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Following the defeat of France that toppled the Empire of Louis Bonaparte, German soldiers were sent in to occupy France. The temporary government set up by Adophe Thiers wanted to fully cooperate with the German army, which angered many Parisians. As protests and general resistance began to increase, especially among French workers who had fought in the National Guard, Thiers’s government decided to send in their own soldiers to disarm the left-leaning National Guard and people of Paris, who had been rightfully skeptical of longtime politician Thiers’s Versaille-based republic turning back into a monarchy or aristocracy.
Fighting between the National Guard, the Versaille army, and the remnants of the French Army broke out after the National Guard and workers of Paris had peacefully refused to surrender their weapons and Theirs declared war on the city of Paris. On March 26th, 1871, a democratic council of workers and soldiers of Paris, called the Paris Commune, was elected in a landslide. This was the first worker’s state to be established in history.
The Paris Commune quickly took many measures against the former aristocracy and hostile military forces, declaring a total separation of church and state, setting a salary cap of 6,000 francs for any member of government, abolished Paris’s tyrannical morality police, and banned all practice of religion in schools. Furthermore, they began to take steps to protect workers and continue industrialization: a national union was formed, factories were re-opened as cooperatives, mandatory conscription was done away with, worker’s registration cards were abolished, and free education, materials, and food were provided for all children.
Unfortunately, the Paris Commune was under attack by Theirs’s renewed army, and fell by May 28th of 1871. Although there was resistance by the National Guard, it was far too late to win a decisive victory, and over thirty thousand unarmed Parisians were shot and killed in the streets of Paris at the hands of the Versaille army following the surrender. Initially, the Commune had attempted peaceful negotiation and resistance and was horribly unprepared for a military invasion, which lead to its defeat. This fatal flaw was taken into account by later revolutionaries, including Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh, who all brutally crushed military threats, oftentimes going too far and unnecessarily taking human life in the name of revolution.
Use on the AP test includes arguments for decisiveness, nationalization of industry, and democracy. Discussion of how things must get bad enough before change can happen can also prove to be valuable: maintaining the status quo by definition cannot bring change, consider the “lesser evil” rhetoric. The Paris Commune could also provide evidence for the claim that one must find a middle ground between absolute decisiveness and absolute passivity.
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