Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848
Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 160;
Written: by Engels on June 30 and July 1, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 31-32, July 1 and 2, 1848.
Cavaignac was appointed dictator by the terrified National Assembly. Accustomed as he was in Algeria to “energetic” action, he did not have to be told what to do.
Ten battalions promptly moved towards the Hôtel de Ville along the wide Quai de l'École. They cut off the insurgents in the Cité from the right bank, secured the safety of the Hôtel de Ville and even made it possible to attack the barricades surrounding it.
The rue Planche-Mibray, and its continuation, the rue Saint Martin, were cleared and kept permanently clear by cavalry. The Notre-Dame Bridge, which lies opposite and leads to the Cité, was swept by heavy guns, and then Cavaignac advanced directly on the Cité in order to take “energetic” measures there. The “Belle Jardinière”, the main strongpoint of the insurgents, was first shattered by cannon and then set on fire by rockets. The rue de la Cité was also seized with the aid of — gun-fire; three bridges leading to the left bank were stormed and the insurgents on the left bank were pressed back. Meanwhile, the 14 battalions deployed on the Place de Grève and the quays freed the besieged Hôtel de Ville and reduced the church of Saint Gervais from a headquarters to a lost outpost of the insurgents.
The rue St. Jacques was not only bombarded from the Cité but also attacked in the flank from the left bank. General Damesme broke through along the Luxembourg to the Sorbonne, seized the Quartier Latin and sent his columns against the Panthéon. The square in front of the Panthéon had been transformed into a formidable stronghold. The forces of “order” still faced this unassailable bulwark long after they had taken the rue St. Jacques. Gun-fire and bayonet attacks were of no avail until finally exhaustion, lack of ammunition and the threat of the bourgeois to set the place on fire compelled the 1,500 workers, who were completely hemmed in, to surrender. At about the same time, the Place Maubert fell into the hands of the forces of “order” after a long and courageous resistance, and the insurgents, deprived of their strongest positions, were forced to abandon the entire left bank of the Seine.
Meanwhile the troops and national guards stationed on the boulevards of the right bank of the Seine were likewise put into action in two directions. Lamoricière, who commanded them, had the streets of the faubourgs St. Denis and St. Martin, the boulevard du Temple and part of the rue du Temple cleared by heavy artillery and swift infantry attacks. By the evening he could boast of brilliant successes. He had cut off and partly surrounded the first column in the Clos St. Lazare; he had pushed back the second column and by advancing along the boulevards had thrust a wedge into it.
How did Cavaignac win these advantages?
First, by the vastly superior force he was able to use against the insurgents. On the 24th he had at his disposal not only the 20,000-strong Paris garrison, the 20,000 to 25,000 men of the mobile guard and the 60,000 to 80,000 available men of the national guard, but also the national guard from the whole environs of Paris and from many of the more distant towns (20,000 to 30,000 men) and in addition 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers who were called in with the utmost dispatch from the neighbouring garrisons. Even on the morning of the 24th he had well over 100,000 men at his disposal, and by the evening their numbers had increased by half. The insurgents, on the other hand, numbered 40;000 to 50,000 men at most!
Secondly, by the brutal means he used. Until then cannon had been fired in the streets of Paris only once, i.e. in Vendémiaire 1795, when Napoleon dispersed the insurgents in the rue Saint Honoré with grape-shot. But no artillery, let alone shells and incendiary rockets, was ever used against barricades and against houses. The people were unprepared for this, they were unable to defend themselves, for the only counteraction they could take was to set fire to houses, but this was repugnant to their sense of what was right. Up till then the people had no idea that this brand of Algerian warfare could be used right in the centre of Paris. They therefore retreated, and their first retreat spelt their defeat.
On the 25th Cavaignac attacked with even larger forces. The insurgents were confined to a single district, the faubourgs Saint Antoine and du Temple; in addition they still held two outposts, the Clos St. Lazare and a part of the St. Antoine district up to the Damiette Bridge.
Cavaignac, who had received further reinforcements of 20,000 to 30,000 men as well as a substantial park of artillery, first attacked the isolated outposts of the insurgents, especially the Clos St. Lazare. The insurgents were entrenched here as in a fortress. After a 12-hour bombardment with cannon and mortar shells, Lamoricière finally succeeded in dislodging the insurgents and occupying the Clos St. Lazare, but not until he had mounted a flank attack from the rues Rochechouart and La Poissonnière, and had demolished the barricades by bombarding them with 40 guns on the first day and with an even greater number on the next.
Another part of his column penetrated through the Faubourg Saint Martin into the Faubourg du Temple, but was not very successful. A third section moved along the boulevards towards the Bastille, but it did not get very far either, because a number of the most formidable barricades there resisted for a long time and only succumbed after a fierce cannonade. The houses here suffered appalling destruction.
Duvivier’s column advancing from the Hôtel de Ville pressed the insurgents back still further with the aid of incessant artillery fire. The church of St. Gervais was captured, a long stretch of the rue Saint Antoine well beyond the Hôtel de Ville was cleared, and several columns moving along the quay and streets running parallel to it seized the Damiette Bridge, which connected the insurgents of the St. Antoine district with those of the St. Louis and Cité islands. The Saint Antoine district was outflanked and the insurgents had no choice but to fall back into the faubourg, which they did in fierce combat with a column advancing along the quays to the mouth of the St. Martin Canal and thence along the boulevard Bourdon skirting the canal. Several insurgents who were cut off were massacred, hardly any were taken prisoner.
The St. Antoine district and the Place de la Bastille were seized in this operation. Lamoricière’s column managed to occupy the whole boulevard Beaumarchais by the evening and join up with Duvivier’s troops on the Place de la Bastille.
The capture of the Damiette Bridge enabled Duvivier to dislodge the insurgents from the Île St. Louis and the former Île Louvier. He did this with a commendable display of Algerian barbarity. Hardly anywhere in the cit was heavy artillery used with such devastating effect as in the Île St. Louis. But what did that matter? The insurgents were either driven out or massacred and among the blood-stained ruins “order” triumphed.
One more post remained to be seized on the left bank of the Seine. The Austerlitz Bridge, which east of the St. Martin Canal links the Faubourg St. Antoine with the left bank of the Seine, was heavily barricaded and had a strong bridgehead on the left bank where it adjoins the Place Valhubert in front of the Botanical Gardens. This bridgehead, which after the fall of the Panthéon and the Place Maubert was the last stronghold of the insurgents on the left bank, was taken after stubborn resistance.
Only their last bulwark, the Faubourg St. Antoine and a part of the Faubourg du Temple, was thus left to the insurgents on the following day, the 26th. Neither of these faubourgs is very suitable for street-fighting; the streets there are fairly wide and almost perfectly straight, offering full play for the artillery. Their western side is well protected by the St. Martin Canal, but the northern side is completely exposed. Five or six perfectly straight, wide streets run from the north right into the centre of the Faubourg Saint Antoine.
The principal fortifications were at the Place de la Bastille and in the rue Faubourg St. Antoine, the main street of the whole district. Remarkably strong barricades were set up there, built partly of big flagstones and partly of wooden beams. They were constructed in the form of an angle pointing inward in order partly to weaken the effect of the gun-fire, partly to offer a larger defensive front making cross-fire possible. Openings had been made in the fire-proof walls of the houses so that the rows of houses were connected with each other, thus enabling the insurgents to open rifle-fire on the troops or withdraw behind the barricades as circumstances demanded. The bridges and quays along the canal as well as the streets running parallel to it were also strongly fortified. In short, the two faubourgs the insurgents still held resembled a veritable fortress, in which the troops had to wage a bloody battle for every inch of ground.
On the morning of the 26th the fighting was to be resumed, but Cavaignac was not keen on sending his troops into this maze of barricades. He threatened to shell them; mortars and howitzers were brought up. A parley was held. Cavaignac meanwhile ordered the nearest houses to be mined, but this could only be done to a very limited extent, because the time was too short and because the canal covered one of the lines of attack; he also ordered internal communication to be established between the occupied houses and the adjoining houses through gaps in the fire-proof walls.
The negotiations broke down and fighting was resumed. Cavaignac ordered General Perrot to attack from the Faubourg du Temple and General Lamoricière from the Place de la Bastille. The barricades were heavily shelled from both directions. Perrot pushed forward fairly rapidly, occupied the remaining section of the Faubourg du Temple and even penetrated into the Faubourg St. Antoine at several points. Lamoricière’s advance was slower. The first barricades withstood his guns, although his grenades set the first houses of the faubourg on fire. He began once more to negotiate. Watch in hand he awaited the moment when he would have the pleasure of shelling and razing to the ground the most thickly populated district of Paris. Some of the insurgents at last capitulated, while others, attacked in the flank, withdrew from the city after a short battle.
It was the end of the June barricade fighting. Skirmishes still continued outside the city, but they were of no significance. The insurgents who fled were scattered in the neighbourhood and were one by one captured by cavalry.
We have given this purely military description of the struggle to show our readers with what heroic courage, unity, discipline and military skill the Paris workers fought. For four days 40,000 of them opposed forces four times their strength, and were within a hair-breadth of victory. They almost succeeded in gaining a footing in the centre of Paris, taking the Hôtel de Ville, forming a Provisional Government and doubling their number not only by people from the captured parts of the city joining them but also from the ranks of the mobile guard, who at that time needed but a slight impetus to make them go over to their side.
German newspapers assert that this was the decisive battle between the red and the tricolour republics, between workers and bourgeois. We are convinced that this battle will decide nothing but the disintegration of the victors. Moreover, the whole course of events proves that, even from a purely military standpoint, the workers are bound to triumph within a fairly short space of time. If 40,000 Paris workers could achieve such tremendous things against forces four times their number, what will the whole mass of Paris workers accomplish by concerted and co-ordinated action!
Kersausie was captured and by now has probably been shot. The bourgeois can kill him, but cannot take from him the fame of having been the first to organise street-fighting. They can kill him, but no power on earth can prevent his techniques from being used in all future street-fighting. They can kill him, but they cannot prevent his name from going down in history as the first commander-in-chief of barricade fighting.