Paris, 1871

Once again the time is drawing near when we of the Socialist Party will celebrate that memorable event in the history of the working class, that terminated in the butchery of the workers by the hirelings of the capitalist class. I speak of the Commune of Paris, 1871.

But, it may be asked, why should we, the working class in England, care a straw about the welfare of the workers of Paris ? Why should we commemorate an event that took place in a foreign land forty-two years ago ? Is not the Parisian worker our enemy ? Is he not our competitor in the industrial world ? Has not France for centuries been the great antagonist of England ? Was it not Napoleon III. who, after his ignominious defeat at Sedan, suggested to the victorious German that they should settle their differences and make war against the “common enemy”—England ? And was it not against France that Nelson and Wellington gained their most memorable victories ?

But the revolutionaries of England recognise that, while we are compelled to compete with the workers of France in the industrial field, as with the workers of Germany and all other countries, we have also to compete with the English workers here, and the French and German workers are


than our fellow wage slaves of Britain.

Yet, while we are compelled to compete with each other in the labour market, in spite of this there exists a common interest amongst the working class, an interest that recognises no distinction of race or sex, and that unity of interest is the abolition for the system which compels us to fight for a mere existence. This common interest attaches to the whole working class just as the capitalist class, who combat each other for the world’s markets, have a common cause in keeping the working class in subjection.

Therefore we commemorate the establishment of the Commune of Paris because it was the first successfully organised attempt by the working class to carry on the administration of affairs in their own interests, and although the success was only temporary, it is none the less a landmark of tremendous importance in working-class history.

It cannot be said that all those who participated in the establishment of the Commune were Socialists—far from it. But circumstances had arisen which necessitated the taking over of the administration of affairs in the interests of the working claes of Paris, and considering the suddenness with which they were called upon to act, the success of the mighty effort, fleeting though it was, constitutes


in the traversed path of the revolutionary idea.

Prior to the establishment of the Commune France bad been at war with Prussia, and after the capitulation of Paris the French Government notified the National Guard of Paris that their services would be no longer required, and that their pay would forthwith cease. Now the workers of Paris, enrolled as the National Guard, had been relying on their military pay for their livelihood, the factories and workshops having closed and all business being at a standstill through the recent events. The workers were therefore faced with starvation, and the possibility of an uprising was anticipated by the Government. The latter, never daring to issue orders for the disarmament of Paris, sent troops in the night to take the guns, which had been paid for by public subscription and belonged, not to the French Government, but to the people of Paris.

But cunning as this ruse was, it ended in a fiasco. The guns were seized,, it is true, but no adequate means of transport having been provided, a delay ensued, enabling the people to realise the true aspect of affairs, and the guns were surrounded, the soldiers and the people fraternised, and the Government


And now that “crime”—the worst of all possible crimes in the eyes of the exploiting class—the “violation of the sacred rights of private property,” took place.

This was the terrible “crime” of the Communards. Faced with starvation and with no guarantee from the Government that their wives and children would be provided for until such time as industry was restored to its normal state, these workingmen decided to take the administration of the affairs of Paris into their own hands, and carry on things in their own interests. Was ever a saner thing enacted by any people?

And was Paris over-run by thieves, and was lawlessness rampant ? Did the women rush hither and thither firing public buildings with petroleum ? Were the remnants of the aristocracy that remained shot or butchered in cold blood ? Were the prisons full and the “pubs” the scenes of drunken revelry ? Did the working class revenge itself by the wholesale slaughter of those who had kept them in subjection ? Did they withhold the means of life from those who had formerly withheld them from the workers ? No ! But these were the false accusations that were hurled at the heads of the


Communards by their enemies and spread by the capitalist Press throughout the length and breadth of capitalist civilisation in order to cover the bloody vengeance the French master class had determined upon.

But what were the facts ? During the two months of the Commune’s reign crime was practically unknown, and Paris bad never been so orderly as in those days. The wants and requirements of the people were administered in a most admirable manner, considering the circumstances, and for the “crime” of refusing to die of hunger, refusing to let their wives and children cry for bread, Paris, two months later, was a veritable sea of blood— blood of the Communards, men, women, and children.

And now, fellow workers, look at the price they paid for many lessons which we to-day have to guide us in the fight for emancipation.

“Twenty-five thousand men, women, and children killed during the battle and after; three thousand at least dead in the prisons, the pontoons, the forts, or in consequence of maladies contracted during their captivity ; thirteen thousand seven hundred condemned, most of them for life ; seventy thousand women, children, and old men deprived of their natural supporters or thrown out of France ; one hundred and eleven thousand victims at least—that is the balance sheet of the bourgeois vengeance for the solitary insurrection of the 18th March.”

So wrote Lissagaray in his history of the Commune—a history teeming with lessons for the fight that is being waged by the proletariat of all countries


has raised its hideous head.

For years after the Commune was dead the “trial” of the men, women, and children who participated in it continued, and the ferocity of the capitalist class, unsurpassed even by Nero, never abated. Hundreds were sentenced to death. Thousands continued to be transported. Husbands were torn from their wives, mothers from their children, and transported to New Caledonia, or imprisoned in the fortresses. No wonder hundreds were driven mad ! All the ferocity of the savage reappeared in the modern “civilised” bourgeois in an endeavour to crush the spirit of the workers and so ensure the safety of their own class to continue their parasitic lives.

But did these tortures meted out to the defenders of the Commune kill the revolutionary spirit of these people ? No. And the names of those who were afterwards tried for complicity in the Commune will be handed down to posterity as the heroes and heroines of those days of struggle. Conspicuous amongst these was Louise Michel, whose only crime was that of having tended the sick and wounded under the fire of the Versailles army. This heroine faced her accusers in court and accepted full responsibility for


they brought against her. Sentence of death was asked for by the prosecuting counsel, but transportation in a fortress was the sentence. She knew the minds of those who manipulated the mock trials, and neither asked for nor expected leniency from these barbarians.

Louise Michel did not stand alone. It was Ferré who, before being found guilty and sentenced to death, commenced to relate a few of the events that led up to the establishment of the Commune, but the court refused to hear his defence. So he concluded thus: “A member of the Commune, I am in the hands of its victors. They want my head ; they may take it. I will never save my life by cowardice. Free I have lived, so will I die. I add but one word. Fortune is capricious ; I confide to the future the care of my memory and my revenge.”

And posterity will remember not only Ferré, but all those nameless ones who fell in that fight for liberty. Every year thousands of workers march to Père la Chaise cemetery and pay their tribute to those who fell in the Commune. Thousands march through, dropping their wreaths on the huge grave in memory of the fallen, and thousands of menacing troops stand round with bayonets fixed, ready to


of the closing days of May, ’71, should any disturbance arise.

But geographical circumstances prevent us from presenting ourselves at the graves of the victims of capitalist vengeance, and we have to content ourselves with holding public meetings to commemorate that event and teach the many lessons bequeathed us by the Communards, and for which they so dearly paid.

Fellow workers, read the story of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our class, as narrated by Lissagaray, who took an active part in it. He compiled his work chiefly from the records of the enemies of the Commune. If, baving read this, there remains a spark of respect for those who oppress you, then you are not worthy of the name of men end women.

Above all, let not the efforts of the Communards and the many lessons they have left us fall upon barren soil. Let us examine and heed every detail of success and failure that we may be better able to continue the work for which so many thousands gave their lives. No local uprisings in the future, for such allow the dominant class to combine, not only nationally, but internationally, and so concentrate their forces in one locality. Let us organise throughout the five continents, wherever capitalism has wound its vile tentacles, and then all the forces of reaction must fade and crumble before our


And what if the capitalist class once again consolidate their forces to crush the revolutionary spirit of the rising proletariat ? What if they should endeavour to re-enact the scenes of ’71 ? Far better another 30,000 victims than the perpetuation of a system that calls annually for the blood of many times this number. Has not the blood of the working class deluged the plains of half the world in a generation ? Have not capitalist interests sacrificed myriads, from Russia to Putumayo, and from China to the Transvaal ?

And cannot the international proletariat, who have faced and torn each other in the interests of their masters on the battle-fields for once combat the common enemy on their own behalf ?

If the Social Revoluticn is not ushered in in peace, then the onus will not be upon the shoulders of the working class. It is they who have suffered for ages ; it is they who suffer to-day. And. it is because we are suffering the ills and wrongs inflicted upon us by our oppressors that we rise in revolt to free ourselves from this tyranny.

But before we strike the blow for victory let us be assured that all our forces are equal to the occasion ; that we all understand our true historic mission; and that we may go forward fearless of failure and confident of victory.

Then no power on earth will ever stem the tide of the rising international proletariat.


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