Revolution without Women

André Léo

La Sociale, 8 May 1871

Do you know, General Dombrowski, how the revolution of the 18th of March was made?

By women.

Early in the morning, troops had been ordered to Montmartre. The small number of National Guards who were guarding the cannons in place Saint-Pierre were surprised and the cannons removed; they were brought down into Paris – without hinderance. The National Guard, without leaders, without orders, hesitated in the face of an open attack. A few more turns of the wheel, and you would never have been a General of the Commune, citizen Dombrowski.

But then, on the square of the abbey, women, citizenesses of Montmartre, went as a crowd, seized the bridles of the horses, surrounded the soldiers, and told them:

 – What! You serve the enemies of the people, you, its children! Are you not the instruments of your own oppressors? Are you not ashamed to serve cowards?

Initially stopped by fear of wounding the women and crushing their children, who clung to the wheels of the cannons, the soldiers understood these accusations, and they raised the butts of their rifles into the air. The people shouted with joy: proletarians, divided beneath different names and under different garbs, finally understood each other and reunited. No more army, consequently, no more tyranny. Soldiers and National Guards embraced. The cannons were restored; henceforth, confidence, enthusiasm, indomitable courage, filled souls indecisive an instant before the Revolution was made.

Nevertheless, there is a need to reason a little: do we believe we can make the revolution without women? For eighty years this has been attempted and the Revolution has never come to pass.

The first revolution [of 1789] bestowed upon them the title of citizenesses; but not the rights. It left them excluded from liberty, from equality.

Rejected by the Revolution, women returned to Catholicism, and, under its influence formed that immense reactionary force, imbued with the spirit of the past, which stifles the Revolution every time it wants to revive.

When will we realise that this has lasted long enough? When will the intelligence of republicans rise as far as to understand their principle and their interest?

They demand that woman no longer be under the yoke of priests; and they do not like to see her a free-thinker – They do not want her to work against them, yet they reject her assistance as soon as she wants to act.

Why is this?

I will tell you: it is because many republicans – I do not speak of the genuine ones – have dethroned the Emperor and the good Lord… only to put themselves in their place.

And naturally, with this intent, they need subjects, or at least female subjects. Woman must no longer obey priests; but as before she must not rise above herself. She should remain neutral and passive, under the direction of man, she will have only changed confessor.

Well, this concoction does not have a chance.

God has a great advantage over man at this point, remaining unknown; this is what allows him to be the ideal.

Religion condemns reason and at the same time defends science. Well, that is simple, radical and neat. It is a circle from which you cannot leave unless you break it.

But the Revolution, but the new spirit, on the contrary exists only through the exercise of reason, of liberty, by the search for the truth, the just in all things. Here, it is no longer the circle but the straight line projected into infinity.

Where to stop along this path? Where to place the boundary stone which this or that spirit in motion will not go pass? And who has the right to ask it?

We had better get used to it, the Revolution is the freedom and the responsibility of every human creature, with no limit other than the common right without any privilege of race, nor of sex.

Women will only abandon the old faith to embrace with passion the new. They do not want to, they cannot be, neutral. We must choose between their hostility or their devotion. Some, without doubt, scorning the impediment, strong and confident, persist despite the repugnance; but these natures are rare; most human beings are struck above all by the fact and discouraged by the injustice.

Now, who is suffering the most from the current crisis, the high cost of food, the stoppage in work? – woman; and above all the single woman, in whom the new regime is no more interested than the previous ones.

Who has nothing to gain, immediately at least, from the success of the revolution? Woman again. It is the liberation of man which we are discussing, not hers.

And when, driven by the sublime instinct which fortunately drives all hearts towards freedom in this century, she offers despite everything her devotion to this revolution which forgets her, they reject her with insult and contempt!... – we could, from a certain point of view, write a history from 89 with this title: A History of the inconsistences of the Revolutionary Party. – The woman question would be the largest chapter, and we would see how this party found a way to drive half its troops, who only wanted to march and fight with it, over to the side of the enemy.