The crystal palace in London housed the exposition of 1851, the first worlds fair. Gaslight provided illumination and public toilets were installed. The machinery on exhibit captured the attention and imagination of observers and the exhibition represented the ascendancy of the British constitution, free trade and manufacturing. Britain was a model liberal state with a constitutional monarchy and the success of this form of government was reflected in its prosperity.
France too was now entering the industrial age and so too was Russia. France was a highly centralized empire with Napoleon III determined to bring economic progress through the strong involvement of the state. Following a disastrous war against Prussia the empire fell and was replaced by the third republic, a liberal regime with weak authority.
Russia remained an autocracy, the Tsar had absolute power but a bad bureaucratic system and the impossibility of reaching across the empire. Russian nobles dominated the peasants and Russia had no representative political system and only a tiny middle class. Tsar Alexander II emancipated the peasants in 1861 but this move failed to have any significant impact on the autocratic nature of the Russian empire. However, Russia was transformed by new ideas and opponents of autocratic authority and, like France, the unification of Germany had serious consequences for Russia.
Victorian Britain: Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert and had a maternal image in Britain and its colonies. Albert was a bit of a scatterbrain who relentlessly interfered with national and international affairs and thus irritated the government but Victoria’s dedication to him sparked some anti-German feeling in Britain. Albert organized the great exposition of 1851 in London and the massive affair offered hope for continued peace and prosperity in Europe through innovation and technological advancement. It was a celebration of the industrial age but also a demonstration of English ‘God given’ primacy in manufacturing and innovation.
Albert died of typhoid in 1861 and Victoria was devastated. She retreated for some years but reemerged to provide a focal point for a nation in the midst of transformation. She knew little about the lives of her subjects and showed little support for workers or for education of working classes. She was the personification of respectability.
The Victorian Consensus: This was formed around the capitalist entrepreneurial ethic emphasizing self reliance and faith in progress. The individual demonstrated his moral worth by hard work and competition would determine those who were fit to rule, not aristocratic monopoly or unearned privilege.
Darwin’s newly published ‘survival of the fittest theory’ in The Origin Of The Species implied that the natural order of things would eliminate the unfit and this was good news for confident Victorians but not for religion. The theory suggests that the state should stand back and let individuals alone to compete on the playing field of life.
Religious images and references permeated Victorian social and political discourse. Entrepreneurs believed they were doing Gods work. Many middle class Victorians wanted to make the lower classes more moral, temperance movements proliferated and charitable movements such as the Salvation Army began its work, offering assistance to those who would participate in religious revival services.
The Crimean War: In 1854 Britain found itself involved in a major war that ended the long peace since 1815. Britain entered the Crimean war to support the Turks against Russia. The Russians wanted control over the Straits of Constantinople which divide Europe from Asia and could provide the Russian navy with access to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
In the Ottoman Empire rulers had undertaken a series of major reforms of the empire in a period known as ‘Reorganization’ that lasted from 1839 to 1878. The life and property of all subjects of the empire and their equality before the law started the process of change. These were followed by establishment of penal and commercial codes, reform of justice, implementation of more central government thus reducing the powers of governors through the cation of a more efficient bureaucracy. These reforms pleased Britain and France because Ottoman markets were now open to foreign trade and furthermore the stability of the Ottoman Empire tempered Russian dreams of further expansion. With interests in Afghanistan, Britain was I’ll disposed to Russian expansion and increased British trade with the Turks was another factor for British involvement in the Crimean war.
The Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia in October 1853 and Russian Tsar Nicholas I’s fleet defeated the Ottoman fleet in the Black Sea and in response France and Britain sent warships in 1854 and declared war on Russia. The first correspondents sent dispatches by telegraph to eager readers in Britain and France, where interest in the distant siege dramatically increased newspaper circulation.
Into this maelstrom ventured Florence Nightingale, a nurse who volunteered for service in a Constantinople hospital after hearing of the appalling conditions endured by the wounded and sick. The Crimean war ground to a halt after Sebastopol finally capitulated in September 1855. The Crimean war left little doubt that Victorian Britain remained Europe’s strongest power.
The Liberal Era Of Victorian Politics: Britain entered a period of social harmony. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 convinced workers that they could trust political reform and middle class rulers broadened their appeal to include the most prosperous segments of the working class. Victorians felt themselves part of a nation with which they could identify. The formation of friendship societies and self help associations gave citizens an enhanced feeling of association with the nation. They gave a sense of respectability which discouraged militancy. Unions also had a big part to play in daily life and while strikes were tolerated there was always a willingness to arbitrate but never any threat to national security.
The Whigs governed for most of the 1850s and 1860s and was led by Henry John Temple who held together a government determined to uphold laissez faire economic policies. Gradually these Whigs began to be referred to as The Liberal Party.
William Gladstone led the Liberal Party but was loathed by Queen Victoria who blamed him for every national and international problem. She resented his campaign to limit the role of the monarchy in government.
The Reform Bill Of 1867: Ongoing reform was a certainty in Victorian Britain. Gladstone wanted limited reform of male suffrage and sought voting rights for the ‘elite of labor’ but not all males. The Conservatives feared that such enfranchisement would add to the ranks of Liberals which would weaken the strength of landowners and after some negotiation the Reform Bill of 1867 was passed and doubled the ranks of voters but still left Britain short of universal male suffrage. However, Britain was leading the way in the gradual emergence of democratic politics.
Other Victorian Reforms: In Britain the general consensus was that the invisible hand of the economy would generate economic growth. However, in the midst of rampant poverty Parliament passed laws to gather information about economic and social conditions. The age of statistics had arrived. In 1848 the General Board Of Health was formed but there was some opposition about interfering with the work of the invisible hand. But, the right of the state to intervene in the matter of health was established and working conditions, homes and general health issues became the focus of major concern. Health Boards were established, water supplies cleaned, workplaces inspected, and the age of optimism became the age of improvement. Civil service expanded as thousands of new jobs were created to administer the will of national and local governments. The age of laissez faire came to a close as politics expanded its role in economic and social affairs.
Mass Politics Comes To Britain: Under Liberal expansion threat the Conservatives leader Benjamin Disraeli made British nationalism and imperialism party of the party platform. The Conservative Party was reflecting an important change in British society. The split between city and country had disappeared as more and more ‘elite’ prospered due to a thriving economy. This new elite abandoned Liberalism and transferred allegiance to Conservatism to emulate the aristocrats they admired. The party became a party of great landed wealthy supporters.
Irish Home Rule: Liberals continued to be faced with the problems of Ireland. It seemed to Irish people that the only way to prosperity was by owning land and the Irish Land Act Of 1870 provided tenants with compensation for improvements they had undertaken and protected them from eviction. English Landlords were not willing to turn over land to peasants and the fall in prices for agricultural commodities made it harder for tenant farmers to meet rent payments. In 1879 the Irish Land League began to pressure Parliament for land reform. Charles Stewart Parnell, a liberal Irish Protestant, began to campaign for Irish Home Rule which meant a separate Irish Parliament but not independence. The Irish Catholic Church supported Home Rule but the Irish Land League wanted absolute independence and nothing short of it. Parnell was sent to prison for his violent anti British speeches and the British response to the Irish question was repression and aggression. Irish Republicans had become violent by 1882 and in the wake of numerous British deaths a Coercion Act facilitated the British Governments repression of republicans by eliminating their rights. Numerous Home Rules Bills were either defeated or failed up to 1893 and the question seemed unanswerable.
New Contours In British Political Life: Victoria’s dignified reign symbolized social and political stability. When King Edward VII, her son, inherited the throne his reign could not have been more different. Edward ‘the Caresser’ indulged his extravagant tastes in beautiful women, horses, food, wine and gambling. The Conservatives returned to power in 1895 and were aggressively nationalistic, imperialistic and anti socialist. British trade unionism entered a more aggressive phase and a new militant ‘new unionism’ led workers onto the streets to protest against unemployment and the high cost of living. Hundreds of thousands of militant workers were on the march all over Britain and the growing influence of the unions was immediately apparent. The state went on the offensive and started to penalize unions for losses during strikes. This move led to the creation of the Labour Party in 1893 that vowed to represent workers in Parliament. In 1905 the Labour Party had 25 seats and subsequently picketing was legalized and unions were relieved of responsibility for financial losses caused by strikes. David Lloyd George was a rising Liberal who had come to public attention due to his opposition to the Boer War. He wanted to counteract the movement of workers to the Labour Party by bringing workers into an alliance that would support Liberal social and political reforms. He proposed super taxes on the wealthy but the bill was vetoed in 1909 and an election was called and the Liberals returned to power.
Irish Home Rule was becoming inevitable as national sentiment led to more Gaelic speakers, more attention to Irish culture and music and less attention to British influences. Romantic writes such as Yeats and Joyce wrote about Ireland’s freedom and instilled in the nations people a sense of patriotism that inspired a relentless campaign for liberation from British rule. Irish Protestants living in Ulster did not want Home Rule which they identified with Catholic ‘Rome Rule’ and in 1913 they formed a paramilitary army of volunteers to fight the cause. At the same time, an Irish Republican Army was formed and old wounds were reopened. Ireland appeared to be on the verge of Civil War. But there were greater European problems than Ireland for the British Government.
Tsarist Russia: Autocratic Russia was now an absolutist state based on the alliance of the Tsar and nobles. The large Russian empire was multinational and ethnic Russians represented only half of the population. Ethnic resistance to the empire and to the Orthodox church increasingly challenged Russian domination. Since the ill fated Decemberist uprising of 1825 Russia had seen no major reforms with the exception of emancipation of serfs in the 1840s. The structure of the state remained the same but liberal ideas from the west had begun to filter into Russia via intellectuals. Peasants remained bound to the land by landlords and were alienated from society as no more than the mules that carried the burden of nobility. Revolution was perceived as inevitable as serfdom, not only inhumane, but also inefficient and thus the Tsar realized that Russia could only compete with the west if reform were to take place.
Stirrings Of Reform In Russia: Serfs lived under threat of harsh punishment if they failed to obey the ruling classes. The intelligentsia believed that revolution was the only way to change the social structure. Nicholas I was obsessed with isolating Russia from western thinking which he blamed for revolutionary ideas. The revolutions of 1848 increased his determination to stifle dissent. Political police ‘The Third Section’ enforced stringent laws against rebellion but they found it impossible to patrol the colossal empire. The empire became saturated with revolutionary books and journals and the small intelligentsia started to advocate change and it’s inevitability. Even Russian literature advocated change and writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were composing thinly disguised books declaring the necessity for change from the old regime.
Cultural backwardness was perceived by many writers as the reason why Russia was held back in terms of progress from the modern age of industrial and political progress. Socialism was a lady in existence in Russia because the rural communities, the small towns and villages, we’re already socialist in nature in that the people were a community of equals in the face of autocratic and noble exploitation.
The Emancipation Of The Serfs: In 1861 the serfs were emancipated and this was the most ambitious reform in Russia in the 19th Century. Alexander II was shocked at Russian defeat in the Crimean War and decided that emancipation of the peasants would mean Russia could compete with the West. Serfs had joined the Russian army in the run up to the Crimean War believing they would be freed when they came home and peasant rebellions became widespread as intellectuals denounced serfdom and demand freedom for serfs before they rose up to attain it themselves; an action that would have violent consequences for the Tsar. In 1861 Russia became the last state in Europe to denounce serfdom and serfs received land through the commune and nobles were compensated and the serfs were disappointed by the arrangement because it meant that while they owned the land they still remained owned by the landlords because the serfs had to pay high taxes. Former serfs were like hostages to their own communities who in turn had to pay the high taxes. Peasants needed permission to work elsewhere and flocked to the cities which grew by leaps and bounds.
In Russia the serfs were freed without bloodshed while in America (1861-1865) it took civil war to free the slaves. Unlike the American southern landed elite who went to war in defense of slavery the Russian nobility capitulated without resistance to emancipation. Americans considered private property more of an absolute right than did even Russian nobles who just wanted to extract services from peasants.
More reforms followed, the elimination of corrupt politicians, the setting up of regional assemblies (Zemstvos) and Dumas (Councils) with authority to access taxes and organize public services and education. The Tsar also introduced regional and lower courts as well as public trial by jury. In all this reform the Tsar had no intention of creating any kind of national representative institution that would undercut his authority. Russian reform had its limits.
The Expansion Of The Russian Empire: Revolts in Poland in 1863 where a national government was proclaimed and then crushed by Russian troops demonstrated that the Tsar would crack down by punishing severely any dissident states. Poland was turned into a province with an illusion of autonomy ended. Poland felt the effect of the repression even in Prussia where the government forbade sale of lands to clergy and Catholics.
In the Balkan states Pan-Slavism (a movement aimed at promoting the interests and unity of all Slavs) was an ideology that was gaining momentum. It proclaimed that all Slavs were in the same family and thus had nationalistic ideals. All across the Ottoman Empire pan-Slavism was on the increase and peasants were rebelling against high taxes and military presence and these insurgencies ultimately led to Wars in which the Ottoman Empire were defeated and forced to sign The Treaty of Sn Stefano (1878) with Russia which led to European wide concern at the expansion of Russian territory. Bismarck presided at the Congress of Berlin (1878) in which a new map of Europe was drawn. Russian expansion was starting to impinge on British interests near India, the gem of its empire. The Russian empire now included one-seventh of the worlds land mass and the movement east caused some concern and eventual conflict with China. However, the Chinese were powerless against Russian might but this was not the case with Japan.
Nihilists And Populists: Revolutionaries replaced the conscience stricken gentry of Russian autocracy. They were convinced that one spark would ignite a full blown revolution and thus many small groups revolted. Nihilists (skeptics) rejected materialist doctrines of the West and considered the Orthodox church as a tool of oppression. They saw in Russian masses an untapped revolutionary force that should be provoked to rise up against oppression. Nihilists believed in the power of literature and that violence was an acceptable way to achieve their goals.
Anarchists rejected the very existence of the state and quarreled with socialists who wanted not to destroy the state but take it over. The Populists developed the doctrines of enlightened thinkers and drew their support from circles of intellectuals and upper class Russians, former conscience stricken gentry and wanted to cause revolution by teaching the peasants. A wave of strikes had hit Russia and most believed that revolution was no longer in question and it was only a matter of when?
Numerous assassination attempts on Alexander II managed to placate him and he disbanded the Third Section, dismissed unpopular politicians and announced the formation of a new consultative assembly. But it was too late and assassins managed to eliminate him in 1881. It’s as not the spark that would ignite a revolution as millions of his supporters mourned him.
Alexander III Empire: following his fathers assassination Alexander III was in no mood to contemplate liberalization of imperial institutions. Liberals were closely scrutinized and stricter controls were put into place. The police could arrest and imprison anyone without reason but the ensuing trials of such prisoners brought about open discussion on the unfairness of the system towards the commoners. Meanwhile the empire was expanding and now comprised of 200 nationalities who spoke 146 languages. Alexander ordered the ‘Russification’ of the states and demanded that Russian be taught in all schools. The Orthodox churchman he’d campaigns against non orthodox religions and new laws enforced restrictions against Jews. Russification was nationalism under a new name.
Unrest, Reform And Revolution: The population of Russia were mostly poor. They were also badly educated yet literacy was not a major problem and most people found comfort in books and literature. The Industrialization of Europe was beginning to have an impact in Russia and business people started to rethink the older ways and saw the prospect of international trade as a means of progress instead of through violence and revolution. New revolutionary groups still believed the autocracy incapable of reformation and only revolution would bring reform. Marxists held the view that peasants had no true revolutionary potential in view of the fact that they seemed oblivious to their impossible living conditions and apparently accepting them as unavoidable for so many centuries. By 1900 the police had quashed most revolutionary groups and deported leaders into exile in Siberia and so, at the turn of the 20th Century it was commonly believed that revolution would never come to Russia.
Lenin And The Bolsheviks: Lenin was a political activist and academic who was banished to Siberia and returned in 1900 and by 1902 he published his work ‘What Is To Be Done?’ which was to become the basic tenets of a new revolutionary party. He rejected all compromise with liberals and believed that only a small few workers, alongside intellectuals, could succeed in directing the masses toward revolution. Lenin and his followers were known as Bolsheviks (Majority) and their rivals known as Mensheviks (Minority). The Menshevik believed that given sufficient time the bourgeois would revolt and the proletarians would enjoy the spoils in time to come and all that needed to be done now was to teach the lower orders through propaganda that this was how things were going to be.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) : The Russian empire lurched toward war with Japan. Russia viewed the expansion of Japanese interests in the Far East with concern. In 1904 Japanese torpedo boats launched on attack on a Russian fleet at Port Arthur and in 1905 Japanese troops defeated the Russians in the bloody battle of Mukden where, for the first time ever, two armies faced each other across trenches dug for protection. Two months later the Japanese pounced again and sunk nineteen Russian ships. Clearly from these events it was obvious that the Russian army was poorly commanded and fought with outdated artillery and rifles. American President Theodore Roosevelt arranged a treaty and Japan took control of Korea and a new world imperial power was born.
The Revolution Of 1905: a murderous famine in 1891-1892 was blamed on government inaction and had captured the worlds attention. The peasants revolted and attacked the nobility and a wave of industrial strike followed. The shocking defeats of the Russo-Japanese war increased calls for liberal reform. For the first time liberals and socialists (not Bolsheviks nor Mensheviks) came together n common opposition to autocracy. In January 1905 a strike by 100,000 workers brought St. Petersburg to a halt while in Warsaw a general strike brought violence and reprisals by troops. On January 22nd troops blocked protestors marching to the Tsar’s Winter Palace and after gunfire over 300 protestors had lost their lives. The action reenforced the view that the Tsar was unholy and willing to murder and maim any dissidents. Socialist Revolutionaries commenced a campaign of terror and all over Russia the peasants went on the attack. Orders organized unions and newspapers appeared in open defiance to censorship laws. Nicholas relented and appointed a new prime minister to quell the disorder and Sergei Witte was eager to make Russia a modern state and this could only be achieved through reforms. He persuaded Nicholas to rescind redemption payments, to allow use of all native tongues regardless of geographical location, to allow religious tolerance, to return trials to courts and to abolish some restrictions on Jews. Most importantly the Duma assembly chosen by universal male suffrage was formed and the press were given freedom of expression. These new reforms came as a big surprise to many but also bad news to state officials and nobles who deemed them unacceptable. However, The Soviets still felt that these changes were not enough andin a violent uprising in Moscow in 1905 many workers were arrested and the leaders were removed to exile and Soviets condemned and denied rights of congregation. A new organization of fanatical Russian nationalists known as The Black Hundreds went to rage war against the reformation and murdered hundreds of Jews, injured 5000 and left twice that number homeless. The protestors earned the praise of the Tsar who praised the ‘mass of loyal people’ who had struck out against ‘troublemakers’. Jews could be conveniently blamed for agitating against autocratic rule.
Meanwhile, the Duma debated land reform and Nicholas II demanded complete cooperating with his desires of an independent State Council with members drawn from loyal subjects willing to carry out his bidding. Witte would not agree and he was removed and the Duma dissolved. The revolution of 1905 ended in failure but heightened the divisions among exiled Russian socialists. It was clear that revolution was possible but next time around it should be as Marxist demanded; workers and peasants unite.
A second Duma was elected and soon dissolved by Nicholas II and he then changed the rules of election by giving nobles a greater power of vote and the third Duma was more to his liking because his supporters had control and endorsed repression and Russification. New lands became available in Siberia (just as in the American West) and peasants moved there with the promise of free land. A new surge of industrial strikes and peasant violence demonstrated continued popular dissatisfaction.
France: Second Empire And Third Republic: France remained Europes most revolutionary country. Louis Napoleon Bonapparte completed his destruction of the Second Republic in 1851, three years afte the revolting of 1848. He then proclaims himself Napoleon III with the support of the upper classes and many peasants. During the second republic wealthy businessmen became a form of aristocracy and money was the equivalent of blue blood. France was the only country with universal male suffrage and the emperor promoted economic growth, encouraged urban development, created banking institutions and constructed more railways. Napoleon III initiated the ‘liberal empire’ and encouraged and endorsed a series of liberal reforms.
The Authoritarian Empire: Ministers were responsible to the Emperor who alone could propose legislation. The state clamped down on political opposition, suppressed press freedom and sponsored ‘official’ candidates for election. The clergy remained grateful that during the second republic Napoleon III had returned education to them.
Economic Growth: French economic growth was rapid. The state had taken a direct role in stimulating the economy through encouragement and investment. Napoleon III encouraged the creation of state banks which provided loans to businessmen. French industries were also prospering and underwent unprecedented growth. France became a major exporter of capital and French investors financed railway systems across Europe. State encouragement of economic development was most obvious in its railway systems. Banks backed railway projects and these, in turn, stimulated the countries commercial and manufacturing boom. French railroads became one of the largest employers in Europe.
The Liberal Empire: France and Britain signed a liberal trade agreement n 1860 lowering tariff barriers between both nations. The treaty provided a sliding scale on import duties which aided wine producers selling n Britain. In time Press controls were relaxed and the National Assembly given the right to approve budgets. Napoleon III aligned France to Piedmont-Sardinia in a war with Austria and the French army defeated the Austrians and France gained Savoy and Nice, both long coveted. Further wars in Senegal, Lebanon and Indochina were fought but in Mexico a disaster struck. Napoleon believed that Mexico could be profitable for French exports and sent troops there and order was restored. In 1864 Napoleon proclaimed Austrian Archduke Maximilian as emperor of Mexico and the United States objected on the basis that it was a violation of the Monroe Doctrine which declared the western hemisphere off limits to European powers. The Mexicans did not want an Austrian ruler and patriots defeated French troops and Maximilian was executed. To the end Napoleon III manifested a bizarre combination of perceptive foresight and bad judgement.
The Franco Prussian War And The Siege Of Paris: Through the first half of 1870 a confrontational fever with Germany spread throughout France. On July 15 Emperor Napoleon III led his nation into one of the most disastrous wars in her history. The Franco-Prussian conflict did not officially commence until July 19, 1870. In the course of its first weeks it produced a series of demoralizing defeats for the French. The army of Napoleon III “went to war ill-equipped, badly led, trained and organized, and with inferior numbers.”
On August 19, one French army was trapped in the fortress of Metz and on September 1, the Empire of Napoleon III came crushing down when a second army was captured at Sedan with the Emperor himself. Three days later the news reached Paris and the fall of the Empire was proclaimed. The Empress left for England and a provisional government took power.
For the next five months, the “city of lights,” as Parisians had proudly proclaimed “the center of the universe,” was transformed. It became an army camp. French soldiers, National Guardsmen, volunteers-within, Prussian forces without. Luxuries, and then basic necessities slowly disappeared. Food became scarce, and the inhabitants resorted to edibles normally associated with other species. The government under General Trochu and leaders like Victor Hugo, Jules Favre, and Adolphe Thiers, tried to govern internal as well as external pressures. Finally, on January 27, an armistice was signed. It brought temporary calm to the capital, before the storm of the Paris commune and the second siege arrived.
The new government in Paris, after the defeat at Sedan, was composed in part by publicists, politicians, lawyers, and teachers who had opposed Louis Napoleon’s coup d’etat in 1851. “The Government of National Defense” was the official title, and nearly all kinds of political opinions were included, with the exception of the Bonapartists. The actual power rested with the Legitimists, Orleanists, and other conservatives. General Trochu, military governor of Paris and an Orleanist, held the presidency. Others included Leon Gambetta-minister of the Interior, General Le Flo- Minister for War, Jules Favre-Minister of Foreign Affairs and vice-president, Victor Hugo, Count Henri Rochefort-journalist and political enemy of Napoleon III who spent many years in prison, and Adolphe Thiers-the old minister of Louis Phillipe who went on diplomatic missions for the new republic.
Besides the day-to-day operation of the government, the three main objectives of the Government of National Defense were the procurement of a favorable peace treaty, enlistment of the aid of foreign powers, and the military preparation of Paris. The first objective got off to a bad start on September 6 when Jules Favre announced, “France would not give up an inch of her territory nor a stone of her fortresses.” This attitude went counter to that of Otto Von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, who saw the cession of territory as being as indispensable to the Prussians as it was inadmissible to the French. Bismarck demanded the immediate turnover of Alsace-Lorraine as well as Metz, Strasbourg, and Mont-Valerien (the fortress commanding Paris). Bismarck’s proposals were rejected and the government was forced to defend the city and continue the war.
Negotiations continued; however, nothing concrete came out of them until the end of January when Jules Favre was sent to Versailles to discuss the terms of armistice. By this time Paris had been bombarded, food and other essential stores were nearly exhausted, and Prussian victories throughout the rest of France were a daily occurrence. The armistice was to set up the preliminary conditions for a peace treaty to be signed. Its terms included the surrender of all French fortifications, except those serving as prisons; laying down their weapons with the exception of the Army which was to act independently for the maintenance of order, the immediate exchange of prisoners, and Paris was to pay 200,000,000 francs for war reparations within a fortnight. Also, anyone leaving the city needed a French military pass.
Back in September, the French government began pursuing the second objective, acquiring foreign aid, when Thiers was sent to England, Austria, and Russia to enlist help. He was sympathetically welcomed, but was unable to shore up any support. Only America showed enthusiasm for the new French Republic, however they were not yet ready to intervene on their behalf. Thiers tried again in October with the same results. From that point on he was used solely as the representative of the French government in the ongoing negotiations with Bismarck.
Prior to the investment of Paris, the provisional government made efforts to prepare the military forces of the city. These efforts included: manpower allocations, defensive fortification and supplies. Troops were brought back from the surrounding provinces. General Vinoy’s forces, which escaped capture at Sedan, were later consolidated with those of the provinces. Together they became the Provincial Mobile Guard. Meanwhile the National Guard furnished sufficient manpower to increase its size from 90,000 to more than 300,000 men.
Another aspect of the military preparation was the establishment of strong defensive fortifications. The forts in the vicinity of Paris were abandoned because it would have required too much work and time to get them ready, and the decision was made to move the defensive lines closer to the city’s environs. All forests and wooded areas deemed favorable to enemy advantage were cut. Thus were the forests of Montmorency, Bundy, Boulogne, and Vincennes treated.
The allocation of supplies was vital to the defense of Paris. Barracks, hospitals and factories for the manufacture of military hardware were established all over the city. Railway shops became cannon foundries, while tobacco factories became arsenals. The Louvre was transformed into an armament shop after the art gallery was moved for safekeeping. Balloons were constructed at the Orleans railway stations. Hotels, department stores, theaters, and public buildings served as hospitals. The Tuileries and the Napoleon and Empress Circuses became barracks.
When in action, all the forces were under the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and subject to military law. Most of these actions centered on small sorties, unassumingly called “reconnaissances.” In late September 1870, the objects of the sorties were to test the tenacity of the troops and probe the Prussian circle to determine its vulnerability.
As for the Prussians, once the city was surrounded and more troops made available for the siege, the question was whether to bombard the capital or starve it into surrender. In his diary entry for October 8, Crown Prince Frederick states, “we shall certainly have to make up our minds to a bombardment of Paris… but to postpone as long as possible their actual accomplishment, for I count definitely on starving out the city.” The bombardment did not begin until January 4.
The arrival of the shelling did not panic the Parisians. They had been expecting it since October. Precautions were taken to protect all works of art. Sandbags were placed in the windows of the Louvre, the School of Fine Arts and other important buildings, while outside monuments were taken underground. The bombardment lasted twenty-three days, usually from two to five hours each night. In the end, the Parisians refused to be intimidated and the psychological advantage of this tactic was lost.
The siege of Paris slowly made its impact in an area critical to survival: the economy. According to a correspondent for The Times of London, “Business for France is everywhere broken up, and one-third of the country is devastated and ruined.” The first segment to directly feel the enclosure was the import and export activity. In order to survive, Paris needed a self-supporting economy, while also channeling most of its resources for the defense. Factories were now employed in making military necessities, instead of consumer goods. When the siege dragged on, the prospects for a speedy recovery evaporated and finally gave out completely when the bombardment began as some of those factories, in conjunction with other businesses, were damaged. The Prussians might not have been purposely inclined to destroy the French economy, except in one particular area: food consumption.
The government’s failure to establish a census system early during the siege caused it to miscalculate on its supply of comestibles, playing into the hands of the invaders. The census did not take place until December 30 and it was discovered that Paris contained a population of 2,005,709 residents excluding the armed forces. The government however, did ask foreigners to leave, but the number who did was offset by the arrival of refugees from the provinces. This number of inhabitants and the Prussian encirclement had disastrous consequences.
Early in 1870, the price of food had increased and by the start of the Franco-Prussian conflict it was 25 percent higher. Prices did not go much higher because the government announced the number of cattle, sheep, and hogs within Paris to be adequate. However, everyone, even the government, believed the siege would last a very short time, perhaps a maximum of two months. The situation did not change until the early days of October.
A few days before October 15, butchers suddenly refused to sell more than a day’s ration. On October 15, the official rationing of meat began and continued throughout the entire siege, each portion becoming smaller and smaller. Eventually, nothing was left and Parisians resorted to other types of meat.
The first substitute for the regular meat diet was horse. Parisians disdained it, at first, and it took the Horse-Eating Society to inform the public of the advantages to eating horse. When it finally came down to eating them, all breeds were included, from thoroughbred to mules. With time even this type of nourishment became rare, so other meats were introduced into the diet. Dogs, cats, and rats were frequently eaten. The animals of the zoo were added to this diet, including Castor and Pollux, the two elephants that were the pride of Paris. Only the lions, tigers, and monkeys were spared; the big cats for the difficulty of approaching them, the monkeys because of “some vague Darwinian notion that they were the relatives of the people of Paris and eating them would be tantamount to cannibalism.”
During the middle of January, the government placed bread on the ration list, setting the daily quota at 300 grams for adults and half that amount for children. Parisians then realized that they were on the verge of starvation. As for the Prussians, this meant a quick solution to the conflict as Frederick III writes on his diary entry for January 7, “There is news from Bordeaux that provisions in Paris would be exhausted about the end of January, and at best could only last until early in February. I trust this may be true.”
The terrible ordeal suffered by Paris between 1870-1871 was not their first, according to a German newspaper story reprinted in The Times. In 1590, Henry IV stood before Paris much like Bismarck was doing, and the city knew nothing worse. According to the story, the people of Paris forgot what meat was and they had to subsist on leaves or roots dug up from under stones. Terrible diseases broke out and in three months 12,000 people died. Bread no longer existed while all the dogs were captured and eaten. The maledictions associated with siege warfare were no strangers to Parisians; however, the peace treaty with Germany brought needed relief before the arrival of the Paris Commune with its own set of trials and tribulations.
The Paris Commune: The Paris Commune, the first successful worker’s revolution, existed from March 26 to May 30, 1871. Following the defeat of France (ruled at the time by Louis Bonaparte) in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, the Government of National Defense concluded the war with the Germans on harsh terms – namely the occupation of Paris, which had heroically withstood a six months siege by the German armies.
Paris workers reacted angrily to German occupation, and refused to cooperate with the German soldiers; being so bold as to limit the area of German occupation to only a few parks in a small corner of the city, and keeping a very watchful eye over the German soldiers to ensure that they not cross those boundaries. On March 18, the new French government, led by Thiers, having gained the permission of Germany, sent its army into Paris to capture the military arms within the city to insure that the Paris workers would not be armed and resist the Germans. The Paris workers peacefully refused to allow the French Army to capture the weapons, and as a result the French Government of “National Defense” declared War on the city of Paris. On March 26, 1871, in a wave of popular support, a municipal council composed of workers and soldiers – the Paris Commune – was elected. Throughout France support rapidly spread to the workers of Paris, a wildfire which was quickly and brutally stamped out by the government. The workers of Paris, however, would be another problem. Within Paris, the first workers government was being created:
On March 26 the Paris Commune was elected and on March 28 it was proclaimed. The Central Committee of the National Guard, which up to then had carried on the government, handed in its resignation to the National Guard, after it had first decreed the abolition of the scandalous Paris “Morality Police”. On March 30 the Commune abolished conscription and the standing army, and declared that the National Guard, in which all citizens capable of bearing arms were to be enrolled, was to be the sole armed force. It remitted all payments of rent for dwelling houses from October 1870 until April, the amounts already paid to be reckoned to a future rental period, and stopped all sales of article pledged in the municipal pawnshops. On the same day the foreigners elected to the Commune were confirmed in office, because “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic”.
On April 1 it was decided that the highest salary received by any employee of the Commune, and therefore also by its members themselves, might not exceed 6,000 francs. On the following day the Commune decreed the separation of the Church from the State, and the abolition of all state payments for religious purposes as well as the transformation of all Church property into national property; as a result of which, on April 8, a decree excluding from the schools all religious symbols, pictures, dogmas, prayers – in a word, “all that belongs to the sphere of the individual’s conscience” – was ordered to be excluded from the schools, and this decree was gradually applied. On the 5th, day after day, in reply to the shooting of the Commune’s fighters captured by the Versailles troops, a decree was issued for imprisonment of hostages, but it was never carried into effect. On the 6th, the guillotine was brought out by the 137th battalion of the National guard, and publicly burnt, amid great popular rejoicing. On the 12th, the Commune decided that the Victory Column on the Place Vendôme, which had been cast from guns captured by napoleon after the war of 1809, should be demolished as a symbol of chauvinism and incitement to national hatred. This decree was carried out on May 16. On April 16 the Commune ordered a statistical tabulation of factories which had been closed down by the manufacturers, and the working out of plans for the carrying on of these factories by workers formerly employed in them, who were to be organized in co-operative societies, and also plans for the organization of these co-operatives in one great union. On the 20th the Commune abolished night work for bakers, and also the workers’ registration cards, which since the Second Empire had been run as a monopoly by police nominees – exploiters of the first rank; the issuing of these registration cards was transferred to the mayors of the 20 arrondissements of Paris. On April 30, the Commune ordered the closing of the pawnshops, on the ground that they were a private exploitation of labor, and were in contradiction with the right of the workers to their instruments of labor and to credit. On May 5 it ordered the demolition of the Chapel of Atonement, which had been built in expiation of the execution of Louis XVI.
Frederick Engels: Introduction to The Civil War in France: Less than three months after the Commune was elected, the city of Paris was attacked by the strongest army the French government could muster. 30,000 unarmed workers were massacred, shot by the thousands in the streets of Paris. Thousands more were arrested and 7,000 were exiled forever from France.
On April 7, the Versailles troops had captured the Seine crossing at Neuilly, on the western front of Paris; on the other hand, in an attack on the southern front on the 11th they were repulsed with heavy losses by General Eudes. Paris was continually bombarded and, moreover, by the very people who had stigmatized as a sacrilege the bombardment of the same city by the Prussians. These same people now begged the Prussian government for the hasty return of the French soldiers taken prisoner at Sedan and Metz, in order that they might recapture Paris for them. From the beginning of May the gradual arrival of these troops gave the Versailles forces a decided ascendancy. This already became evident when, on April 23, Thiers broke off the negotiations for the exchange, proposed by Commune, of the Archbishop of Paris (Georges Darboy) and a whole number of other priests held hostages in Paris, for only one man, Blanqui, who had twice been elected to the Commune but was a prisoner in Clairvaux. And even more in the changed langauge of Thiers; previously procrastinating and equivocal, he now suddenly became insolent, threatening, brutal. The Versailles forces took the redoubt of Moulin Saquet on the southern front, on May 3; on the 9th, Fort Issy, which had been completely reduced to ruins by gunfire; and on the 14th, Fort Vanves. On the western front they advanced gradually, capturing the numerous villages and buildings which extended up to the city wall, until they reached the main wall itself; on the 21st, thanks to treachery and the carelessness of the National Guards stationed there, they succeeded in forcing their way into the city. The Prussians who held the northern and eastern forts allowed the Versailles troops to advance across the land north of the city, which was forbidden ground to them under the armistice, and thus to march forward and attack on a long front, which the Parisians naturally thought covered by the armistice, and therefore held only with weak forces. As a result of this, only a weak resistance was put up in the western half of Paris, in the luxury city proper; it grew stronger and more tenacious the nearer the incoming troops approached the eastern half, the real working class city.
It was only after eight days’ fighting that the last defender of the Commune were overwhelmed on the heights of Belleville and Menilmontant; and then the massacre of defenceless men, women, and children, which had been raging all through the week on an increasing scale, reached its zenith. The breech-loaders could no longer kill fast enough; the vanquished workers were shot down in hundred by Mitrailleuse fire (over 30,000 citizens of Paris were massacred). The “Wall of the Federals” (aka Wall of the Communards) at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, where the final mass murder was consummated, is still standing today, a mute but eloquent testimony to the savagery of which the ruling class is capable as soon as the working class dares to come out for its rights. Then came the mass arrests (38,000 workers arrested); when the slaughter of them all proved to be impossible, the shooting of victims arbitrarily selected from the prisoners’ ranks, and the removal of the rest to great camps where they awaited trial by courts-martial. The Prussian troops surrounding the northern half of Paris had orders not to allow any fugitives to pass; but the officers often shut their eyes when the soldiers paid more obedience to the dictates of humanity than to those of the General Staff; particularly, honour is due to the Saxon army corps, which behaved very humanely and let through many workers who were obviously fighters for the Commune.
Republican France: The national assembly elected in 1871 had a monarchist majority but the people of France wanted a republic. Gradually the third republic took hold and by 1899 it was radical.
Monarchists And Republicans: The Bourbon pretender to the throne of France was the Count of Chambord and his was the old Bourbon royal line. The close association between monarchism and the Catholic Church and Leon Gambetta, a radical republican, opposed the political dominion of the ‘notables’, the wealthiest men in France. Thiers had resigned under monarchist pressure in 1873 and Prussian troops marched out of France after the French government paid off its war debts. The monarchists seeing their majority eroding in the National Assembly elected as President Marshal MacMahon, a Crimean war hero, who favoured monarchist restoration. The new government of ‘moral order’ was closely tied to the church, suppressed freedom of press, closed hundreds of cafes (meeting places for radicals and liberals), and banned public celebration of the French Revolution on July 14th. For the moment the government was a republic with monarchist political institutions. French voters returned republican candidates in two elections and MacMahon relented and resigned with his monarchist ideals left in tatters.
The Third Republic: The French Third Republic was the governing body of France between the Second Empire and the Fourth Republic. It was a republican parliamentary democracy that was created on September 4, 1870 following the collapse of the Empire of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War. It survived until the invasion of France by the German Third Reich in 1940.
In many ways it was an accidental and unloved republic, that stumbled from crisis to crisis before its final collapse. It was never intended to be a long-term republic at all.
Napoleon III had become the second Emperor of France in 1852, following in the footsteps of his uncle Napoleon I. However, the French Second Empire lasted only eighteen years because of the emergence of another world power, one that was to profoundly transform the balance of power in Europe – the German Empire.
Chancellor Bismarck of Prussia, who sought to bring his state to ascendancy in Germany, realized that if a German Empire was to be created, the French Empire, which would never tolerate a powerful neighbour at its borders, must fall. Through clever manipulation of the Ems Dispatch, Bismarck goaded France into the Franco-Prussian War, which led to the French emperor’s defeat and overthrow.
After Napoleon’s capture by the Prussians at Sedan, France became a de facto conservative republic, although the revolutionary Paris Commune held out until its bloody suppression in May 1871.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the regime of Napoleon III, the clear majority of French people and the overwhelming majority of the French National Assembly wished to return to a constitutional monarchy. In 1871, the throne was offered to the Comte de Chambord, alias Henry V, the Legitimist pretender to the French throne since the abdication of Charles X, who had abdicated in favour of him, in 1830. Chambord, then a child, had had the throne snatched from his grasp in 1830.
In 1871 Chambord had no wish to be a constitutional monarch but a semi-absolutist one like his grandfather Charles X. Moreover – and this became the ultimate reason the restoration never occurred – he refused to reign over a state that used the Tricolore that was associated with the Revolution of 1789 and the July Monarchy of the man who seized the throne from him in 1830, the citizen-king, Louis Philippe, King of the French. However much France wanted a restored monarchy, it was unwilling to surrender its popular tricolour.
Instead a “temporary” republic was established, pending the death of the elderly childless Chambord and the succession of his more liberal heir, the Comte de Paris.
In February 1875, a series of parliamentary Acts established the organic or constitutional laws of the new republic. At its apex was a President of the Republic. A two-chamber parliament was created, along with a ministry under a prime minister (named “President of the Council”) who was nominally answerable to both the President of the Republic and parliament. Throughout the 1870s, the issue of monarchy versus republic dominated public debate.
On May 16, 1877, with public opinion swinging heavily in favour of a republic, the President of the Republic, Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta, himself a monarchist, made one last desperate attempt to salvage the monarchical cause by dismissing the republic-minded prime minister and appointing a monarchist duke to office. He then dissolved parliament and called a general election (October 1877).
If his hope had been to halt the move towards republicanism, it backfired spectacularly, with the President being accused of having staged a constitutional coup d’état, known as le seize Mai after the date on which it happened.
Republicans returned triumphant, finally killing off the prospect of a restored French monarchy. MacMahon himself resigned on January 28, 1879, leaving a seriously weakened presidency, so weakened indeed that not until Charles de Gaulle eighty years later did another President of France unilaterally dissolve parliament. To mark the final end of French monarchism as a serious political force, in 1885 the French Crown Jewels were broken up and sold. Only a few crowns, their precious gems replaced by coloured glass, were kept.
Though France was clearly republican, it was not in love with its Third Republic. Governments collapsed with regularity, rarely lasting more than a couple of months, as radicals, socialists, liberals, conservatives, republicans and monarchists all fought for control. The Republic was also rocked by a series of crises, none more notorious that the Dreyfus Affair in 1894, when a Jewish officer in the French Army was wrongly jailed on charges of spying for Germany.
This claim played on all the fears and perspectives of all sides. Monarchists and right-wing Roman Catholics, many of whom were anti-Semitic, and in some cases blaming a “Jewish plot” for the triumph of republicanism, immediately attacked Dreyfus and refused to consider the possibility that he was innocent.
Others on the left, still fighting the ‘monarchy versus republic’ battle, championed his cause, irrespective of his guilt or innocence. When it became clear that he was indeed totally innocent and the victim of a conspiracy, the state itself failed to accept his innocence straight away, and even when he was released from his exile, whispering campaigns still suggested he was actually guilty.
In the aftermath of the affair, when the truth finally did come out, the reputations of monarchists and conservative Catholics, who had expressed unbridled anti-Semitism, were severely damaged. So too was the state by its unwillingness to right what had clearly been a major wrong visited on an innocent and loyal officer.
Despite this turmoil, the midpoint of the Third Republic was known as the belle époque in France, a golden time of beauty, innovation, and peace with its European neighbours. New inventions made life easier at all social levels, the cultural scene thrived, cabaret, cancan, and the cinema were born, and art took new forms with Impressionism and Art Nouveau. But the glory of this turn-of-the-century time period came to an end with the outbreak of World War One.
Throughout its seventy-year history, the Third Republic stumbled from crisis to crisis, from collapsing governments to the appointment of a mentally ill president. It struggled through the German invasion of World War One and the inter-war years.
When the Nazi invasion occurred in 1940, the Republic was so disliked by enemies on the right – who sought a powerful bulwark against Communism – and on the far left – where Communists initially followed their movement’s international line of refusing to defend “bourgeois” regimes -that few had the stomach to fight for its survival, even if they disapproved of German occupation of northern France and the collaborationist Vichy regime established in the south.
When France was finally liberated, few called for the restoration of the Third Republic, and a Constituent Assembly was established in 1946 to draft a constitution for a successor, established as the Fourth Republic that December.
Adolphe Thiers, the first president of the Third Republic, called republicanism in the 1870s “the form of government that divides France least.” France might have agreed about being a republic, but it never fully agreed with the Third Republic. France’s longest lasting regime since before the 1789 revolution, the Third Republic was consigned to the history books, as unloved at the end as it had been when first created seventy years earlier. But its longevity showed that it was capable of weathering many a storm.
General Boulanger and Captain Dreyfus: On September 30, 1891 a distraught Frenchman, Georges Boulanger, a former general in the French army and a fugitive from French justice, committed suicide at the gravesite of his late mistress in the cemetery in Ixelles, Belgium. With this act the epic of Boulangism, the movement inspired by Boulanger that had quickly grown and quickly died, which had swept France and had nearly resulted in the death of the Third Republic and the establishment of a dictatorship, had come to an end.
The movement that had grown around Boulanger’s name was perhaps the first of its kind, a combination of royalists, Bonapartists, Republicans, socialists, and Blanquists. If it resembles any movement in this strange mix of followers it is Peronism, which was also able to attract followers from all ends of the political spectrum around the figure of a general. And like Peronism, Boulangism was able to do this because it can justly be said of the man at the heart of it that, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no there there.
It was able to do this, people of all political stripes were able to see Boulanger as one of their own, because the program of General Boulanger, published as a broadsheet in 1888 was full of empty phrases: “Boulanger is work,” “Boulanger is honesty,” “Boulanger is the people” … He called for a revision of the constitution, yet never said in what that revision would consist. His slogan of “dissolution, revision, a constituent assembly” repeated slogans that had been in the air for years. And yet, the vast movement that rallied around him and attracted followers from all classes, all professions, and all political beliefs nearly put an end to the republic.
But more significantly, in the words of the historian Zeev Sternhell in his “La Droite Révolutionnaire” (The Revolutionary Right), “Boulangism… was, in France, the place where and a certain form of non-Marxist, anti-Marxist, or already even a post-Marxist socialism were stitched together.” But for Sternhell Boulangism goes even farther: The synthesis of the various currents that united behind the general included Blanquism, “which rose up against the bourgeois order , [and] the nationalists [who rose up] against the political order that is its expression.” This amalgamation was to result in something far more grave: “After the war this synthesis would bear the name fascism.” And so we must ask, who was Georges Boulanger and what precisely was Boulangism?
Georges Boulanger himself was a career military man who, in 1870, participated in the defense of Paris against the Prussians and who fought against the Commune. But he was wounded in the fighting and did not participate in the massacres of ten of thousands of workers during the Bloody Week that ended the Commune. This fortuitous wound would allow him to obtain working class support that otherwise would have been denied him.
In January 1886, at the recommendation of his high school classmate (and future political foe) Georges Clemenceau, Boulanger was named Minister of War in the Freycinet government, quickly moving to implement laws and regulations that earned him popular support. Forestalling any possibility of a coup, he transferred a group of royalist officers to posts distant from each other, and members of royal houses were expelled from the army. He also implemented seemingly minor reforms that earned him even greater popularity, authorizing the wearing of beards, modifying uniforms, and replacing straw mattresses with spring mattresses. In a presage of what was to come, and in what was to serve as a stage on his road to power, he re-established the Bastille Day review, and of greater importance still, he refused to send troops to crush a strike in the town of Decazeville.
At the first of the reviews, that of July 14, 1886, Boulanger received more applause than the president, Jules Grévy, and in another foreshadowing of what was to come, his presence at the review inspired the writing of a popular tune: “En r’venant d’la r’vue” (“While Goin’ Home From the Review”) At the height of his popularity the writing of songs about the man and the mass production of his image were hugely profitable industries.
Boulanger firmed up his nationalist credentials by his role in the Schnaebelé Affair, in which a French spy, Gustave Schnaebelé was seized by German authorities on French soil. The spy had been put to work by Boulanger as Minister of War without consulting with his colleagues, which caused disquiet in government circles. But the spy ring had been established with an eye to recapturing the provinces lost in the Franco-Prussian war, which earned Boulanger the admiration of the revanchist right.
Populism, nationalism, defense of the rights of workers; everything was in place for the birth of the movement that would bear the general’s name.
Boulanger’s popularity had become so bothersome to those in power that he was not only removed from his ministry in May 1887, but the Rouvier government decided that the time had come to send him far from the Parisian crowds that so adored him. But when on July 8, 1887 he climbed aboard the train that was to take him to his new posting in Clermont-Ferrand, a crowd assaulted the train and tried to prevent the general’s departure.
And already, without having formally presented himself as a candidate, at the call of the propagandist Henri Rochefort, Boulanger had received 100,000 votes in partial elections in the district of the Seine.
Early in 1888 Boulanger’s political base widened when he met in secret with Prince Bonaparte, as a result of which he was officially presented as the Bonapartist candidate in seven departments. The ironies and contradictions already abound: Boulanger the Bonapartist candidate is loudly supported by Rochefort, whose opposition to Louis Bonaparte had led to his exile.
The contradictions and ironies were to only increase when Boulanger had his military functions lifted because of his electoral activities and he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1888 after running in two departments.
Boulanger, with his growing support, was now viewed by all those who opposed the republic as the man of the hour. Monarchists gave him their support as the person most likely to destroy the bourgeois republic they so hated; the extreme left gave him their support as the man most likely to bring down the bourgeois republic they so hated. The most vocal of nationalists, Paul Déroulède and his League of Patriots, and Maurice Barrès, the literary voice of the right, were active supporters. The Boulanger machine was in full motion.
From 1888-1889 Boulanger went from victory to victory, winning elections in seven different districts. Blanquists, the most intransigent of revolutionaries (but who were not immune to the temptations of nationalism and anti-Semitism) , were to say that with Boulanger “the revolution has begun,” and that Boulangism is “a labor of clearing away, of disorganizing the bourgeois parties.” So close were the ties between the extreme left and Boulangism that the police were convinced that secret accords had been drawn up between the two forces. And though the official Blanquist bodies were split as to how far they’d go in following Boulanger, it is a fact that the Boulangist movement’s strongest electoral showing was in the Blanquist strongholds in Paris. Indeed, throughout France, it was in working class centers that Boulanger garnered his greatest successes.
We can multiply the number of quotations from those on the left who either supported Boulangism or refused to openly or uncompromisingly oppose it. Paul Lafargue, the great socialist leader and theoretician, who in 1887 wrote a bitingly mocking article on Boulangism, also wrote to Engels that “Boulangism is a popular movement that is in many ways justifiable.” The followers of the other great Marxist if the generation, Jules Guesde, wrote that “the Ferryist danger being as much to be feared as the Boulangist peril, revolutionaries should favor neither the one nor the other, and shouldn’t play the bourgeoisie’s game by helping it combat the man who at present is its most redoubtable adversary.”
But not everyone on the left was willing to go along with or refuse to block the Boulangist juggernaut. Jean Jaurès wrote that Boulangism is “a great movement of socialism gone astray,” and the Communard and historian of the Commune P-O Lissagaray was a motive force behind the Société des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, which was formed to combat Boulangism and defend democracy, uniting in the group socialists, republicans, students and Freemasons.
It was only later, with the publications of works by members of the Boulangist inner circle, that the close ties between Boulanger and monarchists and bankers were to be confirmed and become widely known.
And yet, the moment and movement were to end quickly and ignominiously. Standing as a candidate in Paris in January 1889, Boulanger won the election by 80,000 votes of the 400,000 cast.
A huge crowd gathered to acclaim him as he celebrated his victory at the Café Durand and pressed him to finally seize power. He refused to do so, and the government launched a legal attack on the man and the movement. Warned he would be arrested, accompanied by his mistress, Mme Bonnemains, Boulanger fled to Belgium. The movement immediately collapsed, and Boulanger and two of his closest lieutenants, Rochefort and Count Dillon, were tired and condemned in absentia for plotting against internal security.
In July 1891 Boulanger’s mistress died, and on September 30 of the same year the defeated, disconsolate Boulanger, ended his own life.
Within a few years the toxic Boulangist mix of nationalism and socialism, now leavened with overt anti-Semitism (Boulanger’s propagandist and co-defendant Henri Rochefort led the way in this regard) was to find its cause in anti-Dreyfusism; decades later variants of Boulangist national socialism were to make an even more somber appearance.
Captain Dreyfus: The Dreyfus affair (French: l’affaire Dreyfus, pronounced: [a.fɛʁ dʁɛ.fys]) was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil’s Island in French Guiana and placed in solitary confinement, where he was to spend almost 5 years under the most inhumane conditions.
Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after the second day of his trial. The Army accused Dreyfus of additional charges based on false documents fabricated by a French counter-intelligence officer, Hubert-Joseph Henry, who was seeking to re-confirm Dreyfus’s conviction. Henry’s superiors accepted his documents without full examination.
Word of the military court’s framing of Alfred Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, chiefly due to J’accuse, a vehement public open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Progressive activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1899 Dreyfus was brought back to Paris from Guiana for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (the Dreyfusards), such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clémenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Hubert-Joseph Henry and Edouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the anti-semitic newspaper La Libre Parole.
Eventually, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. In 1906 Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Conclusion: The second half of the 19th century brought about significant change to three European powers that had been at the strongest at mid century. In Britain the second Reform Bill of 1867 expanded the electoral franchise and another law in 1884 followed suit. After the collapse of the second empire in 1870 and the Paris Commune the following year France emerged as a republic. In Russia, reforms in the lead up to the revolution of 1905 challenged the foundations of autocracy. In the meantime Britain could dominate international affairs because of its economic strength and its great navy. Having defeated Austria and France, Prussia emerged as the leader of a unified and powerful Germany, dominant in central Europe. At the same time, the second industrial revolution brought about remarkable technological advances, increased mass production and large cities bathed in electric light.