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History Of The Paris Commune History Essay


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While the French empire, just few years before the outbreak of war with Prussia, was going through a deep crisis, the labor movement was growing stronger and larger than ever before. The Paris Commune, in fact, should not be considered as an accident caused only by the inevitable historical consequences of the Franco-Prussian war, but also it, because of its evolution, had influenced the course of the events (Bruhat, Dautry, Tersen 76). The second empire of France aspired to occupy a position of maximum power and prestige in Europe. The French position in Europe, however, was undermined by the emergence of a Germanic state led by Prussia, and there were also internal problems due to the fact that Napoleon III had lost much of its prestige at home. He had subverted the Second French Republic Dec. 2, 1851 through a coup and established by force the Bonapartist Second Empire, adopting a constitution the following year which gave him absolute power. At the same time, the new emperor had to face the pressures of Republicans calling for the implementation of democratic reforms and the constant threat of revolution. The diplomatic crisis from which broke out the war between France and Prussia was determined by the Bismarck's candidacy of a Hohenzollern prince for the throne of Madrid, which was vacant since a revolution in 1868 had threw out the queen Isabella II. The proposal made by the Prussian chancellor to the Spanish head of government raised the alarm and the reaction of the French. In fact, the French government asked with success to the Prussian prince to refuse the throne, and, as if it was not enough, France wanted William I to excuse for what Prussia has done, and to promise to never do that again. The Prussian King rejected the absurd French requests causing the outbreak of war in July 19, 1870. Napoleon III was absolutely not able to win the war, because of the inadequate military capabilities of the French army. In fact, he with his army was defeated in Sedan the 2nd of September and forced to surrender (Sowerwine 12,13). The defeat of France is followed by the instauration of a provisional republican government and by the siege of Paris. During the siege the majority of the French bourgeoisie and aristocracy left the town, leaving the working class fighting with the Prussians. The insurrection which led to the Paris Commune broke out because of the armistice signed by the French government, the humiliating siege of Paris, and, consequently, the terrible living conditions. The Paris Commune, which acted from March 18,1871 to May 21 , showed that the primary goals of the revolutionaries were the well-being of the French working class, and the achievement of a social justice and equality. To analyze the outcomes and the reforms of the Paris Commune is necessary to take into account the concrete historical conditions in which it acted: " The commune had first to defend itself.. Moreover, despite such adverse conditions, and despite the brevity of its existence, the Commune was able to adopt some measures that adequately characterize its true meaning and its purpose"( Bruhat, Dautry, Tersen 210). As the outcomes of the Paris Commune are important, is also fundamental to remind the popular forces which have contributed to the efficiency of the Commune as the Central Committee, the Parisian sections of the International, the Unions, the Clubs, the press, and the women.

The Paris Commune began in the 18th of March, with the insurrection of the working class, of the craftsmen, of the small tradesmen, who were joined by the poorest classes; it ended in a tragic way during the " semaine sanglante", with the massacre by the French government of 20,000 Parisians, which was followed by a ruthless repression of the government that instructed more than 47,000 political processes. The day after the defeat of Sedan the imperial regime was overthrown, and was formed a government of national defense consisting of republican members. Leon Gambetta, who was a minister and the main instigator of the republican government, supported the line of the resistance to the bitter end and tried to organize a new army in the provinces, while Paris resisted the siege and the bombing of the Prussian troops. The capital resisted from early October until January 28, 1871, when the government was forced to seek an armistice. A national assembly, elected on universal suffrage, met in Bordeaux and voted for peace, at the same time forming a government headed by Thiers. The Treaty of Frankfurt (May 10, 1871) decided that France had to cede Alsace and part of the Lorraine to the Prussians, and that had to pay compensation of five billion gold francs, which was the condition for a staggered evacuation of German occupying troops (Furet 497-500). At the very moment when the treaty was signed, Thiers had to confront the Paris Commune. Its political background was still provided by the French Revolution, Jacobins and Blanquists, nostalgic for both the constitution of 1793 and the dictatorship, supporters of Robespierre, Hébert or Baubef, at the same time rivals, yet combined in a common admiration for the great era.

"But the nineteenth century had added its layers to this heritage, and Parisian activism, since the last years of the Second Empire, had joined militants of the social revolution with those of the political revolution: Proudhonians, communalists who had little liking for Jacobin dictatorship; the men of the International- themselves divided; anarchists, followers of Mikhail Bakunin, and all the varied advocates of the co-operative organization of labour. 'Learned' socialism supplied the leaders of the Commune, but it was good old-fashioned sansculotte passion which provided its troops" ( Furet 501- 502).

The uprising broke out on 18 March, when Parisian militants had refused for two weeks to give up their arms and cannon to the government. The great city fell into revolution between 18 and 28 March. The mayors of the arrondissements failed to find a compromise between Versailles and the Central Committee of the National Guards. Eventually, by the end of March the Committee had gained control of the town halls and had caused a municipal assembly to be elected which took name 'Commune'.

News of the surrender reached Paris on 3 September, and crowds in the streets began to claim a Republic. A group of revolutionaries took over the chair to declare a Republic. Jules Favre, a conservative republican, wishing to disperse the crowd, told them that the proper place to proclaim the Republic was the Town Hall, as had been done in 1830 and 1848. At the Town Hall Favre and other republicans asked to the General Trochu, who was the military governor of Paris(Sowerwine 12-15).

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