Daily Archives: November 15, 2011

communards

Here’s the two-bit whore he’s talking about.

EB

And here’s Keith

What’s involved here goes back much further than a petty tyrant like Bloomberg

MB

Much further than the current protests

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For the roots of OWS 2011 are to be found in Paris 1871

“The Paris Commune (French: La Commune de Paris, IPA: [la kɔmyn də paʁi]) was a government that briefly ruled Paris from March 18 (more formally, from March 28) to May 28, 1871. It existed before the split between anarchists and Marxists had taken place, and it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution. Debates over the policies and outcome of the Commune contributed to the break between those two political groups.
In a formal sense, the Paris Commune simply acted as the local authority, the city council (in French, the “commune”), which exercised power in Paris for two months in the spring of 1871. However, the conditions in which it formed, its controversial decrees, and its violent end make its tenure one of the more important political episodes of the time.

The Commune was the result of an uprising in Paris after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. This uprising was chiefly caused by the disaster in the war and the growing discontent among French workers. The worker discontent can be traced to the first worker uprisings, the Canut Revolts, in Lyon and Paris in the 1830s (a Canut was a Lyonnais silk worker, often working on Jacquard looms).

“Discussing the War in a Paris Café”, Illustrated London News 17 September 1870
Parisians, especially workers and the lower-middle classes, had long supported a democratic republic. A specific demand was that Paris should be self-governing with its own elected council, something enjoyed by smaller French towns but denied to Paris by a national government wary of the capital’s unruly populace. An associated, but less well-articulated, wish was for a more “just”, if not necessarily socialist, way of managing the economy, summed up in the popular appeal for “la république démocratique et sociale!” (“the democratic and social republic!”)
The war with Prussia, initiated by Napoleon III in July 1870, turned out disastrously for France, and by September Paris itself was under siege. The gap between rich and poor in the capital had widened during the preceding years, and then food shortages, military failures, and, finally, a Prussian bombardment of the city contributed to a widespread discontent. In January 1871, after four months of siege the moderate republican Government of National Defense sought an armistice with the newly-proclaimed German Empire. The Germans included a triumphal entry into Paris in their peace terms. Given the hardships of the siege, many Parisians were bitterly resentful of the Prussians (now at the head of the German Empire) being allowed even a brief ceremonial occupation of their city.
Hundreds of thousands of Parisians were armed members of a citizens’ militia known as the “National Guard”, which had been greatly expanded to help defend the city. Guard units elected their own officers, who, in working-class districts, included radical and socialist leaders.

“Discussing the War in a Paris Café”, Illustrated London News 17 September 1870
Parisians, especially workers and the lower-middle classes, had long supported a democratic republic. A specific demand was that Paris should be self-governing with its own elected council, something enjoyed by smaller French towns but denied to Paris by a national government wary of the capital’s unruly populace. An associated, but less well-articulated, wish was for a more “just”, if not necessarily socialist, way of managing the economy, summed up in the popular appeal for “la république démocratique et sociale!” (“the democratic and social republic!”)
The war with Prussia, initiated by Napoleon III in July 1870, turned out disastrously for France, and by September Paris itself was under siege. The gap between rich and poor in the capital had widened during the preceding years, and then food shortages, military failures, and, finally, a Prussian bombardment of the city contributed to a widespread discontent. In January 1871, after four months of siege the moderate republican Government of National Defense sought an armistice with the newly-proclaimed German Empire. The Germans included a triumphal entry into Paris in their peace terms. Given the hardships of the siege, many Parisians were bitterly resentful of the Prussians (now at the head of the German Empire) being allowed even a brief ceremonial occupation of their city.
Hundreds of thousands of Parisians were armed members of a citizens’ militia known as the “National Guard”, which had been greatly expanded to help defend the city. Guard units elected their own officers, who, in working-class districts, included radical and socialist leaders.

A contemporary sketch of women and children helping take two National Guard cannon to Montmartre
Steps were taken to form a “Central Committee” of the Guard, including patriotic republicans and socialists, both to defend Paris against a possible German attack and also to defend the republic against a possible royalist restoration. The election of a monarchist majority to the new National Assembly in February 1871 made such fears seem plausible.
The population of Paris was defiant in the face of defeat and prepared to fight if the entry of the German army into the city should provoke them sufficiently. Before German troops entered Paris, National Guardsmen, helped by ordinary working people, managed to move large numbers of cannon (which they regarded as their own property because they had been partly paid-for by public subscription) away from the Germans’ path and store them in “safe” districts. One of the chief “cannon parks” was on the heights of Montmartre.
Adolphe Thiers was elected “Executive Power” of the new government to postpone the issue of whether to have a president or king. Thiers, as head of the new provisional national government, realised that in the current unstable situation the Central Committee of the Guard formed an alternative centre of political and military power. He was also concerned that workers would arm themselves with the National Guard’s weapons and provoke the Germans.

The Commune forces, the National Guard, first began skirmishing with the regular Army of Versailles on April 2. Neither side really sought a major civil war, nor was either side ever willing to negotiate.

The nearby suburb of Courbevoie was occupied by the government forces on April 2, and a delayed attempt by the Commune’s forces to march on Versailles on April 3 failed ignominiously. Defence and survival became overriding considerations, and the Commune leadership made a determined effort to turn the National Guard into an effective defense force.
Strong support also came from the large foreign community of political refugees and exiles in Paris: one of them, the Polish ex-officer and nationalist Jarosław Dąbrowski, was to be the Commune’s best general. The Council was fully committed to internationalism, and in the name of brotherhood the Vendôme Column, celebrating the victories of Napoleon I, and considered by the Commune to be a monument to Bonapartism and chauvinism, was pulled down.
Abroad, there were rallies and messages of goodwill sent by trade union and socialist organisations, including some in Germany. But any hopes of getting serious help from other French cities were soon dashed. Thiers and his ministers in Versailles managed to prevent almost all information from leaking out of Paris; and in provincial and rural France there had always been a skeptical attitude towards the activities of the metropolis. Movements in Narbonne, Limoges, and Marseille were quickly crushed.
As the situation deteriorated further, a section of the Council won a vote (opposed by bookbinder Eugène Varlin, an associate of Michael Bakunin and correspondent of Karl Marx, and by other radicals) for the creation of a “Committee of Public Safety”, modelled on the Jacobin organ with the same title, formed in 1792. Its powers were extensive and ruthless in theory, but in practice it was ineffective.

Throughout April and May, government forces, constantly increasing in number—with Prussia releasing French POWs to help the Thiers government—besieged the city’s powerful defenses, and pushed back the National Guards. On May 21 a gate in the western part of the fortified city wall of Paris was opened, and Versaillese troops began the reconquest of the city. They first occupied the prosperous western districts, where they were welcomed by residents who had not left Paris after the armistice. It seems an engineer (who had spied regularly for the Thiers government) found the gate unmanned and signaled this to the Versaillais.
The strong local loyalties which had been a positive feature of the Commune now became something of a disadvantage: instead of an overall planned defence, each “quartier” fought desperately for its survival, and each was overcome in turn. The webs of narrow streets which made entire districts nearly impregnable in earlier Parisian revolutions had been largely replaced by wide boulevards during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The Versaillese enjoyed a centralised command and had superior numbers. They had learned the tactics of street fighting, and simply tunnelled through the walls of houses to outflank the Communards’ barricades. Ironically, only where Haussmann had made wide spaces and streets were they held up by the defenders’ gunfire.
During the assault, the government troops were responsible for slaughtering National Guard troops and civilians: many prisoners taken in possession of weapons, or who were suspected of having fought, were shot out of hand and summary executions were commonplace.

The Commune had taken a “decree on hostages” on April 5, 1871, according to which any accomplice with Versailles would be made the “hostage of the Parisian people”. Its article 5 also stated that the execution by Versailles of any war prisoner or partisan of the regular government of the Paris Commune would be followed on the spot by the execution of the triple number of retained hostages. But this decree was not applied. The Commune tried several times to exchange Mgr Darboy, archbishop of Paris, for Auguste Blanqui, but Thiers flatly refused and his personal secretary, Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire, declared: “The hostages! The hostages! too bad for them (tant pis pour eux!)”.
Finally, during the Bloody Week and the ensuing executions by Versaille troops, Théophile Ferré signed the execution order for 6 hostages (including Mgr Darboy), who were executed by firing squad on May 24 in the prison de la Roquette. This led Auguste Vermorel to ironically (and perhaps naively, since Thiers had refused any negotiation) declare: “What a great job! Now we’ve lost our only chance to stop the bloodshed.” Ferré was himself executed in retaliation by Thiers’ troops

The toughest resistance came in the more working-class districts of the east, where fighting continued during the later stages of the week of vicious street fighting in what became known as La Semaine Sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). By May 27 only a few pockets of resistance remained, notably the poorer eastern districts of Belleville and Ménilmontant. Fighting ended during the late afternoon or early evening of May 28. According to legend, the last barricade was in the rue Ramponeau in Belleville.
Marshal MacMahon issued a proclamation: “To the inhabitants of Paris. The French army has come to save you. Paris is freed! At 4 o’clock our soldiers took the last insurgent position. Today the fight is over. Order, work and security will be reborn.”
Reprisals now began in earnest. Having supported the Commune in any way was a political crime, of which thousands could be, and were, accused. Some of the Communards were shot against what is now known as the Communards’ Wall in the Père Lachaise Cemetery while thousands of others were tried by summary courts martial of doubtful legality, and thousands shot. Notorious sites of slaughter were the Luxembourg Gardens and the Lobau Barracks, behind the Hôtel de Ville. Nearly 40,000 others were marched to Versailles for trials. For many days endless columns of men, women and children made a painful way under military escort to temporary prison quarters in Versailles. Later 12,500 were tried, and about 10,000 were found guilty: 23 men were executed; many were condemned to prison; 4,000 were deported for life to New Caledonia. The number killed during La Semaine Sanglante can never be established for certain, and estimates vary from about 10,000 to 50,000. According to Benedict Anderson, “7,500 were jailed or deported” and “roughly 20,000 executed”.[7]
One of the generals leading the counter-assault headed by Thiers was the Marquis de Galliffet, the fusilleur de la Commune who later took part as Minister of War in Waldeck-Rousseau’s Government of Republican Defence at the turn of the century (alongside independent socialist

After the slaughter, Thiers said, “The ground is strewn with their corpses. May this terrible sight serve as a lesson.” According to Alfred Cobban, 30,000 were killed, perhaps as many as 50,000 later executed or imprisoned and 7,000 were exiled to New Caledonia.[8] Thousands more, including most of the Commune leaders, succeeded in escaping to Belgium, Britain (a safe haven for 3,000-4,000 refugees), Italy, Spain and the United States. The final exiles and transportees were amnestied in 1880. Some became prominent in later politics, as Paris councillors, deputies or senators. In 1872, “stringent laws were passed that ruled out all possibilities of organizing on the left.”[7] For the imprisoned there was a general amnesty in 1880, except for those convicted of assassination or arson. Paris remained under martial law for five years”

Peter Watkins made his masterpiece about this.

Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet discovered the secret mass grave in which the slaughtered Communard were buried and made a film about it — that is also a tribute to Stephane Mallarme

The photo at the top of this blogpost is the first ever taken. It’s purpose was to assure those in power that recalcitrant underlings were put in their place —

Six Feet Under.

But we don’t have to go back as far as 1871 to guess how this all might well end up

Sing us out boys