Record of Engels' Speech on the Revolution of March 18 in Paris

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This speech of Engels begins a series of reports by Marx and Engels on the proletarian revolution in Paris on March 18, 1871, which they made regularly at the General Council meetings. Basing his report on letters received from Paris, Engels refutes the bourgeois press stories that gave a distorted picture of the events of March 18. The minutes of this meeting, with the record of Engels’ speech, were mistakenly dated March 14; Marx, when looking through them, corrected the date to March 21.

First published in English in The General Council of the First International. 1870-1871. Minutes, Moscow, 1967, pp. 160-61.


OF MARCH 21, 1871]

Cit. Engels then gave a description of the state of things in Paris. He said the letters received during the week from Paris, which Serraillier had already mentioned, had cleared up what had been incomprehensible before. It had appeared as if a few men had suddenly seized a number of cannon and kept them. The whole of the press and every one of the correspondents had written that these men must be [put] down but the French Government had temporised. The information received from our Paris Committee was [that] the National Guards paid for the making of these guns and liked to keep them. After the election they had found that the Republic was anything but safe under such an Assembly as had been elected.[1] When the Prussians had entered Paris the guns had been taken away to another part of the town to keep them out of their reach. Then the Government had laid claim to them and endeavoured to take them away from the National Guards. Aurelle de Paladines had been appointed Commander in Chief of the National Guards and prefect of the police.[2] Under Napoleon he had been Commander in Chief of the Gendarmerie and he was a partisan of the priests. At the bidding of Dupanloup, the bishop of Orleans, he had done five hours’ penance at Church while his army had been defeated in an action with the Germans. This had left no doubt as to the intentions of the Government. The National Guard had then prepared for resistance. Out of 260 battalions 215 had organised a Central Committee, men and officers combined. A delegate had been elected by each Company out of whom the local Committees of the arrondissements, or wards, had been formed, and they had elected the Central Committee. Out of twenty arrondissements only five had not elected any delegates. When the Assembly had removed to Versailles the Government had tried to clear Paris of the revolutionists and take the guns from them. The troops only just arrived in Paris had been meant to be employed under the command of Vinoy who had commanded the soldiers that shot down the people on the boulevards during the coup d’état in 1851. They had partly succeeded early in the morning but when the National Guards had discovered what had been done they had set to work to retake the guns and the soldiers had fraternised with the people. The town was now in the hands of the people, the troops that had not gone over had been withdrawn to Marseilles and the Assembly did not know what to do. None of the men of the Central Committee were known to fame, there were no Felix Pyats and men of that stamp in it, but they were well known among the working class. There were four members of the International in the Committee.[3]

The Commune was to be elected the next day. They had announced that the liberty of the press should be respected but not the rotten Bonapartist press. The most important resolution passed was that the preliminaries of peace should be respected. The Prussians were still near and if they could be kept out of the quarrel the chances of success were increased.

  1. Engels has in mind the National Assembly, extremely reactionary in its composition, elected on February 8 and opened on February 12, 1871 in Bordeaux (see Note 178).
  2. At the next meeting on March 28, 1871, Engels pointed out to the mistake made in the record of his speech on March 21: "Two Generals, Aurelle de Paladines and Valentin, were made into one. It was the latter who had been appointed Prefect of the Police".— Ed.
  3. A. Alavoine, J.-L. Durand, L.-E. Varlin, J.-L. Pindy.— Ed.