May 21st 1871: Bloody Week begins


A barricade in the Paris Commune


On this day in 1871 French troops marched on the Paris Commune and began fighting the revolutionaries there. The Commune took power in opposition to the conservative royalist National Assembly which was elected in February 1871; republican Parisians feared the Assembly would restore the monarchy. When officials of Adolphe Thiers’s government tried to remove the cannons of the city’s guards on March 18th the Commune seized power and were later elected on March 26th. The Commune enacted socialist policies such as ending support of religion and promoting female suffrage; they adopted a plain red flag as the flag of the Commune.



The Rue de Rivoli after the fall of the Paris Commune


Communard soldiers killed two French troops and refused to stand down, prompting the attack on the Commune by French forces who entered through an undefended area. The Commune was brutally repressed by the national government during the street fighting of ‘Bloody Week’, with around 20,000 insurrectionists being killed before the Commune fell on May 28th. The government treated the surviving Communards and their supporters ruthlessly – arresting around 38,000 and deporting around 7,000.



Corpses of Communards killed in 1871


The Commune retains a strong legacy both in France and abroad as an example of a socialist revolutionary government that was established by the citizenry. It was, in many ways, ahead of its time in the egalitarian policies it enacted. The brutal repression of the Commune brought a swift end to a fascinating political experiment. We will never know what would have happened had the Paris Commune endured, it is unlikely it ever would have, but its memory lives on.


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