Here is an authoritative guide to the biggest, and last, of the cycle of popular revolutions in Western Europe that began in 1789. In March 1871, the Parisians, reeling from defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing siege of Paris by the German army, set up their own revolutionary government in defiance of the National Assembly (based close by at Versailles) under Adolphe Thiers, which controlled the country at large. The Communards, who opposed the humiliating peace terms offered to the National Assembly by the victorious Germans, had their own agenda of economic and social reforms; and their numbers included republicans, socialists, anarchists, and even a few Marxists (Marx was himself greatly influenced by the episode). Troops of the National Assembly besieged Paris in turn, eventually retaking the city on 28 May 1872. In the final stages of resistance, the communards shot many of their hostages and burnt parts of the city, including the Tuileries. The government troops took a terrible revenge: thousands died in the bloodbath that followed.The short-lived Commune and its subsequent repression were important enough in their own right; but they cast an even longer shadow.
The divisions they caused or exposed in French politics and society were still were still painful generations later. But that shadow stretched beyond France: one of the most dramatic, and traumatic, episodes of the nineteenth century, the Commune became a symbol for the wider world, a potent inspiration for the radical left, and an awful warning to the conservative right.In his stirring account, Robert Tombs describes these tumultuous events, and sets them in their immediate political and social context - in particular seeking to understand who in Paris supported the Commune and what their motives were. He considers the Commune s long-term significance for both France and Europe; and he explores the diverse historical interpretations it has generated. The subject has attracted much recent research (though there has been no general study of the Commune in English for a generation), much of it from fresh angles - including gender, culture and community, all of which find their place here. This book makes that new work accessible to students and non-specialists, as well as introducing much previously unpublished material on its own account.
Admirers of Robert Tombs s celebrated France 1814-1914 - packed with telling detail and vivid human interest, as well as a masterly control of the larger picture - will know what to expect in these pages; and they will not be disappointed.ROBERT TOMBS is Reader in French History at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow and Tutor of St John s College, Cambridge.LONGMAN