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Reassessing the Paris Commune of 1871 : a response to Robert Tombs, 'How bloody was la semaine sanglante? a revision'

Varley, Karine (2011) Reassessing the Paris Commune of 1871 : a response to Robert Tombs, 'How bloody was la semaine sanglante? a revision'. H-France Salon, 3 (1). pp. 20-25.

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Abstract

In recent years, the Paris Commune of 1871 has transformed from being a hotly-contested subject of political significance to a comparatively neglected area of modern European history. Robert Tombs’ work in seeking to reassess a fundamental and deeply controversial aspect of this episode is therefore very much to be welcomed. The repression of the Paris Commune became one of the central tropes for the left in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet as Tombs has highlighted, considerable uncertainty still surrounds the numbers of Communards killed by the Army of Versailles during the semaine sanglante of 21 to 28 May 1871 and the manner with which they met their deaths. Tombs has, with perhaps surprising ease, uncovered evidence that has led him to revise his original calculations of the number killed from around 25,000 to perhaps 20,000 and now to between 6000 and 7500. Tombs now also suggests that around half of all the deaths occurred after the fighting as a result of court martials and that, therefore, organised mass killings were exceptional rather than widespread, as had previously been believed. To this end, Tombs has gathered a good deal of convincing and seemingly precise documentary evidence that stands in stark contrast with the often vague estimates that can be found in many contemporary accounts and in some of the more recent scholarship on the subject.