Paris commune french revolution background causes consequences

The Paris Commune was a revolutionary government established in the French capital in March 1878 that lasted just two months. The insurrection had several causes: the social problem, the defeat in the war against Prussia or the formation of a deeply conservative National Assembly, among others. In this article we will provide you the information about the Paris commune french revolution with background causes and consequences.

France’s defeat in its confrontation with the Prussians and the capture of Emperor Napoleon III brought about the end of the Second French Empire. Despite the surrender, Paris maintained some resistance, although its National Guard, a body created during the French Revolution, could not prevent the Prussians from entering the city.

Barricade of Plaza Blanche, defended by women, during Bloody Week – Source: unknown lithographer – Own work under public domain

After they abandoned it, Parisian citizens did not accept the formation of a National Assembly made up of aristocrats and peasants. This agency, based in Versailles, had very conservative positions and ordered the National Guard in Paris to be disarmed, so that no incident would occur.

However, the people of Paris reacted by rising up in arms and forming a popular government by calling elections. The few measures they could adopt sought to favor popular interests. The National Assembly attacked the city in April and, after the so-called Bloody Week, ended the democratic experiment.

Background of Paris commune french revolution

After the French Revolution and the return to monarchy after the Napoleonic defeat, Paris experienced other popular uprisings. The most important one occurred in 1848, which caused the downfall of King Louis Philippe of Orleans. Then the Second Republic was established and, through a coup d’état, the II Empire led by Napoleon III.

During this period, socialist, anarchist or simply radically democratic ideas spread throughout the French capital.

Meanwhile, France and Prussia were competing for continental hegemony, which resulted in continued friction between the two countries.

Franco-Prussian War

The tension between France and Prussia eventually caused war between the two countries. The Prussians were trying to unify the Germanic territories, something that Napoleon III tried to avoid.

The final excuse was related to the vacancy that occurred in the Spanish crown. This was offered to a German, which France objected to. This, together with the manipulation of a telegram on the matter by Foreign Minister Bismarck, caused the conflict to break out.

The war began on July 19, 1870. Its development was very rapid in favor of better Prussian preparations. The Battle of Sedan was the final tie for the French, who saw how Napoleon III was captured by his enemies. That was the end of the Second Empire.

Paris’ website

When the news of Napoleon III’s capture reached the French capital, there was a popular uprising that proclaimed the Third Republic. A government of national defense was immediately formed, with General Louis Jules Trochu at the head.

Chancellor Bismarck, meanwhile, was looking for a quick surrender. To achieve it, he ordered his army to besiege Paris.

Meanwhile, the French had organized a new government, which was in favor of signing the surrender. However, the harsh conditions demanded by the Prussians caused the conflict to continue for a while. However, the French army could not cope with the Prussian fortress.

capitulation of France

The siege of Paris began to affect its inhabitants. Famines ensued and, although there was enough popular opposition, the government decided to surrender after four months of siege to the capital.

The person responsible for negotiating with the Prussians was Louis-Adolphe Thiers. On January 26, 1871, at the Palace of Versailles, France signed the armistice.

Meanwhile, in the capital, there was an armed corps called the National Guard which had been founded after the French Revolution. It was a popular militia that had around 200,000 members, all of whom were armed. In addition, he owned several weapons, paid for by public subscription.

The French surrender did not convince members of the National Guard and many Parisians. The consequence was the popular uprising of March 1871 and the establishment of the Paris Commune.

Causes of Paris commune french revolution

The most immediate cause of the establishment of the Paris Commune was the war against Prussia. However, historians claim that it was not the only one, but also social, political and ideological reasons.

In this last respect, the international context was very important, as Marx’s ideas were expanding and, by 1864, the First International had been founded.

economic causes

Despite the revolutionary movements that took place in Europe, the quality of life for the working class barely improved. France was no exception and pockets of poverty affected workers above all.

The economic situation in France was also aggravated by the war. Popular-class Parisians blamed the government for worsening their conditions.

The war against Prussia

As noted, the war between France and Prussia was the most immediate cause of the revolutionary upsurge in Paris. The capital suffered a severe siege that lasted several months and those who suffered the most were the popular classes.

Furthermore, the sacrifice of the Parisian people did not help, as the provisional government decided to negotiate surrender. This caused great anger in a large part of the population.

The feeling of humiliation was greatest among members of the National Guard, members of the court, moreover, they had not been paid for several months. This armed corps faced the Prussians for six months and felt betrayed by the government‘s decided surrender.

Formation of a National Assembly

After the capture of Napoleon III and the consequent end of the Second Empire, a National Assembly had been formed to direct the destinies of the country. This body was formed by aristocrats and peasants, two groups that were conservative and hostile to the democratic claims of Parisians.

political causes

During the last years of the Second French Empire, Paris was one of the European cities in which socialist and anarchist ideas had gained the greatest influence.

In addition to the presence of these ideas, Parisians maintained a historical demand: an autonomous government for the city chosen by the citizens. This, already common in other French cities, had been denied to the capital.

development and facts Paris commune french revolution

The National Guard organized elections to elect a central committee in February. The objective was to reorganize the organization in the face of the government‘s claim to disarm it.

Meanwhile, Prussia planned to enter Paris on 1 March. Among what was negotiated with Thiers’ government was that Prussian troops would enter the capital in a symbolic way and that the French government would be responsible for ending the last sources of resistance.

The day before the Prussians arrived, the National Guard put up posters across the city in mourning and recommended avoiding clashes with the occupying forces. So, on schedule, the Prussian soldiers paraded through the empty streets of Paris. That same day, without incident, they left the capital.

For its part, the provisional government held elections on February 8 to elect a National Assembly. The result gave an overwhelming majority to monarchists, with conservative republicans in second place. Both groups were in favor of the peace agreement.

These elections showed that Paris thought otherwise. In the capital, radical republicans won by a large margin, with men like Victor Hugo, Garibaldi or Louis Blanc topping the charts.

situation in paris

On March 3, the National Guard took the next step: electing a committee of 32 people charged with defending the Republic.

That same day, Thiers, at the head of the national government, appointed Louis d’Aurelle de Paladines, a well-known military supporter of Napoleon III, as head of the National Guard. The Central Committee of the same rejected the nomination.

Seven days later, the government of the country and the Legislative Assembly were established in Versailles. Only Thiers preferred to settle in Paris.

The new National Assembly began to enact laws of a very conservative nature. Among them, the suspension of the moratorium on payment bills, debts and rents, something that condemned the bankruptcy of countless small Parisian companies. In addition, he abolished the salaries of National Guard members.

Other measures taken by the new government were the closure of several newspapers with republican ideology and the death sentence of some of the leaders of the October 1870 revolt.

The response of the Central Committee of the National Guard was radical in its measures. This did not detract from his popularity among Parisians, but increased it. Faced with this, the government decided to take the weapons and machine guns they had.

March 18th

The maneuver to get the guns started on March 18, just at dawn. Weapons were stored in Montmartre, Belleville and Buttes-Chaumont, all high areas.

The neighbors of the first two neighborhoods, alerted by the ringing of bells, took to the streets to prevent soldiers from requisitioning the cannons, with the women in the lead. The military, instead of continuing its mission, joined the population. At Montmatre, they even disobeyed a direct order to shoot the unarmed crowd.

This moment marked the beginning of the insurrection that led to the establishment of the Commune. The rebellion was strengthened as other armed units joined in and soon reached the entire city. Thiers had no choice but to order all forces loyal to his government to leave Paris. He himself had to flee to Versailles.

The same happened with the inhabitants of the most conservative districts of the city, with whom the whole of Paris remained in the hands of the Central Committee of the National Guard. He called elections for March 26.

Establishment of the Community Council

The elections organized by the National Guard were won by the Jacobins and the Republicans. Behind them was a group of socialist followers of Proudhon’s ideas.

The 92 elected in the poll formed the Community Council, popularly known as the Commune. Among them were workers, small traders, artisans, professionals and politicians. The Council named Auguste Blanqui as president, despite the fact that he has been detained since March 17.

One of the problems that the Commune soon encountered was the large number of ideological currents it included. The presence of moderate and radical socialists, Jacobins, anarchists and other groups made decision-making difficult.

Measures taken

Despite ideological differences and the few sessions they were able to hold, the members of the Commune approved a series of measures. One was declared autonomy from Paris as part of a future confederation of communes in France.

On the other hand, the Council of the Community, despite the adverse conditions, managed to keep the most important public services in operation.

Likewise, they voted in favor of various social measures, such as rent remissions pending the conclusion of the siege; the prohibition of night work in bakeries; the abolition of guillotine executions; the right to receive pensions from widows and orphans of those killed in an act of service; or the return of necessary tools to the workers.

The more leftists also managed to approve that workers could take control of their company if it was abandoned by the owner. In addition, the separation of church and state was enacted and religious teaching in schools was excluded.

Another rule related to education was to declare this universal. In some districts, students have begun distributing school supplies, food and clothing for free.

The Commune again used the First Republic calendar and replaced the tricolor with a red one.

Assault on the Commune

A hypothetical success of the Paris Commune would not only harm the French National Assembly, but would also have been contrary to the interests of the governments of other European countries. In a context of expanding socialist ideas and labor movements, the continental powers could not allow this experiment to work well.

So the National Assembly ordered to attack the Commune. The attack began on April 2 and was carried out by the government army stationed at Versailles. From that day on, Paris was bombed relentlessly and refused any options for negotiation.

By the end of April, the French capital was completely surrounded by the army. The different currents existing in the Commune began to show their differences. The Jacobins, the majority, tried to form a Committee of Public Safety, but at that time it was already impossible to make consensual decisions.

For his part, Thiers established negotiations with the Prussians to collaborate in the assault on the Commune. Prussia, in exchange for some concessions, agreed to release some of the French prisoners captured during the war to form part of the assault forces.

On May 21, 1871, an army of over 100,000 men attacked the French capital.

bloody week

With the start of the attack, the so-called Bloody Week began. Both sides acted with great cruelty, although it was the government that caused the least among the Parisian population.

On May 27, the Commune held out only in a few spots in the city, such as the east side districts of Belleville.

The members who remained alive in the Commune understood that any resistance was impossible and began to surrender on May 28th.

Bloody Week meant the deaths of around 20,000 people on the Commune side. In addition, thousands of supporters were sentenced to exile. After the fall of the Commonwealth, the Third Republic was established in France.

Consequences of Paris commune french revolution

At first, other areas of France tried to follow Paris’ example and choose their own community councils. However, no other territories reached their goal.

The repression of the Paris Commune represented a major defeat for the country’s labor movement. The national government enacted laws to weaken it and the French capital remained under martial law for the next five years. The First International was also illegal.

Repression of the commoners

As noted, Bloody Week meant the deaths of large numbers of Parisians, most of them unarmed. Many prisoners were executed as soon as they were captured without trial.

Historians cannot agree on the total number of people killed during the attack. For some authors, Bloody Week was actually a period of summary executions. Some estimates put the death toll at between 20,000 and 30,000, adding those killed in combat and gunfire.

Other authors, on the other hand, increase the number to 50,000. The attackers also made no distinction between children and adults or between men and women. In addition to the dead, the subsequent crackdown saw some 7,000 people sent to prisons in New Caledonia. Thousands more suffered in exile.

On the other hand, the number of casualties was around 1,000 soldiers. In addition, residents destroyed several symbolic buildings in the capital.

Implications for socialists and anarchists

Despite its defeat, the Paris Commune exerted a great influence on the international labor movement. Later revolutionary upheavals learned from what happened in the French capital, and Bakunin himself wrote about the successes and mistakes of the French experience.

The decrees that the comuneros approved to end inequality and poor living conditions for workers were an example for revolutionaries in other parts of the continent. The same happened with the laws on gender equality or the creation of free nurseries and schools for the children of workers.

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