Jules Vallès 1871

Parliament in Shirt Sleeves

Source: Le Cri du Peuple, February 27, 1871;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.

The old politics must die at the foot of the bed where the young Republic is in its death throes. Worthless shreds are being made from its rags, and it can neither relieve us nor save us.

Up until now it has only known how to write on sand with its tongue, to sniff at the dust of forums, and chew the wind. It rolls in its saliva , sobbing tragic words. People listen to its oratorical hiccups, admire its gestures, and some might even wipe its face with their gratitude, but that’s all. We must go beyond the old politics, leaving it, if that’s its wish, on the edge of the hole and busy ourselves with building a bridge across the abyss. We need carpenters, not lawyers.

Pindy [1] , take up your plane.

It’s a matter of not getting bogged down in this human manure. In order to prevent the cradle of the Third Republic from rotting there, we must return to the cradle of the first Revolution.

Let us return to the Jeu de Paume!

And in 1871 the Jeu de Paume is situated in the very heart of defeated Paris.

Between the Temple and the Chateau d'Eau, not far from the Hotel de Ville, do you know a humid, steep square between some rows of houses? On the ground floor they are inhabited by small shopkeepers whose children play on the sidewalk. No carriages pass; the upper floors are full of the poor.

This empty triangle is called the Place de la Corderie.

It’s deserted and sad, like the Rue de Versailles, where the Third Estate trotted in the rain. But from this square, as in the past from the one that Mirabeau walked down, may come the signal, may be issued the marching orders that the masses will listen to.

Look closely at this house that turns its back on the barracks of the faubourg and casts an eye on the market. It is as calm as all the others. Go on in and climb the stairs.

On the fourth floor a door that a shoulder blow would break open and through which one enters a room as large and naked as a classroom.

Greetings! Here is the new parliament!

It is the revolution that is seated on the benches, standing against the walls, leaning on the tribune. The revolution in the clothes of the working man. It is here that the International Workingmen’s Association holds its meeting and that the Federation of Worker’s Corporations meets with those coming to see it. It is the equal of any forum of antiquity, and through its windows might pass words that will excite the multitudes, just as those of disheveled and thundering Danton were cast through the windows of the Palais de Justice to the people confused by Robespierre.

The gestures aren’t terrifying, like those of that period, and you don’t hear the drum of Santerre [2] vibrate in a corner. Nor is there the mystery of conspiracies, where people swear with a blindfold over their eyes under the point of a dagger.

This is labor in shirt sleeves; simple and strong, with the arms of a blacksmith. Labor, which in the shadows makes its tools shine and shouts: “They aren’t going to kill me; they aren’t going to kill me, and I'm going to speak!”

All these tool handlers have already made their voices heard, ever since the cannons issued their cry and the Place de la Corderie looked to the Hotel de Ville. Every time there was misfortune in the air, as in Rome the tumult Galois [3] was proclaimed and they went arm in arm down the street that leads to the Place de la Grève, sometimes to the sound of the drum.

The drums are covered in black today, and the fusillade of January 22 [4] even ripped its skin.

We must think differently; we must smash the décor, do whatever must be done, and nail our glove to the enemy’s gates.

They are asking again for deputies.

Like a challenge, eight real men, eight socialists must be sent to them who will bury the stake of the agrarian law, of social equality in the impoverished and bloody soil, in the middle of the public square.

This is what is needed! Mirabeau and the others arrived filthy and numb before the Jeu de Paume. We at the Corderie are also numb and filthy, shivering with shame. We must shake off the rain, wipe off the mud, and allow the descendants of Babeuf and Proudhon to speak.

Eight real men.

The Place de la Corderie can take the stumbling revolution in hand and lift it up. Let it lift it up! If it wishes, uniting with all that is honest, resolute, and alive, we will have the eight real men. The vote in Paris will be another slap in the face to the traitors in Bourdeaux. If it wants to it will blow up the bridge by which the bourgeoisie might make its escape, and as its final act will send it men with robust hands and a cursed name as deputies.

1. Jean-Louis Pindy (1840-1917)- Anarchist carpenter, member of the International, during the Commune he was governor of the Hotel de Ville, seat of the Commune.

2. Santerre, Commander of the National Guard in Paris during the French Revolution. According to legend, he had the drums played during Louis XVI’s execution to drown out his last words.

3. The agitation and the levee en masse that preceded great battles

4. Date of a Blanquist demonstration put down in blood by the Breton Mobile Guard.