A. Lozovsky
Marx and the Trade Unions

Chapter V
Marx and the Labour Movement in France

French socialism, as is well known, constitutes one of the sources of Marxism. What did Marx really take from French socialism and what did he contribute to it? Marx attentively studied the French revolutions, beginning with the Great Revolution of 1789; the strikes, revolts, mass battles of the French proletariat, and how the class struggles and all movements of the worker and peasant masses were reflected in the different socialist systems (Socialist-Utopians, Communists, Utopians, Blanquists, Mutualists, Possibilists, Marxists, etc.). In the preface to the Cologne Trial of Communists, Engels wrote that he and Marx, leading the union of Communists, had followed the example of Marat. This most consistent bourgeois revolutionary attracted Marx and Engels by his iron will, revolutionary irreconcilability and revolutionary fearlessness. This is how proletarian revolutionaries were forged in the experiences acquired by the finest bourgeois revolutionaries.

Marx, studying the bourgeois revolutions of France, showed with the power so distinctive of him how the bourgeoisie utilised the workers as cannon-fodder, and how after every revolution it would direct all the forces of the new and old State apparatus against the working masses. Marx saw the utopianism of the programmes of Baboeuf, Saint Simon, Fourier and Cabet. However, he highly valued them as forerunners of scientific socialism. He knew how to draw the line between sincere utopian socialism and the petty-bourgeois socialist intrigues of Louis Blanc and company. Marx created scientific socialism by the dialectical negation of utopian socialism and by a graphic treatment of the stormy history of the revolutionary achievements of the French toiling masses. The revolutionary experiences of the masses are precisely the major and basic French source of Marxism.

The Conspiracy of the Equals was the reply given to the victory of the Thermidorian reaction by the masses whom the Great Revolution had deceived. The Baboeuvians expressed their views in four documents: (1) The Manifesto of the Equals; (2) the Analysis of Doctrines; (3) the Act of Revolts; and (4) the Decrees. The Baboeuvians aimed at organising a revolt of the poor against the rich; they realised that the root of all evil lay in private property and therefore they fought for economic equality. The Manifesto of the Equals proclaimed that the “French Revolution was only the forerunner of another greater, more powerful revolution, which was bound to be also the last.” The programme of the Baboeuvians was in its day a tremendous leap forward, and, although Baboeuf and the Baboeuvians failed to see the social force that would actually be able to carry out their programme in fact (and therein lies their utopianism), yet this communist programme reflected the great forward moves among the masses, who had derived no advantage from the many years of revolutionary upheavals.

The suppression of the Conspiracy of the Equals and the victory of Napoleon over the foreign and domestic enemies gave rise to a certain amount of depression in the ranks of the masses. Socialist ideas began to come to the forefront in the form of semi-religious and semi-socialist teachings. The aristocrat Saint Simon and the rank and file citizen Charles Fourier came out with their plans for reorganising humanity. The beneficial part of their preachings lies not in their plans for a happy future, but in the criticisms of the present and in the emphasis laid on the antagonism between the wealthy and the poor. But no matter how Saint Simon and Charles Fourier differed in origin and plans, both of them issued their appeals to the “hearts of men,” and hoped to win the progressive capitalists over to their side and by peaceful means to reorganise human reason that had gone off the proper track.

Neither of these Utopians wanted even to hear of a revolution. In view of the fact that Saint Simon and Fourier did not see the social force that could realise their dreams, they appealed to the powers of the next world, to religion, which played quite a considerable part in their teachings. The disciples of Saint Simon and Fourier developed the mystic side of the teachings of these great utopians to an even greater extent. Bazard, Enfantin, Victor Considerant, Pièrre Leroux, etc., attempted under new conditions to develop the mystical-utopian part of the teachings of the great Utopians and this is why they were attacked in the Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels, while establishing the fact that the works of Baboeuf “express the demands of the proletariat,” write the following about the Utopians.

The founders of these systems see, indeed, the class antagonisms, as well as the action of the decomposing elements in the prevailing form of society. But the proletariat, as yet in its infancy, offers to them the spectacle of a class without any historical initiative or any independent political movement.

Since the development of class antagonism keeps even pace with the development of industry, the economic situation, as they find it, does not as yet offer to them the material conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat. They therefore search after a new social science, after new social laws that are to create these conditions....

The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, cause Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all class antagonisms. They want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without distinction of class; nay, by preference to the ruling class....

Hence, they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social gospel. (1)

The appraisal of the French Utopians given by Engels in his famous Anti-Dühring is extremely interesting. Emphasising the backward economic relations in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Engels wrote:

As early as his Geneva Letters Saint Simon laid down the principle that ‘all men ought to work.’ When he wrote this work he already knew that the reign of terror was the reign of the propertyless masses....But to conceive of the French Revolution as a class war between nobility, bourgeoisie and propertyless masses was, indeed in the year 1802, the discovery of genius....

In Fourier we find a critique of existing social conditions which, typically French in its wit, is none the less penetrating. (Italics mine.—A. L.) (2)

From this we can see why Marx and Engels valued the utopians. For them it was important that the utopians had spoken a new word in their time concerning the interests of the poor, that they saw the class contradictions, etc. Marx and Engels took quite another attitude towards the disciples of these utopians, who dragged the movement backward, and desired to remain at the stage already traversed. In the Communist Manifesto we read the following about them:

…although the originators of these systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects. They hold fast by the original views of their masters, in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat. They, therefore, endeavour, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms.... By degrees they sink into the category of the reactionary conservative Socialists depicted above, differing from these only by more systematic pedantry, and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.

They, therefore, violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new gospel. (3)

The communist-utopian Etienne Cabet also very little resembled his predecessor Baboeuf. Whereas Baboeuf prepared a revolt and wanted to rouse the masses against those who utilised the revolution for acquiring more wealth, Etienne Cabet dreamt of creating a communist society without any struggle. His Voyage en Icarie ends with the following words: “If I held the revolution in the hollow of my hand, I would release it even if I had to die in banishment for it.” The fear of revolution is bred here by the disappointment in past revolutions, which had all ended unfavourably for the working class.

And what is the attitude of all these theoreticians of the first half of the nineteenth century towards Marx and Marxism? Some writers believed that Marxism represented the summation of the ideas of Saint Simon, Fourier and their disciples. This conclusion was drawn also by the French socialist Paul Louis, who wrote the following on the subject:

Louis Blanc and Vidal pointed to the necessity of having recourse to State power and claimed the principle of the seizure of public power to be the necessary preliminary condition of every revolution. Beker and Cabet were the first to deal in detail with collectivism and communism. Finally, Proudhon vividly described the contradictions of class interests, indicated the shortcomings of private property, the constant exploitation by the capitalist of the hired worker, exposed the internal contradictions of the economic system, which breeds the more unfortunates the more riches it creates. Gathering all of these together, we get almost the complete expression of Marxism. (4)

Only a typical eclectic, a person who tried to combine his membership in the Communist Party of France with contributions to the Yellow Press, could come to the conclusion that the theories of Louis Blanc, Vidal, Becker and Proudhon in their totality are “almost equal to Marxism.” Paul Louis makes the reservation that all of these philosophers were imbued with the spirit of idealism but that they had not reached historical materialism; however, he does not consider the latter to be very important, since “historical materialism does not comprise an indivisible part of the laws of Marxian theory.” Can it be said that all the viewpoints of the socialist-utopians, communist-utopians and petty-bourgeois socialists of the type of Proudhon and Louis Blanc constitute “near-Marxism”? By no means. This would mean failure to understand the difference between Marxism and all of the French socialist teachings of that period. Of course, Marx critically studied all that had been created in the field of socialist ideas in France, but what new elements did Marx bring, in comparison with these ideas?

(1) Marx considered the proletariat to be the only force that would successfully fight for socialism. (2) Marx drew a sharp political line between the proletariat and other classes. (3) Marx believed revolution by force and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be the only path towards socialism.

Only one socialist who began his labour during the first half of the nineteenth century was considered by Marx to be a proletarian revolutionary. This was Auguste Blanqui. Blanqui seethed with deep hatred against the oppressors and, although he was far from really understanding scientific socialism and built his plans not on mass demonstrations but on the actions of a small group of conspirators, Marx considered Blanqui to be the greatest communist-revolutionary after Baboeuf and called him a leader of the proletarian party.

Marx saw the internal class mechanism of the French revolutions. He wrote:

Just as the workers in the July days (1830—A. L.) had fought and beat the bourgeois monarchy, so in the February days (1848—A. L.) they fought and beat the bourgeois republic. Just as the July Monarchy had to proclaim itself a monarchy surrounded by republican institutions, so the February Republic was forced to proclaim itself a republic surrounded by social institutions. The Paris proletariat compelled this concession too. (5)

But the workers were only formally satisfied.

“On February 23, at about noon,” Daniel Stem relates, “a large number of corporations, with about twelve thousand persons, came out on to Greve Square and stood in deep silence. On their banners inscriptions could be seen: Organisation of Labour, Labour Ministry, Abolish Exploitation of Man by Man.” (6)

The first two demands of the workers, formulated by socialists of the type of Louis Blanc, called forth the following ironical remark from Marx:

Organisation of Labour: But wage labour is the existing bourgeois organisation of Labour. Without it there is no capital, no bourgeoisie, no bourgeois society. Their own Ministry of Labour! But the Ministries of Finance, of Trade, of Public Works, aren’t these the bourgeois labour ministries? (7)

The provisional government cleverly turned the tables, by replying to the demands of the workers with the appointment of the Luxemburg Commission, where Louis Blanc and Albert made long speeches about the future, and drew the minds of the workers away from the present. In the primitive demands of the workers and in the Luxemburg Commission itself Marx saw a reflection of the class struggle.

The right to work—is the first clumsy formula embracing the revolutionary demands of the proletariat. (8)

To the Luxemburg Commission, this creation of the Paris workers, remains the merit of having disclosed from the European tribune the secret of the revolution of the nineteenth century: the emancipation of the proletariat. (9)

The Paris proletariat suffered defeat in the July days, because politically and organisationally it had not risen to the level of its historical tasks. Marx, in his brilliant analysis of the disposition of class forces in the revolution of 1848, wrote:

A class in which the revolutionary interests of society are concentrated, so soon as it has risen up, finds directly in its own situation the content and the material of its revolutionary activity; foes to be laid low, measures dictated by the needs of the struggle to be taken; the consequences of its own deeds drive it on. It makes no theoretical inquiries into its own task. The French working class had not attained this standpoint; it was still incapable of accomplishing its own revolution. (10)

But in order that the working class can make a revolution for itself, not only is a certain level of political consciousness and organisation necessary, but there must be a special disposition of class forces in the given country. Here is what Marx writes:

The French workers could not take a step forward, could not touch a hair of the bourgeois order before the course of the revolution had forced the masses of the nation, the peasants and petty bourgeois, standing between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and in revolt not against this order, against the rule of capital, to attach itself to the proletariat, as its vanguard. The workers could only buy this victory through the huge defeat of June. (11)

It is precisely this specific disposition of class forces that defined the nature of the socialist system. This is what gave rise to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois socialism,

which was the theoretical expression of the proletariat only so long as it had not yet developed further into a free historical self-movement. (12)

While this socialism went over from the proletariat to the petty bourgeoisie…

…the proletariat rallies more and more round revolutionary Socialism, around Communism, for which the bourgeoisie has itself found the name of Blanqui. This Socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the inevitable transit point to the abolition of class differences generally, to the abolition of all the productive relationships on which they rest, to the abolition of all social relations that correspond to these relationships of production, to the revolutionising of all the ideas that result from these social relations. (13)

This is how Marx in 1848 put the question of socialist tendencies and their rôle in the struggle of the French proletariat, and the causes of the June defeat. Many years later, in 1890, Engels in his preface to the Communist Manifesto said that already before the February Revolution of 1848 a sharp line of demarcation could have been observed between the socialists and communists. Engels writes the following on the subject:

However, the section of the working class which, convinced that mere political revolution was not enough, demanded radical reconstruction of society—that section then called itself Communist. It was a still rough-hewn, only instinctive and frequently some-what crude Communism.... Socialism in 1847 stood for a bourgeois movement, Communism for a working class movement. (14)

The smashing of the Paris proletariat in June, 1848, was the starting point of a lengthy period of reaction, not only in France, but all over the continent of Europe. The political defeat called forth ideological reaction—this is what caused the success of the idea to renounce the political struggle and to turn towards mutualism.

What is the political essence of Proudhonist mutualism? It is the idea of replacing the class struggle by mutual services, mutual aid, etc.; it is precisely what the bourgeoisie wanted from the working class in France, “tainted” by several revolutions.

After the bloody suppression of the June uprising the labour movement of France began to develop again, but with great difficulty. The attempts to solve the social problem by mutualism, by workers’ banks, by organising communist settlements in the United States, were made parallel with the sharpening of the economic struggle for the vital needs and demands of the workers. The beginning of the ’sixties was noted by an upsurge. The Government of Napoleon III tried, along with repressions, to have recourse to demogogy. The Government encouraged the workers to send their representatives to international exhibitions and tried to check the activities of the different working-class organisations (trade unions, mutual aid societies, industrial work-men’s associations, mutual credit societies, workers’ resistance societies, etc.) which despite their primitive political programmes and organisational weakness, were centres for gathering the forces of the working class.

In 1862 two workers’ candidates came up in the elections; in 1864 an election platform-manifesto appeared, signed by sixty workers, representatives of various working-class organisations. The Government continued its manoeuvres. It undertook to defray the expenses of the trip of 200 workers to the international exhibition in London. The Government began to subsidise some of the mutual aid societies; finally, the law of May 25, 1864, gave the workers the right of association. That this concession was merely formal can be seen from the fact that strikers continued to be persecuted. Up till 1864 there had been about seventy strike trials a year, while after the promulgation of the law on the “right to strike” fifty-one trials were held during the year for “infringing the freedom of labour.”

The trip to England in 1862 made a great impression on the delegates, and the reports of these delegates played an important political and organisational part. Of particularly great significance was the exchange of greetings between the French and British workers in connection with this trip—it was the concrete beginning of the establishment of international contacts. While the year 1862 was only a beginning in this direction, the trip of the French workers’ delegation in 1864 was the starting point for the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association, which played such a tremendous rôle in spreading the ideas of Marx and Engels, in the establishment of the organisation which during the course of nine years (1864-1872) served as the beacon light for the toiling masses of Europe and America and the hobgoblin of the international bourgeoisie.

Marx, as I have already said, was the soul of the First International; he saw better than anyone else the low theoretical and political level of the national sections, especially of the French section. But the International was created precisely for raising the level of its integral parts. The French workers brought their rich revolutionary traditions into the First International; however, along with this they infused into the International also petty-bourgeois, socialist, semi-socialist and Proudhonist ideas, which were caught up by Bakunin and which finally led to the falling apart of the International Workingmen’s Association.

The French workers met the creation of the International with tremendous interest. During the years of 1864 to 1870 the International developed into a force in France. Sections of the International multiplied all over the country and were quite variegated in composition. In all comers of France local unions, resistance societies, mutual aid societies, political groups, men and women workers on strike affiliated to the International Workingmen’s Association. “The success of the Association surpassed all expectations here, in Paris, in Belgium, in Switzerland and in Italy,” Marx wrote to Krugelmann on February 23, 1865.

First of all let us see how the labour movement in France was reflected in the Minutes of the International Workingmen’s Association. Here is what we read in the Minutes of the General Council:

On June 20, 1865, a report was read to the effect that the Lille Weavers’, Society would most likely join the I.W.A. On July 4, 1865, a letter was read from Lyons confirming the receipt of 400 membership books and making further inquiries about the manufacture of tulle. It is stated that the strike ended unfavourably for the workers, “who had been compelled to succumb for lack of means of subsistence.” On September 28, 1869, a letter was read from Marseilles announcing a lock-out of basket-makers and requesting assistance. The Secretary was instructed to reply that there was no prospect of financial help. The Secretary was also instructed to write to London basket-makers. On October 12, 1869, a letter from Obery of Rouen was read announcing a strike of the wool-spinners of Elboeuf and asking for aid. The spinners insisted upon a list of prices being fixed. Other towns joined in making this demand, and would strike in a fortnight if the demand was not granted. On October 26, 1869, a report was made on the trial of the delegates of 27 Paris trade unions against the bloody deeds at Aubain—34 killed and 36 wounded. Then also a report was heard on the miners’ struggle in France. On November 2, 1869, the carpenters of one Geneva shop were on strike against overtime. The French Government furnished charity girls to replace linen drapers’ assistants on strike against Sunday work. On November 9 Jung reported that 2,000 Paris gilders resolved not to work longer than 10 hours a day under any circumstances. The society of Paris lithographers, having 300 members, and the Paris tin-plate workers, having 200 members, joined the I.W.A. On November 11, 1870, a letter was read from Neuville-sur-Saône asking for help for the cotton printers on strike. The Secretary was instructed to communicate with Manchester concerning the strike. The surgical instrument workers of Paris on strike applied for help. The Council agreed to assist by applying to the kindred trades at Sheffield. On April 6, 1870, Marx expressed the desire that the publication of the appeal in connection with the trial in Creuzot be postponed. Funds had been sent by everybody, and it would make a bad impression if London were to limit itself to words only. On April 10, 1870, a letter was read from Varlin in Paris to the effect that he had been in Lille for the purpose of organising a trade union section under the control of the International Workingmen’s Association. The Federal Council could take over the leadership of the different trade union societies. Dupont calls the attention of the Council to the brutal sentences given the miners, who had been imprisoned in connection with the strike in Creuzot, and proposed that the Council issue an appeal. Dupont and Marx were charged to draw up this appeal. On May 31, 1870, the meeting heard a report of the delegate from the iron founders of Paris then on strike. It was proposed that the Council facilitate the task of the delegate to set up contracts with the trade societies by appointing a deputation to accompany him. Jung and Hales were appointed. (15)

However, this does not give a complete picture of the relations between the French workers and the First International. In his letters to Engels, Kugelmann and others, Marx very often refers to French affairs, not sparing strong words. The activities and manifestations of the Proudhonists agitated him very much, for he saw here the influence of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. On October 9, 1866, Marx wrote to Kugelmann:

The Parisian gentlemen have their heads full of the emptiest Proudhonist phrases. They babble about science and know nothing. They scorn all revolutionary action … i.e., action arising out of the class struggle itself, all concentrated social movements, and therefore all those which can be carried through by political means (e.g., the legal limitation of the working day).

Under the pretext of freedom and anti-governmentalism, anti-authoritarian-individualism, these gentlemen, who for sixteen years have so calmly endured the most miserable despotism, and still endure it, actually preach the ordinary bourgeois sciences, only Proudhonistically idealised! (16)

Marx hated stage revolutionaries and melodramatic heroes. In his letters he especially attacks the London Section, consisting of French emigrants. In his letter to Kugelmann dated December 5, 1868, Marx declared that this section consisted of loafers and all sorts of riff-raff; “besides,” he writes, “we are, of course, considered reactionaries by these strike-breakers.” Here also he brilliantly characterises Felix Pyat:

…A ship-wrecked fourth-rate French author of melodramas, and who in the revolution of ’48 was only used as a toastmaster … and who has a perfect monomania for ‘shouting in a whisper’ and playing the dangerous conspirator.... Pyat wanted to use this gang to make the International Workingmen’s Association a tool of his. He was particularly anxious to compromise us. At a public meeting which the French branch proclaimed and trumpeted in large placards as a meeting of the ‘International Association’ Louis Napoleon, alias, Badinguet, was solemnly condemned to death … the execution of the sentence, of course, being left to the nameless Brutuses of Paris....

We had the satisfaction of seeing that Blanqui got one of his friends to ridicule Pyat, also in the Cigale, leaving him the alternative of being recognized either as a monomaniac or a police agent. (17)

But Marx was mostly interested in developing the movement in the country. He attentively followed up the movement of the masses and systematically shared his impressions and views with his friends. On January 13, 1869, Marx wrote to Engels:

The strikes in Rouen, Vienne, etc. (cotton spinning industry), are about 6-7 weeks old. What is interesting here is the fact that shortly before this a general congress of the master manufacturers (and spinners) was held in Amiens under the chairmanship of the Mayor of Amiens. Here it was decided to compete with the English in England, etc. This was to be accomplished by means of FURTHERING LOWERING WAGES, after it had been admitted that only low wages (lower relative to English wages) made it possible to resist British competition in France itself. And actually after this meeting in Amiens wage-cuts began to be carried out in Rouen, Vienne, etc. Hence the strikes. We, of course, informed these people through Dupont of the bad state of affairs here (especially in the cotton trade) and of the difficulty in connection with this method of collecting funds AT THE PRESENT TIME. Meanwhile, as you will see from the enclosed letter (from Vienne) the strike in Vienne has ended. To the Rouen workers, where the conflict is still continuing, we for the time being ordered twenty pounds to be paid by the Paris bronze workers, who owed us this sum even before the time they were locked out. Generally speaking, these French workers act much more reasonably than the Swiss workers, and are at the same time much more modest in their demands. (18)

The situation in France at that time became more and more complicated every day. The revolution approached, and it is a fact that when scenting a revolution the liberal-democratic loons shout the loudest. On November 29, 1869, Marx wrote to Kugelmann:

In France things are going well so far. On the one hand, the out-of-date demagogic and democratic bawlers of all shades are compromising themselves. On the other, Bonaparte is being driven along a path of concessions, on which he is certain to break his neck. (19)

On March 3, 1869, Marx wrote an extensive letter to Kugelmann in which he analysed the situation in France. From a number of symptoms Marx foresaw the approaching storm:

A very interesting movement is going on in France [he wrote]. The Parisians are making a regular study of their recent revolutionary past, in order to prepare themselves for the business of the impending new revolution. And so the whole historic witches’ cauldron is bubbling.... When shall we be so far? (20)

As I said above, Marx was chiefly anxious about whether the sections of the International would be able to rise to the occasion. Every time that the workers in France broke with Proudhonist traditions, Marx noted it as an important achievement. On May 18, 1870, he wrote to Engels:

Our members in France demonstrate to the French Government ad oculos [before their eyes.—Ed.] the difference between a political secret society and a real labour association. It had hardly succeeded in locking behind prison doors all the members of the Paris, Lyons, Rouen, Marseilles and other committees (some of them have fled to Switzerland and Belgium), when new committees, numerically twice as strong, announced in the newspapers that they were carrying on as successors of the old ones, and made the most insolent and defiant declarations, giving their home addresses to boot. The French Government has finally done what we so long desired, it has turned the political question—Empire or Republic—into a question de vie ou de mort [of life or death.—Ed.] for the working class. (21)

Events reached a boiling point on July 19, 1870—the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War. From the very first days of the war the erstwhile rapidly rising tide of the labour movement receded violently; however, the movement was not smashed.

A number of French and German working-class organisations came out against the war. The Reveil published a manifesto against war addressed “To the workers of all countries.” Three days after the declaration of war, on July 22, the section of the International in Neuilly-sur-Seine published an appeal strongly protesting against the war:

Is it just a war? No! Is it a national war? No! It is merely a dynastic war. In the name of humanity, of democracy and the true interests of France, we adhere completely and emphatically to the protest of the International against the war. (22)

As early as July 23, the General Council of the First International issued an appeal against the war. This manifesto, written by Marx, condemns Napoleon and Bismarck, exposes these organisers of the Franco-Prussian War. This manifesto contains a prophetic phrase:

Whatever may be the issue of Louis Bonaparte’s war with Prussia, the death knell of the Second Empire has already sounded in Paris. (23)

This prophecy very soon became a reality. At the beginning of September, 1870, Napoleon surrendered with his army at Sedan and on September 4 a revolution broke out. The “National Defence Government,” which, according to Marx, consisted of a “gang of ambitious lawyers,” was visited on that day by a deputation from the Paris sections of the International and the Federation of Workers’ Unions—a deputation thus representing the working class of Paris. It proposed a programme to the National Defence Government, on the adoption of which the confidence of the Parisian proletariat in the new government and the extent to which it would support the new government would depend. The chief demands of the programme were: the rule of the city of Paris was to be handed over to the population, which was to organise National Guards as well as elect judges from among its ranks; there was to be full freedom of the Press, amnesty and the separation of the Church from the State. The clique that had seized power (Thiers, Jules Favre and others) replied vaguely to these demands. In response to this the workers immediately organised a vigilance committee to watch the moves of the government. From the very outset the National Defence Government and the Paris proletariat expressed lack of confidence in each other. The class instinct of the workers told them that they had to deal with a government of national treachery, which feared the workers a thousand times more than it did the Prussians. On September 9, the International Workingmen’s Association issued a new appeal, in which it exposed the imperialist cravings of Prussia, screened by the word “security” (what a modem word!—A. L.) and excellently characterised the Republic of Thiers, Jules Favre and other agents of the French bourgeoisie.

This Republic, Marx writes, did not overthrow the throne, it simply occupied the empty seat.... It inherited from the Empire not only a heap of ruins, but also its fear of the working class.

This remarkable characterisation of the republic of Thiers was confirmed within a few months. But at that time, several days after the overthrow of Napoleon, Marx believed that the workers would refrain from overthrowing the Government of September 4. “Every attempt to overthrow the new Government,” Marx writes, “at the moment when the enemy practically knocks at the doors of Paris, would be insanity due to despair.” In spite of this, the Blanquists did make a few attempts to overthrow the Government both on October 8 and 31, 1870, and January 29, 1871, but these attempts failed—the masses of the Paris population did not support them. Only when the betrayal of the Government became a fact, when the Government tried to disarm the National Guards, did the toiling masses rise—“did the glorious workers’ revolution exercise untrammelled rule in Paris” (Marx). The Paris Commune, this forerunner of the Land of the Soviets, in spite of the prodigies of courage and self-sacrifice, lasted only two months. The Commune fell under the blows of the united reaction, the united front of the “hereditary enemies” which only yesterday had fought with one another: it fell because the Blanquists and Proudhonists who headed the Commune were groping their way and did not display the firmness and determination required at such a moment. There was good reason for the proposals the Commune made several times to Thiers, to exchange Cardinal Dorbois for Blanqui. Thiers refused, saying this would mean giving rebellious Paris a whole army corps. “Thiers rejected this idea,” Marx writes, “for he knew that in the person of Blanqui he would give the Commune a head.” When the Commune was proclaimed Marx immediately enlisted in the defence of this workers’ government. Though he had been against the seizure of power, he did not argue, become sententious, he saw before him not only an uprising, but also the working class in power, and considered it to be the duty of a revolutionary not to reason but to help. In his letter to Kugelmann dated April 12, 1871, Marx enthusiastically writes about the heroism of the Communards, who stand “prepared to storm the heavens,” criticises them for their lack of determination and declares that “if they are defeated nothing but their generosity will be to blame.” Marx saw the weaknesses of the Commune, weaknesses which could not easily be overcome by advice. The International could not give the Commune what it lacked.

The Commune was smashed. “Order” was enthroned in triumph on the bones of the tens of thousands of murdered proletarians. The First International issued an appeal in connection with the civil war in France. In this document Marx manifested his unbounded hatred for the exploiters, exhibited the great passion and ardour of a great revolutionary. It is not simply an appeal, it is a political document that illumines the path of struggle of the working class for its dictatorship. Marx looks upon the Commune as a new type of government, the very birth of which is linked up with the destruction of the old order. “The Commune should not have been a parliamentarian, but a working corporation.” It is well known that this idea of destroying the old State and creating a new type of State served as a basis not only for the theoretical works of Lenin (State and Revolution), but also for the practical activities in building the Soviet Republic.

Marx realised that it is impossible to demand much of a government that held power for only two months, and he therefore sharply polemised against those who tried to belittle the significance of the Commune or (after it was over) to crow about its inevitable defeat.

The great social achievement of the Commune, Marx wrote, was its own existence, its activity. The separate measures undertaken by it could indicate only the direction in which the government of the people develops through the medium of the people themselves.

In reply to a letter of Kugelmann, in which the latter stated that the Commune had had no chance of success, and that under such circumstances nothing should have been started (recollect the words of Plekhanov on the December uprising of 1905 in Moscow, “no arms should have been resorted to!”), Marx wrote back to him on April 17, 1871:

World history would indeed be very easy to make if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.... Whatever the immediate results may be, a new point of departure of world-historical importance has been gained. (24)

The proletariat of Paris paid very dearly for the attempt to build its own workers’ State. The crushing of the Commune bled the working class white and caused it to remain aloof from politics for some time. The French sections of the International were shot down and smashed, and finally dissolved in 1872, by special decree. At that time the moderates of all shades and colours, who had left the ranks of the International out of fear of the revolution and had taken up a waiting attitude during the Commune, began to manifest activity among the workers. Barberet organised a “workers’ trade union club.” This club aimed at “realising co-ordination and justice by educational means” and at convincing public opinion of the “moderateness which the workers were manifesting in stating their rights.” (25) In spite of the persecution of even these innocent clubs and societies they grew and multiplied. The workers once again began to take part in international exhibitions, and by 1875 there were in France 135 trade unions, which already began to discuss the idea of convening a workers’ congress. The first workers’ congress was held in Paris in 1876 with a very limited programme. As an antidote to the revolutionary ideas and slogans of the Commune, the problems here raised dealt with mutual aid, industrial associations, etc. The delegates to the Congress did not even think of planning to overthrow the bourgeois order; they merely wanted to touch it up a bit, to improve it; they wanted to “balance the relations between capital and labour, both in production and in consumption.” Along with civil war, they condemned strikes, “which deal their blows at the strong and destroy the weak.” (26)

The next workers’ congress was held in 1877 in Lyons. Here some new moods were already observable. Here anarchist and collectivist speeches were heard. However, the bulk of the delegates occupied a moderate platform.

An altogether different mood dominated at the Marseilles Congress in 1879. Here it was evident that the working class was again beginning to gain strength, after the fall of the Paris Commune. The influence of the Marxian paper, Egalité, established by Jules Guesde in 1877, was felt. Lombard, secretary of the organisational committee for convening the Marseilles Congress, proposed to call this congress the “Socialist Workers’ Congress of France.” This proposal was unanimously adopted. The speakers came out openly against Louis Blanc and his theories. Whereas the Paris workers’ congress had not even wanted to hear of the Communards, the Marseilles Congress sent the following reply to the greetings of the London exiles:

Your approval has gratified all members of the Marseilles Socialist Workers’ Congress. The delegates gathered here once again declare that they hold dear the principles for which you fought and suffered. (27)

The congress served as the starting point for the renaissance of the political movement, for at this congress a workers’ party was founded which absorbed various elements. Marx played a very active rôle in drawing up the programme of this workers’ party. Engels, in his letter to Bernstein dated October 25, 1881, wrote in detail how Marx, in the presence of Lafargue and himself, dictated to Guesde the basic points of the programme. What is most important in this programme approved by Marx? Against what did Benoit Malon and his adherents come out so energetically? Here are the chief points of the programme:

whereas the emancipation of the producing class means simultaneously also the emancipation of all people, regardless of sex or race; and whereas the producers can be free only if they possess the means of production; and

whereas there exist only two forms in which the means of production can belong to them: (1) individual form of possession, which never has existed generally, and which is being crowded out more and more by industrial progress; (2) collective form of ownership, the material and intellectual elements of which are created by the very development of the capitalist society; and

whereas the second form can only be the result of the struggle of the organised working class, and whereas all the means at the disposal of the proletariat must be applied to realise this organisation including also general suffrage, which, thanks to this, will be converted from the weapon of deceit that it was before into a weapon of emancipation,

therefore the French socialist workers, aiming in economic activity to socialise all means of production, resolve to take part in elections, as a means towards organisation and struggle....

The question of elections was a serious problem for the labour movement of France of that period. On the one hand anti-parliamentarian and non-political opinions were very strong among the workers, and on the other hand, many had an exaggerated notion of the saving power of the ballot and the possibility of emancipating the working class by peaceful means. Therefore, the programme of the Workers’ Party contained a special chapter devoted to the rôle of the election campaigns in the general class struggle of the proletariat. Here is what the programme said on this point:

whereas the deprivation of political freedom is an obstacle on the way towards the social education of the people and the economic emancipation of the proletariat;

…considering also that political activity is useful as an agitational means and that the election arena is doubtless an arena for struggle from which one should not flee, the Congress confirms the decisions adopted on this question by the socialist, national and international congresses and declares:

(1) That the social emancipation of the workers is inseparably linked up with their political emancipation;

(2) That to abstain from political activity would yield disastrous results;

(3) That while revolution is the sole means of liberating the working class, this revolution is possible only with and by means of an organised working class.

Further, of course, there follow the political and economic programmes, which contain the demand for the abolition of all political obstacles to the development of the labour movement, demands connected with working hours, wages, the abolition of indirect taxes, etc. It must be noted that this programme was on a higher level than the Gotha programme of German Social-Democracy in 1875. However, also in this programme, not everything was as it should have been. In his letter to Bernstein, dated October 25, 1881, Engels wrote:

Guesde insisted on including his rubbish about Minimum du Salaire (minimum wage), and, in view of the fact that it was not we but the French who were responsible for this, we finally gave in to him, although he (Marx) admitted the theoretical absurdity of this. (28)

The Workers’ Party, created with the direct political and organisational help of Marx and Engels, came to be the arena for fierce struggles between the Marxists and the Possibilists, the leader of whom was Benoit Malon. The struggle was carried on in connection with very important problems of principle: parliamentary socialism or revolutionary socialism, class collaboration or class struggle. On the other hand, the Blanquists, headed by Vaillant, set up their own party, and finally anti-Marxist views strengthened in the trade unions where the Proudhonist-Bakuninist ideas were quite widespread.

Marx systematically followed the work of Guesde, Lafargue and the Workers’ Party. He utilised his trip to Paris at the beginning of 1882 to familiarise himself thoroughly with the internal life of the socialist and trade union movement of France. Marx, in a number of letters to Engels, expressed his views on the policy and tactics of Guesde and Lafargue, the leaders of the Workers’ Party. Marx, who highly esteemed Lafargue and Guesde, sharply criticised his son-in-law Lafargue for his desire to outyell the anarchists; he stated that in one of his articles he, Lafargue, had called Fourier a Communist and didn’t know how to get out of it, that he occupied himself with “childish boasting of the terrible deeds he would perform in the coming revolution,” that he, Lafargue, “goes too far in his prophecies,” etc. Marx was particularly dissatisfied with the manner in which Lafargue attempted to struggle against Bakunin while at the same time adopting his platform. “Longet—last of the Proudhonists; Lafargue—last of the Bakuninists, ‘To the devil with them!’ ” (29) Marx exclaimed in his letter to Engels dated November 11, 1882. The state of the French socialist and trade union organisations disturbed Marx all along.

Concerning the Paris “syndicates” [Marx wrote to Engels on November 27, 1882], I know by questioning impartial Parisians during my stay that these syndicates are, perhaps, much worse than the London Trade Unions. (30)

The struggle in the Workers’ Party between the Marxists and anti-Marxists grew to be more and more acute. Malon and Brousse headed all the opportunist elements, and at the congress of the Workers’ Party in 1882 the whole of the Marxist wing was expelled. This split came not unexpectedly for Marx and Engels. On October 28, 1882, Engels wrote to Bebel:

The long-expected split has occurred in France. The initial collaboration of Guesde and Lafargue with Malon and Brousse could not very well be avoided when the Party was organised; however, Marx and I never had any illusion about the lasting nature of this alliance. The difference is purely one of principle; ought the struggle to be waged as a class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, or is it to be permissible in good opportunist fashion (or translated into socialist language, in good Possibilist fashion) to drop the class character of the movement and the programme wherever by so doing it is possible to get more votes, more adherents? Malon and Brousee came out for the latter; thus they sacrificed the proletarian class character of the movement and rendered the split inevitable. Very well, then. The development of the proletariat is everywhere the result of internal struggles, and France, where a workers’ party is organised for the first time, is no exception. (31)

Benoit Malon made advances to the trade unions, trying to get them to form a bloc against the Marxists. On November 23, 1882, Engels wrote to Marx:

Evidently it was precisely in order to please the trade unions that Malon and Co. sacrificed the programme and the whole past of the movement since the time of the Marseilles Congress. What appears to be his power is in reality his weakness. If one lowers one’s programme to the level of the most ordinary trade unions, it is easy indeed to have a ‘big public.’ (32)

Thus, in 1882, a Marxist Party appeared in France. When one familiarises oneself with the activities of French Marxism from 1882 to 1914, the impression one gets is not very cheering. Guesde doubtless was for some time a revolutionary, but Guesde’s Marxism was always of a nationalist character. Marx and Engels were frequently quoted, but Marxism in France did not develop into a great force, although the Workers’ Party did have a number of deputies in Parliament and some influence over the masses. French Marxism went from one extreme to the other. Guesde was doubtless the best Marxist in France; however, his Marxism did not always come from Marx: Guesde’s Marxism always contained much that was added by himself. This was excellently proved during the World War, when French Marxism, in the person of Guesde, Bracke, etc., sanctified the plunderers’ war as the final war, as the struggle of democracy against militarism. Thus there was something corrupt about French Marxism, since it could not pass this historic test. True, all socialist, anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist grouping went bankrupt in 1914, but this in no way lessens the significance of the fact that the only Marxian organisation in France at that time went hand in hand with the bitterest enemies of the working class in the defence of the interests of French imperialism. How can this be explained? By the fact that French Marxism, just like all socialist and anarchist tendencies of France, suffered from exceptionalism. The French socialists considered themselves inheritors of the “Great Revolution” and always believed France to be the centre of the earth. French Marxism, parallel with the growth of French imperialism, came to be more and more national, i.e., stopped being Marxism. This castration of Marxism deprives it of its revolutionary spirit, and it occurred also in Germany, under the influence of these same causes, against which both Marx and Engels had given warnings long before the World War. The French and German Marxists went bankrupt, on the same day they slipped on one and the same patriotic peel; French Marxism became national, and wherever the national elbows out the class, there can be no more Marxism.

Did the war lead to the bankruptcy of Marxism? No. The war exposed all the rottenness that had penetrated the Marxist parties, it showed that nationalist propaganda had been carried on under the banner of Marxism. It is not Marxism that went bankrupt, but pseudo-Marxism, which came out openly in all countries as the lackey of the imperialist bourgeoisie. While pseudo-Marxism and all anti-Marxian groupings were smashed, the Party which observed the traditions of Marx, and the Party which brought up its cadres on a revolutionary Marxist footing, the Party of Lenin, actually showed what revolutionary Marxism is. History does not develop along straight lines, it has its high and low tides, its ups and downs, its intermissions, and its stormy whirlwind ascents. Through the crash of official Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism the French proletariat came to the point of creating a real party of revolutionary Marxism. This Party grew up and developed in the struggle against the betrayal of Marxism by the inheritors of Marx; it grew out of the revolutionary rejection of all corruption observed in pre-war French Marxism, it grew up in the struggle against the inheritors of Proudhon, Malon, Brousse, Jaurès and Guesde; in the struggle against false French democracy, which cunningly screened its imperialist lust with revolutionary-historical mysticism. The Communist Party of France is the only bearer of the revolutionary teachings of Marx, for outside the Communist Party there is not and cannot be any revolutionary Marxism.



1. Communist Manifesto, pp. 35-36 (Martin Lawrence, London; International Publishers, New York).

2. Engels, Anti-Dühring (German edition), p. 277.

3. Communist Manifesto, p. 37.

4. Paul Louis, French Thinkers and Statesmen of the Nineteenth Century (Russian edition), Moscow, 1905, pp. 58-59.

5. Marx, Class Struggle in France. Martin Lawrence, p. 41.

6. Daniel Stern, History of the French Revolution, 1848 (Russian edition), Vol. 1, p. 287.

7. Marx, Class Struggle in France, p. 48.

8. Ibid., p. 44.

9. Ibid., p. 42.

10. Ibid., p. 42.

11. Ibid., p. 44.

12. Ibid., p. 125.

13. Ibid., p. 126.

14. Communist Manifesto, p. 45.

15. Minutes of General Council of International Workingmen’s Association. Archives. Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute.

16. Marx, Letters to Kugelmann, p. 40.

17. Ibid.

18. Marx to Engels, January 13, 1869. Collected Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 48-49.

19. Marx, Letters to Kugelmann, p. 97.

20. Ibid, p. 89.

21. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 4, p. 330.

22. First Appeal of the General Council in Connection with the Franco-Prussian War. Marx and Engels, Selected Works.

23. Ibid.

24. Marx, Letters to Kugelmann.

25. Ferdinand Pelloutier, History of the Labour Exchange, 1921.

26. See Leon Blum, Congresses of French Workers and Socialists in France, 1876—1900 (Russian edition), Moscow, 1906, pp. 7—8.

27. Ibid., p. 23, and Ferdinand Pelloutier, History of the Labour Exchange.

28. Marx and Engels, Selected Works.

29. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 524—25

30. Ibid., p. 569.

31. Archives 1 (VI), Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Mocow.

32. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 574-75.


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