Posted on the walls of Paris, April 1871:
"Workers, do not be deceived. This is the great struggle. It is parasitism and labor, exploitation and production that are at stake. If you are tired of vegetating in ignorance and coughing in misery, if you want your sons to be men and not types of animals reared for the factory and the battlefield, if you no longer want your daughters--whom you cannot raise and protect as you would like--to be the instruments of pleasure in the hands of the aristocracy of wealth, if you would like to see the reign of Justice--workers, arise!"

I just finished Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune by Rupert Christiansen, and now I'm full of history. I'm not a communist or an anarchist or much of anything besides a mutinous product of the American education system. The book is an anecdotal chronology of the decadence of the Second Empire followed by the Franco-Prussian war followed by the Siege of Paris followed by the Paris Commune followed by the murder of thousands of Parisians associated with the Commune: in other words, the history of Paris from 1870-1871. What I appreciated most were the newspaper stories, the first person accounts, the gossip, the diary entries, the caricatures, and the photographs that the book includes. 1871 seems a muckle long time ago, but you could see the same pictures of ruined buildings and piled corpses in the newspaper today.

I became interested in the Commune when I visited the Cimitiere de la Pere Lachaise (sic) in 1994 and noticed a particular wall where hundreds of Communards were summarily executed when the interim government at Versailles decided to take back the city by force. I'd also read, maybe in a John Irving book or in Frederick Simoons' Eat Not This Flesh: Food Avoidances from Prehistory to the Present, that during the Siege of Paris, when the Prussians surrounded the city and cut off all supplies and communications, the Parisians slaughtered and ate horses, rats, mice, cats, dogs, and the rich folks dined on special cuts from zoo animals. Because there was no regular post, they used hot air balloons (which couldn't be steered very well) and carrier pigeons (to which they attached an early version of microfilm) to carry letters and messages. Once the siege was lifted after a sketchy agreement with Bismarck, the working class basically went crazy and took over the city, while the post-Louis Napoleon government moved to Versailles to let the Reds (as they are called in the book) hash it out amongst themselves. The Communards were pretty disorganized and devoted a lot of energy to speeches, posters, and elections, and seem to have been considered "scum" by the majority of the city. This is a very primitive encapsulation of what happened. For more information, try:

Northwestern University Library collections have some photos, caricatures, and other on-line images for browsing.
The University of New South Wales has a very informative site that includes a city map, brief history, other links, biographies, and images--including a photo of the cemetery wall mentioned above.
A brief life of Louise Michel, the outspoken female revolutionary who was exiled to New Caledonia after the Commune and lived until 1905.
A very brief (and therefore helpful) description of the other events leading up to the Paris Commune is at http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/prussian-war.htm.
The Marxists have a more detailed timeline of events from January 1870 to May 1871.
More on the pigeon post at http://www.cix.co.uk/~mhayhurst/jdhayhurst/pigeon/pigeon.html.

I think if there's ONE THING we learn from this it's the importance of having trained carrier pigeons ready at a moment's notice. While I'm building my solar-powered home and making fuel for my car from vegetable oil, you can bet I will be training birds to take messages to and from the compound just in case there's a revolution.

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