During the 1871 Paris Commune, the people of Paris created the world’s first socialist state.
It was a moment of high drama in French history, where the suffering of the people under Louis-Napoleon III’s Second Empire, followed by the starvation, hunger and violence of the Prussian Siege, saw the people of Paris spontaneously seize power in a ‘peaceful’ Revolution.
What followed was a ten-week blossoming of social measures for the benefit of the people, including the secularisation of schools, the abolishment of the death penalty, measures for the education of girls and women, the introduction of social pensions, fair work measures introduced into workplaces, and a cap on the salaries of all elected representatives.
The ousted government in Versailles returned to attack the Commune after a month, and after six weeks of civil war, somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people were killed in one week in May, in what became known as ‘Bloody Week’. The Commune was defeated.
After Bloody Week, another 40,000 prisoners were taken to trial in Versailles, including 8,000 poor women, known as ‘pétroleuses’ (petrol girls), who were accused of setting fire to Paris.
Louise Michel turned herself in during Bloody Week, and represented herself spectacularly during her trial. She was exiled to New Caledonia for her unrelenting role in the Paris Commune.
Petrol Girls is a novel by Jade Maitre, which tells the story of Louise Michel and the events of the 1871 Paris Commune.