Thirty years have passed since that day, since the 18th of March, 1871. At dawn the tocsin was sounding, and, hardly feeling the ground beneath us, at a quick step we climbed the heights of Montmartre, on the summit of which stood an army ranged in order of battle. Little did we ever expect to return even though all Paris had risen. The soldiers Were already putting horses to the cannon which the National Guard held there, having brought them up from Batignolles during the night. And behold! between us and the army the women we had none of us seen climbing, and who now threw themselves upon the guns, the soldiers remaining motionless!
As General Lecomte gave the order to fire upon the crowd, a subaltern (Verdsguerre) stepped from the ranks, and louder than the General’s voice rang his cry: “Butt ends in the air!” And be it was the soldiers obeyed. The crowd fraternised with them, and the spring sunshine flashing like diamonds seemed to illuminate Liberty—Liberty, the great, the triumphant, and which we thought to keep for ever.
Instead, there followed massacre. More likely a hundred thousand rather than the twenty thousand bodies officially numbered, were buried in all parts—in communal ditches, under the street pavements, in the squares, or were burnt in the casemates or on the Place de la Concorde and elsewhere; those that lie beneath the pavements still reappear; from time to time during excavations whole skeletons are found still wrapped in some red fragment of their National Guard uniform; but the ashes of the burnt have been scattered by the winds throughout the world.
It is thirty years since then, and though today some might say that Liberty is farther off than ever, rather is it near; so near that those who battle against it have only one resource left—that of sowing the seeds of hatred amongst revolutionists, forgetting that one day this very hatred will become the avenger against the common enemy, that monstrous Past which refuses to die and yet agonises, suffocated in the blood of its victims.
It is its crimes that will kill the old Society. Those it commits to- day become the greater the nearer it finds itself approaching the edge of the abyss. Just as we can no longer be content to return to the conditions of the ancient cave-dwellers, so too will it be impossible for any man born in these days and grown to manhood to live as we now do, surrounded by iniquities and bloodshed. The executions, the pillage, the indiscriminate assassinations that today take place in China in the name of Civilisation and under the cloak of military and clerical legalism would, however, not be permitted in Europe since every nation would rise in horror; nor would any war similar to that in the Transvaal break out here could we see the thousands of dead, English and Boer, that strew the distant mountain gorges of Africa, calling down malediction from every silent height. Never after so horrible an object-lesson could Capitalist cupidity renew such atrocities.
I say it is the end! That is why the Abdul Hamids of the world tremble in the midst of their criminal and sanguinary follies; feeling the earth sinking beneath them they are forced to cease their cruelty. Man is not made either to be an executioner or to be executed; he is not made for a life of hatred. despair and everlasting misery; these evils only exist because of the universal stupidity and cowardice. The monsters that the legendary heroes of the future will destroy, are they not War, Misery, Oppression and Ignorance? The true ideal appears in a. clearer form to us now than it did thirty years ago; and it is for one and all, each fulfilling his appointed task, to build up the first stage of these new times in which though the years may roll along unknown paths it is towards an aim that is no longer unknown and cannot be misunderstood. With our eyes fixed upon this star of Deliverance, let us stride forward without fear; the days of feeble indecision are at an end. Yet we still have much to learn in regard to the vastness, the grandeur, the beauty and the possibilities of the work. But would the gigantic columns that ancient Egypt transported from place to place by the laboring arms of millions of slaves have been impossible to raise had those arms belonged to free men? Is it too hard to create around the cradle of a free humanity the large clear space required for the natural development of justice, truth, science, art and the marvels that a new sense of freedom and truth will give birth to?
The 18th of March which we saw thirty years ago was magnificent; for a moment it aroused every other nation. The new 18th of March will be that of every awakened man, and their number is already immense; that of every noble and elevated spirit, of every brave heart beating in the breasts of humanity, and these shouting aloud the tocsin of Liberty, must awaken the earth.
On the 18th of March the dawn of the Commune was beautiful, aye, and even more so in May in the grandeur of death. The weaknesses, the follies that Commune committed should be pardoned in view of its fierce contempt for life—always one of the greatest factors in a combat for liberty.
The predominant sentiment after the victory of March 18th was one of joy for deliverance, the glorious happiness of having secured liberties upon which to found a great and noble republic! The Manifesto of the Central Committee ran:
Citizens: The people of Paris have thrown of the yoke that was being imposed upon them. Calm, impassive in her strength, the city has fearlessly and without provocation awaited the shameless fools who wished to slay the republic. This time our brothers of the army have refused to lay their hands upon the sacred arch of Liberty.
Alas! too soon the soldiers, stuffed with lies and alcohol, obeyed the orders from Versailles to massacre. This, as always, is the eternal history of Discipline which forces men into ruts and makes of some mills that grind, of others the grain that they crush. Man, I say, is not made for a life of crime or pain; it is necessary for all to understand this, so that on one side we refuse to torture and on the other to be tortured. We know, we see all round us the evidence of the most hideous crimes; we must refuse to help in their committal—there lies the key of the situation.
Then the 18th of March of the whole world will be like a sun risen to its full glory above virgin summits, and the new, the diviner times will commence.
Louise Michel, “The Eighteenth of March,” Freedom (London) 15 no. 156 (March-April, 1901): 13-14.