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  • The Commune, "Today"
  • Robert St. Clair

Rouge œilletAujourd'hui, va fleurir dans l'ombreDes noires et tristes prisons.Va fleurir près du captif sombreEt dis-lui bien… que par le temps rapideTout appartient à l'avenir

—Louise Michel

Tout ça n'empêche pasNicolasQue la Commune n'est pas morte!

—Eugène Pottier

Let us begin this special issue of Nineteenth-Century French Studies with two proclamations from opposite sides of the barricade, contradictory in the fullest sense of the term, and which bookend the events that transpired in Paris in the spring of 1871. The first can be found on the front page of Le Cri du peuple, the revolutionary journal founded by Jules Vallès in February of 1871. The second, attributed to an especially reviled figure of political history for the European left, Patrice de MacMahon,1 is culled from a military proclamation posted up and addressed to the "inhabitants" of Paris at the end of May, as though in a ghoulish kind of retort to the posters proclaiming the Commune's existence which had blossomed on walls throughout the city exactly three months earlier. [End Page 151]

Shortly after the Comité central announced the creation of the Commune to the citizens of Paris—Citoyens, Aujourd'hui […] Paris saluait, acclamait sa révolution; Paris ouvrait à une page blanche le livre de l'histoire et y inscrivit son nom puissant…—2 Vallès would write the following in the headline chronicle of his journal on 28 and 30 March 1871, commemorating the events of the previous four days and looking forward to the new historic day which had appeared to dawn in the revolutionary city:

Quelle journée! […] Ô grand Paris! […] Embrasse-moi, camarade, qui as, comme moi, les cheveux gris! Et toi, marmot, qui joues aux billes derrière les barricades, viens que je t'embrasse aussi!

Le 18 mars te l'a sauvé belle, gamin! Tu pouvais, comme nous, grandir dans le brouillard, patauger dans la boue, rouler dans le sang, crever de faim […]. C'est fini! […] Fils des désespérés, tu seras un homme libre.


C'est aujourd'hui la fête nuptiale de l'idée et de la République. La Commune est proclamée.3

On 28 March—… par un clair soleil rappelant l'aube du 18 mars… pas de discours, un immense cri, un seul, Vive la Commune!—the newly elected members of the Paris Commune took seat in the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, symbolic site of revolutionary triumph par excellence in Paris since the 1830 revolution which finally confided the ancien régime to the proverbial dustbin of history, its stately renaissant frame now coiffed with un immense drapeau rouge as the Commune held its first session.4 On 28 May, however, one would find the following terse statement, plastered throughout the city in whose streets the Commune came to its infamously vicious close, drowned in its own blood by the forces of "order":

Habitants de Paris:

Aujourd'hui, la lutte est terminée. L'ordre, le travail, la sécurité vont renaître.5

The question that provided the impetus for the present volume marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune was, in appearance, a relatively simple one. It could even be understood as having to do with what we make not only of the deictics in these declarations—that conflicting set of aujourd'hui, the one heralding the hope of collective emancipation and the realization of a principle of 'equaliberty' (Balibar), the other appealing to the authority of "law and order" and the brutal "taking back" of cities overrun by a phantasmagoric mob of "ensauvagés" (Macron)—6 but also what we make of the implicit kinds of futures that they conjure up or, as the case may be, conjure away. [End Page 152]

Aujourd'hui le livre de l'histoire est ouvert … C'est aujourd'hui la fête nuptiale de l'idée et de la République … Aujourd'hui, la lutte est terminée…

More precisely, the question that has guided this volume from conception to culmination is the following: what kind of ideas...