine quarter and faubourg; 3) the Sorbonne, from where Bedeau and Damesne, commanding the Mobile Guard, were to act against the Panthéon and the Faubourgs Saint-Jacques and Saint-Marceau.107
The first engagement was late in the morning of the 23rd, at the Porte Saint-Denis:
The detachment that set out from the Clos Saint-Lazare to occupy the Porte was made up of a force of young men with a drum at their head. As this force was arriving, a voice cried out: ‘To the barricades!’ ‘To arms!’, a thousand other voices replied. From every house, men, women and children came out into the streets, seizing vehicles, tearing up cobbles, and in a few minutes erecting a formidable barricade. One woman hoisted to the top of the barricade a flag with the words: ‘National Workshops, 4th arrondissement, 5th section’.108
The Rue and the Faubourg Saint-Denis, Rue Sainte-Apolline, Rues d’Aboukir and de Cléry were all covered with barricades. The railings and fences of Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle were torn up. Suddenly a detachment of National Guard came down the boulevards. When they saw the barricade, they opened fire without reading the summons. The insurgents responded, and the Guards fled. Then came a battalion of the 2nd Legion and a company of the 3rd. The leader of the insurgents who was directing the fire was struck by a bullet and fell. A woman took up the flag:
with thin hair and bare arms, in a strikingly coloured dress, she seemed to defy death. On seeing her, the National Guard hesitated to fire; they shouted to the young woman to get back; she remained undaunted, and provoked the attackers with her gestures and voice; a shot was fired, and she staggered and collapsed. But another woman suddenly rushed to her side; with one hand she supported the bloody body of her friend, with the other she hurled stones at the attackers. A new volley of shots echoed, and she fell in her turn on to the body that she was embracing.109
The barricade was taken. At the same time, the head of the column led by Lamoricière appeared on the boulevard, coming from the Madeleine – troops of the line and Mobile Guards – to take up position at the Château d’Eau. It swept the boulevards, the Faubourgs Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin, and advanced northward through the Faubourg Poissonière, where it stormed the barricades erected on Rue Richer and Rue des PetitesÉcuries. But it was brought to a halt at the gigantic defences on the Place La Fayette, commanded by the industrial designer Legénissel, a captain in the National Guard who had gone over with his company to the insurrection. Lamoricière had to retreat towards the Porte Saint-Denis.
That Friday 23rd, the first of four days of fighting, the insurgents succeeded in securing their positions:
The Clos Saint-Lazare, the barriers of Poissonière, La Chapelle, La Villette and Temple, the communes of Montmartre, La Chapelle, La Villette and Belleville, the Faubourg du Temple, the Popincourt quarter, the Faubourg and Rue Saint-Antoine, the quarters of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Victor, were entirely controlled by the insurrection . . . In the Saint-Martin quarter as well, which was cut off from the three main centres of rebellion, barricades were raised in Rues Rambuteau, Beaubourg, Planche-Mibray, etc. A portion of the National Guard of the 8th, 11th and 12th arrondissements were installed behind the barricades.110
At the Panthéon, it took very little for two legions of the National Guard to come to blows. The 11th Legion, commanded by Edgar Quinet, was mainly on the side of order. The 12th Legion, which had gone over to the side of the people, demanded that the 11thshould return to the limits of its own arrondissement. ‘Some thirty students from the École Normale Supérieure, in their new uniforms and armed with muskets, intervened to prevent the spilling of blood. They deplored the insurrection, but were not hostile to it.’111The mayor of the 12th arrondissement, a very popular doctor, was negotiating with the people on the barricades when suddenly a detachment led by the elderly François Arago arrived from the Luxembourg and stopped at the barricade barring Rue Soufflot. Arago furiously asked the insurgents why they were fighting against the Republic. An old insurgent reminded him: ‘We were together at the time of Rue Saint-Merri.’ After summoning those present to disperse, the barricade was attacked and taken. On the Place de Cambrai and Rue Neuve-des-Mathurins, new barricades went up, and this time Arago gave orders to use cannon.112
Quinet and Arago – how did these old republicans arrive at bombarding the people?
These men, who had spent their whole life fighting for the progress of democratic ideas . . . were persuaded on this occasion that the people, by rising up against the national representation, would drown not only law and right, but the Republic and perhaps even the state in their calamitous victory, and with a shattered heart but a firm spirit, they set out against this strange enemy whose emancipation had been the goal of their efforts for more than twenty years.113
Perhaps also, in the face of this proletariat of which they had previously had only an abstract vision, their class instinct took the upper hand over their generous ideas.
In the afternoon of the 23rd, General Bedeau left the Hôtel de Ville with two columns to attack the Montagne Saint-Geneviève. One column crossed the Seine by the Pont d’Arcole, the other by the Pont Notre-Dame. An artillery battery was installed in the Hôtel-Dieu to support them.114 The Guards easily stormed the barricade of the Petit-Pont on the Île de la Cité, but on the other side, the one blocking entrance to Rue Saint-Jacques remained. This was defended by old republicans who had been in prison under Louis-Philippe together with Guinard, the officer now commanding the artillery opposite them. ‘Citizen Guinard was at the head with his gunners, though not all of them, as some were on the barricade, so that they could recognize one another and call out to each other by name.’115 As happened very often in the course of these days, it was the arrival of the Mobile Guard that decided things. The barricade was taken. The insurgents took refuge in a draper’s shop at the bottom of Rue Saint-Jacques, ‘Aux Deux Pierrots’:
Belval, their leader, an energetic man of great composure, wanted to demolish the staircase and fight from the upper floors. He was not listened to, and got angry with his companions. The Mobile Guard began a terrible carnage. The workers, hidden behind display cases, under the counters, in the eaves and the cellars, were killed with bayonet thrusts, to the savage laughter of the murderers. Blood ran in streams.116
Tocqueville had no reason to be worried about the behaviour of the Mobile Guards:
The bravery of these youngsters of the Mobile Guard, in this first and terrible test, could not even be imagined by those who did not witness it. The noise of the firing, the whistling of bullets, seemed to them a new and joyful game. The smoke and the smell of powder excited them. They ran to the attack, climbed up the falling cobblestones, clung to every obstacle with a marvellous agility. Once on their way, nothing could hold them back; they were seized by a desire for emulation which drove them on in the face of death. To seize a musket from the bloody hands of an enemy, to press the barrel of a carbine against a naked breast, to dig the point of a bayonet in quivering flesh, to trample corpses underfoot, to be the first to stand on top of the barricade, to receive mortal attacks without flinching, to laugh at one’s own blood flowing, to seize a flag and wave it about one’s head, defying the enemy bullets – all this was, for these foolish and heroic youngsters of Paris, unknown bliss that made them insensitive to everything. Not much else was needed for this transport of youth and madness for glory, supported by the brilliance and calmness of army officers, to lead the regiments and the mass of the National Guard. If the Mobile Guard had gone over to the insurrection, as was feared, it is almost certain that victory would have gone over with them.117
After this success, General Bedeau attacked up Rue Saint-Jacques, but fire came from every window, the troops ran out of ammunition, barricades multiplied as they climbed, and the losses were enormous. Night fell, and there was no longer any question of reaching the Panthéon. The troops fell back on the Hôtel de Ville. ‘So many dead and wounded, such disproportionate losses for the slim advantages won, cast a great sadness into the mind of General Bedeau.’118 On the other flank of the Montagne, towards the south, the situation for the forces of order was no better. The Mobile Guard had experienced very heavy losses, and one company had been disarmed on Rue Mouffetard. On the Left Bank, the insurrection was still unvanquished on the night of the 23rd.
On the Right Bank, Cavaignac and Lamartine directed operations on horseback, accompanied by Pierre Bonaparte. (‘This intrepid young man’, wrote Lamartine in his History, ‘inherited the republicanism of his father.’ Twenty-two years later Pierre Bonaparte would murder the journalist Victor Noir, bringing all of Paris into the street for the first time since the coup d’état.) During a rainstorm, they attacked the Faubourg du Temple. ‘Many representatives who were present during the day had already received gunshot wounds, when Monsieurs Cavaignac and Lamartine put themselves at the head of the assault columns that successively attacked all the barricades.’119 Cavaignac and his seven battalions were halted by an immense barricade on the corner of Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi and Rue de la Pierre-Levée – the very place where the last barricade of the Commune would later hold out. Cavaignac had the 20th Battalion of the Mobile Guard lead the assault, but it was stopped short by a tremendous volley of gunfire. A second battalion suffered the same fate, and all seven were repulsed one by one:
Then Cavaignac had the cannon brought up. Alone on horseback, in the middle of the roadway and completely composed, he remained immobile and gave orders with a perfect sang-froid; two-thirds of the men operating the guns were killed or wounded at his side. The general sent several detachments through side streets to try and get round the barricade. But it was all in vain. Hours passed, ammunition ran out. Cavaignac, who had come to bring reinforcements to Lamoricière, was forced to ask him what to do. Night was falling. It was only after a battle lasting five hours that the barricade was finally taken by Colonel Dulac, at the head of the 29th Regiment of the line . . . Cavaignac, his heart shattered by this sad success [so highly sensitive, these generals: E.H.], headed back to the Palais-Bourbon.120
The next day, the barricade was rebuilt.
Around the Hôtel de Ville, in the evening of the 23rd, the party of Order was in no better position: ‘The taking of the town hall, which was the traditional seat of popular government, would give a kind of legal character to the insurrection; so the insurgents made unheard-of efforts to seize it.’121Barricades surrounded the Hôtel de Ville, on the Île de la Cité, Rue Saint-Antoine, the little streets around Saint-Gervais and Rue du Temple. The troops were harassed by sniper fire from buildings between the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and the Place du Châtelet.
In the Assembly, that evening, the atmosphere was gloomy and tense:
When the sitting resumed, we learned that Lamartine had been received with fire at every barricade he had approached; two of his colleagues, Bixiou and Dornès, had been mortally wounded attempting to harangue the insurgents. Bedeau got a bullet through his thigh at the turning into the Faubourg Saint-Jacques; many distinguished officers were already killed or put out of action . . . Towards midnight Cavaignac appeared . . . In a jerky, abrupt voice and using simple, exact words, Cavaignac recounted the main events of the day. He announced that he had given orders for all the regiments along the line of the railway to converge on Paris, and that all the National Guards in the outskirts had been called up.122
The next day, Saturday, 24th June, Victor Hugo, who had just been told (wrongly) that his house on the Place des Vosges had been burned during the night, witnessed the death agony of the Executive Commission:
I suddenly found myself face to face with all those men who were the established authority. It was more like a cell in which the accused await their condemnation than a council of government . . . M. de Lamartine, standing against the frame of the left-hand window, was chatting with a general in full-dress uniform, whom I saw for the first and last time; this was Négrier. Négrier was killed in front of a barricade on the evening of that same day. I hastened to Lamartine who took a few steps towards me. He was pale, untidy, with a long beard, his coat not brushed and all powdery. He stretched out his hand: ’Ah, good day, Hugo.’ . . .
‘What is happening, Lamartine?’
‘We’re f. . .’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘I mean that in a quarter of an hour the Assembly will be invaded.’
‘How on earth? And the troops?’
‘There are no troops.’123
But the Assembly, by a parliamentary coup d’état fomented by the royalists in alliance with the right-wing republicans, declared Paris in a state of siege and gave full powers to General Cavaignac to restore order. Only sixty deputies voted against the decree (including Tocqueville, though he later admitted that he was mistaken). The Executive Commission resigned amid general indifference: ‘It was resolved that sixty members of the Chamber, selected by the committees, should disperse through Paris to inform the National Guards of the various decrees just passed by the Assembly and thereby restore their confidence, for they were said to be hesitant and discouraged.’124 Among them were Tocqueville and Victor Hugo.
From three a.m. on the 24th, the fighting recommenced with extreme violence. On the Left Bank, the church of Saint-Séverin, the Place Maubert and the barricades on Rue Saint-Jacques were stormed in turn. The troops arrived on the Place du Panthéon, where the insurgents had occupied the building, the law school and the neighbouring houses. Pardigon, familiar with these places and himself involved in the battle, recalled:
The insurgents, retrenched beneath the porticos of the Panthéon and in its wings, showed great skill in manoeuvring and defending themselves. Two barricades, as strong as bastions, flanked the monument. One of them dominated Rue d’Ulm . . . The troops’ cannon fired from Rue Soufflot. Their shells passed through the church from end to end: one of them broke off the head of the statue of Immortality that stands on the steps of the choir. The platoon-fire of the insurgents rivalled in precision that of the troops, and left the officers of the National Guard quite amazed.
But the soldiers succeeded in gaining entrance to the law school through a back door. They fired on the insurgents from the windows, and were fired on themselves from the dome of the Panthéon and the mairie. General Damesme – who was subsequently wounded in the thigh and died a few days later – managed to get a gun battery into the middle of Rue Soufflot. The door of the Panthéon was broken down and the building saw hand-to-hand fighting; prisoners were shot on the spot. The troops then attacked Rue des Fossés-Saint-Jacques and Rue de l’Estrapade. In the evening, General Bréa, who had replaced Damesme, made his way down the southern slope of the Montagne along Rue Mouffetard, and captured the barricades of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau and the surroundings of the Jardin des Plantes.
On the side of the Hôtel de Ville, the insurgents had retaken during the night Rues Planche-Mibray, des Arcis, de la Verrerie and Saint-Antoine. General Duvivier tried to reach the building, but in order to capture the block of houses around Saint-Gervais he had to use cannon, and the fighting was house by house. ‘On the Place Baudoyer, despite the cannon deployed against the barricades, resistance was so strong that when night fell it was decided to bring troops up to the surroundings of the Hôtel de Ville.’125
In the northern faubourgs, fighting was centred around the Place La Fayette, where engineering workers from La Chapelle and Saint-Denis had constructed an immense barricade, supported by the houses on the corner of Rues La Fayette and d’Abbeville. This fortification resisted for several hours, but in the evening the great barricade was finally taken after hours of cannon fire. The workers fell back to the Clos Saint-Lazare. In the Faubourg Saint-Denis, the troops unsuccessfully attacked barricades defended by workers of the Nord railway. The two generals commanding the artillery, Korte and Bourgon, were both wounded, the latter mortally.
On Sunday morning, the 25th, the insurgents were reduced to isolated quarters: in the north, the Clos Saint-Lazare and the adjacent section of Faubourgs Poissonière and Saint-Denis; in the centre-east, the greater part of the Faubourg du Temple and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine; and in the south, the periphery of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau towards the Fontainebleau barrier (now Place d’Italie). Cavaignac posted up his proclamation, with such a generous ending that it might have been written by Lamartine: ‘Come to us, come as brothers repentant and subject to the law, and the arms of the Republic are quite ready to receive you.’ As Marouk writes, these arms were quite ready to receive the insurgents, but only to murder them. Fighting began again at dawn. Around the Hôtel de Ville, the troops managed this time round to break the encirclement, and by the end of the morning they reached the Bastille. In the south, Bréa arrived at a great barricade by the Fontainebleau barrier, defended by two thousand men. He was shot there in circumstances that are rather unclear, and his death, along with that of Monsignor Affre, the archbishop of Paris, the same day in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, would serve as justification – even in some educational textbooks – for the massacres that followed the defeat (the hostages of Rue Haxo played the same role in the history of the Commune). As Granier de Cassagnac explains in choice terms: ‘Towards men guilty of the greatest excesses, of many of the most serious crimes, all the moderation was used that victory counsels and that the state of society permits . . . The seditionists, who completely dispense with all laws, will always be ready to complain of the victors who dispense with some formalities.’126
That Sunday, the balance of forces was reversed, as ‘down all the roads not held by the insurgents, thousands of men were pouring in from all parts of France to aid us. Thanks to the railways . . . These men were drawn without distinction from all classes of society; among them there were great numbers of peasants, bourgeois, large landowners and nobles, all jumbled up together in the same ranks.’127
With the fall of the Barrière d’Italie the Left Bank was lost. That morning, Tocqueville, who played his role of representative of the people to the armed forces with sufficient courage, was at the Château d’Eau, from where Lamoricière was attacking the Faubourg du Temple:128
I eventually reached the Château d’Eau, where I found a large body of troops from different branches of the army congregated. At the foot of the fountain was a cannon trained down Rue Samson [now Léon-Jouhaux]. At first I thought the insurgents were answering our fire from a gun of their own, but I finally saw my mistake; it was the echo of our own firing that made the frightful noise. I have never heard anything like it; one would have thought one was in the midst of some great battle. But in fact the insurgents answered only with infrequent but deadly musket fire . . . Behind the fountains, Lamoricière, astride a large horse and in range of the guns, gave his orders amid a rain of bullets. I found him more excited and more talkative than I would have supposed a general in command should be at such a moment . . . and I would have admired his courage more had it been calmer . . . I had never imagined war was like that. As the boulevard [du Temple] seemed clear beyond the Château d’Eau, I could not see why our columns did not advance, or why we did not capture the large house facing the street at a rush, instead of remaining so long subject to the murderous fire from it. Yet nothing could have been easier to explain: the boulevard that I supposed free . . . was not so; there was a bend in it, and after that point it bristled with barricades the whole way to the Bastille. Before attacking the barricades, we wanted to control the streets that would be behind us, and in particular to get control of the house facing Rue Samson, which dominated the boulevard and would have harassed our communications badly; finally, we could not take that house by assault because the canal stood in the way, but I could not see that from the boulevard . . . As the insurgents had no guns, this battlefield must have been less terrible to contemplate than one ploughed up by cannon balls. The men struck down before my eyes seemed transfixed by an invisible shaft; they staggered and fell with no more to be seen at first than a little hole in their clothes . . . It was indeed a strange and a terrifying thing to see the quick change of expression, the fire of life in the eyes quenched in the sudden terror of death . . . I noticed that the soldiers of the line were the least eager of our troops . . . Without any doubt the keenest were those very Gardes Mobiles whose fidelity we had questioned so seriously and, I still say, even after the event, so rightly, for it would have taken very little to make them decide against us instead of for us.129
A few hours later, the troops had advanced to the Bastille. Victor Hugo was on the boulevard:
The insurgents fired from the top of the new houses all along Boulevard Beaumarchais . . . They had put dummies in the windows, bundles of straw dressed in blouses and with caps on top. I could clearly see a man there defended by a small brick barrier, at the corner of the fourth-floor balcony on the house opposite Rue du Pont-aux-Choux. He kept up his fire for a long while and killed several people. It was three o’clock. The soldiers and the Mobile Guard were on the roofs of Boulevard du Temple and responded to his fire . . . I believed that I had to make an effort to try and stop the flow of blood, if this was at all possible, and I pressed forward to the corner of Rue d’Angoulême [now Jean-Pierre-Timbaud]. As I was passing the little tower at that point, a volley of shots came in my direction. The tower behind me was riddled with bullets. It was covered with theatre posters shredded by the musket-fire. I pulled off a strip of paper as a souvenir. The poster this was from advertised a fête at the Château des Fleurs that very Sunday, with ‘ten thousand Chinese lanterns’.130
By Sunday afternoon, the insurgents held on only to the Clos Saint-Lazare and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Cavaignac decided to deal first with the former, so that he could then bring all his forces to bear on the latter. Lamennais wrote in his newspaper, Le Peuple constituant: ‘In the Clos Saint-Lazare, the struggle took enormous proportions: to speak only of the National Guard, it was a complete battle, with all the features of bold heroism and sublime death. Whether or not these men were seditionists, anyone who saw them fall under the hurricane of shot that ploughed through them from all four sides at a time could not prevent an involuntary admiration.’ When all was over, the leader of the insurgents there, a journalist by the name of Benjamin Laroque, one of the few intellectuals engaged in the battle on the side of the people, ended up marching forward to his death, in Roman style, as Baudin would later do in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and Delescluze on the Place du Château-d’Eau in 1871.
By the morning of the 26th, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine remained alone. An attempt at mediation by three deputies was rebuffed by the army command. ‘The African generals were unwilling to release their prey. The Faubourg Saint-Antoine could not escape the fate of the other working-class quarters. The army’s honour demanded this.’131 Lamoricière’s column emerged from the Popincourt quarter through Rues Saint-Maur and Basfroi, at the same time as the troops massed around the Bastille drowned the faubourg with a formidable artillery fire. The battle did not last long, but was terribly violent. At ten o’clock, the faubourg capitulated. A few insurgents resisted until the evening at the Amandiers barrier (now Boulevard de Charonne, at the western corner of Père-Lachaise), but at two in the morning, Sénart, the president of the Assembly, was able to exclaim: ‘It is all over, gentlemen, thank God!’
‘Shoot, gentlemen, but don’t slander!’ Blanqui demanded from the depths of his prison.132 The winners of June had already begun to apply the first part of this exhortation when the fighting was still in progress. In this respect, as in many others, June 1848 stood in sharp contrast to the insurrections of the 1830s. Certainly, it had not been very safe to be caught with weapons in hand in the Saint-Merri cloister or Rue Transnonain, and for those who did escape the courts of the July monarchy were not inclined to be lenient. But the banker Leuwen could not ignore that his dear Lucien was fighting on the other side, with his fellow students of the École Polytechnique. A section of the sons of the republican bourgeoisie were then behind the barricades with the workers, which ruled out the prisoners being shot en masse. There was no concern of this kind in 1848. Ménard, Pardigon and Castille speak of rivers of blood, mountains of piled-up corpses, punctured and bleeding flesh, manhunts, public gardens turned into slaughterhouses – and these were not just metaphors. Insurgents captured with weapons were shot on the spot:
The majority of workers caught on the barricade of Rue des Noyers and other barricades on Rue Saint-Jacques were taken to the police station on Rue des Mathurins, or the Hôtel de Cluny, and shot . . . When the proclamation [of Cavaignac, promising to spare the lives of insurgents who surrendered] became known to the workers, a large number gave themselves up. Some were then shot on the spot, others taken to the Hôtel de Ville and some other points that were particularly used for slaughter. On the Pont d’Arcole, prisoners fell under the crossfire of the Mobile Guards placed on the two quays. On the Pont Louis-Philippe, more than forty were thrown into the water. Others were taken to the Quai de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and thrown into the river, where they were shot. Most often they fell on the bank, and other Mobile Guards finished them off with musket fire.133
The insurgent city was transformed into a charnel house. The cobbles and the earth in the gardens were red. ‘It was only when a rainstorm came that the pools of blood were washed away.’134 The dead were heaped up in pits, thrown into the Seine, piled into hastily dug common graves.
In the Place du Carrousel, on the night of the 24th the National Guard, all the more savage in that they had not performed too brilliantly during the fighting, murdered a column of prisoners who were being taken to the cellars of the Tuileries. Pardigon was among them:
My knee had hardly grazed the ground when a terrible gunfire, from just in front of us, burst like a shell. The hurricane toppled us. The head of the column was swept by shots . . . A few weak cries could be heard, several men fell back heavily in silence, they died as soon as they were hit. The wounded and living were left among the dead and dying . . . The hail of bullets continued. I myself fell with my face against the ground, I was hit . . . Stray bullets crossed the fence towards the Louvre, on the side of Rue de Rohan, in fact all around. National Guards were posted in these different places. When they were struck by bullets they thought they were under attack, and responded. Then thousands of bullets converged on us from all sides. This dark mass of men, lit up only too brightly by the lampposts in the square, became the general target.
And he concludes: ‘There were the dead, the only question now was to remove them. The wounded dragged themselves along and were tied up. Some survivors had fled, but they would be caught. It was not all over, now would come revenge!’ This affair made a great impression right across Europe. Even the Russians in Warsaw or the Austrians in Milan had not done any better. A dozen years later, Baudelaire recalled the massacre as explicitly as the censorship would permit, in Les Fleurs du mal. In ‘The Swan’, the final evocation of the Place du Carrousel ends on a thought, ‘Of the captives, of the vanquished! . . . of many others too’, and the final stanzas of ‘The Flawed Bell’ are like an echo of Pardigon’s account: ‘I, my soul is flawed, and when, a prey to ennui,/She wishes to fill the cold night air with her songs,/It often happens that her weakened voice/Resembles the death rattle of a wounded man,/Forgotten beneath a heap of dead, by a lake of blood,/Who dies without moving, striving desperately.’135
After the killing there began the great hunt – searches, denunciations, arrests. The Procurator-General gave the police ‘instructions on the means to discover the June fighters’. He advised ‘checking whether prisoners have their lips or hands blackened by powder. Grains of powder may remain in the wrinkles or crevices of calloused hands. A thumb that has been used to load the musket hammer will sometimes bear a burn, and most often at least a bruise . . . Pockets must be scrupulously examined; they may contain some grains of powder or explosive caps. It is said that if you place your face close to the butt of a musket you can smell the scent of powder a full week after it has been fired.’136
The captives were imprisoned in forts, barracks, in the Luxembourg (a real headquarters of butchery),137 in the cellars of the Hôtel de Ville and the Tuileries, where they were left to die of hunger. If they made a noise or asked for anything, the guards fired at the heap of prisoners through the bars. Pardigon’s account (‘They also fired through the grill, along the cellar. This firing was no longer haphazard, but deliberate’) prefigures Père Roque’s famous gesture in A Sentimental Education:
Other prisoners present themselves at the vent-hole, with their bristling beards, their burning eyeballs, all pushing forward, and yelling: ‘Bread!’ Père Roque was indignant at seeing his authority slighted. In order to frighten them he took aim at them; and, borne backward into the vault that nearly smothered him, the young man, with his eyes staring upward, once more exclaimed: ‘Bread!’ ‘Hold on! Here it is!’ said Père Roque, firing a shot from his gun. There was a fearful howl, then silence.138
In this catastrophe, the Paris proletariat stood alone. Those who should have supported them, ‘that party that dared to call itself the Mountain’, as Louis Ménard put it, did not lag behind in shooting them down. Ledru-Rollin, minister of the interior, left the repression to Cavaignac when he resigned from the Executive Commission, but just before this, ‘he took it upon himself to use the telegraph to ask for regiments of the line, the National Guards of the departments, and even sailors from Brest and Cherbourg, to be brought in as rapidly as possible by rail’.139 Louis Blanc, ‘accused of supporting the insurrection, would maintain in August: “No one could have been more foreign than myself to these unhappy events, no one mourned more deeply than I did this deplorable conflict, the first news of which was given me by my concierge.”’140 Few indeed dared to publicly protest against the massacres – Pierre Leroux, Victor Considérant, and Proudhon.141 Announcing the closing down of his newspaper, old Lamennais was almost alone in showing that he understood it all:
Le Peuple constituant began with the Republic, and is ending with the Republic. For what we are seeing is certainly not the Republic, it is not anything that has a name. Paris is in a state of siege, delivered to a military power, which is itself handed to a faction that has made it its instrument; the jails and fortresses of Louis-Philippe are filled with 14,000 prisoners, in the wake of an atrocious butchery; mass transportations, banishments unequalled by those of 1793, laws curtailing the right of assembly, in practice destroyed, the enslavement and ruin of the press . . . the People decimated and repressed in their misery, more deeply than ever before – no, once again, this is certainly not the Republic; but around its bloody tomb the saturnalia of reaction.
The Paris Commune, repression of which involved far more shootings, deportations and banishments than the June days of 1848, ended up by being integrated into consensual republican history, thanks to Hugo, Jaurès and Péguy, to the point that it is sometimes overlooked how in 1871 the social democrats were in Versailles and not in Paris. A plaque at 17 Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, notes: ‘The last barricade of the Commune resisted in the Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi. A hundred and twenty years later, the Socialist party and its first secretary Pierre Mauroy render homage to the people of Paris who sought to change their lives, and to the 30,000 dead of the Time of Cherries.’ This trumpery makes short work of history, for Louis Blanc, the Mauroy of his day, maintained that ‘this insurrection is completely to be condemned, and must be condemned by any true republican’.
If textbooks dispatch the June days in a few short lines, if the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of 1848 went by quite unnoticed and the only monograph devoted to them, that of Marouk, goes back a hundred and twenty years, it is because their ghost is still as troublesome as it was then. Already at that time, the clearest minds had grasped that June was a fundamental rupture, that these days marked the end of an era, the end of the illusion that had underpinned all the struggles since the Restoration, in other words that the bourgeoisie and the people, hand in hand, would finish what had been started in 1789.
The seventy days of the Commune gave time for many joyful episodes, in which men and women spoke to each other in the street, and embraced without knowing each other. Above all, despite Engels’s famous phrase on the ‘dismal solo’ played by the proletariat during the Commune, the Paris workers were not alone in 1871. There was with them a whole literary and artistic bohème – Courbet and Vallès were not isolated cases – and such major figures as the scientists Flourens and Élisée Reclus. There were foreigners, Garibaldians, Poles, Germans. There were republicans who had broken with their own party, such as Delescluze, the doctor Tony-Mollin, and Millière who was shot on the steps of the Panthéon, shouting: ‘Long live humanity!’
Nothing of that in June 1848, but a desolation that struck even the least sentimental. For Blanqui, ‘26 June was one of those days that the Revolution claims in tears, like a mother claiming the body of her son’.142 And for Marx, ‘the June revolution is the uglyrevolution, the repulsive revolution, because realities have taken the place of words, because the republic has uncovered the head of the monster itself by striking aside the protective, concealing crown . . . Woe unto June!’143 It was in stupefaction that the bourgeoisie saw these threatening savages surge forward from nowhere, these new barbarians, these wild beasts, these beings towards whom Lamartine, Musset, Tocqueville, Mérimée, Dumas, Berlioz and Delacroix expressed their disgust and terror. Hugo, in his speech of 20 June on the National Workshops, launched into a flight of oratory: ‘Take care! Two plagues are at your gate, two monsters are waiting and roaring, there in the shadows behind us and behind you: civil war and servile war, the lion and the tiger.’ The June insurgent, whether a recent industrial worker, an unemployed builder or an uprooted artisan, was Agamben’s Homo sacer, who could be rightfully killed without this being a crime or a sacrifice.144 To shoot or deport them no legal process was needed, or else a purely derisory one: ‘Opposite Rue des Mathurins, the Mobile Guards put up trestles to form a kind of tribunal; they simulated a council of war and handed out death sentences that were carried out on the spot.’145
These barbarians who emerged from the shadows had no known commander. Thirty years later, Marouk summoned up the memory of some of the barricade leaders:
Legénissel, a draughtsman and former deserter, captain of the National Guard, directed the defence of the Place La Fayette. The Clos Saint-Lazare was headed by a journalist, Benjamin Laroque. An old shoemaker of sixty, Voisambert, commanded Rue Planche-Mibray. A young engineering worker, Bartélemy, was in charge of the barricades on Rue Grange-aux-Belles. In the Faubourg Saint-Antoine you would find Pellieux, the worker Marche,146 Lacollonge, editor of L’Organisation du travail, journal des ouvriers, and the naval lieutenant Frédéric Cournet. The engineering worker Racary commanded the Place des Vosges. Touchard, formerly of the Montagne, was in charge in Rue de Jouy, and Hibruit, a hat-maker, Rues des Nonnains-d’Hyères, du Figuier and Charlemagne. Raguinard was at the Panthéon, and the builder Lahr at the Barrière d’Italie, supported by the horse-dealer Wappreaux, Choppart and Daix.147
The June heroes were anonymous and unknown – shoemakers, engineering workers, people with nothing. The reason for their repression, for hiding the dark monument of the June days, is clear enough: it is that this constituted the real and deep fracture in the history of nineteenth-century France, that it disturbs the republican consensus by shattering for a brief but explosive moment the order of the arrangement of bodies in the community, that order which Rancière calls ‘the police’.
The disruption of the June days can also be read in a different way: as an insurrection that did not unfold – at least not entirely – in the traditional centres of Paris uprisings. Preindustrial Red Paris, that of the 1830s, one would say of La Comédie humaine if Balzac had not been silent on this subject, was the heart of the old city, a quadrilateral bordered by the Tuileries, the Bastille, the Boulevards and the Seine. The main battleground was still more restricted, centred on the lower part of Rues Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin where the quarters still kept their medieval names, from the Marches, in other words Les Halles, to the Arcis around the Hôtel de Ville. The same streets turn up time and again in police reports, eyewitness accounts, and parliamentary inquiries: Rues Mauconseil, du Bourg-l’Abbé, Greneta, Tiquetonne; Rues Beaubourg, Transnonain, des Gravilliers, au Maire; Rues Aubry-le-Boucher, Maubuée, Neuve-Saint-Merri; Rue de la Verrerie, and Rue Planche-Mibray where there was always fighting, as it gave access to the Pont Notre-Dame.148 Even if this was not always where things started, even if the first shots were fired on the Pont d’Austerlitz or Boulevard des Capucines, the main fighting always took place in this labyrinth.
This constant is not just explained by symbolism, even if it was the capture of the Hôtel de Ville that enabled an uprising to call itself a revolution. It also had strategic reasons, derived from the interlacing and narrowness of the streets (you have to imagine these quarters without Boulevard de Sébastopol, or the present Rues de Rivoli and Beaubourg, or Avenue Victoria, and remember that the only spaces that were somewhat more open were the Place du Châtelet and the Place de Grève, still smaller then than they are today). Rey-Dussueil:
In the heart of old Paris, where the narrow streets cross and interweave in a thousand directions, an inextricable labyrinth that so bristles with tall and dark houses that the road does not seem wide enough for those taking it, is the church of Saint-Merri whose modest spire scarcely rises above the roofs . . . This is where good folk come to a halt, this is the road leading to the Hôtel de Ville, and this labyrinth of streets and ruined monuments offers a thousand means of attack and defence.
There are two remarkable technical works on this war in the old quarters, La Guerre des rues et des maisons by Marshal Bugeaud, and August Blanqui’s Instructions pour une prise d’armes.149 The former was written immediately after June 1848, from a concern to oppose to Cavaignac’s costly and clumsy strategy, which Bugeaud detested, the science that he had himself demonstrated in repressing the uprising of 1834. Blanqui’s Instructions date from the late 1860s, after his long passage through obscurity, prison and exile. There is a striking affinity between these two manuals, written by men whose only exchange had been of bullets. Both insisted on the organization and concentration of forces. Blanqui:
[T]he vice of the popular tactics is responsible for some of its disasters . . . no point of leadership or overall command, not even consultation between the fighters. Each barricade has its particular group, more or less numerous but always isolated . . . Often there is not even a leader to direct the defence. . . The soldiers just do what they like. They remain, they leave, they return, as they see fit. At night they go home to sleep . . . No one knows anything of what is going on elsewhere, and they don’t see this as a problem . . . They calmly hear artillery and gunfire while drinking at the bar of a wine-merchant. As for bringing support to the positions under attack, the very idea doesn’t occur to them. ‘Let each defend his post, and all will go well’, the most solid ones say. This singular reasoning derives from the fact that the majority of insurgents fight in their own quarter, a capital fault that has disastrous consequences after defeat, in particular in terms of denunciation by neighbours.
Bugeaud also warns against dispersion:
What is most compromising, most dangerous, most paralysing for the public forces, is to let themselves be closely hemmed in by the rioting multitude . . . Thus, when they reach a boulevard or a square, it is necessary to have the terrain to be occupied completely evacuated, and then not let anyone enter. The energetic word of officers is generally enough to effect this suppression, especially when these words are supported by the steps of the troops deployed so as to fill the whole space.
Like Bugeaud, Blanqui held that ‘the real fighting position is at windows. From here, hundreds of snipers can direct a deadly fire in all directions.’ And he describes an imaginary system of battle on the upper floors – just as Bugeaud proposed to transform a series of strategic buildings into urban fortresses, with a view to avoiding any future uprising:
One would select buildings that command several streets, bridges and the main arteries of the faubourgs . . . Openings with a view on the streets would be walled in and fortified . . . Entrance doors would be reinforced with metal . . . These buildings should be considered as little fortresses. They would be equipped with the same regularity as in the plans of war . . . Each building would have supplies of thirty or forty thousand rations of biscuits, spirits, and thirty thousand cartridges.
Both writers agreed that artillery was of limited use, showing how their respective instructions bore on the street fighting they had themselves experienced in the tortuous streets of the medieval city. When Blanqui presents a practical example, he describes a defensive front on Boulevard de Sébastopol to adapt his argument to the modern city, but it is in the adjoining medieval labyrinth that he organizes the defence, describing in his characteristically obsessive manner the disposition of barricades, counter-guards, and firing points.
The predilection of the risings of the 1830s for the central quarters of the Right Bank also had other nonstrategic reasons. The population of these old streets still found men, women and children prepared to join an insurrection. These were immigrant quarters, which had the highest proportion of single male lodgers in Paris, and the lowest proportion of women.150 They came from the agricultural regions of the Paris basin and the Nord, from Lorraine and the Massif Central. They were porters, casual workers, water-carriers like Bourgeat, that generous fellow from the Auvergne, friend of the teacher Desplein in The Atheist’s Mass; they were builders, often from the Creuse like Martin Nadaud, living ten to a room on Rue de la Mortellerie – the street of mortar mixers – in the squalor that was said to have brought cholera to Paris.151 It was also said that they smelled bad, that they were lazy and thieving, that they didn’t even speak French, and that they took work from true Parisians at these times of crisis and unemployment. ‘On Sundays’, wrote La Bédollière, ‘the Auvergnat water-carriers go dancing, but to their own Auvergnat dances, never the French ones; for these Auvergnats adopt neither the manners, nor the tongue, nor the pleasures of Paris. They remain isolated like the Hebrews in Babylon.’152 Le Journal de débats for 10 July 1832 regretted ‘the frightful racket that the opposition made a few months ago on the subject of a mere word, that of “barbarians”, which we applied to a class of men whose lack of education and precarious living lead them in fact to a state of dangerous hostility towards society’. Measures were needed to halt this invasion. In the Chamber of Deputies, in the days following the revolution of 1830, Baron Dupin demanded that, in navvying work, ‘preference should be given to fathers of families, and to workers domiciled in Paris . . . The government should seek the means to return voluntarily to their own departments the overabundant class of workers that are found in Paris.’ (Loud murmurs: ‘And liberty?’) Dupin continued: ‘I also support the maintenance of order in asking that for public works in the capital, preference should be given to workers domiciled in the capital (Prolonged interruption).’153
These savages who had nothing to lose were not the only bad subjects in these quarters. In the settled population, among artisans, drapers, haberdashers, goldsmiths, gold-beaters, porcelain workers and typographers, ‘there are a very large number of men with a position between that of master and worker; in other words they have characteristics of both, as they work for masters and are treated by them as workers, while they in their turn are treated as masters by the workers they employ’.154 Both masters and workers from this preindustrial population could often be found on the barricades, joined there by shop clerks, who were ready to seize the opportunity to lift cobbles. We already met them in November 1827, preparing evil deeds in the night, ‘an unfurled umbrella in their hand, topped with a lighted candle’.
To this medley of undesirable folk were added roaming children. It was not by chance that Gavroche became a generic term, a type in the same sense as Don Juan or Don Quixote. He was there already, brandishing his pistols, in Delacroix’s famous painting. Canler, a former prefect of police, recalls in his Mémoires how, just after the insurrection of June 1832 (the one in which Victor Hugo’s Gavroche died), ‘a boy of twelve or so years old, clad in a coloured jacket of the Auvergne style, was thrust to the front rank, whether willingly or no. Everyone knew this breed of Paris gamin, who always uttered seditious shouts in these gatherings, brought the first cobbles to the barricade in the uprisings, and almost always fired the first shots.’155 On the barricade in Rue Saint-Merri, the flag of the Société des Droits de l’Homme was waved for a long time by a boy of sixteen. Rey-Dussueil has little Joseph as one of the main characters in his Saint-Merri, and this description possibly influenced Hugo. Joseph hides behind the elephant on the Place de la Bastille – the same spot as Gavroche – to throw stones at the National Guard; and when the men ask him to go and post a letter, to get him away from the barricade, his reply, ‘Very sorry, but I haven’t the time’, is pure Gavroche.
These gamins were an abomination to the party of Order, just as the ‘pétroleuses’ of the Commune would be later on. The critic of La Revue des Deux Mondes, commenting on a painting by Adolphe Leleux titled The Password, in which a boy in the centre of the group carries a long musket, asks: ‘The Password certainly has solid qualities, life, movement and harmony; but for God’s sake! What does the choice of such a subject mean? . . . The Paris street-urchin is a type which should not tempt any artist. He is generally ugly, small, sickly . . . in our filthy mud, poverty is disgusting and rags are horrible. Since M. Leleux likes rags and tatters, I advise him to keep to those of Spain and the Orient.’156
During the 1830s there was scarcely any fighting in the faubourgs, and still less in the fields and vineyards of the surrounding communes – Belleville, Montmartre or Charonne. Since the Revolution of 1789, the population of the working-class faubourgs traditionally came to fight in the centre of Paris. But during the ten years that passed between the action of Cousine Bette and that of A Sentimental Education, the faubourgs and banlieue were transformed. To the north and east of Paris, factories, warehouses and workers’ housing drove out market gardeners, winegrowers and cattle dealers. (‘The industrial revolution . . . had attracted a whole new population of workers within its walls, to which the works of fortification had added a further population of cultivators now without work.’).157 There was very little difference between the population of the villages of La Villette or La Chapelle, and that of the Faubourg Poissonière or the Faubourg du Temple. At the same time, workers began to be driven out of the old streets of the city centre, whose destruction had been begun by Rambuteau. The 7th arrondissement of that time, i.e., the Marais, ‘has quarters that are poorly built, unhealthy and poorly inhabited. The worst of these is the Quartier des Arcis, which, except for the Quai Pelletier [between the Pont Notre-Dame and the Pont d’Arcole], is occupied largely by monthly and nightly boarders, and by the population that this class of establishment attracts. Thanks to the new Rue Rambuteau, the Beaubourg quarter which was in no less disturbing a situation will receive a little sunlight. The main streets of this arrondissement are commercial, and have no need to be widened to become still more so.’158 Some of these expelled workers crowded into the neighbouring quarters – the centre of the Île Saint-Louis, ‘so well populated in previous times, but which now has no more of a middle-class population than do the houses that border the quays’, the surroundings of the Place Maubert, already dangerous – but others left to settle further out, in Belleville or the northern slopes of Montmartre.
The insurrection of June 1848 took place in an unusual setting, and this new topography reflects the great changes of the industrial age. Though it began around the Panthéon, this was not because the workers hoped to bring with them the youth of the schools. On that memorable night of 22 June, when, despite the torches, the faces of the tremendous crowd remained drowned in shadow as in Daumier’s drawing L’Émeute, they only met on the big square there because it was familiar: every evening since February this was where the wages of the National Workshops had been paid. In the ascending phase of the insurrection, it is true, the workers invaded the centre of Paris and crossed the traditional quarters of revolt quite close to the Hôtel de Ville. But this offensive was made from bases in the faubourgs to the north, east and south. It was to these quarters that they retreated when the push towards the centre failed, and it was there that they fought to the bitter end. During the final week of May 1871, despite the further transformations of the city in the meantime, the Fédérés defended themselves in the same streets, the same squares and the same crossroads, and perhaps it was even the same cobbles that were used twice over to build barricades described in the same terms at an interval of twenty-three years, on Rue Saint-Maur, Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, the Barrière des Amandiers or the entry to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.
Victor Hugo’s Redemption
In the final number of Le Peuple constituant, in the aftermath of June 1848, Lamennais predicted that ‘the men who have become ministers of reaction, its devoted servants, will not delay in reaping the reward held out to them, which they have only too richly deserved. Expelled with contempt, bent under shame, cursed in the present and the future, they will go and join the traitors of all centuries.’ This was a keen observation. The Second Republic was now on life support. In its two final somersaults, the first marking the end of the parliamentary regime and the second a hopeless struggle against Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état, ‘the people were at the windows, only the bourgeois in the street’, as Baudelaire’s friend Hippolyte Babou put it.159
The first of these journées, 13 June 1849 – a date chosen not entirely by chance – was a simulacrum of insurrection led by the bourgeois-radical Montagne party, increasingly disturbed by the attitude of the president of the Republic elected in December 1848, Louis Bonaparte. Its pretext was the expedition to Rome.160 On 11 June, Ledru-Rollin demanded the prosecution of the president of the Republic and his ministers for having violated the constitution by attacking the liberty of another people. The royalist-clerical majority of the Legislative Assembly rejected the demand. The Montagne then decided on a nonviolent demonstration. Its supporters gathered without weapons at the Château d’Eau, at midday on the 13th, and set off via the Boulevards towards the Assembly. But when they reached Rue de la Paix, Changarnier’s cavalry arrived to disperse them. The leaders of the Montagne then met at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and decided to establish there a ‘National Convention’, under the protection of the artillery of the National Guard commanded by Guinard, the same man who had directed the cannon fire against the insurgents in Rue Saint-Jacques the previous year. Attempts to start a real insurrection in the neighbouring streets failed, and by the late afternoon the whole business ended in confusion and ridicule. The Montagne was proscribed, Ledru-Rollin, Considérant and Louis Blanc fled abroad, and other leaders were brought before the High Court. June 1849 was, as Marx put it, the nemesis of June 1848.
The resistance to the coup d’état of 2 December 1851 was a far more serious affair, in which many people were killed, contrary to the impression given by the relativist historiography of today, which is completely oriented to the rehabilitation of Louis Bonaparte. The events can be followed hour by hour, thanks to a prodigious historic document from one of the leaders of the resistance: Victor Hugo’s The History of a Crime, written in Brussels between December 1851 and May 1852, ‘with a hand still hot from the struggle against the coup d’état’, and subtitled ‘the testimony of an eyewitness’.161
On the subject of Hugo, I am convinced that his political trajectory, the opposite of the customary progress from generous youth to reactionary old age, was determined by the June days. Hugo had been a royalist when he wrote Hernani, a peer of France under Louis-Philippe, and when he was elected very young to the Académie Française he referred disparagingly in his acknowledgement speech to the populace, as opposed to the people – ‘the ochlocracy rises against demos’, as he would later write about the June days.162 At the decisive moment, he joined the supporters of a show of strength, demanding that the National Workshops be closed. But during the days of insurrection, Hugo, usually so quick to seize the opportunity for writing, showed astonishing discretion, describing only two episodes of the struggle among those most often cited, and in fairly conventional terms. Almost nothing on the repression, a more or less passing note on the famous cellars of the Tuileries, those of Pardigon and Père Roque. And on his personal role – he was as we saw one of the deputies charged with going to the firing line to support the failing morale of the bourgeois National Guard – Hugo was evasive. He still insisted that efforts of mediation should be made. On Boulevard Beaumarchais, 24 June, ‘I believed I had to make an effort to cease, if it were possible, the flow of blood’.163 Or again: ‘I was one of the sixty Representatives sent by the Constituent Assembly into the middle of the conflict, charged with the task of everywhere preceding the attacking column, of carrying, even at the peril of their lives, words of peace to the barricades, to prevent the shedding of blood, and to stop the civil war.’164
But the reality seems to have been rather different. In September 1848, before the second council of war in Paris, Hugo testified: ‘We had just attacked a barricade on Rue Saint-Louis [now Rue de Turenne] from where very vigorous firing had been directed since the morning, costing us a number of brave men; when this barricade was taken and destroyed, I went alone to another barricade, placed across Rue Vieille-du-Temple, and very strong.’165 Le Moniteur reported on 11 July 1848:
Today, M. Victor Hugo and M. Ducoux brought to the National Assembly and presented to the president an intrepid National Guard of the 6th legion, M. Charles Bérard, wounded in taking the flag of the barricade at the Barrière des Trois-Couronnes [now the site of the Couronnes Métro station]. Charles Bérard was one of those who had accompanied Messrs Victor Hugo and Galy-Cazalat last Saturday in attacking and taking the barricades of the Temple and the Marais, an attack that only took place, as is known, after M. Victor Hugo had exhausted all efforts at mediation.
Thus, after his efforts to get the insurgents to capitulate by the power of his words, Hugo took part in the fighting, without however actually ordering charges and volley-fire, like Lamartine or Arago. He witnessed the shooting of prisoners, the mass arrests, and the manhunts in the streets. But he says not a word about any of this, and I see this silence as expressing a sense of guilt for having been on the side of the murderers in what he would call the ‘fatal’ June days. And the rest of his political life can be seen as one long effort to restore himself in his own eyes.
First of all there was that extraordinary series of speeches, from July 1848 in the Constituent Assembly, then in the Legislative Assembly: for the freedom of the press, against the state of siege, against the death penalty, for secular education,166 against the deportations,167 on poverty:
There are in Paris, in these faubourgs of Paris that the wind of revolt used to arouse so readily, there are streets, houses, sewers, in which families, whole families, live on top of each other, men, women, girls and boys, only having for bedding, for covering, I almost said for clothing, infected and fermenting rags, gleaned in the outlying mud, the dunghill of the city, where human creatures bury themselves alive to escape the winter cold.
In Les Misérables, which Hugo began in 1845, abandoned in 1848 because of the revolution, took up again in 1860 and finished at Hauteville House in 1862, the fifth volume opens with a chapter titled ‘The Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the Scylla of the Faubourg du Temple’. Hugo apologized for this insertion, totally foreign to the rest of the book: ‘The two most memorable barricades which the observer of social maladies can name do not belong to the period in which the action of this work is laid.’ There follows the parallel between the two fortresses, that at the entrance to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, ‘ravined, jagged, cut up, divided, crenellated, with an immense rent, buttressed with piles that were bastions in themselves throwing out capes here and there, powerfully backed up by two great promontories of houses of the faubourg, it reared itself like a cyclopean dike at the end of the formidable place which had seen the 14th of July’ – and that of the Faubourg du Temple, where ‘it was impossible, even for the boldest, not to become thoughtful before this mysterious apparition. It was adjusted, jointed, imbricated, rectilinear, symmetrical and funereal. Silence and gloom met there. One felt that the chief of this barricade was a geometrician or a spectre. One looked at it and spoke low.’ The only reason for this extraordinary chapter is a homage to the June insurgents, to their cause and their courage (‘“The cowards!” people said. “Let them show themselves. Let us see them! They dare not! They are hiding!” The barricade of the Faubourg du Temple, defended by eighty men, attacked by ten thousand, held out for three days . . . Not one of the eighty cowards thought of flight, all were killed there.’). And Hugo delivers, as a confession, his feeling about his own role in June: ‘This is one of the rare moments when, while doing that which it is one’s duty to do, one feels something which disconcerts one, and which would dissuade one from proceeding further; one persists, it is necessary, but conscience, though satisfied, is sad, and the accomplishment of duty is complicated with a pain at the heart.’
It is this Hugo who would play such a major role in the resistance to Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état. A price was put on his head, which did not displease him, as he held it his duty to get himself killed during these journées. He says this briefly and without self-glorification: ‘He [Jules Simon, at the moment of the massacre on Boulevard Montmartre] stopped me. “Where are you going?” he asked me, “You’ll get yourself killed. What do you want, then?” “Just this,” I said. We shook hands and I continued to advance.’ But due to an error of timing, it was Baudin who died in his place on the barricade of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. That is what would always haunt him; Baudin was his other self.
Dark as a December night, without the accusing rhetoric of The Chastisements or Napoleon the Little, The History of a Crime can be read at three different levels. The first is that of a historical description of the events of 2nd to 6th December 1851. The starting point (‘The Ambush’) is one of surprise: the rumour of a coup d’état has been going for so long that no one still believes it. ‘People laughed at the notion. They no longer said “What a crime!” but “What a farce!”’168 But on the night of 1 December, regiments that had gone over to Bonaparte took up positions around the Assembly. The prefect of police summoned the forty-eight police commissioners of Paris: ‘It was a question of arresting at their own homes seventy-eight Democrats who were influential in their districts, and dreaded by the Élysée as possible chieftains of barricades. It was necessary, a still more daring outrage, to arrest at their houses sixteen Representatives of the People.’ The Imprimerie Nationale was requisitioned in order to print posters announcing the decree dissolving the Assembly: ‘The compositors were in waiting. Each man was placed between two gendarmes, and was forbidden to utter a single word, and then the documents which had to be printed were distributed throughout the room, being cut up in very small pieces, so that an entire sentence could not be read by one workman.’ At six in the morning, the troops began to mass on the Place de la Concorde. The arrested deputies and the tricolour republican generals, the killers of June 1848 – Cavaignac, Lamoricière, Bedeau – crossed the deserted city in a police van en route to the prison of Mazas, ‘a lofty reddish building, close to the terminus of the Lyon railway, [which] stands on the waste land of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine’.
In the course of the morning, the troops invaded the Assembly and expelled the deputies. Some sixty representatives of the left, including Hugo, met in an apartment on Rue Blanche and proclaimed Bonaparte outside the law. The right, a larger group, met in its own headquarters, the mairie of the 10th arrondissement, and voted the deposition of Bonaparte. (‘The decree of deposition taken up and countersigned by us added weight to this outlawry, and completed the revolutionary act by the legal act . . . Some of those men who were termed “men of order” muttered while signing the degree of deposition, “Beware of the Red Republic!” and seemed to entertain an equal fear of failure and of success.’) The Vincennes chasseurs came and took away the two hundred and twenty representatives – Hugo gives a list of names – from the mairie to the Orsay barracks. ‘Thus ended the party of Order, the Legislative Assembly and the February revolution.’169 During this time, the left deputies, who had spent the whole day wandering from one refuge to another, decided to raise the Faubourg Saint-Germain the next day. (‘The evening wore a threatening aspect. Groups were formed on the Boulevards. As night advanced they grew larger and became mobs, which speedily mingled together, and only formed one crowd. An enormous crowd, reinforced and agitated by tributary currents from the side streets, jostling one against another, surging, stormy, and whence ascended an ominous hum.’) The following day (‘The Massacre’), ‘Louis Bonaparte had not slept. During the night he had given mysterious orders; then when morning came there was on this pale face a sort of appalling serenity.’ The centre of Paris, the Marais, the Saint-Honoré quarter and that of Les Halles were covered with barricades. The coup d’état seemed to be stalling. But suddenly in the afternoon there was carnage on Boulevard Montmartre. (‘In the twinkling of an eye there was butchery on the boulevard a quarter of a league long . . . A whole quarter of Paris was filled with an immense flying mass, and with a terrible cry. Everywhere sudden death. A man is expecting nothing. He falls . . . To be in the street is a Crime, to be at home is a Crime. The butchers enter the houses and slaughter . . . One brigade killed the passers-by from the Madeleine to the Opéra [Rue Le Peletier], another from the Opéra to the Gymnase; another from Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle to the Porte Saint-Denis; the 75th of the line having carried the barricade of the Porte Saint-Denis, it was no longer a fight, it was a slaughter. The massacre radiated – a word horribly true – from the boulevard into all the streets . . . Flight? Why? Concealment? To what purpose? Death ran after you quicker than you could fly.’) The fourth day (‘The Victory’) saw the end of a hopeless struggle, the death of Denis Dussoubs at a barricade on Rue du Cadran, the continuation of massacres and pursuit, the prisoners piled up – yet again – in the Tuileries cellars, below the terrace along the waterfront (‘They called to mind that in June, 1848, a great number of insurgents had been shut up there, and later on had been transported’), from where three hundred and thirty-seven would be taken out the next day to be shot in the courtyard of the École Militaire.
The History of a Crime can also be read as a personal adventure. A grand bourgeois, an illustrious writer, an Academician and deputy, becomes in the space of a few hours a clandestine fugitive. Bonaparte’s police is at his heels. He spends the night in the backrooms of local cafés, and apartments of friends met by chance. By day, he runs from one meeting to another, through those quarters that were so well pacified three years previously, Rue de la Cerisaie, Quai de Jemmapes, Rue de Charonne. At 82 Rue Poincourt, ‘we entered into a blind alley of considerable length and dimly lighted by an old oil lamp – one of those with which Paris was formerly lighted – then again to the left, and we entered through a narrow passage into a large courtyard encumbered with sheds and building materials. This time we had reached Cournet’s.’ Cournet! The very same who, inLes Misérables and in reality, commanded the Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, ‘intrepid, energetic, irascible, stormy; the most cordial of men, the most formidable of combatants’. Hugo never misses the opportunity to make a connection between the December days of 1851 and the past and future of Red Paris, 1848 and the Commune. In a disturbing contraction of time, two men who were to die under fire, Baudin and Millière, meet each other at 70 Rue Blanche. ‘Millière . . . I can still see that pale young man, that eye at the same time piercing and half closed, that gentle and forbidding profile. Assassination and the Panthéon awaited him170 . . . Millière went up to him. “You do not know me”, said he. “My name is Millière; but I know you, you are Baudin.”’ And Hugo concludes: ‘I was present at the handshaking between these two spectres’ – words that give me a shiver.
As if the danger was not great enough, Hugo adds to it by provocation. The first day, he is on the way to the centre of Paris:
As the omnibus entered into the cutting of the Porte Saint-Martin a regiment of heavy cavalry arrived in the opposite direction . . . They were cuirassiers. They filed by at a sharp trot and with drawn swords . . . Suddenly the regiment halted . . . By its halt it stopped the omnibus. There were the soldiers. We had them under our eyes, before us, at two paces distance . . . these Frenchmen who had become Mamelukes, these citizen soldiers of the Great Republic transformed into supporters of the degraded Empire . . . I could no longer restrain myself. I lowered the window of the omnibus. I put out my head, and, looking fixedly at the dense line of soldiers which faced me, I called out, ‘Down with Louis Bonaparte. Those who serve traitors are traitors!’ Those nearest to me turned their heads towards me and looked at me with a tipsy air; the others did not stir, and remained at ‘shoulder arms’, the peaks of their helmets over their eyes, their eyes fixed upon the ears of their horses.
The following day, hurrying towards the barricade on which he arrived too late to be killed, Hugo passed the Bastille in a cab (the cab drivers of that time were singularly courageous):
Four harnessed batteries were drawn up at the foot of the column. Here and there knots of officers talked together in a low voice, – sinister men . . . The emotion which I had felt on the previous day before a regiment of cuirassiers again seized me. To see before me the assassins of the country, at a few steps, standing upright, in the insolence of a peaceful triumph, was beyond my strength: I could not contain myself. I drew out my sash. I held it in my hand, and putting my arm and head out of the window of the fiacre, and shaking the sash, I shouted, ‘Soldiers! Look at this sash. It is the symbol of Law, it is the National Assembly visible . . . You are being deceived. Go back to your duty . . . Louis Bonaparte is a bandit; all his accomplices will follow him to the galleys . . . Look at that man who is at your head, and who dares to command you. You take him for a general, he is a convict.’
Someone murmured that he would get himself shot, but Hugo would not listen, and continued: ‘“You, who are there, dressed up like a general, it is you to whom I speak, sir. You know who I am . . . and I know who you are. I have told you you are a criminal. Now, do you wish to know my name? This is it.” And I called out my name to him. And I added, “Now tell me yours.” He did not answer. I continued, “Very well, I do not want to know your name as a general, I shall know your number as a galley slave.”’
The third level of The History of a Crime is that of political analysis, where Hugo joins Marx – whose name he perhaps never heard – in asking: ‘Why did the Paris proletariat not rise in revolt after 2 December? . . . Any serious proletarian rising would at once have revived the bourgeoisie, reconciled it with the army, and ensured a second June defeat for the workers.’171 For Hugo, the truth came from the mouth of an old woman, the very first day, in a scene in which the ghost of the June days appears: ‘At the corner of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine before the shop of the grocer Pépin, on the same spot where the immense barricade of June 1848, was erected as high as the second storey, the decrees of the morning had been placarded. Some men were inspecting them, although it was pitch dark, and they could not read them, and an old woman said, “The ‘Twenty-five francs’ are crushed – so much the better!”’172 In a chapter with the explicit title ‘The Rebound of the 24th June, 1848, on the 2nd December, 1851’, Auguste, the wineseller in Rue de la Roquette whose life Hugo had saved in June, lucidly explains that ‘the people were “dazed” – that it seemed to all of them that universal suffrage was restored; that the downfall of the law of the 31st of May was a good thing’:173
To tell the whole truth, people did not care much for the Constitution, they liked the Republic, but the Republic was maintained too much by force for their taste. In all this they could only see one thing clearly, the cannons ready to slaughter them – they remembered June, 1848 – there were some poor people who had suffered greatly – Cavaignac had done much evil – women clung to the men’s blouses to prevent them from going to the barricades – nevertheless, with all this, when seeing men like ourselves at their head, they would perhaps fight, but this hindered them, they did not know for what.
All Hugo’s efforts and those of his friends to arouse the faubourgs were in vain. After the death of Baudin:
On leaving the barricade of Rue Sainte-Marguerite, De Flotte went to the Faubourg Saint-Marceau, Madier de Montjau went to Belleville, Charamaule and Maigne proceeded to the Boulevards. Schoelcher, Dulac, Malardier, and Brillier again went up the Faubourg Saint-Antoine by the side-streets which the soldiers had not yet occupied. They shouted, ‘Vive la République!’ They harangued the people on the doorsteps . . . They even went as far as to sing the Marseillaise. People took off their hats as they passed and shouted ‘Long live the Representatives!’ But that was all.
A reason had to be given. ‘It was clear that the populous quarters would not rise, we had to turn to the commercial quarters, abandon trying to stir the extremities of the city and agitate the centre.’ This strategy of going back in time, in the opposite direction to the sociology of Parisian revolution, meant the defeat of the resistance. The last shots were fired on Rue Montorgueil, a musket-shot away from the place where the barricades had made their first reappearance in November 1827. For Red Paris, a hiatus of twenty years would now begin.
In this whole century of barricades, all the Paris uprisings and revolutions were thus defeats, either immediate or delayed. It was in no way surprising, therefore, that the old Blanqui, in 1871, developed in his cell in the Taureau fortress a cosmogony that reflects his disarray in the face of the eternal recurrence of defeat:
All worlds are engulfed, one after another, in the revivifying flames, to be reborn from them and consumed by them once more – monotonous flow of an hourglass that eternally empties and turns itself over. The new is always old, and the old always new . . . Here, nonetheless, lies a great drawback: there is no progress, alas, but merely vulgar revisionist reprints . . . Men of the nineteenth century, the hour of our apparitions is fixed forever, and always brings us back the very same ones, or at most with a prospect of felicitous variants. There is nothing here that will much gratify the yearning for improvement. What to do? There I have sought not at all my pleasure, but only the truth.174
But if we explore the surroundings of this notion of ‘defeat’, beyond the summary executions, the banishments and mass deportations, what remains is an immense truth effect. The defeat brings to light that which did not take place. Where illusion had reigned – of republican fraternity, of the neutrality of right and law, of the emancipation of universal suffrage – defeat suddenly reveals the true nature of the enemy, it dissolves the consensus, dismantles the ideological mystifications of domination. No political analysis, no press campaign, no electoral struggle, so clearly bears a message as the spectacle of people being shot in the street.
For the century from 1871 to 1968, the pacification of political manners – in other words, the continuation of civil war by other means – favoured the return of the illusion. In efforts that would be laughable if they did not lead to such weakening, those who, despite themselves, were the heirs of the Montagnards of 1848 and the Versailles socialists of 1871, constantly worked to plaster over the old prison house that was supposedly democratic and republican. In May 1968, those who had envisaged and prepared revolution placed themselves explicitly in the continuity of the disorders of the nineteenth century. The Internationale situationniste wrote in 1961 that ‘we must take up again the study of the classical workers’ movement in a disabused fashion, disabused firstly in respect to its various kinds of political or pseudo-theoretical heirs, since they only possess the inheritance of its defeat’. And a short while after, when barricades appeared in the night of 10 May 1968 on Rue Gay-Lussac, the extraordinary idea of taking up the cobbles from the street was not a residue of collective memory and still less accidental. It was a deliberate and experimental attempt to shatter the mechanisms of domination by raising up from the ground the great spectral figure of revolution, only modernized a little by setting fire to cars. Of course, these ‘magic cobbles’ were less effective than ever strategically, and when Malraux and company maintained that tanks would have occupied Rue Gay-Lussac more quickly than the gendarmerie, they were quite right. But it was by this symbolic wager that the uprising of Red Paris in May 1968 was able to set fire – as in July 1789, July 1830, and February 1848 – not only to just Europe this time round but to the whole planet, from Tokyo to Mexico, something that the Berkeley students had not managed to do, precisely for lack of historical anchorage. The Paris insurgents, however, were able to avoid both archaic seductions and the pitfalls of romanticism. They did not storm the police stations, they did not pillage armourers, nor try to seize the buildings of the state (remember the astonishment of journalists when the demonstrators passed the Palais-Bourbon without noticing it). This was not simply from a correct evaluation of the balance of forces: no doubt, if bullets had been mixed with the cobbles and the oddly named ‘Molotov’ cocktails, we would have seen just how far the humanism of Prefect Grimaud stretched, or the republican spirit of the generals who had won their stars in Algeria, just like Lamoricière and Cavaignac. There was no massacre because May 1968 was the first modern revolution: it did not aim at taking power. Informed by all the disasters of the century, it unfolded in the mode of a defeat programmed in advance, the devastating effects of which on the old world are still being studied. None of the mechanisms of domination were able to operate after May as they did before. The two rival organizations of Gaullism and the ‘Communist’ party, in solidarity with one another in the police order of the time, only appeared to triumph with the demonstration of the ChampsÉlysées and the Pompidou-Séguy agreements at Grenelle. They did not realize that they were already running on empty, like those characters in comic books who continue their chase beyond the edge of the cliff. It took a bit of time to look at the ground and begin the famous nosedive.
The May revolution has not generally been called by its true name. It is denoted by the vague and cowardly term of ‘events’. This denial serves to argue – most often implicitly – that it is inappropriate to give this student affair the same dignity as 1793 or 1917. The CGT never stopped opposing the ‘seriousness’ of the striking workers to the festival of the bourgeois-student youth. It is certainly a fact that it was the students who imagined and programmed May, that the Latin Quarter was from one end to the other the headquarters of operations. The great demonstration of 13 May had its rallying point in the Place de la République, but what is remembered above all is its passage along Boulevard Saint-Michel and in Montparnasse. Not much happened in May on the Right Bank, except of course the rather unconvincing attempt to set fire to the Bourse. The traditional quarters of Parisian revolutions – the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the Faubourg du Temple, Belleville – did not move. They had been ravaged during the Pompidou years, plunged into the depths of deindustrialization and renovation. Unstructured building, populations expelled, the working-class tradition wiped out – that was plebeian Paris of the late 1960s. The reconstitution of a mixed population, made up of what remained of the Paris proletariat, together with immigrants and an intellectual but nonuniversity youth, was a reconquest that had not yet begun.
Outside the occupied factories and in their immediate surroundings, the communes of the ‘red belt’, Ivry and Villejuif on the one side, Saint-Denis and Gennevilliers on the other, did not move either, solidly held as they were by the ‘Communist’ party, whose descent into hell began at this time with its pathetic efforts to maintain order. But what has always been carefully obscured, glossed over in commemorations and anniversaries (the thirtieth anniversary was exemplary in this respect), is that thousands of young workers, fringe elements, unemployed and foreigners came running to the Latin Quarter. They were not often heard in the general assemblies, but when it was a question of elegantly swinging a cobblestone, overturning and burning police cars, or throwing back tear-gas grenades, they were first in line, with the poise of people who had spent their whole life on the barricades. The bureaucrats of the various ‘revolutionary youth’ organizations tried to keep them at a distance, and they were not seen on television, except when it was necessary to show the terrified provinces the ‘casseurs’ who had been arrested. Why were they unwanted? All they did was test in anticipation the idea that ‘what gives an action a political character is not its object or the place where it is performed, but solely its form, that which inscribes the verification of equality in the institution of a dispute, of a community that exists only in division’.175
Those who rejoice to see the city so calm today, stuck in the continuum of the Bergsonian time of domination and boredom, could still find themselves in for a shock one day. Better than any other, the history of Red Paris illustrates Benjamin’s remark that the time of the oppressed is by nature discontinuous. In the course of the battles of July 1830, stupefied observers agreed in maintaining that in many districts of Paris the insurgents had set fire to the clocks on monuments.
1 Étienne Raczymow, in Belleville, belle ville.
2 Laurent Goldberg, in ibid.
3 ‘The Commune admitted all foreigners to the honour of dying for an immortal cause. Between the foreign war lost by their treason, and the civil war fomented by their conspiracy with the foreign invader, the bourgeoisie had found the time to display their patriotism by organizing police-hunts upon the Germans in France. The Commune made a German working man [Leo Frankel] its Minister of Labour. Thiers, the bourgeoisie, the Second Empire, had continually deluded Poland by loud professions of sympathy, while in reality betraying her to, and doing the dirty work of, Russia. The Commune honoured the heroic sons of Poland by placing them at the head of the defenders of Paris’ (Karl Marx, ‘The Civil War in France’, The First International and After [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974], p. 217).
4 Louise Michel, La Commune, histoire et souvenirs (Paris: La Découverte, 1999).
5 Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, A History of the Paris Commune of 1871, trans. Eleanor Marx.
6 Ibid. Wroblewski managed to escape from this hell, reached London and joined the General Council of the International.
7 The French authorities, for their part, had established special sections attached to the appeal courts to judge those arrested by the French police for ‘any offence promoting communism, anarchy, social and national subversion, or rebellion against the legally established social order’. The Paris special section had its offices in the Palais de Justice.
8 ‘At midday, with Speidel, to Brinon’s embassy on the corner of Rue Rude and Avenue Foch. The little palace where he received us is said to belong to his wife who is Jewish, which did not prevent him from making fun of “youpins” at the lunch table’ (Ernst Jünger, 8 October 1942, Journal de guerre [Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1979–80]).
9 Jünger, on the Propaganda-Staffel, did not have to sign such orders, but Heinrich von Stülpnagel, the general in command, with his ‘nice way of smiling’ (ibid., 10 March 1942) and his great knowledge of Byzantine history, did indeed – though he committed suicide after the bomb attempt on Hitler in July 1944.
10 Michel, La Commune, histoire et souvenirs.
11 Vladimir Jankélévitch, ‘Dans l’honneur et la dignité’, Les Temps modernes, June 1948.
12 E. & J. de Goncourt, Journal, 19 March 1871.
13 Ibid., 15 May 1871.
14 Du Camp, Les Convulsions de Paris.
15 Cited in Les Reporters de l’Histoire. 1871: la Commune de Paris (Paris: Liana Levi / Sylvie Messinger, 1983). Quotations without other reference in the following pages are taken from this book.
16 Nor were children forgotten here: ‘All these stunted and unhealthy creatures, half wolf and half ferret, who have been prematurely depraved by a free collective life that poorly inspired poets have sought to glorify [Victor Hugo!], who draw the etymology of their common name from the public way where they roam like errant dogs, all these “voyous ”, in a word, threw themselves into battle with the curiosity, recklessness and impetus of their age’ (Du Camp, Les Convulsions de Paris).
17 Cited by Michel, La Commune, histoire et souvenirs.
18 ‘If only the Commune had listened to my warnings! I advised its members to fortify the northern side of the heights of Montmartre, the Prussian side, and they still had time to do this; I told them beforehand that they would otherwise be caught in a trap . . .’ Karl Marx, letter to E. S. Beesly, 12 June 1871.
19 Michel, La Commune, histoire et souvenirs.
21 Victor Hugo, letter to C. Vacquerie, Brussels, 28 April 1871.
22 All the following quotations are taken from Michel, La Commune, histoire et souvenirs.
23 Charles Delescluze was a law student when he was wounded in 1830 in a republican uprising. He took part in all the insurrectional journées under the July monarchy, and had to go into exile in Belgium until 1840. In 1848, having sided with the June insurgents, he was sentenced to a fine of 11,000 francs and three years in prison for articles against Cavaignac and the massacres. After staying in England, he returned secretly to Paris in 1853, was captured, deported to Belle-Île in Corsica and then to Cayenne. After his return in 1860, he founded Le Réveil, whose first issue brought him a fine and a further prison sentence. In August 1870 he was once more imprisoned, and his paper suspended, for having protested against the declaration of war. With the fall of the Empire he was elected mayor of the 19th arrondissement, but resigned in protest at the cowardice of the provisional government. The failure of the January 1871 uprising led once more to the suspension of his paper and his imprisonment, but with the legislative elections he was triumphantly elected in Paris with over 150,000 votes. During the Commune, he was one of the few representatives of the ‘Jacobin’ tendency to take the side of the revolution against that of the Assembly, of Paris against Versailles – as opposed to Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, and Schoelcher. Elected to the council of the Commune by the 9th and 19th arrondissements, he resigned his seat in the Assembly. He was on the commission for foreign relations, the committee of public safety, and finally, on 11 May, when the situation became critical, he agreed to become the delegate for war.
24 Cited from Lissagaray, A History of the Paris Commune.
27 Vallès, L’Insurgé.
28 Pierre de L’Estoile, Journal pour le règne de Henri III.
29 See Alain Corbin and Jean-Marc Mayeur (eds), La Barricade, proceedings of a colloquium organized on 17–18 March 1995 by the Centre de Recherches en Histoire du XIXe Siècle and the Société d’Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 et des Révolutions du XIXe Siècle (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1997). The following unreferenced quotations are taken from this work.
30 As described by Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics (London: Verso, 2007), p. 5.
31 ‘The first decree established the suppression of press freedom in its various forms; it was the quintessence of all that had been elaborated in the cubbyholes of the police department over fifteen years. The second decree reworked the electoral laws. Thus the two primary freedoms, the freedom of the press and electoral freedom, were radically harmed; this emanated not from an iniquitous though legal action of a corrupt legislative authority, but by decree, as in the days of royal whim’ (François-René de Chateaubriand, Memoirs, Book 31, chapter 8).
32 Letter from a Paris bookseller of the time, cited in Paul Chauvet, Les Ouvriers du livre en France, de 1789 à la constitution de la Fédération du livre (Paris: PUF, 1956).
33 Chateaubriand, Memoirs, Book 32, ch. 3.
34 Ibid. Tocqueville criticized General Bedeau in 1848 in the following terms: ‘I have always noted that the men who most easily lose their head and generally show themselves the weakest in days of revolution are men of war.’
35 Dubech and D’Espezel (Histoire de Paris, Paris, 1926) note that the route of Marmont’s three main columns corresponds to the course of the major works undertaken by Rambuteau under Louis-Philippe: widening and levelling of the boulevards, cutting of Rue Rambuteau to connect the Innocents to the Bastille, and improvement of the quays along the Seine. Haussmann did not invent the ‘strategic embellishment’ of Paris.
36 Chateaubriand, Memoirs, Book 32, chapter 3.
38 ‘The Nation . . . cannot recognize as constituent power either an elective chamber appointed during the existence and under the influence of the dynasty that has been overthrown, or an aristocratic chamber which as an institution is directly opposed to the sentiments and principles that have put arms in its hand’ (La Révolution, 8 August 1830, cited by Jeanne Gilmore, La République clandestine, 1818–1848 [Paris: Aubier 1997]).
39 ‘There were present fifteen hundred men well packed together in a small hall which had the appearance of a theatre. The citizen Blanqui, son of a member of the Convention, made a long speech against the bourgeoisie, the shopmen who had elected as king Louis-Philippe, “la boutique incarnée”, and that in their own interests, not in those of the people – du peuple qui n’était pas complice d’une si indigne usurpation. It was a speech full of wit, honesty and anger’ (Heine, Letters from Paris).
40 Georges Weill, Histoire du parti républicain en France, 1814–1870 (Paris: Alcan, 1928). Attending the funeral of Casimir Perier, who died of cholera in 1832, Heine wrote: ‘My neighbours who saw the procession spoke of the obsequies of Benjamin Constant. As I have been only a year in Paris, I only know the grief which the people felt on that day from description. Yet I can imagine what such popular suffering must be, as I had not long before seen the burial of the former bishop of Blois, or the Grégoire of the Convention. There were, indeed, no grand officials, no infantry or cavalry. . . no cannon, no ambassadors with gay liveries, no official pomp. But the people wept. There was the suffering of sorrow on every face, and though it rained like bucketsful from heaven, all heads were uncovered, and the crowd harnessed itself before the hearse, and drew it to Montparnasse’ (Letters from Paris, 12 May 1832).
41 ‘The Royalists, full of excellent qualities, but sometimes foolish and often provocative, never considering the consequences of their actions, always thinking to re-establish the Legitimacy by choosing to wear a coloured cravat or a flower in their buttonhole, caused deplorable scenes’ (Chateaubriand, Memoirs, Book 34, chapter 2).
42 Martin Nadaud, Léonard, maçon de la Creuse (Bourganeuf, 1895; republished Paris: La Découverte, 1998).
43 George Sand, Correspondance (Paris: Garnier), vol. 1.
44 ‘Brussels expelling the Nassaus as Paris did the Bourbons, Belgium offering herself to a French prince and giving herself to an English prince, the Russian hatred of Nicolas, behind us the demons of the South, Ferdinand in Spain, Miguel in Portugal, the earth quaking in Italy, Metternich extending his hand over Bologna, France treating Austria sharply at Ancona, at the North no one knew what sinister sound of the hammer nailing up Poland in her coffin . . .’ (Hugo, Les Misérables, Volume Four, book 1, chapter 4).
45 Chevalier, introduction to Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses.
46 See Georges Canguilhem, Idéologie et Rationalité dans l’histoire des sciences de la vie (Paris: Vrin, 1988). It is not hard to understand this phenomenon. Cholera patients generally died from dehydration. Broussais’s ‘anti-inflammatory’ methods (leeches, bloodletting) could only be disastrous.
47 Hugo, Les Misérables, Volume Four, book 10, chapter 3. Hugo wrote a long time after the events, but he drew closely on the documentary sources, and his account corresponds to contemporary witnesses such as Rey-Dussueil.
49 Heine, Letters from Paris, 16 June 1832.
50 The Célestins barracks, rebuilt at the end of the nineteenth century, still houses the cavalry of the Republican Guard. The Île de Louviers was not at that time connected to the Right Bank (it corresponds today to the land surrounding the administrative building of the Ville de Paris, between Boulevard Morland and the Quai des Célestins). This was a yard for timber brought down the Seine for construction and firewood. Boulevard Morland was then a quay and the Arsenal was on the water’s edge.
51 Hugo, Les Misérables, Volume Four, book 10, chapter 3.
52 This armourer showed resilience, as his shops were pillaged at each insurrection. In Things Seen, Hugo tells how on 24 February 1848 ‘forty men at a time pushed the bus in one fell swoop against the shop-window.’ There is still a Lepage armourer on the Place du Théâtre-Français.
53 Its uniform was black, with a red pompom on the shako. Young people were attracted by this elegant costume, and as they were less petit-bourgeois than their elders, the artillery of the National Guard had to be dissolved on several occasions during those years.
54 Baudelaire: ‘You whose clear eye sees the deep arsenals/Where the tribe of metals sleeps in its tomb’ (‘The Litany of Satan’).
55 Rey-Dussueil, Le Cloître Saint-Merry (Paris: Ambroise Dupont, 1832). Rue des Arcis is Rue Saint-Martin south of the transverse axis of Rue de la Verrerie–Rue des Lombards. It was certainly the great barricade of Saint-Merri that served as a model for the barricade of Rue de la Chanvrerie in Les Misérables, that which Jean Valjean defends and where Gavroche dies. See Thomas Bouchet, ‘La barricade des Misérables’, in Corbin and Mayeur (eds) La Barricade. It was also at Saint-Merri that the republican Michel Chrestien died a heroic death in Lost Illusions.
56 Rey-Dussueil, Le Cloître Saint-Merry.
57 Nadaud, Léonard, maçon de la Creuse.
58 Rue Transnonain disappeared with the cutting of Rue de Turbigo and the widening of Rue Beaubourg, but some of its houses were absorbed in the latter, on the even-numbered side.
59 Under ‘April 1834, days of’. In ‘Some French Caricaturists’, which dates from 1857, Baudelaire describes the famous lithograph by Daumier: ‘In a poor, mean room, the traditional room of the proletarian, with shoddy, essential furniture, lies the corpse of a workman, stripped but for his cotton shirt and cap; he lies on his back, at full length, his legs and arms outspread. There has obviously been a great struggle and tumult in the room, for the chairs are overturned, as are the night-table and the chamber-pot. Beneath the weight of the corpse – between his back and the bare boards – the father is crushing the corpse of his little child. In this cold attic all is silence and death’ (Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art), p. 163.
60 This strange friendship (Armand Carrel had been a volunteer with the Spanish republicans in 1823, and had thus fought the French troops that Chateaubriand had been involved in sending) is one of many signs that Chateaubriand was not a run-of-the-mill reactionary as is often believed.
61 Rancière, On the Shores of Politics.
62 ‘The groups were divided into Weeks and Months. The three Months that formed a Season received their orders from a leader who was known as Spring. Each month comprised four Weeks led by a July. The weeks were made up of six members under the leadership of a Sunday. The leaders went unseen, and Blanqui did not attend the general meetings . . . This was the hidden conscription and secret recruitment of the army of revolt’ (G. Geffroy, L’Enfermé).
63 Hugo, ‘1839: Diary of a Passer-By During the Riot of the Twelfth of May’, Things Seen.
64 Heinrich Heine, Lutèce (Paris: Michel Lévy, 1855). Another foreigner in Paris, Alexander Herzen, gave a similar diagnosis: ‘Capital gave its votes to the government, and the government lent its bayonets to the defence of all the abuses of capital. They had a common enemy: the proletariat, the worker . . .’ (Lettres de France et d’Italie, 10 June 1848).
65 Rodolphe Apponyi, De la Révolution au coup d’État, 1848–1851 (Paris: Plon, 1913; republished Geneva: La Palatine, 1948). Apponyi was from an old Hungarian family, and the cousin of the Austrian ambassador to Paris. As secretary to the embassy, he lived in Paris from 1826 to 1852. His diary, very lively and written in impeccable French, gives the point of view of a worldly and cultivated diplomat, a champion of order but lacking in ferocity.
66 Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections (London: Macdonald, 1970), p. 26.
67 ‘It was three o’clock when M. Guizot appeared at the door of the House. He entered with his firmest step and haughtiest bearing, silently crossed the gangway and mounted the tribune, almost throwing his head over backwards for fear of seeming to bow it; in two words he announced that the king had entrusted M. Molé with the formation of a new government. I have never seen such a piece of melodrama’ (Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 32).
68 Daniel Stern (the Comtesse d’Agoult), Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Librairie internationale, 1850–3).
69 Guizot lived in the Hôtel des Affaires Étrangères, on the corner of Rue des Capucines and Boulevard des Capucines; hence the guard that evening. Rue Basse-du-Rempart, as we have seen, ran parallel to Boulevard des Capucines at a lower level, divided from it by a small wall and a metal railing.
70 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848.
71 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 36.
72 Ibid., p. 39.
73 Ivan Turgenev, ‘Monsieur François’, The Fortnightly Review, 1 Nov 1911, pp. 946–961.
74 Louis Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution, février-juin 1848 (Paris: Au Bureau du peuple, 1848).
75 This was formed by the deputies Dupont de l’Eure, François Arago, Lamartine, Ledru-Rollin, Garnier-Pagès, Crémieux and Marie, and three non-parliamentarians, Louis Blanc, Flocon and Albert – an engineer, member of the Société des Nouvelles Saisons and ‘a representative of the working class’ (Marx). ‘Why had the fate of the people, only liberated just a moment ago, fallen precisely into the hands of these men? Did they know anything of the needs and aspirations of the people, had they risked death for them, was it they who had won the victory? Or perhaps they had some new and fertile thought? No, a hundred times no. They occupied these positions because they were bold enough to claim them, not on the barricades but in a newspaper office, not on the place of struggle but in the conquered Chamber of Deputies’ (Alexander Herzen, Lettres de France et d’Italie, 10 June 1848).
76 Alphonse de Lamartine, History of the French Revolution of 1848 (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1854), trans. Durivage & Chase.
77 Ibid. (Translation modified.)
78 Herzen, Lettres de France et d’Italie, 10 June 1848.
79 The new electoral law provided for universal (male) suffrage, which meant millions of new electors. ‘M. Ledru-Rollin did not find France republican enough. He wanted to have the time to inflate from all sides, by the organ of his clubs, the spirit of demagogy’ (Histoire de la chute du roi Louis-Philippe, de la République de 1848 et du rétablissement de l’Empire, 1847–1855 [Paris: Plon, imprimeur de l’Empereur, 1857]).
80 Garnier-Pagès, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Pagnerre, 1861–72).
81 Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution.
82 Geffroy, L’Enfermé. In his Pages d’histoire de la révolution de Février, Louis Blanc wrote: ‘I perceived among those attending unknown figures whose expression had something sinister about it.’
83 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848. In the long list of clubs that opened up at that time, the most important were that of Barbès (Club de la Révolution), which met at the Palais-National (former Palais-Royal), that of Raspail (Club des Amis du Peuple) in the Marais and that of Cabet on Rue Saint-Honoré. But there were many more, such as the Club des Amis des Noirs, the Société Démocratique Allemande, the Club des Blessés et Combattants de la Barricade Saint-Merri, the Club des Condamnés Politiques, those of the Démocrates de Belleville, the Émigrés Italiens, the Français non Naturalisés and the Fraternité du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, as well as the Vésuviennes, the only club reserved for women.
84 Ménart, Prologue d’une révolution.
85 Tocqueville, Recollections, pp. 115–8.
86 In the proceedings of the Bourges trial, Blanqui explains: ‘It is certainly true that I had come despite myself, shrugging my shoulders, and that even so I had given a speech with perfect composure. A man of politics is always able to do this. . . . If we had wanted to overthrow the Assembly, I beg you to believe that we would have acted quite differently. We have some experience of insurrections and conspiracies, and I assure you that we would not have spent three hours chatting in an Assembly that we intended to overthrow.’
87 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 118.
88 It is interesting to compare Tocqueville’s description with that of another opponent of Blanqui, Victor Hugo: ‘Blanqui had stopped wearing a shirt at this point. He wore the same clothes as he had for twelve years, his prison clothes, rags that he displayed at his club with a sombre pride. He only renewed his shoes, and his gloves which were always black . . . There was in this man something of a broken aristocrat trampled underfoot by a demagogue . . . A fundamental aptness; no hypocrisy. The same in private and in public. Rough, hard, severe, never laughing, repaying respect with irony, admiration with sarcasm, love with disdain, and inspiring extraordinary devotion. A sinister figure . . . At certain moments this was no longer a man, but a kind of gloomy apparition that seemed to embody all the hatreds born from all the miseries’ (Things Seen).
89 Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, Surveys from Exile, p. 228.
90 Lamartine, History of the French Revolution of 1848.
91 Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution.
93 Pierre Gaspard, ‘Aspects de la lutte des classes en 1848: le recrutement de la garde nationale mobile’, La Revue historique, 511, July-September 1974. Through an irony of history, their uniforms were manufactured by the Association Fraternelle des Tailleurs, two thousand tailors who had come from all sides and worked in the abandoned premises of the debtors’ prison of Clichy (Rancière, The Nights of Labor).
94 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 130.
95 Rapport de la Commission d’enquête sur l’insurrection qui a éclaté dans la journée du 25 juin et sur les événements du 15 mai.
96 For the sake of comparison, a correspondent of Eugène Sue wrote to him: ‘Your Chourineur . . . earns too little. If you were well informed, you would know that a good barge-worker earns 7 or 8 francs per day, and that 35 sous [1.75 francs] is what is paid to a streetsweeper’ (Cited by Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses).
97 ‘Business went from bad to worse; Lamartine was completely overwhelmed, the public finances were in a deplorable state, bankruptcies followed one another at an inconceivable rate, metallic currency became so rare that every effort was made to obtain it . . . What also struck several people here was the lack of money to travel, for with the exception of Rothschild, no banker paid out any more, and even the richest people had only one or two hundred francs at their disposal’ (Apponyi, De la Révolution au coup d’État).
98 Maurice Vimont, Histoire de la Rue Saint-Denis (Paris: Les Presses modernes, 1936).
99 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 136.
100 F. Pardigon, Épisodes des journées de juin (London, 1852).
101 Histoire des journées de juin, anonymous pamphlet (Paris: Martinon éditeur, 5 Rue du Coq-Saint-Honoré, 1848).
102 This was then on Rue de Jérusalem, a small street on the Île de la Cité that disappeared under Haussmann. People said ‘Rue de Jérusalem’ to mean the police, as we say today ‘the Quai d’Orsay’ or ‘the Élysée’.
103 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 138.
104 Histoire des journées de juin.
105 Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution.
106 Cited by Maïté Bouyssy in his introduction to Maréchal Bugeaud, La Guerre des rues et des maisons (Paris: Jean-Paul Rocher, 1997). Soldiers were not alone in their humanist vision of colonial war. Tocqueville: ‘I have often heard in France, from men whom I respect but do not approve of, that they find it bad to attack unarmed men, women and children. In my view, these are unpleasant necessities, but ones that any people that wants to make war on the Arabs will be obliged to accept’ (Cited by A. Brossat, Le Corps de l’ennemi, Paris: La Fabrique, 1998).
107 Histoire des journées de juin.
108 Ibid. The 4th arrondissement at that time was the Les Halles quarter.
109 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848. Remember that this author was a woman, the Comtesse d’Agoult. In Things Seen, Hugo describes this episode in a manner both intimate and hostile: ‘The National Guard, irritated more than intimidated, advanced in a rush to the barricade. At that moment, a woman appeared on top of the barricade, young, pretty, wild-haired and terrible. This woman, who was a prostitute, lifted her dress up to her belt and shouted to the National Guards, in the horrible brothel language that one always has to translate: “Cowards, fire on the belly of a woman if you dare!” Events now took a terrifying course. The National Guard did not hesitate. A platoon-fire toppled the wretched woman; she fell with a loud scream. There was a horrible silence, both on the barricade and from the attackers. Suddenly a second woman appeared. This one was still younger and prettier: almost a child, scarcely seventeen years old. What a wretched situation! She too was a prostitute. She lifted her dress, showed her belly, and cried: “Shoot, you brigands!” They shot. She fell in a hail of bullets on the body of the first. It was thus that the war began.’
110 Histoire des journées de juin. The 8th arrondissement comprised the northern part of the Marais, the 11th the Luxembourg, and the 12th, as we have seen, the Latin Quarter and the Faubourg Saint-Marceau.
111 Pardigon, Épisodes des journées de juin.
112 The Place de Cambrai was in front of the Collège de France, before Rue des Écoles was driven through. Rue Neuve-des-Mathurins was off Rue Saint-Jacques, not far from this.
113 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848.
114 The old Hôtel-Dieu, on the edge of the small arm of the Seine, in the square where Charlemagne’s statue now stands, had an extension on the Left Bank, to which it was joined by a covered bridge. This is no doubt where the battery was placed.
115 Pardigon, Épisodes des journées de juin.
116 Marouk, Juin 1848.
117 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848.
119 Histoire des journées de juin.
120 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848.
122 Tocqueville, Recollections.
123 Hugo, Things Seen.
124 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 148.
125 Histoire des journées de juin.
126Histoire de la chute du roi Louis-Philippe, de la République de 1848.
127 Tocqueville, Recollections.
128 To understand his account, you have to imagine these places before the opening of the Place de la République, the Boulevard Voltaire, etc.
129 Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 158.
130 Hugo, Things Seen.
131 Marouk, Juin 1848.
132 Auguste Blanqui, ‘Adresse au banquet des travailleurs socialistes’, 3 December 1848.
133 Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution. On the role of the Mobile Guards in this repression, Hippolyte Castille notes: ‘The little men with green epaulettes resembled weasels with their snouts in blood’ (Les Massacres de juin ).
134 Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution.
135 On the echoes of the June days in literature, see Oehler, 1848. Le Spleen contre l’oubli.
136 Cited by Marouk, Juin 1848. These directives were indeed applied: ‘In the little wood close to the Passage Ronce [in Ménilmontant], unarmed men were shot on the pretext that their hands smelled of powder’ (Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution).
137 ‘Right from the first night of the battle, massacres were organized in the Luxembourg. Captured insurgents were brought there in batches of twenty. They were forced to their knees and then shot. After these executions, the garden was closed for two weeks. The pools of blood that gave evidence of the slaughter had to be well hidden’ (Marouk, Juin 1848).
138 Some recent writers, such as Dolf Oehler, have drawn on this passage (and others) to present Flaubert as vaguely sympathetic to the insurgent workers. I believe however that his political ideas are shown very well on the same page of A Sentimental Education: ‘Aristocracy had the same fits of fury as low debauchery, and the cotton cap did not show itself less hideous than the red cap.’ He expressed his disgust of the people still more strongly at the time of the Commune (see his letters to George Sand).
139 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848. In Le Prolétariat, Victor Marouk commented on the inauguration of the statue of Ledru-Rollin in 1885, on the Place Voltaire (now Léon Blum): ‘Speeches will be delivered, recalling the titles of this famous republican to public honour. Newspapers . . . will tell us of the tribune and his superb speeches, of the member of the Provisional Government, the father of universal suffrage, the defender of the Constitution, banished under the Empire. Orators and journalists will certainly refrain from mentioning the Ledru-Rollin of reaction and the firing squads, the Ledru-Rollin of 16 April 1848 and the June days.’ And he concluded: ‘The sons of those shot will keep their distance from this apotheosis of the man of the firing squad.’
140 Cited in Marouk, Juin 1848.
141 ‘Out of parliamentary stupidity, I failed in my duty as representative. I had eyes to see, and I did not see . . . Elected by the people, and a journalist of the proletariat, I should not have left this mass without leadership and advice. A hundred thousand fighting men deserved that I should have concerned myself with them. That would have been better than to bury myself in your offices’ (P. Proudhon, Confessions d’un révolutionnaire [Paris: Lacroix & Verboeckhoven, 1868]; written between 1849 and 1851).
142 Blanqui, Adresse au banquet des travailleurs.
143 Marx, ‘The Class Struggles in France’, Surveys from Exile, p. 60.
144 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer (Palo Alto: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998). Compare Pardigon’s exclamations: ‘Prisoners so despised and execrated! Surplus men, whose valueless lives are hurled randomly into the ocean of destruction.’
145 Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848.
146 The man who had stood up to Lamartine at the time of the red flag affair.
147 Lahr – a German – and Daix were guillotined on 17 March 1849 for the ‘murder’ of General Bréa. The next day, Delescluze wrote in his newspaper, La Révolution démocratique et sociale: ‘Crazy people! They’ve erected a new political scaffold. . .’
148 The present Rue Saint-Martin, formerly Rue des Lombards, first became Rue des Arcis, then between the Tour Saint-Jacques and the Seine it was Rue Planche-Mibray, a medieval name derived from the planks put down to cross the bray, i.e., the mud of the streets.
149 Maréchal Bugeaud, La Guerre des rues et des maisons; Auguste Blanqui, Instructions pour une prise d’armes; L’Éternité par les astres, et autres textes, edited by Miguel Abensour and Valentin Pelosse (Paris: La Tête de Feuilles, 1972).
150 Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses.
151 Even apart from epidemics, Villermé notes how ‘Rue de la Mortellerie has four and a half times as many deaths as the quays of the Île Saint-Louis, where the inhabitants live in roomy and well-ventilated apartments’ (La Mortalité en France dans la classe aisée, comparée à celle qui a lieu parmi les indigents [Paris, 1827]).
152 La Bédollière, Les Industriels (Paris, 1842).
153 Le Journal des débats, 27 August 1830.
154 Report by Achille Leroux, BNF, Fonds Enfantin, MS 7816, cited by Rancière, The Nights of Labor.
155 Cited by Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses.
156 Cited by T. J. Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois, Artists and Politicians in France, 1848–1851 (London: Thames and Hudson: 1973), p. 29. Leleux’s painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1849.
157 Tocqueville, Recollections. This passage deserves to be quoted at greater length: ‘the eagerness for material enjoyment that, spurred by the [republican] government, increasingly excited this multitude, and the democratic malaise of envy that was silently at work; the economic and political theories that began to come to light and tended to give the impression that human misery was the work of laws and not of Providence, and that poverty could be abolished by changing the basis of society’.
158 ‘Rapport de la Commission des Halles’, 1842. Cited by Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses.
159 Hippolyte Babou, Les Prisonniers du 2 décembre, mes émotions, mes souvenirs (Paris, 1876).
160 Before dispersing, the members of the Constituent Assembly had voted a credit for sending an expeditionary force to Italy, with the mission of supporting the Italian republicans in their revolt against Austria. But this little army, commanded by Oudinot, was then used to attack the Roman republicans and restore the power of the pope.
161 The book was published by Calmann-Lévy, in the midst of the Mac-Mahon affair. Hugo placed at the start of the book the words: ‘This book is more than topical; it is urgent. I am publishing it. V.H., 1 October 1877.’ The first printing was of 165,000 copies.
162 Hugo, Les Misérables, Volume Five, book 1, chapter 1.
164 Hugo, The History of a Crime, chapter 17, trans. Joyce and Locker.
165 Victor Hugo, Actes et paroles, I, ‘Avant l’exil’, in Politique, Notes Annexes de V. Hugo (Paris: Laffont).
166 ‘Your law is a law with a mask . . . That is your custom. When you forge a chain, you say: “Here is a freedom!” When you make a proscription, you cry: “Here is an amnesty!” . . . You are not believers, but sectarians of a religion that you do not understand. You are presenters of holiness. Don’t involve the church in your affairs, your tricks, your doctrines, your ambitions.’
167 ‘But rise up then, Catholics, priests, bishops, men of religion sitting in this Assembly; rise up, it is your role! What are you doing on your benches?’
168 On the morning of 2 December, Babou and a group of his friends met Pierre Leroux, who said to them: ‘You young people! Laugh like we do and buy whistles; the coup d’état will end up in ridicule’ (Les Prisonniers du 2 décembre).
169 Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, Surveys from Exile, p. 233.
170 Millière was shot on the steps of the Panthéon on 26 May 1871. He had refused to kneel, and died shouting: ‘Long live humanity!’ In The History of a Crime, published in 1877, this passage is clearly a later addition. I read many years ago the memoirs of a Soviet writer of the great era – I can’t remember which – who recalled how much that cry of ‘Long live humanity!’ had struck him as a young man.
171 Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, p. 235.
172 ‘The Twenty-five francs’: an expression of contempt denoting the deputies by their daily remuneration. The wage paid by the National Workshops, we recall, was two francs for a man and one franc for a woman. The following day, to the workers of the faubourg who asked him if he really thought that they would get themselves killed to keep him in his twenty-five francs, Baudin made the famous reply before climbing on to the barricade: ‘You will see how someone dies for twenty-five francs.’
173 This law of 31 May 1850 abolished in practice the universal suffrage proclaimed in February 1848: to be an elector now needed a permanent household, whereas the majority of workers were migrants. The posters of the coup d’état promised the return of universal suffrage.
174 Auguste Blanqui, L’Éternité par les astres, hypothèse astronomique, cited by Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 114.
175 Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (University of Minnesota Press, 1998).