Speeches of Paschal Grousset and François Jourde on the Paris Commune (San Francisco, 1874)


MAY 24, 1874
Before the banquet offered to the ex-members of the Paris Commune was opened, citizen Mibielle first congratulated those present for the promptness that they had shown in responding to the appeal that had been made to them; he declared, besides, that he was very honored to direct the Banquet, but on the condition that the citizen Blanqui was declared honorary president. That proposition was met by thunderous applause.
Citizen Mibielle continued, and it very forthright terms, he painted a striking picture of the character presented by men dedicated to the defense of the municipal laws of the city of Paris, and in conclusion he presented the citizens Paschal Grousset and Jourde, indicating them to the assembly, which rose spontaneously, all together, cheering these two names by repeated bursts of applause.
At the opening of the speech the reception committee for the escapees, through its secretary, raised this toast:
To our fellow citizens, Paschal Grousset and Jourde,
defenders of the Commune!
(New applause resounded.) The secretary then made the following speech:
It is from a feeling of deep gratitude and admiration that we applaud all the acts of these two citizen who have participated in the defense of those rights that, inviolable on this American soil, have been violated in Paris.
We applaud them because we have the certainty that their energetic resolution is to pursue the course that they have traced, however painful it may be, to arrive at the claim of the rights of the people, and to make it so that the great word Equality will not always be a placard at which all the acrobats who govern us in succession laugh.
We applaud them because they have proven by their sacrifices, their self-sacrifice, their perseverance, and their courage, because, in a word, their lives are consecrated to insuring the existence of true equality; because they will always assist by their efforts the creation of all the fundamental laws, linking to civic instruction and education, basis of all social progress; because all their intelligence constantly tends to insure the existence of liberty by forcing our pitiless adversaries to bow down before the inviolability of the laws that should guarantee our persons, our domiciles, our papers, that authorize us to speak, to write, to arm ourselves, to establish ourselves in popular assemblies, to protect our associations; that grant us the right to pursue our unfaithful and incompetent civil servants, finally to make it so that the people can organize their own affairs, regulate their own interests and direct their own destinies.
In it with this conviction that the principles and sentiments that we express here are ardently shared by our friends to whom we raise this toast:
To our fellow citizens, Paschal Groussetand Jourde,
defenders of the Commune!
Citizen Paschal Grousset then responded with the speech published in this pamphlet; and after the toast of citizen Ravère came that of citizen Jourde.
The advanced hour of the evening did not allow the president to give the floor to all the orators who were signed up; after the citizens Paschal Grousset, Jourde, Lafaix, Guinard, Ravère, Day, Koster and some others, the president granted it only to the citizen Royon, who raised the last toast, which was cheered with all the transport that such profoundly moved hearts will feel; all repeated with citizen Royon: To our captive friends—of New Caledonia! To their deliverance!
The cordial and fraternal welcome that has been given us by some French citizens, two thousand leagues from the homeland, at our escape from the tomb where we had been buried alive, will remain the great memory and honor of our lives. I do not thank you for it, gentlemen, because it is not addressed to our persons, but to the great cause of which we are the devoted soldiers, the principles that we represent, the qualities invested in us by the free vote of the people of Paris, and the vicissitudes that we have just passed through. We accept that welcome is in the name of the entire proscription, because it belongs to the entire proscription. Let us tell you, however, that our three years of prison and exile are erased by the warm expression of your sympathies, and that there are hours in life that compensate and pay a hundred times over all the sorrows and all the outrages:… (Applause.)
As sweet as this is, it is somber, as will be all our celebration until the day of triumph, until the day of justice, by the thought, always present to our mind, of the terrible suffering that we leave behind us, and that four thousand Parisian laborers endure at the antipodes de la France, on the Oceanian reef, where the rage of our enemies has cast them. That rage, gentlemen, has not been quenched by the rivers of blood that they have spilled in Paris. Ten days of carnage was not enough: the mass massacres were followed by the legal murders, and the legal murders were followed by the transportations. At the hour when I speak, the military courts still function, and every day new names are added to the funereal lists. But it was not enough to shoot us down or suppress us; it was also necessary to dishonor us. A vast system of slander was organized; our adversaries, alone having the opportunity to speak, have fabricated from whole cloth, for export, an artificial public opinion, and if, by an unheard of Fortune we escape from the black abyss into which we were plunged, it is in order to have thrown in our face, on the first land where we landed, the names of assassins, incendiaries, and robbers. Gentlemen, it is time for that sinister banter to finish. We are here in a nation of businessmen: allow me, in some rapid comments, to sketch for you the balance sheet of the two parties; we will see to what side the balance tilts, on what side are the drinkers of blood. (Applause.)
They always blame the Commune: the murder of two general, Lecomte and Clément Thomas; the fusillade of the Place Vendôme; the execution of sixty-four hostages; some arrests; some requisitions; some fires. On these various points, here are my explanations:
The generals, Lecomte and Clément Thomas, were shot on March 18, that is eight days before the Commune existed, in a day of popular effervescence, while Paris, deserted by the government of Mr. Thiers, had still not had the time to give itself a provisional government. The responsibility for these acts did not belong to the national guard, but to the army: it is certain that the majority of the actors in the drama of the Rue de Rosiers were soldiers of the regular army. They applied to Lecomte the summary trial that he had commanded that very morning against an innocent crowd, against women and children. As for general Clément Thomas, surprised in civilian garb at the moment when he examined the barricades of Montmartre incognito, he received the death that the laws of war have always reserved for spies.
The day of the Place Vendôme! Some among you know the history of it. At the moment when the Central Committee of the national guard, borne to the Hotel de Ville by the movement of March 18, announced to the population that it would only use its power to make the municipal elections proceed, a group of men notoriously compromised in all the Bonapartist plots, summoned the adversaries of the movement, by the voice of the press, with thousands of posters, to a demonstration against the Central Committee. A few hundred adherents responded to that call and assembled on the boulevard; all were armed; they fallowed the Rue de la Paix, uttered seditious shouts and death threats, arrived at the Place Vendôme, and, stopped by the cordon of the guards who had stationed themselves in front of the residence of the general staff, they threw themselves at the national guards, tried to disarm them, and fired some shots that the national guard answered; the demonstration dispersed, some corpses strewn on the ground. I ask every man of good faith: an armed force attacked—how was the national guard—how could it hesitate to use its weapons? It shouldn’t have… (No! No!)
The hostages! It is the great accusation, which is constantly repeated. Here are the bare facts: The struggle was engaged on April 2 between Paris and Versailles, I mean between the republic and the monarchy… (applause). In the first engagement, a great number of national guards were surprised by General Vinoy on the plateau of Chatillon; in the midst of them were Duval, that young man so pure that he seemed a hero of ancient Greece, who only passed through history in order to leave an immortal page; scorning the laws of war and humanity, Vinoy had the prisoners shot. The same day another criminal, Galliffet, applied the same summary procedure to some national guards, arrested by some men in the Isle of Grande-Jatte, where they were peacefully having lunch. So that none could be unaware of it, Gallifet proceeded with the execution on the public square of Chatou, after having summoned the inhabitants with the sound of his tambour; he did more, he bragged of his sad exploit in a poster placarded everywhere. What did the Commune do? What would it respond to the women and children of these victims, to the indignant public, quo imperiously demanded justice and vengeance. The Commune? Ah! It is savage. It is thirsty for blood. The Commune! It announced to the Assembly of Versailles that if the soldiers continued to murder the prisoners, it would be force to some reprisals. What is new in this, gentlemen? Isn’t it the eternal means to which it is necessary to have recourse, in order to impress upon war, that immoral thing, a relative morality? But at least, in these inevitable reprisals the Commune wanted to surround itself with all the legal guarantees; it did not want to strike at random, to murder blindly as its adversaries have done. It decided that a jury, a jury drawn by lot from among all the citizens, would pass judgment, after examination of the case, on the prisoners that the twists and turns of the struggle had cast into its hands and say who could be called to serve as hostage. The Commune did more: it delayed the execution of that decree, which it promulgated in order to respond to the indignation provoked by unspeakable murders, hoping to gain time, to escape a sorrowful necessity. And it did still more: it offered to Mr. Thiers, to the assembly, to deliver all the hostage to them, all, without exception, in exchange for a single man, of a great citizen that Versailles kept prisoner, in exchange for our dear, venerated Blanqui. (Prolonged applause.) Mr. Thiers refused, and shied away from this agreement. And now, if in one day of defeat and fury, after two months of carnage, when the streets streamed with blood, a maddened crowd went to the prisons, dragged out the hostages and their guardians and piled on these sixty-four men the weight of its anger, tell me who must be accused for all this spilled blood: is it the Commune?… (Numerous shouts: No! No! Versailles!) You have said it before me. It is Versailles. It is Mr. Thiers.
The arrests, the requisitions, the fires! Must I tell you that these are facts of war inseparable from any armed struggle? Must I recall the all too justified suspicions of a population overexcited by six months of siege and famine, and the constant plots hatched in Paris, even in our own ranks, by those who fought? War is a great evil, and we do not deny it, gentlemen; but, by accepting this evil we must accept its necessities and consequences: often arbitrary arrests, requisitions of foodstuffs and transport, compensated by legitimate indemnities, are among those that we cannot avoid.
For the fires that were produced in the last days of the struggle, I hardly believe it necessary to remind you that they have more often been the result of the battle, of the rain of shells exchanged by the two parties, than the result of a firm and voluntary entente: in barely two or three cases the fire was intentional, accepted as a final means of halting the advance of the army. I must clearly declare in this regard that the army did not appear to me more immoral than any other and that I believe it was authorized by the customs of war.
That, gentlemen, is the point of view from which I envisage the acts of the Commune; I do not claim to impose that estimation: if you wish I would accept the facts without commentary, as our enemies present them (No! No!)… I would only ask permission to place some acts of the Commune, without qualifications, opposite the acts of Versailles, without qualifications as well.
Versailles provoked the struggle and entered it; Versailles began on April 2 to shoot the prisoners, to bombard the ambulances, to massacre the wounded on the field of battle. Versailles led up to the general massacre with the explosion of the Rapp Cartridge Factory; since its troops entered Paris, they have butchered thirty thousand men, women and children. Thirty thousand, you hear, that is the figure that the leaders of the army themselves gave. I have seen, I have seen with my own eyes, the murder of young girls, accused of having given water to some combatants; I have seen, I have seen with my own eyes, a child of six months ripped from its mother, crushed on the pavement by the gunstocks of the soldiers. That is not all. When the butchers had grown weary, when the machine-guns of the Lobau barracks, of the army, of Père Lachaise, of twenty other human abattoirs refused to function, sixty thousand prisoners still remained squeezed in at Satory, in all the ports, in the cattle-cars of all the railroads. Overwhelmed with blows and outrages, delivered up to the stupid fury of the populace en habit noir who awaited their passage, the prisoners have know on the road all the sorrows that it is given to man to feel; in the hulks, in the jails, they have been subject to the degrading despotism of a soldierly squalor; deprived of everything, insulted at every turn, beaten pitilessly, murdered at the least gesture. Then, one day they emerge to appear before a so-called tribunal, made up of their adversaries of the day before, to see themselves accused of all the crimes that the Code considers useable to condemn [citizens] to death, to prison, to exile, to the penal colony. The transports have come to be filled in our harbors: one by one, slowly, as if to distill the torture and make despair enter drop by drop into the hearts of the vanquished, the black ships have taken route for the antipodes. How to recount this six-month voyage? Or find words to paint its moral and physical sorrows? We were sustained by the hope that never deserts man, by the anticipation of the unknown, perhaps also by those deceitful promises with which the monarchical hypocrisy had enveloped what it calls the “dawn of the deportation.” On the new land where our civil struggles “cast” a Parisian population, the exiles would find, they said, liberty, abundance, and an easy life; their families should join them; they would enjoy such a rapid ease, such a complete happiness, that the amnesty could reach them without convincing them to return to the other country. This is what the press said, and that is what they declared in the court of Versailles; a man of imagination, Mr. d’Haussonville, spokesman for the bill relating to these measures, went even farther: he cast a rapt glance at the future and he saluted with a patriotic joy, in New Caledonia, the cradle of a future French empire. (Ironic laughter.) We heard these things, and half-accepted them, but the most pessimistic would not have dared predict the sorrowful reality. Instead of the Eldorado that was promised to us, we found sandy, sterile lands, a soil without riches in a burning climate, scarcity of water, an inept regime of budgeting, and absolute lack of work and, to say it all in one word, misery. Of four thousand deportees, there are not two at the Ducos peninsula and the Isle of Pines who have been able to create a tolerable existence; there are not two who have succeeded in gaining by their labor enough to suffice, let alone enough to suffice for the needs of their families. A very small number, moreover, were imprudent enough to bring them. Now the experiment has been made, and it is decisive: the deportation is nothing but an imprisonment at the antipodes, it is not less strict, it is no less onerous to the state, it is no less useless to the individual, the family, and society.
But it was not enough send four thousand of our own to trainer in Caledonia an empty, miserable existence, to fill with republicans all the prisons of France, to depopulate for the benefit of foreigners the workshops that were the finery and honor of Paris, our adversaries required a more refined and delicate delight: three hundred of our own have been cast into that cesspool that they call the penal colony; and do not believe that they are separated from the murderers and thieves. One minister said one day to a tearful mother who asked pardon: “I only know on penal colony!” The soldiers of the Commune are coupled there to the most infamous criminals, chained to the same bar, eating from the same trough, compelled to the same servile labors, subject to the same rule, treated familiarly, insulted and beaten by the same convicts; some children like Maroteau and some old men like Roques, have suffered this fate; for a gesture they are condemned to the torture of hunger; for a word, to the torture of the lash… (profound sensation). They only really know how to whip in the penal colony, I wrote recently to one of our brothers; twenty blows is enough to stun the most robust man, and there is not an example that anyone has been able to endure fifty without dying… (cries of indignation.)
That, gentlemen, is a small part of what we have hastened to make known to the world, those are the unspeakable tortures to which, for thirty years, coldly, with bias, with premeditation, the assembly of Versailles has cast men whose only crime has been to desire a Republic, of wanting to set it on its true cornerstone, the Commune, to wish to give it its true meaning and necessary consequences, the liberation of the proletariat.
These goods, these precious goods, citizens, you enjoy them in the free land where you come to seek them; you know their value, and experience has taught you that a true regime of equality and liberty gives development to individual power, serenity to the intelligence, vigor to the body, physical and more health to the entire human being. We, we have wanted to gain these goods in France and our effort has been powerless to bring them to us. Greater miseries have been the immediate and obvious result of that fruitless effort. Is that to say that it will remain fruitless? No, do not believe it. And I would wish for guarantee of it, if needed, only the fraternal gathering that brings us together here to toast the Commune, barely three years after the Commune was crushed. It will be fecund in the future, and allow me to say with some pride that it has already been fecund in the past.
There are no lack of people, in France and abroad, to say that the Commune was all but fatal to the Republic: this superficial judgment has become a commonplace, we see it printed everywhere, and there is not a day that we do not hear it resound in our ears. Could one at least grant to us that such a result, if it was produced, would have been precisely the opposite of the one that we pursued… but, no, they do not even wasn’t to grant us the benefit of our intentions. And yet, gentlemen, not only has our aim been to found the Republic, but this aim was achieved by us in our very defeat. Without March 18, the monarchy would have been made in France; that is the truth, and that supreme calamity, the only one that remains for us to dread, was warded off by the heroic sacrifice of Paris. Say to those who deny it that they do not know the majority of the assembly of Versailles and the plans that they did not fear to announce; tell them that an electoral surprise had thrown to the head of France some men who knew no other homeland than the Vatican, whom the glory of their fathers of 1858 prevents from sleeping; say that nothing less was demanded than the insurrection of Paris and the treat of a general insurrection, in order to force them to postpone their plots; and also say that it was the passionate resistance of the great republican city that gave to all the forces of the party the time to group and se reformer; remind them that it was the unequivocal demonstrations wrested from the nation by the spectacle of the struggle that forced the oldest and most skillful of the monarchic servants to bow their head before the Republic, to declared themselves converted, and to make the republican declarations accepted, as an imperious necessity of the moment, at that royalist assembly!… (Prolonged applause.)
The history of Paris on March 18 is an old history, gentlemen: it is that of Leonidas. The numberless army of barbarians approached the Peloponnese and threatened to inundate it; with a handful of brave men, he put himself across the rout and struggled in despair. He perished, but behind him Greece had time to gather its forces and prepare the victory… our sacrifice has been more sorrowful for us. It is not three hundred men that the barbarians have killed, but thirty thousand. But at least the generous effort has not been sterile, and before the rampart of corpses the enemy flood had to withdraw… (Prolonged applause.)
Now there is nothing more to fear. The wait has thrown division into the camp of that majority, [once] so compact against us. Three factions tear at it and reciprocally undo it. Powerless to found anything it is reduced to destroying, and it attacks what, universal suffrage… It will break its old teeth on that steel, believe it well. (Applause.) Such a mad attack can only presage for us an imminent and definitive triumph. For my part, it is with an absolute confidence that I await it and that I invite you to drink with me, citizens, to the victory, to the city of Paris, champion of the universal Revolution, to the workers exiled for it! (Prolonged applause.)
The fraternal welcome that you have reserved for us inspires two sentiments in me that I want to make known to you. The first is a feeling of unspeakable joy at finding myself, after three years of prison and deportation, again in the midst of citizens whose hearts beat in unison with ours.
The second is a feeling of lively gratitude for the sympathy that you have born witness to some of the defeated of 1871, despite the attacks, the insults and slanders of which they have been the object. No doubt, you have said to yourself that the no light was shed on the revolution of March 18, that the executioners of the day before were made the judges of the day after, and that, in order to obscure the great act they had not hesitated before the massacre of thirty thousand men, before the transportation, deportation and imprisonment of ten thousand citizens. (Applause.)
That welcome makes it a duty for me to say a few words to you about the Commune and its acts.
Among the attacks of which the republican party is the object, there is one that has always profoundly surprised me: it is the accusation raised against us that we always have recourse to violence. But if we look behind us, do we not see that it was always the government that, scoring the legal manifestation of the will of the people, has had recourse to force in order to break that will, and has forced the people to defend by force the sacred rights of which they wanted to refuse them the use…? (Approbation.)
1789—1830—1848. Aren’t they the irrefutable proof that the revolution has always been provoked by the violent attempts of the powers that be?
When the people have exhausted all the legal forms in order to express its will and it has not been heard, insurrection, as it has been said, is the most sacred of duties… (Applause.)
— After the ratification of the preliminaries of peace: the national assembly, elected in abnormal circumstances, composed of monarchists who had profited from the trouble cast into the ranks of the republicans by the disasters of the homeland, in order to surprise the voters, the representatives, I say, openly published their intention of restoring the monarchy.—The people of Paris were in arms. Certainly they did not want the civil war before the Prussians who took France by the throat, but they also did not want to let the Republic sink.
The so-called national assembly declared war abruptly; it attempted on March 18 to disarm the Parisian national guard; the guard resisted and became mistress of the city.—Paris named a Commune and waited with conciliation for the recognition of the Republic and of the municipal liberties.
The assembly of Versailles wanted to hear nothing and advanced soldiers against the defenders of the Republic; and for two months we were constrained to war, to the war that it made bloody and savage for us.
That is what happened on March 18.
We have been blamed for the massacre of the hostages. For my part, I frankly accept responsibility for the blood that we have spilled, but on the condition that Versailles will accept the responsibility for the crimes that is has committed and of which my friend Grousset has just made the sinister balance sheet.
We have been blamed for having displayed the red flag. It is because the red flag has only one color, as society must only have one class of citizens. We do not know, we of the Commune, the meaning of the words bourgeois classes, directing classes. What we know with the economists,—(for we have not found that formula)—is that Labor is the source of wealth and we believe that this wealth produced by Labor should belong to it. We have been called “Partageux.” In fact for many centuries the worker gives his labor and life in exchange for a morsel of bread… (Applause.)
I return to the accusation of violence that we have often encountered. Well, if tomorrow the government of the “illustrious” marshal (I would willingly give him that qualification of illustrious if I had seen him beside Bazaine account for his conduct before Sedan.) If tomorrow, I say, that government, pushed by the real manifestation of the opinion of France, attempted a coup de force, who then would reproach us for demanding of the force a means of defending our unrecognized rights, which are once more attacked?
But in order to have that force that is so greatly necessary to us, we must employ against our enemies the weapon that has always served them well: Their Union against the People.
It is by [our] union, by the strict solidarity of the workers, who would certainly be ready to re-conquer their rights if their enemies compelled them, that we would found, as the first proclamation of March 18 said, the Republic, with all its consequences, ending forever the era of invasions and civil wars. I propose to you a toast—to that Union… (Applause.)


[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
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