Armand Barbès

1809-1870 • France

Republican Insurrectionist

Organiser with Blanqui of the republican Rights of Man society, he was wounded in the 1839 insurrection and sentenced to life imprisonment. Called ‘the scourge of the establishment‘ by Marx , in 1892 perceptions had changed. The 18th arrondissement’s Boulevard Barbès and in 1903 the new Barbès metro station were named after him as a republican icon.

Barbès was one of the many left political prisoners who were jailed in the Sainte Pélagie prison from 1831.

On June 2 1836 several members of the Society of Seasons led by Barbès and Blanqui were arrested in their secret workshop at 22-24 Rue Dauphine where they were making gunpowder.

On May 9 1839 Barbès arranged for a trunk to be left that evening with the 55-year-old Catherine Rouchon, a widow who made trimmings for furniture, at 23 Rue Quincampoix. On May 12 when she wasn’t there some of the Society knocked down her door and collected its contents, ammunition. After the insurrection she identified Barbès to the police in the infirmary at the Conciergerie.

When the Society of Seasons insurrection finally took place on May 12 1839 Barbès and Blanqui took part in the pillaging of the Lepage armoury at 22 Rue du Bourg l’Abbé. Today, after the Haussmann rebuilding of Paris under the Second Empire, this is where the buildings stand at 64-66 Boulevard de Sébastopol.

Blanqui’s headquarters during the insurrection was in a café at 1 Rue Mandar. Barbès led another column to seize the Palais de Justice on the Cité island on the Seine, where they also attacked the police station, killing its commander.

The most important of the barricades erected on that Sunday in May 1839 was across the Rue de St. Martin. The insurrection was able to seize one local town hall at 43 Rue des Franc-Bourgeois.

The insurrectionaries, in the low thousands, including an estimated 200-300 students, occupied the Hotel de Ville. During the attack Barbès was wounded in the head. He was arrested outside 79 Rue des Gravilliers (now 248 Rue St Martin) at about 7 pm on May 12.

In 1848 Blanqui and Barbès were both released from prison, but they were no longer close allies. They did, however, found the Political Prisoners’ club at a meeting in the Salle Valentino at 251 Rue St Honoré  with Barbès as President and Blanqui Vice-President.

On March 21 Barbès founded the Club de la Révolution at a meeting in the Salle Molière at 159 Rue St Martin. At the same time he was meeting Proudhon, Pierre Leroux and Étienne Arago. With Leroux at 12ter Rue Coquilliere Barbes founded the newspaper, The True Republic, whose first issue stated: ‘Without labour reform, there is no true Republic‘. It produced 104 issues before being banned in August by Cavaignac.

On May 15 1848 the Republican left (Barbès, the worker Albert, Louis Blanc, François-Vincent Raspail and others) organised a demonstration in Paris to the Palais Bourbon, the Chamber of Deputies in support of the Polish revolution. While not being planned as an insurrection, Barbès took centre stage in the Constituent Assembly and announced the formation of a new government. Soon after they are all arrested.

The 15 arrested after the May 1848 protests against government inaction over the Polish revolt against the Russian colonisers included insurrectionary revolutionaries like Barbes and Blanqui alongside socialist republicans like Blanc and Raspail.

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Le Maitron

BARBES PLACES

Rue des Bourdonnais

Arrondissement 1

Numbers: 11, 32

Rue Bourdonnais photographed by Charles Marville in 1853

This road owes its present name (finally decided in 1852) to the brothers Adam and Guillaume Bourdon, provost of the merchants of Paris and wealthy Parisians in the 12th century.

On July 29 1843 Alexandre Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc together with François Arago, Ferdinand Flocon and Godefroi Cavaignac met at Ledru-Rollin’s office at No. 11 and decided to set up a radical newspaper that would campaign for democracy,  La Réforme. The photograph above of Rue Bourdonnais was taken ten years later by Charles Marville.

This was where on February 21 1848 the Republicans around the Reform paper took the decision to resort to armed resistance to the King’s decision to ban the Paris banquet in their national campaign to extend the franchise. Among those meeting were the Worker Albert, Ledru-Rollin, Etienne Arago and Marc Caussidière.

The office became the headquarters of the February Revolution, and was where on February 24 1848 Ledru-Rollin, Blanc, l’ouvrier Albert, Flocon, Arago and Cavaignac drew up the left’s list for membership of the provisional government.

A century later, No 32 was the home from 1954 to 1958 of the Catholic priest, Henri Grouès (called l’abbé Pierre), who had been in the resistance and then a deputy, and was the founder of the Emmaüs charity.

PLACES

Rue Commines

Arrondissement: 3

Numbers: 10, 15

Named in 1864 after Philippe de Commynes, the road was built through the site of the Convent of the Daughters of Calvary in 1804, when it was first called the rue Neuve de Ménilmontant,

When Marx arrived in Paris in March 1848 he stayed in the offices of the German Communist League at No. 10. While there he met Engels and Ferdinand Flocon, a member of the new Provisional Government like the Worker Albert. Marx left Paris after the defeat of the June insurrection.

In 1839 Albert was living at No. 15 when he was one of the leaders of the Four Seasons Club organised by Blanqui and Barbes.

PLACES

Rue Léon-Frot

Arrondissement 11

Number: 55, 64

Initially opened up in 1816, the name of most of the road was the Rue des Boulets (probably either from canonballs or from the rounded shape much coal was distributed in during the 19th century), but on December 18 1944 the section north of Boulevard Voltaire was renamed Léon Frot.

Frot lived in No. 55 and was an elected 11th arrondissement Communist municipal councillor who had been sentenced to five years imprisonment on May 14 1940 by the Paris military court for distributing communist propaganda. Moved from the Sante prison to the Bourges (Cher) prison and then to Clairvaux (Aube) he was executed there on January 13 1942. Between January and May 21 political prisoners were shot at Clairvaux. This followed the German policy of first selecting Jews and Communists in determining who should be shot in reprisals for Resistance attacks on Germans.

Elected a Communist municipal councillor in 1935, jailed for his Communist Party activities before the German occupation of June 1940 Frot was killed aged 42.

The Worker Albert worked at the button manufacturer Bapterosses situated at No. 64 (formerly 16 rue de la Muette) in the 1840s.

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PLACES

Rue Vieille-du-Temple

Arrondissements 3, 4

Numbers: 87, 131

The road dates back to 1250 when it led from the north towards the gardens of the Knights Templar fort and its tower on the inside of the Philippe-August wall. After the Charles V wall was built both parts of the road, inside and outside the old wall became the Old Temple Road.

Like many during the workers’ insurrection of June 1848, the road was barricaded without anyone today knowing its exact location.

On December 2 1851 the workers in the National Printworks at No. 87 were forced by the army supporting Louis-Napoleon’s Coup d’Etat to print the poster announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly.

The 1705 Rohan Private Mansion on the left was nationalised under the French Revolution and turned into the National Printworks by Napoleon in 1808. This use by the state ended in 1924, and after being used by the National Archives for many years at the time of writing (2020) its interior is being restored to 18th century style.

On March 18 1871 the tables were turned. The 86th battalion of the National Guard took over the National Printworks to defend the Paris Commune and Louis Debock, a typesetter, took over the directorship at No. 87.

The Worker Albert was arrested at his home in No. 131 in January 1841 following police enquiries into the assassination attempt on Louis-Philippe on 15 October 1840. Finding communist pamphlets at the house he was jailed for a month for belonging to a Communist club.

Parisrevolutionnaire

PLACES

Socialism

Accused of being drunkards in several areas of France the early SFIO campaigned against alcoholism as well as against capitalism

French socialism began to distinguish itself both from Proudhon’s anarchistic appeal to humanity’s moral responsibilities and from Blanqui’s insurrectionism in the 1890s. Founded by Blum, Jaures and Vaillant in 1905 in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, the SFIO united left reformist republicans and Marxist sectarians. The alliance broke up in 1920 when a majority at the Tours Conference voted to affiliate to the new Communist International.

Despite being a minority at that SFIO conference, the SFIO of left reformist socialism became the leading left political current through nearly all the interwar period. After the Communist Party ended Stalin’s ‘class against class’ propaganda against the Socialists and proposed a Popular Front alliance, Blum became prime minister in 1936.

Under the Fourth Republic its internal divisions over Algerian independence, with Mendes France and the challenge of the stronger Communist Party allowed De Gaulle to take power. In 1981 Mitterrand won a decisive majority on a left platform that he abandoned three years later. From then the Socialist Party became largely a party of elected national and local officials, without any real mass membership. In 2017, following five politically disastrous years under Hollande, the Socialist Party suffered a major defeat in both the presidential and National Assembly elections. A new left party, La France Insoumise (France untamed), did relatively well, with the Left Front’s presidential candidate getting 19.6% of the vote in the first round.

The vote for the La France Insoumise leader Mélenchon in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections shows stronger support in the less wealthy parts of Paris

Like the Socialists, though, Melonchon’s La France Insoumise has still virtually no local membership base. In the European elections of 2019, its share of the vote fell to 6%.

Work in progress