History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 3

Wednesday 27 January 2021

From War to Revolution: A History of the Paris Commune of 1871

The far-reaching consequences of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) are often left untold. It was a relatively short war, that nonetheless set into motion a Franco-German animosity that would drag the entire planet into the depths of tragedy for decades to come. This ill- fated war ended the Second Empire, forced Napoleon III into exile and allowed France to emerge as the sole ‘Republic’ in the midst of European monarchies.

 

The advent of the Third Republic (1870-1940) was not easy. The new regime had to face a country occupied by Prussian troops, a capital exhausted by a long siege and a civil war that brought Parisians onto the streets, erecting barricades and proclaiming a revolutionary Commune.

 

Our lecture will walk us through these eventful months, starting with the declaration of War and the flight of Napoleon III (July 1870), the Proclamation of a Republic (September 1870), the Siege and eventual Fall of Paris (September-January 1870-71) and ending with the civil war (March -May 1871). This last event known as the “Paris Commune” captured the interest of writers, artists and revolutionaries. Karl Marx hailed it as ‘the glorious harbinger of a new society’ and indeed, though short and chaotic, it turned into a laboratory of many ideas. In 1871, Paris had, once again, fulfilled the role that Victor Hugo had assigned her’ (…) Paris goes her own way. France irritated, is forced to follow; later she calms down and applauds: it is one of the forms of our national life.’