Paris Commune

The Commune and the French Revolution

Source: Maxime Vuillaume, Mes Cahiers Rouges. Paris, La Découverte, 2011;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

Perhaps no story better demonstrates the persistence and influence of the French Revolution than this one. Raoul Rigault (1846-1871) was a Blanquist militant and journalist at La Marseillaise. He was attorney general of the Commune, where he was behind a number of executions during the Commune’s final days. He died at the barricades. Jacques Hebert, voice of the sans culottes of the French Revolution, edited Père Duchene, a furious, funny, and profane newspaper that expressed the ideas of the people, in the language of the people. Hebert was executed by Robespierre.

Among our oldest and dearest friends Rigault only came once to shake our hands at our workshop on Rue du Croissant.

He was angry with us!

What could have been the cause of his resentment?

The reason was simple. He was mad at us for having swiped the Père Duchêne!

In the final years of the Empire all of Rigault’s efforts tended toward one goal alone: putting himself in the skin of Père Duchêne, the original. He had only one hero in the Revolution, Hébert. One doctrine, Hébertism. One newspaper, that of Hébert.

To talk about Robespierre in front of Rigault gave rise to the most fearsome storms. Robespierre! What about the death of the Hébertists?

A friend, I think it was Ranc,[1] told me a story that perfectly portrays Rigault and his cult ofr Père Duchêne.

It was in 1870. Ranc and Rochefort [2] were climbing the stairs of the print shop on Rue Aboukir where La Marseillaise had its office.

They crossed the threshold when the loud note of a more than animated discussion reached their ears.

Suddenly, two men blew out the editorial offices. One of them was Rigault, the other Humbert. Rigault was feverishly adjusting his pince nez when he found himself in front of Ranc and Rochefort.

The two newly arrived men thought they'd walked into the middle of an argument.

“Come, come, what’s happened?”

“It’s... Good god! It’s...” shouted Rigault, “This pig Humbert had something good to say about Robespierre!”

Good grief! That’s how things were back then.

Yes, Rigault was mad at us.

Profane hands other than his own had dared touch Père Duchêne!

Rigault knew Père Duchêne by heart. When I consult an issue of Hèbert’s newspaper at the National Library I never open it without thinking of Rigault’s Hébertist adoration. These worn out pages, it was certainly Rigault who turned and re-turned them a hundred times.

You had to hear him recite straight through one of his favorite pages.

“The great joy of Père Duchêne at seeing the Convention trying Samson’s tie on the cuckold Capet”

“Good god! I'd like to see you cook up a headline like that one!”

‘But, old pal, that’s no longer our time. Capet is dead and Samson in the other world, if there is one. And for the moment, it’s not a question of guillotining anyone.”

“Alas,” sighed Rigault, half ironically, half seriously.

Did he yearn for the guillotine in those dreams he'd spent years constructing to once again see those great days?

Whenever we'd talk in the Latin Quarter of our hopes, our plans for the future:

“And you, Rigault?”

“Me, I want to one day be attorney general of the Commune, like Hébert.”

And he was!

1. Arthur Ranc (1831-1908) Republican, briefly a member of the Commune.

2. Henri Rochefort (1831-1913) -Radical journalist who in his final days was a ferocious anti-Semitic propagandist.