Image of the Week, #12

A jaw-dropping, gob-smacking image.

I had no idea anything like this existed. It’s a daguerrotype image of barricades on the rue St-Maur in Paris on 25 June 1848, during the insurrection of the Parisian working class against the Provisional Government. It was taken from a rooftop shortly before Cavaignac’s murderous assault, whose aftermath is recorded in a second image, taken the following day. As reported in the Guardian and the Times, the original plates – one of the oldest quasi-photographic images from news reporting in the world – have just been sold at auction for £180,000, and, happily, the Musée d’Orsay has acquired them.

What a good time to read again Karl Marx at his incendiary journalistic best, from the pages of the Neue Rheinsiche Zeitung of 29 June 1848:

The workers of Paris were overwhelmed by superior strength, but they were not subdued. They have been defeated but their enemies are vanquished. The momentary triumph of brute force has been purchased with the destruction of all the delusions and illusions of the February revolution, the dissolution of the entire moderate republican party and the division of the French nation into two nations, the nation of owners and the nation of workers. The tricolor republic now displays only one color, the color of the defeated, the color of blood. It has become a red republic. …Order! was Guizot’s war-cry. Order! shouted Sebastiani, the Guizotist, when Warsaw became Russian. Order! shouts Cavaignac, the brutal echo of the French National Assembly and of the republican bourgeoisie.

Order! thundered his grape-shot as it tore into the body of the proletariat. …

We may be asked, do we not find a tear, a sigh, a word for the victims of the people’s wrath, for the National Guard, the mobile guard, the republican guard and the line?

The state will care for their widows and orphans, decrees extolling them will be issued, their remains will be carried to the grave in solemn procession, the official press will declare them immortal, the European reaction in the East and the West will pay homage to them.

But the plebeians are tormented by hunger, abused by the press, forsaken by the physicians, called thieves, incendiaries and galley-slaves by the respectabilities; their wives and children are plunged into still greater misery and the best of those who have survived are sent overseas. It is the right and the privilege of the democratic press to place laurels on their gloomy threatening brow.

Next week, of course, marks the 131st anniversary of the bloody destruction of the Paris Commune by Cavaignac’s heirs and successors. Plus c’est la même chose.

Katherine wrote [12.5.2002]: Did you realize that the place where we ate enormous steaks in a café was right there in that street? The final barricade of the Commune was in the neighbouring street to mine [rue du faubourg Temple], and there is a plaque commemorating that, and every now and then one sees flowers laid there — not the official wreaths of elected officials but just something someone has put there in passing. I refused a leaflet from a Chirac supporter recently, and she told me I might just as well have spat in her face. I shall try to do just that next time.

Chris replies [13.5.2002]: I had not realised that this was the place where we ate enormous steaks, but this is excellent to hear. I trust that the café’s weekly “Philosophy for Kids” classes are still going strong…

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