Seeds of Fire: A People’s Chronology

Recalling events that happened on this day in history.
Memories of struggle, resistance and persistence.

Compiled by Ulli Diemer

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March 18, 1871
The Paris Commune. An uprising in Paris turns into revolution. France has just been defeated in a war with Prussia. In Paris, hundreds of thousands of citizens, predominantly workers, are part of the National Guard militia. National Guard units elect their own officers, and closely reflect the mood of the population, which is increasingly demanding radical changes, summed up in the slogan “a democratic and social republic.”

The French government, led by Adolphe Thiers, fears the workers of Paris more than it fears the Prussians. It sends regular troops to seize the cannons belonging to the National Guard. The citizens resist, and instead of carrying out their orders, the soldiers fraternize with the National Guard and the citizens in the street. Two army generals who order their soldiers to fire on the crowds are arrested and executed. The government flees.

The Central Committee of the National Guard is now the only effective authority in Paris. Elections are called for March 26 for a Communal Council, and on March 28 the Paris Commune is proclaimed. It is the first working-class-led revolution to hold power anywhere in the world.

In the two months of its life the Commune takes a series of radical measures, including:
- Abolition of conscription and the standing army;
- Abolition of the ‘morality police’ which polices the morals of women;
- Separation of church and state and the abolition of all state payments for religious purposes;
- Removal of church influence from the schools;
- Confirmation of the right of foreigners to be elected to the Commune Council because the red flag of the Commune “is the flag of the World Republic:”
- Abolition of night work in the bakeries;
- Closing down pawnshops;
- Cancelling interest on debts;
- Recognizing the right of workers to take over factories abandoned by their owners.

The Commune takes over the provision of public services for the whole city, as well as the defense of the city, and makes plans for a series of further reforms, including publicly funded continuing education and technical training.

The Commune terrifies both the French ruling class and the Prussian ruling class. They forget about their war, and unite to crush the Commune. The Prussians release the French troops they are holding as prisoners of war, and return them to the command of the Thiers government to use against Paris. The Commune resists heroically, but in May, after a week of fierce fighting, the Paris Commune is crushed by overwhelming military force and its defenders are massacred. An estimated 50,000 people are killed, including many who are slaughtered in mass executions after the defeat of the Commune.
March 18, 1905  
Four days after his 26th birthday, a young physics graduate, working as a patent clerk in a Swiss government office because he has been unable to find an academic job, mails a paper he has written to the science journal Annalen der Physik. The paper, “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light,” is accepted for publication, and eventually earns its author, Albert Einstein, a job, and a Nobel Prize for Physics.
Related Topics: Einstein, AlbertPhysics
March 18 - June 8, 1907
U.S. forces intervene in Honduras to ‘protect American interests’.
Related Topics: HondurasInterventionU.S. Imperialism

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