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Lecture 2: L'année terrible: The Franco-Prussian War and Communes of 1870-71

V1303/1440: France at War, 1870-1962

Karine Varley

on 16 June 2018

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Transcript of Lecture 2: L'année terrible: The Franco-Prussian War and Communes of 1870-71

L'année terrible: The

War and Communes of 1870-71
Dr Karine Varley, University of Strathclyde
•Narrative of war
•Nature of warfare
•Reasons for French defeat
•Causes of Communes
Narrative of
Tensions heightened by Bismarck’s wars of unification
France declares war, 19 July 1870
French victory widely expected
But - early defeats in Alsace and Lorraine 4 August - 16 August 1870
Collapse of Second Empire
Surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan 1 September 1870
Surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan
Republican phase of war
Insurrection and proclamation of Republic, 4 September 1870
Govt of National Defence refuses to surrender any French soil
‘Guerre à outrance’ – war to the bitter end
New patriotic enthusiasm, reorganisation of army
Gambetta escaping Paris by balloon
Cham, 'The anger in eating a mouse is that your cat may run in after it'
Cham, 'The queue for rat meat'
Paris besieged ,19 Sept 1870 – 26 Jan 1871
French surrender, 26 January 1871
Treaty of Frankfurt:
5 billion francs indemnities
Annexation of Alsace-Lorraine
Triumphal German march down Champs-Elysées
Occupation of Paris, 1-3 March 1871
German troops parade down the Champs-Élysées in Paris (March 1, 1871)
Conduct of War
Changing attitudes towards war
Geneva Convention, 1864
Presence of Red Cross
Bazeilles scandal
Bavarian forces accused of ‘massacre’ of civilians in response to guerrilla warfare
Image of brutal German soldier endures into C20th
Myth of French honourable defeat
Transition between people’s war and total war
The first modern conflict?
Nation in arms lays foundations for total war
Industrial revolution provides material bases
Destruction of enemy’s military power, political system, culture
Reasons for French defeat
Prussian short service conscripts superior to French professionals
French failure to modernise – railways, cavalry, weapons
Political disunity
Divisions over support for Republic
No clear dichotomy between ‘patriotic Paris’ and ‘defeatist provinces’
Catholic Church’s position changes
After Dec 1870, collapse in morale
Garibaldian volunteers
Papal Zouaves at Loigny, Dec 1870
National Sentiment
Republicans blame defeat on lack of patriotism
Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau: Alsace-Lorraine lacks French identity
1870-1 lays foundations for development of national sentiment
Bataille de Reichshoffen – Aimé Morot (1887)
The Paris Commune of 1871
‘archetypal proletarian government’ (Marx)
‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (Engels)
Rise of Paris Commune
Memory of suppression of past revolutions
Development of political clubs during siege of Paris
‘Measures against Paris’ mobilise national guardsmen
Uprising of 18 March 1871
Spontaneous response to govt attempts to seize cannon
State authority collapses in Paris
Commune proclaimed 28 March
Policies of the Commune
‘Measures against Paris’ reversed
Freedom of the press
Improved wages and conditions for workers
Separation of Church and State
‘Hostage decree’ results in murder of Archbishop of Paris and 23 priests by Communards
Army of Versailles enters Paris, 21 May 1871
'Semaine sanglante' (week of blood) - 21-8 May 1871
‘Petroleuses’ blamed for destruction of public buildings
Ministry of Finance, 1871
Hotel de Ville, 1871
Champs-Elysées, 1871
Frédéric Théodore Lix, Petroleuses (1871)
Suppression and punishment
Debates about how many killed c.6000-40,000
1871-5 - 38,575 tried, 13,450 convicted
50,000 prisoners
Ernest Pichio, The Triumph of Order (1871)
Commune as Proletarian Revolution?
Hailed by left the first workers’ revolution
Used as model during Russian Revolution of 1917
Marx – ‘The Civil War in France’ (May 1871)

Revisionist interpretations
Rougerie - Commune not first proletarian revolution but last traditional Parisian revolt
Gould - City rising collectively to defend municipal liberties
Tombs - aspirations for triumph of revolutionary city over reactionary country
Debates about how many Communards were working class
Many skilled manual and white collar workers
The ‘people’ rather than the ‘proletariat’ (Tombs)
Communards were first and foremost republicans, then patriots, then Parisians (Tombs)
Commune springs from patriotic rejection of armistice and belief that nation and Republic have been betrayed
Divisions during war are exacerbated in defeat
1871 Treaty of Frankfurt compared with 1919 Treaty of Versailles

5 billion francs France obliged to pay Germany after 1871 is equivalent to 6% of French GDP at 1869 level
German reparations after the 1924 Dawes Plan equivalent to 1% of GDP spread over 60 years at 1913 GDP level
Full transcript