Civil war in France and consequences of the new commune of Paris



By Vejas Liulevicius, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

A civil war had broken out in France, with Paris being the home for 72 days. It was as if the original French Revolution of 1789 was replaying. Who declared himself in charge of Paris during this period?

A voluntary force of armed citizens declared its control in Paris during the civil war. (Image: French Army 1870-71 / Public domain)

Civil war in France

During the civil war in France, the Central Committee of the National Guard, a voluntary force of armed citizens, declared itself in command of Paris. Yet they refused to march on Versailles, as some suggested, to eliminate the center of rival power. Wealthy Parisians, fearing unrest, fled the city, flocking to Versailles, which swelled to six times its previous small size.

Learn more about the Paris Commune which made Marx one of the most hated men.

The New Paris Commune

The municipal elections held in the chaos of Paris on March 26 led to the victory of the revolutionary candidates. The Hôtel de Ville was adorned with red flags and French tricolor flags on March 28 to celebrate the new Paris Commune. ‘Commune’ simply meant local or municipal government, in French.

While some applauded, others worried. The French writer Edmond de Goncourt hinted: “What is happening is very simple, the conquest of France by the workers and the enslavement under their despotism of the nobles, the middle classes and the peasants. The government leaves the hands of those who have, to go into the hands of those who have not ”. Bismarck called the Commune a “pack of thieves”.

Learn more about the decades since Marx’s death in 1883.

Varieties of communards

The government of the Commune was a mixture of several people. The partisans of the Commune were called the Fédérés or the Communards, which came in many different varieties, including the neo-Jacobins, who took inspiration from the original French Revolution in hopes of reconstituting it. Others were socialists, but owed no particular loyalty to Marx. They included the Socialist-Proudhonists, who wanted federations of municipalities to be freely constituted and associated throughout France, and possibly in the world. Others among the Socialists were Blanquists, calling for violent action. Rather than being purely proletarian, the Communards were equally a petty bourgeoisie, a category that included traders, white collar workers, and proud craftsmen.

Gestures and promises

Given its short duration, the Municipality did not have time for new practices but undertook symbolically heavy gestures and promises. Armed citizens, not professional soldiers, were now his army. His program promised to end government support for religion, promised a 10-hour working day for workers, restored the revolutionary calendar of the first French Revolution, and recreated a Committee of Public Safety, just as under the reign of terror. in 1793.

Orders were issued for the demolition of two chapels, but time was running out. The crowds, however, succeeded in overthrowing the Vendôme column with its statue of the first Napoleon, later rebuilt, and in demolishing the Parisian house of President Thiers.

This is a transcript of the video series The rise of communism: from Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Bloody week

The French government at Versailles gathered its military forces and sent them to surround Paris. Paris, which had just undergone a German siege, was again besieged by the French. This second siege lasted nine weeks. But the agony was only just beginning. On May 21, government soldiers entered Paris. The house-to-house fighting, street skirmishes that followed were called “Bloody Week,” for the very cobblestones were red as the French fought against the French.

The image shows guards around the barricades around Place de la Concorde.
House-to-house fighting was called Bloody Week as the French fought among themselves. The Communards resisted the assault by throwing barricades around the cityscape. (Image: Auguste Hippolyte Collard / CC0 / Public domain)

The Communards resisted the onslaught by erecting barricades across the cityscape and established a Barricades Commission, one of whose leaders became obsessed with the masterpiece of a barricade he had built. on the Place de la Concorde, a building soiled by real fighting.

Kill by the Communards

During this stalemate, both sides shot hostages. The Commune had hoped to use the Catholic Archbishop of Paris to trade against their comrades in government prisons, but as the situation worsened, on May 24, they shot him and five other priests. It is estimated that 63 to 107 hostages were shot dead by the Communards.

In their desperate situation, the Communards set fire to buildings to repel the advance of the government army. The Tuileries Palace and the Town Hall were set on fire, the soaring Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral and the Louvre narrowly escaped the flames. There were rumors that communards, called petroleum, women arsonists wandered with kerosene cans, setting fire.

An illustration shows a group of Oilers arrested at Versailles.
It was said that female arsonists called the oil women wandered around with kerosene setting on fire. (Image: Robertson A. Daryez / Public Domain)

Desperate fighting raged in the large Père-Lachaise cemetery to the east of the city, on the last day of “Bloody Week”. Among the new graves were 147 Communards, who had been captured by government troops and executed. This cemetery contains the “Wall of the Communards” pierced with bullets.

Removal results

Some 20,000 rebel and non-rebel Parisians and around 750 government troops were killed in the suppression of the Commune, fueled by fear and hatred that were blind.

A French general said: “the mere fact of having to stay in Paris under the Commune is a crime”. After the suppression of the Commune, the government arrested 38,000 survivors and deported more than 7,000, many of them to New Caledonia, the most distant French colony, near Australia. Many Communards who fled went into exile in England, joining Marx, Napoleon III and other political exiles there.

Learn more about the first man to bring Communist theory to power in 1917.

Erase the sins of the commune

The memory of the Paris Commune is bitterly disputed. On Montmartre, overlooking Paris, was built the great white basilica of the Sacred Heart, financed by a national contribution to do penance for the defeat of the Germans in 1871 and to erase the sins of the Commune. The rebels treated the Communards’ Wall as a sanctuary and kept the memory alive.

In 1870 Marx was living in his exile in London, but after the Commune, for which he was criticized, he became famous and notorious overnight. Before the Franco-Prussian War, Marx and Engels sided with their native Germany, but subsequently felt that Germany had gone too far in imposing a hard peace. Once the Commune had been declared, Marx was electrified and fully supported it from a distance.

Frequently asked question about the Paris Commune

Q: Who were the Communards?

The Commune government was a mixture of various people. The sympathizers of the Commune were called Federates or Communards, which presented itself in many different varieties, including the neo-Jacobins, some socialists, including the socialist-proudhonists, the Blanquists, calling for violent action. It also included a category of traders, white collar workers and craftsmen.

Keep reading
The ideology of the revolution: revolutionary legacies of the twentieth century
US government: how big should it be?
The great leap forward: Mao Zedong’s great failure in China


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.