E. Belfort Bax

The Paris Commune

XIV. The Commune is Dead!

As the defence receded, the tide of massacre ruse higher and higher. Denunciations poured in on all sides. Organised hunts were made in the occupied quarters, and every available building was choked with prisoners, who were taken out in batches and shot, in some cases being mowed down with the Mitrailleuse, and buried half-dead. Through the night was heard the agonised cries of the wounded and mangled. From the Friday evening the whole defence centred in Belleville. Saturday showed a murky fog and rainfall, brought on by the firing. The heroism grew with the hopelessness of the situation. Barricades were defended to the last man. Asked by an English journalist what he was dying for, one of the defenders promptly replied, “For Human Solidarity”. On this day Millière was taken and shot on the steps of the Pantheon by order of General Cissey. They tried to force him on his knees as a homage to the Capitalistic Civilisation he had attacked. His last cry was “long live Humanity.” Millière had taken no part in the Commune, but had been untiring in his endeavours to bring about an understanding. He had, however, exposed the misdeeds of the villain Jules Favre, and that was a sufficient ground for his murder.

The Bastille was captured at 2 o’clock on the Friday. Scarcely more than Belleville and La Villette now remained. The 11th arrondissement had been evacuated at midnight on Thursday. By the terms of a Convention arranged between the Duke of Saxony and the Versaillese, the Germans now cut off the Federal retreat on the North and East. Thus did the heads of the French Government conspire with their official enemy to destroy Paris. Ranvier was now the soul of the defence, by word and deed encouraging all. The news every minute arriving of the blood-lust of the Versaillese vampires which spared neither the doctors nor nurses, and promises of immunity on surrender being treacherously violated, lashed the defenders to a frenzy of suspicion and rage.. In the evening forty-eight of the hostages, ecclesiastics and gendarmes, imprisoned at La Roquette, were removed along the Rue Haxo to the Cite Vincennes. The crowd insisted upon their summary execution, even threatening some member of the Commune who tried to at least obtain a respite for them. They were accordingly shot in the quadrangle.

It must be remembered that these men represented the corruption and oppression of the Empire in their worst forms. All this time it may be mentioned, too, the Versaillese prisoners taken were simply interned in churches and other places, not a hair of their heads being touched. Many of the supposed members and officers of the Commune were shot by the wretches of Versailles in the persons of passers-by who happened to bear a slight resemblance to them, sometimes several times over. Poor Raoul Rigault unfortunately was not to escape. He was recognised in the Rue Gay-Lussac entering a house, was dragged out, and taken to a Versaillese officer who interrogated him. Kigault’s only reply was, “Long live the Commune! Down with the assassins.” He was immediately thrust against a wall and shot. In spite of his faults he was as brave and devoted to the Revolution as any, and his heroic death will doubtless be remembered to him in ages to come.

Perhaps the most pathetic of all the deaths of prominent men in the Commune was that of Varlin, who was seized in the Rue Lafayette and dragged to the Buttes Montmartre, his hands tied behind his back and subjected to a hail of blows, insults, and sabre-cuts, for a whole hour. Long before arriving at his destination one side of his face was a mass of blood, the eye torn from the socket. The last part of the way he was carried, unable to walk. Arrived at the Rue des Rosiers the wretches dashed his brains out with the butt ends of their muskets. Varlin was a young workman who had devoted all his leisure time to study, a clever organiser, and one of the best and most active members of the Commune.

By Saturday night only a portion of Belleville remained to the defence. The murky rainfall and dense clouds of smoke of the Sunday morning disclosed but a few streets still holding out. In London that Sunday morning was bright, the commons on the south side showing in their early summer green. Firing still went on from behind a few barricades in the early hours of Sunday, and it was not in fact till near midday that the last barricade, that of the Rue de Paris, was taken. This street will be memorable as the last entrenchment of the partisans of the Commune. It was defended by a single man for a quarter of an hour, all his companions having fallen. Wonderful to relate, this last combatant escaped with his life. The fort of Vincennes alone remained now – a solitary outpost – and that surrendered at discretion on the following day, Monday the 29th of May.

The Commune was now dead. Order reigned in Paris. Smoking ruins, corpses, and desolation were all that met the eye. One sole of the Seine ran red with blood. The gutters ran blood. The roads were red with blood, as though the soil had been London clay. Clouds of flesh-flies rose from the heaps of corpses; flocks of crows hovered over the charnel house. Paris now subjugated, the assassins could organise the slaughter at their leisure. It has been proved that these massacres were arranged at Versailles before the entry of the troops, and, indeed, the utterances of Thiers were of themselves quite sufficient to show this. Strange it is that to an extent unparalleled in any other movement the vilifiers of the Commune succeeded immediately in travestying the situation and giving currency to the grotesque notion among the unthinking of the Commune as responsible for the horrors of its own suppression! Never before has a murderer been so successful in casting the obloquy of his own foul crime upon his innocent victim whose mouth he has closed in death. It began immediately even on the spot. Paschal Grousset has related to me how, passing through a courtyard, he heard a woman with a child in her arms saying in a tone of indignation, “Oui, oui, mon petit, nous nous rappelerons la Commune, n’est ce pas?” (“Yes, yes, my child, we shall remember the Commune, shan’t we?”). This was within sound of the mitrailleuses as they were slaughtering the hapless partisans of the Commune wholesale. To think that the Commune, whose chief crime was its ill-judged mildness and humanity, should ever have become regarded as the agent of bloodshed by anyone!

The city was now divided into four military districts, under the commands respectively of Generals Vinoy, Ladmirault, Cissey, and Douai. In each numerous prevotal courts were established which worked all day organising the butcheries. The property of the murdered men was plundered by the soldiery. It sufficed to wear a blouse, to have deplored the carnage, let alone to have ever spoken or written a word in favour of the rights of workmen, to be drafted into one of these murder dens and instantly dispatched. Everywhere might be seen columns of prisoners being led to the shambles. Foremost among the wretches who took a delight in the fiendish work was the debauched Bonapartist scoundrel Gallifet. The description by the Daily News correspondent of this monster’s deeds of blood as witnessed by him has been often quoted. He ordered some hundreds of old men, women and children out of a column of which he was in charge, and had them shot dead. This dastardly ruffian now occupies a high position in the French army. At last all prisoners were taken to one or two specially appointed places to be mowed down. These wholesale massacres went on till the 3rd of June, when they were stopped mainly from fear of pestilence through the accumulation of corpses, which it was impossible to dispose of. The executions of those condemned by the permanent tribunal, which took place on the plain of Satory, outside Paris, continued till the end of the year. Meanwhile, with 30,000 proletarians butchered in cold blood crying for vengeance, the Assembly assisted in a solemn thanksgiving service for the restoration of “order.”


Last updated on 12.3.2004