Paul Lafargue

1842-1911 • Cuba

Socialist • Parti ouvrier • Laura Marx

Lafargue first visited London and met Karl Marx in 1865. He married Laura Marx in 1868 and with Jules Guesde was one of the founders of the French Workers’ Party. Lenin came to see him on his first trip to Paris in 1895. Jaurès, Lenin and Keir Hardie all spoke at his and Laura’s joint funeral in 1911 after they committed suicide together.

  • 47 rue du Cherche-Midi: Paul Lafargue and Laura Marx, his wife, move in to a flat here on 1 December 1868. In July 1869 Marx made a secret 6-day trip to Paris to see them (using the pseudonyme Alan williams). The couple committed suicide together here in 1911.
  • 51 avenue de Flandre: In 1869-1870 Lafargue worked on Henri Rochefort‘s republican newspaper La Marseillaise with Victor Noir (before his assassination by Napoleon III’s cousin) and Prosper-Oliver Lissagaray.

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Pierre Lambert / Boussel

1920 – 2008 • France

Communist • Trotskyist • Parti des travailleurs

One of the few leaders of the fragmented French Trotskyist left to actually put themselves up for an electoral test, in 1988 Lambert stood in the Presidential elections for a ‘Movement for a Labour Party’ and did miserably (116,823 votes).

In 1992 he founded the Parti des Travailleurs (Labour/Workers’ Party) that dissolved itself into the Parti ouvrier indépendant (Independent workers’ party) in 2008.

Arguably, one of his main legacies was the fact that a former member, Lionel Jospin, was prime minister in a cohabitation government with the corrupt President Jacques Chirac from 1997 to 2002, and that several leading trade unionists from the anti-Communist Force ouvrière trade union confederation acknowledged his influence.

Of Russian Jewish parentage Pierre Boussel joined the Communist Youth at the age of fourteen and became a Trotskyist soon afterwards when he failed to understand how the PCF could abandon its anti-militarist positions after the Soviet Union signed the Franco-Soviet treaty of mutual assistance in May 1935.

Some of the tiny numbers of Trotskyists and their sympathisers like Lambert decided to join Maurice Pivert‘s ‘Revolutionary Left’ tendency from 1935 and then the PSOP, the breakaway Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (Socialist workers and peasants party). This was set up in 1938 and had around 8-10,000 members.

It was here that Lambert met Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier (whose membership the PSOP refused). In December 1938 he joined their tiny group first established in March 1936, the Parti communiste internationaliste.

The PSOP, however, decided quickly to expel those like Lambert who attended a meeting of ‘friends’ of the ‘Truth’ newspaper on May 30 1939. This had taken place at the Auger restaurant in the Brasserie du Commerce at No. 48, Rue des Archives, and the expulsions by the PSOP took place a few days later, on June 3 1939.

During the German Occupation Lambert worked clandestinely with the otherTrotskyists in the small circle. On February 15 1940 he was arrested and convicted of threatening the security of the state with a three-year jail sentence. He was being transferred during the collapse of the French army in May 1940 and was able to escape and reestablish clandestine contacts in Paris.

While working to rebuild the CGT under the Occupation, as early as October 1943 he argued for the unification of the divided French Trotskyist groups.

After the war Lambert became part of the leadership of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI producing the journal ‘Truth’ (La Vérité ) from 46, Rue de l’Arbre Sec.

In 1952 the PCI split. Lambert led the faction that opposed Pablo‘s strategy of entry into the Communist Party and insisted on maintaining an open revolutionary organisation.

Within the Fourth International  Lambert was aligned with James P Cannon in the USA and Gerry Healy in Britain, though he later broke with both. Over the years his organisation had several names, but the group was generally known by his name as the “Lambertistes”.

During the Algerian war the Lambertistes supported the Mouvement National Algérien of Messali Hadj, the bitter rivals of the FLN, who fought a savage war with their fellow nationalists, leaving some four thousand dead on French soil.

On 16 January 1955 Lambert and Piveau organised a meeting demanding the release of Hadj at No. 8 Rue Danton, in the meeting room of the ‘Knowledge Societies’ (Hôtel des sociétés savantes). This led to very bitter relations with the other French Trotskyists, who supported the FLN.

In 1968 it was a member of the Lambertist organisation, Yvon Rocton [1938-2008], who led the very first strike and occupation at Sud-Aviation in Nantes. That sparked off the wave of workplace occupations eventually involving ten million workers.

In 1988 Lambert stood in the presidential election, but obtained only 0.38% of the vote.

Lambert’s insistence on the importance of the history of the movement perhaps explains why a number of France’s most important left-wing historians have been members of his organisation – Pierre Broué [1926-2005], a specialist in the history of communism, Jean-Jacques Marie [b 1937], a biographer of Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, Benjamin Stora [b. 1950], expert on the Algerian war, and Jean Marc Schiappa [b. 1956], an authority on Babeuf and Buonarroti.

Some 2,000 people attended Boussel’s funeral at the Père Lachaise cemetery, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon  and the three FO-CGT trade union general secretaries who followed Leon Jouhaux from 1963 to 2018, André Bergeron, Marc Blondel and Jean-Claude Mailly.

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Alexandre Ledru-Rollin

1897 – 1874 • France

Republican • Universal suffrage • Second Republic

A lawyer and key figure in the left republican resistance to King Louis-Philippe in 1846-1848. His call for universal male suffrage is enacted under the Second Republic. He lived in exile from 1849 to 1871.

George Sand (on the left in this critical cartoon) did write several of Ledru-Rollin’s ministerial directives between March and May 1848

  • 10 rue François Miron: Birthplace of Ledru-Rollin
  • 11 rue des Bourdonnais: Ledru-Rollin, Blanc, Cavaignac, Arago and Flocon set up the office of the republican democratic journal La Réforme at this address on 29 July 1843. On 24 February 1848 this is the headquarters of the left republicans, who draw up a left list here to become members of the Provisional Government.
  • 14 Rue Davy: In 1847 Ledru-Rollin attends secret meetings with other republicans including Blanqui, Caussidière and Barbès. The police spy on the meeting place after being given information by an informer, but Ledru-Rollin narrowly misses being arrested.
  • Palais Royal garden: This is renamed the Palais National on 26 February 1848, and the Rights of Man club sets up there. Ledru-Rollin, Arago, Blanc, Flocon and Albert are involved as are Lamartine and others.
  • 4 rue Serpente: Ledru-Rollin’s home in 1848 when he was Minister of the Interior in the provisional government.
  • Paris Town Hall, 10 place de l’ Hôtel de Ville: On May 15 1848 Ledru-Rollin and Lamartine give the orders to the National Guard to evict the demonstrators, who included virtually all those left republicans they had worked with over the previous ten years, from the Town Hall.Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle
  • 81 Avenue Denfert-Rochereau: Ledru-Rollin’s home while he was organising the first elections using universal male suffrage in 1848.
  • 4 Rue de Tournon: in 1848 the Hôtel  de Montmorency was the town house where both Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin stayed in the centre of Paris, three minutes walk to the Luxembourg Palace. George Sand lived with her son just round the corner in the Rue de Condé while she worked for Ledru-Rollin between March and May 1848.
  • Palais du Luxembourg
  • 270-292, Rue Saint-Martin. Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. After the vicious repression of the demonstration that turned into a riot of 13 June 1849 with cavalry charges at the demonstrators and seven being killed at the barricade at No. 261, in a protest against French troops being sent against the Roman Republic, Ledru-Rollin, Raspail, Arago and Considerant met at the Conservatoire to decide their next steps.

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Henri Lefebvre

1901 – 1991 • France

Communist • Marxist • Philosopher • Sociologist

Marxist philosoper of art and space and time, Lefebvre joined the Communist Party in 1928 with other surrealists. Fired from his teaching post under Vichy in 1941 he joined the resistance. He left the PCF in 1956 and taught sociology at Nanterre from 1965 to 1968.

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Fernand Léger

1881 – 1955 • France

Art • Anti-Fascist • Communist • Humanist

Already a well-known artist, in the 1930s Fernand Léger participated in anti-fascist marches and meetings, supported the Popular Front and joined the Communist Party aged 64 in 1945.

He trained at well known painting school, at 14 Rue de la Grande Chaumière, at the turn of the 20th century. Others who were trained there included Modigliani and Matisse.

By 1910 he had a studio in the Rue de l’ Ancienne Comédie, and was meeting other cubists every Tuesday at the Closerie des Lilas in the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

His interest in working people, and his concern about the need for mass education, emerged during his time in the trenches in the First World War. He wanted museums to open at night so ordinary people could visit them.

After nearly dying in a German mustard gas attack at Verdun Léger was demobilised and returned to live in Paris at 86, Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He joined the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (AEAR) in December 1932. On 21 March 1933 he spoke at a meeting held in the masonic hall at 16, rue Cadet chaired by André Gide, protesting against the Nazi terror imposed after the Reichstag Fire of February 27.

In 1935 and 1936 he debated with Aragon about the direction of painting, arguing that there had to be a ‘new realism’ with its origins in modern life. Leger always defended individual creativity.

At the International exhibition of 1937 a huge mural of his was displayed at the Pavilion of Discovery.

Léger’s optimism for humanity is suggested in his 1937 mural ‘The Transport of Powers’

Another massive paintings was on display at the Solidarity Pavilion. It was called ‘The CGT’s working class trade unionism’. I can’t find it anywhere, but that same year he produced an office ground plan for the Popular Front’s Minister of Education, Jean Zay.

Drawing by Leger of ground plan for the office of Jean Zay in 1937

All through the pre-war period Léger attended demonstrations and signed petitions against fascism, so in October 1940, he went to the US, believing he could not continue to paint under the German Occupation.

He returned to France in December 1945 and immediately joined the French Communist Party – an action that coincided with Picasso‘s similar decision that naturally made much bigger headlines.

While accepting his membership, Léger remained trebly suspect to the PCF. Not only, like Picasso, did he not paint to political orders, and often produced what the PCF considered ‘art that was inaccessible to the workers’; but also, unlike Picasso, he had left France between 1940 and 1945; and he had gone to live and work in the United States.

With his second wife, one of his pupils, Nadia Khodossievitch, he opened a studio and art school at 104, Boulevard de Clichy. His last ten years saw him paint prolifically and gain an international reputation.

In 1947 Fernand Léger painted this portrait of Paul Eluard author of the 1942 poem, ‘Liberty I write your name’

Despite being overshadowed within the peace movement by Picasso’s dove, Léger, whose left political leanings and anti-fascist record resonated in the inter-war decades, continued to support the Communist-inspired peace movement and the Communist Party up to his death in 1955. while all the time refusing to paint in the ‘socialist realist’ style the PCF, following Stalin, preferred.

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Lenin (Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov)

1870-1924 • Russia

Communist • Armand • 3rd International

Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov (Lenin) first visited Paris in June 1895 to meet Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, the first socialist to be elected to the French parliament and a leader of the French Workers’ Party, the POF, Parti ouvrier français.  On December 3 1911, ironically perhaps given Lenin’s political distance from Lafargue, Lenin was one of those who spoke at Paul and Laura’s joint funeral after their suicides on November 25.

Lenin used his first visit to read about the history of the 1848 Revolution at the City of Paris’s Carnavalet Museum iat 23 rue de Sévignés that was created in 1880.  It will be great to visit it again after its 2018-2019 renovation.

In 1902 and 1903 Lenin gave several university lectures under the pseudonym Mr Illine. He also spoke to Iskra political meetings at various locations in Paris while living most of the time in London. He would be put up by Russian exiles while lecturing in the Rue des Écoles.

Trotsky, also in exile, attended at least one of the lectures he gave on the Russian Agrarian question. On 25 February 1903 Trotsky and Lenin spoke at a conference on Iskra‘s agricultural policy.

In December 1902 Lenin and Trotksy, Krupskaya and Natalya, went together to see a show at the Comic Opera in Rue Favart. Lenin leant Trotsky a pair of shoes for the occasion since his were not presentable. Trotsky later complained they were too small: ‘I suffered awfully, and Lenin kept making fun of me the whole time’.

In 1902 and 1902 Lenin and Krupskaya were put up by a Russian exile in 3, Rue de l’Estrapade.

On December 10 1904 Lenin sat for the Russian Jewish sculptor Aronson in the Rue Vaugirard who produced a bust that won a gold medal at the Liege art show in 1906.

Lenin sat for Naoum Aronson in his studio iat 93 rue Vaugirard on December 10 1904. The bust was subsequently displayed in the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 World Fair in Paris.

A few years later Lenin and Trotsky met again in Paris. In 1910 they are recorded as playing chess together and with Guillaume Apollinaire at the La Closerie des Lilas café restaurant at the eastern end of the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

In May 1905 Lenin is recorded as having spoken at a meeting on ‘Our tasks’ at 8 rue Danton. He was back speaking again in May 1908 and used the Sainte-Geneviève library at 10 Place du Panthéon in research for his book on Materialism and Empirical Criticism.

in December 1908 on their arrival from Geneva after staying a couple of nights at the Hotel des Gobelins (24 or 27 Boulevard St Marcel), where Lenin’s younger sister was living at the time while studying at the Sorbonne, Krupskaya and he moved to a second-floor flat at 24 rue Beaunier with his sister and Krupskaya’s mother.

In July 1909 he and Krupskaya then moved to a 48m2 flat at 4 rue Marie Rose, living there until July 1912. It became the Paris Lenin museum, but was sold by the French Communist Party when it needed the money in 2007. [A plaque on the wall outside was taken down soon after.]

Lenin opened a bank account at the Credit Lyonnais branch at 19 avenue du Général Leclerc soon after arriving in Paris. The Café du Lion, just down the avenue at number 5, was where he used to organise meetings of the Bolshevik faction within the Russian Social Democrats.

Lenin used to regularly cycle the 20 minutes to the National Library in the Rue de Richelieu next to the Palais Royal until the bike was stolen one day. But Lenin’s life wasn’t all Bolshevism and research.

On October 13 1909 the news arrived in Paris that Spanish educationalist, anti-monarchist and anti-Church, Francisco Ferrer had been shot by a military tribunal after September’s bloody suppression of an uprising against Spain’s colonial war in Morocco at which Ferrer had not been present.

Hours later Lenin and Krupskaya (and Jean Jaures) went on a 20,000-strong protest demonstration that surrounded the Spanish Embassy (34 boulevard de Courcelles). When the cavalry were ordered to disperse the demonstrators, pistol shots killing a policeman answered the sabre attack,.

In 1909 the 40-year-old Lenin also quickly fell head over heels in love with the 35-year-old Inessa Armand, the mother of five who was also lecturing at the Russian revolutionary school in Paris. Observers wrote: ‘He doesn’t take his eyes off her’. In 1910 Lenin had organized for her to move into a flat next door to him at number 2, rue Marie Rose [No plaque there either.]

Not surprisingly, in 1910-12 Armand and Lenin used to pop out to the Cafe d’Orléans, at 43 avenue de Général Leclerc, 10 minutes from their flats. But that was knocked down and the current café with that name (on the opposite side of the Avenue) is even closer, but without enough charm to merit a drink when I walked by it.

When Lenin left Paris for the last time (heading towards Poland) in July 1912, his comrades held a farewell meal for him and Krupskaya at the Pavillion Montsouris restaurant at 20 rue Gazan.

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Pierre Leroux

1797 – 1871 • France

Cooperatism • Republican • Socialism

Leroux evolved from the elitist Saint-Simon movement to socialism, the term he was the first to coin in 1834. He saw fraternité as being central but being challenged by both liberté and égalité. He fought for mutualist and associationist socialism. Lived in exile from 1851 to 1860.

He died under the Paris Commune in April 1871 and was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.

  • 35 Quai des Grands Augustines (at the time no 40): Pierre Leroux’s birthplace in a small bar run by his parents
  • 14 Rue Champagne. Leroux attended the Lycee Champagne.
  • 6 rue Monsigny: Third floor office of the liberal newspaper Le Globe set up by Leroux and Paul-François Dubois in September 1824 before Leroux became a Saint-Simonien around 1830, when the paper becomes the organ of the Saint-Simoniens.
  • 4 rue des Poitevins: Printshop where Leroux worked when he launched Le Globe, and were it was printed.
  • 10 rue Jacob: Pauline Roland‘s address. Leroux also lived there for some time in 1832.
  • 26 rue des Saints-Pères: Office of La Revue encyclopédique where Leroux first used the word ‘socialism’ in an article published in March 1824 called ‘From Individualism to Socialism‘.
  • 20 rue de Savoie: Leroux was involved in setting up an illegal skilled workers’ association of Parisian typesetters here in 1839. Typesetting became the most unionised sector of Paris workers by the end of the 19th century.
  • 87 boulevard du Montparnasse: Leroux and George Sand set up the journal called the Revue des Indépendants  in 1841 in the Hunting lodge at this address.
  • 14 rue des Moulins (at the time 32, rue des Moulins, on the corner with la rue Neuve des Petits Champs): The location of the offices of the Franco-German Annals, where Leroux met Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, Cabet, Blanc and many other socialists in 1844.
  • Palais Royal garden: This was where in March 1848 Leroux, Barbès. Proudhon, Arago and others founded the Revolution Club.
  • 12 ter rue Coquillière: The office of The True Republic in whose March issue Leroux, Sand and Barbès argue that ‘Without social reform, there is absolutely no true Republic’.
  • Paris Town Hall, 10 place de l’ Hôtel de Ville: On 15 May 1848 Leroux is one of those who take over the Town Hall and proclaim a new government, before being thrown out and then arrested.
  • 3 rue Coq Héron: In 1848 the offices of two socialist papers set up by Leroux, ‘The Republic‘ and ‘The Organiser of Work‘ were both based at this address.

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Benny Lévy / Pierre Victor

1945 – 2003 • Eygpt

Maoist • Communism • Gauche prolétarienne

Leader of the Maoist Proletarian Left group in the early 1970s, Lévy became Sartre’s secretary from 1973 to 1980. He moved to Israel in 1997 and became a follower of the Rabbi Moshe Shapiro.

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Rosa Luxemburg

1871-1919 • Poland

Philosopher • Economist • Revolutionary

The Rue Riquet Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg lived most of her 48 years a long way east of Paris, mainly in Warsaw and Berlin. But a new garden has been named after her in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris. The Rue Riquet garden is next to the railway lines leading into Paris’ Gare de L’Est. A few kids were playing in the Jardin Luxemburg when I walked round. Trains kept passing in the background. 

The beautiful garden and play area opened in 2014, one hundred years after Luxemburg had spoken alongside the French socialist leader, Jean Jaurès, at a mass anti-war meeting in Brussels, on July 29 1914

Rosa Luxemburg and Jean Jaurès spoke at a mass anti-war meeting in Brussels on 19 July 1914

Just two days before Jaurès was murdered and a week before the First World War broke out. Luxemburg had travelled to Belgium as part of the last desperate efforts of the Second International to stop the war. With Karl Kautsky and Hugo Haase she represented Germany at that emergency meeting. Keir Hardie was there too, representing Britain. 

World War 1 

In his last ever public speech, given at Brussels’ Cirque Royal, Jaurès congratulated the 100,000 Berlin workers who had demonstrated against war the day before. And he added: ‘You will allow me to especially pay tribute to the courageous woman, Rosa Luxemburg, who fans the flames of her ideals close to the heart of the German working class’. 

Luxemburg had already spent a year in German prisons. She would return to Germany from Brussels to be jailed for most of the First World War. 

She was born in Russian-controlled Poland in 1871. A big anti-Jewish pogrom took place in Warsaw in 1881, and this direct experience of anti-Semitism took the ten-year-old girl towards anti-racist internationalist politics. 


The Lithuanian Leo Jogiches with whom Luxemburg fell in love in Zurich in 1890

At 16 she got involved with a small socialist group. At 18 she followed her brother and enrolled at Zurich University, where she met and fell in love with a Lithuanian student and already committed revolutionary socialist, Leo Jogiches

Together they set up the Polish Kingdom Social Democratic party (SDKP) and after enrolling for a doctorate in Zurich, Luxemburg travelled to Paris to edit their new paper, Sprawa robot¬nicza (Workers’ Cause), whose first issue appeared in July 1893. 

Plaque for the ‘International Activist’ Rosa Luxemburg put up in 2010 outside 21 rue Feutrier

Luxemburg stayed initially near the Sacré Coeur in northern Paris. She lodged with another Polish revolutionary, Adolf Warszawski (murdered by Stalin in 1937), and his wife. On International Women’s Day, 2010, one of the few plaques to leftists in Paris commemorating her was erected at 21 rue Feutrier

In 1895 Luxemburg moved to a third floor flat at 7, Avenue Reille in the 14th arrondissement, sharing with another revolutionary, Cezaryna Wanda Wojnarowska.

While editing Workers’ Cause, Luxemburg regularly used to research her thesis at the Polish Library on the Ile St Louis and the French National Library at the Palais Royal (as did Lenin 15 years later). Her doctorate on the Industrial development of Poland was accepted at Zurich University in 1897. 


Luxemburg and Jogiches were political comrades and lovers for over half of their too short adult lives. But Luxemburg complained bitterly from Paris that all he ever wrote to her was about what she should put in the paper. 

In one letter she wrote: ‘Dearest, I was so furious [with your last letter] that I wasn’t going to write again before I left [Paris]…. Your letters contain nothing, absolutely nothing that isn’t about Sprawa robot¬nicza … Not a word about anything new that has affected you personally…The only thing that unites us is the Cause and old shared feelings. I feel as little desire to come back to Zurich as I have to stay here…I’ve got masses of impressions and thoughts – but no-one to share them with! You?’ 

In 1898 she had a marriage of convenience with a German socialist to get German nationality and moved to Berlin. There, Jogiches finally joined her in 1900. Her intimate relationship with Jogiches ended in 1906 and during the next five years she had another lover, the son of Clara Zetkin

German SPD 

Luxemburg speaking at an SPD meeting in Stuttgart in 1907

In 1899 Luxemburg published ‘Social Reform or Revolution’, a critique of Eduard Bernstein. She criticised Lenin’s views on party organisation and advocated mass strikes rather than parliamentary activity. 

Her growing political and theoretical influence in Germany, her public debates with Lenin about the centralized party and nationalism, and her criticisms of Bernstein made her a leading figure in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). 

These qualities, coupled with her speaking Yiddish, French, Polish, Russian and German, led her to become a member of the Second International Bureau in 1903. In 1905 her experience of the Russian Revolution led her to theorise the role of the mass strike as a way of transforming the working class from a reactive to a proactive historical force. 


In 1912 a speech Luxemburg gave a speech on ‘Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle’ at the Second German SDP women’s rally. She argued: 

‘Women’s suffrage is the goal. But the mass movement to bring it about is not a job for women alone, but is a common class concern for women and men of the proletariat… the proletarian woman’s lack of political rights is a vile injustice.’ 

She ended her speech: ‘Fighting for women’s suffrage, we will also hasten the coming of the hour when the present society falls in ruins under the hammer strokes of the revolutionary proletariat.’ In 1918 she supported women’s sections being created within the Spartakus League. 

After the German Social Democrats (as did the French Socialists and British Labour Party) voted war credits in August 1914, Luxemburg organised a group of resistors. 

They included Karl Liebnecht, Frank Mehring, Paul Levi, Clara Zetkin and Jogiches. 

Spartakus League 

From jail Luxemburg continued to campaign against the war, and in 1917 created the Spartakus League as the far left of a new Independent SPD opposed to the war. 

After the failed January 1919 Spartakus uprising that she had not encouraged but supported once it began, Luxemburg was arrested again. 

Liebnecht and Luxemburg’s portraits are now displayed in the German Historical Museum in Berlin

On her way back to prison she was shot in the head by the officer commanding her guards. Her body was dumped in a canal and an army communique issued saying she had been killed by angry crowds. Karl Liebknecht was assassinated in the same way the same day. 

Luxemburg’s presumed body was only finally recovered in May. By then, Jogiches, who had started asking questions about her murder, had also been arrested and then ‘shot will trying to escape’. 

The Rue Riquet Rosa Luxemburg garden in December 2016

In winter it’s not always easy to find a red flower against a background of railway beams and shunter trains. But there was at least one in the Rosa Luxemburg garden when I walked through it.

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Edmond Maire

1931 – 2017 • France

Trade unionism • CFDT

Brought up a practising Catholic it was normal for Maire to initially join the Christian trade union CFTC, Committed Catholics were all asked by the Catholic Church to affiliate to the Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC) that had been set up in 1919 to counter the menace of Bolshevism.

Maire, however, became an agnostic and was influenced by Mendes-France and he joined the ‘new left’ PSU in 1960 and continued to support workers’ control until the mid- 1970s.

He also was very active in the formation of the (non-religious) CFDT in 1964 and became its General Secretary in 1971.

The formation of what by the 2010s is France’s largest membership trade union, the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail), was a key development. It emerged in 1964 taking with it nearly 90 percent of the then CFTC membership.

Responding to growing social tensions stimulated by De Gaulle’s tough incomes policy in a period of labour shortages and that eventually exploded in the strikes and occupations of May-June 1968, the overwhelming majority of CFTC members wanted a trade union centre that was both independent of the Catholic Church and more committed to the construction of a democratically structured economy and society. The 1964 report drafted by Maire motivating the change in name and statutes adopted by the founding congress described the new union’s common humanistic values:

Putting man before the machine, a man without money, trade union struggles are dominated by the demands of people at work, in society and in the world. It is by remaining faithful to the purpose of man, to the dignity of the individual – free, responsible, united – that it has always opposed totalitarianism of both right and left.

Quoted by Pierre Cours-Salies (1988: 83).

The new confederation retained many of the CFTC’s holistic values, but it also revisited the pre-1914 emphasis on trade union independence from outside influences – in its case from the Catholic Church.

The change to a secularised union resulted from the convergence of several trends. The new post-Second World War generation of CFTC activists and members were both younger and more likely to be manual workers than the older, generally white-collar workers. Their experiences in the Resistance had given them a stronger sense of working class solidarity than the earlier generation. There was also a new politics in the air.

The CFTC’s impatience with the French employers’ reluctance to permit any form of participation in the 1930s and 1940s had gradually led it to embrace a larger state role in the management of the economy and in arbitrating industrial relations. In the 1950s it attracted men like the young Jacques Delors, who ran its research centre between 1957 and 1961 and who was then appointed to work on the Fourth National Plan.

The new aim of ‘democratic planning’ the CFTC had embraced in 1959 further encouraged the revival of ideas of workers’ self-management and discussion of a ‘third way’ for advancing workers’ interests that lay somewhere between Catholicism and Communism. After 1968 it was this greater openness of the CFDT to ideas that encouraged the more dynamic Trotskyist groups to concentrate their members in that confederation rather than in FO.

The growing radicalism of the CFDT led it naturally towards a greater involvement in a perspective of struggle against the ‘blocked’ French society of the mid-1960s. Its values shifted towards a toleration of a societal form of bottom-up class struggle. While this was quite distinct from the top-down, structured and controlled, class struggle philosophy of the CGT, there nonetheless was a logic for the two confederations to come together and sign a joint action agreement in 1966.

At its 1970 Congress the CFDT embraced workers’ control, planning and collective ownership of the means of production. In many ways the CFDT had become more radical than the heavily bureaucratic CGT, still tied closely to the political line of the Communist Party.

However, with the PCF’s 1977 decision to end its left unity agreement with the Socialist Party, the growing economic crisis and the end of trade union growth, the 1978 CFDT Congress announced the beginning of a shift back to its traditional values of societal integration and away from those of class struggle.

Edmond Maire, CFDT general secretary from 1971 to 1988, then successfully ‘re-centred’ the CFDT on a more ‘moderate’ strategy of distancing itself from major struggles, such as the 1986 railway workers’ and student strike waves, and of associating itself as closely as possible with the concept of social partnership with the employers.

Maire also increasingly supported the employers’ argument that what was needed was more ‘social dialogue’ at firm-level – precisely the level at which French unions were weakest – and questioned the need for further legislative support for the trade unions, criticising the Socialist government’s ‘dirigiste and archaic conception of industrial relations’, and denouncing an ‘authoritarian left that puts a Jacobin state into the saddle’. 

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Stéphane Mallarmé

1842 – 1898 France

Poet • Literature • Dreyfus

Stéphane Mallarmé was a major symbolist poet who joined Zola and others in 1898 just before his own death in campaigning for Dreyfus to be acquitted of treason and released in the defining dividing line between left and right in France.

Stéphane Mallarmé painted by his friend Édouard Manet, who did the illustrations of Edgar Poe’s ‘The Crow’ that Mallarmé translated in 1875.

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Georges Marchais

1920 – 1997 France

Communist • PCF General Secretary

Marchais joined the Communist Party in 1947 and started to work full-time for the PCF in 1956. General Secretary from 1972 util 1994, he was also a deputy in the National Assembly from 1973 to 1997. His shift towards eurocommunism had little effect on the PCF’s declining membership and vote in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Karl Marx

1818-1883 Germany

Communism, First International, Parti ouvrier

Karl Marx’s Jewish father, Heinrich, studied law in the French law school in Mainz and converted to Protestantism when Russia annexed the Rhineland to keep his legal job. Karl, himself, studied at the French secondary school in Trier on the Moselle river that flows through France to Germany.

It was not, therefore, by accident that the 25-year-old newly-married young neo-Hegelian atheist student chose to emigrate to Paris when political opposition became impossible in Colonge. Karl and Jenny von Westphalen lived in Paris from October 1843 to January 1845.

Jenny von Westphalen iat about the time of her 1836 engagement to her childhood friend in Trier, Karl Marx, whom she married in 1843. Over the next 14 years they had seven children, of whom only three daughters survived into adulthood.

They stayed in two different addresses in the Rue Vaneau. Arnold Ruge had invited Marx to Paris to work on the German-French Annals based at No. 22.

Editorial meetings of the Annals took place at Henry Bornstein‘s editorial offices of the fortnightly Vorwärts! Pariser Deutsche Zeitschrift Forward! Paris German Journal] that appeared in 1844. The meetings with French leftists included Marx as well as Etienne Cabet, Proudhon, Pierre Leroux and Louis Blanc. The German idea of collaboration didn’t go down to well with the French socialists, however, and only one double issue of the Annals was ever published in February 1844.

Ruge put the couple up at No. 23, where one flat was already the home of the German leader of the League of the Just, German Maurer. With approximately 60,000 German workers in Paris at this time the League became a migrant organisation, supported by many communistic skilled workers, and meeting regularly in a now unknown venue in the Cours de Vincennes that links the Place de la Nation to the Porte de Vincennes.

There were fields and a pond to the Eastern side of Rue Vaneau, part of the estate belonging to the then ruling Orléans branch of the Bourbon family, whose huge house is now known as the Matignon palace. This became the official residence of French prime ministers in 1935.

Marx published two articles at this time, the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and On the Jewish Question‘, where he began to develop the argument that the working class was the key agent of social change. Flora Tristan had also placed the working class at the centre of political action a year earlier, and in The Holy Family Engels had written a brief defence of her from the Young Hegelians. Between April and August 1844 Marx wrote the 1844 Paris Manuscripts now known as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

After their first child, Jenny, was born on 1 May 1844, Marx and Jenny rented a 3-room flat on the other side of the street at No. 38 Rue Vaneau. This was where guests such as Engels, Proudhon and the Russian, Bakunin came to discuss politics.

While he lived in Paris Marx met with many leftists and republicans. He visited Daniel Stern‘s salon on the Quai Voltaire. He met with Proudhon several times in a bar in the Rue Coquillière from October 1843 onwards, and also visited him in his student room home at 36 Rue Mazarine. Proudhon was also invited to Marx’s flat at 38 Rue Vaneau.

On one walk I strolled the 35 minutes from there, across the Pont Royal to the site of the Café de la Régence on the Rue St Honoré opposite the Palais Royal and where, today, No 155 Rue St Honore is at an angle with the Rue St Thomas du Louvre. This was where Marx met the 24-year-old German socialist Friedrich Engels on August 28 1844, and where Marx first talked to Engels about the concept of historical materialism.

Friedrich Engels in his mid-20s, about the time he began working with with Marx on The Holy Family

Marx, then 26, had read and liked Engels’ articles on the Condition of the Working Class in England, and they had corresponded. So it wasn’t an accidental meeting. Upstairs was the centre of the French chess circle – and allegedly characters as diverse as Robespierre, Napoleon and Louis Philippe had all played chess there (not together!). The cafe also doubled as one of Paris’ four cafe/shop post offices at the time.

After agreeing to collaborate with Marx on what was published in 1845 as The Holy Family, Engels continued on his way home to Germany on September 6 1844. By then the core of what became known as ‘Marxism’ had already taken shape in Marx’s thoughts.

Marx was expelled from Paris to Brussels on February 3 1845 after an article he wrote in Vorwärts resulted in pressure being put on Guizot, Louis-PHilippe’s prime minster, by the Prussian king. There, Marx completed the Theses on Feuerbach, arguing that the world only changes through actual, physical, material activity.

Marx was briefly in Paris again in 1848 during the revolution before leaving for Cologne in April. On 5 March 1848, after arriving from Brussels he spoke at a meeting of the Central branch of the Society for the Rights of Man and the Citizen in the Rue St Martin, Marx spent several nights at the Hotel Manchester at 1, Rue de Gramont.

After a few nights there he moved in to the headquarters of the German Communist League at 10 rue Commines (the old Rue Neuve de Ménilmontant) in the Marais. While he was in Paris on March 8 he helped found the German Workers’ Club, and attended meetings of the German Democratic Club that met in the Mulhouse Bar at 8, Boulevard des Italiens. Others present at that time were Ludwig Feuerbach and Arnold Ruge.

Marx left Paris for Cologne at the beginning of April 1848, where he would edit ‘The New Rhine gazette’.

Back in Paris again the following year after his expulsion from Germany, Marx and his family lived from June to August in a couple of rooms in the Rue de Lille under the name of Meyen.

Marx was an observer of the start of the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle demonstration against French intervention against the Roman Republic on June 13 1849. The Left Republican contingent set off from their meeting place at 6, rue Thérèse (then called the Rue du Hasard).

Marx’s next visit to Paris was under the false identity of Alan Williams to spend a week in July 1869 with his daughter Laura, and son-in-law, Paul Lafargue at their home at 47 Rue du Cherche-Midi.

Paul and Laura Lafargue about the time they moved in to the Rue Hautefeuille in 1869.

Marx’s final visit to Paris was in June 1881 . He stayed with his Parisian first-born daughter, Jenny, at her and Charles Longuet’s house in Argenteuil for three months after returning (still ill) from a break in Algeria that Engels had hoped would improve his health.

Jennychen’s own health was poor, although she disguised this from her father. In September 1881 she gave birth to a fifth child [Jenny Longuet (1881-1952)] before dying four months later at Argenteuil from bladder cancer. She was 38 year old.

Marx’s wife Jenny died in December 1881, shortly after he returned to England. The news of Jennychen’s death devastated him early in 1882. He died in London just over a year later at 64 on 14 March 1883 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in an area reserved for agnostics and atheists.

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Pierre Mendès-France

1907-1982 • France

Anti-fascist • Radical • Socialism • PSU

The only deputy who voted against French athletes competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics was the youngest member of the national assembly, the son of an active Dreyfusard non-practising Sephardic Jew: Pierre Mendès-France.

In the 1950s and 1960s Mendès-France shifted to the political left and became a major influence on left reformist socialism.

There was only one vote in the National Assembly against sending French athletes to the August 1936 Berlin Olympic games: Pierre Mendès-France. The Communists abstained. The athletes won 7 gold medals and 6 each in silver and bronze.

As a young Paris-born lawyer, aged just 25 (the minimum age then permitted) Pierre Mendès-France was elected as a Radical Party deputy in 1932. At 17 he had joined the Ligue d’action universitaire républicaine et socialiste (Republican and socialist Action League) fighting for free speech in the universities and against the growing extreme right, and was elected its leader in 1927.

Along with Jean Zay, Mendès-France was a left ‘Young Turk’ within the Radical Party, arguing against its majority centre-right for the alliance with the Socialists and Communists that became the Popular Front. He became a junior minister in Blum‘s second short-lived government in 1938, and argued for greater material support to be given to the Spanish Republican government and against appeasing Hitler. The rejection of his anti-corruption and austerity economic plan by the Senate led to Blum resigning as Prime Minister after just one month.

Mobilised in 1939 he asked to be transferred from Syria to a potential combat zone. He was lightly wounded in the North of France in June 1940. He returned to Paris and then immediately followed the other National Assembly deputies to Bordeaux. He, Zay and others who wanted to continue the fight, heard De Gaulle’s London appeal for resistance and boarded Le Massilia steamboat that was heading for Morocco. Once there he was arrested by the Vichy authorities on August 31 1940, forcibly returned to France and imprisoned at Clermont-Ferrand.

On May 9 1941 he was tried for desertion before a military tribunal and sentenced to six years imprisonment. A month later he escaped and made his way to Switzerland and then Portugal before getting to London.

He joined the Free French Lorraine squadron of French bomber aircraft within the RAF, and flew several missions before he became Finance Commissioner in De Gaulle’s Algiers provisional government in November 1943.

The Lorraine (342) RAF Squadron was set up with Free French aircrew in 7 April 1943 at RAF West Raynham to carry out daylight bombing raids on France.

In July 1944 Mendès-France, a supporter of what became known as Keynesianism, led the French delegation at the Bretton Woods conference, where Keynes largely reshaped the global monetary system. In September PMF (as he became known) was made Economics Minister, but resigned from that in April 1945 in disagreement with De Gaulle’s economic policy.

PMF’s political conviction that capitalism had to be free but tightly constrained led him to create a left Republican current. However, although re-elected as Deputy for the Eure constituency to the North-West of Paris in 1946, initially PMF largely played only an international role, first in the World Bank and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and helping create the International Monetary Fund.

This changed with PMF’s growing criticism of the French war in Indochina. After the catastrophic defeat of the French army at Điện Biên Phủ on 7 May 1954, René Coty, the second president of the Fourth Republic, invited PMF to form a government. On June 18 he promised to bring peace in Indochina within a month, and his nomination was overwhelmingly approved by the National Assembly.

The French army was humiliated by Ho Chi Minh‘s Viet Minh troops under General Giap in the May 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Half of the French troops were killed leaving 11,721 prisoners, of whom only a third survived the 500 km forced march to prisoner of war camps.

By July 20 1954 the Geneva Peace Agreement had ensured France’s withdrawal from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and as prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs, PMF also granted self-government to Tunisia.

PMF’s government collapsed in February 1955, four months after the start of the Algerian war of independence, brought down by the votes of Communist, centre-right and extreme right (Poujadist) deputies.

In January 1956 PMF’s centre-left Republic Front secured 80 deputies (with Mitterrand’s group) in national elections but the Socialist leader, Guy Mollet, with 95 deputies became prime minister. PMF resigned from that government in May 1956 questioning its pursuit of the Algerian war.

In June 1958 PMF was one of the most outspoken French politicians opposed to De Gaulle coming to power on the basis of the military coup by the French Army in Algeria.

Leading the huge 28 May 1958 anti-fascist demonstration in defence of the Republic were Pierre Mendes France (2nd left), Edouard Daladier (in raincoat) and Francois Mitterrand (sixth to the left). Jacques Duclos of the PCF was also present. The same day the President Coty asked De Gaulle to form a government.

In the September referendum on the new Constitution putting all political power into the hands of a president elected by universal suffrage PMF campaigned against De Gaulle. He then lost his seat as a deputy in the October 1958 general election.

PMF resigned from the Radical Party, which supported the Fifth Republic constitution. For the first time he openly declared himself a socialist.

I’ve always defended, even at the heart of the Radical Party, ideas that made those who criticised me consider me a socialist. And it’s true in the sense of the socialism of Jaurès and Léon Blum, because I think I have learned from their experiences and have understood their message.

In October 1959 PMF joined the new Parti Socialiste Autonome (PSA), that stood for democratic, humanist and innovatory socialism. In May 1960 this group merged with other parts of the French New Left to become the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU).

He was elected a PSU deputy for the Isère constituency in March 1967, and on May 27 1968 he was the most significant mainstream politician to attend the Second Left’s 30,000-strong meeting at the Charléty football stadium. Called by the non-PCF and non-revolutionary left student and worker trade unions and supported by the PSU it provided an opportunity for PMF to speak that he did not take.

The huge Second Left meeting at the Charléty football stadium on 27 May 1968 called by student and worker trade unions

PMF’s presence, however, led to his losing some PCF support in the June 1968 elections when he narrowly lost his seat. He resigned from the PSU and embarked on a disastrous joint presidential ticket campaign with the SFIO’s Gaston Defferre in 1969. Ill health in the 1970s effectively ended his political career.

The statue of Pierre Mendes-France replaced that celebrating Louise Michel, August Blanqui and Elisee Reclus. Surely Mitterrand could have found some other location in the garden?

After his death in 1982, Mitterrand, who had been given a ministerial post by PMF in 1954, commissioned a statue to his mentor that was erected in the Luxembourg Gardens, sadly replacing Emile Derré ‘s ‘Column of kisses’ tribute to French anarchism and insurrectionism in the persons of Louise Michel, Auguste Blanqui and Elisée Reclus.

A postcard of the Cornice of Kisses in the Luxembourg Gardens around 1910

In 2002 the newly-elected Socialist Party majority on the Paris council voted to call the Western end of the avenue de France that leads to Mitterrand National Library of France, the avenue Pierre Mendes France.

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Louise Michel

1830 – 1905 • France

AnarchistFeministParis Commune

A teacher, she became a republican, feminist and anarchist in the 1850s and 1860s. She was one of the first women to take an active part in the defence of the Paris Commune in 1871. On her return from her deportation in 1880 she campaigned until her death for women, strikers and anarchism.

So on what was a cold wet miserable day in Paris and the anniversary of a murder that some see as helping change history, I decided just to walk near my flat to follow in some of Louise Michel’s footsteps.

Pierre Bonaparte murdered the unarmed Victor Noir and is acquitted. Louise Michel is among the 100,000 who join the funeral protest

On January 12 1870, in a temper tantrum, Napoléon III’s cousin murdered a 21-year-old journalist, Victor Noir. He had come unarmed to Prince Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte’s Paris house at 59 rue d’Auteuil to act as a witness to a duel between the Prince and a Corsican republican journalist. The republican had taken umbrage at the Prince publishing an article describing Corsican republicans as ‘traitors and beggars’ who deserved to have their ‘guts roasted in the sun’.

In a verbal row in his living room, the Prince pulled out a gun and shot Victor Noir. 

As befits a close relative of the Emperor, Pierre-Napoléon was acquitted of murder very soon after. Even before Napoleon III stumbled into the Franco-Prussian war of July 1870 republican sentiment was on the rise. Louise Michel, disguised as a man, and with a knife concealed in her clothes, was one of the 100,000 crowd who attended Noir’s funeral. 

Moral democracy 

Michel worked as a teacher outside and then within Paris before the 1871 Commune

Louise Michel was then aged 40. The illegitimate daughter of a chamber maid she had become a teacher, moving to Paris in 1856, staying first in the Boulevard des Batignolles and then in the Rue du Château d’Eau. There, she became increasingly involved in radical democratic and then socialist and revolutionary clubs. 

With funding from her mother, she opened her own day school in the working class 18th arrondissement in 1865.  She was then living in the Rue Houdon. In 1868 she was also teaching in a school in what is now called the Rue Championnet.

In 1869 police records suggest she had become Secretary of a club called ‘The Moral Democratic club’ whose aim was to help working women live by their work. 

On December 1 1870 she spent two days in jail for the first time, for having been involved in a women’s demonstration. By then she was president of the Republican Women’s Vigilance Club of the 8th arrondissement and soon after became director of a school in the Rue du Mont Cenis.

Paris Commune 

Michel was one of the first women to join the Communards fighting on the barricades

On January 22 1871, dressed in National Guard uniform, she fired her first rifle shot (in the air) outside the Paris Town Hall, as the city began to mobilise against the inertia of the new government. She fired many more during the battles on the barricades between the 21 and 24 May. 

Her feminism and belief in education combined on 12 May 1871 when, with other supporters of the Paris Commune created on 18 March, she opened a school to teach draftsmanship, modelling and wood carving (‘industrial art’) to girls, at 7, Rue Dupuytren

This short street is a favourite of mine because it is named after Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, who both treated Napoleon Bonaparte’s hemorrhoids and gave his name to the Viking-origin genetically-transmitted disease that as a sufferer I call ‘bendy finger’. (Thanks dad!) 

Michel’s girls’ school lasted all of two weeks before disappearing in the bloody week of May 21 to 28, when the Commune was brutally suppressed and between 20,000 and 30,000 killed. Today Dupuytren has four perfume/chemist boutiques and three hairdressers. 

Louise Michel volunteers to take the place of her mother as a prisoner of the Versaillais soldiers on May 24 1871

On May 24 Louise Michel learned that her mother had been captured by the Versaillais troops. So she arranged to be taken prisoner in exchange for her mother’s release. She was sentenced to be deported and in August 1873 was shipped off to the penal colony on New Caledonia in the South-West Pacific. 

She arrived at Nouméa (Port-de-France) in December 1873. In 1878 she openly supported the indigenous anti-colonial revolt. 

Michel returned to Paris on 9 November 1880 via Melbourne and London after the general amnesty for the Communards. 6,000 supporters came to meet her and the other 550 who were shipped home to Dieppe and arrived with her at the Gare St Lazar station. 

Michel was jailed for 6 months after the 9 March 1883 unemployed marchers stole bread from bakeries in the Rue du Four

She immediately threw herself back into agitation. In March 1883 she and Émile Pouget (1860-1931) led a demonstration of some 500 unemployed workers and children from the Invalides Esplanade along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to the Rue du Four, where three bakeries were invaded and largely emptied by the demonstrators. 

Michel was carrying a black piece of cloth at the end of a broom in mourning for the dead of the Commune and for the starving Parisians as they marched, and this soon became the black flag associated with anarchism

In July 1883 she was sentenced to six years in the Saint-Lazare women’s prison (finally closed in 1935). Pouget was sentenced to 10 years. Michel was only released after an 1886 presidential grant of mercy to her and other anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin

Michel was jailed again for four months in 1886, after speaking at a meeting in support of the Decazeville striking miners, along with Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue

Michel was shot at in 1888 but refused to make a complaint against her attacker

In 1888 she was shot while speaking at a public meeting in Le Havre, but as an anarchist refused to support the state’s prosecution of her attacker. 

In 1890 she was jailed again while mobilizing for the May Day demonstration and strike. Amnestied she refused to leave her cell while others were still in jail, and the government tried to get her committed as ‘irresponsible for her actions’ to an insane asylum. 

Concerned about this threat she then moved to London and opened an international school for anarchists. Closed down after the London police found explosives in the basement, she returned to Paris permanently in 1897 living in the Rue Jacob and resumed speaking tours all over France. 

Michel continued to campaign until her death at 75

She died in Marseille in 1905 after returning from a speaking tour in Algeria. 

Around 120,000 people followed Michel’s remains from the Gare de Lyon station to the Levallois cemetery in north-west Paris. In 2005 a garden just below the Sacré Coeur monument was renamed the Square Louise Michel. The Sacré Coeur had been built between 1875 and 1914 by right-wing Catholics to beg God for forgiveness for the sin of the Paris Commune. 

There’s now a tiny plaque to the Paris Commune on a wall in the Luxembourg Garden. Hundreds of Communards were summarily executed there during the ‘Bloody Week’ of May 1871. But from 1906 to 1984 the gardens also had a memorial column sculpted by the anarchist sympathizer Emile Derré

Louise Michel is shown kissing love and goodbye to Elisee Recl;us. The two other kisses sculpted represent tenderness (with maternal instincts) and consolation (with Michel kissing Auguste Blanqui)

Originally called ‘A dream for a People’s House’ Derré’s column became known as the ‘Cornice of Kisses’: its three images show tenderness with a mother kissing a child, the lovers’ goodbye kiss (featuring Michel and Reclus) shown above, and a consolation kiss (featuring Michel and Blanqui). Michèle Audin (author of La Commune de Paris blog) found the wonderful postcard of the column when it was still in the Luxembourg Gardens

A postcard of the Cornice of Kisses in the Luxembourg Gardens taken around 1910

The Louise Michel column was replaced by a statue of Pierre Mendès-France in 1984 on the order of Pierre’s friend, President François Mitterrand. The Kisses column was then unceremoniously dumped, forgotten and was only finally reborn in the old Northern textile town of Roubaix in 1997. 

What a treat, I thought at the end of my short walk in the rain, to go to one of the bakers Louise Michel was supposed to have helped pillage in 1883 and buy a baguette (at prices that are still controlled right across France). 

But the Rue du Four (Road of the Oven) no longer has a single bakery. The closest to a shop with anything to eat was this quick crepe and sandwich bar. I walked home disappointed. The drizzle was getting worse as I passed the new shiny Marks and Spencers food store in the totally renovated St Germain covered market.

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François Mitterrand

1916-1996 • France


I never imagined I’d ever think anything really positive about François Mitterrand, whose bending before the neo-liberals in the early 1980s helped reinforce Thatcher’s TINA argument (‘there is no alternative’).

Mitterrand’s relationship with socialism has been rightly described as ‘complex’. After escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp in 1941, he worked for the Vichy Government but in 1943 joined the resistance.

In 1946 he opposed the nationalisations of significant parts of French industry and supported the liberalisation of the economy. A government minister from 1947 he began to move to the centre-left, while remaining strongly anti-Communist.

In 1954 he became Interior Ministry in the Mendès France government that ended France’s colonial occupation of Indochina, but he did not resign from the Guy Mollet government in protest against its military response to the Algerian war.

Mitterrand played an important part in bringing the socialists together around his presidential candidature in the mid-1960s, and kept presenting a left alternative to Gaullism (often as a single individual).

Mitterrand secured 44.8% of the vote to De Gaulle’s 55.2% in the second round of the December 1965 presidential election. In 1958 Mitterand had marched against De Gaulle’s rise to power on the basis of an army Coup d’Etat in Algeria.

In 1971, as the Socialist party shifted to the left, Mitterrand stepped up his leftist rhetoric to become the acknowledged leader of the Socialists. He denounced monopolies and argued

Those who do accept the need for a rupture iwth capitalist society, I am telling you, cannot be Socialist Party members.

Mitterrand at the 1971 Épinay Socialist Party congress

Mitterrand’s 1981 election victory created a major shift to the left, but in 1983 Mitterrand performed a major U-turn, away from the wave of nationalisations and extensions of worker democracy back towards neo-liberalism.

In 1985 Mitterrand personally authorised the sinking of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour, in order to prevent it interfering with the extensive programme of nuclear tests he approved between 1981 and 1994 in the South Pacific atolls of Mururora and Fangataufa. One Greenpeace activist died as a result on 10 July 1985.

Lovers in Paris

But with the theme of left-wing lovers and Paris in my head I was surprised when I opened Le Monde on October 6 2016. It contained extracts from the journal Mitterrand kept during the first six years of his 32-year long relationship with Anne Pingeot.

When he was 47, Mitterrand fell in love with a 20-year-old art student and kept a diary of his relationship with her during the first six years of their 32-year-long companionship from 1964 to 1970.

Mitterrand used to paste cinema tickets and maps of where they had been together, and to scribble notes next to pictures cut from newspapers, as well as to write poems and letters and make little drawings, and plead for letters back.

I walked past 40, Rue Jacob, where Anne used to live with the couple’s daughter, in October 2016, looking for one of the schools that Simone de Beauvoir had attended fifty years before. 

Anne Pingeot, who became an art historian and worked at the Musée D’Orsay (that was funded extensively under Mitterrand’s presidency) published Mitterrand’s journal five years after the death of Mitterrand’s wife, Danielle, and 20 years after Mitterrand died – in 1996, the same year as my father, James.

I have copies of letters James wrote to my mother, in which he too sometimes drew little amusing sketches, like one in 1941 showing him sleeping uncomfortably on a sofa on his first night in Coventry before starting work there.

In a letter written to my mother, Margot Davies, after his first night in Coventry in 1940 where he was sent to work in an aircraft factory, my father sketched himself sleeping upright on a horse-fair sofa – the only accommodation he could find that night.

One tragedy of the advent of the email and mobile phone era is that relationships that began in the mid-1990s will never again provide records half as tangible.

Mitterrand’s complex mix of hope, fear of losing Anne, warmth and love that come through just a few pages of ‘For Anne’ sound more genuine than much of his political history.

Beginning his life as a conservative Catholic, despite his moving a considerable distance to the left, he never had the historical left instinct that saw the roots of French socialism as lying with the lives of people like Louise Michel, August Blanqui and Elisée Reclus.

A postcard of Emile Derré’s submission to the 1906 Salon, the Cornice of Kisses, intended for a House of the People. This side of the cornice shows Consolation, with Louise Michel kissing Blanqui. The other sides feature love and tenderness, with her kissing Reclus

So it meant little or nothing to him to order the erection of a statue to his mentor Pierre Mendes France in the Luxembourg Garden in the place of the Émile Derré sculpture, Le Chapiteau des Baisers, now relocated to Roubaix in the north of France.

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Pierre Monatte

1881 – 1960 • France

CommunismTrade unionism • Trotsky

A highly influential figure in French revolutionary syndicalism from 1905 to 1925, Monatte was an opponent of the First World War from the start. In the 1920s he joined the Communist Party briefly but was expelled after opposing its shift towards Stalinism. He remained a principled socialist throughout his life.

Anti-war activists were few in number in August 1914.

August 2 1914 outside the Gare de l’Est saw a popular mass mobilisation for the war against Germany

Why was the 32-year-old proof-reader, red-haired Pierre Monatte, against the war from the start?

Monatte had become a leftist while reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo at school at the age of 13. In 1902 after working as a teaching assistant for two years, he moved to Paris. He was just 20. The Dreyfus Affair was sharpening left-right political divisions across France. Working for various left papers as a proof-reader he then joined the proof-readers’ trade union, where his latent libertarianism shifted towards revolutionary syndicalism.

In 1905 he walked alongside socialists and anarchists in the funeral procession of Louise Michel from the Gare de Lyon, where the Communard’s body arrived on a train from Marseille.  Another demonstrator suggested he take up a temporary post editing the 5,000-circulation paper, L’Action syndicale. The four-page weekly focusing on miners’ problems was based in Lens, in France’s northern coalfields.

On March 10 1906 Europe’s biggest ever-mining disaster took place at the Courrières company pits at Lens. 1,099 miners were killed. Then, 17 days after the company had stopped trying to rescue surviving miners and started trying to save its mines, first 13 miners emerged alive and then another three days later, another man emerged unaided.

Europe’s worst mining disaster killed 1,099 miners in Lens, northern France on 10 March 1906. There were only 600 survivors.

Cries of ‘Assassins’ greeted the company directors at the funerals. The shock and the scandal unleashed a wave of strikes by 60,000 miners. Within days Monatte and 40 others were arrested and charged with plotting against the Republic.

Released after a month in jail Monatte attended the Amiens Congress of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) in October 1906. He was one of the 840 (to 8) delegates who voted for the independence of the trade union from the political parties and the sects. He was now less an anarchist and much more a revolutionary syndicalist, believing, through the amazing miners’ actions following Courrières, that social transformation could occur very rapidly.

In 1907 he developed his analysis of revolutionary syndicalism at the Amsterdam conference of the Anarchist International.

In 1908 Monatte, then living in Rue Daubenton narrowly escaped arrest with the other main leaders of the CGT for organizing a huge demonstration for the 8-hour day, where four demonstrators were killed by the army. He went into exile disguised as a clergyman and changed train stations in Lyon thanks to the secretary of the taxi trade union. He lived under a pseudonym in Switzerland until the failure of the case against the other CGT leaders allowed him to travel back to Paris.

In 1909 he married. The same year he founded the fortnightly CGT paper, la Vie ouvrière (Worker’s Life), editing it from his flat in Rue Dauphine. The numbers of its subscriptions rose from 500 in 1909 to 2000 in 1914 before it was banned. It expanded from 64 to 80 pages. It was read widely among the most active and leading trade unionists.

In November 1914 Trotsky and Julius Martov met Pierre Monatte, Alfred Rosmer and a handful of French socialists who opposed the First World War from the very start at the anarchist Librarie du Travail bookshop on the Quai de Jemmapes.

In December 1914 Monatte became the first trade unionist to resign publicly from the Federal Committee of the CGT, in protest against the French union’s refusal to support a meeting of the Socialist international being organized by Swedish socialists. His close friend and collaborator, Alphonse Merrheim, signed the anti-war Zimmerwald Manifesto in 1915.

‘Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the war, one thing is certain. The war which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labor and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.’

1915 Zimmerwald declaration

Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Warski and Trotksy were among the 42 delegates from 11 countries who unanimously passed a resolution of sympathy for the victims of the war and of persecution by the belligerent governments. This mentioned the fate of the Poles, Belgians, Armenians and Jewish peoples, the exiled Duma members, Karl Liebknecht, Klara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and Pierre Monatte. In January 1915 Monatte had been conscripted in the 252nd Regiment, and would shortly spend two years at the front.

Demobilised in March 1919, Monatte quickly re-launched La Vie Ouvrière, this time as a weekly. He also organised and then led the left minority at the CGT Congress in September 1919, criticising the Federal Executive for its ‘holy union’ wartime policy and its weak support for the Russian Revolution. In 1920 he was elected Secretary of the Revolutionary syndicalist committees, launched by the left minority, which decided to affiliate to the Communist (Third) International.

Monatte became a leading figure of the workers’ left after the war, challenging both the anarchists and the shift towards Stalinism. He resigned from the CGT’s La Vie Ouvrière and in March 1922 became the labour correspondent for l’Humanité, that had become the new Communist Party’s daily paper. Two years later, having constantly been attacked as a left supporter of Trotksy by Albert Treint, Monatte first resigned from the paper and was then expelled from the PCF in November 1924.

Robert Louzon (1882-1976), who had helped produce the first Arabic language Communist daily paper in Tunisia in 1921, resigned from the PCF when his friends Monatte and Rosmer were expelled. In 1936, aged over fifty, Louzon fought at the front with Republican forces in Spain. And in 1960 with Rosmer, he signed the Manifesto of 121.

In January 1925 Monatte responded to his expulsion with the first issue of a monthly called Révolution prolétarienne including a second letter by him and Alfred Rosmer to Communist Party members.

In January 1925 Monatte responded with a second (equally unsuccessful) appeal signed by him and Alfred Rosmer to Communist Party members to challenge the growing Stalinisation of the PCF. This revolutionary syndicalist journal ran until 1939 and is still in existence today after Monatte relaunched it in 1947 (although he ceased to play an active part in 1951 when he objected to its occasional pro-American positions).

From 1925 to 1952 Monatte worked as a proof reader, but through his RP articles, contacts and correspondence he continued to be a voice on the left attacking both the reformist CGT and the descent into Stalinism. He was one of the few French anti-colonialism campaigners.

During the German occupation Monatte believed it was necessary to struggle against the occupiers, but to guard against nationalism and the idea of a ‘holy alliance’.

The Maitron, France’s national labour dictionary, ends its biography of Pierre Monatte like this:

Few who got close to him were not influenced by his personality. He remained resolutely optimistic about the future of the working class, believing that while the revolutionary flame could dim, it would not go out’.

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Gaston Monmousseau

1883 – 1960 • France

Revolutionary syndicalist • Trade unionismCommunism

A leader of the small group of revolutionary syndicalists who opposed the First World War, in 1922 he became General Secretary of the minority CGTU trade union that affiliated to the Communist International. Elected a Communist deputy in 1936 he tried to get a law passed to provide national unemployment pay.

Monmousseau was jailed five times between 1921 and 1931 in the Prison de la Santé

The Prison de la Santé was opened in 1867. Photographed here by Charles Marville (1813-1879)

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George Orwell

1903 – 1950 • India

Author • Literature

Eton-educated Orwell ran out of money in Paris soon after arriving there in 1928. His job as a bottle-washer lasted 18 months and became the basis of his first book, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, published in 1933.


  • 6 Rue du Pot de Fer

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Michel Pablo (Raptis)

1911 – 1996 • Egypt

Communism • Trotskyism • Fourth International

Pablo grew up in Greece, where he became a Trotskyist as a student in Athens, but was first jailed and then expelled in 1937 by the Metaxas dictatorship.  He came to Paris in 1938 and attended the founding conference of the Fourth International in Alfred Rosmer‘s house in Périgny in the Paris suburbs. During the German Occupation he was involved with attempts to organise among German soldiers with the publication Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) – this was extremely dangerous work and several of those involved were killed by the Germans.

One of those killed was Martin Monath (1912-1944) , a German Jew who had left Germany in 1938 for Belgium, where he worked with Ernest Mandel. In 1943 he was sent to Paris and once or twice a week he travelled to Brest to make contact with a small group of German soldiers. He was arrested, shot and left for dead in the Bois de Vincennes, but survived to be taken to hospital where the Gestapo captured him again and hanged him.

Another one of those undertaking this dangerous work, was Jean-René Chauvin (1918-2011). Arrested in Paris on February 15 1943, the French police passed him on to the Gestapo. Deported he survived Mauthausen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Throughout his life he kept his concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm. [Later he was a member of the Voix communiste, which gave active support to the Algerian FLN and then of the PSU and Ligue Communiste revoutionnaire].

Pablo played a key role in uniting three factions of French Trotskyists into the Parti communiste internationaliste (PCI).

In 1946 he was elected General Secretary of the Fourth International, based in Paris, where the PCI journal, ‘Workers’ Truth’ (La Vérité des travailleurs) was based at 64 Rue de Richelieu.  By the early 1950s he began to develop a distinctive political perspective. Believing that a Third World War was imminent, he argued that in this war the class struggle would acquire the new form of a conflict between blocs of states.  He therefore argued that Trotskyists must enter the mass working‑class parties in order to intervene in the new situation.

But entering the French Communist Party, with its tight organisation and a phobia of Trotskyists, was not easy – only seven Trotskyists succeeded. One of those who did, from 1953, was Denis Berger (1932-2013). He was later the founder in 1958 of the review called ‘The Communist Path’ (La Voie communiste) and also organiser of the escape on February 25 1961 from the Roquette prison of five women members of the Jeanson Network from ten year prison sentences for supporting the FLN.

But Pablo’s strategy led to an acrimonious split in the PCI, with two organisations emerging, one led by Pierre Frank [1905-1984] and one by Pierre Lambert [1920-2008]. 

There was also an international split in the Fourth International, with James P Cannon in the USA and Gerry Healy in Britain denouncing Pablo for abandoning the building of revolutionary organisation. The word “Pabloism” became a term of abuse for some political currents.

But Pablo was also very much aware of the significance of revolutionary movements in the so-called “Third World”. He was one of the first to make contact with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and began to organise solidarity action (the so-called “suitcase carriers” who assisted the FLN with publications and transferring funds.

One of the ‘bag carriers’ was Jakob Moneta (1914-2012), who was a Trotskyist employed as the trade union representative at the West German embassy at 28 Rue Marbeau. He used his ‘diplomatic bag’ to transport documents for the FLN.

Pablo was personally involved with two more ambitious ventures – setting up an arms factory in Morocco where Trotskyist engineering workers from France and elsewhere worked, and a project for forging currency; for the latter he was arrested and jailed in the Netherlands in 1960.

After Algerian independence in 1962 Pablo became an adviser to Ben Bella until his being overthrown in 1965.

Subsequently he only visited Paris briefly. He was marginalised from the Fourth International which he left in order to build his own tendency; he travelled widely before returning to his native Greece, where he advised Andreas Papandreou.

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Pablo Picasso

1881-1973 • Spain

ArtCommunism • Spanish Civil War

Picasso visited Paris often between 1900 and 1904 when he settled there. From 1935 he associated with many of the left surrealists and in 1937 painted Guernica. He joined the French Communist Party in October 1944, gave money to it, and remained a member until his death.

Picasso aged 56. The self-portrait was painted a year after Guernica.

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L’abbé Pierre / Henri Grouès

1912 – 2007 • France

Resistance • Christian socialism • Human rights

Using his wartime pseudonym, L’abbé Pierre, the Catholic priest Henri Grouès helped establish the resistance movement in the Vercors during the Second World War. In 1949, while he was a deputy (from 1945 to 1951 and part of a Christian socialist parliamentary grouping) he established the Emmaüs international charity.

Grouès campaigned for the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in Algeria and from 1954 became known as a tireless campaigner against poverty and homelessness.

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Madeleine Pelletier

1874 – 1939 • France


On Saturday, December 9 2017, the Library of Parisian History reopened after an 11-month refurbishment in the stunning 16th century Lamoignon Hotel. One of the displays at the packed open day showed this torn copy of the front page of the first issue of La Suffragiste.  It was edited by Madeleine Pelletier from 1907 to 1914.

A slightly torn copy of La Suffragiste from December 1907

In 1904 Madeleine Pelletier was the first woman to be allowed to work as a psychiatric ‘docteur’ inside France’s mental health asylums after she had forced a change in the law. But when we visited the site of her medical practice in the interwar years just south of Gare Montparnasse, the plaque finally agreed to by the co-owners of the building at 80–82 rue de Gergovie in 2011 says, ‘Doctoresse’ instead.

Pelletier did however sign herself ‘doctoresse’ once before in an article denouncing false internments. Ironically, she then died an internee herself, inside the Perray-Vaucluse asylum on December 29 1939 aged 65. She was completely sane, held as a feminist political prisoner. She was placed there by a judge who decided to shut her up rather than allow her trial to continue on a charge of carrying out an abortion on a 13-year-old raped by the child’s brother.

Pelletier had campaigned for the previous 35 years for women’s contraception and the right to an abortion. Half paralysed after a stroke in 1937 she was clearly not guilty as charged (abortion was only finally legalized in France in 1974).

Pelletier began writing for La Fronde (The wind of change/Insurrection) that Marguerite Durand had launched in 1897.

In 1907 she launched the Suffragiste after attending the first Women’s Socialist International Conference in Stuttgart in August. She was part of an 8-strong delegation from the Paris SFIO.  Out of a total of 58 delegates from 15 countries she was one of the 11 who voted against Klara Zetkin’s formulation that ‘the struggle for voting rights for women workers is not separate from the class struggle’.

For Zetkin, the main task was to integrate women into all aspects of the class struggle, and to bring socialist ideas to the attention of working-class women. Zetkin argued that while social democrats should support women’s franchise, ‘we are not so politically uneducated as to demand that the socialist parties of every country, in every struggle for electoral reform and in all circumstances make the demand for voting rights for women the cornerstone, the deciding factor in their struggle.’

Pelletier and the 10 other women delegates were described as having a ‘bourgeois’ position for arguing that the right to vote for women was a central political right that socialists should fight for the hardest. Like Sylvia Pankhurst, Pelletier believed the struggle for the democratic right to vote for women was a key part of the struggle for socialism.

Pelletier argued ‘Certainly, with socialism a woman in poverty would gain materially, she would no longer be hungry and cold. But the yoke of the male would still extend over everything. Besides giving love and motherhood, there would still be no place for women in society. It is therefore essential that the emancipation of women be realized today; this struggle will thus present the society of tomorrow with a fait accompli.’

In 1905, Pelletier joined the SFIO, the French Socialist Party, to press the feminist case. In 1906 she became Secretary of the Women’s Solidarity feminist group. She was one of the leading feminists in France before the First World War. In the March 1908 Paris local elections Pelletier and two other leading feminists overturned ballot boxes in the 4th arrondissement and broke windows at another polling station. In June 1908 she travelled to London to participate in the half a million strong ‘Women’s Sunday’ Hyde Park demonstration organized by Womens’ Politicial and Social Union.

In 1910 the SFIO agreed to nominate Pelletier and some other women illegally as a parliamentary candidate (although in an unwinnable seat). She got 340 votes (4%), more than the previous male Socialist candidate had done.

One of two surviving (out of 12) children of a royalist vegetable stall-holder mother, her cab-driving republican father’s stroke when she was four that left him in a wheelchair, gave her someone to argue with. The building, 38, rue des Petits Carreaux in the working-class 2nd arrondissement, where she lived was so badly built it fell down in the mid-1930s (and is now the site of the amazing vertical green wall pictured here).

A living wall now occupies the site of Madeleine Pelletier’s home at 38, Rue des Petits Carreaux

Pelletier left school at 12 and after work escaped to local libraries and feminist and anarchist groups, meeting Louise Michel. Her reading gave her a life-time’s feminist, communist and libertarian principles. She took the name Madeleine instead of her militantly Catholic’s mother’s name, Anne.

At 22 and 23 Pelletier sat and passed the baccalauréat (A-levels). In 1899, when there were just 29 French women out of 4,500 medical students, she won a City of Paris grant to study medicine. After a feminist-led newspaper campaign in 1904 the law was changed so she could work inside the Paris Villejuif asylum. In 1906 she became France’s first qualified woman psychiatric doctor.

She cut her hair short and dressed like a man.

‘If I dress as I do,’ she wrote, ‘it’s because it’s convenient, but above all it’s because I’m a feminist; my suit speaks to a man: “I am your equal”’ ‘I will show mine (breasts) as soon as men start to dress in a kind of trousers that shows their…’

In 1914 she was one of the rare French socialists to denounce the First World War as imperialist, and volunteered to work for the Red Cross, on condition she would be allowed to provide health care to both French and Germans without distinction.

In 1920 Pelletier attended the Tours Conference of the SFIO where she supported the formation of the French Communist Party, which included equality of the sexes in its programme. In July 1921 she travelled illegally to Russia to attend the Second International Congress of Women Communists.

The anarchist freethinkers’ journal, Idée Libre, April 1926, which Pelletier contirbuted to occasionally between 1912 and 1924

By 1926 she had broken with the Communist Party, arguing consistently that communism must include freedom. In 1932 Pelletier joined a left group called ‘Party of Proletarian Unity’. In 1936 she applauded the appointment of the first women ministers in the Popular Front government of Leon Blum.

She lived and worked in the 1920s and early 1930s in the Rue de Gergovie, but then moved out to Gif-sur-Yvette to the South of Paris where she learned to drive a car and continued to campaign against fascism, for the right to abortion, contraception and women’s right to vote, writing novels, plays, and a biography.  Many of these were for the L’Idee Libre, an anarchist journal whose April 1926 front page is pictured here.

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Fernand Pelloutier

1867 – 1901 • France

Revolutionary syndicalist • Trade unionism

A journalist who became General secretary of the Labour Exchange movement (Bourses du travail) from 1895 a leading revolutionary syndicalist and advocate of using a general strike to expropriate the capitalist class.

Born in Paris at 81 Rue de Courcelles with a father who had wanted to be a journalist but had become a post office manager and an ardent republican grandfather, Fernand lived there initially until he was 13. The family then moved to Nantes.

In 1893 Fernand Pelloutier moved back to Paris, living with his younger brother (and later biographer) Maurice and Maurice’s wife, Berthe, in a flat at 32, Rue Levert. he then began a relationship with Berthe’s sister, Maria Ridel, that lasted until Pelloutier’s early death in 1901. In 1899 when Pelloutier was already seriously ill, the two couples moved 10 kilometers out of Paris to Sevres, then in the country, in the hope he might recover.

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Marceau Pivert

1895 – 1958 • France

Socialism • Revolutionary Left • Workers and Peasants’ Socialist Party

An SFIO member from 1924 and a teachers’ trade union leader in the 1930s, Pivert was the leader of a faction within the SFIO known as the ‘Revolutionary Left‘.

In 1935 the group’s publication was based at 23 Rue Mouffetard. He wrote an article ‘Everything is Possible‘ in May 27 1936 urging, without success, the Popular Front’s Prime Minister Blum to break with capitalism.

Pivert broke with the SFIO in 1938 and formed the Workers and Peasants’ Socialist Party.

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