The 23rd of June

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 27 June 1848

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, p. 130;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 28, June 28, 1848.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung

We are still finding numerous new facts about the battle of the 23rd. The available material is inexhaustible; time, however, allows us only to publish what is most important and characteristic.

The June revolution offers the spectacle of an embittered battle such as Paris and the world in general have never seen before. The fiercest fighting of all previous revolutions took place during the March days at Milan. An almost entirely unarmed population of 170,000 souls beat an army of 20,000 to 30,000 men! Yet the March days of Milan are child’s play compared with the June days of Paris.

What distinguishes the June revolution from all previous revolutions is the absence of all illusions and all enthusiasm.

The people are not standing on the barricades as in February singing “Mourir pour la patrie”.[1] The workers of June 23 are fighting for their existence and the fatherland has lost all meaning for them. The Marseillaise and all memories of the great Revolution have disappeared. The people as well as the bourgeoisie sense that the revolution which they are experiencing will be more significant than that of 1789 or 1793.

The June revolution is the revolution of despair and is fought with silent anger and the gloomy cold-bloodedness of despair. The workers know that they are involved in a fight to the death and in the face of the battle’s terrible seriousness, even the cheerful French esprit remains silent.

History offers only two other examples which show similarities with the battle that is probably still being fought in Paris at this very moment: the Roman slave war and the 1834 insurrection at Lyons. The old Lyons motto “to work while one lives or to die fighting” has also suddenly reappeared after fourteen years and has been written on the banners.

The June revolution is the first which has actually divided all society into two large hostile armed camps which are represented by Eastern Paris and Western Paris. The unanimity of the February revolution, that poetic unanimity full of dazzling delusions and beautiful lies so appropriately symbolised by that windbag and traitor Lamartine, has disappeared. Today the inexorable seriousness of reality tears up all the hypocritical promises of February 25. Today the February fighters are battling against each other, and — what has never happened before — all indifference is gone and every man who can bear arms really takes part in the fight either inside or outside the barricade.

The armies which are fighting each other in the streets of Paris are as strong as the armies which fought in the battle of the nations at Leipzig. [2] This fact alone proves the tremendous significance of the June revolution.

But let us go on to describe the battle itself.

The information which reached us yesterday led us to believe that the barricades had been constructed in somewhat haphazard fashion. The extensive reports of today prove the opposite. Never before have the defence works of the workers been constructed with so much composure and so methodically.

The city was divided into two armed camps. The dividing line ran along the north-eastern edge of the city from Montmartre down to the Porte St. Denis and from there down to the rue St. Denis across the Île de la Cité and along the rue St. Jacques up to the barrière. Everything east of that line was occupied and fortified by the workers. The bourgeoisie attacked from the western part and obtained its reinforcements from there.

Starting early in the morning, the people silently began to erect their barricades. They were higher and firmer than ever before. A colossal red flag was flying on the barricade at the entrance to the Faubourg St. Antoine.

The boulevard St. Denis was fortified very heavily. The barricades of the boulevard, the rue de Cléry, and the adjacent houses which had been transformed into regular fortresses formed a complete system of defence. Here, as we already reported yesterday, the first significant battle broke out. The people fought with indescribable defiance of death. A strong detachment of the national guard made a flanking attack upon the barricade of the rue de Cléry. Most of the barricade’s defenders withdrew. Only seven men and two women, two beautiful young grisettes remained at their post. One of the seven mounts the barricade carrying a flag. The others open fire. The national guard replies and the standard-bearer falls. Then a grisette, a tall, beautiful, neatly-dressed girl with bare arms, grasps the flag, climbs over the barricade and advances upon the national guard. The firing continues and the bourgeois members of the national guard shoot down the girl just as she has come close to their bayonets. The other grisette immediately jumps forward, grasps the flag, raises the head of her companion and, when she finds her dead, furiously throws stones at the national guard. She, too, falls under the bullets of the bourgeoisie. The firing gets more and more intense and comes both from the windows and the barricade. The ranks of the national guard grow thinner. Aid finally arrives and the barricade is stormed. Of the barricade’s seven defenders, only one is left alive and he is disarmed and taken prisoner. The lions and stock exchange wolves of the second legion have carried out this heroic deed against the seven workers and two grisettes.

After the joining of the two corps and the capture of the barricade, there is a short and ominous silence. But it is soon interrupted. The courageous national guard opens up a heavy platoon-fire against the unarmed and quiet masses of people who occupy part of the boulevard. They scatter in horror. The barricades, however, were not taken. It was only when Cavaignac himself moved up with infantry and cavalry units that the boulevard up to the Porte Saint Martin was taken after long fighting and only towards three o clock.

A number of barricades had been erected in the Faubourg Poissonnière, particularly at the corner of the Allée Lafayette, where several houses also served the insurgents as fortresses. An officer of the national guard led them. The 7th Light Infantry Regiment, the mobile guard and the national guard moved against them. The battle lasted half an hour. The troops finally won but only after they had lost about 100 dead and wounded. This engagement took place after 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Barricades had also been erected in front of the Palace of justice, in the rue Constantine and the adjacent streets as well as on the Saint Michel Bridge where the red flag was waving. After prolonged fighting these barricades, too, were captured.

The dictator Cavaignac ordered his artillery to take up positions along the Notre-Dame Bridge. From here he took the rue Planche-Mibray and the Cité under fire and could easily bring it [the artillery] into play against the barricades of the rue Saint Jacques.

This latter street was intersected by numerous barricades and the houses were transformed into genuine fortresses. Only artillery could be effective here and Cavaignac did not hesitate for one moment to use it. The roar of the cannon could be heard during the entire afternoon. Grape-shot swept the street. At 7 o'clock in the evening only one barricade had still to be taken. The number of dead was very large.

Cannon were also fired along the Saint Michel Bridge and the rue Saint-André des Arts. Right at the north-eastern end of the city, at the rue Château Landon where a troop detachment had dared to advance, a barricade was also battered down with cannon-balls.

During the afternoon the fighting in the north-eastern faubourgs grew in intensity. The inhabitants of the suburbs of La Villette, Pantin etc. came to the aid of the insurgents. Barricades were erected again and again in very great numbers.

In the Cité a company of the republican guard, under the pretext of wanting to fraternise with the insurgents, had crept between two barricades and then opened fire. The people fell furiously upon the traitors and beat them to the ground one by one. Barely 20 of them found a chance to escape.

The intensity of the fighting grew all along the line. Cannon were fired everywhere as long as daylight prevailed. Later on the fighting was limited to rifle-fire which continued till late into the night. At 11 o'clock the sounds of the military rally could still be heard all over Paris and at midnight there was still shooting in the direction of the Bastille. The Place de la Bastille together with all its approaches was entirely controlled by the insurgents. The centre of their power, the Faubourg Saint Antoine, was heavily fortified. Cavalry, infantry, national guard and mobile guard units stood massed along the boulevard from the rue Montmartre to the rue du Temple.

At 11 p.m. there were already over 1,000 dead and wounded.

This was the first day of the June revolution, a day unequalled in the revolutionary annals of Paris. The workers of Paris fought all alone against the armed bourgeoisie, the mobile guard, the newly organised republican guard and against regular troops of all arms. They held their own with unprecedented bravery equalled only by the likewise unprecedented brutality of their foe. one becomes forbearing towards. a Hüser, a Radetzky and a Windischgrätz if one observes how the Parisian bourgeoisie participates with genuine enthusiasm in the massacres arranged by Cavaignac.

The Society of the Rights of Man [3] which had again been set up on June 11, decided in the night of the 23rd-24th to make use of the insurrection in order to advance the red flag and accordingly to play its part in the uprising. The Society then held a meeting, decided Upon the necessary measures and appointed two permanent committees.

🔍 See also : The 24th of June.
  1. Words from the French patriotic song based on the Song of the Girondists from Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, a play by Alexandre Dumas (father) and Auguste Maquet which was staged in 1847. The words and music of the refrain are taken from Rouget de Lisle. The song won wide popularity not long before the 1848 revolution and was known as “the second Marseillaise
  2. The reference is to the wars waged by the peoples of Europe against Napoleonic France in 1813-14 and 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon’s army in Russia in 1812. These were, indeed, of a contradictory nature and their character was affected by the counter-revolutionary aims and expansionist policy of the ruling circles in the feudal monarchical states fighting on the side of the anti-French coalition. But especially in 1813, when the struggle was aimed at liberating German territory from French occupation, they turned into a genuinely popular national liberation war against foreign oppression. In this passage, Engels ridicules the over-patriotic zeal with which the representatives of Germany’s ruling classes speak of the 1813-14 and 1815 wars. Later, when once again considering that period of the history of Germany, Engels in a series of articles entitled “Notes on the War” (1870) stressed the progressive nature of the people’s resistance to Napoleon’s rule and in his work The Role of Force in History (1888) wrote: “The peoples’ war against Napoleon was the reaction of the national feeling of all the peoples, which Napoleon had trampled on.” The battle of the nations at Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813) ended with victory for the Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Swedish troops over Napoleon’s forces. At the battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815) Napoleon’s forces were defeated by British and Prussian troops commanded by Wellington and Blücher.
  3. The Society of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was a democratic organisation that arose during the July monarchy. Led by Armand Barbès, Aloysius Huber and others, the Society united a number of clubs in the capital and the provinces and fought for the implementation of the Jacobin Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen adopted in 1793. Some of the members of this Society were leaders of the June uprising. For instance, the retired officer Kersausie, Chairman of the Society’s Committee of Action, drew up a plan for an armed uprising which was partially carried out during the June events in Paris