Insurrection de Paris (August 22nd-25th, 1944)

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Parisians Free Their City!

The Liberation of Paris after the Allied D-Day Landings of June, 1944, was a key strategic aim, as such an achievement clearly marked the defeat of Hitler in France, and proved the Nazi German war machine was being successfully pushed-back. A sticking point for Churchill was the French Resistance movement centred in Paris (which he had encouraged to fight the Germans on the one hand, whilst ensuring it remained short of cash and any sufficient supply of effective weaponry on the other). This was because the French Resistance was very well led by the French Communists, and as they sought a Revolution in France, Churchill did not want this movement empowered by any military gains on the ground. However, even the rightwing De Gaulle (Churchill’s man on the ground in Paris) knew very well the high regard with which the ordinary French people held the bravery and leadership skills of the Communists, and was aware of the influence the Communists held should Churchill get his way and send non-French troops into Paris (possibly starting a civil war). Pragmatism forced Churchill to agree that French troops should be the first Allied presence in Paris (the Leclerc Division successfully entered Paris from the South on the 25th of August, 1944). Prior to this ‘Liberation of Paris’, another equally important event took place – namely the ‘Paris Insurrection’.

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Workers on the Paris Barricades

Records suggest that De Gaulle had known of the plans for the Communist-led Resistance to come out of hiding as the Allies advanced toward Paris, and had agreed to this coordinated event. On August 22nd, Colonel Rol (a former Renault employee sacked for propagating Communist rhetoric), issued orders for all Resistance members in Paris to come out of hiding with any and all weapons at their disposal, and attack and harass the retreating Nazi German forces. This plan involved the rapid construction of (mostly symbolic) barricades across the streets of Paris, but only in the working class areas (the middle class areas were notoriously unreliable and of dubious loyalty). Students at the Sorbonne busied themselves by making Molotov Cocktails. De Gaulle had promised Churchill (and the French bourgeoisie) that he would personally take control of the situation and after allowing the Communists to ‘make their point’, he would have them all disarmed and returned to ordinary life. De Gaulle was true to his word, and he soon stamped-out the Communist-led Resistance, but not before 3000 French men and women lost their lives against the Nazi Germans, with 7000 wounded (in just three days of clashes). At least De Gaulle allowed to the people of Paris to participate in their own emancipation – an effort that formally ended on August 25th, 1944. Recalling those extraordinary times, Albert Camus wrote:

‘For a whole year now we hear some good souls telling us that there never was any Paris Insurrection, and that the men of the Resistance did no more than fire a few shots into the air, at the very last moment. It is true that these good souls weren’t on the barricades… For there weren’t any at Auteuil and Passy.

Others again paint us a glorious picture of the whole people rising like one man, brandishing their rifles and liberating Paris all by themselves, in a great romantic flourish. The truth is simple – but no less great. Four or five thousand men, and a few hundred firearms between them, came out, in accordance with a well-worked-out plan, in order to hold up the retreating remnants of the German 7th Army. After less than a week 50,000 Parisians were on the barricades, in the districts of the Revolution, and were fighting with arms captured from the enemy. Thanks to them, Paris slowed down the German retreat… and spared the Allies some additional battles…

Such is the truth. But one should add to it the colours of a Paris summer, the thunderstorm on that Wednesday night, and the young people’s manning those barricades and laughing at last, for the first time in four years’ 

Albert Camus: Combat, August 20th, 1945

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What this tracts suggests, is that even by late 1945 – just over a year after the Liberation of Paris  – history was being re-written to excise all positive mention of Communism and Communist activities out of the general narrative. This is the hidden hand of Churchill as it heads towards his 1946 ‘Iron Curtain’ piece of theatre. It is a process of shocking governmental thought control, whereby the supposedly ‘free’ West dismisses reality as it happens, and replaces it with a ‘preferred’ history that paints predatory capitalism in the best possible light. No matter how much (obscuring) historical paint is added to the Paris Insurrection, one detail that everyone agrees on (who was there), is that the bourgeois capitalists were cowards and when the time came to fight, hid in their living rooms whilst the working classes fought and died for their freedom. I suppose the likes of Churchill and De Gaulle thought it best to simply air-brush this great working class effort our of history, and in so doing spare the blushes of the greed-ridden but ineffective middle classes.

Reference:

Alexander Werth: France 1940-1955, Robert Hale, (1956), Pages 215-219

 

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