<--Previous Up Next-->
High Resolution Image
the German invaders: that enemy was the working classes of the great cities, especially Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles. This was made specially manifest in Paris itself, where the heroic defense which the people were prepared to make, and did make as far as they could, was nullified by what was at the time in this country supposed to be the incompetence of the generals, but which was, indeed, their treachery. They had no wish to save Paris for the people, but only for the masters of the people. If they failed in that, let it be anything, so long as it was not revolutionary.
This, then, was the condition of Paris after the capitulation and the famous entry of the Prussians on February 28th, 1871. People betrayed, but armed, and more of less organized for war. For the National Guard, though it had been prevented by Trochu and Co. from putting out its strength against the Prussians, was formidable and numerous, as it had not been disarmed by the Prussians like the regular army, and by this time it understood thoroughly that it was intended by the Versailles Assembly, the majority of which was not even merely anti–revolutionist but even monarchical, to reduce it to impotence.
After a period of excitement and hesitation this at last became quite clear to everybody by the appointment of a reactionary general — D'Aurelles de Paladines — as commander of the National Guard. These citizen soldiers had, with great energy and determination, got together at Montmartre and elsewhere their own cannon and others dismounted at the capitulation, and were determined not to surrender them to any comer. The defense of these famous guns marks the first epoch of the Revolt of Paris. Ernest Picard, the Versailles home minister, issued a proclamation denouncing this action, and the Central Committee of the National Guard under whose auspices it had taken place. This was followed on the 17th March by a proclamation of Thiers directed against what was now clearly becoming a revolt, headed by the Paris workmen; and on the 18th a regular military operation was set on foot for the capture on the cannon, as a preliminary to the complete disarmament and subjection of Paris; but only a few shots were fired, and the stroke failed completely: for the troop almost everywhere refused to fire, and finally fraternized with the people. In the tumultuary proceedings that accompanied this attempt a few lives were lost, some ten in all; but the event was more just and discriminating that war usually is; for amongst those were General Lecomte, who had four times that day order the troops to fire on the people, and General Thomas, who, during the siege, had made himself obnoxious by his brutality and reactionary tendencies, and who was discovered spying on the barricades erected by the people. These two were shot after capture by the very troops whom their misconduct and self-seeking had demoralized; and surely amongst all those that fell in this struggle they were not the least guilty of the blood that was shed. Other officers taken with them were set at liberty next morning.
Thus was the Revolution made. Paris and its fortifications including Mont Valerien, which dominates the whole of the south side of the town and forts, were evacuated; the troops not being molested by the National Guard, who were ignorant of what was going on, and expected a fresh attack.
The next morning, the 19th, Paris awoke to find itself free, and it accepted its freedom joyously; the sole real power in it was the Central Committee of the National Guard, composed of honest men, who were not politicians in the sense in which that word is used generally, amongst whom were fifteen declared Socialists, members of the International Working Men's Association, men who, told off to occupy the various ministerial offices, indignantly refused to claim more than their usual pay, and hastened to divest themselves of the power which had been thrust upon them, and hand it over to the people of Paris.
Their first step was to call on the people to elect Communal delegates on the 22nd, and to declare the state of siege raised. They were met by the opposition of the Mayors and Deputies to the Assembly living at Paris, who were anxious to legalize the proceeding of the city which had just freed itself by popular revolt. These men, Clemenceau at their head, went and came