Workers’ Republic, 3rd July 1915.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
After the deposition of Napoleon by the allied powers the Bourbon family was restored to the throne of France much against the will of the French people. That family at first made some slight concession to the spirit of democracy which the French revolution had aroused in Europe, but gradually as the people advanced in their claims for enfranchisement the royal family and court became more and more reactionany and opposed to reform.
Eventually the Government took steps to suppress the freedom of the press, and four journals active in the reform movement were proceeded against, their editors sentenced to prison and to pay heavy fines. The Chamber of Deputies took sides against the king, and presented to him an address in favour of reform. He dissolved the Chamber and ordered a general election.
When the election was over it was found that, despite the restricted suffrage and persistent government terrorism, the Reform party out of a total Chamber of 428 members had returned 270, whilst the ministry had only returned 145.
As his answer to the elections the king on the 25th July, 1830, issued a decree destroying at one swoop all the liberties of his subjects.
The new Chamber of Deputies was dissolved before it had even met.
Liberty of the press was suspended. Writings published in violation of the regulations were to be seized, and types and presses used in printing them to be taken into custody, or rendered unfit for their purposes.
The method of election was altered so as to put it completely in the power of the king and his party.
At this time Paris was garrisoned by a force of 4,750 men of the National Guard, 4,400 troops of the line, 1,100 veteran battalions, 1,300 gendarmes or police.
The first sign of resistance came from the press. Four of the principal editors met and issued the following manifesto which was printed in the National:
“Legal government is interrupted and the reign of force has commenced. In the situation in which we are placed obedience ceases to be a duty. The citizens first called upon to obey are the writers of journals; they ought to give the first example of resistance to authority which has divested itself of legal character.”
On the morning of the 27th the police began to seize types and break presses. They were resisted in many places. At the offices of the Temps and National the police were refused admission. Whilst they were attempting to break in the printing of papers went on and copies of the paper were thrown out of the windows as fast as they were printed. Bought up by the crowd these papers were quickly carried all over Paris.
Locksmiths and blacksmiths were brought to break open the door, but they refused to act, and eventually this had to be done by a convict blacksmith brought from the prison. When the police entered they destroyed all the machines.
The example of resistance fired the whole city, and great mobs marched everywhere. The residence of the Premier was protected by a battalion of guards and two pieces of cannon, and a division of lancers patrolled the immediate neighbourhood. Three battalions were in front of the Palais Royal, the Place Louis XI was held by two battalions of guards and two guns, and in the Place Vandôme were detachments of regiments of the line. Thus all the great squares were held by the military.
The police attempted to clear the streets and failed, and soldiers were ordered to assist. As they pushed the people back in the Rue St. Honorè the first shot was fired from a house in that thoroughfare. It came from a shot gun and wounded some of the soldiers.
The troops fired at the house, and the crowd fell away. As the soldiers pursued they were stopped by a barricade made out of an overturned omnibus beside which had been piled all kinds of furniture and other obstructions. But as those behind this barricade were only armed with stones the soldiery after firing several volleys easily stormed it.
In other places fighting took place, in one a police guardhouse was stormed, and the arms carried off.
Next day, the 28th, the people attacked all the gunmakers’ shops and took possession of the arms and equipment. Barricades were erected all over the city, and police guardhouses attacked and taken. The working class from the Faubourgs organised and marched upon the City Hall, or Hotel de Ville, and arms were distributed from various centres.
The military planned to enter the barricaded districts in four columns at four tactical points. The first column entering by the richer parts of the city met with little opposition.
The second column entered by Porte St. Martin, and was met by sharp firing. After firing two rounds from the artillery, and a number from the muskets of the infantry it crushed the opposition at this point, but as it advanced into the centre of the city the insurgents built barricades behind it, and the further it advanced the more barricades they built in its rear. It reached its objective the great square of the Place de la Bastille, but when it attempted to return was stopped by the aforementioned barricades, and fired upon from all the intersecting streets. The commanding officer after several fruitless attempts to return by the route marked out for him, at last fearing that he would lose his artillery broke out in another direction, leaving the ground he had occupied in the hands of the insurgents, and reaching a point entirely out of touch with the General in command. This column had passed through the insurgents, but it had left them just as it had found them, except, as one writer remarks, “that they had been taught to meet the royal troops without fear, and to know the value of the method of fighting they had adopted.”
The third column reached a huge market place, the Marché des Innocens, but at this point was assailed with a hot fire from the roofs and windows, accompanied by showers of slates, stones, bottles, and scrap iron. One battalion was ordered to march along the Porte St. Denis, clear it, and march back again. In doing so it encountered a barricade in front of a large building, the Cour Batave. Here the insurgents had got inside the courtyard, and fired from behind the iron railing around this building, lying on the ground behind the stones into which the railings were fixed, and keeping up a murderous fire on the troops as the latter body laboured to destroy the barricade. This battalion also was unable to fight its way back, as barricades had been erected behind it as it passed. Its companion battalion at the market place awaiting its return found itself hemmed in, with barricades rising rapidly in all the surrounding streets, and a merciless fire pouring in on it at every opportunity. At last in despair it was resolved to send out a messenger for help.
An aide-de-camp shaved off his moustache, got into the clothes of a market porter, and succeeded in getting through the insurgent lines with a message to the commander-in-chief of the Paris district. Help was sent in the shape of another battalion which had to fight its way in. At the market place the forces united, and fought their way out with great loss.
The fourth column was directed to reach the City Hall, the Hotel de Ville. It was divided in two. One part marching across a suspension bridge was attacked by the insurgents, but bringing up artillery and receiving reinforcements of another battalion fought its way through, and reached its objective – the Hotel de Ville and adjacent Place de Grève. The insurgents barricaded all the surrounding side streets, and kept up a fire from all the corners and windows. One writer says:
“The guns attached to the guards were found to occasion only embarrassment.”
Eventually finding the place untenable they fought their way out, attacked all the way by the people who closed in like a sea as the troops passed.
The end of the day’s fighting found the people everywhere in possession. Next day fresh troops arrived from the country outside Paris, but great preparations had been made to receive them. Streets had been torn up, and pavements converted into barricades. Great mounds were placed across the streets, barrels filled with earth and stones; planks, poles, and every conceivable kind of obstacle utilised to create barricades. Carts, carriages, hackney coaches, drays, wheelbarrows had been seized and overturned, and trees cut down and used to improvise street fortresses.
Then a peculiar thing took place. The troops refused to advance into the streets, and in turn fortified themselves in their positions. This gave the insurgents opportunity to organise themselves and plan their fight more systematically. When they advanced against the troops, after some fighting the soldiery were driven from their central position – the Louvre, some of the regiments of the line surrendered, and the city was abandoned by the troops.
The Revolution had won.
Like the fighting in Brussels narrated in a previous issue the chief characteristic of the Paris fighting in this Revolution was the elusive nature of the insurgent forces. The conquest of a street by the royal troops was not worth the blood it had cost them, for as soon as they passed onwards fresh barricades were erected in their rear on the very ground they had just conquered. No sooner did they fight their way in than it became necessary for them to fight their way out again. They only commanded the ground they occupied, and the surrounding barricades shutting off their supplies and communications made the position untenable. To have successfully resisted the revolution would have required an army sufficient to occupy in force every inch of ground they passed, with another force massed at some tactical point strong enough to assist any part of the long drawn out line at any point where it might have been attacked.
Last updated on 28.9.2007