International Workingmen’s Association 1871

Meeting of February 28 1871 (excerpt) Serraillier’s report on the events prior to the Commune of Paris.

Source : Documents of the First International , volume 4 (1870-1871), Lawrence & Wishart: London.

It was then agreed that the discussion should [be] postponed for Cit. Serraillier to report[122] what he had seen in Paris.

Cit. Serraillier said: on my arrival in Paris a delegate led me to the mairie. I asked where I could find the Association and I was told there were no sections, no Federal Council, all the members had been in prison, and were then distributed amongst the various regiments-some were in the regular army, some in the National Guard, some in the garde mobile, the Association was broken up. Then I met Longuet and I asked him if I could get a translation of our second address inserted in some paper. Felix Pyat and the Rappel would not insert it because it was too Prussian; the Reveil[123] refused, I suppose because it did not speak of Ledru-Rollin. I then gave it to Desmoulins, who translates for an Orléanist paper; it was published but they scratched out the remarks about the Government. I then went to public meetings where I found Combault, who was always a good man, but when I spoke of the International he replied: “If you speak of the Germans as our equals I shall shoot you down, we can only talk of the Germans as the enemies on our soil.” I went to others with no better result.

On the 8th of October a demonstration was to be made against the Government; all our members were present but only as individuals, not as association; there was no concerted action, they did nothing.[124] Then I tried to get a meeting of the Federal Council to take some steps for the next demonstration which was to come off on the 31st of October [125] but they said they could not connect politics with the International, so the day was lost again. Blanqui was the only man who stuck to his post to the last, all the other great gods slipped off. The Internationals declined to support Blanqui; had they done so things would stand different with France today. Varlin, like the rest, declared that the International could not act politically as an association; in this way, at every new attempt we must lose the day again.

I then went to the sections to get them into working order and to get them to elect a new council[126] because the names of the familiars, Tolain, Chalain, Theisz, Combault, Murat, and all the others, were an obstacle to doing anything. I made a call on all the sections, 11 answered and a new Federal Council was organised, in opposition to the others, to hold meetings and to be ready in every circumscription of Paris for any emergency that might arise. For doing this they called me a fool. A week after we drew up a manifesto against another that had been published. Malon is the only exception: he was willing to work but nobody would help him. After our manifesto was published they called the sections together to oppose us.

In January there was a chance to overthrow the Government, and all the leading men were ready to take their share in the work but they would not bring out the sections for an organised attack except Malon who brought out his two sections. We had everything in our hands but the members of the Government were allowed to get away and then we were literally kicked out.[127]

Then came the elections. We were called upon to agree to a list of candidates. The republicans of 1848 proposed a number of candidates to be elected but they were not to go to Bordeaux. I proposed that we would nominate thirteen and they should nominate all the others but they must be revolutionists.

Combault, Chalain, and Johannard were not put down by us. The delegates met to draw up a list. I went to the meeting and when the list was discussed the Internationals would not be on a list that bore Blanqui’s name, yet he is the only man that has been honest and consistent throughout. I left, the others stopped and then they put down a list, in the name of the whole International, of candidates that [had] only been proposed by the sections. I protested against them doing so and pointed out that each was only the candidate of his own section. They then abandoned the list and agreed to one with the bourgeoisie. The next day a list came out agreed to by the Republican Union, the Republican Alliance, the Defenders of France, and some Internationals. Malon, Pindy, Varlin, and Charles Beslay were on that list. We declared that we could not make a list with the bourgeoisie. Frankel drew up a protest against, which was agreed to by Malon; the day alter its publication Malon sent a protest against the protest and alleged that his name had been put down against his consent. Frankel went again to Malon and remonstrated that he had allowed his name to go down, and now that he was on both lists he must make his choice to which he would adhere. Malon was reported to have said that he preferred being on the bourgeois list, which I believe is correct. Frankel was to go with Malon to Bordeaux but that has not come off.[128]

When I left, the new and the old Federal Council united and I made it a condition that the old ones must be re-elected to take their seats; I know they will not be re-elected.

We were in a strange situation. We worked against the Government betraying us, we spoke in the name of the International and told the work-people only to hate the governments which were against the people in France as well as in Germany but the bourgeois did different: they said the Germans fight against the Republic. When I told them that Jules Favre had made the obnoxious laws which ruined the Republic of 1848,1 was answered that in London demonstrations were made for Favre by members of the Council.[129] I could only tell them that Merriman was a lawyer and was for the Government because they were lawyers and that Odger was only a private individual, but then they pointed out that his name was on our address. The Prussians let all the papers with the accounts of these demonstrations go into Paris. Everything that told against the International was allowed to go in. The Council must make a declaration to let the Parisians know that it had nothing to do with these demonstrations for Jules Favre; if not they will lose their confidence in us.

The 200,000 fr. were reported by the Figaro to have been given by Bonapartist agents to the International. Our members were going to protest and say they had no money but I thought it [to] be foolish to proclaim that we had no money and therefore we remained silent. When it came to the poll the bourgeoisie said it would be no use electing working men, there would be no payment for the members and without money they could not go to Bordeaux: it would therefore have been impolitic to let everybody know that we had none.[130]

Murat and Tolain, when they wrote to Dupont, never wrote in the name of the Association, only as individuals. All that Tolain has done for the last three years was to go to the Congress once a year and make a speech. He has made alliances with the bourgeoisie. He is said to represent the International but he does nothing for it. He has undeceived the bourgeoisie of the danger of the socialists; they can make anything they like of him. Malon, they say, is dreaming. Murat gave orders to arrest the two commandants, Piazza and Brunei, who were going to prevent the capitulation of Paris.[131] He is quite with the middle class and has signed all the orders that were made in favour of the middle class. When things were at the worst people with families could not get much for 1½fr. a day: everything was very dear and then they would not let you have two pennyworth of sugar without buying chocolate or tea or something else and they would not let you have bread or cheese without buying sugar. Those who had money could get what they wanted and the poor had to starve. Murat signed the orders by which this was brought about; he ought to have resigned like Delescluze and others did[132] but he refused. When they were first appointed, they had no political functions, they were only to look after the distribution of food. But they were taken into the secret of the capitulation. He ought to have made known to the Association how matters really stood.

Those men must be accused before the next Congress and I will be there to substantiate the charge. Guillaume has arrived in Paris; he is going to give his intellect for the benefit of the Parisians. I have done something, he is going to do more. ...

122. Serraillier left for Paris on September 7, 1870 (see p. 61 of the present volume). In his letter to Beesly, dated September 12, 1870, Marx wrote that “last Wednesday A. Serraillier, a member of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, went to Paris as the plenipotentiary of the Council. He thought it his duty to remain there, not only for taking part in the defence, but to bring his influence to bear upon our Paris Federal Council.”

123. Le Reveil – French weekly and, from May 1869, daily newspaper, organ of the Left Republicans; appeared, under the editorship of Charles Delescluze, in Paris from July 1868 to January 1871. It published documents of the International and various matter pertaining to the working-class movement.

Le Rappel – French daily of a Left-republican trend; founded by Victor Hugo and Henri Rochefort, it was published from 1869 to 1928. The newspaper sharply criticised the Second Empire.

124. The demonstration was organised to demand elections to the Commune.

125. On October 31, 1870, upon the receipt of news of the capitulation at Metz, the defeat at Le-Bourget and the negotiations with the Prussians, started by Thiers on the instructions of the Government of National Defence, the Paris workers and the revolutionary part of the National Guard rose in revolt. They seized the Town Hall and set up their revolutionary government & #8212;the Committee of Public Safety headed by Blanqui. The Government of National Defence was pressed by the workers and had to promise to resign and schedule for November 1 elections to the Commune. The Paris revolutionary forces, however, were not well organised and there were disagreements among the leaders of the uprising & #8212;the followers of Blanqui and the petty-bourgeois Jacobin democrats. The Government of National Defence took advantage of the situation. With the aid of some battalions of the National Guard loyal to it the government seized the Town Hall and re-established its power.

126. The need for a new Federal Council was dictated both by the organisational confusion among the Paris sections and by the composition of the old Council which included some Right-wing Proudhonists who used the International as a cover to pursue their own policy of conciliation. Serraillier set up a new Federal Council from among the revolutionary members of the Paris sections. Kin, Aubert, Lucipia, Beslay and others were on the new Council which held its meetings at 3, Rue d’Arras. In January 1871, the two Federal Councils merged; the Right-wing Proudhonists did not enter the united Council.

127. On January 22, 1871, the proletariat and National Guards of Paris held a demonstration demanding the overthrow of the government and the establishment of a Commune. By order of the Government of National Defence, the Breton Mobile Guard, which was defending the Hotel de Ville, opened fire on the demonstrators. The government started arresting demonstrators, ordered the closing of Paris clubs, banned public meetings and suspended several newspapers. Having suppressed the revolutionary movement by means of terror, the government began preparations to surrender Paris.

128. At the outset, the leaders of the Paris sections placed much store in the elections to the National Assembly, and the Paris Federal Council decided to send Frankel and Serraillier, the tried leaders of the Paris sections, to Bordeaux to render help to Tolain and Malon & #8212;members of the International & #8212;who were elected deputies.

129. por meetings held in London on January 5, 6 and 10, 1871 see Notes 75 and 104.

130. This question was discussed at a meeting of the Paris Federal Council on February 15, 1871.

131. This refers to the events in Paris on January 27, 28 and 29, 1871.

132. On January 4, 1871, Delescluze, Mayor of the 19th Arrondissement,