1805-1876 • Germany
Romantic author • Historian
Daniel Stern, her pseudonym, was a republican whose salon was visited by Marx in 1844. She lived with Lizst and wrote the History of the 1848 Revolution.
Member of the First International Reclus was influenced by Bakunin. A Communard fighter in 1871 who was expelled in perpetuity from France aged 41, he became the most prominent French 19th century geographer and an early ecologist and environmentalist.
Reclus was an engaged anarchist, a vegetarian and a naturist, and in his professional life a leading academic geographer. He described how he reconciled anarchism and scientific study in the 1880s and 1890s when ‘propaganda by the deed’ was being denounced everywhere in Third Republic political life and in the French media in this letter to his fellow anarchist geographers:
Great enthusiasm and dedication to the point of risking one’s life are not the only ways of serving a cause. The conscious revolutionary is not only a person of feeling, but also one of reason, to whom every effort to promote justice and solidarity rests on precise knowledge and on a comprehensive understanding of history, sociology and biologyQuoted in David Harvey “Listen, Anarchist!” A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”
Awarded a scholarship to visit Europe Rivera became a major figure in Montparnasse’s artistic and literary life. He is believed to have met Trotsky and Lenin during the nearly ten years he lived in the city. He first joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1922.
Socialism • PSU • Algeria
A product of the elite adminstrative education, ENA, established by De Gaulle, Rocard opposed the Algerian War. He joined the United Socialist Party (the new left PSU), and was its candidate in the 1969 presidential election.
Communist • Resistance
A Communist Party member from 1924 he was given political training in Moscow, and from 1934 he was one of the handful of PCF leaders. Elected deputy in 1936 he was jailed by Vichy and then in 1943 represented the PCF in London. From 1964 to 1969 he was General Secretary of the PCF. He reoriented the PCF towards a democratic road to socialism and criticised Russia for the invasion of Czechoslovakia and then fell ill in 1969 after a visit to the USSR.
In 2016 I followed the Parisian footsteps today of an amazing early French socialist, trade unionist and feminist who was effectively judicially murdered at the age of 47 by the populist dictator Napoleon III.
Pauline Roland was a contemporary and friend of George Sand, Flora Tristan and of Pierre Leroux, a printworker and socialist. After Roland’s premature death Victor Hugo, in exile in Jersey in protest against the dictator Louis Bonaparte, wrote a poem called ‘Pauline Roland’.
Very few French people have heard of her today, although the oldest women and children’s refuge in Paris (dating form 1890) is named after her. Only one of the houses she actually lived in and organized from is still standing (near St Germain des Prés, at 10 rue Jacob in the same street where Simone de Beauvoir later attended secondary school). The others I walked to today had all been knocked down and rebuilt between the 1890s and 1960s.
Roland supported herself from the age of 20 when she started working in a bookshop. From the age of 28 (in 1833) to 40 (in 1845) she had an open relationship with another Sainte-Simonian socialist man, Jean Aicard, in Paris, had two children with him, and another child with another father. She insisted all the children carry her name and must be financially raised by her.
‘I will never agree to marry a man in a society that cannot recognize my absolute equality with the person I am forming a union with,’ she argued.
She survived financially by also writing for feminist newspapers and writing histories of France, England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1847 she worked as a teacher at the socialist Saint-Simonian Community established by Pierre Leroux at Boussac (in the Limousin in central France) with funding from George Sand.
A year later she founded and led the Fraternal Association of Socialist Male and Female Teachers and Professors (at 21 rue Henri Monnier). Its programme stressed gender equality, called for universal education until 18 and for women to remain in the labour force.
Her next crime in the eyes of the dominant political conservatives was to play a key part in organizing a Union of Workers’ Associations. In October 1849 delegates from 100 trades elected Roland to its central committee. Six months later she was one of 30 people arrested after a government clamp-down on organized dissent.
But an even bigger crime in the eyes of the judges was her feminism. She was charged with ’socialism, feminism and debauchery’. She spent the first seven months of 1851 in jail.
On December 2 1851 Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte realized he would lose upcoming elections and organized a coup d’état to seize power and declare himself Emperor. Roland, despite coming out of prison in poor health, threw herself into the resistance movement. It failed, she was rearrested early in 1852 at her home at 106 rue du Bac, and sentenced to 10 years’ deportation to the recently invaded (1830) French colony of Algeria.
Unlike many other political prisoners Roland refused to ask for a pardon from the dictator-Emperor. She was transported and forced to do hard labour and cleaning work when she got to Algeria. Three months later, her friends George Sand and the biggest singer song-writer of the day (Beranger) persuaded Louis Bonaparte to release her. Too late. She died at Lyon in December 1852 on her way home to Paris.
Aged 7 Alfred Griot returned with his family from Patterson, New York, where his father was a barber. Alfred spoke good English, a facility that helped shape his revolutionary life as an internationalist. Griot’s father was a Dreyfusard and Alfred Griot attended revolutionary socialist and anarchist meetings as a teenager.
He became a trade unionist in 1899, joining the municipal workers’ union. In 1910 he was asked by his then anarchist friend Amédée Dunois to act as an interpreter for Pierre Monatte, founder of La Vie ouvrière at its office at 42 Rue Dauphine in a meeting with an American IWW member, William Z Foster.
Griot was a keen theatre-goer and in 1911-12 took his pseudonym Rosmer from an Ibsen character, and used this when he replaced Dunois as editor of the daily CGT trade union newspaper, La Bataille syndicaliste, printed at the Union Printworks at 40 Boulevard Arago.
Classified as ‘auxiliary service’ rather than conscripted during the First World War he was one ot the handful of trade unionists most present in Paris. He spent many of his Sundays at Trotsky‘s changing addresses. Trotsky and Martov, regularly attended the continuing La Vie ouvrière meetings that took place even after they stopped publishing it, at 96 Quai de Jemmapes, whose ‘Labour’ bookshop had been closed by the CGT that supported the war effort and the ‘holy union’..
Having begun work as a clerk in the Paris-Orléans railway company, Thévenet’s experience there, and subsequently working for a Protestant holiday camp organisation (colonies de vacances) led her to become an expert at smuggling subversive literature and revolutionary activists across frontiers.
Thévenet first met revolutionary syndicalists when her childhood friend, Léontine Valette, met and married Pierre Monatte in 1909. When Monatte resigned from the leadership of the CGT she wrote strongly congratulating him. Member of the Rue Foudary pacificist group she met Rosmer at a meeting reporting on Zimmerwald in March 1916.
In May 1919 the French Committee for the Third International decided to send Rosmer to Moscow, where he played a big part in the Second Congress of the Comintern. In February 1921 he spoke at the funeral of Peter Kropotkin.
Still in France, Thévenet may have helped organise the illegal presence of Clara Zetkin at the Party’s founding congress in 1920.
Rosmer was back in France in 1921-22 where he joined the PCF but did not support the idea of trade unions affiliating to a single Communist international. Back in Moscow in May 1923 he became increasingly disquiet at the direction of the political infighting there, and after circulating Lenin’s Testament in France he, Monatte and others were expelled from the Communist Party.
In 1924 with Pierre Monatte he founded La Révolution prolétarienne, but he became less active in the anti-Stalinist opposition and had doubts about the possibility of creating a ‘Fourth International’.
Rosmer did support the idea of producing a journal to keep the militants together and informed, and he became the editor of the weekly Trotskyist paper The Truth first published by on 15 August 1929 at 23 rue des Vinaigriers. The editorial office of the weekly Trotskyist paper The Truth published by the Communist League on 15 August 1929. In April 1930 it led to the creation of the Communist League with which the Rosmers were involved along with Pierre Frank, Pierre Naville and Marthe Bigot.
Within nine months, however, Rosmer resigned from the editorial committee of The Truth. He had supported the idea of carrying out trade union work without party interference, a view Trotsky considered ‘rightist’ and detested the bullying of the League’s leader, Raymond Molinier. Trotsky then broke all contact with the Rosmers, even when he was in Paris for nearly two years in 1932-33.
The Rosmers survived on Marguerite’s work organising children’s holiday camps, and Alfred’s job as a proof-reader. Alfred was active in exposing the fraudulent nature of the Moscow trials, and working with the Dewey commission in 1937 in the US.
After the murder of his eldest son, Léon Sedov, in Paris in February 1938 Trotsky asked the Rosmers to find his grandson Sieva and bring him to Mexico to join him and Natalia. It took them a year of legal and police action (opposed by Sedov’s partner) before they succeeded – in a trip paid for by the royalties of the sale of the French edition of Trotsky’s book Stalin.
After the declaration of war the Rosmers decided to leave Coyoacan for New York, where Marguerite gave French lessons and Alfred resumed work as a proof-reader (initially on the bible thanks to work passed his way by Max Eastman).
They returned to France in the summer of 1946 and in 1947 resumed writing and supporting La Révolution prolétarienne, struggling for socialism against Stalinism without falling into the American camp.
In 1946 Natalia Trotsky gave the Alfred Rosmer authority to publish Trotsky’s works and he carried out this extremely difficult task for the rest of his life.
Maurice Nadeau (1911-2013), who had helped to organise an International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Artists in the 1930s with the support of André Breton and Diego Rivera gave Rosmer a great deal of support in publishing Trotsky. In 1960 he played a key role in organising the Manifesto of the 121 unequivocally supporting those who refused to fight against Algerian independence.
The Manifesto was signed, naturally, by Rosmer, but also by De Beauvoir, Sartre, Breton and Guerin featured in Left in Paris. His office at Les Lettres nouvelles at 3 Rue Malebranche was searched as a result and Nadeau questioned by the police.
It became easier after the Khruschev revelations of 1956, and the royalties he sent to Natalia became larger. Natalia and Marguerite died a week apart in 1962, and Alfred two years later after a fall in which be broke his femur.
Feminism, Birth control
One of many neo-malthusians before the First World War, she was an activist for birth control and was one of the first women to demand the right of women to control their bodies.
Trade unionism • Resistance • World Federation of Trade Unions
One of 12 leading trade unionists who publicly opposed the dissolution of the trade unions in November 1940 and then joined the resistance, where he helped reunite the divided CGT. He represented the CGT on the National Resistance Council. In 1946 he became General Secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions, and kept the post until 1968 – an extraordinary feat for a non-Communist.
Feminist • Novelist • Socialist
George Sand was a feminist and republican who described herself as a communist in 1848, when she worked in the Workers’ Commission in the Luxembourg Palace. Many French feminists wanted George Sand to stand in the 1849 presidential elections when universal suffrage still excluded women.
A major philosopher of existentialism, he described it as a form of humanism. In 1941 he helped found ‘Socialism and Liberty’ with Simone de Beauvoir to bring together various intellectuals in a resistance organisation. His support for Algerian independence saw the OAS choose to place a plastic bomb outside his door in the Rue Bonaparte.
A working class seamstress, Louise Saumoneau moved from being a militant feminist to becoming a leading socialist.
She founded a trade union for seamstresses and led a strike in 1901. This convinced her of the need to involve male workers and she became a supporter of Klara Zetkin’s position calling for women to become socialists. Arrested for her opposition to World War 1, she joined the SFIO and edited La Femme Socialiste.
Human rights • Anti-slavery campaigner • Republican
This revolutionary republican campaigner against slavery was born in Paris in what was then the 5th arrondisement and is now in the 10th, at 60 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis.
His father was a wealthy owner of a porcelain factory who was well able to afford to send his son to the Lycée Condorcet that opened in 1803 in what is now 8 Rue du Havre, the monastery built just before the Revolution in the 1780s. When Schoelcher was there it changed its name. It had been called the Lycée impérial Bonaparte from 1805 to 1815 and then became the Collège royal de Bourbon from 1815 until February 1848.
As a wealthy young man Schoelcher entered the circles where got to know George Sand, Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. In 1828 his father sent him off to represent the business in Mexico and the United States and then to Cuba in 1829 where he found slavery absolutely abhorrent.
Returning to France in 1830 Schoelcher became a journalist and art critic and well as a lifelong campaigner against slavery. In 1832 he sold the business he inherited from his father to enable him to concentrate on journalism and politics.
In 1833 his first book, On the slavery of Black people and Colonial Law was an indictment of slavery and called for its abolition. It also argued that although the workers had made the 1830 Revolution, they were being deprived of their rights.
In 1834 he was one of a large number of young republicans who were jailed at Sainte-Pélagie prison after the Rue Transonain massacre in April.
Elected to the National Assembly after the 1848 February Revolution he drafted the bill abolishing slavery.
On December 3 1851 he went to the barricade at the corner of the then Rue Sainte-Marguerite (now Rue Trousseau) with the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. He and other deputies such as Alphonse Baudin wanted to strengthen the mobilsation of workers protesting Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’État of the previous day.
Schoelcher then led several of the unarmed deputies out to talk with the soliders sent to suppress the revolt. Alphonse Baduin, jumped up to the top of barricade with a flag and was immediately shot dead.
Exiled from 1851 to 1870 he later wrote a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture.
After his return to France in 1870 he was elected to the National Assembly and sat on the extreme left of the deputies in Versaillais during the Commune. In 1875 he was elected a senator for life.
One of the less Stalinist CGT leaders of the post-war period, Georges Séguy, died aged 89 in 2016.
Among his experience as a life-long PCF member was attending the 1956 Russian Communist Party conference where Khruschev outlined Stalin’s crimes.
In 1968, as General Secretary of France’s then biggest trade union, the Communist-dominated CGT, he participated in the famous Grenelle negotiations in May 1968 whose agreements created an amazing advance in working class lives in France. But in failing to lead on to a revolution, his participation and not calling for a General Strike, made Séguy the object of much (unfair in my view) criticism from French Maoists and Trotskyists alike (and, to be fair, from many ordinary workers who believed still more could have been won).
Séguy’s father had been a founder member of the French Communist Party, and Georges was arrested as a member of the CP-led French Free Fighters and Partisan (FTPF) resistance at 17 years old in 1944 and deported to Mauthhausen in Austria. When he returned to France he identified the person who had denounced him, who was then tried and shot.
In 1978 he attempted to win over the CGT to form a united front with the formerly Catholic, then radical, CFDT union, but failed in the face of French CP opposition. He resigned aged 55 (the retirement age of the railwaymen he had been since 1946).
Serge lived in Paris from 1909 and jailed for five years for his writing about the Bonnot gang, he was an independent socialist. His life took him from anarchist, to Bolshevik, jailed under Stalin. and associate of Trotsky. Back in Paris at the end of the 1930s he eventually escapes to the US, and then Mexico. He was a journalist and novelist.
Like several other intellectuals in the 1880s, Signac broke with bourgeois attitudes, and by 1896 was collaborating closely with Jean Grave and the anarchist journal Les Temps Nouveaux. Unlike Kropotkin and Grave, however, Signac opposed World War 1 and in 1934 opposed the fascists.
Resistance • Human rights • Anti-fascism
Germaine Tillion was arrested as a member of a resistance network in 1942 and deported to Ravensbruck in 1943, from where she was transferred to Sweden in April 1945.
Communism • Trotskyism
Albert Treint was one of the first speakers at the Tours 1920 Congress of French Socialists (SFIO) to propose French affiliation to the Communist Third International and proposed the formation of the SFIC (Section Française de l’Internationale Communiste). At 31, he was then head of the Paris Federation of the SFIO.
The son of a Parisian bus conductor, at 17 Treint won a three-year scholarship to train as a primary school. He then did two years’ military service before teaching for three years near Nanterre from 1910 to 1913. He joined the SFIO in 1914, the year he was called up. In the 21st Infantry regiment he was promoted captain.
Wounded in the Somme in both 1915 and 1917, in 1919 he was teaching again at Belleville’s rue Ramponeau boys’ primary school. From outside the school there is an amazing view all over Paris. Treint did not enjoy it for long.
Shortly after his December 30 1920 election to the steering committee of the brand new SFIC he was first arrested in May for a speech calling on French soldiers to disobey orders to fight in Russia, and then fired from his teaching post in September 1921.
A key participant in the internal Communist faction fights between those like Monatte, arguing for greater unity with other revolutionary syndicalists, and those defending the Third International’s anti-unity and disciplinary positions, Treint’s hard-line faction won.
In November-December 1922 at the first enlarged executive meeting of the Third International he defended the United Front in these terms:
‘We get closer to and then further away from (reformist leaders) alternating in the same way as the hand gets closer to and further away from the chicken it is plucking.Albert Treint 1922
In 1923-24, on behalf of his left faction he shared the General Secretaryship of the PCF with a centrist, first Frossard (who left the PCF on January 1 1924) and then Sellier. He then spent four months in jail with Gaston Monmousseau (1883-1960) and others for having attended a conference with German communists calling for opposition to the French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923.
In Moscow representing the PCF from 1924 to 1927, he transited politically from supporting Stalin to supporting Trotsky and Zinoviev and the Left Opposition. In 1928 he returned to live in Belleville. He was expelled from the Central Committee of the PCF and then from the PCF itself. For the next ten years Treint tried to build left opposition groups in France, before adopting the view of a tiny minority fringe of the communist left that saw the Soviet Union as a form of ‘state capitalism’ rather than as the Trotskyist sects did, as a ‘degenerated workers’ state’.
Treint rejoined the SFIO after the threat of a fascist coup d’etat in February 1934. As a virulent anti-Stalinist he opposed the Popular Front between the SFIO and PCF. Yet with the return of the 1936 Popular Front government headed by Léon Blum, he was reinstated in his teaching post by Jean Zay, the new Jewish minister of Education and Culture.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the PCF was dissolved by the Daladier government on September 26 1939 for supporting the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. 317 town councils controlled by the PCF were shut down. 2,800 councillors were declared illegal. 620 trade union branches were immediately closed by the now right-wing majority controlling what had been a reunited CGT since 1934.
On 18 November 1939 the government adopted a decree allowing internment of anyone considered dangerous to national defence or public safety. Treint aged 50, was fired again along with tens of thousands of other communists and those suspected of communist leanings.
Treint sought safety about 100 miles south of Paris, and probably (although this is uncertain) joined the resistance. After the war he played no part in political life, dying at the age of 82 in 1971.
Expelled from the giant French Communist Party; far too left-wing for the French Socialists (SFIO and PS); too troublesome for the Trotksyist sects; suspected of allowing three anarchists to be killed while they were trying to break up an early PCF meeting; married with one son born in 1914… it’s perhaps not surprising I can’t much about where this Parisian lived in Paris, except that in 1928, when he was expelled from the PCF he was living at 3, rue Carducci.
But it is a pity that so many socialists who spent their lives trying their best to change the world and achieve international workers’ unity are largely unremembered. So for them, this beautiful red poppy photographed by Ivor Penn in 1968 (and then photographed by me in another Paris museum).
In 1843, at the time the young Karl Marx was living in Paris, Flora Tristan published a small pamphlet called ‘The Workers’ Union’ (L’Union ouvrière).
In it the 40-year-old Parisian woman made the case that workers were a single social class. Workers must organise themselves as such. She aimed to bring all men and women workers into a giant working class party, the Workers’ Union.
She was totally original at the time: she focused on the working class, all who worked without any property other than their labour power, and stressed the need for men and women workers as well as national and foreign workers to come together in a common project of social change.
Tristan was also a determined feminist.
In the booklet’s section called ‘Why I mention women’, Tristan denounced the way women were either ignored or treated as persona non grata by the Church and all political parties. Only if male workers recognized the need for unity could they share their different experiences and create real common objectives.
‘Workers, without women, you are nothing!’, she explained.
And, just as subversively, Tristan stressed that only if workers organised work themselves could they ever win liberty.
After the Workers’ Union pamphlet was published she set off on a national tour to promote local committees of the Union. Between April and November 1844 Flora Tristan criss-crossed France selling her pamphlet and holding meetings.
‘With my union project in my hand, from town to town, from one end of France to the other, to talk to the workers who do not know how to read and to those who do not have the time to read….I will go find them in their workshops; in their garrets and even, if needed, in their taverns.’
The campaign effectively killed her. She died in Bordeaux, probably of typhoid, just 41 years old.
Eight thousand people attended her funeral in Bordeaux. In the aftermath of the 1848 revolution, workers throughout France gave donations to erect a monument to Flora Tristan. It was inaugurated on 22 October 1848 in the Bordeaux Cimitière de la Chartreuse. The monument, a broken column, circled by a garland of oak and ivy, has a copy of her most important book, The Workers’ Union, at its top.
She was an extraordinary woman. Brought up by a mother widowed when Flora was four, the pair eventually had to live in one of the Restoration’s worst Paris slums in the Latin quarter’s Maubert area. Tristan lived in the Rue du Fouarre from 1815 to 1821.
She started work as an engraver and porcelaine painter. In 1821, aged 17, she married her employer, the painter and lithographer André François Chazal. Four years later, pregnant with Aline, and already mother of two children, she moved out of Paris back to her mother’s, near the Jardins du Roi (now the Jardins des Plantes), and began a life-long struggle for the right to divorce.
She lived working as a maid and lady’s companion, experiencing this as humiliation, but enabling her to visit England.
She visited London in 1826 and again in 1839, where she heard about the Grand National Consolidated Union and the Tolpuddle martyrs of 1834. In Paris, she became influenced by the Christian socialism of Saint Simone and others. She became a committed feminist socialist. and writer.
She criticised George Sand for hypocrisy. While applauding her use of ‘the novel as a medium to call attention to the harm done to women by our laws’, nonetheless Sand ‘has signed her works with the name of a man. How effective can accusations be when they are disguised as fiction?’ Tristan wanted to know.
In 1838, after she published a denunciation of her abusive marriage and a call for the right to divorce her violent husband stalked, and then shot her. Only then did the wounded Tristan get a legal separation, while the ex-husband got a 20-year prison sentence.
Tristan’s early death during her campaign for working class unity meant she could play no part when radical feminists put up a woman candidate in the 1849 male-only suffrage presidential election under the Second French Republic. And we will never know what she would have thought about the first Socialist president of the Fifth French Republic creating a Flora Tristan stamp in 1984.
But we can be pretty certain she would still be fighting for Socialism and Feminism. She would also be quite surprised and probably particularly upset that an 1892 painting titled ‘When will you marry?’ by her grandson, Aline’s son, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), would fetch prices of over £200m in 2017.
Communism • Trotskyism • Fourth International
Trotsky (the alias Lev Davidovitch Bronstein adopted to replace his earlier one of Pero in 1902) first stayed in Paris for a few months in the Autumn of 1902 after his solo escape from Siberia on his way to London. This was where he first met the Ukrainian Natalya Sedova, three years his junior.
He had been exiled to Siberia with Alexandra Sokolovskaïa (1872-1938), whom he married in a Moscow jail in 1899 when he was 20 and she 27. Already a Marxist she was one of the leaders of the Southern Russian Workers’ Trade Union that Trotsky had worked with. In Siberia the couple had two daughters, Zinaida Volkova (1901-1933) and Nina Nevelson (1902-1928).
In 1902, the Russians living in Paris associated with Iskra, the occasional paper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, used to meet in the flat rented by Natalya Sedova at 4 Rue Lalande, near the Montparnasse Cemetery in the 14th arrondissement.
In Autumn 1902 the 21-year-old Natalya was asked to find a flat for an incoming revolutionary from Vienna, whom she had not met and whose name she was not told.
That revolutionary was Lev Bronstein. And they spent many hours walking Paris together before living together in 1903.
Lenin was also lecturing in Paris in 1902-3 accompanied by Nadezhda Krupskaya. In December 1902 the two couples went to see a show at the Comic Opera in Rue Favart. Lenin lent 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.
Shortly afterwards, Leon and Natalya moved to London to support and then break with Lenin, and then reunite and then…
In 1905, before leaving for Russia and the Revolution taking place there, Trotksy was again briefly in Paris and is supposed to have visited the Café Le Dôme at 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse.
The couple’s first son, Lev, was born while Trotsky was in jail in Moscow after the 1905 Russian Revolution. Escaping from exile to Siberia in 1907 Trotsky spent seven years in Austria and Germany, with perhaps a visit to Paris to meet Lenin in 1910.
This meeting took place at a Montmartre artists’ café where it is suggested they also may encountered the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
The police informer who ran the Café de la Rotonde on the other side of the Boulevard also reported Lenin and Trotksy meeting with other Russian exiles there in 1910.
That same year, another report suggests Lenin was playing chess with Trotsky and with Apollinaire at the Closerie des Lilas restaurant cum corner street café at the Port Royal/eastern end of the boulevard du Montparnasse.
Trotsky was back in Paris from 1914 until his deportation in 1916. He was then
editing an internationalist socialist paper, ‘Our Word’ (Nashe Slovo) whose editorial offices were at 17 rue des Feuillantines. He also met many French anti-war activists such as Pierre Monatte at the revolutionary syndicalist bookshop located at 96 Quai de Jemmapes.
While in Paris this time he lived for several months at the Hotel d’Odessa at 28 Rue d’Odessa which now has the only semi-public plaque to Trotsky in Paris (next to the reception) and met Diego Rivera at the nearby Café de la Rotonde.
He then moved to 23 Rue de l’Amiral Mouchez and invited Natalya and his family to join him before moving to 27 Rue Oudry. The French police used to spy on Trotsky from the cafe Le Petit Bar at 57 Boulevard St Marcel.
On March 31 1916 Trotsky was arrested at Rue Oudry and taken by the police to the Spanish border, from where he was deported to the US. He got back to Russia in May 1917… and despite being white-washed out of the official Soviet history under Stalin, became, arguably, the second most important leader of the Russian Revolution after Lenin until his death in 1924.
The next time Trotsky was in Paris was 1933. This was the year that began with Hitler being nominated Chancellor of Germany. It also saw Trotsky’s eldest daughter, Zina, both of whose two husbands would soon be executed in Stalin’s Great Purges, committing suicide in Berlin aged 32. His youngest daughter, Nina, had already died from tuberculosis in Russia in 1928.
On December 30 1933, while in hiding at Simone Weil‘s parents’ third-floor flat in the Rue Auguste Comte Trotsky made the absurdly unrealistic decision to launch a ‘Fourth International’ – because, logically he considered, something had to be done to mobilise against the fascists. It was not because there were real people out there wanting or waiting for his leadership.
After leaving Simone Weil’s flat Trotksy stayed at the Carlton Hotel at 207 Boulevard Raspail.
Both of Trotsky and Natalia’s two sons were killed on Stalin’s orders. Their youngest son, Sergei, was killed in 1937 in Russia. His first wife, Alexandra Sokolovskaïa, was executed in 1938 during Stalin’s Great Purges.
Natalia and Leon’s eldest son, Lev Sedov, was advised (by one of Stalin’s agents acting as his secretary) to go to a private Clinique Mirabeau at 7, rue Narcisse-Diaz for appendicitis. Shortly after the operation, carried out by an incompetent doctor and an anaesthetist who also worked for Stalin, he died of complications in 1938.
After breaking the heart-rending news to Natalya, Trotsky wrote: ‘Everything that was young in us died with our son’. Lev had been looking after Zinaida’s son, Vsevolod (Sieva), who, accompanied by Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer, then joined his grandfather in Mexico in 1939, aged 13. Sieva was present at one failed assassination attempt on his grandfather. Trotsky was finally assassinated there in 1940.
Natalya, who broke with the Fourth International in 1951 because its leadership insisted on still seeing Stalin’s Russia as a ‘workers’ state’, lived on until 1962 in France. She died in Corbeil-Essonnes, part of what was then the municipal Communist ‘red belt’ just South-East of Paris. The last Communist mayor there was defeated by the reactionary industrialist Dassault in 1995.
In October 2016, walking south between the two halves of the Montparnasse Cemetery towards 46 rue Gassendi, where in 1902 the 20-year-old Natalya had found the 27-year-old Trotsky a Paris room to rent, and they became lovers, I counted six homeless tent shelters attached to the trees and cemetery wall. It was rather sad to see after so many people had fought and died and loved over the previous hundred years for a world that wouldn’t treat people out like that.
Human rights • Health and Safety at work
A doctor whose radical research on prisons in 1820 and work on working class poverty from 1834 led to the 1841 law abolishing child labour under the age of 8.
Socialism • Republican
A trade union lawyer, a rare supporter of women’s suffrage and an independent socialist in the 1890s. He co-founded L’Humanité with Jean Jaurès in 1905 but in 1906 he left the SFIO and, after becoming a minister and identifying as a republican-socialist, he led the government of ‘holy union’ in 1914.