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Chapter XLVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


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Before proceeding with the narrative of the siege, we will group together a few more significant facts and notices which tend to throw light on the inner spirit and tendency of the Communal Government. The Revolution of 1848 brought the idea of co-operation prominently to the front; and various experiments in co-operative association were at that time honestly tried, and were attended with results more or less encouraging. But it was reserved for the Commune to initiate that form of co-operation which, in order to get a good start, robs the capitalist of his plant and buildings, and appropriates them to the purposes of a regenerated industry. By a decree of the 17th April, a commission was appointed, charged with the duty of preparing a list of workshops and factories which had been abandoned by the proprietors. These establishments were to be made over to co-operative societies, which were to be declared the proprietors of them, in consideration of pecuniary indemnities to be fixed by a jury of arbitration. " This," observes the Parliamentary Commission, " was spoliation erected into a social system, the partition of property and the expropriation of industries for the benefit of those who had not created the requisite resources, nor had incurred the risks to which every industrial enterprise is liable."

Never was more vigorous language of self-laudation used on one side, or of reprobation on the other. In a " Declaration to the French People," published on the 19th April, the Commune endeavoured to put forward an attractive and coherent theory of their position and claims. " Paris," they said, " only demands the recognition and consolidation of the Republic, the absolute autonomy of the Commune extended to every locality in France, the permanent intervention of the citizens in municipal affairs by the free defence of their interests, the organisation of urban defence and of the National Guard. Paris.... does not seek to destroy the unity of France; but it is by the voluntary association of all local initiatives, all individual energies, that she wishes henceforward to found political unity. The communal revolution, commenced by the popular initiative of the 18th March, inaugurates a new era of experimental, positive, and scientific politics; it is the end of the governmental and clerical world, of militarism, functionarism, exploitation, stock-jobbing, monopolies, and privileges." They invite all France to aid them in the combat which they are waging, significantly adding that this contest can only be ended in one of two ways - either by the triumph of the communal idea, or by the ruin of Paris.

On the other side the Keeper of the Seals, in a circular addressed to all the procureurs-generaux, or public prosecutors, in the departments, urging them to vigorous action against the partisans of the Commune, said: - " These men are not the enemies of this or that government, but of human society; as such you must not hesitate to prosecute them. And do not allow yourself to be arrested in your course when, in a language more moderate in outward seeming without being less dangerous, they present themselves as the apostles of a conciliation in which they do not believe themselves, placing on the same level the Assembly sprung from universal suffrage, and the pretended Commune of Paris. Such language is not less guilty because it is more hypocritical; it weakens the sense of right and wrong, it habituates men to class under the same category the legal order of things and the insurrection, the power created by the will of France, and the dictatorship which has won its place by crime and keeps it by terror."

The conduct of the Paris Freemasons with reference to the Commune was fantastic, yet withal instructive. We are accustomed to associate Freemasonry in England with ideas of much good-fellowship, much finery, a little charity, and nothing more, and perhaps we are right. But since the time when Weisshaupt and the Uluminati, in the middle of the last century, used the machinery of the Masonic lodges to propagate the revolutionary doctrines which were soon to convulse and rend society from its foundations, Freemasonry has always been watched with somewhat of suspicion by the settled Governments of the Continent. The conduct of the Paris lodges on the occasion we are about to describe showed that this suspicion was well founded. A deputation waited on the Commune, on the 26th April, to declare that Freemasonry had resolved to plant its banners on the ramparts of Paris, and that if a ball touched its banners, it would march against the common enemy. That is to say, if chance should direct a missile sent from the Army of Versailles through the piece of bunting which the Freemasons put in its way, the latter, accepting the omen, and rendering themselves the senseless slaves of a new and ridiculous superstition, would then regard the lawful Government of their country, the real merits of whose position could be made neither better nor worse by the accident, as the "common enemy" of themselves and the Commune! The manifestation took place on the 30th April. The lodges met on the Place du Carrousel, provided with their banners and all the usual paraphernalia; thence, accompanied by six delegates of the Commune, wearing red scarfs fringed with gold, they marched to the Hôtel de Ville. Here the Commune gave them an official reception; speeches were interchanged; then the Freemasons formed in procession, and marching along the boulevards to the rampart near the Arc de Triomphe, planted their banners on the wall near the Porte des Ternes. It happened that on that day the batteries were silent, and the precious banners remained intact; on the next day hostilities were recommenced, and some of them were hit. The Freemasons were then bound to take up arms for the Commune; but they do not appear to have done so with great alacrity, or to much effect.

In its first days, the Commune committed the main responsibilities of government to an executive commission of which Eudes, Bridon, Félix Pyat, and Bergeret were the principal members. But after a time the more fiery spirits at the Hôtel de Ville discovered that the commission was too lax and remiss in its proceedings, that it did not rise to the level of the circumstances, and that it recoiled before the radical measures prescribed by the situation. Accordingly, a decree appeared on the 2nd May, substituting for the executive commission a Committee of Public Safety, consisting of the following five members: Antoine Arnauld, Léo Meillet, Ranvier, Félix Pyat, and Gerardin. This resuscitation of names and attributes famous in the first Revolution was not altogether satisfactory even to staunch adherents of the Commune. The Pere Duchesne newspaper said, " If this is a resurrection of the Committee of Public Safety of 1793, the men of the Commune of 1871 have not shoulders broad enough to support the burden of such a responsibility; if it is a new thing, why not define its functions P " In proportion as it felt real power escaping from its grasp, the Commune began to legislate about everything, to regulate everything. Numberless decrees appeared modifying the administration of the Museum, laying down rules for the opening of public libraries, abolishing oaths, reforming the opera, instituting new regulations for the guidance of advocates, attorneys, tipstaffs, &c.

Fortune, though earnestly invoked, vouchsafed no great man to the Commune; indeed the dignus vindice nodus had not occurred which might justify and require his apparition. Their agents, being all second-rate men, always disappointed them, and were being continually changed. Cluseret, an Americanised Frenchman, was the delegate for war during the month of April; on the 1st May he had to give way to Colonel Rossel. Rossel was a man with many fine points of character, but an insane pride was his ruin. Indignant at the resolution taken by the responsible representatives of his country to put an end to the war, which he was persuaded might yet be carried out to a prosperous issue, Rossel in a fatal hour forgot his military oath, absolved himself from the obligations of discipline, and took service with the Commune against the flag which it was his duty to defend to the death. His offence was inexcusable, and he expiated it by a deserter's death; yet there was something noble in his error, and his memory remains unstained by any of those dark blots which attach to the names of other leaders of the Commune. Rossel could not agree with the authorities, and on the 9th May he wrote to them resigning his post, and requesting "a cell at Mazas." His retirement brought with it the fall of the Committee of Public Safety. Delescluze, probably the ablest and most determined man whom the Commune produced, said of it, "The Committee has been unequal to its mission; it must disappear." A new Committee of Public Safety was formed, consisting of Gambon, Eudes, and Delescluze himself, besides Ranvier and Antoine Arnauld from the former Committee; the members were to sit en permanence at the Hôtel de Ville. Delescluze was appointed delegate for war in the place of Rossel, and it was under his influence that the Committee decreed, "That the goods, furniture, and other property of Thiers shall be seized, and that the house of Thiers in the Place Georges shall be rased to the ground." This outburst of impotent malignity did not remain a brutum fulmen; in the course of a few days the house of M. Thiers was sacked, and by the 16th May nothing was left standing but the outer walls. A special decree ordered that the works of art and valuable books found in the house should be sent to the national libraries and museums, the furniture sold by auction, and the proceeds devoted to the support of the widows and orphans of the men slain in resisting the ambition of the infamous ex-proprietor, and a public square laid out on the site of "the parricide's house." This was the " Delenda est Carthago " of the men of the 18th March!

A significant and ominous proclamation, issued on the 17th May, required all those who had any stocks of petroleum or other mineral oils, to notify the same to the Government within forty-eight hours. A day or two afterwards it was announced that the owners of phosphorus and other chemical products who had not responded to the appeal made to them in the Official Journal had rendered themselves liable to the seizure of those products. Vallès, a member of the Educational Commission of the Commune, added to the notification the words, " If M. Thiers is a chemist, he will understand."

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Pictures for Chapter XLVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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