Radicalised by the Dreyfus Affair Léon Blum became the major Jewish figure of French socialism in the interwar years. He became Popular Front prime minister from 1936 to 1938. He was imprisoned in Buchenwald from 1943 to 1945 after having been handed to the Germans by the far right Vichy regime. He was briefly prime minister again in 1946-47.
During the first half of the 20th century, alongside his mentor Jean Jaurès, Blum personified the alternative to the insurrectionary road to socialism.
He was born on April 9 1872 at 151, Rue Saint-Denis, above the silk wholesale business run by his father in a street whose northern stretch is still today dominated by the textile trade. A really bright student, from 1882 to 1888 he attended the Lycée Charlemagne in the Marais, while boarding in the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois.
He then went on to the still more prestigious Lycée Henri-IV in Rue Clovis in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine., where he met Andre Gide. Blum’s final thesis there argued that criminals should be examined through the interplay of independent factors leading to their crime’.
Aged 18 he passed directly into the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in the Rue d’Ulm in 1890. Failing his first year exams he then moved to studying literature and law, getting a law degree at Paris University in 1894.
The Rue Laffitte offices of La Revue Blanche went on to become one of the key organising centres of the campaign to pardon Dreyfus in the early 20th century.
Blum took and passed exams to become a top notch civil servant in the Conseil d’Etat in December 1895. He kept this post for the next 25 years and in 1896 married Lise Bloch and moved to the Rue du Luxembourg, on the west of the Luxembourg Garden. After the First World War this road became the Rue Guynemer in honour of a French pilot ace.
Herr’s friendship was a key factor in Blum’s involvement in the campaign to pardon Dreyfus. It was at Herr’s flat in 1898 that Blum first met Jean Jaurès, where both were persuaded of the Dreyfus’ innocence. Later, Blum wrote that this was where he became a socialist: ‘from the injustice inflicted on an individual, we tried, as Jaurès did from the start, to generalise it to social injustice’.
Blum’s death was the occasion of another of the huge left funeral processions that regularly punctuate French history. It left from the Rue Victor Massé offices ofthe evening socialist paper Le Populaire, founded in 1916, by Jean Longuet, Marx‘s grandson, and closely associated with the SFIO and Blum from 1921.
Born in Turin and raised in Burgundy, Félix Fénéon topped an examination to become a senior administrator at the Ministry of War in Paris at the age of 20. During the 1880s he became known as a leading literary and art critic in the Paris. In the 1890s he was accused of being an anarchist bomber and jailed for several months before being found not guilty.
To my great surprise while travelling to Paris on June 20 2019, Marian found an advertisement in the Eurostar magazine for a major art exhibition devoted to Fénéon. It began at the Musée du Quai Branly, where it was essentially devoted to his collection of African art. From October to January 2020 it continued at the Musée de l’Orangerie, where it focused on his anarchist artist friends. The combined exhibition was then scheduled to cross the pond to New York in 2020.
Fénéon wrote for a journal called La Libre Revue in 1883 and 1884 while he was still living with his parents in Rue Vaneau. Its correspondence address was 8 Place du Palais Bourbon. He then became a founding editor of La Revue Indépendante in 1884, whose offices were in the Rue de Médicis. He then became editor of La Vogue in 1885, contributing to Le Symboliste in 1886. All of these posts were part-time.
Fénéon coined the term ‘neo-impressionism’ and promoted pointillism. Very friendly with Georges Seurat, he promoted pointillism.
At the same, like many intellectuals in the ten years from 1885, Fénéon was attracted by anarchist libertarian and egalitarian ideals. He attended anarchist meetings, was a friend of Émile Henry, the 20-year-old bomber of the Café Terminus. He supported the ‘propaganda by deed’ movement and had a substantial police file.
After the Rue de Condé explosion at the Restaurant Foyot, the police found nothing incriminating at his flat in Rue Lepic. But a flask of mercury and detonator tubes were found in his office at the War Ministry. He was arrested and jailed in the Prison Mazas.
This was in the same month that the 20-year-old Italian anarchist baker, Caserio, who in June 1894 in Lyon had mortally stabbed the French President Sadi Carnot, was guillotined. The political climate was highly hostile to anarchism.
In the witness box, however, Fénéon mounted a brilliant defence. He totally ridiculed the prosecution. Fénéon and 26 others were found not guilty.
He was then asked by Thadée Natanson to became editor of La Revue Blanche, an influential artistic and literary journal, sympathetic to anarchist ideas that the wealthy banker’s son had founded in 1889. Its offices were in the Rue Laffitte.
Active in supporting Dreyfus, Natanson was in 1898 one of the founders of theRights of Man League. His wife Misia, the daughter of the Polish sculptor, Cyprien Godebski, were at the heart of the Parisan cultural and artistic scene at the beginning of the 20th century.
Fénéon broadened the journal’s politics to include pieces by Lucien Herr, Léon Blum, Kropotkin and Tolstoy. In January 1898 Fénéon signed the Manifesto of Intellectuals published in support of Dreyfus the day after Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ letter that led to Dreyfus’ second trial.
La Revue Blanche ceased publishing in 1903 and Feneon then worked as a jobbing art critic journalist.
World War 1
From 1906 until 1925 Fénéon was artistic director of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune art gallery, also initially located in the Rue Laffitte. He edited its journal from 1919 to 1926.
During the World War 1, when some leading anarchists identified with their national governments, Fénéon began to distance himself from anarchism. After the Bolshevik revolution, along with his friend Paul Signac, he became closer to the Communist Party.
From 1920 to 1922 he worked as a literary editor for Editions de la Sirène, publishing James Joyce, Jerome K Jerome and many others. In 1936, on the victory of the Popular Front, he hoisted a red flag in front of his house.
He died at Châtenay-Malabry aged 82 in 1944.
In 1947, shortly before her own death, his widow, Fanny Goubaux, set up the annual Prix Fénéon (Feneon Prize), organised by the University of Paris. This was funded by the sale of much of his by then extensive art collection, bought from antique dealers and given by his friends.
Today, Feneon Prizes for literature and art still offer under 35-year-old poor French artists and writers funding to help them follow their chosen path. In 2018 Julia Kerninon won the literary prize, and Salomé Fauc the artistic prize.
Socialist and philosopher who helped persuade many leading figures to support the Dreyfus campaign
One of the best read socialists in France this chief librarian (from 1888 to 1926) at the elite École Sormale Supérieure university at 45 rue d’Ulm persuaded many key figures, such as Jaurès and Blum to become socialists and then to defend Dreyfus.
He helped found L’Humanité in 1904 and joined the SFIO in 1905.
Jean Jaurès, a socialist from a French Protestant family of doctors, might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by getting the French government to pull back from entering the First World War. But he was assassinated on 31 July 1914, three days before war was declared. Without his determined internationalism the other Socialist and trade union leaders collapsed into the ‘Holy Union’ against Germany.
In 1902 Jaurès was one of the founders of the French Socialist Party. In 1904 he set up the socialist daily paper, L’Humanité, that he edited until two bullets were fired into his back while he was having supper in the café on the corner of the Rue du Croissant and the Rue Montmartre, just up the street from its editorial office.
His body was taken back to his wife that evening, at 96bis Villa de la Tour, where they had lived since 1899.
In 1905 had been the principal mover behind the formation of the French Section of Workers’ International (SFIO) – the common origins of today’s French Socialist and Communist Parties.
Jaurès was opposed to armies used for offensive wars and believed the best defence was a people’s militia.
In 1914 the SFIO won 17% of the vote, and became France’s second biggest party.
Two weeks before he was murdered, the SFIO’s emergency congress called for a general strike to stop the war and preserve peace. He believed that war could be prevented if a general strike took place in France and was followed by similar action in Germany, Britain and Austria.
Five days before his murder Jaurès told a meeting in Lyon that ‘War is brought by capitalism, like the clouds bring storms’. Jaurès moved a motion of censure against the Radical government for provoking war by sending a minister to Russia.
Right-wing papers like ‘L’Echo de Paris’ had already screamed:
‘On the verge of war, if a general put Jaurès against a wall and gave him the lead he’s missing in his brain, wouldn’t you say he was doing his basic duty?’
This was not the first time Jaurès had been publicly vilified. He had attracted a barrelfull of vitriol in the Dreyfus Affair that split France for a decade from 1895. Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish army officer who was falsely charged with giving intelligence to the Germans. He was court-martialed and sentenced to transportation for life to a prison island in 1894.
On one side was a massive coalition of the supporters of law and order, the French army (right or wrong), French nationalists and anti-semites (in a Catholic country where priests with considerable influence commonly preached that the Jewish people was partly responsible for Christ’s crucifixion). On the other were a handful of campaigners, mainly socialists and left republicans skeptical of the army and France’s imperial and militaristic ambitions.
In 1898 postcards showing Jaurès as a wild-eyed red drunken revolutionary did the rounds.
He himself had taken a few years before he was convinced by Émile Zola and others of Dreyfus’ total innocence, but once persuaded, Jaurès played a big part in getting Dreyfus freed. In 1897 he was physically assaulted in the National Assembly for denouncing the travesty of justice.
In 1898 he became a leading contributor to the radical republican newspaper, La Petite République at 111 Rue Reaumur. He soon added the adjective Socialiste to its title. From then until he founded l’Humanité in 1904 it was the main socialist newspaper. It was in its pages that he detailed the proof of Dreyfus’ innocence.
Walking from where Jaurès lived near the Trocadero to the murder scene at the Café à la Chope du Croissanton the rue du Montmartre on a summer’s day takes 45 minutes. Jaurès himself will have usually gone by the new metro or by a horse-pulled bus.
On 31 July 1914, however, he had gone there direct from the National Assembly, where he had failed to persuade the Republican ministers to step back from war. He was going to work on an article for L’Humanité that would call on the French working class to stop it instead. So he decided to have a bite to eat before going to the paper’s office at 16 rue du Croissant.
What happened to the appropriately-named Raoul Villain, the
29-year-old nationalist who murdered Jaurès and silenced the last person
capable of resisting the descent into war?
Villain, a member of the Youth Friends of Alsace-Lorraine (under German control since 1871) ran away from the scene but was stopped and arrested. He immediately told the police he was proud of what he had done and was imprisoned awaiting trial. Throughout the war he repeatedly asked for his trial to be postponed. It finally opened on March 24 1919, four months after the war was ‘won’.
The judge told him: ‘Villain, you’re a patriot. You just didn’t think about the consequences of your act’. Five days later, by 11 votes to 1 the patriotic jury acquitted him. One juror said: ‘If Jaurès, the opponent of the war, had been around, France would not have been able to win the war’.
The judge then ordered Jaurès’ widow to pay the costs of the trial. Three weeks later, on April 6 1919, a 100,000-strong socialist protest demonstration down the Avenue Henri Martin where Jaurès’ widow lived at no 72 , was attacked by the police, and two demonstrators killed.
Villain fled France, and finally experienced the ultimate, ironic fate. He was living in Ibiza when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Franco bombed the town and Villain was shot as a spy by Spanish anarchists without their knowing his real crime against humanity.
15 rue Madame. Jaurès lived here when he first came to Paris, staying from 1893 to 1899.
111 rue Réaumur. Offices of the La Petite république, socialist republican paper co-edited by Jaurès, who was only convinced to support Dreyfus in 1898.
33 quai d’ Orsay. National Assembly. Jaurès was assaulted on 22 January 1898 when he defended Dreyfus in the Chamber of Deputies
138- 142 Rue Montmartre. The first number of l’Humanité was printed at this address. Its first offices were at 110 Rue de Richelieu.
8 Boulevard de Strasbourg. The Unification congress of the Socialist Party (SFIO) took place in the Globe Room of the Favre here on 23, 24 and 25 April 1905, when it claimed 35,000 members. Jaurès (PSF) brought together Jules Guesde (PS de France) and Jean Allemane (POSR)
3 rue du Château d’Eau. Bourse du Travail where a physical fight broke out on August 3 1908 witnessed by Jaurès and Lafargue, giving their support to the failed General Strike call for that day called by the CGT. This call followed the police murders of four strikers and wounding of another ten at Villeneuve St Georges on May 28 and June 2 and then four new murders by the army in suppressing a solidarity demonstration on 30 July.
34 Boulevard de Courcelles. Spanish Embassy. Jaurès was among the half a million demonstrators who surrounded the embassy on 17 October 1909 in protest against the execution of the libertarian Francisco Ferrer for allegedly being responsible for a General Strike in Spain.
77 Boulevard Arago. The corner of the Santé prison was used for public guillotining from 1899. On 2 July 1910 Jaurès was one of the protestors there against an execution of a pimp there.
Place du Panthéon. The remains of Jean Jaurès were transferred to the Panthéon on 23 November 1924. 100,000 people followed the cortege.
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.
In 1898 Émile Zola, the pre-eminent 19th century social realist novelist, helped change the course of French history when he took up the cause of Captain Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer framed for treason.
From that moment onwards the republicans divided between those on the left who were internationalist and opposed racism and sought to improve the conditions of the vast majority of French people, and those on the political right who sided with the monarchists and Bonapartists and unconditionally supported the army and ‘strong government’.
Unlike most significant left figures in French history, Zola’s magnificent literary output followed by his premature death meant he has three plaques to him around Paris as well as an avenue named after him.
One plaque confirms his place of birth on the fourth floor of 10 Rue St Joseph, even though the family moved away when he was three years old.
Most Parisians rented their homes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Like them, Zola moved around a great deal when he first arrived in Paris to study for a Bac diploma in science (following in his father’s footsteps), staying primarily in the cheap Latin Quarter.
In 1858 to 1859, Zola lived first at 63 Rue Monsieur le Prince and then moved a short distance to 241 Rue St Jacques. After failing to get a Bac in science he gets a job as a clerc on the docks for two months before moving again in 1860 to 35 Rue St Victor. Evicted from there for non-payment of his rent his next move was to 4 Rue Rollin and then to 11 Rue Soufflot – all within a short distance of each other.
On March 1 1862 Zola starts a job at the Hachette bookshop thanks to an offer by its owner, Louis, and on October 31 1862 is naturalised French.
He is then living at what is now 7 Impasse Royer-Collard. Still employed at the bookshop, after a short stay with his mother at 5 Rue des Feuillantines, he then moves back to Rue St Jacques, this time to No. 278. This is where he was living in 1864 when his first novel was published, Contes à Ninon (Stories from Ninon).
In late 1864 Zola started a relationship with Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley, a seamstress also called Gabrielle, whom he married in 1870. The couple first lived together in 1866 in a sixth floor room with a view of the Luxembourg Garden from the terrace of 10 Rue de Vaugirard.
On 12 January 1898 Zola wrote ‘j’acccuse‘, a letter to the French President, Felix Faure, at his marital home since 1889 at 21 Rue de Bruxelles. He then took it to the offices of the ‘Aurore’ newspaper edited by Georges Clemenceau at 144 Rue Montmartre, now remembered by a plaque. It was published the following day.
Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning from an alleged faulty heater in September 1902.