TODAY.AZ / Politics

175th anniversary of June Days Paris massacre: How France turned workers & dissidents into colonisers

25 June 2023 [12:47] - TODAY.AZ

An article on French colonization and imperialist policy was published on a foreign media outlet. The article mentions the events of June in France, that is, the massacre committed in Paris 175 years ago. Azernews presents the article.

Remembering the Algerian roots of 1848 June Days massacre

By Dr Katherine Connelly,

On the evening of 22 June 1848, only four months after the revolution of February overthrew the last French king, barricades appeared again on the streets of Paris. The barricades were constructed in protest at the new republican government’s decision to renege on its promise to the city’s workers to guarantee their ‘right to work’.

Four days later, the uprising was brutally crushed, not only were thousands of insurgents killed on the barricades, cannons and incendiary rockets were fired into working-class neighbourhoods, and prisoners were shot in vicious reprisals. This extreme violence had its roots in the colonial nature of the French state – whether monarchy or republic.

African generals

Monarchy and republic both turned to France’s colonial African Army to quell unrest at home. In February 1848, the king relied on the former governor-general of Algeria, Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, to try and save his regime. In Algeria, Bugeaud led a reign of terror which historian Jennifer E. Sessions has described as the ‘institutionalization’ of rape, mutilation, execution, razzia (scorched earth raids) and enfumades (blocking people up in caves and then setting the blocked exits alight).

''In a manner that resembles the coverage of warfare in imperialist countries, the censored French press did not condemn the army for shelling a densely populated city but instead repeated lurid rumours about the insurgents beheading, mutilating and poisoning that supposedly confirmed their barbarism. This colonialist register, of course, served to justify the ‘civilising mission’ at home.''

When the June insurrection broke out, the Republic called upon the new governor-general of Algeria, General Eugène Cavaignac. On 24 June, the government disbanded itself, handing Cavaignac dictatorial power.

Cavaignac had been in Algeria since 1832 and was an experienced practitioner of the African Army’s atrocities. He had used enfumade against the Sbeah tribe in 1844.

Other high-ranking figures in the African Army brought in to fight the June insurgents included Colonel Charras, General Lamoricière (another former governor-general of Algeria), General Bedeau, General Duvivier and General Négrier. Jonathan M. House’s military study notes that during the June Days the first three colonels to be promoted to generals had all served in the African Army.

Colonisation at home

The establishment justified the assault on the June insurgents by ignoring their grievances and depicting them instead as the enemies of the republic and thus also of civilised society. In so doing, they drew on longstanding political and cultural representations that likened the urban poor to colonised subjects.

The insurgents were depicted as the city’s uncivilised natives. The newspaper Le Constitutionnel compared them to Native Americans and to Algerians. When General Négrier was shot in the fighting, the Constitutionnel mourned that the man who had been spared the ‘bullets of the Arabs’ had been hit ‘by a French bullet’, as if the June insurgents had completed the work of the Algerian fighters.

In a manner that resembles the coverage of warfare in imperialist countries, the censored French press did not condemn the army for shelling a densely populated city but instead repeated lurid rumours about the insurgents beheading, mutilating and poisoning that supposedly confirmed their barbarism. This colonialist register, of course, served to justify the ‘civilising mission’ at home.

‘Algerian barbarity’?

Almost the only individuals of any prominence to wholeheartedly defend the June insurgents were the revolutionary communists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Writing in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the newspaper Marx edited in Cologne, Engels repeatedly referred to the colonial backgrounds of the generals. Recalling Duvivier’s role as a commander in the 1836 siege of Constantine, Engels saw parallels with his use of heavy artillery against Parisians on the Île Saint-Louis where he acted with ‘Algerian barbarity’ (by which he meant the barbarity of the French in Algeria).

On one level it can be argued that Engels simply reversed the barbarian/civilised dichotomy used by the coloniser, but I think Engels was making a far more radical point. He not only likened the June insurgents to the Algerian resistance, but also to the uprisings of the Lyons silk workers over a decade earlier and to slave revolts.

Workers, the colonised, the enslaved: what the liberation struggles of each of these groups had in common was the necessarily existential threat they posed to the old order, with which there could be no compromise. It was this essential fact that explained the level of violence deployed against the June insurgents, against the colonised and the enslaved.

It also reveals something that the French state understood very well – that these groups objectively shared the same interests.

The June Days: a colonial tragedy

A victory for the June insurgents against the generals of the African Army would also have struck a blow to French colonialism. But the insurgents were defeated, with a corresponding, devastating impact in Algeria.

The establishment’s preferred alternative to the right to work, which had been demanded by an emboldened working-class in the French capital, was to resettle them in Algeria and turn them into colonists. And in 1850, the French state began deporting convicted June insurgents to Algeria.

By turning a section of workers and dissidents into colonisers, the French state strengthened its power at home and abroad. The longer-term results of this included the fostering of a far-right force in French politics, the creation of a particularly Islamophobic brand of French republicanism and more than a century of colonial subjugation in Algeria. These too were the bitter fruits of the June Days.

URL: http://www.today.az/news/politics/236436.html

Print version

Views: 1133

Connect with us. Get latest news and updates.

Recommend news to friend

  • Your name:
  • Your e-mail:
  • Friend's name:
  • Friend's e-mail: