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Commune of Paris

Commune of Paris, insurrectionary governments in Paris formed during (1792) the French Revolution and at the end (1871) of the Franco-Prussian War. In the French Revolution, the Revolutionary commune, representing urban workers, tradespeople, and radical bourgeois, engineered the storming of the Tuileries and the arrest of the king. During the reign of terror, several leaders of the commune, such as Hébert, were executed (1794), and when the moderates gained control of the Convention (1794–95), they broke the commune's power. At the end (1871) of the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Napoleon III's empire, Parisians opposed the national government, headed by Adolphe Thiers, and the National Assembly at Versailles, as too conservative, too royalist, and too ready to accept a humiliating peace with Prussia. Thiers, after failing to disarm the Parisian national guard, fled (Mar., 1871) to Versailles, and the Parisians elected a municipal council, the commune of 1871. The Communards, whose aims included economic reforms, expressed many shades of political opinion—followers of Louis Blanqui, of Pierre Proudhon, and of the Marxist First International as well as radical republicans of the 1793 Jacobin tradition, such as Louis Delescluze. While the victorious Prussians affected neutrality outside the city, the Versailles troops began a siege of Paris (Apr. 11) to regain national control. The fighting, which intensified over five weeks, culminated in Bloody Week (21–28 May), during which the Versailles troops entered the city despite the desperate but ineffective defense of the communards, who threw up barricades, shot hostages (including the archbishop of Paris), and burned the Tuileries palace, the city hall, and the palace of justice. On May 28 the commune was finally defeated. Severe reprisals followed, resulting in more than 18,000 Parisians dead and almost 7,000 deported. Communes were also formed and suppressed in other cities in 1871, notably in Saint-Étienne, Le Creusot, and Marseilles, and memories of the bloody Paris repression embittered political relations between radicals and conservatives for many years afterward.

See studies by F. Jellinek (1937, repr. 1965), A. Horne (1965 and 1971), S. Edwards (1971), R. Tombs (1981), and R. Christiansen (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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