The Paris Commune: Order Reigns in Paris

A new translation of an article from Le Cri du peuple, the leading newspaper of the Paris Commune.

A painting of Parisian National Guard gathered in the open air during the winter of 1870
Image: macommunedeparis.com

In the first instalment of our series of articles based on new translations from Le Cri du peuple (the Cry of the People) we touched on the significance of the National Guard militia as an independent force.

In the weeks after 28 January 1871, when the Government of National Defense capitulated to the Prussian army, the National Guard became more politicised and established its own command structures. [1]

The political revolution of 4 September 1870, in which the Second Empire of the defeated Napoleon III was replaced by a republic, was threatened: its leading minister, Adolphe Thiers, toured France rallying the support of royalists and announced that the new National Assembly would convene not in Paris but Versailles, the seat of French monarchs to where Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck had decamped after he lifted the siege of Paris.

The impetus for the rapid evolution of the National Guard was the fear that the Prussians would assist Thiers in crushing the very force which brought him to power – the Parisian working and lower-middle classes. Marx, in his famous pamphlet The Civil War in France, published at the end of May, immediately after the fall of the Commune, states that ‘Armed Paris was the only serious obstacle in the way of the counter revolutionary conspiracy.’

It was in this atmosphere that the National Guard’s General Assembly, made up of delegates from its battalions and companies, met on 24 February 1871. P.-O. Lissagaray, in the History of the Paris Commune of 1871, says, ‘That day the Assembly was tempestuous, disquiet, little inclined for calm deliberations.’ The decisions made further underlined its autonomy and committed it to oppose a Prussian entry into Paris. (In the event the National Guard was prevailed upon by other workers’ organisations not to take up arms against the vastly superior Prussian forces. [2] If it had done so the Commune would likely not have come into existence).

Issue number 6 of Le Cri, published on Monday, 27 February, reported the meeting as follows:

Order Reigns in Paris

The General Assembly of National Guard delegates, meeting at Tivoli-Vauxhall, has constituted a Central Committee.

The Assembly decided that a large number of copies of its statutes will be printed to be sold in Paris, and thereby bring it to the recognition and the discussions of all the [National Guard] companies.

Following from those resolutions the three following propositions were, following deliberations, unanimously agreed that:

Firstly. Through the Central Committee, the National Guard will protest against any attempt at disarmament, and declares that it will resist it, if needed, with arms.

Secondly. Delegates will submit to their respective circles of their companies the following resolution:

At the first sign of the Prussians’ entry into Paris, all guards commit to go immediately, armed, to their usual meeting place, to then attack the invading enemy.

Thirdly. In the current situation, the National Guard no longer recognises any leaders other than those it selects for itself.

In case of the Prussians’ entry into Paris, the companies, meeting by virtue of the above decisions, will designate a leader in the case of theirs not marching with them. The same applies to battalions.

The Central Committee delegates will immediately bring themselves to their usual meeting place in order to form an Action Centre.

The meeting was adjourned after six hours and the Committee, comprised of around two thousand delegates, made its way to the Bastille to pay homage to the martyrs of 1830 and 1848. [3]


Footnotes

[1] Donny Gluckstein, The Paris Commune: A revolution in democracy (Chicago, IL, 2006), p. 101.
[2] Gluckstein, p. 104.
[3] A difficulty faced by the translators appears in the text’s first and last sentences. In the first, the General Assembly is said to have ‘s’est constituée en Comité central’ i.e. ‘was constituted as a Central Committee’. And in the last line, similarly, the Central Committee is said to have been ‘comprised of around two thousand delegates’. We know that the Central Committee comprised only around 40 people.

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