The Paris Commune

By Josema

So for our final delve in to the violence of March’s long and bloody past, we have witnessed Caesar’s murder; the Albigensian crusade; and the natural disasters that have happened in March, all of which have had a great impact on their respective contemporary cultures; history and life today. Now it is time to turn to our final event the La Commune in Paris, France. The Paris Commune is name that was given to the events surrounding the end of the war between France and Prussia and other Germany States and extends to include the massacre that put down the revolutionary movement at the end of May 1871.

Firstly we have to look at the build up to the commune as revolutions, as we know does not occur spontaneously, the events and actions might, but there are usually some underlying factors that ignite the flame of revolution. Since 1870 France, under Napoleon III had been involved in the Franco-Prussian war, the war itself was the combination of ongoing tensions between the two countries that had finally come to fruition over the La ‘revolución gloriosa’, (translation the glorious revolution) in Spain as a result of the deposition of Isabella II and also the controversial Ems Telegram in which Otto Von Bismarck is said to have altered the message from the Prussian leader Wilhelm I to the French ambassador, in order to goad the French into war. Needless to say the telegram had the desired effect and soon enough both countries were at war. The Prussian and German forces were superior and at the battle of Sedan they had captured Napoleon III with the whole of his army. However this didn’t end the war and the 3rd republic declared on the 4th of September they continued the war. With the capture of Paris and ceremonial occupation by the Prussians; the disaster of the war and growing worker discontent the Parisians had enough.

On March 26 1871 after five long, hard months for the Parisians enduring the Prussian siege and also refusing the terms of surrender as negotiated by the national assembly the citizens of Paris voted for self-government. Perhaps one of the earliest examples of class solidarity as the citizens elected their own government with people from various backgrounds with both working and middle class members. The commune mainly wanted the ability to self govern Paris, right that existed in some other French towns and also it was linked to a desire for a more ‘just’ way of dealing with the economy. This ‘just’ economy is suggested to be based upon a socialist ideology.

The Commune continued to run Paris successfully for the next two months. As a governing body it abolishes conscription and the standing army leaving the National Guard as the sole armed force. On April 1st the Commune declares the highest salary received by any member would not exceed 6,000 Francs. In addition the Commune decreed the separation of church and state; with the abolition all state payments for the church; turning all private church property in to national property and finally declaring that religion was a private matter. Along with publicly burning the guillotine to large public rejoicing; reorganising the manufacturing factories turning them into co-operative societies, to an extent owned and worked by the workers and abolishing night work for bakers. The changes made show a very socialist, maybe even communist element to the revolutionary government as the majority of the changes seem to be made with the people in mind.

However, where is the violence I hear you cry if March is the month of violence where is it in this case? The answer comes as usual with the bloody end, of the Commune. Known as La Semaine Sanglante, the blood soaked week, 21st -28th May, troops from Versailles finally defeated the commune rebels, massacring them as they went. A weak defence was put up in the west of Paris and grew stronger as the Versailles Army came nearer, before deciding to attack the east of Paris… the workers district. Over the following week workers and civilians were massacred on sight. Some estimates suggest that there was between 17,000- 30,000 fatalities during that week alone, an extremely heavy loss considering that during the French Revolution and Terror approximately 19,000 died within a year and a half. A further 50,000 Communards were arrested after the Communes suppression with some escaping and 4,500-7,000 forcibly exiled to New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

So, the commune was defeated, that is an understatement, it was slaughtered and so ends the violence of March. Given our overall theme I guess it would be hard, for me to end this post on a happy note but I’m going to try. This movement la commune is an example, perhaps a discouraging one, but an example nonetheless of people taking a stand and taking matters into their own hands. Something that we still see today with our own protests which admittedly are a lot less bloody, but it the idea remains, to stand up together and be counted when enough is enough. Ok we may not win all the time, the Commune certainly didn’t, but it lasted two months. So I guess what I’m trying to say is I think it is better to try and fail than to not try at all and in the case of la commune they tried and failed in the battle but perhaps in the war they lasted as a popular example of a popular class movement ‘marching forward to conquer their rights.’

By Sophie


P.S: Again, we would like to thank Josema and Rubyces for the image!

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