Karl Marx in The Examiner 1871

The Commune and Archbishop Darboy

Written: on August 29, 1871;
Source: The Examiner, September 2, 1871;
Transcribed: for marxists.org by Tony Brown.


The passage of the Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, On the Civil War in France, which gave the signal to shouts of moral indignation on the part of the London press, was this: “The real murderer of the Archbishop is Thiers.

From the enclosed letter, addressed to M. Bigot, the counsel for M. Assi at the Versailles Court-martial, by M. Eugene Fondeville, who is ready to confirm his statements by affidavit, you will see that the Archbishop himself actually shared my view of the case. At the time of the publication of the “Address,” I was not yet informed of the interview of M. Fondeville with M. Darboy, but even then the correspondence of the Archbishop with M. Thiers revealed his strange misgivings as to the good faith of the Chief of the French Executive. Another fact has now been placed beyond doubt — viz., that at the time of the execution of the hostages the Communal government had already ceased to exist, and ought, therefore, no longer be held responsible for that event.

I am, etc.,

Karl Marx

London, August 29

London, August 19, 1871


I am taking the liberty of writing to you to inform you of the existence of certain documents relating to the events of the Commune and to ask you if you would kindly take advantage of the privileges of your profession and your capacity as defence counsel for one of the accused to have them produced in court.

Around 15 April a Paris newspaper reproduced a letter written to The Times in which a certain person stated that he had visited the hostages at Mazas and accused the Commune of behaving barbarously towards them. Strongly desirous of ascertaining the truth of such assertions, I went to the prison where I became convinced of the contrary. That day I talked with Messieurs Darboy, Bonjean and Deguerry, and M. Petit, secretary to the Archbishop, who could give you some information on this subject, since he is alive. Subsequently I made frequent visits to them and a few days before the collapse of the Commune Messieurs Darboy and Bonjean entrusted me with some manuscripts the gist of which I give you below.

Here is a brief résumé of the Darboy document. It is entitled “My Arrest, my Detention, and my Reflections at Mazas.” From this it emerges that apart from his arrest, for which he blames the Commune, he places the full responsibility for his detention on the government of Versailles; he accuses it, above all, of sacrificing the hostages to reserve itself a sort of right to take reprisals in the future. In so doing he refers partly to his written requests and partly to the approaches made by his friends to M. Thiers, approaches and talks which led to nothing but refusals, notably that of M. Lagarde. He affirms that it was a question of exchanging the hostages not only for Blanqui, but also for the body of General Duval. He declares in addition that he was well treated and he praises at length the conduct of citizen Garau, the governor of Makas. He already foresees his death and this is what he writes on the subject: “It is known that Versailles does not want either an exchange or a reconciliation; on the other hand, if the Commune had the power to arrest us, it does not have the power to have us set at liberty, because to set us at liberty without an exchange at this time would start a revolution in Paris that would overthrow the Commune.”

As for M. Bonjean, he gave me a long treatise on agricultural economy which he had composed in prison, two letters for his family, and a kind of journal of his detention. Although this document is not as valuable from the point of view of the defence as that of M. Darboy, it proves that the hostages were treated humanely at Mazas.

Since it is pointless to insist on the importance of such documents, I shall now explain to you under what circumstances I was deprived of them.

Obliged to leave the Ministry of Public Works on the morning of Monday, 22 May, I had to take refuge in the only establishment that was open, in the Rue du Temple; it was there that I deposited my briefcase and my papers. On Thursday the 25th the Versaillese captured this quarter, and I wanted to put these documents in a safe place before going home. The owner of the hotel, whom I thought I could trust, gave me a wall safe in a room on the second floor, the key to which I took with me. Apart from the items mentioned above, I also deposited five letters from MacMahon which had been handed to me at the Prefecture of Police, many official documents, including a certificate saying that I was a delegate at Neuilly during the armistice of 25 April, two currency bills, a letter from London addressed to M. Thiers, and some photographs of various members of the Commune.

On 27 May I sent two men to the Rue du Temple who were to bring me, together with my briefcase, the papers deposited in the safe. In answer to their request the owner of the hotel replied that since many of his neighbours had said several times that a member of the Commune had taken refuge at his place, he had thought it prudent to force open the safe and burn the papers.

The briefcase was brought to me. It too had been forced open, and my private papers, such as the certificates and others, had been taken. Now despite the fact that the owner of the hotel confirmed to me personally that the documents had been destroyed, I am persuaded of the contrary, and the news that I have had from Paris assures me that the person to whom I confided them is still in possession of them, or handed them to the police a short time ago.

I am sending you information to institute a search for the above-mentioned documents, and the customary salutations. The letter has been sent to Bigot on 19 August 1871.

E. Fondeville,
Householder in St. Macaire