From one war to another

The Dreyfus affair was the moment that redefined the French Left between the two wars against Germany

Anarchism, Socialism, Paris Exhibition, Dreyfus, Revolutionary syndicalism – in progress

Place Gambetta

Arrondissement 20

Number: 6

Named in 1893 after Léon Gambetta, a republican who was elected for Belleville in 1869 and who was in Spain during the repression of the 1871 Paris Commune, in 1870 it had previously been called the Place des Pyrénées and during the Commune, the Place de Puebla. On March 15 the canons in the Place des Vosges were moved there, and the square saw violent fighting during the ‘Bloody week’ of the Commune.

The Town Hall at No. 6 was the first in Paris to have a Communard elected to its Municipal Council before the June 21 1880 amnesty was announced. The cobbler, Alexis Trinquet, who had made an unsuccessful escape bid from exile in New Caledonia with Jean Allemane on November 23 1876, was elected on June 20 1880.

The Town Hall of the 20th arrondissement photographed for a postcard in 1908. It was built between 1867 and 1877.

Jean Allemane married the seamstress, Adèle Quénot, ten years younger than him with whom they already had two children, at the Town Hall on May 15 1880, one week after he was finally amnestied.

The Square is currently (from 2019) undergoing a major transformation. Unfortunately it is only designed to increase the space for pedestrians by 60%, unlike some of the other six squares being redesigned. And the old Wallace Fountain that features in early 20th century photographs will not be restored.


Rue Japy

Arrondissement 11

Number: 2

The Salle Japy on the left photographed about 1900

Opened in 1870 the road was named after the paternalist industrialist Frédéric Japy. In the late 18th century he invented machine tools that could make some parts of clocks and built workers’ housing to keep his skilled home workers close. Some of his workshops were nearby.

No. 2 was built in 1870 as a covered market, but it was then converted in 1884 into a gym that could also hold political meetings and was known as the Salle Japy. In the 1900 photograph above the Salle is on the left.

The Salle Japy was where the first steps towards unity of the different French socialist organisations took place between December 6 and 9 1899. Jaures, Guesde and Allemane were all present.

At the end of this meeting the new version of l’Internationale was sung together by the different groups for the first time, becoming the anthem of French socialism. The song’s words had been written in June 1871 by the Communard Eugène Pottier to the tune of La Marseillaise, but they were set to the currently-known melody in 1888 by the Belgian socialist Pierre De Geyter.

Many other significant left meetings took place in the Salle Japy. On April 22 1920 the Third Federal Congress of the Railway workers there decided to call an unlimited strike from May 1st for the nationalisation of the railways. On March 7 1925 Marcel Cachin told a Communist meeting there ‘It shouldn’t be that women have two bosses: their employer and their husband’.

But under the German Occupation the hall was also first used as an internment centre for around 5,000 ‘migrant’ Jews. ‘Foreign’ Jews were the first to be rounded up on May 14 1941 and then deported to their deaths.

On July 16 1942 when René Bousquet, Secretary-General to the Police for the Vichy Regime, ordered the partially autonomous French police to round up Jews in Paris, women and children were interned in the Salle Japy before being deported.

Rue Levert

Arrondissement 20

Numbers: 25, 32

An early 18th century path in the Belleville commune it became a road in 1837 and was named after a lawyer who had been mayor of the Belleville Commune from 1805 to 1829.

After the defeat of the Paris Commune, Jean Allemane hid at a friend’s house at No. 25. But he was arrested there on 28 May 1871 and then sentenced to hard labour for life.

Fernand Pelloutier and his brother Maurice and the two Ridel sisters lived at No. 32 from 1895 to 1899.


Panthéon, La Place du

Arrondissement 5

Place du Panthéon: 9, 10, 12, 17

The Panthéon dome (actually three in one like a Russian doll) is one of Paris’ landmarks. Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s Church of Saint-Genevieve  on the hill to the South of the River Seine was built on a grand scale between 1755 and 1790 – and being completed only shortly after the French Revolution began.


Almost immediately the National Constituent Assembly decided to use the model of the Roman Pantheon and to install statues of great Frenchmen in it.

The slogan, ‘A grateful nation honours its great men‘, was put over the entrance and on April 4 1791 Mirabeau became its first brief resident (his ashes were taken away on November 25 1793), followed by Voltaire (July 11 1791), Rousseau (October 11 1794) and then several executed revolutionaries, including Jean-Paul Marat (September 21 1794 – and then thrown into the gutters by the Muscadins on February 26 1795).

Rousseau’s statue in the square put up in 1889 was destroyed under the German Occupation in 1942.

Under Napoleon Bonaparte who gave it back to the Catholic Church, its crypt was stuffed with 41 mainly military figures. After the July Revolution it reverted to being a secular Pantheon on August 26 1830, but no more ‘great men’ were inserted there under Louis-Philippe who kept the crypt closed.

The square in front of the Panthéon became the meeting place for hundreds of demonstrations and pitched battles in the 19th and 20th centuries. One riot under a black flag started there on 21 December 1830 in protest against the light sentences given to the reactionary government ministers of Charles X.

On 22 February 1848 a student demonstration against the banning of university courses by Quinet and Michelet left from there for the Madeleine. Soon after the Panthéon was renamed ‘The Temple of Humanity’, with the intention of turning it into a monument to human progress. The Law School at No. 12 hosted the revolutionary Soufflot Club in March 1848.

On June 22 1848 the square was the meeting place of thousands of workers protesting the closure of the National Workshops who then organised the building of barricades and the call for an armed insurrection. It was one of the three main centres of resistance, with the barricade at the Rue d’Ulm being one of the most important.

The National Guard used canon to burst through the doors of the Panthéon on 25 June 1848 to dislodge the workers inside.

Following Louis Napoleon’s 1852 coup-d’état  the building was returned to the Church again, now the ‘National Basilica’, and the surviving bits of the nun Genevieve’s 1,350-year-old corpse stuck together in a new tomb.

From September 4 1870 the Town Hall of the 5th Arrondissement at No. 21 became the recruiting office for the National Guard defending Paris. with 12 separate offices interviewing recruits. Between 200 and 300 summary executions of Communards took place there on 24 May 1871.

The Panthéon itself was shelled during the Franco-Prussian war and became the scene of a major battle between the Communards and the Versaillais army. On 31 March 1871 a red flag was attached to the sawn off wooden cross that had been erected on top of the building on the orders of Napoleon III. Jean Allemane spoke on the steps supporting the raising of the red flag.

The Law School at No. 12 was where the ‘Democ-Socs‘, the 5th arrondissement’s Democratic-Socialist Club was based in 1870-1871. Many were massacred here on May 24 1871 as the Army burst through to attack those defending the Panthéon via a side door.

Before the ‘Bloody Week’ of the Commune a communist and atheist newspaper l’Éducation républicaine was published at No. 9, being used by a revolutionary club called ‘The Democratic Association of Masters of Study‘.

The Panthéon finally returned to its role as resting place for the ‘great men’ of France on June 1 1885, after the government inserted Victor Hugo‘s body into the crypt.

On June 4 1908 Alfred Dreyfus was wounded in an attack on him when he attended the ceremony installing Émile Zola‘s body into the Panthéon.

The Ste Geneviève Library where Lenin researched ‘Materialism and Empiro Criticism’ in 1908, was based at No. 10.

The Hôtel des Grands Hommes at No. 17 saw André Breton with Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard and others launch the Surrealist movement there on September 17 1919.

In 1920, as part of the celebration of the German defeat, Sicard was commissioned to produce an altar dedicated to the National Convention that declared the First Republic in 1792.

The space for the intended religious altar in the centre of the Panthéon was finally filled in 1920 by Sicard’s secular monument to the glory of the National Convention

On July 16 1942 the Police Station based in the Town Hall at No. 21 was used at a primary collection point for Jews being arrested for deportation by the Paris police in the entirely French-run exercise called ‘The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup‘ (Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver).

In some form of recompense, on May 27 2015, Jean Zay‘s remains were transferred to the Pantheon, along with the resistance fighter Pierre Brossolette, and soli from the graves of two women heros of the Resistance who survived the occupation, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, and Germaine Tillion.

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Rue Pascal

Arrondissements 5, 13

Numbers: 1/2, 17, 54, 81

View of Rue Pascal from the Boulevard du Pont Royal c1910

The road was built in 1825 along the course of one of the arms of the Bièvre River on the site of the former Cordeliers convent that was nationalised in the French Revolution and sold to tanning works 1796. The road was named after the 17th century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal who had lived nearby and who invented the first calculating machine.

The river bed on which it was built was crossed by the Boulevard de Port-Royal in 1866 (a view from the bridge is shown above in and the stream finally covered over in 1905.

Louis-Philippe’s prime minister, François Guizot, banned a democratic reform banquet scheduled for January 13 1848 to take place at what is now No. 54, in the Lourcine-Pascal Hospital, a cholera refuge from 1838 (since 1905 the Broca Hospital) on the site of the former Cordelières Abbey. That meeting was postponed to February 22 to take place in the Champs-Élysées. It is the banning of that meeting that sparked the 1848 February Revolution.

On June 23 1848 violent fighting took place at a barricade between Nos. 1 and 2 and only finished with the defeat of the workers protesting the closure of the National Workshops the following day.

In March 1871 Jean Allemane and other Communards established the 5th arrondissement’s Watch Committee (Comité de vigilance), meeting at No. 17.

In 1902 No. 81 became the Russian Revolutionary Socialist Party‘s library in Paris.


Père Lachaise Cemetery

Arrondissement 20

East Cemetery

Opened in 1804 this world famous cemetery gets its name from Louis XIV’s Jesuit priest confessor from 1675 to 1709, François d’Aix de La Chaize. This was the period when the Sun King, having decided that anyone who was not a Catholic was the ‘enemy within’, revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes that had tolerated protestants. While discriminatory measures took off from 1661, persecutions intensified from 1679 leading up to the 1685 revocation in the Edict of Fontainebleau. One per cent of the population, some 200,000 Huguenots were then forced out of France.

The Jesuits bought the land on the Mont-aux-Vignes hill to the North-East of Paris in the 16th century. After the young King Louis XIV had spent a few hours there the hill was renamed the Mont-Louis, and this was where Louis’ confessor, Father La Chaise, lived and died.

In 1780, finally, all cemeteries within the city walls were closed. As Consul Napoleon decreed that cemeteries should be open to all faiths and to the poor as well as the rich. In 1803 the land on the hill was acquired by the Prefect of the Seine department and the design of the cemetery entrusted to Alexandre-Theodore Brongiart.

The Père La Chaise opened for its first burial on June 4 1804. That year there were only 13 tombs. In 1815 still only 2,000. In 1830 there were 33,000 and after several expansions some 70,000 in 2014.


Rue Portefoin

Arrondissement 3

Number: 17

Rue Portefoin

A short, narrow road, in 1282 it was first opened by the Knights Templar as the Rue Richard-des-Poulies. Soon afterwards a wealthy man Jean Portefin built a private mansion there and its name was changed to Portefin, and in the 17th century to Portefoin.

No. 17 is the house where Honoré de Balzac lived in 1819, just up the road from Madame de Berny, his mistress at No. 3. Shown on the left of the Google Streetview image above, No. 17 became the agreed meeting place of the French Socialist Unity Committee after the Second Unity Congress held in the Salle Wagram in September 1900.

In January 1902 Allemane finally left the committee because Jaurès‘ daughter had gone to communion, and Alexandre Millerand had attended the September 1901 reception for the Russian Tsar Nicholas II.


Rue Soufflot

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 1-2, 11

One of the three barricades defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the neck of the road from No. 1 to No. 2. It was here that Jean Allemane fought until the barricade was overcome. The 400 Fédérés (Communards belonging to the Paris National Guard) who were captured were then shot after the barricade battles ended.

Another brief stay for Émile Zola as the young man moved around the Latin Quarter in the early 1860s was at No. 11, where he found a room over the winter of 1861-1862.

On June 23 and June 24 1848 violent battles took place at the barricade across the road at No. 12, as the government’s troops attacked the workers who had risen up in defence of the National Workshops.

The day after the June fighting ended, on June 25 1848 a National Guard corporal called Raguinard and another fighter on the barricade across the Rue d’Ulm were summarily executed outside No. 22, then at a corner with Rue St Hyacinthe, a road that disappeared entirely in the 1860s rebuilding under Haussmann.

The painting by Horace Vernet of a barricade battle in Rue Soufflot on June 24 1848

The third barricade defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the road at No. 23, just where it joins the Boulevard St Michel – a site now occupied by a McDonald’s.

The road gets its name from the main architect of the Panthéon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, who died shortly before then Sainte-Geneviève church was finished.

A 1790 plan shows the then Rue du Panthéon Français leading only as far as the Rue St Jacques, and how its extension involved the final demolition of the Jacobin Monastery where the revolutionaries meeting in its dining room during the French Revoltuion were given the political name Jacobins.

The first part of the road was built during the building of the Law School and the Church in the 1770s and called the Rue du Panthéon Français  in 1790.

The road was renamed Soufflot in 1807 and work begun in 1859 finally led it to be straightened and extended to its present form and name in 1876.

On the day he was invested as French President, 21 May 1981, Mitterrand walked up Rue Soufflot to the Panthéon to put roses on the tombs there of three of its 19th and 20th century residents, Jean Moulin, Victor Schoelcher and Jean Jaures.

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Avenue de Wagram

Arrondissements 8, 17

Number: 37/39

Looking up the Avenue to the Arc de Triomphe around 1900

One of 12 broad radial roads that leaves the Arc de Triomphe from what used to be called the ‘Square of the Star’ (Place de l’Étoile) and was renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle in 1970. The road was first opened on January 16 1789 when the section of the Farmers’ tax wall was completed between the Etoile (Neuilly) and Roule (Ternes) customs posts. It became de Wagram on March 2 1864 during the Second Empire to honour Napoleon I’s significant victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram on July 6 1809.

The Salle Wagram at No. 37/39 witnessed some key meetings in the history of the Left in France. On the site of a guingette (open air café) run by a Napoleonic war veteran since 1812 on a country lane outside the city walls (and so providing cheap wine), under the restoration he developed it into dance hall, the Bal Dourlans.

In 1865 a new covered hall designed by Fleuret was inaugurated surrounded by two rings of seats. In 1899 the hall was given in a legacy to one of the five academies grouped within the Institut de France, which continued to run it as a dance hall, concert hal, exhibition halll and venue for political meetings.

Immediately after the 5th Congress of the Second Socialist International was held at the Salle Wagram from September 23 to 27 1900, leading to the establishment of a permanent international committee, an even more important development took place.

From September 28 to 30 1900 the Second Congress of French Socialist organisations took place at the Salle Wagram. Jules Guesde (P.O.F.), Jean Allemane, Jean Jaurès and Aristide Briand were all present. During it Guesde’s Parti Ouvrier de France decided to leave the unity meeting.

The entrance that led to the Salle Wagram around 1900

On March 28 1910 Vera Figner presided at a fund-raising concert at the Salle Wagram to support Russian revolutionaries escape from prison. Among those who attended were Lenin and Maxime Gorky, although Lenin avoided meeting Gorky since he didn’t wish to have a political argument with him.

Shortly before Lenin left Paris he attended an event at the Salle Wagram on April 15 1912 to honour the centenary of the birth of Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian socialism.

On the third anniversary of the Russian Revolution, November 7 1920, Pierre Monatte, the anarchist Caroline Rémy and Boris Souvarine were among those who attended a celebration meeting at the Salle Wagram.

Caroline Remy, the anarchist journalist who joined the Communist Party in 1921 shown here painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

André Malraux attended at least two meetings organised by the Communist Party in the Salle Wagram. One in 1933 was support of ErnstThälmann, the jailed leader of the German Communist Party, and on December 23 1935 he spoke at the second anniversary of Dmitrov’s acquittal of setting fire to the Reichstag.

On July 30 1936 Malraux was given huge applause at the Salle Wagram when, returning from Spain, he spoke at the first major solidarity meeting with Republican Spain.

Under the Occupation the fascist French Popular Party mounted a ‘Bolshevism against Europe’ exhibition at the Salle Wagram that opened on March 1 1942. On March 8 three resistance fighters failed to set off a bomb in the exhibition. The Romanian-born Jew André Kirschen (aged 15 and a half), Karl Schoenhaar and Georges Tondelier were arrested. They were tortured and the two older men were executed. Kirschen was sent to a concentration camp because of his youth, and survived.

After the Second World War the Salle Wagram was hired by the extreme right on October 28 1948 to hold a meeting for ‘Peoples oppressed by the Bolsheviks’. A counter demonstration by 12,000 communists was attacked by the police, involving 1 death and 300 wounded.

After the war it was also the major Paris jazz venue, with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Bud Powell and Django Reinhardt all playing there. Sidney Bechet performed his last concert there in 1958.

On September 1 1950 a communist meeting in support of the Vietnam liberation movement was held at the Salle Wagram. Its principal speaker was Léo Figuères, a resistance fighter who had visited Vietnam and whose arrest had been ordered by the military.

The Algerian liberation movement whose president was Messali Hadj, the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques, held huge meetings at No. 37 on June 13 1950 and, in protest against police violence on May Day, on May 5 1951.

The Algerian war for independence that began in 1954 saw a joint protest meeting of the SFIO and Marceau Pivert‘s recently founded (June 1955) Mouvement pour la justice et les libertés outre-mer (Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Colonies) taking place at the Salle Wagram on October 7 1955. The meeting called on the government to stop sending military reinforcements to Algeria.


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