La Commune de Paris 

the Paris Commune

La Commune de Paris was undoubtedly the first significant form of a proletariat revolution. Karl Marx, but also Friedrich Engels and Mikhail Bakunin, will see an accomplished idea of a government of the working class or dictatorship of the proletariat in this revolution.

“This sphinx that puts bourgeois understanding to such a severe test”  

Karl Marx

In 1852, Napoleon III’s Empire ruled France, but its unpopularity forced a relaxation of laws. The press was freer and strikes and public meetings were more widely permitted. Very quickly, the Parisian people began to go out in the streets, and a real republican opposition was created and militated for a peaceful transition to the Republic. While the relations between France and Prussia were tense, Bismarck provoked a diplomatic dispute, and Napoleon declared war on July 19, 1870. The Republican opposition sees this as a fatality. 

“And now it is no longer a question of freedom of the press, individual freedom of reforms, tax cuts, social issues. Defeat assures us foreign domination; victory promises us dictatorship.”  

Édouard Lockroy for “le rappel”

Napoleon III was captured on the 1st of September, 1870, and the Republic was declared on the 4th of September. The factions met, and republicans, socialists, royalists, revolutionaries, and Bonapartists allied themselves against the common enemy.

Bismarck’s army surrounded Paris to starve the population. The famine was such that a rat market was set up in front of the Town Hall for the poorest, while the bourgeoisie were eating the animals of the zoo as Christmas dinner. And they devoured three-quarters of Paris horses. 

La Commune de Paris 
Menu from Christmas 1870 proposing bear, elephant, wolf, camel and kangaroo  ©reddit

On January 6, the Germans bombed the city to demoralize the Parisians, but the resistance intensified. The population then learn that the government has tried to negotiate with Bismarck, and a riot without much result is held at the town hall, where some rioters will be killed. On January 28, they signed the armistice and the enemy organized elections—a majority vote for a Conservative government. The electorate mainly comprises country people who do not endorse the revolutions of the capital. Radical Republicans are elected to continue the war. The government, led by Adolphe Thiers, was a coalition of moderate Republicans, members of the old group, monarchists and Bonapartists. Suffice it to say that in the capital, the people fulminate. The issue of Le Cri du peuple of February 22, 1871, writes on the front page, “PARIS VENDU!” Paris was sold. 

Faced with adversity, the government rushed to Versailles, one more provocation: this city symbolized the French Monarchy. The climax of the situation came when the government sent requisitioned the 400 guns of the National Guard mainly stored in Montmartre during the night of March 17 to 18. In the morning, the people discover the fraud is still in progress and revolt against the army. A general orders the execution of demonstrators and ends up being executed in turn. The Revolutionary Federated created the National Guard Committee following this insurrection, and the Commune organized. 

They deferred business debts, restored pay for the National Guard, banned the eviction of tenants, and held elections on March 26. The Revolutionary Party won, and they declared Commune on March 28. Several factions make up the government, from moderates to less moderates. Jacobins, anarchist Proudhonians and Blanquists. They promulgated the autonomy of the Commune in terms of security, administration, economy and education and spread throughout the other French communities. In addition, they establish social and moral principles. Such include: 

  • The people’s vote regarding communal affairs. 
  • Freedom of conscience. 
  • The abolition of the police and the army. 
  • The separation of church and state. 
  • Secular and free mandatory education for all. 
  • Equal pay for teachers. 

The red flag becomes the emblem of the Commune.   

These reforms allowed women, gaining the right to vote, to be more politically active and present in the press. As a result, the Women’s Union and the Women’s Labour Organization are created. In addition, the painter Gustave Courbet creates the Federation of Artists.  

A significant symbol of the ancien régime is the Vendôme column displaying the statue of Napoleon I at its top. On May 16, 1871, the Communards knocked it down and organized a party, inviting 20,000 people as a symbol of victory against oppression. 

La Commune de Paris 
The Communards posing for a picture with Napoleon’s
statue after the destruction of Vendôme’s column. ©actu

Pressure mounts against the Commune. Despite the appearance of communes modelled on the Parisian model in the cities of St-Etienne, Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille, the opposition formed an army in the provinces to repress the towns. The military gathered the provincials whose opinions differed from those of the cities. Paris saw its eastern flank invaded by Bismarck’s forces. Thus the Communards organized themselves and planned a march to Versailles on April 3, brilliant by the solidarity of the Parisians as a sign of protest. But both sides bomb Paris. Chaos reigns in the city, and the Communards destroy Thiers’ house and burn some monuments destroying part of the Tuileries Palace. The Communards also killed three hostages and the Archbishop of Paris in retaliation.   

In Paris, everything that remotely resembles a communard is massacred without warning. The government wants to purge the city of movement and ideas thoroughly. The massacre of 147 captured during the Battle of Père Lachaise marked the end of Bloody Week on May 28, 1871. They sent 40,000 people to concentration camps to continue the ideology purge, and 10,000 attended a trial for political crimes.  

 After two months of utopia, the Paris Commune and its ideals were crushed by the authoritarian and conservative government. Nevertheless, it left an indelible mark on progressive foundations and inspired Karl Marx in his thesis, which later testified by writing about the Commune. Five years later, French writer and senator Victor Hugo granted a symbolic pardon to the Communards during a speech.   

Despite censorship and repression, specific principles and laws of the Commune were applied, such as compulsory and secular education for all (1882) and the separation of State and Church (1905).  

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