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C. Charles

Commune Charted Way
to Workers’ Freedom

After the French Defeat of 1871, the Workers of Paris Set Up
the Most Democratic Government Modern History Had Ever Seen

(21 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 12, 21 March 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Working-men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them.” – Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, May 30, 1871.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 showed the French workers that the capitalist class of that country was rotten to the marrow, interested only in huge profits. The war saw the siege of Paris by the Prussians. During the siege the Parisian people were armed as a measure of defense. The war witnessed the fall of Napoleon III and the rise of the capitalist republic.

The French capitalist class, monarchist and Republican united, were mortally afraid of the armed anti-capitalist Parisian workers. After signing an armistice with Bismarck, head of the Prussian forces, the first task that faced the French capitalists was the disarming of the workers of Paris.

As the initial step in this direction, several regiments crept into Paris before dawn on March 18, 1871, with the purpose of stealing the cannon which belonged to the Paris people.

Soldiers Go Over to Workers

The move was discovered. The thoroughly aroused masses thronged out of their homes. The soldiers sent to take the cannon went over to the side of the workers. The workers took over the city. War was declared between Workingman’s Paris and the French capitalist class with its headquarters in Versailles. On the 26th the Commune, composed of representatives from each section of the city,’was elected. On the 28th it was installed.

For 71 days the Red Flag waved over Paris.

Unfortunately the Paris workers, hoping to avert a civil war, did not at once march against Versailles. Versailles was given a chance to strengthen itself. The Communards paid dearly in blood for their illusion that the capitalists would not wage a civil war against them.

The French capitalist forces, with the solidarity of Bismarck, placed another siege against Paris. Most of the energy of the Commune had to be given to military defense.

In spite of this, the Commune passed important social legislation.

All house rents were remitted from October 1870 to April 1871. Night work was eliminated for bakers. The pawn shops were abolished and all pawned goods belonging to Workers and small independent craftsmen were returned free to their owners.

The Commune ordered a census to be made of all factories and workshops which had been closed by their employers. The aim of this was to have these plants operated by and for the workers previously employed in them. The workers were to be organized in producers’ cooperative societies.

Commune Upholds Workers Internationalism

In the field of political and cultural activity, the Commune:

On May 28, the Versailles troops, now overwhelming in number, crushed the last heroic barricade of the Commune.

Terrible revenge was wreaked upon the Communards. From 20,000 to 80,000 working men, women and children were killed either in Paris or died in exile. Their crime: striving for a free world.

Commune Showed Road to Socialism

The Commune gave the answer to the problem of how the transition between capitalism and socialism will take place. It proved that the workers cannot use the machinery of the capitalist state as an instrument of this transition. Even the most democratic of capitalist governments abounds with checks and hindrances of the popular will, has artificial divisions between the various departments of governments, creates a strong bureaucracy and army separated from the people.

The capitalist state must be replaced by a workers state, a time democracy. According to Lenin, who made a deep study of the Commune and its lessons, proletarian democracy, or proletarian dictatorship, has the following characteristics:

  1. The source of power, is not law previously discussed and enacted by parliament but the initiative springing straight from the underlying mass of the people, on the spot ...;
  2. It involves the replacement of the police and army, which are separated from the people and opposed to it, by the direct arming of the whole nation; peace and order are maintained under such a government by the armed workers themselves, by the armed nation;
  3. The bureaucracy is either cashiered (fired) in favor of representatives of the people or held strictly under popular control.

The Commune was the first expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Soviets under Lenin and Trotsky was the second historical example of the rule of the workers.

Commune Will Be Re-established

The greatest promise for the future is in the recent news we have received from France. Not only has the fighting spirit of the French workers not been broken by Hitler and Petain, but the great weakness of the Commune is being remedied. That historical weakness was the absence of a revolutionary Party. This shortcoming in 1871 was inevitable. It was the price the Parisian workers paid for being the great pioneers. We are informed that the Bolshevik Party of the Fourth International of France is functioning and gaining new support among the workers.

The French workers will reconstruct the Commune on stronger foundations under the leadership of the Fourth International.

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Last updated: 22 August 2021