How France turned workers & dissidents into colonisers - The Arab News on 175th anniversary of June Days Paris massacre

Europe Materials 29 June 2023 11:37 (UTC +04:00)
How France turned workers & dissidents into colonisers - The Arab News on 175th anniversary of June Days Paris massacre

BAKU, Azerbaijan, June 29. The Arab News has published an article dedicated to the 175th anniversary of June Days Paris massacre, Trend reports.

As the article reads, on the evening of June 22,1848, 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, the author writes.

"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. 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," the article reads.

The author notes that 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 article reads.

In response to the demand for the "right to work" voiced by the empowered working class in Paris, the establishment proposed an alternative solution: resettling them in Algeria and transforming them into colonists. This plan aimed to address the perceived social unrest by removing the workers from the capital and relocating them to another territory.

As a further measure, in 1850, the French state initiated the deportation of convicted individuals involved in the June uprising to Algeria. This action was taken as a punitive measure against the insurgents and as part of a broader strategy to maintain control and stability within France.

"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," the article concludes.