The "Commune"

From March 1871 to the last days of May, Parisians, opposed to the bourgeois Republic, reinvented society: everything had to change for the sake of greater equality. They instituted free schooling and free justice, and even, for a time, free rent. Production workshops were run by workers. Women played their part in this gigantic social laboratory.


La Commune de Paris - Karambolage - ARTE


A Parisian revolution that lasted 72 days

The origins of the Commune: the end of the war against Prussia and the acceptance of defeat.

March 1871. The Parisians felt betrayed and humiliated. The new French government, with a monarchist majority, accepted France's defeat by Prussia and even allowed the victors to march on the Champs-Élysées. The government also ceded Alsace and Lorraine to the enemy and agreed to pay huge war indemnities. The economic measures it took drove the people further into poverty. To sum up: the Prussians occupy the country. The French government strangles the people and the Parisians, who have formed a revolutionary mentality against the Prussians because of the siege of Paris, are angry. An explosive situation, especially as the Parisians had kept their rifles and 300 cannons.

The spark came on the morning of 18 March 1871: the head of the government, Adolphe Thiers, sent the army to recover the cannons of Paris stored on the Butte Montmartre. Women, children and old people flocked to block the way. A general orders to shoot at the crowd but the soldiers refuse. Then barricades are erected everywhere in the city and the general is executed the same afternoon. Thiers and his ministers flee Paris for Versailles.

On 26 March 1871, the red flag flew over Paris

The Parisians rejoiced and organised elections. On 26 March, the extreme left won a majority. As the municipality of Paris had been called the Commune during the French Revolution, this name was taken up again: the Paris Commune was proclaimed in front of an enthusiastic crowd in the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. The red flag, symbol of insurrection, flew everywhere. Among the elected representatives, workers, artists, craftsmen, journalists, lawyers, doctors and artists, republicans, socialists and anarchists: It is the extreme revolutionary left. The supporters of the Commune, the federates or communards, requisitioned the production workshops: it was up to the workers to manage them themselves. Rent was made free for a few months, free justice was envisaged, teachers' salaries were doubled, schools became compulsory, free and secular. Religion was distrusted. Discussion clubs were set up in churches where everyone could speak out, men and women alike. Because there are also women fighters. It is an incredible social laboratory that even welcomes activists from other European countries.

The bloody week

But the official government wants to put down the rebellion. It reinforced its army. From 2 April onwards, fighting raged at the gates of the capital and the communards went from defeat to defeat while in the wealthy districts, people hoped for a government victory.

On 21 May, taking advantage of a concert at the Tuileries, the Versaillais - let's remember that the government was installed in Versailles - entered Paris. It was the beginning of Bloody Week: 130,000 soldiers against tens of thousands of Federals. The repression is ferocious. Anyone with traces of gunpowder on their hands or who looks like a communard is shot. Response: The communards kill hostages including the archbishop of Paris. Then, out of desperation or to prevent the army from advancing, they set fire to monuments: the Tuileries Palace, the Palace of Justice, the Town Hall. In vain...

The legacy of the Commune

The final battle at the Père-Lachaise cemetery, where the last federates had entrenched themselves, ended with bayonets. 147 communards were shot in front of a wall in the cemetery that has become infamous: it is "The wall of the Federates".
On 28 May 1871, the last barricade fell: the commune was over. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Parisians died in the battle. 43,000 men, women and children now suffer reprisals. They are imprisoned or deported to the furthest French colony: New Caledonia. For the others, those who escaped arrest, it was exile. The commune lasted only 72 days, yet it still haunts people's minds. A founding myth for the left: Marx and Engels saw it as the first dictatorship of the proletariat. Its memory has been handed down through tens of thousands of writings and through songs: "L'internationale", a song of workers' struggles, was written by a communard, as was "Le temps des cerises". Two leitmotifs that regularly accompany demonstrations in memory of the Commune and its hope for a better tomorrow.

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