Last revolution of the 19th century and symbol of a tragic popular history, the brief adventure of the Paris Commune, 72 days from March 18 to May 28, 1871, ended in a bloodbath.
The Parisian insurrection took place 150 years ago, after the French defeat against Prussia to which Napoleon III recklessly declared war in 1870 before being taken prisoner and ceding Alsace and Lorraine.
Adolphe Thiers then heads a provisional government and the Assembly, elected in February 1871 and which will settle in Versailles, is overwhelmingly monarchist.
Subject to 135 days of siege, the Parisians, with the majority Republican vote, do not digest the announced capitulation. They are 1.7 million locked in the capital which suffered bombardments, without work and starving for some of them.
– The cannons of the Butte –
On March 18, Thiers decided to resume on the Butte Montmartre the unarmed cannons of the National Guard paid by subscription from the Parisians to defend themselves against the Prussians who surrounded the capital.
In the early morning, the neighborhood laundresses, the first to get up, warn of the arrival of troops from Versailles. The crowd flocked to protect the guns and among the soldiers sent by Thiers, some lowered their butt, fraternized with the insurgents, it was the rout.
Two generals are killed. Thiers ordered the departure of troops and officials from Paris and fled to Versailles.
The Central Committee of the National Guard, which will number nearly 200,000 men, is installed at the Town Hall and the election of a Municipal Council, from which the Municipality will be born, is set for March 26.
– Time for change –
This republican communal assembly elected with 40% of registered Parisian voters will be in business for about fifty days, in the midst of the civil war.
It restarts administrations such as the Post Office and relieves workers who cannot pay their rent with three terms, it partially restores the objects deposited at the Mont de Piety, subsidizes municipal butcher shops, prohibits night work by bakers.
It also opens the closed workshops to their workers, who will however have to compensate the owners who fled Paris.
It proclaims the separation of Church and State, abolishes military conscription, proclaims free secular and compulsory education in primary and state scholarships for secondary education, opens vocational schools for girls.
Anti-clericalism is powerful, but the majority of the churches in Paris continue their service and the little sisters of the poor their missions.
– “A revolt of the lazy” –
The Communal Council institutes the revocability of elected officials and citizen consultation. But does not attack the Bank of France or the Stock Exchange.
On May 16, the Vendôme imperial column, “symbol of brute force and false glory” in the eyes of the Communards, was shot down to applause.
Everything is not applied, not the time, and all is not rosy under the combined blows of the Versaillais, the Prussians at the gates of Paris, not to mention the divisions and resignations within the Council, and the uncontrollable crowd.
Mayors commute between Versailles and Paris to find a way out, Parisians believe in it, in vain. In Versailles, they denounced “a revolt of the lazy” and executed a number of dissident soldiers and Communard prisoners.
– “The bloody week” –
On April 5, a decree of the Commune provides that “any execution of a prisoner of war or of a supporter of the regular government of the Paris Commune will be immediately followed by the execution of a number triple hostages (…) designated by fate ”.
Executions will only take place after the dissolution, on May 24, of the Council of the Municipality, not under its orders.
On May 8, Thiers, in a hurry to subdue Paris, sent an ultimatum to the Parisians and soon the forts of Issy and Vanves, south of the capital, fell.
On May 21, the Versailles troops entered Paris, it was the start of the “Bloody Week”, its unbalanced street fights and summary executions. Women and children are also lying on the ground. “Even people opposed to the Commune were horrified by the repression,” according to historian Laure Godineau.
The Town Hall and the Tuileries in particular were set on fire in return: “the ferocious madness of despair”, wrote Jules Vallès.
On the 24th, the Communards executed six hostages, including the Archbishop of Paris. On the 25th, five Dominicans from Arcueil and nine employees were shot dead. On the 26th, the crowd massacred 11 religious, 35 gendarmes and four spies on rue Haxo. A Republican deputy favorable to the Commune was shot on his knees on the steps of the Pantheon by the Versaillais soldiers.
On the 28th, 147 defenders of the Commune were executed in front of the federated wall in the Père-Lachaise cemetery and thrown into a mass grave.
Fort de Vincennes surrendered on the 29th, it’s over. Now is the time for the executions or deportations of Communard prisoners.
According to historians, the repression of the Commune has left 6,500 to 20,000 dead.