The Relevance Today of the Paris Commune and Political Chronology of the Commune

IN THIS DOSSIER

La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) Issue no. 280 – March 10, 2021 – Editorial

• The Relevance Today of the Paris Commune – by Daniel Gluckstein

• What Would the Communards of 2021 Do? — Statement by Jeunesse Révolution {Revolution Youth], France

• Political Chronology of the Paris Commune

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The Relevance Today of the Paris Commune

By Daniel Gluckstein

March 18, 2021 will mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Paris Commune, the first workers’ government in history.

As far as the (reactionary) historian Pierre Nora is concerned, there is no need to commemorate the Paris Commune insofar as “revolutionary inspiration has long been absent from the memory of workers’ achievements”.

So the Paris Commune is supposedly not relevant today, when during the 72 days of its short existence, among other things it requisitioned factories that had been abandoned by their bosses, banned night-work for categories of work that did not fundamentally require it, requisitioned vacant accommodation for workers’ families who had lost theirs, cancelled rental arrears, limited the working day to eight hours, introduced secular public education, guaranteed equal rights under the law, and set a ceiling for allowances paid to elected representatives at the level of a worker’s wage.

For her part, Ms. Hidalgo, the (“socialist”) mayor of Paris, is arranging the setting-up of “50 life-size silhouettes of Communards” and putting up plaques in their honor. But what about the Commune’s relevance today? On March 9, hundreds of workers employed by the Paris city council protested outside her window together with their trade unions, having mobilized against her project to extend working time by eight hours per year, applying decisions taken by Macron. “Not one minute more!”, the workers chanted.

Where does the Paris Commune feature in the reduction of working time or in its extension?

As we know, Ms. Hidalgo has presidential ambitions. She respects the institutions of the Fifth Republic which concentrate power in the hands of the President, because the officeholder must in all circumstances act as the clerk of the capitalist class. Sarkozy a while ago, Hollande after him, Macron today… Hidalgo soon?

Will anyone dare to remind Ms. Hidalgo what the Paris Commune represented in terms of its social and democratic content?

The Hungarian worker Leo Frankel, who was elected a Commune Delegate, said: “We are here to carry out social reforms (…). The only mandate I need to accept here is to defend the working class.” On March 22, 1871 the poster convening the election to the Paris municipal council declared: “The members of the municipal assembly will be continuously held accountable, monitored and evaluated by public opinion. They are subject to recall; they will be accountable and held responsible.”

Images of the POID march and rally on March 20, 2021 at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris

The Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) supports mandated democracy. By marching on March 20 to the Wall of the Communards [in Père Lachaise cemetery], where the last of the Communards fell, we will affirm the relevance today of the Paris Commune. In other words, the relevance today of a workers’ government which, in the near future, will requisition the factories and ban lay-offs and job-cuts, and will confiscate the hundreds of billions of euros handed out to the capitalists by Macron (and the unanimous National Assembly) in order to fund the emergency measures for defending the working class and the youth.

This is not about history; it is about the struggle of the working class today for democracy and for winning back its rights.  Let us meet up on March 20!

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Down with Capitalism! Long Live the Paris Commune!

“What Would the Communards of 2021 Do?”

(statement by Jeunesse Révolution [Revolution Youth] translated from Issue No. 281 of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], the weekly newspaper of the Independent Democratic Workers Party [POID] of France)

150 years ago, the Versailles government disarmed the Parisians in the face of military invasion.

The Parisian people responded by proclaiming the first workers’ government in history: the Paris Commune.

Assuming its historic responsibility, the working class in power immediately took vital emergency measures, which implied, in fact, sweeping away the capitalist order: production was requisitioned, the proletariat was armed, all political and economic power came under the direct control of the working class.

What is the situation today? The Macron government, concerned only with the interests of the capitalists, is therefore unable to provide the population with masks, gel, covid-19 tests, healthcare, hospital beds and now vaccines; it is making tens of millions of workers and young people easy prey to the pandemic.

Worse: It is taking advantage of this crisis to close our universities, deliberately refusing to grant the necessary sanitary means and protections to resume classes in person. This has been going on for several months, despite the massive mobilization of the youth.

Isn’t it time to oust Macron and replace him with a workers’ government, responsible to the working class and revocable, and, therefore, concerned solely with the interests of the immense majority of workers, rather than the minority of exploiters?

This is the question that the Communards of 1871 asked themselves. Let us ask it in turn: What would the “Communards of 2021” do?

They would immediately set up an emergency plan for the workers and the youth, including at least:

– the immediate resumption of all classes for all in person, with the proper sanitary conditions;

– the end of selection in higher education, starting with the repeal of Parcoursup;

– the re-establishment of the national character of the baccalaureate and of all diplomas, in order to guarantee their value;

– the right for each young person to a real job with an open-ended contract and a real salary;

– the prohibition of precarious work;

– the prohibition of layoffs;

– the nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry to produce sufficient vaccines.

When the government of Versailles sacrificed the Parisians, the workers responded by constituting their government to defend their interests. So, when Macron sacrifices a whole generation, the experience of the Communards is fully relevant today. As in 1871, the problem of the unity of the youth and the workers is posed in order to finish with the reign of the capitalists, to implement the emergency measures necessary to the survival of the immense majority.

That’s why Jeunesse Révolution calls all of us, high school students, students, young workers, to participate to the demonstration called by the POID on Saturday March 20, 2021, at 10 am, Place Gambetta (metro Gambetta, line 3), in Paris.

In homage to the Paris Commune

Immediate emergency plan for youth!

Homage to the first workers’ government of 1871!

Out with Macron and his policies, in with the workers’ government of 2021!

Down with capitalism, long live socialism!

March 13, 2021

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A Political Chronology of the Paris Commune

Introduction

[The following article is reprinted from The Internationale Issue No. 21 (February 2021), the theoretical magazine of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI). The political chronology was published originally in Issue No. 552 (May 1971) of La Vérité [The Truth] to mark the 100th anniversary of the Paris Commune. La Vérité at that time was the organ of the Central Committee of the Internationalist Communist Organization for the reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCI) in France. The Internationale is republishing it for its readers to mark the Paris Commune’s 150th anniversary. The footnotes are by the editorial team of The Internationale.]

1864

This year marks a turning-point in the history of the Bonapartist regime (1).

17 February: Republican newspaper L’Opinion Nationale publishes the Manifesto of the Sixty, in which – despite many illusions – the most conscious elements of the working class distance themselves from the bourgeois republican party that opposes the Empire.

25 May: The workers win the right to form coalitions. For Bonaparte, this was about repeating the operation he had carried out in 1851: having achieved power without any serious opposition due to the wait-and-see attitude of a working class that had little interest in helping to prop up the same bourgeois democrats who had provoked it and then massacred it in June 1848, Bonaparte thought he could at least buy the working class’s neutrality if not complicity, by allowing some measures to be passed that were in its favour. Clearly, a futile calculation.

The working class stepped into the breach this opened up, which resulted in massive strikes (in La Ricamarie, Aubin, Paris) and a big growth in its class organisations, political parties and trade unions.

28 September: The International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) (the First International) is founded in London, and soon afterwards its French section (headquartered in Paris at Rue des Gravilliers and then Rue de la Corderie) becomes well-established; at this stage, its core membership is made up of activists with a Proudhonist (2) background (Tolain, Fribourg, Limousin).

THE CONGRESSES
OF THE INTERNATIONAL: September 1866: Geneva (Switzerland)

September 1867: Lausanne (Switzeland) September 1868: Brussels (Belgium) September 1869: Basel (Switzerland)

After a series of hard fights, with the founders of the French section leading the charge, collectivism prevails over mutualism. These leaders were jailed on 29 August 1868, following one of three court cases launched against the International by the Empire. These two facts enabled closer relations between the Blanquists (3) and the IWA members, and activists such as Malon and Varlin (4) then assumed the leadership of the French section. The latter were reluctant to have the working class play a supporting role to the various bourgeois republican groupings, but nevertheless emphasised the importance of the political struggle.

1870

12 January: The funeral takes place of Victor Noir, a young journalist murdered by Pierre Bonaparte, a cousin of the Emperor. The Parisian working class mobilises, and 200,000 people attend. The government had taken every precaution, with the police and the army on hand to bloodily crush any revolutionary attempt. A confrontation was avoided, which allowed the regime to put down any opposition for a long period, but Paris had become aware of its strength.

20 April: A Senatus-consulte (5) is issued which establishes a parliamentary system. The Emperor tries to channel republican and working-class opposition, which is growing throughout the country, by giving it a parliamentary platform.

8 May: A plebiscite on “The People approves the liberal reforms introduced into the Constitution since 1860 by the Emperor” results in an overwhelming majority in favour (the population is still mainly comprised of small farmers and rural workers). A number of such plebiscite operations, the penultimate manoeuvre by bankrupt Bonapartism, failed to disarm the opposition, so the final resort – war – was considered and then accepted “with a light heart” by Prime Minister Emile Ollivier.

18 July: France declares war on Prussia. 2 August: The first military clashes, and

the first French defeats.

7 and 9 August: Popular protests in Place de la Concorde and in front of the Legislature pose the question of the regime.

14 August: The La Villette Affair (6): in keeping with their insurrectionist tactics, the Blanquists try to take over the fire station at La Villette, targeting its arsenal. This resort to arms ends in a protest which fails to draw in the masses. The Blanquist leaders are pursued; some are arrested and others leave the country to resume their exile. This defeat, which throws the Blanquist party into disarray on the eve of serious events, also illustrates this movement’s weaknesses: a small nucleus of conspirators, lacking any link with the masses, holding the trade unions (the basic organs for defending the working class) in contempt, and therefore incapable of understanding “what is going on”. The insurrection was launched outside of the deep-rooted movement of the masses and, as such, was defeated.

However, the consequences of this defeat – far from being confined only to the Blanquists – affected the whole of the working class, as it facilitated the government’s repression of all activists.

4 September: When news arrives of the disaster at Sedan (7), the popular masses demonstrate in the Place de la Concorde and invade the Palais Bourbon (8). Gambetta (9) proclaims the fall of the Empire. A Republic is then founded at City Hall, and a Provisional Government (“Government of National Defence”) is formed under the leadership of Trochu and Jules Favre.

5 September: The first proposals are put forward aimed at setting up a provisional Parisian municipal authority composed of delegates from working-class organisations, including trade unions and radical clubs. For the Parisian revolutionaries, it was a question of avoiding seeing the new regime confiscated by the bourgeois National Assembly members, as happened in 1830 and 1848. A meeting of IWA activists (an “Assembly of worker delegates”) takes place at No.2 Rue Aumaire and adopts the following resolution: “Republican committees must be organised immediately in each arrondissement (10). Each arrondissement will delegate four of its members to form a Central Committee (…)”. At this stage, it is not a question of standing up to the Provisional Government, but of mobilising efforts to defend the capital city. From this point on, the Provisional Central Committee – composed almost exclusively of members of the International – operates continuously from No.6 Place de la Corderie. The battle is therefore joined to gain Arrondissement Republican Committees, which is where the various political tendencies of the labour movement will link up.

15 September: A manifesto of the Republican Central Committee of the Twenty Arrondissements (the first “Red Poster”) is addressed to the people of Paris. It constitutes a national defence programme, but also puts forward a certain number of demands of a political nature: Freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association; Commanding officers of the National Guard to be elected; Delegates to be sent to the provinces with the task of organising republicans.

19 September: Paris is completely surrounded; the Siege of Paris begins. Bismarck (11) and Jules Favre meet for talks at the Château de Ferrières.

25 September: The Provisional Government issues decrees postponing the Paris municipal elections and elections to a Constituent Assembly. The Republican Central Committee reacts immediately by inviting the people to themselves proceed with the municipal elections “as soon as possible”. In parallel, the Republican Central Committee invites the battalion commanders of the National Guard to confer, and begins the political fight against the Provisional Government.

5 October: The battalions of Belleville (12) march on City Hall under the command of Flourens (13). The other battalions rally to the movement, which fails; but it marks the start of a rivalry between the National Guard and the Republican Central Committee.

8 October: Demonstration in front of City Hall organised by the Republican Central Committee in order to regain the initiative. A serious setback. The masses, i.e. the battalions, do not follow.

31 October: Defeat in the Battle of Le Bourget, Metz (14) surrenders. The Blanquists decide the time has come to try to lend a hand. Blanqui seizes City Hall, but cannot keep hold of it for lack of sufficient organisation of the workers.

3 November: The Provisional Government holds a plebiscite and wins a crushing majority, enabling it to pursue the Blanquists and the revolutionaries. Once again, their ranks are thrown into disarray.

5 and 7 November: Mayoral elections for the arondissements, which prove a relative success for the revolutionaries. Malon and Delescluze are elected.

1871

The night of 5 January: The Republican Central Committee, now renamed the Delegation of the Twenty Arondissements, covers the walls of Paris with a Red Poster:

The politics, strategy and administration of 4 September, in continuity with the Empire, have been judged.

MAKE WAY FOR THE PEOPLE! MAKE WAY FOR THE COMMUNE!

19 January: The final attempt to break out of the siege ends in bloody defeat in the Battle of Buzenval.

22 January: Another revolutionary day: National Guards succeed in freeing their comrades who had been held in prison since October, but fail to take City Hall, which is defended well by Vinoy and Ferry. The revolutionaries become the target of repression (radical clubs closed down, newspapers banned, arrests).

28 January: An armistice is signed, providing for elections and the entry of the Prussians into Paris.

8 February: Elections result in a National Assembly with a monarchist majority. The General Delegation and the International had campaigned for there to be “workers among the people in power”.

15 February: A meeting of 3,000 National Guards takes place in the TivoliVauxhall auditorium; it appoints a Commission responsible for drafting the statutes of a National Guard Federation.

20 and 23 February: With the elections over, the General Delegation gets down to reorganising the revolutionary forces in the form of Vigilance Committees of the Arrondissements. Resolutions are passed:

Every member of a Vigilance Committee declares his adherence to the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Accordingly, he seeks to achieve by any means its removal [of the bourgeoisie] as a ruling caste… No more bosses, no more proletariat, no more social classes…

It therefore will oppose by force, if necessary, the meeting of any Constituent or other alleged National Assembly…
It recognises no government of the country other than the government of political and social liquidation produced by the delegation of the country’s revolutionary communes and the main working-class centres…

27 February to 2 March: Continuous demonstrations in Paris, fraternisation with the soldiers, the National Guard’s artillery is transported to working-class neighbourhoods.

10 March: The National Assembly decapitalises Paris (15) and passes measures that are intolerable to the people of Paris: commercial bills due between 13 August and 13 November 1870 to be immediately payable; the abolition of the 1.50 francs daily pay for the National Guards, which is the only means of subsistence for a workingclass population that has been made unemployed by the war. These acts of provocation push the petty bourgeoisie of Paris – the very many craftspeople and shopkeepers – into the proletariat’s camp.

13 March: Proclamation of the Central Committee of the National Guard Federation. Its programme:
1. The Republic shall not be made conditional on universal suffrage, which it carries out;

2. The National Guard affirms its absolute right to appoint all of its commanding officers and to recall them when they have lost the confidence of those who have elected them;

3. Plan for the complete reorganisation of the national forces.
Almost every battalion signs up to this programme. The Blanquists and the members of the International, who were very active in the framework of the Delegation of the Twenty Arrondissements, regarded this new organisation with mistrust and barely fought to be represented in it. This political error would weigh very heavily on the events that followed, with the political leadership of the revolution (the Commune) never succeeding in making the military leadership fall in line; on occasion, the latter had its own political line. Nevertheless, on the eve of the decisive day of 18 March, the cadres of the insurrection were in place.

17 March: Blanqui is arrested, having been sentenced to death in absentia for his role in the events of 31 October 1870.

8, 9, 16 and 18 March: Repeated attempts by the Thiers government (16) to recover the National Guard’s artillery; the last attempt takes place in Montmartre (17). What is at stake? Thiers stated later: “The business people told me repeatedly: You will never be able to carry out financial operations if you don’t make an end of these scoundrels, if you don’t take their cannons away from them.”Statement by Comte d’Hérisson, a conservative: “One almost wonders if Mr Thiers really wanted to capture the Montmartre cannons, and if his aim rather was to achieve a popular movement that would allow him to evacuate Paris first, and then recapture it by drowning it in blood.”

These confessions serve to fully characterise the Communard movement, the first proletarian revolution in history, and all the recantations by “serious” historians will do nothing to change that. The popular reaction to Thiers’s enterprises results in the execution of two generals: Lecomte and Thomas (18). The government tries to mobilise the National Guard in the bourgeois neighbourhoods. Another setback. It is then forced to evacuate Paris and beats a hasty retreat. The order is issued to all services of both the army and the government administration to fall back to Versailles. In this way, the bourgeois state apparatus is completely destroyed in Paris.

During 18 March, there is no co-ordinated action whatsoever by the revolutionaries; only a few local initiatives respond to the new situation.

The Central Committee of the National Guard finally meets in City Hall, and out of necessity finds itself entrusted with all powers. Despite much hesitation, it assumes power temporarily, with “time to prepare the municipal elections”. Since there was a clear need to administer Paris, the Central Committee proceeds to delegate people. In the main, this genuine provisional government is composed of Blanquists and members of the International.

19 March: The Interior Minister delegates the temporary administration of Paris to the Mayors’ Assembly.
The mayors, most of whom are bourgeois republicans, use this as an argument to launch into an attempt at mediation between Versailles and Paris. These excuses, made possible by the Central Committee’s irresolute attitude, considerably benefit Thiers.

21 March: A meeting of the Delegation of the Twenty Arrondissements poses all of the important issues of the moment:

Municipal elections scheduled for 24 March (some activists condemn their detrimental character). The Central Committee’s wait-and-see approach is condemned. “The army was allowed to leave… We haven’t arrested the traitors… The Bank of France is guarded by reactionary battalions. In politics, every mistake is a crime…” (Chatelain) (19) The fact remains that in order to avoid dividing the revolutionaries, the majority of the Delegation line up behind the Central Committee.

21 and 22 March: The National Guard represses two reactionary demonstrations in Paris, but simultaneously, the Central Committee allows the mayors’ attempts at mediation to develop further. It takes an insistent and public intervention by the Delegation of the Twenty Arondissements before the Central Committee firms up its position on 24 March and announces its irrevocable decision to organise municipal elections on 26 March.

25 March: With the start of the electoral campaign, the Central Committee announces its (temporary) withdrawal. The International publishes an extremely moderate manifesto (“the Commune Delegation (…) must determine the progressive application of the social reforms”), clearly inspired by the Proudhonists.

26 March: Election day; there is a high turnout.

27 March: The results of the election are established. The Delegation of the Twenty Arondissements issues a new manifesto that assigns its objectives to the new government. Also inspired by the Proudhonists, the new manifesto represents the last important manifestation of the Delegation, which will very quickly be subsumed into the National Guard and the state apparatus.

28 March: The results are declared: 90 elected representatives, of whom just 13 are from the Central Committee of the National Guard. Three political groups: members of the International, Blanquists and Jacobins.

Fifteen or so members of the International, a handful of Blanquists. The majority is composed of unclassifiable men: “Jacobins” locating themselves in the tradition of 1793, petty bourgeois solely concerned with a political revolution, centralisers, “Romantics”, and finally, republican greybeards more concerned with parading than taking action. Prisoners of their own hatred like Felix Pyat, they are a ferment of disintegration; on that account, personal quarrels poison the atmosphere of the Commune Assembly.

29 March: The Commune proceeds to establish a genuine government rather than a municipal administration, although the demands for action – the conflict with Versailles – do not sit well with the federalist principles stated in the programme of the elected representatives.

But those principles continue to hinder the Communards’ efforts. For example, it is in the name of those principles that there will be a refusal to arm the inhabitants of the communes around Paris who want to fight against the Versailles forces.

APRIL

Over the course of some months, movements inspired by the Commune take place without great success in a number of working-class cities and big towns in the rest of the country, such as Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Le Creusot, Marseille, Narbonne, Toulouse and Limoges. They barely worry the government, which copes with them without much difficulty, and do not even succeed in targeting significant numbers of troops. Although the inherent weakness of the revolutionary movement outside Paris should be noted, this defeat was also due to the Communards’ negligence: they sent representatives out to the rest of the country too late and without enough resources (just 100,000 francs spent on external propaganda).

2 April: A decree by the Commune on the salaries of civil servants equalizes pay for administrative posts with the worker’s wage (6,000 francs per year).

With universal suffrage used in elections at every level, this was the means used to smash the imperial bureaucracy and put in place a working-class government.

Other measures relating to school education – driven by Vaillant – eliminate religious education in schools and aim to reorganise primary and technical schools; given the short time available to the Communards, these did not produce any concrete results.

Secularism in education, achieved here for the first time, appears as a gain for the proletariat which the bourgeoisie strives to destroy whenever it can.

2 April: The first serious military engagement between the forces of Paris and Versailles: a reconnaissance mission towards Courbevoie (20) by Commune troops led by Bergeret ends in defeat, and the prisoners are shot by the Versailles forces. This provokes a big emotional response in Paris, resulting in a spontaneous mobilisation.

3 April: The Commune gives in to popular pressure and decides to march on Versailles. This sortie is carried out completely carelessly and without any order, and ends in disaster. Thiers had had the time to put together a new army and indoctrinate it. Once again, then Parisians pay a very high price for their illusions, thinking that the army would not fire on the National Guard.

5 April: Decree on hostages: the execution of one Commune fighter by the Versailles forces must result in the execution of three Versailles hostages. This decree would only be applied in the last few days of the Commune, whilst the Versailles army carried out executions from the start of the conflict.

15 April: The Assembly of the International in Geneva states: “In the Commune Revolution of 18 March, we have saluted the political advent of the working class…” The internationalist character of the Commune is made even clearer by the direct participation of foreigners: the Hungarian Leo Frankel (21), the Poles Dombrowski and Wroblewski (22), and others.

16 April: Decree regarding the reactivation of workshops that had been abandoned by their owners. It provides for immediately assigning them to workers for setting up co-operatives. These cooperative enterprises will federate, marking the beginnings of a reorganisation of production on a basis that is totally alien to capitalism: collective appropriation and an embryonic form of central planning. Complementary elections to the Communal Assembly. Pointless discussions develop around the validation of those elected, some of whom received less than one-eighth of the votes cast; at least at the Assembly level, this shows the limits of the communalist movement, due to the social origins of most of its members in bourgeois parliamentarism.

17 April: Decree on the maturity date of commercial bills. The law passed by the National Assembly on 10 March would have caused 300,000 bankruptcies in Paris.

The aim of the decree is to protect small-business owners and at the same time avoid a further worsening of the economic situation in the capital. Repayments will only start from 15 July 1871 onwards; this equitable measure strengthens cohesion between the classes.

20 April: A civil order abolishes nightwork in bakeries. Like all other measures with a social character, this was initiated by members of the International, who – given their own working-class background – realised the need for them.

27 April: Decree abolishing fines and deductions from workers’ wages, an abuse in the 19th century where the boss acted as judge and jury for the slightest “misconduct” and assumed the right to impose financial penalties.

Also to protect workers’ wages, the Commune carries out a review of contracts made by the State with private individuals; henceforward, the percentage applied to wages will be listed in the specifications.

Finally, employment offices – which were private businesses – are abolished. These institutions of the bourgeois regime operated real trafficking similar to the trafficking in foreign workers we see today.

28 April: Creation of a “Committee of Public Safety”. The International members vigorously oppose the resurgence of the old myths (23) dressed up in pompous wording that in reality is anarchistic. The Communal Assembly splits irretrievably between a Majority and a Minority. The Minority’s position was undeniably correct and realistic at this stage, but it was considerably weakened when they announced on 15 May that they were separating from the Commune and withdrawing to their arrondissements; this was short-sighted in view of the imperatives of civil war, which do not tolerate abstention.

MAY

7 May: Decree on the Mont-de-Piété (24). Between 12 and 25 May, objects were redeemed with a total value of 323,407 francs, a small amount which illustrates that the Commune was also an insurrection born out of poverty.

A Federation of radical and popular clubs is created and continues the activities of the Republican Vigilance Committees in the preceding period, by providing effective aid. This is an expression of the political will of the working class. The Women’s Union, founded by E. Dmitrieff and N. Le Mel (25), is closely linked to the International and plays a similar role. To properly understand what the Commune was, one cannot ignore the strength of this popular current; its ideological demands and wish to satisfy the material needs of the masses pointed to a dictatorship of the proletariat.

8 May: The Fort d’Issy (26) is taken by the Versailles forces. The city’s defences begin to receive direct bombardment. The worsening military situation rekindles the power struggle between the Central Committee of the National Guard and the Commune (represented by its war delegates); the balance tips in favour of the Central Committee. Henceforth, at both the military and political levels, there will no longer be any leadership that is at least co-ordinated, if not centralised (which it never was).

9 May: During the renewal of the Committee of Public Safety, a new clash occurs between Majority and Minority members. The Minority members are ousted from the administration: Vallès from the Intendance (Commissariat), Vermorel from the Sûreté (Security), Longuet from the Journal Officiel (27). This minority “with the exception of some ten members, comprised the most enlightened and the most laborious members of the Council” (28).

16 May: Protot, Justice Delegate, issues a civil order which stipulates that administrative acts will be carried out free of charge, a modest measure in line with the move towards inexpensive government.

20 May: Ratification of the peace treaty in Frankfurt; Bismarck obligingly supplies Thiers with new troops.


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 up heaving, but the crumbling into dust of bourgeois society. (…) Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform; the national governments are one as against the proletariat!” (29)

The Commune’s fighters are forced to fall back to the first internal line of defence, inside the city walls.
In the afternoon, the Versailles forces enter Paris – a postern gate is treacherously left open for them.

That same day, the Finance Delegate, Jourde, sends a letter to the Deputy Governor of the Bank of France requesting funds which he must have taken, since it is known that during the whole civil war period, Thiers drew bills on the Bank of France amounting to 257 million francs, while the Commune only received 16 million francs.

The financial means had to be found to support the lives of 357,000 people in Paris, quite apart from the costs of running the city. Jourde’s “honesty” was much admired, especially by those bourgeois who were aware of the fact

that if the Communards had seized the cash and other forms of paper money held by the Bank, it would have been very difficult for Thiers to finance the counter-revolution.

The night of 21 May: Some men compose themselves and try to organise the resistance in Paris, but the Versailles forces have already made serious inroads. From this moment on, there is no longer any overall plan, centres of resistance are set up haphazardly and the defences at important strategic points like Montmartre are not maintained properly.

23 May: Rigault and Ferré have hostages executed, belated measures which therefore look more like an act of vengeance or despair rather than a legitimate act of defence, faced with Versailles troops who have been carrying out mass executions for more than a month.

A series of fires take hold in many parts of the city: “While tearing to pieces the living body of the proletariat, its rulers must no longer expect to return triumphantly into the intact architecture of their abodes. (…) The bourgeoisie of the whole world, which looks complacently upon the wholesale massacre after the battle, is convulsed by horror at the desecration of brick and mortar!” (30)

24 May: City Hall is evacuated, and then goes up in flames.
The Commune falls back to the Town Hall in the 11th arrondissement.

The Pantheon is taken by the army.

25 May: Delescluze dies on a barricade near Chateau-d’Eau. (31) The Left Bank is evacuated.

26 May: The struggle continues, but the Communards now only hold the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and its surrounding area. Execution of around 50 hostages in Rue Haxo.

27 May: Père-Lachaise Cemetery is lost.

28 May: The last barricade falls at 1.00pm, in Rue Oberkampf. “The noise of battle has died down, but new gunfire can be heard in Paris: that of the firingsquads; it has already lasted a week.” (32) When the proletariat threatens the bourgeoisie’s privileges, the latter’s ferocity no longer knows any limits. Some 4,000 Communards are killed during the battle, at least 30,000 are shot afterwards, and others are sentenced to be deported to New Caledonia, including the penal colony on Nou Island.

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ENDNOTES

(1) The regime of the Second French Empire (1851-70) of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, referred to as Napoleon III.
(2) Supporters of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), who advocated a form of utopian, non-proletarian socialism. In 1847, Marx published The Poverty of Philosophy, a scathing polemic against the concepts of utopian socialism in answer to Proudhon’s book, Philosophy of Poverty. (3) Supporters of Auguste Blanqui (180581), an old revolutionary militant who was highly regarded by Marx. Blanqui was held prisoner in the provinces during the whole period of the Paris Commune, having been arrested on 17 March.

(4) Benoît Malon (1841-93), who worked as a dyer, and Eugène Varlin (1839-71), who worked as a bookbinder, were both IWA members and elected leaders of the Paris Commune.

(5) A form of decree issued by the Senate. The name drew inspiration from Ancient Rome.
(6) La Villete is a neighbourhood in northeastern Paris.

(7) A 130,000-strong French army was defeated by the Prussian army in the Battle of Sedan, resulting in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III and 104,000 of his troops. This battle effectively decided the war in favour of Prussia and its allies, though fighting continued under a new French government.

(8) The seat of the Legislature.
(9) Leon Gambetta, like General Trochu and the lawyer Jules Favre, was a leading bourgeois republican.
(10) The city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements municipaux [administrative districts or boroughs], more simply referred to as arrondissements.

(11) Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), statesman of the Kingdom of Prussia and the first Chancellor of the German Empire proclaimed in January 1871, following the defeat of Napoleon III.

(12) A working-class neighbourhood in the east of Paris.
(13) Gustave Flourens (1838-71), elected representative and General of the Paris Commune.

(14) A city in Lorraine, in eastern France. (15) The new capital is Versailles, the former main residence of the kings of France. (16) Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), bourgeois politician, head of the Versailles government and the main organiser of the crushing of the Paris Commune.

(17) A working-class neighbourhood in the north of Paris.
(18) Given responsibility by Thiers for recovering the National Guard’s artillery, on 18 March in Montmartre, Generals Lecomte and Thomas were surrounded by workers from the neighbourhood, where women were to play a decisive role. The two generals ordered their troops to fire on the crowd. The soldiers refused, with “rifle butts raised on high” [from the original French verses of The Internationale], and shot their own generals.

(19) Eugene Chatelain (1829-1902), worker, poet and veteran of the Paris Commune.
(20) A suburb north-west of Paris.

(21) Leo Frankel (1844-96), Hungarian jewellery worker and member of the International, elected Commune Delegate for Labour and Industry. A survivor of the repression, he contributed towards founding the Workers’ Party in Hungary (1880) and then was active in the Workers’ International (Second International). (22) Jaroslaw Dombrowski (1836-71), born in Poland under the domination of the Russian Empire; while an officer in the Russian Army, he took part in the January

Uprising against tsarism in 1863; became a General in the Commune. Valery Wroblewski (1836-1908), Polish participant in the January Uprising in 1863; emigrated; became a General in the Commune; in exile, joined the International in London.

(23) Because this echoed the Committee of Public Safety set up in April 1793 during the bourgeois revolution in France.
(24) Translator’s note: The Mont-de-Piété originated in Italy in the 15th century as a privately funded network of charitable pledge-shops or pawnbrokers aimed at combating usury, and spread to other countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. In 1869, the Mont-de-Piété in France – a privately-owned institution with shareholders – had an annual turnover of 25 million francs and declared a profit of 784,736 francs after making a contribution to the Assistance Publique, a body of charitable foundations. At the time of the Commune, some 73 per cent of pledges were made by workers, and two-thirds of the 1.5 million loans made annually were loans of between 3 and 10 francs. The Commune’s decree dated 29 March only suspended the sale of pledged objects; the decree dated 7 May allowed objects with a value of less than 20 francs to be redeemed free of charge.

(25) The Women’s Union to Defend Paris and Care for the Wounded was founded in April 1871 by Elizabeth Dmitrieff (18511910), a Russian emigree, member of the International and close associate of Karl Marx, and by Nathalie Lemel (1826-1921), a bookbinder, trade union delegate and member of the International.

(26) One of six forts built to the south of the main wall around the city; its remains survive today in the suburb that bears its name, south-west of Paris on the road to Versailles. (27) Jules Vallès (1832-85), journalist, writer and elected representative of the Commune; Auguste Vermorel (1841-71), journalist and elected representative of the Commune; Charles Longuet (1839-1903), member of the International, elected representative of the Commune, son-in-law of Karl Marx, editor of the Journal Officiel [Official Newspaper] which published the decrees of the Paris Commune as well as news.

(28) Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune of 1871, Chapter XIX (1876).
After taking part in the Paris Commune, Lissagaray (1838-1901) lived in exile in London (1871-80), staying at Karl Marx’s family home.

During this time, he collected testimonies from the survivors in exile in London and Switzerland and consulted all documents available at the time to ensure accuracy. Marx assisted him in the writing of History of the Paris Commune of 1871, which was translated into English by Eleanor Marx.(29) Karl Marx, “The Fall of Paris”, The Civil War In France (1871).

(30) Ibid.
(31) Translator’s note: A veteran of the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, Delescluze chose his own death. Carrying only his cane and wearing his ceremonial sash as the military commander of the Commune, he walked to the nearest defended barricade, climbed to the top in clear view of the enemy, and was promptly shot dead.
(32). C. Talès, La Commune de 1871 (1921)

The wall, still standing at Père-la-Chaise Cemetery, where the Communards were executed

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