Posts tagged paris commune
Posts tagged paris commune
Paris Commune, Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 1871
Emma Goldman on Louise Michel
One of my aims in visiting England was to meet the outstanding personalities in the anarchist movement. Unfortunately Kropotkin was out of town, but would be back before I left. Enrico Malatesta was in the city. I found him living behind his little shop, but there was no one to interpret for me, and I could not speak Italian. His kindly smile, however, mirrored a congenial personality and made me feel as if I had known him all my life. Louise Michel I met almost immediately upon my arrival. The French comrades I stayed with had arranged a reception for my first Sunday in London. Ever since I had read about the Paris Commune, its glorious beginning and its terrible end, Louise Michel had stood out sublime in her love for humanity, grand in her zeal and courage. She was angular, gaunt, aged before her years (she was only sixty-two); but there was spirit and youth in her eyes, and a smile so tender that it immediately won my heart. This, then, was the woman who had survived the savagery of the respectable Paris mob. Its fury had drowned the Commune in the blood of the workers and had strewn the streets of Paris with thousands of dead and wounded. Not being appeased, it had also reached out for Louise. Again and again she had courted death; on the barricades of Pére Lachaise, the last stand of the Communards, Louise had chosen the most dangerous position for herself. In court she had demanded the same penalty as was meted out to her comrades, scorning clemency on the grounds of sex. She would die for the Cause. Whether out of fear or awe of this heroic figure, the murderous Paris bourgeoisie had not dared to kill her. They preferred to doom her to slow death in New Caledonia. But they had reckoned without the fortitude of Louise Michel, her devotion and capacity for consecration to her fellow sufferers. In New Caledonia she became the hope and inspiration of the exiles. In sickness she nursed their bodies; in depression she cheered their spirits. The amnesty for the Communards brought Louise back with the others to France. She found herself the acclaimed idol of the French masses. They adored her as their Mère Louise, bien aimée.
Shortly after her return from exile Louise headed a demonstration of unemployed to the Esplanade des Invalides. Thousands were out of work for a long time and hungry. Louise led the procession into the bakery shops, for which she was arrested and condemned to five years’ imprisonment. In court she defended the right of the hungry man to bread, even if he has to “steal” it. Not the sentence, but the loss of her dear mother proved the greatest blow to Louise at her trial. She loved her with an absorbing affection and now she declared that she had nothing else to live for except the revolution. In 1886 Louise was pardoned, but she refused to accept any favours from the State. She had to be taken forcibly from prison in order to be set at liberty.
During a large meeting in Havre someone fired two shots at Louise while she was on the platform talking. One went through her hat; the other struck her behind the ear. The operation, although very painful, called forth no complaint from Louise. Instead she lamented her poor animals left alone in her rooms and the inconvenience the delay would cause her woman friend who was waiting for her in the next town. The man who nearly killed her had been influenced by a priest to commit the act, but Louise tried her utmost to have him released. She induced a famous lawyer to defend her assailant and she herself appeared in court to plead with the judge in his behalf. Her sympathies were particularly stirred by the man’s young daughter, whom she could not bear to have become fatherless by the man’s being sent to prison. Louise’s stand did not fail to influence even her fanatical assailant.
Later Louise was to participate in a great strike in Vienne, but she was arrested in the Gare du Lyon as she was about to board the train. The Cabinet member responsible for the massacre of the working-men in Fourmies saw in Louise a formidable force that he had repeatedly tried to crush. Now he demanded her removal from jail to an insane asylum on the ground that she was deranged and dangerous. It was this fiendish plan to dispose of Louise that induced her comrades to persuade her to move to England.
The vulgar French papers continued to paint her as a wild beast, as “La Vierge Rouge,” without any feminine qualities or charm. The more decent wrote of her with bated breath. They feared her, but they also looked up to her as something far above their empty souls and hearts. As I sat near her at our first meeting, I wondered how anyone could fail to find charm in her. It was true that she cared little about her appearance. Indeed, I had never seen a woman so utterly oblivious of anything that concerned herself. Her dress was shabby, her bonnet ancient. Everything she wore was ill-fitting. But her whole being was illumined by an inner light. One quickly succumbed to the spell of her radiant personality, so compelling in its strength, so moving in its childlike simplicity. The afternoon with Louise was an experience unlike anything that had happened till then in my life. Her hand in mine, its tender pressure on my head, her words of endearment and close comradeship, made my soul expand, reach out towards the spheres of beauty where she dwelt.
The pasilalinic-sympathetic compass, or “snail telegraph,” was an attempt to harness telepathic snails for long-distance communication. First tested in 1851 by a French occultist named Jacques Toussaint Benoit, the idea was later revived by the eccentric socialist Jules Allix during the Siege of Paris, when the city was desperate for outside communication channels.