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178 At first glance, it might appear that the function of barricades is straightforward and self-evident: they serve to protect those who build and defend them. A closer examination reveals, however, that barricades can have many purposes other than the provision of physical cover and that the diversity of their functions goes some ways toward explaining why insurgents have turned to them so consistently. We have already observed barricades being used to challenge the legitimacy of the regime in power, delimit the lines of cleavage in society, and define the identity of insurgent groups. It should also be apparent that insurgents construct barricades in an attempt to influence the behavior of a variety of other groups including governmental authorities, social control forces (police and soldiers, for the most part), the general public, and even, on occasion, a disinterested audience of international observers. This chapter explores the many less obvious purposes that barricades can fulfill, stressing throughout how this tactic, far from remaining static and unchanging, has evolved over time in response to constantly shifting military, political, and cultural exigencies. For the sake of convenience, I have grouped the functions of barricades into three broad rubrics—practical, social, and symbolic—even though the boundaries among these categories are rarely hard and fast and any given barricade is likely to serve multiple objectives. THE PRACTICAL FUNCTIONS OF THE BARRICADE The manifest functions of the barricade—in other words, those that insurgents more or less consciously intend such structures to perform—are mainly prag7 The Functions of the Barricade One must never forget that the barricade, though a material element in any insurrectionary situation, plays above all a moral role. Instead of functioning as fortresses do in a time of war—as physical obstacles—barricades have served in every revolution simply as a way of halting the movement of troops, thus placing them in contact with the people. Leon Trotsky The Functions of the Barricade 179 matic in nature. The rebels’ overall aim is to mitigate or overcome the disadvantages that irregular forces inevitably face in any confrontation with bettertrained , better-equipped, and better-organized troops. This asymmetry of power between the two sides in a civil conflict often creates the appearance that barricades are essentially defensive. In reality, barricades can just as readily serve an offensive purpose (especially when used as a means of asserting the moral ascendancy of the insurgents’ cause), and they have been instrumental on many occasions in assuring the defeat of militarily superior forces. Our initial goal is therefore to summarize the practical functions of barricades without prejudging the question of their strategic potential. To Provide Protective Cover The barricade’s role as a refuge from attack presumably requires little elaboration. At least through the end of the nineteenth century, this simple physical barrier presented a formidable obstacle to assaults by foot soldiers. It was even better suited to counteracting the effectiveness of mounted troops, which might otherwise be employed with devastating results against urban crowds. And though only the most robust barricades could withstand the destructive force of cannon fire for long, a sturdily crafted example could often slow the progress of an artillery barrage enough to allow the rebels to beat an orderly retreat. This was an eventuality for which insurgents often prepared in advance by using pickaxes to open passages through the walls of adjacent buildings. Because, unlike soldiers, they wore no uniforms, they could hope to blend in with the noncombatant population as long as the struggle on the barricades, even when unsuccessful, gave them time to effect a well-ordered withdrawal.1 The protective aura that barricades possessed had a psychological dimension that could be no less important. Maxime du Camp, who was equally unsympathetic to the June Days of 1848 and to the Paris Commune, remarked that in both conflicts, barricades increased the willingness of insurgent forces to fight by providing the reassurance that there existed a haven behind which they could retreat if driven back from their forward positions.2 His conclusion, far from being the fanciful speculation of a political commentator, was based on personal experience as a combatant in the June insurrection (on the side of order, to be sure) and is backed up by the testimony of no less an authority than Louis Rossel (1844–71), who briefly served as the Commune’s delegate at war. At his trial, Rossel acknowledged that the commission charged with building the colossal showcase barricades in the place de la Concorde...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520947733
Related ISBN
9780520266322
MARC Record
OCLC
808600979
Pages
454
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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