Episode 6 – The Bloody Week

The Bloody Week

The Bloody Week

Only a few weeks after the Paris Commune had begun on March 18th, 1871, France broke into the city of Paris. The punishments soon began.

The moment that France entered Paris was theatrical. Paris was holding a massive open-air benefit concert for war widows. It concluded with an officer taking the stage and proclaiming that Paris’ enemies would never enter the city. At that very moment, French soldiers were flooding into the city within gunshot of the concert.

Much like the life of the Commune, Parisian defenses failed as a result of disorganization. Leaders retreated to defend their own neighbourhoods, and thus they abandoned any hope of a unified defense.

After capturing Montmartre, France immediately began its massacres. Soldiers shot 50 Parisians against the same wall where Parisians had killed French generals Lecomte and Clément-Thomas on March 18th.

The revolution died in the same way it was born: quickly, in the space of one morning, and on the hills of Montmartre.

Parisians died for wearing watches, overalls, or having bruised shoulders: all potential evidence of supporting the Commune. Bodies quickly filled the streets of Paris, as firing squads struggled to keep pace with the demand for justice. Executioners’ arms were so tired from firing that they often leaned their guns on the Parisians next in line to die. The firing squad often stood ankle deep in pools of blood.

Tens of thousands of Parisians died as a result of the Commune. Causes of death included execution, death in combat, starvation, or sickness in makeshift prison camps. The brunt of those killed were not the leaders of the revolution, but instead the poor working class supporters.

Vladimir Lenin and a small band of Russian revolutionaries would use the Paris Commune as a rallying cry when they conquered Russia in 1917 and remodeled it as the Communist Soviet Union. Millions upon millions died as a result of the Communist experiment, but many today forget that the first bodies were the courageous and ground-breaking Parisians.

Episode 5 – The Civil War Part 2

The Civil War Part 2

The Civil War Part 2

In the previous episodes, we learned how Paris lived under this new government known as the Commune. However, as the civil war continued, Parisian residents increasingly knew that a military victory would be impossible. How do people act, how do governments rule, how do soldiers fight when they know that they are on the verge of annihilation?

Within a few weeks of the establishment of the 1871 Paris Commune, it became clear that Paris would receive no help from other cities in France or revolutionaries outside of the country. Meanwhile, the city again fell under siege following its failed sortie in the beginning of April.

Gustave Cluseret rose to the position of Delegate of War, and he tried to reform the National Guard. However, he accomplished little. France and Paris battled fiercely in Neuilly, which suffered intensely under the French siege. Bombarded by immense naval guns and trapped in basements of destroyed homes, the residents of Neuilly disproportionately  were the casualties of the civil war.

Adolphe Thiers appealed to Prussia for aid in the war against Paris. Prussia began releasing French soldiers from the prisoner camps established during the Franco-Prussian War. As France received more soldiers and money, the fierce bombardments spread to the rest of Paris. Soon, the integral fort of d’Issy was taken, which protected the Commune by sitting between Paris and Versailles.

France soon gained entry to the Paris, and the massacres began.

 

Episode 4 – Life in the Commune

Life in the Commune

Life in the Commune

After the spontaneous revolution of March 18th, 1871, how was life different in Paris? Was life better or worse?

Before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, Paris was a city of extremes. The wealthy in Paris lived lives of opulence, enjoying new-found internationalism as a result of the World Fair of 1867. Furthermore, Baron Haussmann rebuilt the city of Paris as a modern urban space, expanding the roads into grand boulevards and pushing the housing of the poor towards the outskirts of the city.

As wealthy nobles partied and enjoyed their wealth, the poor in Paris suffered. Rent prices skyrocketed as wages lowered, and workers laboured for 12 hour days without being able to afford food. The Commune was a chance for the impoverished in Paris to improve their miserable lives.

Different types of people experienced different changes to their lives under the Commune-style government. Women such as Louise Michel and others found new freedoms under the Commune, able to join clubs and voice their political opinions for the first time. On the other hand, religious figures found themselves oppressed by Communard supporters who believed organized religion to be a hoax.

While life in Paris changed as a result of government, by far the most significant cause of change in lifestyle was the increasingly more deadly war with France. As life in Paris continued for the better or worse, the war grew ever closer to the city.

Episode 3 – The Civil War Part 1

The Civil War

The Civil War

Only two weeks after the spontaneous revolution of March 18th, 1871, France declared war on Paris.

While Parisian soldiers outnumbered French soldiers by maybe 200 000 to 30 000, Paris decided not to attack Versailles. Paris saw their new Commune as a local government, and residents didn’t want to control national politics. However, national politics would come to them.

When France began shelling Paris in the beginning of April, the Commune decided to march out and attack Versailles. The result was a disaster. Paris’ attack was beaten back on all fronts, and several Parisian generals were killed during the assault.

Paris cycled through several different Delegates of War, but none were able to turn the tide. France besieged Paris, and the Civil War was almost finished before it had even begun.

Episode 2 – Mob Rule

Mob Rule

Mob Rule

In our last episode, the Foundations of a Revolution, we learned about the origins of the Commune. Paris rebelled against France, and the government of France fled to Versailles. Louise Michel and a band of national guards captured the French general Lecomte, who was trying to steal the guns of Montmartre. The Paris mob killed Lecomte and another general, Clément-Thomas.

After the revolution on March 18th, who was left in Paris? While many rich and powerful citizens accompanied the government to Versailles, much of the population in Paris remained. There were several powers in Paris, including the mayors, the Central Committee of the National Guard, and the Blanquists.

The mayors were generally conservative. They supported the National Assembly, which was the government sitting in Versailles who tried to steal the artillery of Montmartre from Paris. The Central Committee was a left-wing body elected to lead the National Guard, or the military force in Paris. The Blanquists wanted social and political revolution, as they were leftist radicals.

Together, these groups would form the Paris Commune. To many Parisians, residents finally controlled their own city. To many Frenchmen, Paris was under mob rule.

 

Episode 1 – The Foundations of a Revolution

Foundations of the Commune

The Foundations of a Revolution

In 1871, France experienced one of the bloodiest civil massacres in European history up to that point. Paris rebelled against France on March 18th, declaring a Commune inside the city.

Within 72 days, France broke into the city of Paris. Before the week was done, the streets were littered with tens of thousands of bodies.

The first episode delves into the origins of the Commune. How did the Commune begin? What were the foundations of the revolution? France in the 1800s toggled back and forth between a bunch of different styles of government, such as monarchy, empire, and republic. In one way, the Paris Commune was just one – the last – in a long series of Parisian revolts against France.

On the other hand, the Paris Commune was breathtakingly new. Born out of a French war with Prussia, the Paris Commune was an attempt at elevating France above the misery imposed by the Prussian defeat. Furthermore, Paris was incredibly poor before the Franco-Prussian War. The onset of violence plunged the city into starvation. The Paris Commune represented a revolutionary attempt at making life in the city liveable again.

During the Franco-Prussian War, France armed the poor citizens of Paris, calling the militia units the National Guard. As the war came to a close, France began to fear the thousands of armed citizens in the city. Adolphe Thiers, the head of the new Republic sitting at Versailles, sent General Lecomte into Paris to reclaim the city’s artillery and remove it from the hotbed of discontent. This episode describes how Thiers and Lecomte’s blunder resulted in the Paris Commune.