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The next day the Committee followed up its declaration by proclamation claiming that the Republic should be placed upon universal suffrage, that the officers of the National Guard be chosen by their men, and that all military authority be declared subordinate to the civil power of the municipality of Paris (the word Commune was not yet officially put forward). General Vinoy answered this by an impolitic decree, suspending six of the most violent Red newspapers. But though these signs of approaching action on both sides were distinct enough to have struck the most careless observer, the expectation of- a pacific solution continued to be general: no idea that a revolution was approaching existed seriously amongst the public, and "the question of the cannon," as it was half contemptuously denominated, did not occupy any special place in ordinary conversation. Down to the 17 th it was generally believed that the difficulty was disappearing; but the Government was sufficiently well informed of the real intentions of the Central Committee to have recognized the necessity of recovering the guns by force, and it silently prepared measures for the operation; the first of them which became public being the nomination, on the 16th, of General Valentin, formerly colonel of the Municipal Guard, to the post of Prefect of Police. The Central Committee, on the other hand, though still surrounded by an almost impenetrable veil of mystery, was evidently supplied with money, was blindly obeyed by a considerable number of battalions, and was clearly determined to hold its ground by force, if possible.
On the evening of the 17th a council of war was held, at which the details of an attack on Montmartre were discussed and settled; but no commotion existed amongst the public, and the newspapers which appeared on the morning of the 18th were perfectly calm, and indicated no possibility of difficulties. At 4 A.m. on that day, before dawn, troops were massed at all the strategical points below the heights of Montmartre, Belleville, and the Buttes Chaumont; they marched up the hill, disarmed a few sentries, took a few cannon, and all seemed to be going well, when the 88th Regiment suddenly turned up the butts of its muskets and joined the National Guard. Battalions rapidly assembled; the cannon were snatched from
the artillerymen who were driving thern away; General Lecomte, abandoned by his men, was made prisoner; the troops were fired at by the Guards, and began to disarm on all sides; and, finally, the order to retreat was given. General Clement Thomas, an old republican, who had commanded the National Guard throughout the siege, was recognized in plain clothes and assailed by the mob, and the whole attempt broke hopelessly down. The evidence as to the details of this disaster is rather conflicting, but it seems to be certain that the troops were badly commanded, and that the whole operation was conducted in the most disorderly and insufficient manner. It cannot, however, be doubted that the immediate cause of its failure was the desertion of the men of the 88th, whose example was followed by many soldiers of other regiments on the ground. Towards noon the Guards began to erect barricades all round Montmartre, and as evening came on they went down to the Place Vendome, and occupied the offices of the Commander-inChief of the National Guard and of the army of Paris. At 5.30 Generals lecomte and Clement Thomas were murdered at Montmartre, in the Rue des Rosiers, the very street in which the Central Committee were sitting; and at 6 General Chanzy was arrested on the arrival of the train from Tours. Soon after dark the Hotel de Ville was taken without resistance, General Vinoy having withdrawn his forces to the Faubourg St. Germain.
On the morning of the 19th the Government abandoned Paris, and the Central Committee became master of the capital. Its first acts were to issue proclamations, to put up the red flag everywhere, and to announce the immediate election of a Commune, into whose hands the Committee promised to resign its functions as temporary governor of Paris.
As the news of these events got out, it was received with a sort of stupid astonishment, but certainly with more indifference than regret. No one was prepared for such an insurrection, no one recognized its causes or foresaw its consequences. But there were motives at work which disposed a considerable part of the population to imagine that the constitution of a new government, whatever its form, might serve their personal interests, and which, consequently, led them to regard its establishment without much hostility. The laboring classes, even those who had taken no part in the movement, were all anxious to retain their pay as National Guards; many of them had no other means of subsistence: their sympathy was therefore naturally given to any arrangement which seemed to assure the continuation of the thirty sous. The small traders and manufacturers who are so numerous in Paris, and a large number of persons in the lower middle class, were profoundly irritated against the Government for ordering that the acceptances which had been held over during the siege, amounting in all to about fifty millions sterling, should be made payable immediately. As cheques are scarcely used in France, where they are virtually replaced, even for the smallest sums, by bills at ninety days, this measure affected the whole trading population, which had. spent most of its savings during the siege, was very nearly ruined, and was, for the most part, quite unable to meet its debts. All these people hoped that a Communal Administration—though very few of them knew what that meant—would enact gentler measures on the question, and would give them time to meet their liabilities, so as to enable them to work round. The rent difficulty was another cause of discontent against Versailles. No one had paid his landlord since July; and every one owed three quarters, which scarcely any one was in a position to pay. The Chamber had enacted a law on the subject which had given universal dissatisfaction, because it afforded no real relief to insolvent lodgers; so here again the Commune was looked to as a saviour. The number of persons influenced by these three motives of personal interest was enormous—it must have included at least two-thirds of the population. The apathetic attitude, on the 18th March, of what are called the respectable inhabitants of Paris, may safely be attributed to lassitude and moral exhaustion amongst the upper classes, and to considerations of possible pocket advantage on the three questions of rent, acceptances, and thirty sous a day, in the trading and working districts.
But though these motives were very generally felt, and exercised a fatal influence on the disposition of so large a number of persons, they were far' from being universal. Several battalions of Guards,
belonging mainly to the western quarters of Paris, were ready to resist the insurrection, and a body of about 20,000 of them united for the purpose. They held for many days the Bank, the Bourse, the Grand Hotel, the Gare St. Lazare, and other important points. They sent a deputation to M. Thiers at Versailles to tell him they were prepared to fight against the Reds, as they had already done in October and January, and to ask officers and ammunition. But M. Thiers declared his inability to aid them; recommended them to send away their families from Paris; and to their final proposition, to hold the ground round the Arc de Triomphe as the key to Paris from the Versailles side, replied they had better all come to Versailles to defend the Assembly. The deputation returned thoroughly discouraged, but still cherished the hope that Admiral Saiss'et, who had been appointed Commander-in-chief of the National Guard on the 20th (in place of General d'Aurelles), on the joint nomination of the Government and the Mayors, would organize them in such a way as to constitute a balance to the power of the Central Committee. This hope grew stronger on the 2 2d, when the Committee, which seemed to be somewhat hesitating in its action, postponed the elections to the Commune until Friday, the 26th. A proclamation issued by Admiral Saisset developed that hope still more, because it appeared to indicate the Government was disposed to make concessions. He promised in its name—
1. The complete recognition of municipal liberties.
2. The election of all officers of the National Guard, including the Commander-in-chief.
3. Modifications of the law concerning the payment of acceptances.
4. A law on house-rents favorable to all tenants up to^^S a year.
It might have been expected that this announcement would do some good, as showing that an arrangement was not impossible ; but its sole effect was to induce the belief amongst the Communists that the Government was frightened, and was going to yield, and, consequently, to provoke still further demands on their side.
On the 2 2d took place the massacre in the Rue de la Paix ; but, notwithstanding that odious act, the Admiral continued negotiations with the' Commune ; and on the afternoon of the 25th he thought himself so certain of a successful settlement, that in order to prove his own sincerity he disbanded the battalions under his orders, and sent his men to their homes, to their deep disgust and humiliation. The moment this was known, the Commune ceased all attempts to come to terms, and asserted itself as sole master of Paris ; no kind of opposition to its authority existed any longer.
The attitude of the Government throughout the week from the 18th to the 25th of March was feeble and fluctuating; it committed the double error of refusing the support of the well-intentioned battalions, and of negotiating with the Central Committee. It is true that its own position at Versailles was dangerous, and that its main preoccupation was at first to insure its own safety and that of the Chamber; but, by the 25th, 40,000 men were assembled at Versailles, with 520 cannon and mitrailleuses; and it would really seem that on that day, at the very moment when Admiral Saisset voluntarily broke up the battalions of the party of order, M. Thiers was in a position to stem the torrent instead of yielding to it. Up to that date the whole policy of the Government towards Paris had been imprudent and weak ; it had irritated the population by harsh enactments on the three money questions; it abandoned all resistance at the very moment when resistance appeared to be most hopeful. But from and after the 25th March its conduct changed; energy and prudence took the place of hesitation and provocation, and though the harm done could not be repaired, no more errors were committed.
While Versailles was negotiating with Paris, and was collecting troops from all parts of France, the Central Committee had organized a military Government; it had seized the forts on the left bank of the Seine, and had rapidly constituted an army. Here came into play the material elements alluded to in the first paragraph of this article. The Prussian siege had converted the Parisians into soldiers, and the whole city into a gigantic citadel, where every kind of arms and military stores had been accumulated in enormous quantities. Nearly 2,000 cannon still remained inside the walls, and the insurgents found themselves possessed of the whole materiel which
had served against the Germans. For the first time in history a rebellion was in possession of 250 battalions, of arms and ammunition in vast quantities, and of a strong fortress. All this was ready to their hands; they had but to take it: without it their success could have lasted but a few days ; with it, they were enabled to hold for two months against 150.000 men. Previous insurrections had only involved small-arm fighting behind barricades ; in this case the rebels had cannon behind regular fortifications; and if they had been able to seize Mont Valerien, it is possible that the siege would have lasted for months. Most fortunately, that almost impregnable position, the key to Paris, was in the hands of honest troops, commanded by a brave and honest man. Versailles retained it.
The election of the 94 members of the Commune took place on 26th March, without disorder ; but as 9 of the chosen deputies were either out of Paris or were elected in two arrondissements, only 85 were really at their post ; 22 of these successively resigned, and one (Flourens) was killed, leaving 62 original members. Supplementary elections were held on 16th April, to fill up the vacancies, but only 17 additional members took their seats, giving a total of 79. At the first elections, on 26th March, about one-third of the electors voted; at the second occasion, on 16th April, not one-eighth of them appeared at the polling-places. The Commune cannot therefore be said to have really represented Paris; it was, after all, only the expression of feelings of a minority.
The first sitting of the Commune took place at the Hotel de Ville on the 29th March, or, as the letters of committee expressed it, the 8th Germinal, year 79. It was then decreed that every citizen was hound to serve in the' National Guard, and that the three quarters' rent due should not be paid at all. These were the first two acts of the Commune, and they indicated with singular precision the whole character of its future policy, which was to force every one to fight, whether they liked it or not; and simultaneously to encourage and reward its adherents by pecuniary advantages. The obligation imposed on every man between the ages of nineteen and forty to immediately join his battalion, the closing of the gates to prevent the escape of unwilling soldiers, the search for refractaires at all hours of the day and night, the seizure of men in the streets, the violent incorporation of all such prisoners in the army, were realizations of the first object. The adoption by the Commune of the families of all "victims of the Royalists"; the decree allowing three years from the 15th July for the payment of quarterly instalments of all outstanding acceptances; the promise of pensions to the widows, children, and parents of men killed in action ; the augmentation of the pay of the National Guard to fifty sous a day; the law ordering seizure of all manufactories whose proprietors had left Paris, and their constitution as the collective property of the workmen employed in them; the gratuitous restitution of every article pawned at the Mont de Piete for a sum not exceeding twenty francs ; the payment of a daily money allowance "to all the wives of National Guards, legitimate or not;" the nomination of these same "wives " to all the posts of sick-nurses in the hospitals with a pay of two shillings a-day, —all these measures were adopted in furtherance of the second object. The first two decrees of 29th March were types of those which followed, and, putting aside all consideration of justice and legality, it must be owned that the Commune showed a most intelligent appreciation of the character of its soldiers, and dexterously employed the means best adapted to obtain and preserve their allegiance.
If, however, the Commune showed, in the measures which affected its military organization, a certain amount of skill and of knowledge of human nature, it manifested utter incompetence in the conception and application of its political and social acts. Its various promoters had been preparing themselves for some years for an opportunity of realizing their theories; it might therefore have been expected that, directly they acquired power, they would bring out a collection of previouslydrafted laws enforcing the immediate adoption of Communist and Socialist solutions of all the more important questions. But nothing of the kind took place. They hesitated; they were not ready. The famous schemes which were to regenerate the world were not elucubrated; and further-more, as might have been expected, the members of the Commune quarrelled so bitterly amongst themselves, that even
if any of them had matured a plan, their colleagues would have opposed it. They were four days in office before they even declared the separation of Church and State, and the suppression of the salaries of the clergy : one would have supposed, however, that no difference of opinion could have existed between them on such a point as that, and that it would have received their attention at their very first sitting. No attempt was ever made to define the real views and projects of the party on the great questions of labor and capital, interest on money, "the equivalence of functions" (a Communist term implying that no man's labor ought to be remunerated at a higher rate than that of any other man, whatever be the difference of capacity or production), the existence of property, marriage, the right to believe in God, and all the other economical, social, and religious questions which the Internationale has publicly raised. The Commune has come and gone without even attempting to suggest solutions on any one of these matters; it has destroyed, but it has not created—it has not even innovated; it has not given one indication of its ideas, or one example of its remedies, for the evils which it professes to be able to cure: it suppressed the Mont de Piete, but frankly owned that it did not know what to put in its place, though on a subject of such direct interest and importance to the working classes, a project of some kind, realizable or not, might fairly have been expected from it. The Commune produced absolutely nothing; it announced itself as a new birth for all mankind, as the guide of suffering humanity, as the saviour of the poor ; but in all its proclamations and publications, which certainly have been numerous enough, it is impossible to find a trace of one true thought, and still less of any serious practical scheme for the improvement of the condition of men. It is not till the 19th of April that it decided to issue its programme under the name of a "Declaration to the French People." This document is couched in such vague language that parts of it are difficult or impossible to understand ; but as it is the only general statement of its views which the Commune gave, it may be taken as the official expression of its objects and tendencies, and therefore merits examination, notwithstanding its obscurity of form, and the total absence of all conelusions in it. After a pompous exordium, accusing the Versailles Government of "treason and crime," it goes on to saythat ''it is the duty of the Commune to affirm and determine the aspirations and the wishes of the population of Paris, to precisely indicate the character of the movement of the 18th March, which is misunderstood, ignored, and calumniated by the politicians of Versailles. Once more is Paris laboring and suffering for the whole of France, whose intellectual, moral, administrative, and economical regeneration, whose glory and prosperity, Paris is preparing by its combats and sacrifices. What does Paris ask? The recognition and the consolidation of the Republic— the one form of government which is compatible with the rights of the people, and with the regular and free development of society. The absolute autonomy of the Commune extends to all the localities of France, assuring to every one the integrality of his rights and the full exercise of his faculties, and his aptitudes as a man, as a citizen, and as a laborer." Now what does this latter phrase exactly mean? If we are to judge by results, "the full exercise of the aptitudes" of the Commune signifies assassination and incendiarism; but as it may be supposed that the words were intended to bear a different interpretation, it is to be regretted that they should be utterly incomprehensible to an un-Communal mind.
"The rights inherent to the Commune" are described to be "the vote of the Communal budget; the fixing of taxes; the direction of all local management; the organization of justice, police, and education; the choice, by election or competitive examination, of all magistrates and functionaries; the absolute guarantee of individual liberty, of liberty of conscience, of liberty of labor." Here again we have a phrase which, vague in itself, becomes altogether unintelligible when the context of surrounding facts is taken into account. What is the meaning of " individual liberty" and of "liberty of conscience" in the mouths of men who, when this declaration was published, had arrested the Archbishop of Paris, and a hundred other "hostages," had broken into and robbed a large number of houses and churches, and had declared in their individual names, though not in their corporate capacity, that no one should be allowed to have any religious
faith at all? Further on we read that "Paris will introduce as it may think fit the administrative and economical reforms which its population requires, will create institutions for the development and propagation of instruction, production, exchange, and credit; will universalize power and property according to the necessities of the moment, the wish of the parties interested, and the teaching supplied by experience." Now if this sentence means anything at all (which may be doubted), it can only be understood to be a frank confession of ignorance and incapacity; in other and clearer words, it says, " we mean to do a vast deal, only we don't know what, and we don't know how." This interpretation seems to be confirmed by another clause, which says, " The Communal revolution inaugurates a new era of experimental, positive, and scientific politics," but which, unfortunately, gives no explanation of what such politics may be, and leaves the reader to again suppose that the authors of the declaration knew no more about it than he does himself. The document winds up by an appeal to France to intervene in favor of the Commune.
Every one who had at all followed the more recent proceedings of the Internationale, had read Socialist publications, or had talked with any of the leaders of the Red party, was convinced beforehand that the whole nature of the movement was subversive, and not substitutive ; that it would, upset and destroy existing institutions, but would be incapable of replacing them by any others. But no one could have supposed that the whole school was so utterly empty and uninventive as it has turned out to be; no one who had at all watched its efforts would have inclined to admit that its chosen representatives could not even compose a programme of their intended action. And yet, when we examine these hollow, pretentious phrases, what meaning is there in them? Here are half-a-dozen of them, all worded so as to studiously evade and avoid everything approaching to a clear explanation or a practical result. There is but one deduction possible, a deduction which agrees with our instincts and our prejudices, but which has the merit of being based on evidence, and not on mere impression: it is, that the whole system represented by these agitators is a sham and a delusion; that it contains no answer to the questions which they have raised,