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Trotsky:Paris Commune lacked a Party October 7, 2006

Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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Each time that we study the history of the Commune we see if from a new aspect, thanks to the experience acquired by the later revolutionary struggles and above all by the latest revolutions, not only the Russian but the German and Hungarian revolutions. The Franco-German war was a bloody explosion, harbinger of an immense world slaughter, the Commune of Paris a lightning harbinger of a world proletarian revolution.

The Commune shows us the heroism of the working masses, their capacity to unite into a single bloc, their talent to sacrifice themselves in the name of the future, but at the same time it shows us the incapacity of the masses to choose their path, their indecision in the leadership of the movement, their fatal penchant to come to a halt after the first successes, thus permitting the enemy to regain its breath, to reestablish its position.

The Commune came to late. It had all the possbilities of taking power on September 4 and that would have permitted the proletariat of Paris to place itself at a single stroke at the head of the workers of the country in their struggle against all the forces of the past, against Bismark as well as against Thiers. The Parisian proletariat had neither a party, nor leaders to whom it would have been closely gound by previous struggles. The petty bourgeois patriots who thought themselves socialists and sought the support of the workers did not really have any confidence in themselves. They shook the proletariat’s faith in itself, they were continually in quest of celebrated lawyers, of journalists, of deputies, whose baggage consisted only of a dozen vaguely revolutionary phrases, in order to entrust them with the leadership of the movement.

. . .When the revolutionary babblers of the salons and of parliament find themselves face to face, in real life, with the revolution, they never recognise it.

The workers’ party -the real one- is not a machine for parliamentary manvoeuvres, it is the accumulated and organized experience of the proletariat. It is only with the aid of the party, which rests upon the whole history of its past, which foresees theoretically the paths of development, all its stages, and which extracts from it the necessary formula of action, that the proletariat frees itself from the need of always recommencing its history: its hesitations, its lack of decision, its mistakes.

The proletariat of Paris did not have such a party. The bourgeois socialists with whom the Commune swarmed, raised their eyes to heaven, waited for a miricle or else a prophetic word, hesitated, and during that time the masses groped about and lost their heads because of the indecision of some and the fantasy of others. The result was that the revolution broke out in their very midst, too late, and Paris was encircled. Six months elapsed before the proletariat had reestablished in its memory the lessons of past revolutions, of battles or yore, of the reiterated betrayals of democracy – and it seized power.

These six months proved to be an irraparable loss. If the centralized party of revolutionary action had been found at the head of the proletariat in France in September 1870, the whole history of France and with it the whole history of humanity would have taken another direction.

If the power was found in the hands of the proletariat on March 18, it was not because it had been deliberately seized, but because its enemies had quitted Paris. These latter were losing ground continuously, the workers despised and detested them, the petty bourgeoisie no longer had confidence in them and the big bourgeoisie feared that they were no longer capable of defending it. The soldiers were hostile to the officers. The government fled Paris in order to concentrate its forces elsewhere. And it was then that the proletariat became masters of the situation.

But it understood this fact only on the morrow. The revolution fell upon it unexpectedly.

This first success was a new source of passivity. The enemy had fled to Versailles. Wasn’t that a victory? At that moment the governmental band could nave been crushed almost without the spilling of blood. In Paris, all the ministers, with Thiers at their head, could have been taken prisoner. Nobody would have raised a hand to defend them. It was not done. There was no organisation of a centralized party. having a rounded view of things and special organs for realizing its decisions.

The debris of the infantry did not want to fall back to Versailles. The thread which tied the officers and soldiers was pretty tenuous. And had there been a directing party center at Paris, it would have incorporated into the retreating armies – since there was the possibility of retreating – a few hundred or even a few dozen devoted workers, and given them the following instructions: enhance the discontent of the soldiers against the officers, profit by the first favorable psychological moment to free the soldiers from their officers and bring them back to Paris to unite with the people. This could easily have been realized, according to the admissions of Thiers’ supporters themselves. Nobody even thought of it. Nor was there anybody to think of it. In the midst of great events, moreover, such decisions can be adopted only by a revolutionary party which looks forward to a revolution, prepares for it, does not lose its head, by a party whyich is accustomed to having a rounded view and is not afraid to act.

And a party of action is just what the French proletariat did not have.

The Central Committee of the National Guard is in effect a Council of Deputies of the armed workers and the petty bourgeosie. Such a Council, elected directly by the masses who have taken the revolutionary road, represents an excellent apparatus of action. But at the same time, and just because of its immediate and elementary connection with the masses who are in the state which the revolution has found them, if reflects not only all the strong sides but also the weak sides of the masses, and it reflects at first the weak sides still more than it does the strong: it manifests the spirit of indecision, of waiting, the tendency to be inactive after the first successes.

The Central Committee of the National Guard needed to be led. It was indispensable to have an organization incarnating the political experience of the proletariat and always – not only on the Central Committee, but in the legions, in the battalion, in the deepest sectors of the French proletariat. By means of the Councils of Deputies – in this case they were organs of the National Guard – the party could have been in continual contact with the masses, known their state of mind; its leading center could each day put forward a slogan which, through the medium of the party’s militants, would have penetrated into the masses, uniting their thought and their will.

Hardly had the government fallen back to Versailles than the National Guard hastened to unload its responsibility, at the very moment which this responsibility was enormous. The Central Committee imagined “legal” elections to the Commune. It entered into negotiations with the mayors of Paris in order to cover itself, from the Right, with “legality”.

Had a violent attack been prepared against Versailles at the same time, the negotiations with the mayors would have been a ruse fully justified from the military standpoint and in conformity with the goal. But in reality, these negotiations were being conducted only in order to avert the struggle by some miracle or other. The petty bourgeois radicals and their socialistic ideals, respecting “legality” and the men who embodied a portion of the “legal” state -the deputies, the mayors etc – hoped at the bottom of their souls that Thiers would halt respectfully before revolutionary Paris the minute the latter covered itself with the “legal” Commune.

Passivity and indecision were supported in this case by the sacred principle of federation and autonomy. Paris, you see, is only one commune among many other communes. Paris wants to impose nothing upon anyone; it does not struggle for the dictatorship, unless it be for the ‘dictatorship of example’.

In sum, it was nothing but an attempt to replace the proletarian revolution, which was developing, by a petty bourgeois reform: communal autonomy. The real revolutionary task consisted of assuring the proletariat the power over the country. Paris has to serve as its base, its support, its stonghold. And to attain this goal, it was necessary to vanquish Versailles without the loss of time and to send agitators, organizers, and armed forces throughout France. It was necessary to enter into contact with sympathizers, to strengthen the hesitators adn to shatter the opposition of the adversary. Instead of this policy of offensive and aggression which was the only thing that could save the situation, the leaders of Paris attempted to seclude themselves in their communal autonomy: they will not attack the others if the others do not attack them; each town has its sacred right to self-government

. . .The hostility to capitalist organization – a heritage of petty bourgeois localism and autonomism – is without doubt the weak side of a certain section of the French proletariat. Autonomy for the districts, for the wards, for the batallions, for the towns, is the supreme guarantee of real activity and individual independence for certain revolutionists. But it is a great mistake which cost the French proletariat dearly.

Under the form of the “struggle against despotic centralism” and against “stifling” discipline, a fight takes place for the self preservation of various groups and sub-groupings of the working class, for their petty interests, with the petty ward leaders and their local oracles. The entire working class, while preserving its cultural originality and its political nuances, can act methodically and firmly, without remaining in the tow of events, and directing each time its mortal blows agaisnt the weak sectors of its enemies, on the condition that at its head, above the wards, the districts, the groups, there is an apparatus which is centralized and bound together by an iron discipline. The tendency towards particularism, whatever the form it may assume, is a heritage of the dead past. The sooner French communist-socialist communism and syndicalist-communism emancipates itself from it, the better it will be for the proletarian revolution.

To be continued . . .

From Lessons of the Paris Commune, February 4 1921

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Comments»

1. Otto - November 3, 2008

Great Post, Trotsky’s analysis is right on. I recently dedicated an album of music to the Paris Commune, you may like it, it’s posted for free here:
http://ottojazz.wordpress.com/


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