If You Are Not Cowards, Kill Me!
December 1871 — Before her trial at the 6th Council of War, Paris, France
President of the Court: You have heard the acts you are accused of. What do you have to say in your defense?
Michel: I don’t want to defend myself, nor do I want to be defended. I belong completely to the Social Revolution, and I declare that I accept responsibility for all my actions. I accept it entirely and without reservations.
You accuse me of having participated in the assassination of Generals Clement Thomas and Lecomte. To that charge, I would answer yes — if I had been at Montmartre when those generals wanted to fire on the people. I would have had no hesitation about shooting people who gave orders like those. But once they were prisoners, I do not understand why they were shot, and I look at that act as a villainous one.
As for the burning of Paris, yes, I participated in it. I wanted to block the Versailles invaders with a barrier of flames. I had no accomplices in that. I acted on my own.
I am also charged with being an accomplice of the Commune. That is quite true, since above everything else the Commune wanted to bring about the Social Revolution, and Social Revolution is my dearest wish. Moreover, I am honored to be singled out as one of the promoters of the Commune. It had absolutely nothing to do with assassinations or burning. I attended all the sessions at the Hotel de Ville, and I affirm that there never was any talk of assassinations or burnings.
Do you want to know who the real guilty parties are? The police. Later, perhaps, the light of truth will fall on all those events. Now people naturally place responsibility on the partisans of Social Revolution.
One day I did propose to Theophile Ferre that I go to Versailles. I wanted two victims: M. Thiers and myself, for I had already sacrificed my life, and I had decided to kill him.
Question: Did you say in a proclamation that a hostage should be shot every twenty-four hours?
Michel: No, I only wanted to threaten. But why should I defend myself? I have already told you I refuse to do it. You are the men who are going to judge me. You are in front of me publicly. You are men, and I, I am only a woman. Nevertheless, I am looking you straight in the face. I know quite well that anything I tell you will not change my sentence in the slightest. Thus I have only one last word before I sit down.
We never wanted anything but the triumph of the great principles of Revolution. I swear it by our martyrs who fell on the field of Satory, by our martyrs I still acclaim here, by our martyrs who some day will find their avenger.
I am in your power. Do whatever you please with me. Take my life if you want it. I am not a woman who would dispute your wishes for a moment.
Question: You claim you didn’t approve of the generals’ assassinations. On the contrary, people say that when you were told about it, you cried out: “They shot them. It serves them right.”
Michel: Yes, I said that. I admit it. In fact, I remember that I said it in the presence of Citizens Le Moussu and Ferre.
Question: Then you do approve of the assassinations?
Michel: Let me point out that my statement is not proof. I said those words with the intention of spurring on revolutionary zeal.
Question: You also wrote for newspapers, the Cri du Peuple, for example.
Michel: Yes, I’ve made no effort to conceal that.
Question: In each issue, those newspapers demanded the confiscation of the clergy’s property and suggested other similar revolutionary measures. Were those opinions yours?
Michel: Indeed yes, but note that we never wanted to take those goods for ourselves. We thought only of giving them to the people for their well-being.
Question: You asked for the suppression of the court system?
Michel: Because I had in front of me examples of its errors. I remembered the Lesurques affair and so many more.
Question: Do you confess to having resolved to assassinate M. Thiers?
Michel: Of course. I have already said that, and I claim it now.
Question: It seems that you wore various uniforms during the Commune.
Michel: I was dressed as usual. I only added a red sash over my clothes.
Question: Didn’t you wear a man’s uniform several times?
Michel: Once. On March 18. I dressed as a National Guardsman so I wouldn’t attract attention.
[Captain Dailly, the prosecutor, spoke. He asked the court-martial to excise the accused from society, because the accused was a continuing danger to it. He withdrew all charges except that of carrying visible or hidden arms in an insurrectionary movement. Maitre Haussman, appointed to defend the accused, spoke. He declared that because of the formal wish of the accused not to be defended, he would simply put his faith in the wisdom of the court-martial.]
President of the Court: Accused, do you have anything to say in your defense?
Michel: What I demand from you, you who claim you are a court-martial, you who pass yourselves off as my judges, you who don’t hide the way the Board of Pardons behaves, you who are from the military and who judge me publicly — what I call for is the field of Satory, where our revolutionary brothers have already fallen.
I must be cut off from society. You have been told that, and the prosecutor is right. Since it seems that any heart which beats for liberty has the right only to a small lump of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I will not stop crying for vengeance, and I will denounce the assassins on the Board of Pardons to the vegeance of my brothers.
President of the Court: I cannot allow you to continue speaking if you continue in this tone.
Michel: I have finished. If you are not cowards, kill me!
Translation by Bullitt Lowry and Elizabeth Ellington Gunter.
Source: The Red Virgin: Memoirs of Louise Michel, ed. and translated by Bullitt Lowry and Elizabeth Ellington Gunter (University of Alabama Press) 1981, p. 85-87.