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 Faubourg St Denis

Arrondissement 10

Numbers: 23, 58, 60, 83, 107, 122, 125

This is the old royal road into Paris that linked the Saint-Denis basilica in the north to the Rue Saint-Denis in the South. Whenever the Bourbons and earlier kings entered Paris this is how they got directly to first their fortified palace on the island of the Cité , and later to their Louvre Palace in the heart of Paris.

In 1849, No. 23 was the location of the People’s Bank experiment set up by Proudhon to allow ordinary people to exchange work and goods. It only lasted four months.

From 1862 until 1871 this address was where Fortuné Henry, a supporter of Fourier who lived with his aunt, before becoming a well-known member of the Commune.

After Fortuné Henry’s death the portrait of him by the anarchist sympathising Swiss-born artist by Félix Vallotton was published in 1897 in La Revue Blanche edited by Félix Féneon

Paul Éluard lived in 1909 to 1909 No. 58 (then taking the name of his grandmother, Grindel).

The house at No. 60 was the birthplace in 1804 of Victor Schoelcher, who from wealthy origins became a lifelong campaigner against slavery as well as a left republican.

Maurice Feld, one of the first young communists to be shot for attacks on the Germans on August 22 1942, was aged just 17. He lived at No 83 and is remembered by a plaque there.

The St Lazare prison was at No. 107. The barricade across the road was taken from behind by the Versaillais troops in May 1871. Seventeen Communards who were captured after refusing to surrender were put up against the prison wall and shot on 25 May 1871.

Louise Saumoneau, the seamstress turned feminist and pacifist journalist was jailed at Lazare for making anti-war propaganda on October 2 1915.

A rare Communist Party demonstration took place under the German occupation at No 122, on the corner with the Boulevard Magenta on 1 July 1944.

On June 23 1848 a barricade was put up across the road at No. 125 where it meets the Rue de Chabrol. This was one of the three major centres of the workers’ uprising in Paris and the last to be crushed on June 25.

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Feminism

Women ready to fight at a barricade in the Rochechouart district in May 1871

From 1791 French feminists argued for their natural rights. In the 1830s and 1840s many women campaigned for equality and the vote. Many saw the 1871 Commune as a route to equality and fought on the barricades. In 1909 a French women’s suffrage movement was established. France’s senate rejects giving women the vote in 1922 , 1935 and 1936. The vote was finally given by the 1945 Fourth Republic constitution. In 1975 women win the right to have an abortion. In 2017 French women’s average wage was still 24% less than men’s, and their pensions are 42% lower.

Marthe Bigot

1878-1962, Montargis (Loiret)

Teacher, feminist, and anti-war activist during World War I. Founder member of the Communist Party, which she left in 1926. A campaigner for female suffrage, she organised women’s candidacies at elections, taking up a pre-war tradition, and in March 1922 presented her own “symbolic candidacy” in the Paris municipal elections; unable to hold her own meetings she demanded speaking rights at those of other candidates, and despite being ineligible as a woman came third in the vote.

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