The First Crisis: 1870-71
TWO TASKS FACED FRANCE in the autumn of 1870: she had to drive out the invader and she had to make a Revolution. Neither seemed impossible to the people of Paris. In their eyes the two were complementary: the war had won the Republic and the Republic could win the war. Although one army had been lost at Sedan and another was surrounded in Metz, the Germans would have to tie up 200,000 of their troops round Metz and another 250,000 round the vast circumference of Paris. There would be time to organize new armies on the Loire and in the South. It would mean improvising, but had not the armies which had saved France in 1792-93 been improvised? The Republic would again be the salvation of France. In place of the elderly professional soldiers and jaded conscripts of the Empire, the Government of National Defence would command new men, knowing what they were fighting for and loving what they knew. In place of the hidebound Imperial bureaucrats, who had denied self-government even to Paris, the greatest, most civilized city in the world, France would be led by zealots whose administration would be backed by the united will of the people.
This optimism was soon to fade. In beleaguered Paris military organization and civil administration alike suffered from too much zeal. Each of the twenty arrondissements made its own arrangements for distributing the diminishing stocks of food. There was no effective control of prices and for some time there was no general rationing system. The rich could get food and the poor could not; even the slaughtered animals of the Zoo were sold at prices which the ordinary housewife could not afford. Normal work was at a standstill, and the only alternative to unemployment was service in the National (Home)