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Harbinghers or Entrepreneurs? a Workers' Cooperarive during the Paris Commune*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Robert Tombs
St John's College, Cambridge


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1 The Civil War in France (Peking edn, 1966), p. 78.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.; Arnould, Arthur, Histoire populaire et parlementaire de la Commune de Paris (Lyon, 1981), p. 258Google Scholar.

4 Text of decree in Journal Officiel of the Commune, 17 April 1871. Le Vengeur quoted in Edwards, Stewart, The Paris Commune 1871 (London, 1971), p. 259Google Scholar. For a modern endorsement of this judgement see Moss, Bernard H., The origins of the French labour movement (Berkeley and London, 1976), pp. 61–2Google Scholar.

5 Sewell, William H., Work and Revolution in France: the language of labor from the old regime to 1848 (Cambridge 1980), p. 186CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Moss, B. H., ‘Parisian producers' associations (1830–51): the socialism of skilled workers’, in Price, Roger (ed.), Revolution and reaction: 1848 and the Second French Republic (London 1975), pp. 81–2Google Scholar.

7 Gaumont, Jean, Histoire générale de la coopération en France (2 vols. Paris, 1924), II, 6–8, 14–15Google Scholar. L'Ouvrier de l'Avenir, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Fol. Jo. 213, ‘Journaux divers de mai 1871’ (sic), II.

8 In the series Ly, ‘Commune de Paris 1871’, carton 108 contains a file of captured correspondence and documents emanating from the Société Coopérative des Fondeurs en Fer, another concerning the Association des Ouvriers de la Metallurgie, and many miscellaneous letters and reports concerning private firms involved in the manufacture of war materials for the Commune. The other principal source is the court-martial dossier of Pierre Marc, ‘5e Conseil de Guerre, no. 52’.

9 Procès-verbal d'interrogation (2 07 1871) of Marc, P., Ly 108Google Scholar; Opposition of Louis Guillot, 5e C. de G. no. 52; lists of society members, May, Ly 108.

10 P.-v. d'interrog., c Marc, , Ly 108Google Scholar.

11 Dép., Guillot, 5e C. de G., no. 52; police report, Lombard (23 June 1871), Ly 108.

12 Rapport (of investigating officer), and dépositions of Plichon and Donzel, 5e C. de G., no. 52; inventory of Brosse & Co. factory (rue de Lourmel), 4 May, signed by Marc, mentioning that rent was to be paid, Ly 108. (Brosse later claimed that no rent had actually been paid. Letter to major de place, 29 May 1871, Ly 108.)

13 Ly 108, e.g. letters from E. Dubru or from Callebout & Sons requesting requisition, and passim. Almost alone in examining the relations between the Commune and private business (in this case, the food trade) is Egrot, Madeleine, ‘La question des subsistances à Paris sous la Commune de 1871’ (Paris, D.E.S. dissertation, 19531954Google Scholar).

14 P.-v. d'interrog. (2 July 1871), Ly 108.

15 Julien Bellair & Co. to War Delegate, 20 May 1871, Ly 108.

16 Dépositions, 5e C. de G., no. 52.

17 Notice of meeting (signed V. Lapuellc, secretary of conseil d'administration), Ly 108. For details of the livret see Duveau, Georges, La vie ouvrière en France sous le Second Empire (Paris 1946), PP. 233–4Google Scholar.

18 See pay sheet listing wages and hours for 153 workers at the rue de Lourmel factory, 20 May, Ly 108. The daily wage was equivalent in value to about 6 lb of cheap meat: police report on prices, 23 April, Archives de la Prefecture de Police, Ba 364–5.

19 Report on military clothing contracts by Lévy and Evette, Journal Officiel of Commune, 13 May.

20 Ibid. See also report by Frankel, Labour and Exchange Delegate, to Commune, 12 May. Journal Officiel of Commune, 13 May.

21 See letter of complaint on this subject in Rougerie, Jacques, Precès des Communards (Paris, 1964), pp. 225–6Google Scholar.

22 Director of Louvre workshop to Avrial (Director of Artillery), 12 May, Ly 108. See also a reported conversation with a seemingly disillusioned Avrial, formerly a metalworkers' trade-union organizer, in Stéphane, Roger (ed.), Louis-Nathaniel Rossel, mémoires, procès et correspondance (Paris, 1960), pp. 267–8Google Scholar.

23 Police report, Lombard (23 June 1871), Ly 108.

24 Dép., Guillot, 5e C. de G. no 52; procès-verbal de perquisition (1 July 1871) Ly 108.

25 Rapport (of investigating officer), 5e C. de G., no. 52.

26 Police report, Lombard (23 June 1871), Ly 108.

27 Ibid.; p-u. d'interrog. (Marc), 5e C. de G., no. 52. For a discussion of the authorities' prejudices see Tombs, R. P., ‘Crime and the security of the state: the “dangerous classes” and insurrection in nineteenth-century Paris’, in Gatrell, V. A. C., Lenman, B. and Parker, G. (eds.), Crime and the law: the social history of crime in Western Europe since 1500 (London, 1980), pp. 218–24Google Scholar.

28 Two other workers, Seine and Lemoine, were arrested with Marc, but must have been released. The police were unsuccessful in their search for other leading members: Lapuelle (ex-accountant and Society secretary), Chalon (ex-foreman), Fageol, Fray and Thomas. Duverne (‘dit le Lyonnais’) was later arrested, but apparently not charged, Had the matter been taken more seriously by the authorities, fugitives could have been tried in their absence, as was frequently done after the Commune. Of the above men, only Marc is listed in Maitron, Jean et al. , Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier Français (DBMOF) (Paris, 19671971)Google Scholar, vols. IV–IX (1864–71).

29 5e C. de G., no. 52.

30 Ibid., rapport.

31 ‘Comme j'avais été patron, j'ai été chargé des démarches près du Ministère [de la Guerre]’. P.-v. d'interrog. (2 July 1871), Ly 108.

32 For other examples of this view, see Pére Duchêne no. 15, ‘10 Germinal An 79’, and verses 5 and 6 of L'Internationale, written during the Commune by one of its members, Eugène Pottier. The Communards' view of their enemies is outlined by Rougerie, Jacques, Procès, pp. 198208Google Scholar.

33 Rougerie, Jacques, Paris libre 1871 (Paris, 1971), pp. 213–14Google Scholar.

34 Notice of meeting, La Commune, 11 May; list of producers' cooperatives, (circular from Labour and Exchange Delegation), Archives de la Seine, VD3 14; report of meeting, 19 May, Archives de la Préfecture de Police, ‘Commune de Paris’, Ba 365–1.

35 Dalotel, Alain, Faure, A. and Freiermuth, J.-C., Aux origines de la Commune, Le mouvement des réunions publiques à Paris 1868–1870 (Paris 1980), p. 261Google Scholar.

36 ‘Déclaration au Peuple Français’, in Journal Officiel of the Commune, 20 April; Belleville Programme in Thomson, David, France, Empire and Republic, 1850–1940 (New York, 1968), pp. 82–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The Commune's programme was mightily approved by Marx as the political form ‘at last discovered’ of the future workers' revolutionary regime; it is amusing to think of Gambetta as one of the godfathers of the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dividing line between radicals and socialists was easily straddled, even after the Commune: Clemenceau, for example, was on close terms with the revolutionary patriarch Blanqui in the late 1870s, at the same time as he was acting as Gambetta's second in a duel; soon after, he organized the Alliance Socialiste Républicaine with Marx's son-in-law, the Communard Jean Longuet.

37 See debate in the Commune, 3 May. Journal Officiel of Commune, 5 May.

38 The Communard tradition became highly polyvalent. Of two of its longest-living personalities one, Camélinat (d. 1932), became in his old age a Stalinist mascot, while the other, Allemane, graced Doriot's Commune exhibition held at Saint-Denis in 1935. PCF, SFIO and Doriot's PPF literally fought to pay homage to the Communard dead at the Mur des Fédérés. During the Occupation the Doriotistes, taking advantage of their monopoly, were assiduous pilgrims.

39 DBMOF, vii, 242–3.