The story of the Paris Commune (1871)

The story of the Paris Commune (1871)

In 1871 for a few months during the summer
there was something unusual going on in Paris. A completely functional democratic commune
was formed by the working people and they brought reforms that could still be considered
revolutionary today. Anarchists, Marxists and other socialists
worked together on this project which was supposed to be the beginning of a worldwide
workers revolution. But let’s take a step back and see how we
got there. As I am sure you are well aware, during the
mid-18th century the industrial revolution happened which led to the people who used
to be farmers to be unemployed since new farming equipment meant that farming required less
work and the introduction of private property centralized all farm land in the hands of
wealthy elites. Those new unemployed farmers went to the cities
to work in the new industrialized factories. One of those cities was Paris and it had huge
amounts of factories that needed workers. Of course, since this was before unions or
labor rights the workers had to work for 12 sometimes 18 hours a day every day without
weekends or vacations to look forward to. For some reason those people weren’t happy
and there where multiple riots and demonstrations throughout the century. The French government at the time was the
2nd French empire ruled by Napoleon. … No no not that one. His nephew. Napoleon the third. He tried to emulate his uncle in every way
he could but he never managed it. And the fact that they were back to an emperor
didn’t quite please the people either. The climate in Paris was revolutionary. The high number of alienated workers cramped
in small places and the availability of new socialist and anarchist literature gave Paris
the potential of revolution. But while Napoleon the third and his government
where going about the usual business of suppressing workers, making themselves richer and granting
themselves privileges, across the border there was someone provoking them. The Prussians under Bismarck wanted a confrontation
to get Elsass and Loraine and to unify the smaller German states into a single German
empire. The germans sent a letter which the French
didn’t like and a week later napoleon had declared a that he would invade them. A wave of nationalism swept across France. The workers and revolutionaries of Paris focused
on banding together with the bourgeoisie against the Prussians and forgot about that class
struggle and stuff like that. They where going to destroy the Prussians
and rule Europe just like they did under Napoleon the first! And then the French army got itself surrounded
and the emperor was captured by the Germans. Upon loosing their head of government the
rest of the French leader ship decided that this was as good a time as any to proclaim
the 2nd French republic! Which immediately got destroyed. And then they proclaimed the 3rd French republic! And the Prussians promptly surrounded the
capital city of Paris. And asked for Elsass and Loraine plus a lot
of money in exchange for peace. The government declared that they would not
give up an inch of territory to the Prussian invader! The Prussians dug trenches around Paris and
decided to wait until the French would give up. Weeks turned to months and nothing much happened
besides the fact that the food and coal supply got lower. At the time there where 50 thousand professional
soldiers and 120 thousand recruits who were loyal to the government and 300 thousand men
from the national guard. After some more starving and suffering there
was a proposal for an armistice with the Germans. The condition was that the French army had
to give up their arms. The national guard was exempted from this
because the government argued they needed them to keep order. Now the national guard was mostly made up
of civilians and they where organized by the districts they where from. They mostly reflected the opinions of the
workers of Paris and the surrounding provinces which was inspired by socialist and anarchist
writing. They weren’t exactly disciplined and even
demanded to elect their own officers and sometimes refused to follow orders unless they had democratically
decided if they were okay with that. Can you imagine that? Democracy in the army? After the climate became more heated and the
government and the national guard fought about a few guns the government left the city. This means that the workers where now somehow
in control of the city. The national government as well as the local
government including the mayor had left. Suddenly everything they dreamed of could
be achieved. They could create a new government based on
the socialist and anarchist ideas they had read about. All that change was suddenly possible! They created a council to govern the commune
and immediately held elections. The council was made up or representatives
that represented about 20k citizens each. They could immediately be called back by the
voters if they backed something the people didn’t want. The council also had some professions represented
in it for example they had 33 industrial workers, 5 small business owners, 19 clerks and other
big professions taking part and voting in the meeting. This was to ensure that the laws they made
wouldn’t hurt the workers of paris. They officially proclaimed the commune, held
a big parade and started to implement their changes. They changed the flag to a plain red banner
and switched the calendar back to that disastrous thing they tried during the French revolution
a few decades earlier. The council was made up of different factions. There where the radicals that wanted to implement
changes that would help the people and there where the moderates that didn’t want to
do that and argued that a better world isn’t possible. This will be familiar to anyone who has ever
seen any political debate. The radicals where made up of both anarchists
and socialists who were happy to work together at this time. Because the anarchists proposed it, they decided
not to have a president, mayor or commander in chief. You know anarchism. Rule without a leader. Those jobs where to be done by democratically
elected committees instead. Oh and when I mean democratically I mean elected
by every MAN over 20. In the 6 times they met they agreed on some
nice changes. For example:
The abolition of capital punishment; The abolition of military conscription;
The separation of church and state. The remission of rents owed for the entire
period of the siege. The Abolition of child labour and night work
in bakeries; The Granting of pensions to the unmarried
companions and children of national guardsmen who gave their life in active service. This was new since until then only married
people got pensions. The Free return by pawnshops of all workmen’s
tools and household items, valued up to 20 francs, pledged during the siege;
The Postponement of commercial debt obligations, and the abolition of interest on the debts;
The right of workers to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner
The prohibition of fines imposed by employers on their workmen
In addition to that they Seized church land and made it public. Churches could still continue to say and do
religious stuff if they allowed political debates in churches in the evening. Then they tore down the Vendôme Column which
was built to commemorate napoleons conquests and melted it down to create coins. They also tried to take Versailles with military
force but that but that failed spectacularly. They then decided not to conquer the rest
of France but to show them that a better way is possible. To lead by example and demonstrate the superiority
of their ideals. And this is why they made their biggest mistake. They let the bank of France operate as usual. This means that the government which had fled
from Paris had both time and money to recruit an army. The other French provinces didn’t want the
follow the example of the commune either. This was because most of rural France was
incredibly conservative compared to the revolutionaries in Paris. After about 3 months the French army outside
of the city gates was ready to take Paris back by force. The following week is known as the bloody
week. This is of course because the emperor peacefully
convinced the people of Paris to give up their new freedoms and they agreed and everything
went over peacefully. No just kidding they murdered everyone and
burnt down half of Paris. Afterwards socialists and anarchists split
because they disagreed what the commune should have done differently. Anarchists argued that they should have spread
the ideas of their commune more and socialists argue that they should have been more militarist
to defend themselves. This split is there until today. So in conclusion: Even though it ended quickly
the commune taught us many lessons about how to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat
and to be careful not to let outside powers become too strong. And 41 years later a Russian revolutionary
and his successor would make sure that their revolution would not be crushed be foreign
powers. But that’s a story for another time.

2 thoughts on “The story of the Paris Commune (1871)

  1. Remember to share if you enjoyed this video! It took a lot of work to make so I am happy about every viewer!

    Also join the discord!

    Also credit to reddit user u/kadarkristof44 for choosing the topic of this video

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