The Commune of Paris: A Lesson for Today

On March. 18th, 1871, after the capitulation of Paris to the Germans in the Franco-German War, Thiers, the new head of the French Government, foreseeing danger to the exploiting class in the retention of arms by the workers, who chiefly formed the National Guard, endeavoured to disarm them. The attempt to steal the guns these workers’ pence had paid for precipitated a revolt. On the 28th of March the Commune of Paris was declared. Containing at first mainly, and later almost exclusively, working-class elements, the Commune endeavoured to express, according to its understanding, and within the limits of its power, the proletarian interests that lay behind it. This was its great merit. This it was that called down upon it the ruthless hostility of the capitalist government. For three months the working-class revolt struggled on, succumbing at last under a deluge of blood to the armed forces of capitalism. The German Government aided the French ruling class in this bloody work. With the defeat of the Commune, after an eight days’ struggle,

“the murder of defenceless men, women, and children, which had raged the whole week through in ever-increasing proportions, reached its highest point. The breech-loader no longer killed fast enough ; the conquered were slaughtered in hundreds with the mitrailleuses ; the “wall of the Federals” in the Père la Chaise Cemetery, where the last massacre took place, remains to-day a dumb but eloquent witness of what frenzy of crime the governing classes are capable as soon as the proletariat ventures to stand up for its rights.”

Thus spoke Engels of the final act of the tragedy ; and this brief note of that defeat of the workers cannot more fitly end than in the words of .Marx, written in May, 1871, which are eloquent of his view of the relative importance of the national and the class struggles.

“That after the most tremendous war of modern times the conquering and the conquered hosts should fraternise for the common massacre of the proletariat—this unparalleled event does indicate, not as Bismarck thinks, the final repression of a new society upheaving, but the crumbling into dust of bourgeois society. The highest heroic effort of which old society is still capable is national war ; and this is now proved to be mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out in civil war. Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform ; the national governments are ONE as against the proletariat!”

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