150 years of the Paris Commune

Clara Figueiredo_untitled_rehearsal Films Overdue_Digitized analog photography_Mexico_2019


The Commune signaled the birth of a new type of social revolution, destined to destroy the bourgeois state and dissolve class society.

The “first workers' government in history” was the product of the first world-wide crisis/war, provoked by the Franco-Prussian war, which shook all of Europe and beyond. The Franco-Prussian War developed between July 19, 1870 and May 10, 1871, opposing the French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, which received support from the North German Confederation, of which it was part, and from the Grand Duchy of Baden, the Kingdom of Württemberg and the Kingdom of Bavaria. Bismarck had prepared a powerful army and knew the precarious situation of the French army. He also knew that if he were attacked by the French, he would have the support of the southern German states and, by defeating France, there would no longer be any obstacles to his project to unify Germany.

Napoleon III's advisers assured him that the French army was capable of defeating the Prussians, which would restore the emperor's waning popularity. But soon after the declaration of war, Prussian armies advanced into France. The effectiveness of the German offensive contrasted with the inefficiency of French military mobilization. French forces were driven out of Alsace, while the division commanded by General François Achille Bazaine was forced to withdraw from Metz. An army led by Napoleon III himself and Marshal Patrice Mac Mahon tried to free Bazaine, a veteran of the Second Empire's Mexican adventure, but ended up surrounded by Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian military chief, on August 31, starting the Battle of Sedan, who decided the conflict. On September 1, the French unsuccessfully tried to break the Prussian encirclement, and on September 2, Napoleon III, Mac Mahon, and 83 soldiers surrendered to the Germans; the Emperor was captured and humiliated, before being definitively ostracized. The Franco-Prussian War was short and ended in disaster for French troops; the Prussian army clearly demonstrated its superiority in leadership, tactics, logistics and training.

The figures for the French disaster were 14 soldiers killed, 39 wounded, more than XNUMX prisoners, including XNUMX generals and the Emperor himself. In The disaster, Émile Zola summarized the end of the battle of Sedan: “Like a murky torrent flowed the crowd towards the ditches of Sedan, making one think of the heaps of mud and stones that the current drags from the tops of the mountains and carries to the depths of the valleys… Is it possible to blame those unfortunates who had remained motionless, waiting for twelve consecutive hours, under the projectiles of an invisible enemy and in front of which they knew they were powerless? Now, enemy batteries decimated them from the front, flanks and rear; the crossfire was getting denser as the army fled in search of the city. The extermination, which took place at the bottom of the dirty ditch into which this human mass was being precipitated, was total”. The defeat of Sedan meant, sooner or later, the loss of the army that had taken refuge in Metz and the siege of Paris. The occupation of part of the territory by Prussian troops was seen as an unprecedented humiliation by the French population.

The news of the Sedan disaster roused the population of Paris; on September 3, a popular insurrection broke out, which continued on September 4, when the people invaded the Chamber of Representatives, demanding the fall of the regime; under popular pressure, the Empire was overthrown, the Second Republic proclaimed, the Legislative Assembly dissolved, and a Government of National Defense. Léon Gambetta (1838-1882), one of the leaders of the revolt, was appointed minister of the interior and head of the provisional government. With the proximity of German troops, he had to leave Paris by balloon and hastily take refuge in Tours, in western France, where he established a provisional government.

Prussian troops mobilized to attack Paris, while the new government tried to negotiate with Bismarck who, irreducible, only accepted the end of the war after the delivery of Alsace and Metz, where Bezaine's troops still remained, surrounded by the Prussian army. Without trying to take Metz, the Prussian troops undertook a five-month siege of the French capital, imposing a food blockade, starvation and constant bombing. In Tours, Gambetta mobilized more than 600 men, organizing 36 military missions with the aim of freeing Paris from the Prussian siege and reestablishing French sovereignty in its territory; one by one, French raids against the Prussians failed.

In December 1870, the Loire army was dispersed at Loigny, and in January 1871 it suffered a further defeat at Le Mans. Two other French armies, one from the north and one from the east, were repulsed at Saint-Quentin and Switzerland respectively. In the midst of the defeats, there was the surrender presented by Marshal Bazaine, in command of 173 thousand soldiers, in Metz, on October 27, 1870. Bazaine's military surrender was considered by Gambetta an act of treason to the Republic, leading him to abandon the provisional government. There followed a period of bombardment of Paris and, for 15 days, houses and forts located on the left bank of the Seine were mercilessly punished by the heavy shells of Prussian artillery. The capitulation of Paris took place on January 28, 1871.

French military mistakes determined a succession of defeats, which led to the overthrow of the Ollivier government and his ministry, sacrificed as scapegoats. The royalist majority in the National Assembly was frankly in favor of capitulating to Prussia. Despite the willingness of the Parisian people to resist, the Assembly ended up signing a peace with the Germans. Peace negotiations were taken over by the French National Assembly, meeting on February 12, 1871 in Bordeaux. On the 13th, Grévy was named President of the Republic and Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), politician and historian, ascended to the position of head of the executive branch. Leading the provisional government, Thiers opposed continuing the war and proceeded to negotiate peace on Prussian terms. Peace negotiations began in Versailles on the 21st of February and, on the 26th, the preliminary peace terms had already been signed. On March 1, Prussian troops symbolically entered Paris, which no longer offered resistance, leaving the city the next day. In the Parisian working class and people, political ferment was rising.

What was the French working class in 1870? It was concentrated in large factories and in some regions, but small industry and crafts were numerically and socially predominant; France continued to be a predominantly rural country. Great industrial empires, however, already existed: the Schneider factory employed 10 workers in the metallurgical industry in Creusot; Wendel employed about 10 in his ironworks in Lorraine. The Anzin mines occupied more than 10 miners. Concentration was strong in large metallurgical, steel, textile and chemical companies. The shipyards in Paris had more than 70 workers, most of them coming from the provinces, in a migratory flow of enormous proportions, the result of the land concentration process of previous years. In 1866 there were officially 4.715.084 people employed in factories and industry, but only 1,5 million workers worked in companies with more than ten people. Industrial concentration was rapid during the Bonapartist regime, but limited to some industrial branches and in some geographic regions (Paris, North, Lorraine, Lower Seine and Lyon).

Of the 37 million inhabitants of France, more than 25 million were still rural. Small companies were the majority in the industry. Paris had a population of two million inhabitants: the new administrative division, from 1859, grouped them into 20 districts (districts) with 442 workers in the city in 1866 and 550 in 1872. Their number grew, and so did their concentration: the number of bosses decreased from 65 in 1847 to 39 in 1872; the boss/worker ratio went from 1:5 in 1847 to 1:14 in 1870: there were some companies with thousands of employees. Cail, in metallurgy, employed more than two thousand workers. Gouin (locomotive building), over 1.500, as well as Gevelot. Most metallurgy companies, however, employed 10 to 50 workers. In traditional professions (textiles, shoes, handicrafts) the small craft industry predominated: there were three large shoe production houses in Paris.

War, incubator and social accelerator, precipitated the revolution; deadlines and political and social rhythms accelerated. After the French defeat, Blanqui created a newspaper, La Patrie en Danger, to support Gambetta's resistance against the Prussians. He participated in the riot of October 31, 1870, occupying the Paris Prefecture for a few hours: arrested, for this reason, on the eve of the Commune of March 1871, condemned to deportation by the government of Adolphe Thiers, he was interned in Clairvaux on account of his age (66 years). Blanqui lived the episode of the Commune in prison (the Communards tried to exchange their freedom for that of several prisoners of the revolutionaries, without success).

On September 4, the same day as the proclamation of the Second Republic, the Parisian section of the AIT held a meeting with the Federal Chamber of Workers' Societies, which did not decide on the immediate overthrow of the republican government, but defined the fight for a series of claims, among them the immediate abolition of the Imperial Police, the suppression of the government police chief in Paris, the organization of the municipal police, the repeal of all laws against the press and against the rights of assembly and association, the immediate arming of the workers and mass enlistment to counter the Prussian offensive. To guarantee the fight and watch over the government, they proposed the formation of the “Republican Central Committee for National Defense of the Twenty Regions of Paris”, which came to exist side by side with the government, creating a situation of “dual power”. The workers' resolutions of September anticipated the imminent developments, and created the bases for a situation of dual power in the capital and, potentially, in the country.

On January 28, 1871, Prussian Chancellor Bismarck and Jules Favre, representative of the Government of National Defense of France, signed a “Convention on the Armistice and Capitulation of Paris”. Favre accepted the humiliating demands presented by the Prussians: the payment within two weeks of an indemnity of 200 million francs, the surrender of a large part of the Paris forts, and the delivery of the field artillery and ammunition of the Paris army. . Adolphe Thiers, head of government ("that monstrous gnome who seduced the French bourgeoisie for about half a century because he is the most complete intellectual expression of its own class corruption", in Marx's definition), faced with the fact that Paris was heavily armed , and fulfilling the agreement concluded with Prussia, he ordered the French soldiers to confiscate all the ammunition that was in the city. By the treaty between France and Germany, signed at Versailles on February 26th by Thiers and Favre, for France, and Chancellor Bismarck, for Germany, France ceded Alsace and eastern Lorraine to Germany and paid an indemnity of five billion francs. . The effort and the French national surplus would be compromised for more than a decade. In Paris, before the end of the Prussian siege, a new organization of the National Guard was attempted.

The Guard, in practice, was the armed people of Paris (300 to 350 thousand men in arms since the general conscription was called in 1870, after the first French defeats). It appointed its officers in each battalion, but the overall command was appointed by the government. On February 15, 1871, delegates from the battalions of 18 Parisian districts gathered in a large Parisian hall. A commission of twenty members was appointed and tasked with drafting a statute: a declaration of principle recognized the “Revolutionary Commune of the City” as the sole government.

The committee of delegates from the districts drew up a “Declaration of Principles” on the night of February 22nd to 23rd, 1871: “Every member of the surveillance committee declares that he belongs to the revolutionary socialist party. Consequently, it seeks by all means to suppress the privileges of the bourgeoisie, its end as the ruling caste and the power of the workers. In a word, social equality. No more bosses, no more proletarians, no more classes (...) The entire product of work must belong to the workers (...) The convening of any Constituent Assembly or any other type of Assembly will be prevented, if necessary, by force National, before the basis of the current social framework is changed through a revolutionary political and social liquidation. In anticipation of this definitive revolution, it recognizes nothing but the revolutionary Commune formed by delegates of the revolutionary groups of that same city as the government of the city. It recognizes as the country's government only the government formed by delegates from the country's revolutionary Commune and from the main workers' centres. It is engaged in the fight for this idea and will spread it, forming, where they do not exist, revolutionary socialist groups. It will articulate these groups among themselves and with the Central Delegation. It will put all the means at its disposal at the service of propaganda for the International Working Men's Association”. And he concluded: “There will be no more oppressors and oppressed, no more class distinctions between citizens, no more barriers between peoples. The family is the first form of association, and all families will unite in one greater one, the homeland—in this higher collective personality, humanity.”

Subsequently, on March 3, an assembly of delegates from 200 National Guard battalions founded the Republican Federation of the National Guard, voting on its statutes and appointing an Executive Committee. Its Central Committee was constituted with a program: “The Republic, being the only government of law and justice, cannot be subordinated to universal suffrage… The National Guard has the absolute right to appoint all its leaders and to revoke them accordingly. that they lose the confidence of those who elected them; however, [only] after a preliminary investigation designed to safeguard the sacred rights of justice”. At the same time, a manifesto was posted in the streets of the capital: “We are the barrier inexorably erected against any attempt to overthrow the Republic. We no longer want alienations, monarchies, exploiters or oppressors of every kind who, going so far as to consider their fellow men as their property, make them serve their most criminal passions. For the French Republic and later for the Universal Republic. No more oppression, slavery or dictatorship of any kind; by the sovereign nation, with free citizens, governing itself according to its will. Then, the sublime motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, will no longer be a vain word”.[I]

In the womb of the national crisis, the social revolution was born. Paris was heavily armed: around 500 rifles and 417 artillery pieces of different calibers, 146 machine guns, 271 cannons. How to disarm it? How to get rid of the Federation and its Central Committee? How to control the National Guard? The government had already made some localized attempts to take the cannons out of the hands of the National Guard, with no other result than provoking the irritation of the population who considered the cannons their own: they had been melted down thanks to popular subscriptions and donations. On March 17, the government posted an appeal to the Parisian population, warning them against certain “malicious men” who “stole state cannons”, “made themselves masters of a part of the city”, exercised their dictatorship through an “occult committee”, with the pretense of “forming a government in opposition to the lawful government instituted by universal suffrage”; the manifesto ended by calling “good citizens” to “separate themselves from the bad ones”. During the night of March 17th to 18th, the government posted another appeal, with similar content, addressed specifically to the National Guard; at the same time, he undertook a large-scale operation, with fifteen thousand soldiers, with the specific mission of retaking the cannons stored in the Montmartre and Belleville neighborhoods (the “red bastion” of Paris) and the occupation of the Saint-Antoine neighborhoods. and the Bastille.

The government had decided to appropriate the cannons defending Paris, provoking a popular uprising. The Parisian population raised a cry of alarm, took to the streets, surrounded the troops that had to carry out the task; two generals were immediately shot; pressured, the troops fraternized with the people and refused to shoot at the people in the street. Thiers retreated, with his entire cabinet, to the Palace of Versailles, leaving a power vacuum. At midnight of the same day, the Central Committee of the National Guard met in the Hôtel de Ville (seat of Paris City Hall). On the back of the Parisian population's refusal to hand over the cannons of Montmartre and the great mobilization it provoked, a revolutionary government was formed by the neighborhood representatives of the National Guard. His first proclamation was in favor of "abolishing the system of wage slavery once and for all". The Central Committee of the federation of neighborhoods took the place of authority and installed itself in the town hall building. In the March insurrection, the most active categories of Parisian workers were metallurgy and construction, as well as journalists.

Thus, the Franco-Prussian War culminated not only with the creation of the German nation, but also with the explosion of the Paris Commune. Its main measures, though only mostly sketched, would go down in history: the police were abolished and replaced by the National Guard, education was secularized, social security was instituted, a commission of inquiry into the previous government was formed, and if decided to work towards the “abolition of wage slavery”. With the day of March 18, the revolution begun in September 1870 resumed and deepened its course, opening a new phase. The Central Committee began by abolishing the state of siege in the city, suppressing the military courts, decreeing a general amnesty for political crimes and the immediate release of prisoners, restoring freedom of the press, appointing heads of ministries and essential administrative and military services.

In its proclamation of the 18th, it read: “The proletarians of the capital, in the midst of the weakness and betrayals of the ruling classes, understood that for them the time had come to save the situation by taking the direction of public affairs in their own hands [...] understood that it was their imperious duty and their absolute right to take their destinies into their own hands and ensure their triumph by conquering power.” On the 19th of March, the elections for the Commune were set for the 22nd. The Central Committee of the National Guard, politically, was formed basically by “Blanquistas”, by members of the AIT, basically “Proudhonians” and by people not politically affiliated: “The class character of the Paris movement, which before had been relegated to the background for the fight against foreign invaders, took place from March 18 onwards with clear and energetic features. As the members of the Commune were all, almost without exception, workers or recognized representatives of the workers, their decisions were distinguished by a marked proletarian character. These decisions decreed reforms that the republican bourgeoisie had only renounced to implement out of cowardice, and constituted an indispensable basis for the free action of the working class (such as, for example, the implantation of the principle that, with regard to the State, religion it is a purely private matter) or went directly to the interest of the working class and, in part, opened deep cracks in the old social order”.[ii]

The Paris Commune was proclaimed, as at the height of the French Revolution at the end of the 1789th century: it was the high point and turning point of the organized movement of the proletariat in Europe, and it was a decisive test for the International Workers' Association, which had prominent role from the very beginning. The designation of “Commune” had roots in the French Revolution; there had already been a Paris Commune between 1795 and 1792, under the political control of the Jacobins, a Commune that had refused to obey the orders of the central government after 1871, and had been the basis of the revolutionary dictatorship of Robespierre's party. The Commune of 1871 was heterogeneous: patriots (nationalists) joined it in the hope that the Commune would resume the war against the Germans. The small merchants threatened with ruin if the payment of bills and rents were not suspended (which the Commune granted). Republicans, too, were initially sympathetic to the Commune, fearing that the reactionary National Assembly would restore the monarchy. However, the fundamental role in the movement was played by the workers. The Commune of 25, however, was born under siege by Prussian troops, which made it urgent and necessary to distribute food, money and weapons. The Central Committee of the National Guard issued a general appeal on March XNUMX: “Our mission is over. Let's give up the place Hôtel de Ville to our newly elected representatives, our regular representatives”.

No 11th arrondissement From Paris a republican Central Committee was formed, which presented a more definite program: right to live, individual freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech, of the press and of all modes of expression of thought, freedom of suffrage: “The State is the people governing themselves, composed of revocable representatives, elected by direct and organized universal suffrage. Collective work will have to be organized, the objective of life is the indefinite development of our physical, intellectual and moral being; property must be nothing more than the right of each person to participate, through individual cooperation, in the collective fruit of everyone's work, which is the form of social wealth”.

On March 29, the Commune abolished mandatory and differentiated military enlistment: “All valid citizens form part of the National Guard”; the permanent professional army was extinguished, replaced by the armed people. On April 2, he abolished the budget for religious services and decreed the separation of Church and State, “considering that freedom of conscience is the first of freedoms; and that the clergy have been the accomplices of the monarchy's crimes against liberty”. It suppressed the political-professional oath that public servants had to take and, “considering that its flag is that of the Universal Republic”, it recognized the political rights of foreigners, who were numerous among its members (the Hungarian Frankel, the Poles Dombrowski and Wrobleski, the Italian Cipriani), present and active in revolutionary Paris; some were even elected to the Commune itself. The Commune did not neglect the symbolic: it overthrew the Column of Vendôme (whose bronze came from cannons taken from the enemy by Napoleon I) for being “a symbol of chauvinism and hatred against peoples”; replaced the republican tricolor flag with the red flag, burned the guillotine and decided to demolish the Expiatory Chapel erected in memory of King Louis XVI (deposed and executed by the French Revolution).

In the social field, the Commune began (through a decree of the 2nd of April) by fixing at six thousand francs per year the salary ceiling for officials and members of the government, equating it with the workers' salary; it also prohibited the accumulation of offices; a decree of April 20 prohibited night work in bakeries, another, of April 27, prohibited, both in private companies and in public administration, fines and deductions from workers' wages. The Commune annulled the decree of Parliament which had, at the beginning of March, extinguished the moratoriums on rents and commercial contracts; considering it “fair that property should take its share of the sacrifices”; the decree of March 30 abolished, in a total and general manner, rents for the period from October 1870 to April 1871; another decree, of April 17th, granted a moratorium until July 15th on expired commercial contracts, and a period of three years for their payment. A decree of May 7 obliged Caixa de Panhores to return certain objects (clothes, furniture, books, etc.) 12 francs). Finally, it should be noted that, on April 25, a decree was enacted that forced the reopening and operation of workshops and factories abandoned by their owners; a study was made on how to make it possible for them to be handed over to workers organized in cooperatives: “an indemnity was provided for the owners; Even so, it was a kind of attack on individual property, and it should be admitted that the Commune then took a step towards communism”.[iii]

Elections for the Commune were held on March 26, obeying direct democracy at all levels of public administration: representatives revocable at any time, constituting a government that was both legislative and executive, with a minimum of bureaucracy. 86 neighborhood representatives were elected to the Commune, of which only 25 were actual manual workers. The Commune, however, was a proletarian body: in the elections, the abstention in the bourgeois neighborhoods was superior to 60%. Its elected members formed a single collective without a president. They were divided into nine commissions, which reproduced the old ministries; each chose a delegate to the government. On a daily basis, the National Guard battalions and a multitude of organizations and collectives that emerged (including a Women's Union created on April 8, which played a fundamental role in the defense of the Commune and in the beginning of the construction of secular and universal education ) put into practice the determinations of the Commune.

The Commune was an “expansive” form of the state (the state was open to the whole of society), which allowed the release of society's energies and creativity. Among his measures, contained in the “Proclamation of the Commune to the Working People of Paris”, were: the organization of workers' councils in factories abandoned by the bosses; the reduction of the working day to ten hours; the election of factory directors by workers; education reform. Karl Marx characterized it as a proletarian political regime, pointing out its essential traits: the permanent eligibility and revocability of all political representatives, their salary not exceeding the salary of a skilled worker (i.e., the suppression of state or civil bureaucracy), the suppression of the repressive and permanent military bodies and their replacement by the general armament of the population (the suppression of the military caste). All the old authorities were abolished: judges, courts, city council, police, establishing the popular management of all means of collective life, as well as everything necessary for survival, as well as public services, was declared free. Land in general was expropriated: housing would be everyone's right, unused secondary residences were occupied, means of transport declared free. The streets became the property of pedestrians, vehicles could only be used in the peripheral regions of the city. Working time decreased, the system of fines that was applied to workers was abolished, retirement at 55 years of age was established.

On April 16, a decree proclaimed: “The Paris Commune: considering that a number of factories have been abandoned by their bosses to escape civic obligations and without taking into account the interests of the workers; whereas, as a result of this cowardly abandonment, numerous jobs essential to communal life are interrupted and the existence of the workers compromised; Decrees: The workers' union chambers are summoned to constitute a commission whose objective is: 1) To make a statistic of the abandoned factories and an exact inventory of the state in which they are found and the existing work instruments; 2) Present a report on the rapid activation of these factories, no longer by the deserters who abandoned them, but by the cooperative association of the workers employed in them; 3) Draw up a training project for workers' cooperative societies; 4) Constitute a jury to substantiate in statute, upon the return of the bosses, the conditions for the definitive transfer of these factories to the workers' societies and the quota of indemnity that must be paid to the bosses”. “The purpose of the decree was to find in the workers' organizations some factories where they could start the (socialization) movement”.[iv]

On April 24, the delegate of the Labor and Exchange Commission, Léo Frankel, from AIT, convened a meeting of union representatives. On the 25th, the union that would lead the movement, the metallurgists, was summoned. Other unions responded to the call (on May 4, shortly before the end of the Commune, a permanent executive committee of the unions was formed). Despite the short duration of the experience, the operation had important results: a dozen factories were confiscated, especially in areas that were of interest to military defense, with the recovery of weapons, manufacture of cartridges and cannonballs. Five companies had carried out a factory census before the confiscation. The Commune also had state-owned establishments at its disposal (the Mint, the National Printer, public road maintenance services, tobacco factories, some weapons manufacturing companies) and had entrusted their management to its workers.

The unions were reorganizing: “What stopped the unions was their disorganization following the repression at the end of the Empire and the siege of Paris. Only three strong unions remained: metalworkers, tailors, shoemakers. The metallurgists' union, one of the most influential and numerous, with five or six thousand members, controlled 20 factories for the recovery and manufacture of weapons, one per district, the most important being the Louvre workshops. On the eve of defeat, the metallurgists tried to take over one of the largest metallurgical factories in the capital, the Barriquand factory, which had known violent strikes during the Empire. Around a solid core of factories, some with more than 100 workers, metallurgists thought to gain control of production. Tailors won preference over private firms from the Commune, and by May they had a monopoly on National Guard clothing for their factories. Shoemakers did not have the same opportunity: Godilot held a monopoly on the manufacture of shoes for the Commune, which prevented the confiscation of his company, but generated violent protests in the category. The other categories were less active and smaller, except steel, graphics, locksmiths. The Commune was a moment of intense union recovery, with the support of the Labor and Exchange Commission. They organized themselves, always with the aim of confiscating and managing production: stationers, cooks, cafe waiters and building porters”.[v] The revolution generated a movement to manage production through workers' management.

Here are the main articles of the rules of procedure for the workers of the Louvre arms factory (where there was a management dispute with an authoritarian director appointed by the Commune): “Art. 1. The factory is under the direction of a delegate from the Commune. The delegate for management will be elected by the assembled workers and revocable whenever he does not fulfill his duty; Art. 2. The director of the company and the heads of the sector will be equally elected by the assembled workers; will be responsible for their acts and also revocable […] Art. 6. A council will obligatorily meet every day at 5:7 am, with half an hour of tolerance, to deliberate on the actions of the following day and on the relations and proposals made, either by the delegate in the management, or by the director of the company, the head sector or delegated workers. Art. 8. The council is made up of the delegate in the management, the head of the company, the sector heads and one worker for each sector, elected as a delegate. Art. 15. Delegates are renewable every 9 days; renewal will be done in half, every eight days, and by function. Art. 13. The delegates must render accounts to the workers; they will be their representatives before the board of directors, and they will have to bring their observations and demands. (...) Art. 14. The hiring of workers will proceed as follows: at the proposal of the head of the company, the board will decide if there are vacancies to employ the workers and will determine the names. Candidates for vacancies may be submitted by all workers. The board will be the only one to make the assessment. Art. 15. The dismissal of a worker can only take place by decision of the board, with a report from the head of the company. Art. XNUMX. The duration of the journey is fixed at ten hours”.

The Commune introduced radical social and political reforms: 1. Night work was abolished; 2. Workshops that were closed were reopened so that cooperatives could be installed; 3. Empty residences were expropriated and reoccupied; 4. In each official residence, a committee was set up to organize the occupation of housing; 5. All wage deductions have been abolished; 6. The working day was reduced, and an eight-hour day was proposed; 7. Trade unions were legalized; 8. Equality between the sexes was instituted; 9. The workers' management of the factories was projected (without, however, fully implementing it); 10. Lawyers' monopoly of law, judicial oath, and fees were abolished; 11. Wills, adoptions and hiring lawyers became free; 12. Marriage has become free and simplified; 13. The death penalty was abolished; 14. The office of judge became elective; 15. The revolutionary calendar of 1793 was again adopted; 16. State and Church were separated; the Church ceased to be subsidized by the State; estates without heirs began to be confiscated by the State; 17. Education became free, secular, and compulsory. Evening schools were created and all schools became mixed-sex; 18. Holy images were melted down and discussion societies were created in the churches; 19. The Church of Brea, erected in memory of the men involved in the repression of the Revolution of 1848, was demolished, the confessional of Louis XVI and the Vendôme column as well; the red flag was adopted as a symbol of the “federal unity of mankind”.

Marx concluded that the transition to a new type of State was taking place, characterized by its tendency to extinction, that is, that “the working class could not limit itself to taking the State machine as it was and making it work to its advantage. own”, should destroy this machine through the implantation of the “finally found political form of the dictatorship of the proletariat”: “The Commune should be, not a parliamentary body, but an active body, executive and legislative at the same time”. Lenin summarized, in The State and the Revolution: “The Commune only seems to replace the state machine it destroyed by a more complete democracy: suppression of the standing army, eligibility and recallability of all officials without exception. But in reality this only represents the gigantic replacement of certain institutions by others of an absolutely different type. It is precisely a case of transformation from quantity to quality: carried out in the most complete and consequent way imaginable, bourgeois democracy became proletarian democracy; the State (a special force of repression of a determined class) was transformed into something that was no longer a State properly speaking”.

In the Commune there were radical, moderate and conservative delegates; most followed no party line; the “leaders” consumed precious time in endless discussions, when the most urgent thing would have been to act against the mobilization of Thiers’ soldiers in Versailles: according to their main chronicler, with regard to defense, only “insignificant legislation, without a military plan, without a program” was produced. , allowing themselves to be drawn into discussions in which nothing is decided and from which nothing is done”.[vi] The initiatives of the AIT members marked the steps of the revolution, but in the internal election of the Commune they were in the minority. Members of the Parisian sections of the International which formed part of the Commune were Assi, Avrial, Beslay, Chalain, Clémence, Lefrançais, Malon, Pindy, Theisz, Vaillant, Amouroux and Géresme. To these would be added other chosen ones during the Commune, like Serrailler. The “majority” in the Commune fell to Blanqui’s supporters: the “Blanquist party” was a reality, organized into “sections”, according to the Jacobin-radical tradition of the First Republic: “The members of the Commune were divided into a majority, the Blanquists, who predominated in the Central Committee of the National Guard, and a minority, the members of the International Workers' Association, who made up the socialist school predominantly formed by supporters of the Proudhonists”.[vii]

Edouard Vaillant, educational officer of the Commune, was a member of the “Blanquist party” (however, according to Engels, “he knew German scientific socialism”). The Blanquists, who were not part of the AIT, were from the beginning the majority in the Central Committee of the National Guard, and had sought to overthrow the bourgeois government of Trochu and, later, of Thiers. Twice before March 18, 1871, in October 1870 and January 1871, they had organized unsuccessful insurrections.

The Blanquists cultivated a conspiracy and “vanguardist” theory of the revolution, they judged the proletariat incapable of developing, under the dominion of capital, the necessary class consciousness, and for this reason they judged that the revolution would be led in the beginning by the dictatorship of a small group of dedicated revolutionaries, along the lines of the Jacobins of the French Revolution. Why were the Blanquists the “hegemonic” current in the Commune, this being a denial of their conspiratorial practices? Because, maintaining a clandestine and cohesive organization of disciplined and dedicated militants, the Blanquists were able, before the Commune, to carry out a broad work of revolutionary dissemination among the proletariat, even under the repressive conditions of the regime of Napoleon III, and forged a group of fighters who they knew each other and were recognized by the other workers for their honesty and selflessness. This group of militants was able, when the revolutionary situation was established, to make quick and decisive decisions, in tune with the mood as a whole. The concrete and living connection with the life of the class ended up making up for the weaknesses of its ideology.

The same can be said of the followers of Proudhon's ideas, who were the majority among the members of the AIT, and who cultivated their master's mutualist economic ideas, a kind of socialism of small producers, but who ended up promoting in practice the measures that pointed out to a collectivist economy managed by proletarian associations. For Engels, “the Proudhonists were, in the first line, responsible for the economic decrees of the Commune, both for their glorious and inglorious aspects, just as the Blanquists were for their political actions and omissions. And, in both cases, the irony of history – as usual, when doctrinaires take the helm of the ship – wanted both to do the opposite of what their school doctrine prescribed”: the Blanquists, “educated at the Escola of the Conspiracy, kept cohesive by the iron discipline that corresponds to it, started from the conception that a relatively small number of decided and well-organized men would be able, in a certain favorable moment, not only to assume the helm of the State, but also, through the dynamization of great and relentless energy, to maintain it as long as necessary, until they managed to draw the mass of the people into the revolution, grouped around the small leading group. To this end, the most severe and dictatorial centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government would be indispensable”. And, “what did the Commune do, whose majority was composed precisely by these Blanquists? In all his proclamations, addressed to the provincial French, he urged them to form a Free Federation of All French Communes with Paris, to form a national organization which, for the first time, had to be truly created by the nation itself. Precisely the oppressive power of the existing centralist government – ​​the armed forces, the political police, the bureaucracy, created by Napoleon in 1798, and which, since then, have been assumed by all new governments as instruments to be used against their adversaries – precisely this power would succumb, on all sides, just as in Paris it had already succumbed”.

Another sector of the AIT realized the Commune's unique characteristics as well as its weaknesses. Marx recorded his conclusions in his message to the AIT General Council, The Civil War in France, written in the heat of the revolution, and published in June 1871. Der Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich it was written with the object of disseminating among the workers of all countries an understanding of the character and meaning of the Commune.

The Commune of 1871 signaled the birth of a new type of social revolution, destined to destroy the bourgeois state and dissolve class society. The Commune-State would be a State in the process of self-dissolution: “Against the contemporary opinion of its conservative enemies, the Paris Commune of 1871 was not only an uprising of the discontented masses of petty bourgeois and proletarians, conditioned by the critical circumstances of the French capital. . Like the parallel movements in Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Marseille, the Commune had a markedly revolutionary character and aspired to a total transformation of the social and political organization of France”.[viii]

Was the Commune, due to its majority social composition, an “artisanal” and shopkeepers’ revolt, a “plebeian” revolution, the last revolt of social strata doomed to disappear by capitalist development, or the last step of the democratic revolutionary cycle that met its end? splendor in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Or “not an action oriented towards specifically proletarian ends, but the last pangs of agony of a tortured Jacobin patriotism”.[ix] The French social scene of 1870 was not that of 1789: already “at the end of the 1820s, the worker replaced the sans-culotte petty-bourgeois orientation as the main protagonist of the social protest, and wage earners, even those who worked as companions in small workshops, they were no longer tied to the apron strings of their master craftsmen”. To the revolutionaries of 1848 (and, with more reason, those of 1871) “in the French vocabulary of the time (though perhaps not in ours) it is reasonable to call them proletarians… Despite the slow growth of factories in Paris, they now considered themselves proletarians, and no longer workers, And much less sans culottes. The capitalist, as the antithesis of proletaire, was the enemy.”[X] The political limitations of the Commune were evidenced in the fact that it refused to take over the Central Bank of France, limiting itself to borrowing money, while the Thiers government continued to use it calmly: “In those coffers there are 4,6 million francs ” – lamented Lissagaray – “but the keys are in Versailles; given the tendency of the movement to conciliate with mayors, no one dares to pick the bolts and locks”.

The breaking into the safes could also be seen as a misappropriation of the peasants' deposits, whose support the Commune craved. The Commune faltered and withdrew from taking its decisive step: going beyond republican legality and suppressing bourgeois private property, without which, however, it would become impossible to “abolish wage slavery”. The Parisian revolutionary experience was short-lived; two months after its establishment, it was violently and savagely destroyed, dragging in its defeat the incipient attempts to organize communes in other French cities and regions.[xi]

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History and Revolution (Shaman).


[I] Nicole Priollaud. 1871: the Paris Commune. Reunion texts. Paris, Levi & Messinger, 1983.

[ii] Friedrich Engels. The Civil War in France, Introduction of 1891. In Osvaldo Coggiola (ed.) Writings on the Paris Commune. São Paulo, Shaman, 2003.

[iii] Georges Bourgin. La Commune 1870-1871. Paris, Les Éditions Nationales, 1939.

[iv] Jacques Rougerie. Dix-Huit Cent Soixante et Onze. Jalons pour une histoire de la Commune de Paris. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1972.

[v] Jacques Rougerie. Paris Free 1871. Paris, Seuil, 1971.

[vi] Prosper-Olivier Lissagary. History of the Commune of 1871. Paris, François Maspéro, 1983. The book, published in 1876, aimed to combat “the bourgeois lies and slander” that followed the suppression of the Commune.

[vii] Friedrich Engels. Op. cit.

[viii] Hans Mommsen. “Commune” of Paris. In: CD Kernig. Marxism and Democracy. History 2. Madrid, Rioduero, 1975.

[ix] Leopold Schwarzschild. El Prusiano Red. The life and legend of Karl Marx. Buenos Aires, Peuser, 1956.

[X] George Rude. Ideology and Popular Protest. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1982.

[xi] Jeanne Gaillard. Communes de Province, Commune de Paris, 1870-1871. Paris, Flammarion, 1971.

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