1871-1914

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

Rue du Cherche-Midi

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 38, 39, 44, 47, 91

Named in 1832 after a shop sign showing a painted medieval sun dial with people looking for midday at 2 pm in the afternoon, the road brought together three shorter streets.

The Cherche-Midi military prison at No. 38 had originally been a monastery whose religious community was suppressed in 1790. It then became a factory making army uniforms and then a supply depot. It was largely demolished in 1847 although the trials of many of those arrested in the workers’ uprising of June 1848 took place there.

A new prison with 200 individual cells was built there in 1853. Prisoners worked in silence during the day and were isolated in their cells at night.

Several Communard fighters were slaughtered there on May 30 1871.

This was also the location of the official degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus on 24 December 1894.

On 22 September 1939 a demonstration outside the prison took place in support of the 16 court-martialed and jailed conscientious objectors, who refused to fight in the French army. On November 11 1940 the students arrested at the Armistice Day demonstration at the Place de l’Étoile were imprisoned here by the Germans who had taken the prison over.

In a bad state of repairs it stopped being used for military prisoners in 1947, after which it was only used for military tribunals.

On September 5 1960 the court martial took place here of six Algerian FLN fighters and 18 members of the Jeanson French support network.

The prison was finally demolished in 1966 and the Human Sciences building finished in 1970, which it now shares with the School for Advanced Studies in Social Science.

After his marriage to Adèle Foucher, Victor Hugo lived at No. 39 opposite the prison with his in-laws from 1822 to 1824. This was just up the road from No. 44, where Hugo had lived as a child in 1813-1814.

Paul Lafargue and Laura Marx moved into No. 47 on December 1 1868 soon after their marriage. Karl spent six days with them in July 1869 under the false identity of Alan Williams. This address was where the couple committed suicide together in 1911.

When she arrived in Paris in 1861 from Brittany, Nathalie Le Mel worked at the Angel Entreprise at No. 91. She was one of the first women to join the International Workingmen’s Association.

Plus d’informations

PLACES

Rue de la Clef / Sainte-Pélagie prison

Arrondissement 5

Number 56, site of Sainte-Pélagie prison

The Sainte-Pélagie prison in Rue de la Clef sketched in the 18th century before it became a welcomed prison of choice for 19th century political prisoners

In 1821 the songwriter and pamphleteer Pierre-Jean de Béranger spent three months at Sainte-Pélagie for an oblique political criticism of Louis XVIII. In 1832 Honoré Daumier is placed there. With cholera appearing in the prison a revolt organised by prisoners from the secret Society of the Friends of the People (Société des amis du people) that year led to one death. Hazan (WTP) writes that ‘under the Restoration and the July monarchy… all the opposition leaders passed’ through this prison.

Hazan (IOP) explains that when another prison to accommodate debtors was built in 1826 in the Rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement, ‘Creditors who requested the incarceration of a debtor were required to pay thirty francs a month for the prisoner’s maintenance’.

Honoré Daumier spent six months there in 1832 for his political caricatures attacking the new king Louis-Philippe.

Daumier was jailed for this 1831 and other cartoons suggesting King Louis Philippe is as good as his Bourbon cousins at impoverishing people

164 arrests of republicans were made after the riots that followed the rue Transonain massacre of April 1834. Among those jailed at Sainte-Pélagie were Arago, Victor Schoelcher, Barbès and Godefroy de Cavaignac. Barbès organised an escape by 28 of them through a tunnel in July 1835.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a political prisoner held there from 1849 to 1852. After first fleeing to Belgium he returned to marry Euphrasie Piégard while still in jail.

Elisée Reclus was held there after the 1871 Paris Commune on his way to deportation. Gustave Courbet was jailed there from June 1871 to March 1872 after he was arrested at his hiding place in the Rue St Gilles.

Auguste Blanqui was held there in 1831, 1832 and 1836 and again from 1861 to 1865 when he escaped and went into exile in Belgium until the end of the Second Empire.

Sainte-Pélagie prison courtyard in 1880

Jules Guesde was held there in 1878 in the section of the prison called Pavillion des Princes, entered through 2-14 rue due Puits de l’Érmite (roughly where 3-15 rue Lacépède is today).

On 30 July 1891 Paul Lafargue lost his appeal against a year’s imprisonment for an ‘inflammatory’ speech made after the killing of 10 demonstrators by troops on a May Day march in the Northern textile town, Fourmies.

From the Concièrgerie, where he was held initially, Lafargue was finally sent to Sainte-Pélagie. This was to his great relief, since it was still a political prison. He had access to books and newspapers, and hot and cold water for washing and taking baths.

Sainte-Pélagie prison in 1898 shortly before its demolition

PLACES

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.

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