Jules Vallès 1871

The Paris National Guard

First Published: Le Cri du Peuple, Monday March 6, 1871
Source: Jules Vallès, Le Cri du Peuple. Editeurs FranŤais Réunis, Paris, 1953;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.

Yesterday there was a rout – today let’s sound the rallying call!

Sound it everywhere, on the sad streets and the bright ones, sound it! And let the flags meet, let the colors blend!

Let us all march in step behind the same row of drums.

The National Guard has earned the recognition of the fatherland. It will have the greatest of roles in the history of the Third Republic. On September 4th they were the ones who came out from all corners of the indignant city; it is they who crossed the bridge and set out in search of the republic.

Since then they have shown themselves everywhere there was difficulty or danger. They would have been victorious if they hadn’t been betrayed! They were jostled by machine guns; they’re a throng of heroes.

On some days there was dissension in their ranks. On October 8th they defied the people, but nevertheless they responded to the signal to fire on the unarmed by raising their rifle-butts in the air.

October 31 the workers’ battalions and those of the bourgeoisie lined up as enemies on the Place de Greve, and the commanders in their high collars threateningly defied the poor commanders of the faubourgs – with their reddened braids and their faded tunics – and their charge was going to be beaten. Nevertheless there was not a marked separation by saber blows.

But January 22 not a single company from anywhere came to assist in the massacre of those who were fired upon through doors that hid machineguns. The National Guard is pure of any blood that was shed that day and that was washed from the stones of the square. The other week five fingers marked in red could still be seen on the plaster of a wall. They furnished victims, but not assassins.

As always, the Revolution has learned from its suffering. We could see that in its fever, it had figured out everything, had foreseen the coming shame, and that the “handful of seditionists” having always been singled out for the hatred of the wise, would have saved the honor of a world if it had triumphed! France’s heart beat in the breasts of these desperate ones! Breasts rendered hollow by the horrible famine and which were bitten by the cold, but from which never escaped the clamor of the starving, but rather the sobs of patriots.

Those who had misjudged and taken aim at the Revolution, those very ones turned their rifles away from our breasts!

And it’s now a matter of having these rifles line up alongside ours, proud and high in the forest of steel into which the German lumberjack had not dared enter. And into which forest the rifles and cannons must not be allowed to arrive to arrive that will be set up on the Prussian lookouts and that will be turned against a vanquished Paris.

This must not be, and all must reach an agreement so that this not happen, that this not be possible – all, without any distinction of ideas or quarter, all, because it’s not only a matter of saving the Republic, but of Paris that must not be allowed to die.

Let those who love this Paris, who have lived its feverish life, who are indebted to it for its bitter joys or sweet sorrows, who have breathed its air that is so bad for the lungs but healthy for the head and the heart – let these people forget everything: political anger, past rancor, in order to come to its aid!

Yesterday Le Cri du Peuple said: It is we the vanquished who declare war! This didn’t mean that we were going to assault lost positions or this evening retake the road of the Hotel de Ville! It meant that tired and bruised Paris, after having let the river of mud pass, was going to raise up its face and, without braggadocio but without fear, look those who defeated it in the eye, those who betrayed it, those who led it to poverty and pain,declaring that that poverty and pain will take a peaceful but terrible revenge.!

This is a threat not of aggression, but of defense, in case they still want to pry into the open wound and strip the dying man.

The sight of bayonets glistening from all sides is not a call to war, and you lie say this is so. Even if there were 200,000 at the end of the rifles, they only frighten criminal minorities.

Every time there have been these streams of steel in the streets the city has remained calm, has found itself stronger, and there arises from these armed crowds not a cloud of drunken fury, but instead flashes of wisdom and a great ray of fraternity.

Again, it isn’t a threat cast out by those who take rank in this mass and this parade. No, it’s a powerful warning given by a powerful people.

This people are formed in thick battalions – it is all the weapons of Paris, and the whole soul of France.

Now that the war is over, or at least that the peace has been signed, the thieves of public freedoms and the makers of coup d’états are perhaps afraid of these battalions. Fear of the lukewarm as well as the ardent, fear of the republican sentiment of an entire city where pretenders returned from exile hope to enter one morning with a crown on their head. And yet this is Paris itself, this army in work jackets! And it seems to us that it carries within itself the force and the right to have order and liberty respected, to prevent the follies of some and the crimes of others. It has occupied Paris as a sovereign, and a spectacle like this one has never been seen: from honest enthusiasm to happy hours, from painful majesty to evil hours. To it alone must be confided the destiny of that city which is also, in a way, the destiny of the country.

These battalions have thought of this, and a federation is being organized. The deputations pass by and rush to the rendezvous. The idea is great and the goal is holy.

Returning the other night through the streets, I saw the silent patrols that watched over this city strangled by the Prussian rope and, tears in my eyes, I was overcome by hope in the future.

National Guardsmen of Paris, the world is watching you, and we who love the fatherland and the republic acclaim you! Today your flag is truly the belfry of the city in mourning, around which all should gather without looking to see if at the end is a shredded piece of blue cloth or a red cap.

Le Cri du Peuple, Monday March 6, 1871