Uses and Abuses of the Paris Commune: the Extraordinary Story of the Last Communard

 

The Last Communard: Adrien Lejeune, the Unexpected Life of a Revolutionary by Gavin Bowd. (Verso, ISBN 9781784782856).

David Black

Adrien Lejeune’s life story begins with his birth in the Paris of Louis Philippe’s ‘July Monarchy’ in 1847 and ends with his death in Soviet Siberia in 1942. He was, successively, a fighter in the Paris Commune, a socialist and Moscow-line communist. Gavin Bowd, having excavated the historical records, says that ‘the way his life and story have been appropriated, sold and retold is as important as the action he took on the streets in 1871.’

Lejeune was born on 3 June 1847, to a barrel-maker and a seamstress in Bagnolet, a leafy hamlet just beyond the city walls of Paris. By the age of twenty Lejeune had gained employment as a herbalist in a pharmacy on the Paris boulevards. Having joined the Republican Association of Freethinkers, Lejeune soon became notorious in the eyes of his neighbours in Bagnolet, which at the time was a bastion of conservatism. Under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s regime, which was supported by a reactionary Catholic Church, all protest marches and meetings of socialists were forbidden. The Freethinkers were restricted to organising mutual aid, especially for funerals. But funerals for freethinkers often turned into popular demonstrations against the Empire, culminating in cries of ‘Vive la République démocratique et sociale!

Between 1850 and 1870 the population of Paris doubled to two million, with nearly half a million proletarians employed mostly in small and medium-sized workshops. 30,000 were organised by Workers’ Societies linked to the First International co-founded by Karl Marx.

Louis Bonaparte doomed his empire when, in July 1870, he declared war on Prussia. Two months later he was taken prisoner by the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan. After a bloodless popular uprising in Paris, a provisional Government of National Defence was formed. Headed by the constitutional monarchist, Adolphe Thiers, it was essentially a ‘republic without republicans’.

The new government formed a 200,000-strong National Guard as a defence of the city against the German siege. Adrien Lejuene joined the National Guard, 2nd Company, 28th Battalion and rose to the rank of sergeant. The siege dragged on through the freezing winter of 1870-71. As food supplies ran out, poorer Parisians were reduced to eating rats and the city’s zoo animals. While the French army suffered defeat after defeat in the countryside, German artillery bombarded Paris.

In January 1871, the new government capitulated and sued for peace. Under the terms of an armistice, Thiers agreed to cede the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the new German Empire, promised to pay a 5 billion francs war indemnity and granted the German army a victory parade on the streets of Paris on 17 February. As this latter spectacle induced a silent rage amongst the Parisians, some 200,000 of the city’s better-off residents began an exodus to the countryside in fear of what was to come next.

As the rank and file of the National Guard became increasing radicalised, the provisional government ordered that its cannons be seized and transferred to Versailles. On the morning of 18 March 1871, Versaillais troops arrived at the Butte de Montmartre, a strategic hill overlooking the city, to remove the cannons. The alarm was raised by the Parisian milkmaids, and National Guardsmen – Adrien Lejeune among them – rushed to the scene to protect the cannons. As hostile crowds agitated by the Blanquist Left mobilised, mutinous troops refused to fire on them. The generals Lecomte and Clement-Thomas were captured and summarily executed by their own men. The Paris Commune was proclaimed the same day. On 26 March, representatives of the Commune were elected by the citizens of Paris. Thiers’ government decamped from Paris to the relative safety of the palace of Versailles, 17 kilometres from the city.

In the nine weeks of the Commune’s existence, the standing army was abolished along with conscription; control of the schools by the Catholic clergy was replaced by a new system of free compulsory, secular education for all children, including girls; and far-reaching reforms enacted what workers had long demanded, such as the establishment of workers’ cooperatives and restriction of hours.

Adrien Lejeune divided his time between his home in Bagnolet and his National Guard base at the mairie (town hall) of the 20th arrondissement. In what was now a civil war, rural France was now ‘enemy-held territory’. Military efforts to break out of Paris foundered as Thiers, with help from German Chancellor Bismarck, shored up the Versaillais army.

On 21 May 1871, General MacMahon’s Versaillais army entered the city and what became known as the Bloody Week began. During the fighting, the Communards killed or wounded thousands of the invading Versaillais soldiers and torched a number of buildings including the Tuileries Palace and the Hotel de Ville. The pétroleuses (female incendiaries) were blamed for many of burnings by the bourgeois press, but the instances were exaggerated to detract from the achievements of feminists and working-class women communards. In conquering the city the Versaillais army massacred at least 10,000 Communards, including those taken prisoner. 40,000 people were arrested, Lejeune among them.

Gavin Bowd’s research into the fate of Lejeune following his arrest by the Versaillais at the end of the ‘Bloody Week’ on 28 May makes it clear ‘that the reality of Communard Lejeune lends itself with difficulty to the typical Communist hagiography’. In later accounts given by Lejeune and relayed through Communist presses, when the Versaillais assaulted the last bastions of the Commune Lejuene was among those who fought ‘barricade by barricade’ until the final defeat. This however, does not quite square with the defence he offered at his trial in February 1872. Lejeune in fact tried to save himself from incarceration and possible execution by claiming that his daily trips from Bagnolet to the 20th arrondissement had nothing to do with his known extremist politics or armed service for the Commune. He further claimed that his enrolment in the National Guard in the days of the Thiers government did not involve remaining in it to fight for the Commune. The prosecution couldn’t find any witnesses to Lejeune’s alleged military actions, but as numerous local Bagnolet croquants were called to testify that he was an extremist and an infidel, his defence wouldn’t wash with the court and he was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Here again Bowd finds it necessary to challenge later Communist myth-making. For contrary to various accounts Lejeune was not transported to New Caledonia along with the Communard leaders who were spared the death sentence. Rather, Lejeune was put on a prison ship, then transferred to a prison-fortress off the coast of Brittany. Lejeune showed none of the defiance in court of, for example, Louise Michel, who declared to the 6th Conseil de Guerre:

‘I don’t want to defend myself, I don’t want to be defended; I belong entirely to the social revolution and I declare I accept responsibility for all my acts. I accept it entirely and without restrictions’.

Michel was proud that she had offered to assassinate Thiers and burn down parts of Paris. Probably because she was a woman she was not executed, but deported to New Caledonia. Théophile Ferré, as head of the revolutionary police, had sent Georges Darboy, the archbishop of Paris and five other clerics to the firing squad in retaliation for executions by the Versaillais army of Communard prisoners. Ferré declared before his judges:

‘A member of the Paris Commune, I am in the hands of those who defeated it; if they want my head, let them take it! Never will I save my life through cowardice. Free I have lived, and free I will die! I entrust to the future my memory and my vengeance’.

Ferré was executed by firing squad.

It is certain the Adrien Lejeune did fight for the Commune, but his role was not as heroic as told in the legend later promoted by the Communists. During the German siege he was a member of the National Guard, but after the armistice with Germany he handed in his rifle. When the Commune was proclaimed, his role seems to have been restricted to working in the food supply service at the mairie (town hall) of the 20th arrondissement. He did this work until the start of the Bloody Week, when he decided to get out of Paris. He was then arrested at the gates of Paris by the National Guard, who proposed that he resume his service, otherwise he would stay in prison and might be considered a traitor. Lejuene re-joined the Guard, and it seems he fought bravely until 28 May, as he himself testified.

According to Bowd, ‘The records of Lejeune’s revolutionary acts are as mixed as the rest of his life, combining idealism, myth-making and all-too-human frailty. Despite his very modest contribution, the legacy of the Paris Commune would dictate his next seventy years.’

 

Very little is known about Lejeune’s life in the decades following his release in 1876. In 1871, the Commune’s representative for the 20th Arrondissement had been Edouard Vaillant, a Blanquist who later became a leader of the Unified Socialist Party (SFIO) along with Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde. Lejeune joined the SFIO in 1905. In 1917, according to a commemorative article in the Communist daily L’Humanité in 1971, he ‘greeted with enthusiasm the socialist October Revolution which meant the triumph of the Commune’s ideas in one sixth of the globe’. In 1922, now aged seventy-five, Lejeune joined the newly-established Communist Party of France (PCF).

In 1928, the Central Committee of the PCF asked the Comintern’s Red Aid International if it could take care of old Communards who were living in France in ‘a very bad situation’. In 1930, Lejeune, whose wife had died a few years earlier, decided to emigrate to Russia and donate his savings. He handed 4,626 francs of annuity to L’Humanité, on condition that the paper ensured him an annual income corresponding to that yielded by his securities. He also donated to the Red Aid organisation.

The octogenarian Lejeune took up residence in Moscow at the Home for Old Revolutionaries. L’Humanité endeavoured to keep him supplied with hampers of wine, chocolate and coffee. Lejeune enjoyed his stay at the home, because other old comrades spoke French and the food was good. But, after 1936, as Lejeune’s health declined, he found himself thrown from one institution to another and neglected by Red Aid. Fortunately for Lejeune, he came under the protection of André Marty, secretary of the Comintern in France and political commissar of the International Brigades in Spain. Marty, in correspondence with Comintern leaders, complained that those responsible for the welfare of the man who was now the last surviving fighter of the Paris Commune were behaving as if they were doing him a favour, rather than the other way round.

According to Marty, when on 15 May 1940 Lejeune learned that the Germans had once again defeated the French at Sedan, he commented:

‘Sedan, so it’s starting all over again? So they still have their Bazaines and MacMahons? Yes, if MacMahon holed up at Sedan, it was because he was afraid of us, because he was afraid of Paris, because he was afraid of answering to the people of France, much more than of the Prussians’.

When Lejeune learned that the Germans had just entered Paris, he sat up in bed, despite his ninety-four years, and exclaimed:

‘It can’t be true. Paris, I must see Paris freed from the brutes and bandits who are sullying it! To see Paris again, our beautiful Paris cleansed forever of fascists and traitors!’

Marty noted angrily that an official of Red Aid, after visiting Lejeune, wrote ‘a schematic, lifeless text, full of clichés plus a quotation from Marx’, and signed it Adrien Lejeune. ‘Not a single French militant will believe it to be by Lejeune’, he added. Marty proposed instead an interview under the title ‘The Communard Who Saw Three Wars’, containing ‘only Lejeune’s opinions, tidied up, of course, but very lively and very relevant to today’.

In July 1941, the Stalin-Hitler Pact was abruptly terminated by Hitler. As the Nazis approached Moscow, Lejeune was evacuated to Peredelkino, a village of dachas, south-west of Moscow. Here, he had as company disabled Spanish Civil War veterans, and a French-speaking Bulgarian exile, Adela Nikolova, who had been assigned by the NKVD as Lejeune’s carer. Nikolova complained to Marty:

‘I cannot remain silent about our arrival the day before yesterday. Our reception was rather difficult. From the very first minute I felt a very wounding atmosphere for us. To receive us like that is incomprehensible. We were greeted like beggars asking for charity, and this state of affairs continues. I hope, dear comrade, that the matter will be sorted out and that I will be able to organise our comrade’s life properly. Our collective has been outraged by the administration’s way of doing things. From my letter you will appreciate how angry I am’.

Again, Marty intervened on Lejeune’s behalf, which resulted in an improvement of the exiles’ conditions at the Peredelkino hospital. In October 1941 as the Nazi threat to Moscow worsened and a state of siege was declared, Lejeune, Nikolova and other exiles were evacuated to Novosibirsk in Siberia, 2,000 miles east. For the 94-year old Lejeune the journey was arduous and life-threatening. In the middle of the freezing Siberian winter, Lejeune’s health worsened despite the care of the ever-loyal Nikolova. In the second week of January 1942, Adrien Lejeune died. He was buried in Novosibirsk. The guard of honour was made up of militants of the Party, the Communist Youth, commanders and commissars of the Red Army, and delegations of Stakhanovites from the factories.

Bowd points out that in the Second World War, the vision of the Commune changed significantly among the French Communists. The image of the Commune, as a proletarian revolution, gave way to one of patriotic resistance to the German occupiers and their collaborators. Bowd writes:

In May 1942, the underground L’Humanité declared, with more than a soupçon of “frenzied chauvinism”: “French patriots, unite and take action against the Boches and their lackeys…” For the Nazis, there was nothing more fearsome than “patriotic resistance to their oppression, to the traitors of Vichy, Pétain, Laval, Darlan and Co…” The Paris Commune was the revolt of the People against the traitors; the people of Paris betrayed and sold; Paris handed over to the Prussians; the Prussians in Paris; Bismarck and Thiers united against the Commune; collaborators of yesterday and today.

What was not stressed by the Communists was that they had long held to the position that the defeat of the working class in the Commune had come about because the French working class lacked a nationally organised Communist Party capable of co-ordination, directing and indeed dominating the movement. They had milked the writings on the Commune of Marx and Engels as well as Lenin’s writings on Marx on the Commune. But they had then added a deadly Stalinist twist. Under Stalin the ‘Leninist’ position of ‘democratic centralism’ was adapted to employ centralised bureaucratic terror against anyone who questioned his policies, and the vision of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was perverted into the reality of dictatorship over the proletariat.

The actual Paris Commune was no one-party state. Its version of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat included a wide range of republican tendencies, including Proudhonists, Blanquists, anarchists, feminists, freemasons and Marxists. Marx was certainly aware of the Commune leaders’ shortcomings, such as the failure to seize the money in the Bank of Paris and march on Versailles. Privately Marx criticised the Commune leadership for ruling out any attempt to negotiate a compromise with the bourgeoisie in order to have a democratic republic in which class struggle could take place without violence.

The uses and abuses of the Lejeune legend and the legacy of the Commune carried on through the post-World War Two period. In China in early 1967 worker unrest led briefly to the replacement of the party-run administration by the Shanghai People’s Commune which – to the alarm of Mao Zedong – looked back to the dictatorship of the proletariat as exercised by the Paris Commune.

In France itself, for the Situationists, who played an important catalyst role in the May/June revolt of 1968, the Commune, in Bowd’s words ‘anticipated a new form of society that would be ‘realised art’. For Guy Debord and the Situationists:

‘…they practised a “revolutionary urbanism,” attacking on the ground the petrified signs of the dominant organisation of daily life, recognising social space in political terms, refusing to accept that a monument such as the column on the Place Vendôme – a symbol of Napoleonic militarism – could be neutral or innocent’.

In 1971, the centenary year of the Commune, the PCF, in an effort to restore good relations with the CPSU (which had been stretched by the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) arranged for Lejeune’s ashes to be brought from Siberia and buried at the Mur des Fédérés in Père-Lachaise cemetery, next to the mass graves of murdered Communards. The PCF event drew tens of thousands, but the centenary also saw large rallies by Trotskyists, and by Maoists who saw the PCF’s initiatives as opportunist and class collaborationist. The French anarchists, for their part, insisted that the Communard most worthy of celebration had been Louise Michel, whose politics were quite at odds with later ‘Leninisms’.

On 10 November 1989, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gavin Bowd, member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, went for a walk in Paris. He writes:

‘I tried to clear my head of the cataclysmic news of the previous day and repaired to one of my favourite places for solitary contemplation in Paris, the cemetery of Père-Lachaise. Here I wandered among dead leaves and neglected tombs, until I arrived at the corner in the south-east of the cemetery called Le Mur des Fédérés’.

Bowd discovered that day the tomb of Adrien Lejeune, which led to him writing this book. What he found most interesting about Lejeune was:

‘…his real and imagined life, with its convictions, friendships, moments of cowardice, half-truths, lies, shady corners and banalities, a story of property and theft at every level; the manipulation of memory and the (largely consensual) instrumentalisation of an individual who became a ‘relic’ of a cause; the randomness, the pathos and the cruelty of History. It seems that, much more than any novel, the documents and testimonies, swarming with contradictions and silences, constitute in themselves a historical drama and answer at least a few of the questions that a little black marble grave had raised in my mind on the morning of 10 November 1989’.

For Marxisant orthodoxy in the 20th century the Paris Commune, lacking centralised unity and strategy, was history’s ‘rehearsal’ for the Russian Revolution. But if the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ has any meaning for today then the legacy of the Communards rises in many respects above that of ‘Bolshevik Leninism’. The Situationists’ Theses on the Paris Commune, written in 1962, whilst recognising the Commune’s obvious lack of a ‘coherent organizational structure’ pointed out that the problem of political structures had turned out to be ‘far more complex to us today than the would-be heirs of the Bolshevik-type structure claim it to be’. Rather than labelling the Commune just as ‘an outmoded example of revolutionary primitivism’, revolutionaries should examine it ‘as a positive experiment whose whole truth has yet to be rediscovered and fulfilled’. They still should.

This article first appeared in the International Marxist-Humanist

Socialism and Christianity: Friedrich Nietzsche v. Helen Macfarlane

How Socialist is Christianity? How Christian is Socialism? In his book, The Anti-Christ, published in 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

“Whom do I hate most heartily among the rabbles of today? The rabble of Socialists, the apostles to the Chandala, who undermine the workingman’s instincts, his pleasure, his feeling of contentment with his petty existence—who make him envious and teach him revenge…. Wrong never lies in unequal rights; it lies in the assertion of “equal” rights…. What is bad? But I have already answered: all that proceeds from weakness, from envy, from revenge. — The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry.”

This “ancestry” is recognised by modern anti-socialists such as the atheist/nihilist followers of the late Ayn Rand. However, the 21st century evangelists who worship “pagans” such as Donald J Trump seem blind to it, out of fear if not ignorance.

On the Left, “materialists” have always relied on “science” to dispel religious superstitions and religion. There are however,  interesting exceptions.

The following text is an extract from a three-part essay published in 1850 in the Democrat Review, monthly journal of the the left wing of the British Chartist movement. The author was Helen Macfarlane, Chartist, Feminist and Communist (1818-1860). In 1850 she translated Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto. Marx, who was not easily impressed by anyone, described Helen Macfarlane  as a “rara avis,” possessed of “original ideas.”

From the Democratic Review, June 1850

Apropos of Certain Passages in No.1 of Thomas Carlyle’s Latter‑day Pamphlets by Helen Macfarlane

What a noble idea is this theoretical and practical freedom of man, his infinite possibilities—which lies at the bottom of the Christian myths and sagas, and has now assumed the form of Democracy! A noble idea, but—good heavens! What a miserable, contemptible reality.

All sects hedge me in with limitations. I cannot move a step in any direction without running against some creed, or catechism, or formula, which rises up like a wall between the unhappy sectarians and the rest of the universe; beyond which it is forbidden to look on pain of damnation, or worse. No sect has ever yet raised its voice against the iniquitous inequality obtaining between the different ranks of society, whereby the accident of birth alone determines whether a human being shall have the culture necessary to develop his moral and intellectual powers — the culture without which he cannot obtain dominion over his animal wants and appetites, but must remain — like a beast — under the sway of instinct. No sect, whether established or dissenting, has ever protested against the social arrangements, in virtue of which the existence of such human brutes as that poor boy lately discovered in the diocese of the Bishop of London, is permitted — I almost said — no — but encouraged, and indeed made inevitable.

Yet such a state of society is as much opposed to the Christian idea of universal fraternity as the Hindoo institution of caste. With us the poor are the Chandalas, the unclean outcasts of society, which ignores their very existence, unless it be to punish them for crimes, the commission of which society ought to have prevented by providing all its members — first, with the means of comfortable subsistence; and secondly, with the means of moral and intellectual cultivation. Hypocritical teachers of Paganism in the guise of Christianity!

Have done with this preaching and prating about things which you scarcely even profess, and undoubtedly do not practice. You talk of the “visible church of Christ”, but you do all in your power to make it an extremely invisible church. Some of you talk much about certain persons whom you call the “Fathers of the Church”, but if these venerable fathers could become cognisant of your proceedings, they certainly would refuse to acknowledge you for sons. For it impossible to find any two things more opposed than the doctrines concerning justice and brotherly love taught by the ‘Fathers’, and the system pursued by you. If these worthy men were to rise from the dead, they would be found in our ranks; they would be Democrats, Demagogues, Socialists, Communists, Jacobins, Enemies of Order, of society, and of you.

St. Ambrose says, in express terms, that “property is usurpation”. St. Gregory the Great regards landed proprietors as so many assassins:

Let them know that the earth, from which they were created, is the common property of all men; and that, therefore, the fruits of the earth belong indiscriminately to All. Those who make private property of the gift of God, pretend in vain to be innocent! For, in thus retaining the subsistence of the poor, they are the Murderers of those who die every day for want of it.

What an incendiary vagabond is this ‘Venerable Father!’ St. John, called from his eloquence, Chrysostomus, or Goldenmouth, says,

Behold the idea we ought to have concerning rich and avaricious men. They are robbers who beset highways, strip travellers, and then hoard up the property of others, in the houses which are their dens.

St. Augustine says on the subject of inheritance,

Beware of making parental affection a pretext for the augmentation of your possessions — I keep my wealth for my children — vain excuse! Your father kept it for you, you keep it for your children, and they will keep it for theirs, and so on. But in this way no one would observe the law of God!

St. Basil the great, in his Treatise di Avarit. 21, p. 328, Paris ed. 1638, asks,

Who is the robber? It is he who appropriates to himself the things which belong to All. Art thou not a robber, thou who takest for thyself the goods thou has received from God for the purpose of distributing them to others? If he who steals a garment be called a robber, ought not the possessor of garments, who refrains from clothing the naked, to be called by the same name? The bread thou hast stored belongs to him who is hungry; the garment thou keepest in reserve belongs to him who is naked; the sandals thou hast lying by belong to him who goes barefoot; and the money thou hast hoarded — as if buried in the earth — belongs to him who has none.

Louis Blanc is a very tame and moderate person, I think, compared with the Communists I have just quoted. [ Louis Blanc (1811–1882) was a leading socialist member of the French provisional government established in February 1848. Following the counter-revolution of the June Days he was driven into exile and lived in London.]

How comes it that you, soi-disant preachers of the gospel of Christ, never take these or similar extracts from the “Fathers of the Christian church”, as texts for your homilies? I have frequently heard you quote from St. Augustine on predestination and grace, but you preserve a mysterious silence regarding St. Augustine on property. It is because you neither teach the Christian idea, nor do you live in it; because you are a set of pitiable imposters. You do not even make a profession of those precepts of Fraternity taught by the Nazarean, and said by him to contain the true spirit of his religion. You wisely keep silence on such points, else—out of your own lying mouths—would you be convicted. You leave an immense and ever-increasing mass of destitution and ignorance, and crime, lying untouched at your own doors; you enter no protest against the system of civilisation—rotten to its very core—which has produced, and which fosters, this hideous state of things; but you fly to the uttermost parts of the earth—to China or Timbuctoo—in search of objects for the exercise of your boundless and overflowing

Christian charity; and some among you have been found impudent enough to raise objections when others have proposed doing somewhat to enlighten the ignorance of which I speak. Pah! one’s very soul is sickened by such atrocious humbug. Is the democratic idea expressed with greater fidelity in any other phases of the civilisation now extant? In class legislation? In the exorbitant price of Law, whereby what is called Justice is placed beyond the reach of any save the Rich? In the Knowledge Tax? [The ‘Knowledge Tax’ was the Newspaper Stamp Duty, which was finally abolished in 1855.] In the scanty measure of sectarian education dealt out to us by priests? In our system of indirect taxation, whereby the public burdens fall heaviest on the class which is least able to support them? In the law of primogeniture, whereby one member of a family is ‘made a gentleman’, and the rest left beggars, to be kept by the producers — as state priests, bureaucrats, soldiers, pensioners — whose name is legion? In a caste of hereditary legislators? In the position of women, who are regarded by the law not as persons but as things, and placed in the same category as children and the insane? Society, as at present constituted, is directly opposed to the democratic idea; and must, therefore, be remodelled. To ask, my proletarian brothers, is one thing, but to get is another thing — a hopeless thing, I should say, from a government which does nothing unless compelled by the pressure from without, and which — instead of being its proper place — at the head of advancing society, disgracefully lags in the rear.

From Helen MacFarlane: Red Republican: Essays, Articles and Her Translation of the Communist Manifesto

Music Videos – Two Miners Songs

Two traditional Northumberland/Durham miner’s songs – Music and videos by David Black

1 – Byker Hill and Walker Shore
The song dates from the late 18th century. The music for this video was recorded in 2010, and released on Go Canny records.
The footage of the Sword-Dancers of Winlaton, County Durham is from a Pathe newsreel of 1926. The pitmen were carrying on a centuries old folk tradition, going back to beginnings of coal-mining in the area in the 15th century.
The pitmen veterans featured in the film would have been born in the 1850s and ‘60s. Their parents would have been around when the Winlaton iron foundaries were still working and the Chartists were active:
‘Winlaton was a hotbed of insurrectionary plotting and secret manufacture of weapons such as pikes, knives, caltrops (spikey metal contraptions for disabling horses’ hooves), and even cannon and grenades. Winlaton also had a lively branch of Female Chartists.’
( ‘1839: The Chartist Insurrection’ , Black and Ford, Unkant:2012).
90 years on, in 1926, with the General Strike looming, the iron works were long gone and Winlaton had become a coal-mining township. Now, 95 years later, Winlaton is a commuter village.

2 – The Blackleg Miner. In memory of the ‘Cramligton Train-Wreckers’ in the 1926 General Strike.

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