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Lessons of the Paris Commune October 2, 2006

Posted by raved in Commune.

(1) “The Proletarians of Paris,” said the Central Committee in its manifesto of March 18, “amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of public affairs . . . They have understood that it is their imperious duty, and their absolute right, to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power.”

But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purpose.

(2) Paris, the central seat of the old government power, and, at the same time, the social stronghold of the French working class, had risen in arms against the attempt of Thiers and the Rurals to restore and perpetuate the old governmental power bequethed to them by the empire. Paris could resist only because, in consequence of the siege, it had got rid of the army, and replaced it by a National Guard, the bulk of which consisted of working men. This fact was now to be transformed into an institution. The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.

(3) The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

(4) Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administation. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at a workman’s wage.

(5) Having got rid of the standing army and the police – the physical force elements of the old government – the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the “parson-power”, by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies.

(6) The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratuitously, and at the same time cleared of all interference of church and state. Not only was education made accessible to all, but science itself was freed from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it.

(7) Like the rest of the public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible and revocable.

(8) The Paris Commune was, of course, to serve as a model to all the great industrial centres of France. The communal regime once established in Paris and the secondary centres, the old centralised government in the provinces, too, have to give way to the self-government of the producers. .

(9) The Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet. The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandate imperiatif (formal instructions) of his constituents.

(10) It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing class against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labor. . .The political rule of the producer cannot co-exist with the perpetuation of his social slavery. The Commune was therefore to serve as a lever for uprooting the economical foundation upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule. With labor emancipated, every man becomes a working man, and productive labor ceases to be a class attribute.

(11) Yes gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the labour of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labor, into mere instruments of free and associated labor. But this is communism, “impossible” communism!

(12) When the Paris Commune took the management of the revolution into its own hands; when plain working men for the first time dared to infringe upon the governmental privilege of their “natural superiors”. . . the old world writhed in convulsions of rage at the sight of the Red Flag, the symbol of the Republic of Labor, floating over the Hotel deVille.

(13) And yet, this was the first revolution in which the working class was openly acknowledged as the only class capable of social initiative, even by the great bulk of the Paris middle class, shopkeepers, tradesmen, merchants. . . In fact . . the true middle class Party of Order came out in the shape of the ‘Union Republicaine”, enrolling themselves under the colors of the Commune and defending it. . .

(14) The Commune was perfectly right in telling the peasants that “its victory was their only hope” . . . The Commune . . . in one of its first proclamations, declared that the true originators of the war would be made to pay its cost. The Commune would have freed the peasant of the war tax – would have given him cheap government – transformed his present blood-suckers, the notary, advocate, executor, and other judicial vampires, into salaried communal agents.

(15) If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore a truly national government, it was, at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labor, emphatically international. Within sight of that Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world. . . The Commune admitted all foreigners to the honor of dying for an immortal cause. . . The Commune made a German working man [Leo Frankel] its Minister of Labor. . .The Commune honored the heroic sons of Poland [Dabrowski and Wroblewski] by placing them at the head of the defenders of Paris.

(16) The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence. Its special measures could be betoken the tendency of a government of the people by the people. Such were the abolition of nightwork of journeymen bakers; the prohibition, under penalty, of the employers’ practice to reduce wages by levying their workpeople fines under manifold pretexts. Another measure was to surrender the associations of workmen, under reserve of compensation, of all closed workshops and factories, no matter whether the respective capitalists had absconded or preferred to strike work.

(17) . . . the Commune did not pretend to infallibility, the invariable attribute of all governments of the old stamp. It published its doings and sayings, it initiated the public into all its shortcomings.

(18) . . .the real women of Paris showed again at the surface – heroic, noble, and devoted, like the women of antiquity. Working, thinking, fighting, bleeding Paris – almost forgetful, in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibals at its gates – radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative!

From K Marx, The Civil War in France, the Third Address, May, 1871, Chapter 5 The Paris Commune.




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