March 18th, 1871, is the first of the 72 days of existence of the Paris Commune.
Here is where it happens: in Montmartre, on the hill, on this lower ground, on the hillside, here is where the canons that the Parisians used to expel the Prussians are stored. There it is, down there.
The Prussians, but why? Because, in fact, since July, 1870, the empire of Napoleon III is at war with the Prussia of Bismarck.
Then on September 2nd, 1870, the French army was defeated and Napoleon was taken prisoner. Then the revolution in Paris, Marseilles and Lyon will begin, and the Republic will be declared.
On September 4th, 1870, in Paris, the protesters invaded the National Assembly. Immediately, the moderate republican congressmen rush to the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to declare themselves provisional government and especially to avoid the progress of the protestors of the suburbs, the militants of the International and the socialists.
On September 19th, the Siege of Paris begins and it will last five months, during which the “national defense” government will wave between fighting against Prussia and actually negotiating the surrender with Bismarck to better crush the working class.
And finally, on January 28th, 1871, the masks fall and the government signs the armistice with Prussia, accepts losing Alsace and Lorraine with the certainty of being able to send its armies against the uprising Parisians!
On February 18th, Adolphe Thiers was appointed “chief of the executive”. During the night, he will decide to disarm Paris, seizing the canons that the people had paid via subscription. This will be the last betrayal.
On the night of the 17th to the 18th of March, 1871, the council of ministers, presided by Adolphe Thiers, will decide to seize the weapons grouped in Montmartre, Belleville and other places of Paris, these weapons that the National Guard had moved on February 26th, 1871, to put them out reach when the Prussians entered Paris. The Prussians came to “take a stroll” during early March in Paris. These canons and machine guns, a total of more than 400, were paid through popular subscriptions during the war and the siege. In Montmartre there are around 170, all of them grouped in the neighbor field, called “field of the Poles”.
But on March 18th, 1871, nothing would occur as planned. Nothing would occur as the government had imagined: yes, at three o’clock in the morning, just a few hours after the end of the cabinet meeting, the troops took over the different neighborhoods of Paris, attack the hills, the dismantling of the canons begin. But in fact, it would end up being a lot more complicated than expected, since in reality the army had foreseen the hooks. And especially what happens when the people wake up. In the popular neighborhoods of Montmartre and Belleville, they wake up and prevent the taking of the canons; and the troops refuse to obey their officials and to shoot the crowd. You need to know that women where at the forefront of this battle.
I am going to read you a quote from the Memoir of Louise Michel: “The hill was wrapped in a white light, a splendid sunrise of liberation. Suddenly I saw my mother falling near me and felt a terrible anguish; worried, she had come, all the women where there, up there at the same time as us, I don’t know how. It was not death waiting for us on the hills where the army was preparing the rifles, to join them to the ones of the Baignolles, seized during the night, but the surprise of a popular victory. Between us and the army, the women threw themselves over the canons and the machine guns; the soldiers remain still. While general Lecomte orders to shoot the crowd, a sub-official coming out of the ranks stands in front of his company and louder than Lacomte shouts: “butt in the air”. The soldiers obey. Verdaguerre was shot, for that event especially, by Versalles a few months later. The Revolution had been made.”
Yes, the hill of Montmartre here is the site of the revolution of 1871…but the marks, as you see, were methodically erased. That is how up there, in the hill of Montmartre, which became a high tourist place, the Basilica of Sacred Heart stands, built to redeem the crimes of the communards.
But on March 18th, 1871, the National Guard took over Paris.
In the face of this counteroffensive, Thiers and his government fled and arrived at Versalles during the afternoon. At midnight, the Central Committee of the National Guard took over the city. Here is where it all began, during the morning of March 18th, 1871.
Long live the Paris Commune!
Long Live the revolution and socialism!