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police against their own people. By the testimony of indifferent and impartial onlookers, Paris was never so safe (except for the Versailles shells) or so decent as it was under the sway of these "Incendiaries."
That last word reminds us that it may be well for us, as Revolutionary Socialists, to state here our views on the "incendiarism" which marked the last days of the Commune.
It is true that Paris was fired, that some of its monuments of art were reduced to ashes; but who was responsible for this fire-raising?
Was it the Revolutionary population of Paris, who from the 18th of March had but been claiming to live independent and free, proclaiming the same right for all other Communes of France; or, rather, was it not the Versaillese, those who strove to force their rule on Paris at the cannon's mouth? Does the responsibility rest on the Commune, who had not shed a drop of blood, except in fair and open fight, and according to the laws of war; or, rather, does it rest on the Versailles Assembly, which shot its prisoners, and willfully exasperated Paris to the utmost? On the Commune, which so often offered peace by means of men more sympathetic, perhaps, with Versailles than with Paris; or, rather, on the Assembly, which rejected all overtures which did not mean unconditional and impossible surrender? On the Commune, which had maintained admirable order for two months in Paris, where crime and disorder were unknown; or on Versailles, who called such men as these, "malefactors, assassins, and swindlers," and, brought face to face with a great political and social party, contemned all the laws of Policy or War? Lastly, does it rest on the Commune, which guarded the Red Flag intact and pure; or, rather, on the Assembly, which only overwhelmed Paris by means of the open help of the enemies of France?
Surely, it is not difficult to answer these questions. Nor is it surprising if in the face of a coalition composed of all Monarchies and all centralizations, the centralizing Republic, rotten Orleanism, foul Imperialism, and lastly the German Empire- it is not wonderful if, surrounded by such enemies of the human race, the heroes of the Revolution, driven to despair, made up their minds not to vanish till they had destroyed with them the Paris of Centralization and Monarchy.
The history of great peoples contains startling pages which compel the admiration of posterity, and the greatest of these are not generally the records of speedy victories or obvious successes, but rather those terrible tragedies in which the souls of nations are rent to the very depths, and show suddenly such tremendous energies that we do not know whether they ought not to inspire us with elevation rather than fear.
It is not so much the victories of Salamis and Platæa, but far more the Athenians abandoning their city to fire and pillage rather than submit to an alien yoke, which has shed such an enduring ray of heroism from Athens. Rome is fairer, vanquished by the Gauls and threatened by Hannibal than triumphing with Cesar. The most solemn hour of the Revolution of the Low Countries was that when William the Silent, in despair of victory, proposed to break the dykes and abandon the very soil of his country to the sea rather than it should be trampled underfoot by the Spaniards. The Spaniards, in their turn, in their resistance to Napoleon, were at their greatest when they defended Saragossa from house to house against the French, burning all rather than surrendering. It is not the passage of the Beresina which is sublime, but rather that burning of Moscow which revealed the virtues of antiquity in new and almost barbarous Russia.
Such are the memories which peoples guard as tokens of undying glory, because, in these events, their energies attain the summit of power. The intensest passion used for the furtherance of the loftiest and purest ideal- there is nothing higher than this under the sun. Therefore, the conscience of the people is not deceived herein, and it is in these passages of despair and enthusiasm that they inscribe the names of their heroes.
So, for our part, we say that the Parisians who chose to bury themselves in the smoking ruins of Paris rather than to allow Socialism and the Revolution to be befouled and degraded are as great as the greatest heroes of history.