Antiqua Print Gallery Paris Commune
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The Paris Commune

The Paris Commune (French: La Commune de Paris) was a government that briefly ruled Paris, from March 28 (more formally, from March 26) to May 28, 1871. It existed before the split between anarchists and socialists had taken place, and it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class. Debates over the policies and outcome of the Commune contributed to the break between those two political groups.
In a formal sense, the Paris Commune was simply the local authority, the city council (in French, the "commune"), which exercised power in Paris for two months in the spring of 1871. However, the conditions in which it was formed, its controversial decrees, and its tortured end make its tenure one of the more important political episodes of the time.
The Commune was the result of an uprising in Paris after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. This uprising was chiefly caused by the disaster in the war and the growing discontent among French workers. The worker discontent can be traced to the first worker uprisings, the Canut Revolts, in Lyon and Paris in the 1830s (a Canut was a Lyonnais silk worker, often working on Jacquard looms).
Parisians, especially workers and the lower-middle classes, had long supported a democratic republic. A specific demand was that Paris should be self-governing with its own elected council, something enjoyed by smaller French towns but denied to Paris by a national government wary of the capital's unruly populace. An associated, but less well-articulated, wish was for a more "just", if not necessarily socialist, way of managing the economy, summed up in the popular appeal for "la république démocratique et sociale!", "the democratic and social republic!"
In January 1871, after four months of siege, the moderate, republican, Government of National Defence sought an armistice with the newly-proclaimed German Empire. The Germans included a triumphal entry into Paris in their peace terms. Despite the hardships of the siege, many Parisians were bitterly resentful of the Prussians (now at the head of the German Empire) being allowed even a brief ceremonial occupation of their city.
Hundreds of thousands of Parisians were armed members of a citizens' militia known as the "National Guard", which had been greatly expanded to help defend the city. Guard units elected their own officers, who, in working-class districts, included radical and socialist leaders.

A contemporary sketch of women and children helping take two National Guard cannons to Montmartre

Steps were taken to form a "Central Committee" of the Guard, including patriotic republicans and socialists, both to defend Paris against a possible German attack and also to defend the republic against a possible royalist restoration. The election of a monarchist majority to the new National Assembly in February 1871 made such fears seem plausible.
The population of Paris was defiant in the face of defeat and prepared to fight if the entry of the German army into the city should provoke them sufficiently. Before German troops entered Paris, National Guardsmen, helped by ordinary working people, managed to move large numbers of cannons (which they regarded as their own property because they had been partly paid-for by public subscription) away from the Germans' path and store them in "safe" districts. One of the chief "cannon parks" was on the heights of Montmartre.
Adolphe Thiers, head of the new provisional national government, realised that in the current unstable situation, the Central Committee of the Guard formed an alternative centre of political and military power. He was also concerned that workers would arm themselves with the National Guard's weapons and provoke the Germans.
The war with Prussia, initiated by Napoleon III in July 1870, turned out disastrously for France, and by September Paris itself was under siege. The gap between rich and poor in the capital had widened during the preceding years, and then, food shortages, military failures, and, finally, a Prussian bombardment of the city contributed to a widespread discontent.

(Source Wikipedia)