Paris, 1871-2023, in the age of cherries

Image: Chris Molloy


Paris at the forefront of mobilizations

“Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises”, verse from the song “Les temps das Cerises”, from 1866, by Jean Baptiste Clément, commonard condemned to death in default.

Paris, Sunday, May 28, 1871. Between 14:00 pm and 18:00 pm, the last cannons and rifles fired from the last and already isolated barricades of the Commune could be heard. In some of them, only four or five of the people often resist to the death the assault by the troops of the Versailles government. It is impossible to know where the resistance ended. You commonardthose killed in combat and shot were thrown into mass graves; the hundreds of barricades commonly formed of thick cobblestones were dismantled; the red flags, lowered and trampled underfoot. [“La Dernière Barricade.”]

While the last pockets of resistance were suppressed, the massacre and persecution of the already disarmed defenders and supporters of the Commune began. Ten thousand Communards – or believed to be so – would have been shot by the troops of the government of Versailles, who plundered in depth mainly the popular neighborhoods of the capital. Administrative officials, fighters, journalists, workers, men and women, old Communards who had fought on the barricades of 1848, the tailors, seamstresses and shoemakers who had committed the crime of making the uniforms of the fierce Parisian National Guard. [DOMMANGET, 1971; LISSAGARAY 1962.]

The fury of monarchists and republican bourgeois took on the dimension of the fear they felt when they saw the workers governing the heart of the nation. They did everything to eradicate, in an enormous bloodbath, the memory of the red flags that waved over the city hall and the city of Paris, which had been in revolt for 72 long days. However, for many decades, those days were marked, with fire and iron, in the memory of Parisian working families, who rarely did not have a member killed in combat, shot or imprisoned by the counter-revolutionary republican government. Some 13 federates were sentenced to harsh sentences and sent, in large numbers, to terrible prisons in the French overseas colonies. [MOLLIER, 2014; ROUGERIE, 1964.]

Memory cult places fix the essential meanings of events that time tends to dissipate the memory. On Saturday, May 27th, some of the last defenders of the Commune posted their cannons and raised defenses on the upper reaches of the beautiful Père Lachaise cemetery in the heart of Paris. There, when they ran out of ammunition, they engaged in hand-to-hand combat, among the tombs and funerary monuments, which still keep some traces of that confrontation. Around noon, 147 Communards Prisoners were ruthlessly shot against a cemetery wall and buried on the spot in a mass grave, into which the bodies of combatants were then thrown or executed in the vicinity of the cemetery. [“La Commune de Paris”; GUERIN, 1966.]

The Federated Wall, Temple of the Revolution

On May 23, 1878, two years before the amnesty of the Communards convicts, 25 Parisian workers and their families, defying the police forces, silently parade in front of the Federated Wall, carrying a red rose in their lapel. On May 25, 1936, 500 demonstrators marched in honor of the Commune, called by the communist and socialist parties, following the successes of the Popular Front, which promised to realize, without a workers' government, many of the demands of the Communards. [THEHumanity, 25 May 1936.]

The Père Lachaise cemetery, a traditional burial place for the great French intelligentsia, began to house the remains of former combatants of the Commune, veterans of the Spanish International Brigades, socialist, revolutionary, communist, anarchist, Trotskyist militants, etc. French and non-French, such as Laura Marx and her companion, Paulo Lafargue, French representative in the First International, who died in November 1911. There rest the ashes of Trotskyist militants killed in recent decades such as Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank, Pierre Lambert, Daniel Bensait .

Celebration and remembrance of the Commune remained strong in Paris and France, declining in recent decades, possibly for two main reasons. The victory of the Russian Revolution, in 1917, on the one hand, and, later, the growing reformist and collaborationist bias of the French Communist Party, on the other, exacerbated by the victorious world counter-revolution in the years 1989-91, when the capitalist restoration in USSR and in states with a nationalized and planned economy. [LARRÈRE, 2021.]

Until the advent of Stalinism, the Bolsheviks celebrated the Paris Commune, seeing the victory of 1917 as its continuation and victorious conclusion, in another region of a world that they proposed without borders, like the internationalists of 1871. to power, during a meeting of the central committee of the Bolshevik Party, someone recalled that they had surpassed the 72 days of the Commune government. The members of the central committee abandoned the meeting to go out into the open and fire their revolvers in the air, celebrating that, even if defeated, they had advanced a few steps in the work of the Communards.

However, due to its enormous geographical, temporal and programmatic dimension in relation to the Paris Commune, October 1917 inevitably became a greater reference than the March-May 1871 days. In turn, the collaborationist bias of socialism and communism Stalinists and post-Stalinists recommended muting the celebration of the 1871 conquest of power by the workers through arms in another region of the world than the Tsarist Empire.

Attack, to defend yourself

Among the proposed causes of the Commune's defeat is its defensive character, having been literally pushed into the grip of power in Paris. Effectively, in 1870, the French Emperor Napoleon III, discredited, accepted the poisoned challenge launched by the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who saw in a war, with a France unprepared for it, the fastest way to German unification. Once the conflict started, German troops advanced quickly through France towards Paris.

Captured by the Prussians on December 2, 1870, Napoleon III signed the surrender of France, being deposed two days later after violent popular demonstrations, especially in Paris. The monarchy then gave way to the Third Republic and a provisional government, called National Defense, incompetent and venal, incapable of defending France and the besieged capital, more concerned with strangling the growing labor and socialist activism. During the whole winter, German troops surrounded and bombarded Paris, forcing the popular classes to feed themselves with the meat of dogs, cats and rats, which practically disappeared from the capital.

On January 28, 1871, Bismarck granted the armistice requested by the government, for three weeks, for an elected National Assembly to vote to surrender. In the majority, monarchist, Bonapartist, ultramontane deputies, in favor of “peace at any cost”, were elected by the vote of the rural regions of France. In Paris, which resisted the Prussian siege, the candidates for resistance triumphed, most of them with a socialist, anarchist, radical or moderate republican orientation, etc.

Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), a prominent historian and conservative and transformist republican, sent into exile by Napoleon III, was designated chief executive of the republican government by the newly elected conservative assembly. He accepted the shameful terms of peace imposed by Germany, ratified on March 1st, to the indignation above all of the working population of Paris, who had been living and resisting the German siege tenaciously for months. Thiers agreed to grant the now German Empire, under the scepter of William I, an exorbitant indemnity, the delivery of important national territories and a humiliating parade of the winning troops on the Champs-Élysées!

On March 10, 1871, the conservative National Assembly decided to settle in the aristocratic Versailles and not in Paris, which it defined as the “capital of the revolutionary idea”. From then on, the Thiers government started to advance all kinds of measures to weaken and disarm the Parisian population and, above all, the heart of the resistance of the capital, formed by 70 thousand small craftsmen and 450 thousand workers, in a population, before the war , with almost 1.800.000 inhabitants.

Versailles vs Paris

On March 17, Thiers ordered the withdrawal of more than two hundred cannons from Paris, most of them paid for by the city's population. Troops refuse to fire on Parisians who oppose the delivery of cannons, two generals who command the expedition are executed. With the general abandonment of the capital by the Thiers government, which also took refuge in Versailles, the Parisian population, at that time predominantly working, was faced with the need to form a government of its own. So, France is divided into two powers, one, popular and revolutionary, within the walls of Paris, represented by the Commune, and another, conservative and counter-revolutionary, headquartered in Versailles, dominating the rest of France not occupied by the Prussians. Inevitably, one of them must overlap the other in order to survive.

On March 26, 92 members of the Commune council were elected, by 52% of the Parisian electorate, in a city heavily deserted by the wealthy classes, due to the siege and the popular and revolutionary agitation of the capital. Even so, around 20 clearly conservative deputies are elected, who also cautiously leave Paris. the parliament commonard will operate with 70 deputies, mostly moderate and radical republicans, Jacobins, white, anarchists, freemasons, internationalists, that is, Marxists. He will never succeed in constituting the firm and secure leadership demanded by the moment and by the popular classes.

The General Council of the Commune is divided into a minority, which proposes a clearly social republic, and a majority, which defends a political republic, with social sensitivity. He will initially try to negotiate with the Versailles government, which is mobilizing to crush the workers' revolution. However, the deliberations of the Commune Council take place under the heat of the permanent mobilization of workers, who publish newspapers and revolutionary pasquins and organize clubs, assemblies and demonstrations in popular neighborhoods.

The measures taken by the Executive Committee of the Commune had a strongly plebeian and popular content: the nullity of rents not paid during the siege was decreed; the sale of pledged objects is suspended; measures are voted in defense of debtors; a pension is decreed for the families of those killed in the defense of Paris; it is decided to occupy empty residences in favor of those bombed; the price of bread is fixed and the sale by the government of foodstuffs is established.

Important political, economic and symbolic measures are taken. The possibility of permanent revocation and the mandatory mandate of parliamentarians and elected officials are determined, including judges and civil servants, all paid, at the most, with the salary of a specialized worker. Nationality is granted to foreigners who defend the Commune; the separation of Church and State and the nationalization of ecclesiastical goods are imposed.

The War of Symbols

In symbolic terms, the red flag was adopted as a symbol of the new government, denying the tricolor, and the republican and secular calendar of the 1789 Revolution. The house of Thiers, the column of Vendrome, the church of Brea, the confessional were destroyed of Louis XVI. During the fighting, other symbols of conservative power are set on fire, such as the Tuileries and Justice Palaces and the Paris City Hall, without the mime of our so-called left, contrary to any attack on the Brazilian conservative historical architectural heritage. Even though the death penalty has been abolished, several hostages are executed, especially senior members of the hated aristocratic Church, during the Bloody Week, after the execution of Communards by the troops of Versailles.

On the economic level, abandoned manufactures are handed over to workers' cooperatives; a ten-hour working day is decreed; private employment agencies are replaced by public companies; the end of employer fines for workers is determined; minimum wage is instituted for certain activities; bakers are prohibited from working at night. Public, secular and free education and mixed night schools are approved, measures that the short life of the Commune prevents from being carried out. Simplified and free marriage is instituted. Full freedom of the press is guaranteed. Clearly counter-revolutionary newspapers, when closed, appear under other titles.

Voting and public office remain restricted to men, a reality defended by anarchist followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), misogynist and sexist, and fiercely opposed by internationalists and internationalists (Marxists). However, as in the French Revolution, in 1789, the participation of working and popular women was enormous, who, this time, in 1871, also fought on the barricades. On April 11, Nathalie Lemel (1827-1921), a bookbinder and trade unionist, and Elisabeth Dmitrieff (1851-1918), a Russian intellectual, both internationalists, founded the “Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and the Care of the Wounded”, in the Temple street cafe. Both would have fought, during the Bloody Week, in a barricade, at the head of a platoon of fifty women. Nathalie, arrested, was deported to the French colony of New Caledonia. Elisabeth managed to escape repression. Two squares in the heart of the French capital bear today the name of these tireless communards and internationalists.

The association, which would have brought together three hundred women, complained about feminism and defended the claims of working women, proposing to resume the tradition of 1848, suffocated by the II Empire. The Association and working and popular women who actively participated in the Commune, in the clubs in the popular neighborhoods, some of them exclusively female, demanded equal wages, the formation of day care centers, the recognition of free marriage. They were fearless nurses, stretchers and fighters during the Red Week, therefore rifles and firing cannons, with such fearlessness that they were pejoratively called by Versailles “pétroleuses” – incendiaries. After the defeat, tradition and reports refer to the other women, from the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, who, elegantly dressed, went so far as to pierce the eyes of prisoners and prisoners, chained and wounded, with the tips of their elegant parasols. [VALAT, 2019.]

The Commune had equally little time to stabilize and consolidate, without ever deciding to build a professional army and relevant defenses of Paris, in case of an invasion, dominating the static and poorly articulated defenses of the barricades. Thiers obtained from Bismarck the release of important French troops, which allowed 130 well-armed and trained soldiers to be launched against Paris.

On April 21, the fighting began, replacing the troops of Versailles with the Prussians in attacking the defenses of Paris. Only on May XNUMX, after overcoming the walls of the capital, the troops of Versailles entered the capital through the neighborhoods of the propertied classes. Possibly the troops Communards they did not have more than 20 soldiers who were disciplined and decidedly committed to the resistance, notably the National Guard. The resistance commonard it was only broken on May 28, when the Bloody Week ended and the mass execution of the defeated began. The principle of autonomy and voluntarism of the combatants and the improvisation of the defense of Paris made the defense of the Commune more difficult. A reality that certainly contributed to León Trotsky's rejection of the proposal for autonomous volunteer militias to face the Civil War of 1918-1922. On the contrary, he built the victorious Red Army based on centralization, discipline, professionalization and universal conscription. [TROTSKY, 1968.]

Paris and the Provinces

It is rightly proposed that Paris would hardly have overtaken the professional armies of Versailles without the support of the other great cities, to which he proposed the free federation of the communes of France. A proposal that traveled across the country, with indisputable reception, more than commonly proposed, without, however, managing to set fire to the big cities in the provinces.

Even before the Commune, in Lyon, on September 4, 1870, the republic was proclaimed and the prefecture was occupied, replacing the tricolor flag with the red one. With the fall of Napoleon III and the installation of the Third Republic, that commune was dissolved, and its left sectors tried to re-establish it twice, ending up raising barricades and militarily facing conservative republican troops, on April 30. [“Les Communes en Province”, 1 and 2.]

Between September and October, the republic was proclaimed in Lille, Dijon, Bordeaux and eleven other cities. In Marseilles, on 1 November, the town hall was occupied by a revolutionary committee, expelled after a few days. On the 5th of the following month, an insurrectionary attempt was suppressed in Rouen.

The proclamation of the Commune, in Paris, on March 18, 1871, also had repercussions in the province. On March 25-27, the National Guard proclaimed the commune of Toulouse. What was also done in Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and at least ten other cities, in March, April and May, in a fleeting way, without continuation. [“Les Communes en province”, 1 and 2.]

Achilles' heel

The great Achilles' heel of the Commune was the broad support that the republican, clerical, monarchist and Bonapartist reaction enjoyed on the part of the rural population, above all the rich and well-off peasants, admirers of Napoleon and his nephew, to whom they credit, the first, the conquest and, to the second, the guarantee of their land properties. These sectors voted and massively supported the policy of surrender before a unified Germany and the repression of the insurgent workers.

The working population of Paris, the “bare arms”, was responsible for promoting and sustaining the first and great popular revolutionary days of the 1789 Revolution. dos Equals, from 1973, directed by Graco Babeuf, which agitated the poor neighborhoods of Paris demanding the end of private property, with the collectivization of land and manufactures. [WALTER, 1796] The Paris Commune was a quantitative and qualitative overcoming of the workers' and artisans' mobilizations of 1980, 1789, 1796, 1830. It supported, for 1848 days, the first workers' government in the history of mankind.

In these dark times of counter-revolution in which we live, the European and world working classes suffer the uninterrupted offensive of big international capital, often supported by parties, organizations and unions that in the past were theirs. In this context, in which the end of the protagonism of workers and the death of the revolution and socialism is proposed, the world of work rises majestically in Paris, in defense of its rights, precisely in the months in which the 152 years of the workdays are celebrated. of the Commune.

Moreover, unlike 1871, Paris is at the forefront of the powerful mobilization of practically all large, medium and small French municipalities. This portentous mobilization of the French working and popular classes shows, to Europe and the world, the universalization of salaried relations and the indisputable condition of workers to complete and advance on the path opened by the Commune, in 1871, and deepened by October, in 1917, in direction of a time that will always be cherries.

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Sons of Ham, sons of the dog. The enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography (FCM Editora).


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[Les] Communes en province. Force Ouvriere. [2]

[La] dernière barricade de la Commune de Paris, Les Amies et Amis de la Commune de Paris 1871.

DOMMANGET, Maurice. The municipality. Brussels: La Taupe, 1971.

GUERIN, Andrew. 1871: la Commune. Paris: Hachette, 1966.

GUERIN, Daniel. Bourgeois et bras nudes: 1793-1795. France: Gallimard, 1973.

LISSAGARAY, H. Prosper-Olivier. Story of the Commune. Rome: Ed Riuniti, 1962.

LARRÈRE, Mathilde. La Commune prend les murs. Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris, March 2021.

MOLLIER, Jean-Yves. «Belle-Île-en-Mer, prison politique après la Commune (1871-1880)», criminocorpus, Justice et détention politique, 31 January 2014, consulted on 23 March 2023. URL: http:/

ROSSEL, Cluseret. La Commune et la question militaire, 1871. Paris: 1018, 1971.

ROUGERIE, Jacques. [Org]. Proces des communards. France: Julliard, 1964.

TROTSKY, Leon. I. Comment la revolución s'est armée. Military écrits. Paris: L'Herne, 1968.

VALAT, ELOI. Femmes de la Commune de Paris. Le Monde Diplomatique, France, juillet 2019).

WALTER, G. Babeuf et la Conjuration des Egaux: 1760-1797. Paris: Payot, 1980.

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