By Mike Pentelow
A school for children of refugees after the defeat of the Paris Commune was run by anarchists in Fitzroy Square in the 1890s.
Called the International School it was run at number 19 by Louise Michel (1830-1905), who had fought on the barricades in defence of the Paris Commune back in 1871 before it was savagely destroyed by government troops.
When the communards were being executed by firing squads there were complaints about the noise, so they were brutally bayonetted from then onwards.
Louise had been a teacher in Paris where she had run creches for the children of women factory workers.
Exiled to London she lived at 59 Charlotte Street and set up the school for political emigres.
The school prospectus had “an illustration of a woman wearing a Liberty Cap and lighting her lamp from the sun of Truth with one hand, while feeding children the fruits of knowledge with the other,” according to Edith Thomas in her book Louise Michel (Black Rose Books).
The caption read: “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
The guiding committee included famous anarchists such as the Russian prince, Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), and the Italian Errico Malatesta (1853-1932), and the English libertarian socialist William Morris (1834-1896).
They hoped to “keep the children out of the religiously oriented state schools which, consciously or unconsciously, teach that the people are to be sacrificed to the power of the State and the profit of the privileged classes.”
It was to be “based on the scientific development of reason, the development of personal diginity and independence rather than piety and obedience, on respect for truth and justice, and respect for humanity rather than adoration of a divinity.” The aim was to produce free people who respected the freedom of others.
It taught French, German, English, music, drawing, sewing, and engraving.
The school was closed when the police raided it in 1892 and found bombs in the basement.
It was suspected these were planted there by the school’s assistant Auguste Coulon, who was later unmasked as a police spy. He was expelled from the anarchist Autonomie Club at 6 Windmill Street, where Louise had first met him.
In a subsequent trial of several anarchists, who were given sentences of ten years’ hard labour for possessing explosives, they claimed these had been supplied them by Coulon.
One of these was an Italian shoemaker Jean Battola, who lived at 18 Fitzroy Square. In the dock he remained defiant, accusing the state and the ruling class of all the real crimes of the age, concluding with the question: “How many generals are imprisoned for using weapons of death?”
See also: The Paris Commune remembered
Fascinating. While I have read several books lately where the “Paris Commune” had been mentioned in passing, I had not known much about it’s history or individual founders. The philosophy of the Paris Commune as you describe it, sounds very much like the philosophy behind Maria Montessori’s educational methods (which were first introduced to the world around 1906, thus she was quite likely familiar with Louise Michel.). I look forward to reading your other posts and following many of your links. Thanks for your efforts!
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