History of the Paris Commune of 1871

36. The balance-sheet of bourgeois vengeance

The deported men are happier than our soldiers, for our soldiers have fighting to do, while the deportee lives in the midst of the flowers in his garden. (Speech against amnesty by Admiral Fourichon, Navy Minister, session of 17th May, 1876.)

It is above all the Republicans who must be adverse to the amnesty. (Victor Lefranc, session of 18th May, 1876.)

Two days’ journey from France there is a colony eager for hands, rich enough to enrich thousands of families. After every victory over Parisian workmen the bourgeoisie has always preferred throwing its victims to the antipodes to fecundating Algeria with them. The Republic of 1848 had Nouka-Hiva; the Versaillese Assembly, New Caledonia. It was to this rock, six thousand leagues from their native land, that it decided to transport those condemned for life. ‘The Council of the Government,’ said the reporter on the law, ‘gives the transported a family and a home.’ The machine-gun was more honest.

Those condemned to transportation were huddled together into four depots, Fort Boyard, St. Martin de Ré, Oléron, and Quélern, where for long months they languished between despair and hope, which never abandon political victims. One day, when they believed themselves almost forgotten, a brutal call resounded. To the surgery! A doctor looked at them, questioned them, did not listen to their answers, and said, ‘Fit for departure !’[256] And then farewell family, country, society, human life, en route for the sepulchre of the antipodes. And happy he who was condemned to transportation only. He could for a last time press a friendly hand, see tears in kindly eyes, give a last kiss. But the galley-slave of the Commune will only see the taskmaster. At the call of the whistle he must undress, be searched, then have the livery of the voyage thrown him, and, without a farewell, ascend the floating prison.

The transport ship was a moving pontoon. Large cages built on the gun-deck shut in the prisoners. In the night these became centres of infection. In the daytime, the uncaged people had but one-half hour to come up on the deck and breathe a little fresh air. Around the cages the jailers stood grumbling, punishing with the black hole the slightest infringement of the rules. Some unhappy beings made the whole voyage at the bottom of the hold, sometimes almost naked, for having refused to comply with a caprice. The women, like the men, were sent to the black hole; the nuns who watched them were worse than the jailers. For five months they had to live in this promiscuous fashion in the cage, in the filth of their neighbours, fed upon biscuits often musty, on bacon, on almost salt water; now burnt by the tropics, now frozen by the cold of the South, or by the spray dashing over the gun-deck. And what spectres arrived! When the Orne dropped anchor off Melbourne there were 360 sick of scurvy out of 588 prisoners.[257] They inspired even the rough colonials of Australia with pity. The inhabitants of Melbourne came to succour them, collecting in a few hours 40,000 francs. The commander of the Orne refused to transmit the sum to the prisoners, even in the shape of clothes, tools, and simple necessities.

The Danaé was the first ship that set sail, on the 3rd May, 1872; the Guerrière, Garonne, Var, Sibylle, Orne, Calvados, Virginie, etc., followed. By the 1st July, 1875, 3,859 prisoners had landed in New Caledonia.[258]

This Caledonian sepulchre has three circles: the peninsula Ducos, not far from Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, for those condemned to transportation in a fortress – 805 men and 6 women; the Ile des Pins, thirty miles south-east of the principal island, for those condemned to simple transportation – 2,795 men and 13 women; and, quite in the background, worse than death, the penal settlement of the Ile Nou, for 240 galley-slaves.

The peninsula Ducos, a narrow neck of land commanded by cannon, with its mouth guarded by soldiers, without a watercourse, without verdure, is traversed by and hills and swampy valleys. For all shelter the condemned found a few dilapidated hovels; for all furniture, a saucepan and a hammock. The Ile des Pins, a tableland, its centre perfectly desolate, is bounded by fertile plains, but in the hands of the Marist monks, who exploit the labour of the natives. Nothing was prepared for the reception of the condemned. The first who arrived wandered about in the woods; only very long after did they receive poor tents and hammocks. The natives, incited by the missionaries, fled from them, or sold them provisions at enormous prices.

The administration was to have provided the indispensable clothing. None of the prescribed rules was observed. The képis and boots were soon worn out, and the immense majority of the condemned having no means whatever, had to bear the sun and the rainy season bare-headed and bare-footed. They had neither tobacco nor soap; there was no brandy to mix with the brackish water.

The prisoners did not lose heart at this beginning. Laborious, active, with that universal aptitude of the Parisian workman, they felt themselves equal to overcoming the first difficulties. The reporter on the law had extolled the thousand revenues of New Caledonia fisheries, cattle-breeding, the working of mines – and represented this compulsory emigration as the founding of a new French Empire in the Pacific. The condemned hoped to make themselves a home in this far-off land. These proletarians were free of the false dignity affected by the proscribed bourgeois; far from refusing work, they sought for it. In the Ile des Pins there were a hospital, an aqueduct, administrative warehouses to be finished, a large road to be constructed; 2,000 condemned presented themselves; 800 only were employed, and their wages never exceeded 85 centimes a day. Some of those rebuffed by the Administration then demanded concessions of territory; they were granted a few yards of land,[259] and at exorbitant prices some seeds and tools. With the greatest efforts they could hardly make the soil yield a few vegetables. The others, who possessed nothing, applied to private industry, offering their services to the trades-people of Noumea. But the colony, stifled by the military regime, hampered by bureaucratic officials, and of very limited resources besides, could only furnish work to about 500 at the most. Moreover, many of them who had undertaken farming were obliged to give it up very soon and return to the Ile des Pins.

This was the golden age of the transportation. Towards the middle of 1873 a despatch of the Minister of Marine reached Noumea. Ile Versaillese Government suspended all administrative credits in support of the state works. ‘If one admitted,’ said he, ‘the right to labour of the convict, one would soon see the renewal of the scandalous example of the national workshops of 1848.’ Perfectly logical this. Versailles owes no means of labour to those it has deprived of their liberty to labour. So the workshops were closed. The woods of the Ile des Pins offered valuable supplies to the cabinet-makers, and some of the condemned manufactured furniture much in request at Noumea. They were ordered to discontinue. And on the 13th December the Minister of Marine dared to pronounce from the tribune that the majority of the condemned refused every kind of work.[260]

At the very moment that the Administration thus curtailed the life of the transported, it summoned their wives to the Ministry of Marine, where the most charming picture of New Caledonia was exhibited to them. They were to find there, on their arrival, a house, a piece of land, seeds, and tools. Most of them, suspecting some snare, refused to set out unless invited by their husbands. Sixty-nine, however, were inveigled, and embarked on board the Fénélon with women sent forth by the Public Assistance Office as helpmates for the colonials. These unfortunate wives of the convicts, on landing, found only the despair and misery of their husbands. The Government refused to send them back again.

Thus there are thousands of men accustomed to work, to activity of mind, penned up, idle and miserable, some in the narrow peninsula, others in the Ile des Pins, without clothes, ill-fed, under orders executed by brutes[261] revolver in hand, hardly in connection with the world, save for a few rare letters, and these are even delayed for three weeks at Noumea. In the beginning endless reveries, then discouragement and sombre despair; cases of madness occurred, at last death. The first one set free was the teacher Verdure, member of the Council of the Commune. The commissar of the court-martial had accused him of but one crime: ‘He was a philanthropic Utopian.’ He wanted to open a school in the peninsula; permission was refused him. Useless, far from his wife and daughter, he languished and died. One morning in 1873 the jailers and the priests saw in the winding pathway that leads to the cemetery a coffin covered with flowers carried by some of the condemned. Behind them walked 800 friends in a deep silence. ‘The coffin,’ one of them has told us, ‘was lowered into the grave. A friend spoke a few words of farewell; each one threw in his little red flower, cried, “Vive la République! Vive la Commune!” and all was over.’ In November, in the lie des Pins, Albert Grandier, one of the staff of the Rappel, died. His heart had remained in France, with a sister whom he adored. Every day he went to the sea-shore to wait for her; so he became mad. The Administration refused to admit him into an asylum. He escaped from the friends who guarded him, and one morning was found dead of cold in the swamps, not far from the road that leads to the sea.[262]

These at least have the consolation of suffering with their equals. But the convicts chained in the sink of the scoundrels! ‘I know but one penal colony,’ replied the Republican Minister, Victor Lefranc, to a mother begging for her son. And there is indeed but one penal colony, where heroes like Trinquet and Lisbonne, men all compact of devotion and probity like Fontaine, Roques, the mayor of Puteaux (so many names press forward that I am ashamed to mention a few), journalists of high character like Brissac and Humbert, some whose sole crime was to have carried out a warrant of arrest, have been chained for five years to assassins and thieves, enduring their insults. and bound at night to the same camp-bed. The Versaillese want more than the body; they must attaint the rebellious mind, surround it with an atmosphere of stench and vice, in order to make it fail and founder. The ‘felons’ of the Commune, assimilated to criminals, subjected to the same labour, to the same rule of the stick and whip, are beset by the special hatred of the jailers, who incite the convicts against them From time to time a letter escapes, and even reaches us. Thus writes a member of the Council of the Commune, a man of thirty-three, at one time in robust health:

St. Louis.

… The work of the camp is considered the most severe. It includes the digging up of stones, earthworks, etc. It is only interrupted on the Sunday morning for the religious service. For nourishment we have coffee without sugar at five o’clock in the morning, 700 grammes of bread, and 100 grammes of beans; in the evening a small piece of beef; and, finally, 69 centilitres of wine a week. When I am able to buy a quarter of a pound of bread, my health leaves less to be desired. Already several of ours are no more. Many are attacked with anaemia. Fifteen out of sixty in St. Louis are at the hospital. All this would be nothing if there were not that commingling with men of infamous passions. There are fifty of us in one compartment. As to the employments, shops, and offices, the Communards are excluded from these.

Another writes:

Ile Nou, 15th February.

I isolate myself as much as I can, but there are hours when I must be in the compound on pain of death. There are hours when I must defend my rations from the voracity of my companions, when I must submit to the familiarity of a Mano or of a Lathauer.[263] This is horrible, and I blush with shame when I think that I have become almost insensible to all this infamy. These wretches are cowards, and are not the least of our tormentors. It is enough to drive one mad, and I believe that many amongst us will become so. Berezowski, this unfortunate man,[264] who has suffered so much for eight years, is almost demented, and it is painful to look upon him. it is terrible and I dare not think of this. How many months, years, are we still to pass in this penal colony? I tremble at the thought. Despite all, believe that I shall not allow myself to be crushed; my conscience is tranquil, and I am strong. My health alone could betray me and be vanquished, but of myself I am sure, and shall never swerve.

A third:

I have suffered much; the penal settlement of Toulon, the chains, the convicts’ dress, and, what is still worse, the ignoble contact of the criminals – all this I have had to bear with. I have, it is true, one consolation for so much suffering – my tranquil conscience, the love of my old parents, and the esteem of men such as you …. How many times have I been discouraged! What despair, what doubts have seized me! I believed in mankind, and all my illusions have been lost one by one; a great change has come over me, and I have almost failed to resist so many disillusions.

Yet another:

I do not deceive myself; these years are entirely lost for me; not only is my health undermined, but I feel myself getting lower every day. This life is really too hard to bear, without books (save those of the Marne library), in this filthy penal settlement, exposed to all insults, to all blows; shut up in caves; in the workshops treated as beasts; insulted by our jailers and our comrades of the chain, we must submit to it all without a murmur, the slightest infringement entailing terrible punishment – the cell, quarter ration of bread, irons, thumbscrews, the lash. It is ignominious, and I shudder at the thought of it. Many of our comrades are in double chains in the correction platoon, subjected to the hardest labour, dying of hunger, driven on with blows of a cane, often with revolver-shots, unable to communicate with us, who cannot even pass them a mouthful of bread. It is terrible, and I am afraid all this will not end very soon. But protestations will be made; we shall not be abandoned; it would be horrible if we were left here. I am unable to work, so I am right in saying that these years are completely lost, and this drives me to despair; yet I was willing to learn; but what is to be done without books and without a guide? We are almost without news. Still we know that the Republic is affirming itself from day to day; our hope is there, but I dare not believe it; we have had so many deceptions.

How many live today? It is not known. Maroteau left in March, 1875. The Commission of Pardons had increased his sentence; commuted Satory to the Ile Nou. At twenty-five years of age he died in the penal colony for two articles, when the jackals of the Versaillese press, whose every line has demanded and obtained carnage, sway our Paris. To the last moment his courage did not forsake him. ‘It is not a great affair to die,’ said he to the friends who surrounded his deathbed; ‘but I should have preferred the stake of Satory to this filthy pallet. My friends, think of me! What will become of my mother?’

Hear this knell tolled by one of the convicts:

Ile Nou (Limekiln Works), 18th April.

I cannot help saying that many friends are dying, and that this month five have succumbed.

15th May.

Old Audant, one of the transported of the 2nd December, has been for ever released from his chain. He was sickly, old (fifty-nine), and our labour had overcome him. One day, tired out, attacked by acute bronchitis, he was unable to get up; still he was obliged to recommence his work. Two days after he asked for the visit of the doctor. He got the dungeon. Five days after he died in the hospital; and a few days later on, another, Gobert, followed him to the tomb.

Canala, 25th December.

… Add to that the death of old and good friends. After Maroteau, Morten, Mars, Lecolle, whom we buried a month ago.

They die, but none have faltered. The political convicts are men; they succeed in remaining in the pitch without being debased. It is the general inspector Raboul who has allowed this avowal to escape him. What is the Christian martyr’s vaunted heroism of an hour in comparison with these men, who each day, in the indefatigable, merciless clutches of the jailers, maintain unbent their revolutionary faith and their dignity?

And do we even know all their sufferings? Chance alone has raised a corner of the veil. On the 19th March, 1874, Rochefort, Jourde, Paschal Grousset, and three others, condemned to transportation, succeeded in escaping on board an Australian ship.[265] They landed safely in Australia, and the information they brought with them has thrown a little light upon the den. It was then we learnt that the convicts of the Commune had suffered additional tortures; that the torture of the thumbscrews, which mutilated the hands, is still in use at the penal colony; that four convicts had been shot at the Ile des Pins for a simple assault, which would have been punished by a few months’ imprisonment by ordinary tribunals; that the severity and insults of the jailers seemed intended to cause a rising which would permit of all those condemned to transportation being sent to the penal colony. The convicts had to pay dearly for these revelations. The Versaillese Government immediately sent out the Rear-Admiral Ribourt, and the torture-screw was turned more tightly than ever.

Those who had obtained permission to sojourn in the principal island were again shut up in the peninsula Ducos or the Ile des Pins; fishing was prohibited; every sealed letter confiscated; the right to fetch wood in the forest for cooking food suppressed. The jailers redoubled their brutality, fired at the convicts who went beyond bounds, or who had not returned to their huts at the regulation hour. Some merchants of Noumea, accused of having facilitated the escape of Rochefort and his friends, were expelled from the isle.

Ribourt had brought the dismissal of the governor, La Richerie, former governor of Cayenne, who by dint of rapine had made a great fortune in New Caledonia. Of course it was not for his dishonesty, but for the escape of the 19th March that he was punished. The provisional government was confided to Colonel Alleyron, who had become famous by the massacres of May. Alleyron decreed that every prisoner was to give the State half-a-day’s labour, on pain of receiving only the strictly indispensable food, 700 grammes of bread, I centiletre of oil, and 60 grammes of dried vegetables. As the prisoners protested, he began by applying the decree to fifty-seven persons, of whom four were women.

For the women were subjected to the same rigorous treatment as the men, and they had courageously demanded the right of sharing the common lot of all. Louise Michel and Lemel, whom they had wanted to separate from their comrades, declared that they would kill themselves if the law were violated. Insulted by the jailers, abused sometimes in the order of the day of the commander of the peninsula, scarcely provided with dresses, more than once they had been obliged to put on men’s clothes.

The arrival at the beginning of 1876 of the new governor, De Pritzbuer, terminated the short but brilliant career of Alleyron. Pritzbuer, a renegade of Protestantism turned arrant Jesuit, and sent to New Caldeonia through the Jesuitical tendencies of the Ministry, found ways and means with his mawkish airs to even aggravate the misery of the convicts. He was guided in this task by Colonel Charrière, general director of the New Caledonian Penitentiary, who declared the criminals of the penal settlement much more honourable than the political convicts. Pritzbuer renewed the order of his predecessor, adding that those of the convicts who in one year should not have been able to create for themselves sufficient resources would no longer receive full rations; and, finally, that the Administration intended exonerating itself at the end of a certain time of all expenses with regard to the convicts. An agent was appointed to act as intermediary between them and the traders of Noumea. But all the decrees in the world cannot extend the commerce or industry of a country without natural resources. It has been said, been proved a hundred times, that New Caledonia has no employment for these thousands of men, who would prosper in a vital and flourishing colony. Those few who could be employed have proved their intelligence, and have carried off several medals or been honourably mentioned at the exhibition of Noumea. The less favoured – hundreds of them – suffer under the blow of the decree of 1875. In reality, the immense majority of those condemned to transportation are now subjected to hard labour. The regulations put into force since the escape of Rochefort have never been mitigated. The wives, the mothers of the convicts, are only allowed to communicate with them at rare intervals, and under the eye of the jailers. More than one has been expelled from the colony.

Despite so many efforts to break them, the honour of the majority of the prisoners has not yielded; far more, it is an example to others. Although the courts-martial have mixed up with the condemned of the Commune a bad element, totally foreign to this revolution, common misdemeanours are very rare. Their condemnation for political misdemeanour, the contact with the best workmen, has even re-made the conscience of many men with but sorry antecedents. The majority of the condemned are punished only for infringements of the rules or for attempts to escape; attempts almost always condemned to failure beforehand. How fly without money and without confederates? There have been but fifteen successful escapes. Towards the middle of March, 1875, twenty prisoners of the Ile des Pins, amongst whom were the member of the Council of the Commune, Rastoul, fled in a bark which they had secretly constructed. Their fate has never been known, but a few days after their flight the wreck of a craft was found amongst the reefs. In November, 1876, Trinquet and some of his comrades managed to abscond in a steamboat. They were pursued, overtaken. Two threw themselves into the sea to escape their pursuers. One died; the other, Trinquet, was restored to life and the penal settlement.

Before such abysses of misery the exiles must not speak of their sufferings, but they may say in a word that they have not sullied the honour of the Cause. Thousands of workmen, with their families, thrown helpless, without resources, into a strange country, speaking a foreign language, employees, professors, still more forlorn, have succeeded by dint of energy in gaining a livelihood. The workmen of the Commune of Paris have won an honourable place in the workshops of foreign countries. They have even, especially in Belgium, rendered prosperous industries till then languishing; they have imparted to certain manufactures the secret of Parisian taste. The proscription of the Communards, like that of the Protestants formerly, has thrown across the frontiers a part of the national wealth. The exiles of the so-called liberal professions, often more unfortunate than the workmen, have not shown less courage. Some fill posts of confidence; one perhaps condemned to death as an incendiary or to hard labour for pillage, is a teacher in a large college or exaniines the candidates for Government schools. Despite the difficulty at the commencement, sickness, slackness of work, not one exile has given way, and not a single condemnation before the police court has occurred. Not a single woman has fallen. Yet it is the women who bear the greater share of the common misery. Amongst these thousands of exiles there have been discovered but two or three spies; and there was only one, Landeck, to get up a journal of denunciations more vile than the Figaro. justice was soon done, for no proscription has been more careful of its dignity. One ex-member of the Council of the Commune had to defend himself before the refugees for having received money from the deputies of the Extreme Left. Never was the commemorative meeting of the 18th March better attended than that of 1876 during the debate on the amnesty, for one and all would have blushed to hide their colours at such a moment. No doubt, like any other proscription, that of 1871 has its groups and its animosities, but all these opinions disappear behind the red flag escorting the coffin of a comrade. No doubt there have been virulent manifestoes, which, however, only affect their authors. Finally, these exiles have not forgotten their brothers of New Caledonia, and they have opened a permanent subscription for them, which has its centre in London. Poor help, no doubt; but this mite from the exiles goes and says to the unfortunate convict of the Commune, ‘Courage, brother! thy comrades do not forget thee; they honour thee.’ It is the hand of the wounded held out to the dying.

Twenty-five thousand men, women, and children killed during the battle or after; three thousand at least dead in the prisons, the pontoons, the forts, or m consequence of maladies contracted during their captivity; thirteen thousand seven hundred condemned, most of them for life; seventy thousand women, children, and old men deprived of their natural supporters or thrown out of Prance; one hundred and eleven thousand victims at least – that is the balance-sheet of bourgeois vengeance for the solitary insurrection of the 18th March.

What a lesson of revolutionary vigour given to the working men! The governing classes shoot en masse without taking the trouble to select the hostages. Their vengeance lasts not an hour; neither years nor victims appease it, they make of it an administrative function, methodical and continuous.

For four years the Rural Assembly allowed the courts-martial to work, and the Liberal element, which so many elections had sent up in great force, at once followed the track of the Rurals. One or two motions for amnesty were burked by the previous question. In the month of January, 1876, when the Rural Assembly broke up, it had removed a few convicts from one part of New Caledonia to another, shortened a few terms of imprisonment, and given full pardon to six hundred persons, condemned to the lightest penalties. The Caledonian reservoir remained intact.

But at the general elections the people did not forget the vanquished. In all the large towns Amnesty was the watchword, it was inscribed at the head of all the democratic programmes; at all the public meetings the question was put to the candidates. The Radicals, tears in their eyes and their hands on their fraternal hearts, pledged themselves to ask for a free and complete amnesty; even the Liberals promised ‘to wipe out the last traces of our civil discords,’ as the bourgeoisie is wont to say when it condescends to have the pavingstones cleaned which itself has reddened with blood.

The elections of February, 1876, were Republican. The famous Gambettist layers had come to the surface. A crowd of lawyers, Liberal landlords, had carried away the provinces in the name of liberty, reforms, appeasement. The Minister of the reaction, Buffet, was beaten along the whole line, even in Rural corners. The Radical papers declared the democratic Republic once for all founded; and one of these in its enthusiasm cried, ‘May we be cursed if we do not close the era of revolutions!’

The hopes for amnesty became now a certainty. No doubt this was the boon by which the reparative Chamber would signalise its joyous advent. A convoy of convicts was about to set sail for New Caledonia. Victor Hugo summoned the President, MacMahon, to adjourn the departure until the discussion and the certainly favourable decision of the two Chambers. A petition, hurriedly organized, in a few days had over a hundred thousand signatures. Soon the question of the amnesty effaced all others, and the Ministry insisted upon an immediate discussion.

Five propositions had been laid on the table. One only demanded the full and complete amnesty. The others excepted the crimes qualified as common crimes, and amongst which were classed newspaper articles. The Chamber appointed a commission to draw up a report. Seven commissioners out of ten declared against all the propositions.

The new layers were manifesting themselves. It was always this same middle-class, bare of ideas and courage, hard to the people, timid before Caesar, pettifogging and jesuitical. The workmen already shot down in June, 1848, by an Assembly of Republicans were to see in 1876 a Republican Assembly rivet the chain forged by the Rurals.

The motion for a full and complete amnesty was supported by those same Radicals who had combated the Commune or abetted M. Thiers. They were now the democratic lions of a Paris without a Socialist press, without popular tribunes, without a history of the Commune, watched by the courts-martial, always on the look-out for more victims, bereft of all revolutionary electors. In this town which he had helped to bleed, there were arrondissements which disputed the honour of electing Louis Blanc. The deputy of Montmartre was the same man who, on the 18th March, had congratulated Lecomte on the capture of the cannon, M. Clémenceau.

He made a jejune, garbled, timid exposé of the immediate causes of the 18th March, but took good care not to touch upon the veritable causes. Other Radicals, in order to make the vanquished more interesting, strove to lower them. ‘You are absolutely mistaken as to the character of this revolution,’ said M. Lockroy very grandly. ‘You see m it a social revolution, where there has really been only a fit of hysterics and an attack of fever.’ M. Floquet, nominated in the most revolutionary arrondissement, the one in which Delescluze had fallen, called the movement ‘detestable.’ M. Marcou wisely declared that the Commune was ‘an anachronism.’

No one even in the Extreme Left dared courageously to tell the country the truth. ‘Yes; they were right to cling to their arms, these Parisians, who remembered June and December; yes, they were right to maintain that the monarchists were plotting for a revolution; yes, they were right to struggle to the death against the advent of the priest.’ No one dared to speak of the massacres, to call the Government to account for the bloodshed. They were even less outspoken than the Enquete Parlementaire. It is evident from this weak and superficial discussion that they only wanted to redeem their word given to their electors.

To advocates who stooped so low the answer was easy enough. As M. Thiers and Jules Favre had done on the 21st March, 1871, the Minister Dufaure pertinently set forth the true question at issue. ‘No, gentlemen,’ said he, ‘this was not a communal movement; this was in its ideas, its thoughts, and even in its acts, the most radical revolution which has ever been undertaken in the world.’ And the reporter of the Commission: ‘There have been hours in our contemporary history when amnesty may have been a necessity, but the insurrection of the 18th March cannot from any point of view be compared with our civil wars. I see a formidable insurrection, a criminal insurrection, an insurrection against all society. No, nothing obliges us to give back to the condemned of the Commune the rights of citizens.’ The immense majority applauded Dufaure, singing the praises of the courtsmartial, and not a Radical had the courage to protest, to defy the Minister to produce a single document, a single regular judgment. It would be easy to retort to this Extreme Left: ‘Silence, pharisees, who allow the people to be massacred and then come supplicating for them; mute or hostile during the battle, grandiloquent after their defeat.’ Admiral Fourichon denied that the convicts of the Commune are put on the same footing as the others; denied their ill-treatment; said the convicts lived in a very garden of flowers. Some intransigents having stated that, ‘The torture has been re-established,’ this delicious answer was vouchsafed them, ‘It is we whom you put to the torture.’

On the 18th May, 1876, 396 noes against 50 ayes rejected the full and complete amnesty. Gambetta did not vote. The next day they discussed one proposition of amnesty, which excluded those condemned for acts qualified as common crimes by the courts-martial.

The Commission again rejected this motion, saying that it must be left to the mercy of the Government, which had promised a considerable number of pardons. The Radicals discussed a little to save appearances. M. Floquet said, ‘It is not on a question of generosity and mercy that we should ever doubt of the intentions of the Government,’ and the proposition was thrown over.

Two days after, in the Senate, Victor Hugo asked for the amnesty in a speech in which he drew a comparison between the defenders of the Commune and the men of the 2nd December. His proposition was not even discussed.

Two months after, MacMahon completed this hypocritical comedy by writing to the Minister-at-War, ‘Henceforth no more prosecutions are to take place unless commanded by the unanimous sentiment of honest people.’ The honest officers understood. The condemnations continued. Some persons condemned by default, who had ventured to return to France on the strength of the hopes of the first days, had been captured; the sentences against them were confirmed. The organizers of working men’s groups were mercilessly struck when their connection with the Commune could be established.[266] In November, 1876, the courts-martial pronounced sentences of death.[267]

This merciless tenacity alarmed public opinion to such an extent that the Radicals were again obliged to bestir themselves a little. Towards the end of 1876 they demanded that the Chamber should put a stop to the prosecutions, or at least limit them. An illusory law was voted; the Senate threw it out; our Liberals reckoned upon that.

The mercy of MacMahon was on a par with the rest. The day after the rejection of the motion for an amnesty, Dufaure had installed a consulting Commission of Pardons, composed of functionaries and reactionaries carefully culled by himself. The penitentiary establishments in France then contained 1,600 persons condemned for participation in the Commune, and the number of the transports rose to about 4,400. The new commission continued the system of the former one, commuted some penalties, granted pardons of a few weeks or a few months, even liberated two or three condemned who were dead. A year after its institution it had recalled from New Caledonia a hundred at the utmost of the least interesting of the prisoners.

Thus the Liberal Chamber continued the vengeance of the Rural Assembly; thus the bourgeois Republic appeared to the working men as hostile to their rights, more implacable perhaps than the Monarchists, justifying the remark of one of M. Thiers’ Ministers, ‘It is above all the Republicans who must be adverse to the amnesty.’ Once again there was justified the instinct of the people on the 18th March, when they perceived in the conservative republic held out to them by M. Thiers an anonymous oppression worse than the Imperialist yoke.

At the present time, six years after the massacres, near fifteen thousand men, women, and children are maintained in New Caledonia or in exile.[268]

What hope remains? None. The bourgeoisie has been too much frightened. The cries for amnesty, the blazoned-forth elections, will not disquiet the conservative republicans or monarchists. All the apparent concessions will only be so many snares. The most valiant, the most devoted, will die in the penal colony, in the Peninsula Ducos, in the Ile des Pins.

It belongs to the workmen to do their duty so far as it is possible today.

The Irish, after the Fenian insurrection, opened hundreds of public subscriptions for the benefit of the victims. Near £1,200 were devoted to their defence before the tribunals. The three men hanged at Manchester received on the morning of their death the formal promise that their families should want for nothing. This promise was kept. The parents of the one, the wife of the other, were provided for, the children were educated, dowered. In Ireland alone the donations for the families exceeded £5,000. When the partial amnesty was granted, all Irish people rushed forward to help the amnestied. A single paper, the Irishman, in a few weeks received £1,000, for the most part in penny and sixpenny subscriptions. In one single donation the Irish of America sent them £4,000, and the poorest of the poor Irish, the emigrants of New Zealand, over £240. And this was not the outburst of one day. In 1874 the Political Prisoners’ Family Fund still received £425. The total of the subscriptions exceed £10,000. Finally, in 1876, a few Fenians chartered a vessel and carried off some of their comrades still retained in Australia.

In France all the subscriptions for the families of the condemned of the Commune have not exceeded £8,000. The Irish victims numbered only a few hundreds; those of Versailles must be counted by thousands.

Nothing has been done for the transported ‘convicts’. The Greppos, Louis Blancs and Co., who, without mandate, without any surveillance, have arrogated to themselves the right of centralizing the subscriptions, of distributing them at Pleasure, have thus formed themselves a retinue out of the families of those whom they had betrayed. They have refused to transmit anything to the convicts, that is to say, to the most necessitous, who, six thousand leagues from France, pine away without resources and with no possibility of work.

Do you understand, working men, you who are free? You now know what the whole situation is and what the men are. Remember the vanquished not for a day, but at all hours. Women, you whose devotion sustains and elevates their courage, let the agony of the prisoners haunt you like an everlasting nightmare. Let all workshops every week put something aside from their wages. Let the subscriptions no longer be sent to the Versaillese committee, but made over to loyal hands. Let the Socialist party attest its principles of international solidarity and its power by saving those who have fallen for it.


[256] ‘We all recollect one of our comrades, Corcelles, who had contracted pulmonary phthisis of the gravest form. He could scarcely keep himself on his legs when crawling before the Commission. To the President’s usual question he answered by a pitiful smile only, and while one of the younger members of the Commission, moved probably to pity at the sight of the walking corpse, bent himself towards the ear of the old surgeon, doubtless with the view of begging a respite, the latter retorted. loud enough to be heard by the patient and several other prisoners, ‘Bah! the sharks will want something to eat.’ And the sharks did have something to eat; less than three weeks after we were out at sea our friend Corcelles was dead, and we committed his remains to the last common reservoir.’ We must give the name of this friend of sharks; his name is Dr. Chanal. ‘Out of the four thousand condemned who passed in file before him, ten cases of exemption are not known. And perhaps the motives which dictated this may be better judged when the following facts are known. M. Edmond Adam, deputy of the Seine, having come to the Ile de Ré in order to visit M. H. Rochefort, who was shut up there, had a young woman present herself at his hotel, who proposed to him, for the modest sum of 1000 francs, to procure from the chief-surgeon a respite for his friend on his departure. She had but one word to say, remarked she, and the old man was under her orders.’ (Account by two escaped prisoners from New Caledonia, Paschal Grousset and Jourde, published by The Times, 27th June 1874.)

[257] The Australian and English journal: ‘The news of the convict ship the Orne, transmitted through the English press, is inexact in all points. Far from counting 420 cases of scurvy, this vessel had hardly 360 cases.’

[258] Report of the Commission of Pardons, presented in January 1876, by MM. Martel and F. Voisin.

[259] In the Ile des Pins, 900 condemned received between them all 500 hectaries (about 100 acres). ‘We have been mistaken as to the resources offered by the Ile des Pins.’ philosophically remarked the Minister of Marine in 1876. ‘1 said so three years ago,’ answered M. Georges Périn.

[260] ‘Admiral Ribourt, in his Inquiry, declares that during the year 1873 the engineering department had paid the condemned in the peninsula 110,525 francs. We must then leave off saying that the convicts won’t work.’ (Speech of M. Georges Périn in favour of an amnesty, Sitting of the 17th May 1876.)

[261] An overlooker of the first class had been condemned for an attempt to murder; another, decorated with the cross of the Légion d’Honneur, sentenced to seven years’ hard labour for attempting to murder his wife. Many of them were every day condemned for drunkenness.

[262] Details taken from the very correct and by no means exaggerated relation which Paschal Grousset and Jourde published in The Times after their escape. It has since been republished as a pamphlet.

[263] Two notorious murderers.

[264] The Pole condemned for having shot at the Tsar in Paris.

[265] One of them has given a complete account of their escape, together with some interesting details on New Caledonia: Un Voyage de Circumnavigation, by A. Baillere.

[266] On the 22nd December 1876, Baron, ex-delegate of the accountants of Paris to the Workmen’s Congress, was summoned before the third court-martial, which accused him of having been one of the secretaries of the delegation of war during the Commune. Baron was condemned to transportation in a fortress. During the examination the president said, ‘The Court will take notice that the accused still has the same sentiments as those which animated him in 187 1, for in 1876 we have seen that he took part in the Workmen’s Congress.’

[267] Appendix XXXVIII.

[268] Even in the month of April 1877 another ship, having 506 condemned to transportation, has been despatched from France to New Caledonia.

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