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Paris Commune, 1871

Michael Kline and Micheline Nilsen

Subject History

Place Western Europe » France

Key-Topics revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.01157.x


The ten weeks of the Paris Commune of 1871 resonate beyond its brief life. For some historians, it marks the end of the cycle of French revolutionary activity begun with the Revolution in 1789 , while for others it was the event that guaranteed the survival of France as a republic. Its detractors saw it as a menacing uprising fomented by the worst and most radical elements in Parisian society. Its supporters saw it as a heroic high point in the struggle for democracy and workers' rights. Today, the Commune remains a touchstone event in French history that has entered the collective consciousness of the nation, particularly revered by the political left in France and in many other countries. The immediate antecedent to the Commune was the disastrous French defeat at the hands of the Prussians on September 2, 1870, when Emperor Napoleon III and his army were surrounded at Sedan. The glittering Second Empire, founded by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (a nephew of the great Napoléon I Bonaparte) in a coup d'état in 1851, came to a crashing halt in a war that Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had engineered. The once proud French army, quickly and ignominiously beaten by the larger and better-organized Prussian forces, had represented the nation's nationalistic impulses and the emperor's desire to be a dominant force in Europe. On September 4, 1870 deputies of the French legislative ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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