World War One
Union Sacrée, Pacifist opposition, Women strikers, Mutineers – in progress
Union Sacrée, Pacifist opposition, Women strikers, Mutineers – in progress
Nationalism, Reparations, Imperialism, Socialist split, Communist Party, Class against Class to Popular Front – in progress
Number 17, La Révolution prolétarienne
Named after a 16th century Italian painter in 1880, the old Montmartre street was originally called the rue Saint-André. Its biggest claim to fame, apart from hosting Monatte‘s oppositional publication, La Révolution prolétarienne, at No. 17 in 1925 is the recent discovery (in 1988) of one of the last wells found in Montmartre – at 17b.
This was the editorial office of the CGT’s revolutionary syndicalist journal, L’Action directe’. Pierre Monatte worked as its proof reader.
In 1908 Monatte was living here when two gravel-pit strikers were shot by gendarmes at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. On July 30 1908 the CGT called a solidarity demonstration at Draveil that was attacked by soldiers. Four demonstrators were killed and 200 wounded, with 69 soldiers wounded. The next day the government announced it would arrest the CGT leadership for ‘moral responsibility’, including the printer, Monatte, who escaped to Switzerland.
The CGT called a 24-hour general strike on August 3 1908, but it only had any real support in the building industry. Its General Secretary, Victor Griffuelhes, and other CGT leaders were jailed. The arrest of the direct action leadership, the failure of the general strike and the defeat of the three-month long gravel workers’ strike was a turning point in the CGT away from revolutionary syndicalism.
There is a little historical twist to Rue Daubenton’s connection with direct action. In 1561, Hazan (IOP) recalls: ‘following an obscure business about bells spoiling a meeting held by the Calvinists on Rue Patriarche (now Rue Daubenton, opposite Saint-Médard), the latter sacked the Saint-Médard church. This affair, known as the ‘Saint-Médard disturbance’, led to a number of deaths, and is often seen as a prelude to the [French] wars of religion’.
Numbers: 1-2, 7, 18, 33, 39, 42
Built in 1607 to link the first stone bridge (the Pont Neuf) across the Seine funded from the king’s purse with the Philippe Auguste wall, it was named after the Dauphin (eldest son) of Henri IV. This peculiar name (meaning dolphin in French) dated from 1349 when King Philippe bought land from the Count of Vienna on condition that all heirs to the French throne be named after the dolphin emblem on the count’s coat of arms.
The royal connection didn’t survive revolutionary France. From 1792 to 1814 it was renamed Rue de Thionville to honour the victorious two-month resistance of the town of that name to the 1792 seige by 36,00 Austrian and French Royalist troops. At the next challenge to the Bourbons a barricade thrown up between Nos. 1 and 2, opposite the Pont Neuf bridge, saw heavy fighting with Charles X’s soldiers defending the Louvre Palace on July 27 1830.
On May 25 1871 a barricade in the same place was taken without great difficulty by the Versallais troops.
Outside No. 7 there is a plaque on the wall. This is where in 1937 Picasso painted Guernica in his roof-top studio for the Spanish Republic’s hall in that year’s Paris International Exhibition. In vain Picasso left a will stating that the work would only be returned to Spain when it was again a Republic.
A big arms cache of the FTP resistance group on the mezzanine floor of Staircase D of No. 18 was found by the anti-resistance Special Brigade of the Paris Police in June 1943.
Martin Bernard, a typographer and member of Barbès and Blanqui‘s republican ‘Family Association’ (Société des Familles) conspiracy that subsequently became the Société des saisons and staged the May 12 1839 insurrection set up an ammunition workshop at No. 24. He was arrested there on June 2 1836.
In 1864 members of the newly-founded International Working Men’s Association, Eugène Varlin and Nathalie Le Mel, set up the La Marmite association at Varlin’s flat at No. 33. Within a few years it had grown to some 8,000 members.
In 1942 Simone de Beauvoir was staying at the Hôtel d’Aubusson, also at No. 33, when she was forced out of teaching. The left/existentialist intellectual bar, Le Tabou, that had been the Bar vert in the Rue Jacob was reopened in the basement by Juliette Greco for rehearsals in 1946 before opening to the public the following year.
No. 42 was the address of the editorial office of La Vie ouvriére, 1909-1911. The journal was founded with funds collected from supporters and edited by Pierre Monatte, aiming to be ‘the home of syndicalist intellectual cooperation’. Its contributors included the major figures of French trade unionism such as Victor Griffuelhes, Léon Jouhaux, Alfred Rosmer and Alphonse Merrheim.
After his marriage, Jacques Prévert lived at No. 39 on the fifth floor beneath the roof with his wife Simone Dienne in 1931-1932.
A fortnightly, La Vie ouvriére‘s subscribers numbered 550 in the first issue of December 1909 and rose to 1,350 in January 1911, the year its office moved to the Librarie du Travail on the Quai Jemappes, closer to the CGT’s main offices.
Rue Dauphine (9 metres wide) was the widest street in early 17th century Paris. It also, arguably, holds one of the keys to Paris’ tradition of uniformity of architectural design.
Hazan (IOP) reports Henry IV writing to Sully in 1607: ‘My friend, following what I have told you that work is beginning on the buildings that are in the new road going from the end of the Pont-Neuf to the Porte de Bussy, I wanted to send you this word to tell you that I would be very happy if you would explain to those who start building in this road that they should make the front of their houses entirely in the same order, for it would be a fine ornament to see from the end of the bridge this road with one and the same façade.’
The editorial offices at No. 4 of the libertarian Les Temps Nouveaux (New Times) from 1902 to August 1914 when it was banned. Its first fortnightly edition appeared in 1895. It became a weekly in 1911. Edited by Jean Grave its contributors included Élisée Reclus, Peter Kropotkin and Pierre Monatte. It was illustrated by many libertarian sympathising artists, including Maximilien Luce, Félix Vallotton, Paul Signac and Camille Pissarro.
Originally a 12th century road its name has changed many times since then. In 1890 it was made a continuation of the rue Broca. In 1938 it was given its current name in honour of the head of surgery at the Cochin Hospital in the 14th arrondissement who lived from 1852 to 1933. He organised the principles governing the evacuation of the wounded during the First World War.
The old Librarie du Travail on the Quai de Jemmapes alongside the St Martin canal is now a hotel bar where one December evening in 2016 I had a really good, if not cheap, glass of wine. At least its name, Hotel Citizen, testifies to a remote leftist memory.
The Quai was first given the name Quai Charles-X in 1824, when that very Catholic reactionary Bourbon king took the crown. In 1830 it was renamed the Quai de Jemmapes, after the first battle of November 6 1792 that was won by the new revolutionary army in Belgium near the village of Jemappes, against the Austrians – one in which the new July 1830 monarch, Louis-Philippe, had taken part on the French government’s side.
This revolutionary syndicalist bookshop was where Pierre Monatte (1881-1960) ran the CGT’s La Vie Ouvrière from 1909 until the monthly review stopped publication in July 1914. It continued to be used as a meeting place. Julius Martov first met some of the few French revolutionary syndicalists who opposed the First World War, and later, in November 1914, Monatte, Alfred Rosmer (1877-1964) and Alphonse Merrheim met Trotksy (1879-1940).
The bookshop was also visited by Ho Chi Minh in 1919, where he made contact with the left socialists who would go on to lead the majority to vote to affiliate to the Third International at the SFIO Tours congress in 1920.
This was also the second location of La Révolution prolétarienne, a ‘revue syndicaliste-communist’ monthly set up by Pierre Monatte in January 1925 after he had resigned from the then Communist Party-controlled daily, l’Humanité. From January to June 1925 it had been first based at 17 rue André del Sarte in the 18th arrondissement.
The journal dealt with practical and theoretical issues. It denounced French imperialism in Indochina, Madagascar and North Africa, and criticised Stalin’s hold over the workers’ movement and the persecutions of the Left Opposition in Russia. In 1927 La Révolution prolétarienne became a fortnightly. From 1930 it described itself as a ‘revue syndicaliste revolutionnaire’. Contributors included early founders of the PCF such as Alfred Rosmer, as well as Daniel Guérin, Simone Weil, Victor Serge and Jean Maitron.
La Révolution prolétarienne stopped publishing in 1939 but started up again in 1947. In 2018 its strapline simply state ‘Revue fondée par Pierre Monatte en 1925’. It is available online.
What was once the Ruelle des Capucins was renamed in 1806 soon after the death of the astrologist Pierre Méchain, due to its proximity to the Observatory that was founded in 1667.
The Union printers, a Russian immigrant printing works, was set up here in 1910. Hazan (WTP) writes that it was supposedly used by Plekhanov and Lenin. It then moved in book printing, along with publications of the modernist movement.
In 1913 Monatte had the CGT paper, La Vie Ouvrière printed here.
Shortly after his death in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes was also printed here. From 1930 to 1933 the Union also printed the Surrealist group’s periodical, Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution.
The printshop finally closed in 1990.
It’s only a short walk from my flat to the infamous Prison de la Santé, where Victor Serge was jailed in 1912 and three communist trade unionists, Pierre Monatte, Gaston Monmousseau and Boris Souvarine were jailed in 1920 for ‘conspiracy against the state’.
This prison is now the only prison within the city of Paris itself, although when it was built in 1867 there were 11.
In 1939 on the pavement corner with Boulevard Arago, the road was the site of the second-to-last public guillotining in France. It had been Paris’ public scaffold since 1899.
In 1940 Paul Langevin (1972-1946), who had launched the intellectuals’ campaign against fascism in 1934, was jailed there by the Gestapo for two months before being put under house arrest.
Between August 1941 and July 1942 nine communist resistance fighters were guillotined there. In April 1944 another nine were shot. The plaque accuses the French authorities of their murder.
Conrad Miret I Musté, the Catalan head of the CGT’s migrant workers’ organisation (Main d’œuvre Immigrée – MOI) made up largely of Spanish, Italian, Romanian communists that began attacking the Germans in August 1941, was arrested on February 21 1942.
Miret died at the Santé prison after a week of torture. A plaque on the prison wall now commemorates his death. Another 25 of his MOI comrades were executed in April.
In September 1943 the 14-year-old Robert Barcia, known later under the pseudonym of Hardy (1928-2008), was arrested carrying Trotskyist leaflets and spent five months in the prison before being released because he was too young to be charged.
The Santé also briefly housed Jacques Duclos in ‘the pigeon affair’ of 1952. The temporary head of the French Communist Party was arrested in 1952 after a huge demonstration against the American head of NATO visiting Paris ended with two workers dying from police gunshot wounds. In Duclos’ car the police found a revolver, a baton and two dead pigeons as well as a notebook. The Interior Minister then declared Duclos had been using carrier pigeons to send messages to Moscow, and Duclos was jailed. After police enquiries found that Duclos had been hunting and the two pigeons were intended for supper, he was quickly released.
Behind its walls several FLN (Front de libération nationale) militants were guillotined during the Algerian war – their numbers never released publicly. The guillotine’s final use at the prison was in 1972.
Ahmed Ben Bella (1916-2012), leader of the Algerian FLN, and a former Olympic de Marseilles player in the 1939-1940 season, was held prisoner here with five other Algerian leaders at the Santé from November 1956 until January 1959. After several hunger strikes demanding they be treated as political prisoners, and then threats to his life within the prison by supporters of Algérie Française, De Gaulle had him moved to the Isle d’Aix prison.
The Prison de la Santé is now being rebuilt and modernised. But what is extraordinary is that until 2000 its star-shape was used to racially and socially segregate prisoners. One of the five stars was designated for the educated prisoners. The four others were for Western Europeans (Block A), Black Africans (Block B), North Africans (from the Maghreb in Block C) and The rest of the World (Block D).
Places can be shameful too.
What is shared between those who define themselves or are defined by others as ‘communist’? And how may ‘Communism’ be distinguished both from French anarchism and French socialism, with which it shared much common history and ground?
The 1795 Paris revolutionary ‘Manifesto of Equals’ inspired by François-Noel Babeuf and rescued from oblivion by Philippe Buonarroti (1761-1837) summarised what remained (and remains) common to nearly all those who described themselves as communist across the following two hundred and some years:
‘We need not only that equality of rights written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; we want it in our midst, under the roofs of our houses… We lean towards something more sublime and more just: the common good or the community of property! No more individual property in land: the land belongs to no one. We demand, we want, the common enjoyment of the fruits of the land: the fruits belong to all.
We declare that we can no longer put up with the fact that the great majority work and sweat for the smallest of minorities. Long enough, and for too long, less than a million individuals have disposed of that which belongs to 20 million of their kind, their equals.
Let it at last end, this great scandal that our descendants will never believe existed! Disappear at last, revolting distinctions between rich and poor, great and small, masters and servants, rulers and ruled.’
After agreeing to this general statement of belief, communists had much more to disagree with each other upon.
We have divided the considerable history of Communism in France into five periods: