Paris Rising

(1848)
   When the newly established Second Republic failed to meet the political, social and economic demands of Paris’ restless working classes, and furthermore curtailed much of what workers had gained in the years since the 1789 French Revolution, violence broke out in the French capital as radicals looked to bring about a further revolution. Turmoil never seemed far away between the February Revolution that created the Second Republic and the outbreak of violence in June. Elections at the end of April saw a reactionary government, bolstered by peasant votes, returned with a mandate to restore discipline and quash the socialist threat. The catalyst for disorder came on 21 June when the government announced plans to close down the National Workshops that guaranteed a safety net for the vulnerable of Paris. The Workshops, a working class gain of the February Revolution, supported a third of the adult population in Paris, but the new government saw them as an expensive communist experiment and decreed on 23 June to disband them inside three days, offering members the choice of army service, forced labor or dismissal instead. Confrontation had already been stirring between government and workers, with a vociferous demonstration on 15 May culminating in the appointment of the hard-line General Eugène Cavaignac to mobilize the National Guard for the defense of Paris. Cavaignac was granted dictatorial powers to halt the street confrontations and restore stability. Restive Parisians continued to agitate against the government throughout June, and toward the end of the month erected hundreds of barricades in preparation for a showdown with Cavaignac’s government troops.
   Following the National Assembly’s diktat against the National Workshops, tensions snapped and on 23 June a vicious battle broke out. Cavaignac ordered three columns to march into Paris and destroy the barricades, making gradual progress in the north of the city. Aday later on 24 June, aided by “red” hating National Guard soldiers drafted in from the provinces, his troops laid heavy siege on the Lamorcière region. By 26 June the Parisian rebels were surrounded by governmental troops in an ever-shrinking area to the east of the city, and Cavaignac’s men pressed on for a final assault. With many of the rebels untrained and crippled by a lack of communication with their fellow units, resistance capitulated fairly swiftly, and on 27 June the rebellion was resolutely defeated with the indiscriminate shooting of 3,000 prisoners by the National Guard. In all, up to 10,000 insurgents and 6,000 National Guards perished in the fighting, and 4,000 Parisian workers were deported.
   The immediate political beneficiaries of the rising were conservatives and monarchists, who had seen the radical threat diminished and the socialist experiment of the National Workshops condemned to history. Cavaignac himself relinquished his dictatorial powers on 28 June, but such was his popularity inside the reactionary National Assembly that he was subsequently named prime minister. However, it was Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte who benefited most from the return to order, as a shell-shocked bourgeoisie and peasantry joined his Catholic and monarchist supporters to elect him president in 1851. The repression that had met the protests of the Parisian workers had social repercussions too, as French class relations were influenced and embittered for many years to come.
   For Karl Marx, positive lessons could be drawn from the experience. He stressed that the 1848 Paris Rising had taught revolutionaries that the bourgeoisie could no longer be expected to play a progressive role as it had in France in 1789, as its fear of the working class outweighed its desire for reform and democratic rights. Instead, Marx proposed, the working class had now become the key dynamic for opposition and change in modern society.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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