History of the Paris Commune of 1871

18. The work of the Commune

The insufficiency and the weakness of the Executive Commission became so shocking, that on the 20th the Council decided to replace it by the delegates of the nine commissions, amongst whom it had distributed its different functions. These commissions were renewed the same day. In general they were rather neglected; and how could one man attend to the daily sittings of the Hôtel-de-Ville, to his commission and his mairie? For the Council had charged its members with the administration of their respective arrondissements; and the real work of the several commissions weighed on the delegates who had presided over them from their origin, and for the most part were not changed on the 20th April. They continued to act, as heretofore, almost single-handed. Before proceeding with our narrative we will look more closely into their doings.

Two delegations required only good-will – those of the victualling department and of the public or municipal services. The provisioning of the town was carried on through the neutral zone, where M. Thiers, however anxious to starve Paris,[131] could not prevent a regular supply of food. All the foremen having remained at their posts, the municipal services did not suffer. Four delegations – Finance, War, Public Safety, Exterior – required special aptitude. The three others, Education, justice, Labour and Exchange, had to propound the philosophical principles of this revolution. All the delegates save Frankel, a workman, belonged to the lower middle-class.

The Commission of Finance centred in Jourde, who, with his inexhaustible garrulity, had eclipsed the too modest Varlin. The task imposed was to procure every morning 675,000 francs for the payment of the services, to feed 250,000 persons, and find the sinews of war. Besides the 4,658,000 francs in the coffers of the Treasury, 214 millions in shares and other effects had been found in the Finance Office; but Jourde could not or would not negotiate them, and to fill his exchequer he had to lay hold of the revenues of all the administrations – the telegraph and postal offices, the octrois, direct contributions, custom house offices, markets, tobacco, registration and stamps, municipal funds and the railway duties. The bank, little by little, paid back the 9,400,000 francs due to the town, and even parted with 7,290,000 francs on its own account. From the 20th March to the 30th April, twenty-six millions were thus scraped together. During the same period the War Office alone absorbed over twenty. The Intendance received 1,813,000 francs, all the municipalities together 1,446,000, the Interior 103,000, Marine 29,000, justice 5,500, Commerce 50,000, Education 1,000 only, Exterior 112,000, Firemen 100,000, National Library 80,000 Commission of Barricades 44,500, L’Imprimerie Nationale 100,000, the Association of Tailors and Shoemakers 24,882. These proportions remained almost the same from the 1st May to the fall of the Commune. The expenses of the second period rose to about twenty millions. The sum total of the expenses of the Commune was about 46,300,000 francs, of which 16,696,000 were supplied by the bank, and the rest by the various services, the octrois yielding nearly twelve millions.

Most of these Services were under the superintendence of workmen or former subordinate employees, and were all carried on with a fourth part of their ordinary numerical strength. The director of the postal department, Theisz, a chaser, found the Service quite disorganized, the divisional offices closed, the stamps hidden away or carried off, the material, seals, the carts, etc. taken away, and the coffers empty. Notices posted up in the hall and courts ordered the employees to proceed to Versailles on pain of dismissal, but Theisz acted with promptitude and energy. When the subordinate employees who had not been forewarned came as usual to organize the mail service, he addressed them, discussed with them, and had the doors shut. Little by little they gave way. Some functionaries who were Socialists also lent their help, and the direction of the various services was entrusted to the head-clerks. The divisional offices were opened, and in forty-eight hours the collection and distribution of letters for Paris reorganized. As to the letters destined for the provinces, clever agents threw them into the offices of St. Denis and ten miles round, while for the introduction of letters into Paris every latitude was given to private initiative. A superior council was instituted, which raised the wages of postmen, sorters, porters and office caretakers, shortened the time of service as supernumeraries, and decided that the ability of the employees should be tested for the future by means of tests and examinations.[132]

The Mint, directed by Camélinat, a bronze-mounter, one of the most active members of the International, manufactured the postage stamps. At the Mint, as at the general post-office, the Versaillese director and principal employees had first parleyed, then made off. Camélinat, supported by some friends, bravely took this place, had the works continued, and every one contributing his professional experience, improvements in the machinery as well as new methods were introduced. The bank, which concealed its bullion, was obliged to furnish about 110,000 francs’ worth, immediately coined into five-franc pieces. A new coin-plate was engraved, and was about to be put into use, when the Versaillese entered Paris.

The department of Public Assistance also depended on that of the Finances. A man of the greatest merit, Treilhard, an old exile of 1851, reorganized this administration, which he found entirely out of order. Some doctors and agents of the service had abandoned the hospitals; the director and the steward of the Petits-Ménages at Issy had fled, thus reducing many of their pensioners to go out begging. Some employees forced our wounded to wait before the doors of the hospital, while the sisters of mercy tried to make them blush for their glorious wounds; but Treilhard soon put all in order, and, for the second time since 1792, the sick and the infirm found friends in their guardians and blessed the Commune. This kind-hearted, intellectual man, who was assassinated by a Versaillese officer on the 24th May at the Panthéon, has left a very elaborate report on the suppression of bureaux of charity, which chain the poor to the Government and to the clergy. He proposed having them replaced by a bureau of assistance in each arrondissement, under the direction of a communal committee.

The Telegraph Office, Registration, and Domains, cleverly directed by the honest Fontaine; the Service of Contributions, entirely re-established by Faillet and Combault; the National Printing Press, which Debock reorganized and administered with remarkable dexterity, [133] and the other departments connected with that of Finance, ordinarily reserved to the great bourgeoisie, were managed with skill and economy – the maximum salary, 6,000 francs, was never reached – by workmen, subordinate employees; and this is not the least of their crimes in the eyes of the Versaillese bourgeoisie.

Compared with the Finance department, that of War was a region of darkness and utter confusion. Officers and guards encumbered the offices of the Ministry, some demanding munitions and victuals, others complaining of not being relieved. They were sent back to the Place Vendôme, maintained in the teeth of common sense, and directed by the rather equivocal colonel, Henri Prudhomme. On the floor below, the Central Committee, installed there by Cluseret, bustled, spent time and breath in endless sittings, found fault with the delegate at war, amused itself with creating new insignia, received the malcontents of the Ministry, asked returns from the general staff, claimed to give advice on military operations. In its turn, the Committee of Artillery, founded on the 18th March, wrangled about the disposal of the cannon with the War Office. The latter had the pieces of the Champ-de-Mars and the Committee those of Montmartre. Attempts at creating a central park of artillery,[134] or even at learning the exact number of the ordnance pieces, were made in vain. Pieces of long range remained to the last moment lying along the ramparts, while the forts had only pieces of seven and twelve centimetres to answer the huge cannon of Marine, and often the munitions sent were not of corresponding calibre. The commissariat, assailed by adventurers of all sorts, took their stores haphazardly. The construction of the barricades, which were to form a second and third enceinte, instituted on the 9th April, had been left to a crotchety fellow, starting jobs everywhere without method and against the plans of his superiors. All the other Services were conducted in the same style, without fixed principles, without limitation of their respective provinces, the wheels of the machine not working within one another. In this concert without a conductor, each instrumentalist played what he liked, confusing his own score with his neighbour’s.

A firm and supple hand would soon have restored harmony. The Central Committee, despite its assumption of lecturing the Commune, which it said was ‘its daughter and must not be allowed to go astray,’ was now only an assemblage of talkers devoid of all authority. It had, to a great extent, been renewed since the establishment of the Commune, and the much-contested elections to it – for many aspired to the title of member – had given a majority of flighty, heedless men.[135] In its present state this Committee derived its whole importance from the jealousy of the Council. The Committee of Artillery, monopolized by brawlers, would have yielded at once to the slightest pressure. The commissariat and the other services depended entirely upon the action of the delegate at War.

The phantom general, stretched on his sofa, hatched orders, circulars, now melancholy, now commanding, and never stirred a finger to watch over their execution. If some member of the Council came to rouse him, ‘What are you doing? Such-and-such a place is in peril,’ he answered loftily, ‘All my precautions are taken; give my combinations time to be accomplished,’ and turned over again. One day he bullied the Central Committee, which left the Ministry to go and sulk in the Rue de l’Entrepôt; a week later he went after the same Committee, reinstating it at the War Office. Vain to shamelessness,[136] he showed sham letters from Todleben proposing plans of defence, and spent his time in posing to correspondents of foreign journals. With an affectation of pride, he never put on a uniform, which, however, at that time was the true dress of the proletarian. It took the Council almost a month to recognize that this pithless braggart was only a disappointed officer of the standing army, his airs of an innovator notwithstanding.

Many hopes turned to his chief-of-staff, Rossel, a young Radical, twenty-eight years old, self-restrained, puritanical, who was sowing his revolutionary wild oats. A captain of engineers in the army of Metz, he had attempted to resist Bazaine, and escaped from the Prussians. Gambetta had appointed him colonel of engineers at the camp of Nevers, where he was still lingering on the 18th March. He was dazzled; saw in Paris the future of France, and his own; threw up his commission and hurried thither, where some friends placed him in the 17th Legion. He was haughty, soon became unpopular, and was arrested on the 3rd April. Two members of the Council, Malon and Charles Gérardin, had him set free and presented him to Cluseret, by whom he was accepted as chief of the general staff. Rossel, fancying that the Central Committee was a power, made up to it, appeared to ask it for advice, and sought out the men he thought popular. His coldness, his technical vocabulary, Pis clearness of speech, his get up as a great man, enchanted the bureaux, but those who studied him more closely noticed his unsteady look, the infallible sign of a perturbed spirit. By degrees the young revolutionary officer became the fashion, and his consular bearing did not displease the public, sickened at the flabbiness of Cluseret.

Nothing, however, justified this infatuation. Chief of the general staff since the 5th April, he allowed all the Services to shift for themselves; the only one in some measure organized, the Control of General Information, was the work of Moreau, who every morning furnished the War Office and the Commune with detailed, and often very picturesque, reports on the military operations and the moral condition of Paris.

This was about all the police the Commune had. The Commission of Public Safety, which should have thrown light upon the most secret recesses, emitted only a fitful glimmering.

The Central Committee had appointed Raoul Rigault, a young man of twenty-four, much mixed up in the revolutionary movement, as civil delegate to the prefecture of police, but under the severe direction of Duval. Rigault well kept in hand might have made a very good subaltern, and so long as Duval lived he did not go wrong. The unpardonable fault of the Council was to place him at the head of a service where the slightest mistake was more dangerous than at the advanced posts. His friends, who, with the exception of a small number, Ferré, Regnard, and two or three others, were as young and as giddy-headed as himself, discharged in a boyish way the most delicate functions. The Commission of Public Safety, which ought to have superintended Rigault, only followed his example. There, above all, did they live as boon companions, apparently unaware of having assumed the guardianship of, and the responsibility for, 100,000 lives.

No wonder the mice were soon seen playing round the prefecture of police. Papers suppressed in the morning were on sale in the evening in the streets; the conspirators wormed themselves into all the services without exciting the suspicion of Rigault or his companions. They never discovered anything; it was always necessary to do it for them. They made arrests like military marches in the daytime, with large reinforcements of National Guards. After the decree on the hostages, they had only managed to lay hands on four or five ecclesiastics of mark: the Gallican Archbishop Darboy, an arrant Bonapartist; his grand-vicar, Lagarde; the curate of the Madeleine; Deguerry, a kind of De Morny in cassock; the Abbé Allard, the Bishop of Surat; and a few Jesuits of nerve. Chance only delivered into their hands the president of the Court of Appeal, Bonjean,[137] and Jecker, the famous inventor of the expedition to Mexico.[138]

This culpable heedlessness, which the people have paid for with their blood, was the salvation of criminals. Some National Guards had brought to light the mysteries of the Picpus convent, discovered three unfortunate women shut up in grated cages, strange instruments,[139] corselets of iron, straps, racks, which smacked strangely of the Inquisition, a treatise on abortion, and two skulls still covered with hair. One of the prisoners, the only one whose reason had not given way, said that she had been in this cage for ten years. The police contented themselves with sending the nuns to St. Lazare.[140] Some inhabitants of the tenth arrondissement had discovered feminine skeletons in the caves of the St. Laurent Church. The prefecture only made a show of inquiry that ended in nothing.

However, in the midst of all these faults, the humanitarian idea revealed itself, so thoroughly sound was this popular revolution. The chief of the Bureau of Public Safety, making an appeal to the public for the victims of the war, said, ‘The Commune has sent bread to ninety-two wives of those who are killing us. The widows belong to no party. The Republic has bread for every misery and care for all the orphans.’ Admirable words these, worthy of Chalier and of Chaumette. The prefecture, overrun by denunciations, declared that it would take no account of the anonymous ones. ‘The man,’ said the Officiel, ‘who does not dare to sign a denunciation serves a personal rancour and not the public interest.’ The hostages were allowed to obtain from without food, linen, books, papers, to be visited by their friends, and to receive the reporters of foreign journals. An offer was even made M. Thiers to exchange the hostages of greatest mark, the Archbishop, Deguerry, Bonjean, and Lagarde, for Blanqui alone. To conduct this negotiation the Vicar-General was sent to Versailles, after having sworn to the Archbishop and the delegate to return to his prison in case of non-success. But M. Thiers thought that Blanqui would give a head to the movement, while the Ultramontanes, eagerly covetous of the episcopal seat of Paris, took good care not to save the Gallican Darboy, whose death would be a double profit, leaving them a rich inheritance, and giving them at small expense a martyr. M. Thiers refused, and Lagarde remained at Versailles.[141] The Council did not punish the Archbishop for his want of faith, and a few days after set his sister at liberty. Never even in the days of despair was the privilege of women forgotten. The culpable nuns of Picpus and the other religieuses conducted to St. Lazare were confined in a special part of the building.

The prefecture and the delegation of Justice also evinced their humanity in ameliorating the service of the prisons. The Council in its turn, striving to guarantee individual liberty, decreed that every arrest should be immediately notified to the delegate of justice, and that no perquisition should be made without a regular warrant. National Guards, misinformed, having arrested certain individuals reputed suspicious, the Council declared in the Officiel that every arbitrary act would be followed by a dismissal and immediate prosecution. A battalion looking for arms at the gas company’s thought itself authorized to seize the cash-box; the Council at once had the sum returned. The commisar of police who arrested Gustave Chaudey, arraigned for having commanded fire on the 22nd January, had also seized the money of the prisoner; the Council dismissed the commissar. To prevent all abuse of power, it ordered an inquiry into the state of the prisoners and the motives of their detention, at the same time authorizing all its members to visit the prisoners. Rigault thereupon sent in his resignation, which was accepted, for he was beginning to weary everybody, and Delescluze had been obliged to rebuke him. His pranks filled the columns of the Versaillese journals, always on the look-out for scandals. They accused this childish policeman of terrorizing Paris, and represented the members of the Council, who refused to endorse the condemnations of the court martial, as assassins. The Figarist historians have kept up this legend. That vile bourgeoisie, which bent its head under the 30,000 arrests of December, the lettres de cachet of the Empire, and applauded the 50,000 arrests of May, still howls about the 800 or 900 arrests made under the Commune. They never exceeded this figure in two months of strife, and two-thirds of those arrested were only imprisoned a few days, many only a few hours. But the provinces, only fed with news by the Versaillese press, believed in its inventions, amplified in the circulars of M. Thiers telegraphing to the prefects: ‘The insurgents are emptying the principal houses of Paris in order to put the furniture to sale.’

To enlighten the provinces and provoke their intervention, such was the role of the delegation of the Exterior, which, under an ill-chosen title, was only second in importance to that of War. Since the 4th April – (I shall afterwards recount these movements) – the departments had been stirring. Save that of Marseilles, in part disarmed, the National Guard everywhere had guns. In the centre, east, west and south, powerful diversions might easily have been made, the stations occupied, and thereby the reinforcements and artillery destined for Versailles arrested.

The delegation contented itself with sending some few emissaries, without knowledge of the localities they were sent to, without tact and without authority. It was even exploited by traitors, who pocketed its money and handed over its instructions to Versailles. Well-known Republicans, familiar with the habits of the provinces, offered their services in vain. There. as elsewhere, it was necessary to be a favourite. Finally, for the work of enlightening and rousing France to insurrection, only a sum of 100,000 francs was allowed.

The delegation put forth only a small number of manifestoes, one a true and eloquent résumé of the Parisian revolution, and two addresses to the peasants, one by Madame André Léo, simple, fervent, quite within the reach of the peasantry: ‘Brother, you are being deceived. Our interests are the same. What I ask for, you wish it too. The affranchisement which I demand is yours…. What Paris after all wants is the land for the peasant, the instrument for the workmen.’ This good seed was carried away in free balloons, which, by a cleverly-contrived mechanism, from time to time dropped the printed papers. How many were lost, fell among thorns!

This delegation, created only for the exterior, entirely forgot the rest of the world. Throughout all Europe the working-classes eagerly awaited news from Paris, were in their hearts fellow-combatants of the great town, now become their capital, multiplied their meetings, processions, and addresses. Their papers, poor for the most part, courageously struggled against the calumnies of the bourgeois press. The duty of the delegation was to hold out a hand to these priceless auxiliaries: it did nothing. Some of these papers exhausted their last means in defence of the Commune, which allowed its defenders to succumb for want of bread.

The delegation, without experience, without resources, could not fight against the astute cleverness of M. Thiers. It showed great zeal in Protecting foreigners, and sent the rich silver plate of the Ministry to the Mint, but it did almost no real work.

Now we come to the delegations of vital importance. Since, by the force of events, the Commune had’ become the champion of the Revolution, it ought to have proclaimed the aspirations of the century, and, if it was to die, leave at least their testament on its tomb. It would have sufficed to state lucidly the whole range of institutions demanded for forty years by the revolutionary party.

The delegate of Justice, a lawyer, had only to make a summary of the reforms long since demanded by all Socialists. It was the part of a Proletarian revolution to show the aristocracy of our judicial system the despotic and antiquated doctrines of the Code Napoleon; the sovereign people hardly ever judging themselves, but judged by a caste issued from another authority than their own, the absurd hierarchy of judges and tribunals, the tabellionat, the procureurs, 400,000 notaries, solicitors, sheriffs’ officers, registrars, bailiffs, advocates and lawyers, draining national wealth to the amount of many hundreds of millions. It was, above all, for a revolution made in the name of the Commune to endow the Commune with a tribunal at which the people, restored to their rights, should judge by jury all cases, civil and commercial, misdemeanours as well as crimes; a final tribunal, without any appeal but for informalities, to state how solicitors, registrars, sheriffs, may be rendered useless, and the notaries replaced by simple registration officers. The delegate mostly limited himself to appointing notaries, sheriffs’ officers, and bailiffs, provided with a fixed salary – very useless appointments in a time of war, and which, besides, had the fault of consecrating the principle of the necessity for such officers. Scarcely anything progressive came of it. It was decreed that, in case of arrests, the minutes were to state the motives and the names of the witnesses to be called, while the papers, valuables and effects of the prisoners were to be deposited at the Suitors’ Fund. Another decree ordered the directors of lunatic asylums to send the nominal and explanatory statement concerning their patients within four days. If the Council had thrown some light on these institutions, which veil so many crimes, humanity would have been its debtor. However, these decrees were never executed.

Did practical instinct make up for want of science on the part of the delegation? Did it shed light upon the mysteries of the caves of Picpus, the skeletons of St. Laurent? It seemed to take no notice of them, and the reaction made merry at these supposed discoveries. The delegation even missed the opportunity of winning over to the Commune, if only for one day, all Republicans of France. Jecker was in their power. Rich, brave, audacious, he had always lived certain of impunity, since bourgeois legality inflicts no chastisement for crimes like the Mexican expedition. The Revolution alone could smite him. Nothing was more easy than to proceed against him. Jecker, pretending to have been the dupe of the Empire, craved to make revelations. In a public court, before twelve jurors chosen at random, in the face of the world, through him the Mexican expedition might have been sifted, the intrigues of the clergy unveiled, the pockets of the thieves turned out; it might have been shown how the Empress, Miramon, and Morny had set the plot on foot, in what cause and for what men France had lost seas of blood and hundreds of millions. Afterwards the expiation might have been accomplished in the open day, on the Place de la Concorde, in face of the Tuileries. Poets, who rarely get shot, would perhaps have sighed, but the people, the eternal victim, would have applauded, and said, ‘The Revolution alone does justice.’ They neglected even to question Jecker.

The delegation at the Education Department was bound to write one of the finest pages of the Commune, for after so many years of study and experiments this question should spring forth ready armed from a truly revolutionary brain. The delegation has not left a memoir, a sketch, an address, a line, to bear witness for it in the future. Yet the delegate was a doctor, a student of the German universities. He contented himself with suppressing the crucifixes in the schoolrooms and making an appeal to all those who had studied the question of teaching. A commission was charged with organizing primary and professional instruction, whose work consisted in announcing the opening of a school on the 6th May. Another commission for the education of women was named on the day the Versaillese entered Paris.

The administrative action of the delegate was confined to impracticable decrees and a few appointments. Two devoted and talented men, Elisée Reclus and B. Gastineau, were charged with the reorganization of the National Library. They forbade the lending of books, thus putting an end to the scandalous practice by which a privileged few carved out a private library from public collections. The federation of artists, presided over by Courbet, elected member of the Council on the 16th April, occupied itself with the reopening and superintendence of the museums.

Nothing would be known of the ideas of this revolution on education were it not for a few circulars of the municipalities. Many had reopened the schools abandoned by the Congregationists and the municipal teachers, or driven away the priests who had remained. The municipality of the twentieth arrondissement clothed and fed the children; that of the fourth said, ‘To teach children to love and respect their fellow-creatures, to inspire them with a love of justice, to teach them that they must instruct themselves in the interests of all, such are the principles of morality on which the future communal education will be based.’ ‘The teachers of the schools and infant asylums,’ declared the municipality of the seventeenth arrondissement, ‘will for the future exclusively employ the experimental and scientific method, that which always starts from facts, physical, moral, intellectual.’ But these vague formulae could not make amends for the want of a complete programme.

Who, then, will speak for the people? The delegation of Labour and Exchange. Exclusively composed of revolutionary socialists, its purpose was, ‘The study of all the reforms to be introduced into the public services of the Commune or into the relations of the working men and women with their employers; the revision of the commercial code and custom-house duties; the revision of all direct and indirect taxes, the establishment of statistics of labour.’ It intended collecting from the citizens themselves the materials for the decrees to be submitted to the Commune.

The delegate to this department, Leo Frankel, procured the assistance of a commission of initiative composed of working men. Registers for offers and demands of work were opened in all the arrondissements. At the request of many journey-men bakers night-work was suppressed, a measure of hygiene as much as of morality. The delegation prepared a project for the suppression of pawnshops, a decree concerning stoppages of wages, and supported the decree relative to work-shops abandoned by their runaway masters.

Their plan gratuitously returned the pledged objects to the victims of war and to the necessitous. Those who might refuse to confess this latter title were to receive their pledges in exchange for a promise of repayment in five years. The report terminated with these words: ‘It is well understood that the suppression of the pawnshops is to be succeeded by a social organization giving serious guarantees of support to the workmen thrown out of employment. The establishment of the Commune necessitates institutions protecting the workmen from the exploitation of capital.’

The decree that abolished stoppages from salaries and wages put an end to one of the most crying iniquities of the capitalist regime, these fines often being inflicted on the most futile pretext by the employer himself, who is thus at once judge and plaintiff.

The decree relative to the deserted workshops made restitution to the masses, dispossessed for centuries, of the property of their own labour. A commission of inquiry named by the Trade Union Chambers was to draw up the statistics and the inventory of the deserted workshops to be given back into the hands of the workmen. Thus ‘the expropriators were in their turn expropriated.’ The nineteenth century will not pass away without having begun this revolution; every progress in machinery brings it nearer. The more the exploitation of labour concentrates itself in a few hands, the more the working multitude are massed together and disciplined. Soon, conscious and united, the producing class will, like the young France of 1789, have to confront but a handful of privileged appropriators. The most inveterate revolutionary socialist is the monopolist.

No doubt this decree contained voids and stood in need of an elaborate explanation, especially on the subject of the co-operative societies to which the workshops were to be handed over. It was no more than the other applicable in this hour of strife, and required a number of supplementary decrees; but it at least gave some idea of the claims of the working class, and had it nothing else on its credit side, by the mere creation of the Commission for Labour and Exchange, the revolution of the 18th March would have done more for the workmen than all the bourgeois Assemblies of France since the 5th May, 1789.

The delegation for Labour wanted to look carefully into the contracts of the commissariat. It demonstrated that in the case of contracts adjudicated to the lowest bidder, the running down of prices falls upon wages and not on the profit of the contractor. ‘And the Commune is blind enough to lend itself to such manoeuvres,’ said the report, ‘and at this very moment, when the working man dares death rather than submit any longer to this exploitation.’ The delegate demanded that the estimate of charges should specify the cost of labour, that the orders should be preference be given to the workmen’s corporations, and the contracting prices fixed by arbitration between the commissariat, the Trade Union Chamber of the corporation, and the delegate for Labour.

To overlook the financial administration of all the delegations, the Council in the month of May instituted a superior commission charged to audit their accounts. It decreed that functionaries or contractors guilty of peculation or theft should be punished with death.

In short, save for the delegation for Labour, where they did work, the basic delegations were unequal to their task. All committed the same fault. For two months they had in their hands the archives of the bourgeoisie since 1789. There was the Cour des Comptes (a judicial board of accounts) to disclose the mysteries of official robbery; the Council of State, the dark deliberations of despotism; the Prefecture of Police, the scandalous under-currents of social power; the Ministry of Justice, the servility and crimes of the most oppressive of all classes. In the Hôtel-de-Ville there lay deposited the still unexplored records of the first Revolution, of those of 1815, 1830, 1848, and all diplomatists of Europe dreaded the opening of the portfolios at the Foreign Office. They might have laid bare before the eyes of the people the intimate history of the Revolution, the Directory, the first Empire, the monarchy of July, 1848, and of Napoleon III. They published only two or three instalments.[142] The delegates slept by the side of these treasures, heedless, as it seemed, of their value.

The Radicals, seeing these lawyers, these doctors, these publicists, who allowed Jecker to remain mute and the Cour des Comptes closed, would not believe in such ignorance, and still affect to unriddle the enigma with the word ‘Bonapartism’. A stupid accusation, given the lie by a thousand proofs. For the honour even of the delegates the bitter truth must be told. Their ignorance was not simulated, but only too real. To a great extent it was the offspring of past oppression.


[131] Appendix VI.

[132] Appendix VII, report by Thiesz.

[133] Appendix VIII.

[134] There were five parks: the Hôtel-de-Ville, the Tuileries, the Ecole Militaire, Monmartre, Vincennes. In all, including the artillery of the forts and that of the open country, the Commune had more than 1100 cannon, howitzers, mortars, and machine-guns.

[135] The second Central Committee was composed of forty members, of whom twelve only had formed part of the first Committee.

[136] ‘Do you know,’ said he to Delescluze, ‘that Versailles has offered me a million?’ ‘Be silent!’ answered Delescluze, turning his back upon him.

[137] He was arrested on the 20th March in his private room in the Palace of Justice, where he had given the procureur-general a rendezvous.

[138] He was recognized as he asked for his passport at the prefecture of police.

[139] The correspondent of the Times wrote in the number of 9th May: ‘The superior and her nuns explained that these were orthopaedic instruments – a superficial falsehood. The mattress and straps struck me as being easily accounted for; I have seen such things used in French midwifery and in cases of violent delirium; but the rack and its adjuncts are justly objects of grave suspicion, for they imply a use of brutal force which no disease at present known would justify.’

[140] The nun who filled the post of superior, a big and bold virago, answered Rigault in an easy-going manner. ‘Why have you shut up these women?’ ‘To do their families a service; they were mad. See, gentlemen, you are young men of good families; you’ll understand that sometimes one is glad to conceal the madness of one’s relations.’ ‘But do you not know the law?’ ‘No we obey our superiors.’ ‘Whose books are these?’ ‘We know nothing about them.’ Thus affecting simpleness, they sold the simpletons.

[141] This negotiation has in part been recounted in the Officiel of the Commune. We add further details. Soon after his arrest the Archbishop wrote to M. Thiers begging him to stop the execution of the prisoners, on which the lives of the hostages depended. M. Thiers did not answer. An old friend of Blanqui’s, Flotte, went to the President to propose an exchange, and said that the Archbishop might incur peril. M. Thiers made a decided gesture: ‘What does it matter to me?’ Flotte again took up the negotiation through Darboy, who named Deguerry as envoy to Versailles. The prefecture, unwilling to give up such a hostage, the Vicar-General Lagarde took Deguerry’s place. The Archbishop furnished him with instructions, and on the 12th April Flotte conducted Lagarde to the station and made him swear to return if he failed in his mission. Lagarde swore, ‘Even if to be shot, I shall return. Can you believe that I could for a single moment harbour the thought of leaving Monseigneur alone here?’ At the moment when the train was about to start, Flotte insisted again, ‘Do not go if you have not the intention of returning.’ The priest again renewed his oath. He went off, and handed over a letter in which the Archbishop solicited the exchange. M. Thiers, pretending to know nothing of this one, answered the first, which one of the Commune papers had just published. His answer is one of his masterpieces of hypocrisy and falsehood: ‘The facts to which you call my attention are absolutely false, and I am really surprised that so enlightened a prelate as you, Monseigneur … Our soldiers have never shot prisoners nor sought to kill the wounded. That, in the heat of combat, they may have turned their arms against men who assassinate their generals, is possible; but, the combat terminated, they resume the natural generosity of the national character. I therefore spurn, Monseigneur, the calumny that has been told you. I affirm that our soldiers have never shot prisoners.’ On the 17th Flotte received a letter in which Lagarde informed him that his presence was still indispensable at Versailles. Flotte complained to the Archbishop, who could not believe in this desertion. ‘It is impossible,’ said he, ‘that M. Lagarde should remain at Versailles; he will come back; he has sworn it to me myself,’ and he gave Flotte a note for Lagarde. The latter answered that M. Thiers retained him. On the 23rd Darboy wrote to him again: ‘On the reception of this letter, M. Lagarde is immediately to retrace his steps to Paris and to re-enter Mazas. This delay compromises us gravely, and may have the saddest results.’ Lagarde did not answer any more.

His friends thought of rescuing him, and a sum of 50,000 francs was prepared for his release. But much more would have been necessary, and, above all, adroit agents, for the least imprudence would have cost the life of the prisoner. The affair was procrastinated, and part of the funds were still in the coffers of the Committee of Public Safety at the entry of the Versaillese.

[142] Georges Duchene began examining the commercial transactions of the Government of National Defence, but he published nothing.

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