The Paris Commune – a memorial recovery



Considerations on the reception of the first attempt at a proletarian revolution in history.

The Paris Commune was an extraordinary historical event for being the first attempt at a proletarian revolution in history. Thus, most of those who claim to be defenders of the struggle for social transformation recall the Commune. Many of these seek to commemorate and remember the Paris Commune, just as those who are conservative seek to forget or recover it. There is a real struggle for social memory in relation to the Paris Commune and it becomes stronger every ten years, as with the great historical events considered revolutionary.[I]. Thus, as a memorable event for many, which some try to forget, it is celebrated and remembered in various ways.

The Paris Commune is a victim of memorial adaptation through recovery, as well as historically reconstituted in some cases. However, usually the Commune is transformed into something it is not. It becomes legend, fable, fiction. And even some fiction makers about the Commune can still write saying that their opponents (often imaginary) create “myths” about it. In most cases what happens is an imaginary recreation of the Paris Commune. This process is complex and reveals a true struggle for the memory of the Commune, which is part of something broader, the cultural struggle between social classes in modern society.

This shows the importance of analyzing the struggle for the remembrance of the Paris Commune. What was the Paris Commune? This is a fundamental question, but instead of the Commune as it really was, we have imaginary recreations of it, alongside recollections that are apparently “scientific interpretations”, a search for oblivion, etc. Our objective here will be to carry out a general discussion about the struggle for the remembrance of the Commune and to highlight the imaginary recreations of the first historical experience of proletarian self-management through the memorial recovery that is effected on it.

The Paris Commune between Past and Present

In 1871, the concrete historical phenomenon of the Paris Commune took place. Its existence was the product of social processes that point to different determinations, involving not only thousands of individuals, but also countries, political conceptions, organizations, etc. It was a moment of radicalization of the class struggle and, in this context, thousands of individuals fought and died for it or against it. Some events that formed the set of social processes that was the Paris Commune were recorded. The Commune's newspapers, some photos, letters, various documents (such as the police files), still exist and can be consulted. There are also the testimonies of the Communards and other individuals who participated in this historic event. When the communards wrote the texts that made up the newspapers of the Commune, among others, as well as they gave their testimony through articles, books, autobiographies, etc., they externalized their memories, transforming them into recollections[ii].

Thus, we could resume the historiographical distinction between “primary source” and “secondary source”. The remembrance as a historical reconstitution of what the Paris Commune actually was should start, fundamentally, from primary sources. However, it would be naive to think that this is enough (or that it would be impossible to carry out such a reconstruction via secondary sources). It is necessary to critically analyze the primary sources and the secondary sources are complementary and important in the analytical process[iii], as well as distinguishing between the various sources and their meaning in the context of the event. However, most interpreters of the Commune carry out a recollection that does not have theoretical and methodological concerns, nor do they carry out deeper analyses, especially political activists, especially in contemporary times.

What matters, however, is that the Paris Commune was a set of events that actually took place and involved thousands of individuals (with different positions, interests, objectives), ideas (more or less clear, more or less developed, with some opposing or even antagonistic), actions, organizations, etc. This historical experience had a meaning. It expressed real changes in society and once it was defeated it left externalized what it effectively was. However, remembrance can be memorial rescue, which reconstitutes the event as it occurred, or it can be recovery, memorial adaptation that is more invention than reality.

The remembrances, therefore, are permeated by the perspective of classes, interests and conceptions of individuals, groups, organizations, and are determined by paradigms, ideologies, doctrines, conceptions, interests, values, which are those of the present of those who remember. Memory, as a latent consciousness of the past, is an immense archive in which we seek to reconstitute what happened, but that depends on who makes this attempt to remember. One thing is the real phenomenon, another thing the remembered phenomenon. In some cases, there is a correspondence, but in most cases, in capitalist society, there is a discrepancy between the two. Remembering is selective (HALBWACHS, 1990; STOETZEL, 1976; VIANA, 2020) and thus, there is a selection of events, ideas, individuals, etc. Some recall the military clashes of the Commune, others the actions of certain individuals (one or another Communard, the women, Louise Michel, etc.), among other selections. These selections are not gratuitous, they can be guided by ideologies, doctrines, values, interests, etc., they can even be contradictory. Thus, there is a single phenomenon, but several recollections.

The concept of social memory is useful for understanding this process. Social memory is the set of memories of society as a whole and whose recollected material is social, that is, global society or some specific social phenomenon (VIANA, 2020)[iv]. A part of social memory is a latent consciousness, as memories are materialized in works of art, material goods, or in non-externalized individual memory, but need to be recalled (that is, externalized to become part of social memory). Another part is a manifest conscience, being a kind of “database”, which is the dominant memory, as it not only exists but is constantly recalled (VIANA, 2020).

Just as the individual remembers moments of his life and the history of society through the evocation of memories, which is a social process, remembrance is also a social and historical product. The mechanisms of remembrance are similar to the process of social evocation of memories (VIANA, 2020). Remembering has as its main mechanisms of selection, the perspective of class (dominant mentality), state imposition, the hegemony of the dominant class, collectivities (marginally). Undoubtedly, the class perspective is not homogeneous and changes in certain elements (according to social changes, with the current regime of accumulation, with the divisions and subdivisions within it, with the hegemonic paradigm or the strength of other paradigms or Marxism, etc.). State imposition can be more or less effective, more or less intense, among other possibilities. The hegemony of the ruling class and its hegemonic renewals are important to explain the mutations of social memory. Thus, what is recalled during the reproductive paradigm (1945-1980)[v] it is what is valued, such as science and its achievements and discoveries, for example. Already during the validity of the subjectivist paradigm, what is remembered and valued are individuals, social groups, etc.

Alongside remembrance there is memorization, the act of fixing certain recollections. This is the case of commemorative dates imposed by the state apparatus (“Proclamation of the Republic”, “Independence Day”, etc.), which generate holidays and reproduction in school institutions and the media. The main memorization mechanisms are the creation of the memorable, the commemoration and the memorial adaptation (VIANA, 2020). Thus, the Paris Commune is not memorable for the bourgeois perspective, and therefore it must be forgotten or presented negatively or, even, annulled. In some cases, the proletariat manages to make something memorable, but it is soon resignified by the bourgeoisie, as happened with May 1st and women's day (VIANA, 2020).

Commemoration is a conservation, crystallization and valuation of something memorable. This collective act is to celebrate, for example, the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas. The commemoration generates appreciation and conservation of the memorable and, when it is hegemonic and at a national or international level, it serves to reproduce the established hegemony.

The other memorization mechanism is memorial adaptation. It can be a recovery (which means an invention, as individual memory does) or a rescue (which means historical reconstitution as it actually occurred). Memorial recovery means reinterpreting the meaning of memories and, therefore, what (and how) should be remembered and what should be forgotten, from the perspective of the ruling class and aiming to reintegrate memories into capitalist society (VIANA, 2020) . The memorial recovery is constant, as it is necessary to marginalize, exorcise, erase, the different versions of history[vi]. The memorial recovery has some main sources, such as the state apparatus, the hegemonic historiography, the mutations of capitalism, hegemonic renewals, etc.

Recovery processes are diverse.[vii], such as the linguistic limitation (especially expressed in the linguistic field of the hegemonic paradigm at a given time) manifested through the use of terminology from the later time, especially the hegemonic; the analytical limitation (whose main element is the analytical field of the hegemonic paradigm), which manifests itself through the use of methods, ideologies, conceptions of the later period, especially the hegemonic ones; social censorship: elements censored by society, especially those based on dominant values, feelings and conceptions.

In addition to these limits, there are also attributions: personalization, displacement, emblemization, anachronism, secondary elaboration. Personalization means that a multitude of individuals, with their actions and thoughts, are replaced by a name, a “personality”. Displacement consists of replacing the questions that emerge with secondary or heterogeneous problems, the fabrication of pseudo-responsibility of certain chosen movements that, however, were peripheral or anodyne. Emblemization is the promotion of preponderance of images in conceptualization and analysis. Anachronism is the use of imaginary contemporary references that become recurrent and are projected into the past. Secondary elaboration, in turn, is characterized by presenting a linear narrative of events, naturalizing causal imputations, reduction to claiming purposes, clarity of conscience in actions, as well as other procedures.

Memorial recovery means bringing back in its true meaning what has been forgotten or deformed by the memorial recovery of the ruling class or its auxiliary classes. It has the following rescue processes: a) linguistic overcoming, which points to the rescue of the original and contextual meaning of signs and meanings; b) analytical overcoming: carrying out the analytical process based on the dialectical method is a fundamental heuristic resource for historical reconstitution; c) revolutionary overcoming: breaking with social pressure, social censorship, with bourgeois or bureaucratic hegemony; d) Contextualization: individuals, ideas, events are analyzed in the context in which they emerge: culture, social relations, etc., without isolation; e) essential restoration: distinction between what was essential and secondary; f) historicization: perception of the historical context and not projection of aspects of the present into the past.

As it is possible to perceive through the comparison between the recovering and rescuing processes, they are antagonistic. What largely predominates in society is memorial recovery, which can be seen in celebrations, holidays, oligopolistic means of communication, books, educational institutions, etc. The Paris Commune did not escape the recovery process. That is why there is a true imaginary recreation of the Paris Commune. Demonstrating this is our next step.

The Remembrance of the Paris Commune

The remembrance of the Paris Commune is permeated by the process of memorial recovery. In some cases this is more easily noticeable than in others. Common limitations and attributions in these cases appear in various guises. It would be pointless to present this process in detail and therefore we will present only a few examples to illustrate its existence.

The linguistic limitation is quite common, and can be seen in the use of language from another era: “left” (MERRIMAN, 2015)[viii]; “urbanism” (LEFEBVRE, 2021; DEBORD et al., 2021); “social engineering” (CHRISTIANSEN, 1998) “party” (Leninists), “medieval commune”, etc. The analytical limitation appears in several cases, but we could cite what happens through historiography, both due to empiricism and its supposed “neutrality”. Social censorship points to several aspects, such as, for example, the non-perception of the novelty of the Commune, the absent class struggle, the absent labor movement.

Personalization also occurs, despite its difficulty in the case of the Paris Commune, which did not have consolidated organizations and leaders. Personalization occurs in the analyzes of the Commune from the bourgeois perspective, which points out that the Commune was the result of the action of the AIT (International Workers' Association) and Karl Marx (PINHEIRO CHAGAS, 1872; KOECHLIN, 1965). This procedure is curiously reproduced by anarchism and certain autonomist currents. This is the case, for example, of the exaltation of the name of Varlin, a revolutionary communard who had an important action within the Commune, but who was overestimated both by Bakunin (2021) and by certain “autonomists”[ix]. This occurs to a lesser extent through biographies of Communards and descriptions of the Commune in terms of individual actions, as well as in descriptive and autobiographical narrative, as seen in the Field diary and the Paris Commune, by Edmond de Goncourt.

The relocation process is another common Paris Commune memorial recovery procedure. The emphasis on secondary issues appears in a number of ways, making the issue of the Franco-Prussian war, patriotism, medievalism, the debate between centralism and federalism, the urban question, the military question, anarchism a major aspect. Although these elements were present, with greater or lesser intensity and strength, depending on which element it is, in the Commune, none of them could be placed as the main one, just as there are elements that were not even really present in the Commune, such as medievalism ( comparison and the idea of ​​resuming medieval communes).

The fabrication of pseudo-responsibility is another common procedure and is often confused with personalism – personalization makes it possible to make individuals responsible for events – such as in the case of the bourgeois version according to which Marx, the AIT and socialism would be responsible for the Commune, or then that it was the result of the action of criminals and perverts (cf. PINHEIRO CHAGAS, 1872; LIDKSY, 1971), or else placing the Blanquists as responsible for the Commune or any other group/individual.

Finally, secondary elaboration occurs in countless cases, such as in the case of historiography and the linear narrative, of empiricism and daily evolution (CHRISTIANSEN, 1998), of autobiographies (again the Field diary and the Paris Commune, by Edmond de Goncourt exemplifies or The Paris Commune in everyday life, by Elie Reclus), in historiographical works, such as Paris Babylon, by Rupert Christiansen, in addition to military and legal stories (such as Laronze), among others. There is also, what is confused with displacement, the naturalizing causal imputation: Marx and the AIT, Franco-Prussian War, Patriotism, the idea of ​​a republic, as well as the reduction of the Commune to claiming purposes: the republic, the new legal order, etc.

The memorial recovery of the bourgeoisie

So far, we have discussed how the recuperative processes manifest themselves in the case of the Paris Commune, but in isolation. And, in this process, we even quote anarchists and autonomists, who supposedly would be close to the perspective of the proletariat. In the latter case, it should be clarified that, due to various determinations[X], there are ambiguities, which makes it possible to remember the Commune marked by mistakes and elements that are typical of the bourgeois or bureaucratic perspective. But how did remembering, from the bourgeois perspective, take place? And the other prospects? We will briefly analyze the bourgeois perspective, in order to provide a more comprehensive explanation.

The bourgeois reaction to the Paris Commune is sui generis, because it was a traumatic event for the bourgeoisie. The Commune was a traumatic event because it was the first attempt at a proletarian revolution, promoting fright and fear, and because of the massacre of the Communards, reaching an approximate number of 100 dead, with around 20 being by summary firing squad. It is necessary, however, to clarify that this is a “social trauma”, which is different from an “individual trauma”[xi]. Social trauma is an event that has a strong impact on certain classes or collectivities and that generates reactions that are defense mechanisms, such as forgetting, aggression in relation to your recollection process (when it is harmful) or the search for of memorization (when it is considerably beneficial for those who do it), among others. However, social trauma, contrary to individual trauma, does not affect all individuals of the class or community in the same way, nor does it tend to be maintained permanently or indefinitely, because over time it tends to lose its impact. strength.

Thus, the majority of the bourgeoisie and its intellectual representatives reacted to the traumatic event of the Paris Commune after its immediate occurrence in two main ways: forgetfulness and aggression. Some time later, with the weakening of the trauma, other reactions were produced. Forgetting is identifiable in the process of not addressing this important historical phenomenon or placing it as something secondary, or even through the overlapping of other events (such as the Franco-Prussian war, for example) in the same period. Forgetting can occur regardless of whether or not the event is traumatic, as it is not in her interest to remember the Communard revolution and its significance. This explains why the Paris Commune is still forgotten by many intellectual representatives of the bourgeoisie.

Aggression, that is, an offensive reaction, occurred in relation to the Paris Commune, and began since its proclamation and during the following years. In 1872, the Portuguese Manuel Pinheiro Chagas wrote the two volumes of his History of the Paris Commune Revolution (the second volume dedicated to the analysis of the processes against the communards) and its version is that it would have been the “history of a tyranny”. An excerpt from his work expresses his conception of what the Commune was:

These absurd decisions, these iniquitous resolutions, this lack of common sense, these burlesque comedies, freedom of conscience interpreted in such a way as to result in the imprisonment of priests, the closing of churches, and the desecration of convents; freedom of the press, translating into the suppression of twenty-seven newspapers; individual freedom at the mercy of arbitrary imprisonment; property at the mercy of requisitions, dictatorially regulated industry; the poor deprived of modicum credit resources; the municipal liberties violated by those who claimed to be their defenders, and who called upon themselves the appointment of Mayors[xii] that they should be elected, revoked by those who said they had only received a mandate to carry out social reforms; the ignoble discords among the members of the Commune, which flared up with the vilest accusations; the generals arresting each other; the editors of Official Journal expelling each other, with a dry fist, from the press, as we will tell you in due course; immorality manifesting itself with more impudence than in the days of the empire; the Amazons of the Commune presenting to Paris the ignoble spectacle of battalions of viragos[xiii] bloodthirsty, who strolled through the capital with their impudence or their madness; the shameful subservience of members of the Parisian government to Prussia; the complete absence of national sentiments: all this so outraged the inhabitants of Paris that, the Commune having summoned the electors to the 16th of April, in order to proceed with the supplementary elections, called for by the resignation of many members of the communal assembly , the urn was completely abandoned (PINHEIRO CHAGAS, 1872, p. 199-200)[xiv].

Here we have pejorative adjectives, accusations, demands, among other ways of denigrating the image of the Communards and the Commune. However, Pinheiro Chagas was not the only one. The Commune and the Communards were the targets of an entire attack by the intellectual representatives of the bourgeoisie and the terms used are “orgy”, “disclassified”, “perverted culture”, “fever”, “scoundrels”, “brutes”, “imbeciles”, "rascals". The titles of some works already manifest the anti-Communard position and two examples are enough to demonstrate this: The Paris Commune: The Scoundrels of the Revolution, by Eugène Villedieu, written in 1871 and The Red Carnival, by Edgar Rodrigues[xv], written in 1872. One of these authors expresses the struggle around memory in the face of the Paris Commune:

Today, these facts are still present in everyone's memory: even those who fled Paris during the Commune had a premonition of what could be the end of this terrible carnival; but, later, these horrible scenes, worthy of the style of an Alighieri, will be impossible to recall from memory, unless witnesses like us correct the horrible memory (RODRIGUES, 1872, p. 290).

Villedieu states that France lived two months of crimes and villainies:

She [France – NV] had under her gaze, at its center, a city of a million men, where crime triumphed, where villainy prevailed, where daring cynicism raged, where an almost unknown delirium ran convulsively. Upon these tumultuous waves of selfishness, dark greed, and thundering ignominy, all the winds of popular perversity roared; gushed out the dross of an impure rabble; unleashed a vertiginous wave of frightening demagoguery (VILLEDIEU, 1871, p. 5).

Gobineau states that one recognizes, in the Commune, “barbarism in all its fullness… an obscure, unpleasant, coarse, ugly savagery that will kill everything and create nothing…” (apud. LIDSKY, 1971, p. 97). Thus, “for Zola, who prepared Germinal, there is no difference between a Communard and a criminal” (LIDSKY, 1971, p. 118). Montegut already said, in his work of 1882, that “the Hotel de Ville [municipal administration – NV] became a tavern, a brothel, a privy. All the depravities, all the indecencies, took place there… The motto was to enjoy” (apud. LIDSKY, 1971, p. 131). Georg Sand already said that the Communards were moved by “hatred”, “misunderstood patriotism”, “frustrated ambition” and by “fanaticism without ideal, the mindedness of feeling or natural perversity” (Apud. LIDSKY, 1971, p. 58). It would be useless to continue with quotes from several other literati (Anatole France, Gustave Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas Filho, Alphonse Daudet and countless others) and authors of books with similar statements about the Commune and the Communards and which can be seen in the work of Lidsky (1971 ).

On the other hand, some representatives of the bourgeoisie wrote biased “biographies” of Communards, in which the verbal offense is extreme and shows all bourgeois fury. Morel calls his biography of the Communards a “grim procession of murderers” and refers to one of the most prominent Blanquists of the Commune, to cite just one example, as follows: “a scorpion, this Rigault, an aborted fetus of the bizarre mating of the snake that kills out of rage and the crayfish that retreats out of ignorance and stupidity” (MOREL, 1871, p. VIII).

The procedure performed in these cases is a process that shows a language marked by pejorative adjectives alongside a moralistic judgment. Social censorship, based on the dominant morality, becomes the main element and the guiding thread of linguistic and analytical limitation. The linguistic limitation takes the form of derogatory designation, as it uses the language of the dominant class to analyze the struggle of the dominated class and based on its supposed morality. The analytical limitation manifests itself as moralism, based on bourgeois morality (and associated values, such as property, family, etc.), even if they are often hypocritical manifestations.

The personalization appears through the accusation against the Communards, noticeable in the derogatory designation with which they were treated, already alluded to, as well as through the attribution to Marx, the “socialists” and AIT, the constitution of the Commune. The justification of the massacre, with or without reservations, was carried out and was the complement of a derogatory designation, of moral judgment, especially of the “communards”. Lidsky presents the opposition between workers and “bad workers” carried out by some literati. The Convulsions of Paris, a work by Maxime Du Camp, explains part of this process (KOECHLIN, 1965; DU CAMP, 1881).

Displacement is fundamentally moral. Thus, the Communards being presented as murderers, criminals, perverts, manage to divert the discussion about the Commune as a class struggle linked to the interests of the labor movement and other social and political processes, to the question of property, family, religion, as well as well as for military and institutional matters. Emblemization appears with the image of “oil companies”, for example, and the derogatory designation, as well as in other forms. The anachronism appears in the analyzes that point to the use of terms that are common and express relations of capitalist society to accuse the Commune and the Communards, such as the recurring theme of prostitution, despite its abolition during the Communard revolution. The secondary elaboration manifests itself in the emphasis on military issues, on moral issues, as well as the attribution of evil intentions and perversity to the communards.

This bourgeois remembrance of the Commune was not the only one. With the passage of time and the weakening of the traumatic effects of the Communard revolution, a new interpretation emerges, with new forms of displacement. This occurs mainly from the 1960s onwards (JONES, 2018). This is the case of historians with their supposed “neutrality” and “objectivity”[xvi], as well as some other intellectual representatives of the bourgeoisie, who started to defend the thesis that the Commune was not “socialist”. This is the case of the jurist Gustave Laronze, who shifts to the legal issue and, through a formal analysis of the decrees, proceeds to conclude that the Commune was not “socialist” and that the Communards, as soon as they took power, sought to create a new order. legal, because every revolution generates this process. Secondary elaboration transforms the Commune's decrees into the fundamental axis of the royal process, based on Laronze's interpretation. Deep down, the author wanted to say that communism is impossible and the Commune confirms this (KOECHLIN, 1965). Along the same lines, Edward Mason also contests the “socialist” character of the Commune, stating that this legend was created from the massacre and persecution of the Communards and not by characteristics of the Communard experience (KOECHLIN, 1965). Bourgeois recall changes according to the needs of the time. However, the versions of the story that still deal with the Commune from the original version continue to be reproduced and the terms “terrorism” and “cycle of violence” used by G. Dallas in 1989, among others (BRUNNER, 2014), confirm this.

The memorial recovery of bureaucracy

Modern society has two fundamental social classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. A misinterpretation of Marx's concept of social classes, as well as his writings, promoted the idea that in this society only these two social classes existed.[xvii]. In fact, there are several other social classes under capitalism. Marx's thesis is that these other social classes revolve around the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, due to the social division of labor, proximity and interests. Thus, today, we can think of two large groups of social classes, the upper classes, close to the bourgeoisie, and the lower classes, close to the proletariat (VIANA, 2019b). The bourgeoisie has some auxiliary classes, such as the bureaucracy and the intelligentsia, while the proletariat has some allied classes, such as the peasantry, lumpenproletariat, etc., as long as they break with the dominance of bourgeois hegemony.

In addition to the two fundamental classes, there is another social class that gains great importance within capitalist society and is the one that has the greatest possibility of becoming autonomous and wanting to be a new dominant class. This is the case of bureaucracy. The bureaucratic class, in its fractions closest to the bourgeoisie, the top echelon of the state bureaucracy, is the most conservative and pro-bourgeois. However, there are some sectors of the bureaucracy, especially in civil society, and even more in its lower strata, that seek to become autonomous, assuming discourses that are often “radical” and that aim to replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class. Thus, sectors of the party bureaucracy and the trade union bureaucracy are the main forces for the autonomization of the bureaucratic class.

This more radicalized sector accomplishes what Marx pointed out to all classes that intend to become dominant: to unite the whole of society around itself through a universalizing discourse and concentrating evil on an opponent who would be the enemy of the rest of the population (MARX, 2020 ), just as the bourgeoisie did in its revolutionary period. However, as there is another social class, the proletariat, with revolutionary strength and capacity, and the bureaucracy alone is too fragile to face the bourgeoisie, so it needs to rely on the labor movement and adopt a discourse for that class, appropriating itself from their conceptions and adapting them to their interests, such as Marxism. Thus, the radicalized bureaucracy starts to defend the idea that it expresses the interests of the proletariat, or, more generally, depending on which organization, ideology or doctrine it uses, of the “workers”, the “people”, the “masses”.

These elements, very briefly synthesized and which have several developments[xviii], which unfortunately we will not be able to develop here, allow us to understand the reasons for the difference between bourgeois and bureaucratic memorial recovery. The memorial recovery of the radicalized bureaucracy in relation to the Commune cannot share the bourgeois version, except in the case of oblivion. For the intellectual representatives of the bureaucracy, forgetting the Paris Commune is one of their options. However, if this historic event comes to light, she must take a stand. And the work of Marx, as well as that of several other militants, since the Communards, makes it reappear as a frightening nightmare that haunts bureaucratic dreams.

The memorial recovery of the Paris Commune, from the bureaucratic perspective, should aim to praise the communard experience and at the same time demonstrate its mistakes. In principle, there is no problem with this. However, the way this is done shows that it is a memorial recovery. Praise for the Commune is always made with a view to reinforcing the political conception that makes it up, be it Kautskyist, Leninist, or any other. The Commune is presented – which means it is deformed – to confirm a certain political position[xx]. Even different conceptions within the bureaucracy start to dispute to point out their version as true and the opponent's as false. In this case, it is an interbureaucratic ideological conflict. Thus, there are personalization processes (despite the difficulty of this in the specific case of the Commune), displacement, anachronism, emblemization and secondary elaboration, not to mention the linguistic, analytical and social censorship limits. It is a question, for the bureaucracy, of recovering the Commune in its bureaucratic thought scheme. And a recurring theme is the question of lack, of absence, which is a key problem of the Paris Commune in the bureaucratic version.

However, in addition to the way in which the memorial recovery of the Commune is carried out, the bureaucratic perspective has an additional and differential element in relation to the memorial recovery of the bourgeoisie, due to the specificities mentioned above. It is about the need to carry out not only the memorial recovery of the Paris Commune, but also of the Communards and those who expressed the perspective of the proletariat, especially Marx.

The first point is revealed in the praise of the Paris Commune, always accompanied by a caveat, which refers to the problem of absence. The Commune is praised for expressing the position of the one who praises. This is the case of Lenin and Trotsky, who emphasize centralism, or Kautsky, who emphasizes democracy. An example, extremely common in historiography and progressively oriented militant texts, explains this. Max Beer, in his voluminous work of more than 500 pages, which begins with the class struggle in antiquity and runs until 1920, reserves only three pages for the Commune, and places, among its three causes, “the progress made by the International in Paris and in the main cities of the provinces, as well as the development of socialist ideas in general” (BEER, undated, p. 527).

Karl Kautsky's (1977) position on the Commune shows the attempted memorial recovery of the Commune and Marx's thought (to justify his interpretation of the Commune), and uses it to combat Bolshevism, related to terrorism, and defend his position. , under the name of democracy. Leon Trotsky's answer points exactly to this: “Kautsky does not present a broad parallel between the Commune and Soviet power except to slander and belittle the living and triumphant dictatorship of the proletariat in favor of an attempt at dictatorship that goes back to a distant past. already remote” (TROTSKY, 1977, p. 209). What Trotsky does not say is that he does the same thing, but with an opposite position. Kautsky defends the democratic bureaucracy (bourgeois democracy) and Trotsky the autocratic bureaucracy (expressed in Bolshevism, in the “dictatorship over the proletariat” and state capitalism of post-1917 Russia). Both distort the events of the Commune and Marx's position to justify their position.[xx]. The debate about the Kautsky and Trotsky Commune is just a pretext to justify their political conceptions and actions, as well as what happened between Kautsky and Lenin.

If Kautsky goes back to the action of the International Workers' Association and the influence of Marxism on Proudhonism[xxx] to demonstrate its democratic character, Trotsky does not hesitate to state that “the Commune, both for the traditions and for the purposes of those who led it – the Blanquists – was the expression of the revolutionary dictatorship of a city over the entire country” (TROTSKY, 1977, p. 215). Thus, personalization, in Kautsky, is via “Marxism” and in Trotsky via Blanquism. In addition to personalization, there is a displacement to the question of who led the Commune, whether the most democratic or the most autocrats, in which the authors choose those who are closest to them (Proudhonists or Blanquists).

Emblemization appears with the key terms democracy, in one case, and dictatorship, in another. For Kautsky, the Commune was a democracy and thus justifies it, while for Trotsky, the Commune was a dictatorship and justifies it, the positive for one (democracy, dictatorship) being the negative for the other, which makes the Commune just a pretext to defend political positions.

Anachronism is revealed at various moments, from the use of terms (parties, for example) to the use of the two central terms of the debate: democracy and dictatorship. However, democracy until the Commune, in the French case, is the liberal one, which was census based, by income level, and only after the electoral process emerges that includes the proletariat and political parties become the means of institutional political participation, that is, with the passage to party democracy, the next phase of capitalism[xxiii], is that bourgeois democracy comes into being. Dictatorship, in turn, in the Leninist sense, will only emerge with the Bolshevik revolution and will emerge, in the forms of bourgeois dictatorial regimes (which differs from pre-bourgeois autocratic regimes), only after the consolidation of democratic regimes, as an alternative bourgeoisie in certain historical situations. The use of two terms to refer to the Commune is, therefore, an anachronism and a mistake, although it is quite useful to justify and legitimize social democracy and Bolshevism, respectively.

Finally, the secondary elaboration is noticeable in both cases, as both Kautsky and Trotsky present a linear narrative and clarity in the actions of the agents, diverging because one considers that the objective was democracy and the other affirms that it is the “revolutionary” dictatorship .

Thus, this debate between Kautsky and Trotsky only illustrates two positions within the bureaucratic recollection of the Commune. However, here the remembrance is completed with the idea of ​​absence, of lack. And what is missing for the Commune, from the bureaucratic perspective? It can only be the bureaucracy itself. This is a recurring theme in the bureaucratic memorial restoration of the Commune. According to Kautsky, “The greatest evil of this government was the lack of organization, a natural consequence of the same defect present in the habits and attitudes of the proletariat at the time, arising from the second empire” (KAUTSKY, 1920, p. 119). Trotsky, after pointing out the military defeat and other problematic points of the Commune, states: “the war capacity of an army requires above all the existence of a regular and centralized governing body. The Communards did not even have a brief idea of ​​this” (TROTSKY, 1977, p. 221), because “the Commune was weak”, contrary to Bolshevism. Thus, both Kautsky and Trotsky point to the weakness of the Commune: the lack of bureaucratic organization. The difference is that for Kautsky it is a democratic bureaucratic organization and for Trotsky an autocratic bureaucratic organization.

Thus, the bureaucratic version of the Commune will always emphasize absence, lack. And the big absentee is bureaucracy. Bureaucrats were not invited to the proletarian party. This manifests itself in the failure that would have been the absence of governmental centralization and of a centralized, supposedly “revolutionary” party. Lenin is the richest expression of the bureaucratic memorial recovery of the Paris Commune[xxiii], because he not only claims that centralization, the party, etc. were missing from this experience, but he also manages to deform Marx's statements to convince him that he was defending the same theses, carrying out a memorial recovery of Marx's thought. The Leninist conception will be exhaustively reproduced by parties, intellectuals, militants, Bolsheviks of all tendencies (from Stalinists to Trotskyists), with rare differences and with small variations. This repetition took the form of thousands of texts and writings, both academic and militant, from pamphlets to books.

This is the case of Sovolev, a Stalinist, who asserts, in 1939, among other things, that “the disgrace of the Commune consisted in the fact that there did not exist in the leadership of the Communards a proletarian party that would influence the masses and guide them, a party who knew what he wanted and how to achieve it, a party without whose leadership the revolution cannot succeed” (SOVOLEV, 1946, p. 172). Pierre Luquet[xxv] states: “what the Commune mainly lacked was a strongly organized party” (LUQUET, 1968, p. 40), that is, heavily bureaucratized, as well as considering that there was a lack of someone to personalize the Commune, a bureaucratic leader, as can be seen of his statement according to which “the Commune lacked Blanqui”, after all, “he alone would have been audacious enough to end the revolution of March 18” (LUQUET, 1968, p. 28).

These two examples only illustrate a large number of materials that reproduce the same ideas and the Paris Commune's memorial recovery of the bureaucratic perspective, whose fundamental and defining element is “lack of bureaucracy”. The Commune is not condemned, as in the bourgeois perspective, it is praised, but at the same time, it is pointed out as an error due to the lack of bureaucracy, which confirms the political conception of the interpreters, as well as the need for a party, for centralization, for bureaucracy. In short, in the bureaucratic version, the Commune was defeated because of the absence of bureaucracy.

Final Words

Our objective was to present the memorial recovery of the Paris Commune. We briefly show how the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy sought to recover the Commune, transforming it into what it was not. We also show that the enemies and false friends of the proletariat did everything to remove its class character. The bourgeoisie sought to present the Commune as a product of criminals, “socialists” (seen as external to the labor movement), in opposition to the “good workers” and the bureaucracy sought to show the inability of the labor movement, without it, to emancipate itself. In the first case, the proletariat was manipulated by a bunch of criminals, and in the second, it was defeated because it didn't have a bunch of bureaucrats to direct it. These versions have variations and can change, such as the bourgeois version, more “neutral” and distant from the historical event, which instead of accusing the Communards of criminals, preferred to say that they were not “socialists”, annulling the revolutionary character of the Commune. .

The struggle for the remembrance of the Paris Commune was a cultural class struggle, a broad cultural struggle in which the proletariat is at a disadvantage. The disadvantage of the proletariat lies in the small number of intellectual representatives of this class throughout history, as the intellectual class, for the most part, expresses the interests of the bourgeoisie or the bureaucracy. The proletarian individuals who produce ideas, writings, etc., are small, due to their own class condition. In this sense, the perspective of the proletariat in the struggle for the remembrance of the Paris Commune manifests itself marginally, whether through the writings of communards (forgotten and abandoned, even by progressive interpreters of this historic event), or through some intellectuals and proletarians who sought to rescue the real meaning of this extraordinary historical event.

We therefore present this recovery process, but not the rescue process. We chose not to deal with the memorial rescue of the Paris Commune, as this would make the text too long, and for that reason we will do so in a complementary article to this one. And the reflection on the memorial rescue of the Paris Commune is part of the struggle for remembrance from the perspective of the proletariat, as well as the critique of memorial recovery. However, the critique of memorial recovery is part of this struggle around memory and paves the way for memorial rescue, which justifies this article.

*Nildo Viana is a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG). Author, among other books, of Capitalism in the era of integral accumulation (Lyrics Ideas).



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[I] This is the case of May 1968 (ROSS, 2008). The commemoration usually takes place every ten years because of the remembrance carried out by militants and political organizations, on the one hand, and by academic and intellectual events (seminars, books, articles, magazine dossiers, etc.).

[ii] On the distinction between memory and remembrance, as well as the differentiation between individual memory, collective memory and social memory, cf. Viana, 2020. For reasons of space, we will not be able to develop several theoretical aspects related to the question of memory and, therefore, we refer to this work, in which this is carried out in depth and in detail.

[iii] It is not possible, nor is it our objective, to analyze the issue of sources for historical analysis, but only to highlight that it is an element that reinforces interpretative problems.

[iv] Collective memory is the set of memories of sectors of society, of collectivities (VIANA, 2020), but we will not develop this reflection here, due to the fact that our focus is social memory.

[v] The reproductive paradigm corresponds to the conjugate accumulation regime, which is what explains it (VIANA, 2019a).

[vi] The term “recovery” was developed by situationists and retaken by members of the English group Solidarity, and the idea of ​​memorial recovery is inspired by this conception, but limited to the case of remembrance (VIANA, 2020). The relationship between retrieval and memory can be seen in Ross' (2008) analysis of May 1968.

[vii] All recovery processes, as well as memorial rescue, are addressed and developed in the work Memory and Society – The Struggle for Remembrance (VIANA, 2020).

[viii] Even Lissagaray (1995) uses the term “left” and does not realize that by using such a term, unusual at the time, it ended up homogenizing and unifying several different tendencies, which would reinforce interpretive problems and future analyzes of the Commune.

[ix] “Louis-Eugène Varlin is the greatest emblem of the Paris Commune of 1871, he lived, fought and died at the age of 31 for the Social Republic of Workers, Varlin is the maximum representation of self-managed communist practices. It is his life and struggle that must be remembered and discussed at length in the commemoration of these 140 years of the Paris Commune. What Mr. Karl Marx said in his letters to his friend Kugelmann in London, after all that Varlin had gone through, makes us have to recognize that the only place where Marx should be is in the bibliography of the Commune, if Varlin was the Commune , Marx is just a bibliographic reference of the Commune. Is it worth it for us to realize what is historiographically fundamental to us: to discuss the Commune as a whole or just a book about it? (PINTO, 2011, p. 54). Here we have a personalization process that lowers the analysis of the Commune to the low level of traditional bourgeois historiography, focused on the history of “leaders” and “great men”, in total discrepancy with the Commune as it was and even the bibliography on the Commune. Commune who find it difficult to find bosses in the movement. Here personalization takes on an air of hyper-individualism: “Varlin is the greatest emblem of the Commune” (the term “emblem” in itself is already revealing); "Varlin went to the Commune". Obviously, this position is not without reason, as it is the fabrication of an artificial contrast between Varlin and Marx, in which the first is a mere pretext to want to disqualify the second. That is, such observations have nothing to do with the Paris Commune itself, being just a battleground for academic and/or political disputes that only reveal the competitive mentality of its creators. The comparison between an agent of the revolutionary process and an analyst of the same is somewhat pointless and would be the same as asking who was more important for the French Revolution, Robespierre or Piotr Kropotkin, author of The Great Revolution (1955). The desire to disqualify Marx is so great that one falls into insoluble contradictions, such as, for example, pointing out the need to “discuss the Commune as a whole” and deal only with one Communard. On the other hand, it is curious that authors who are influenced by the structural method and by structuralism and who claim that the individual and consciousness are nothing (BERNARDO, 1991), make an apology and highlight the individual importance of Varlin, with the objective of opposing Marx (BERNARDO, 2021). At its heart, it's the process of forcing Varlin into a competition he has nothing to do with. In this sense, the position of Lavrov, who was personally in the Commune, is much more revolutionary and proletarian, emphasizing the collective and not individuals, even when he praises the heroes of the Commune, putting them in the plural: Frankels, Varlins, Pidys, etc. (LAVROV, 2021).

[X] These determinations vary according to who is responsible for the recall. Doctrinalism and dogmatism is one of these determinations, which generally occurs in the case of anarchism, for example. In other cases, other determinations, such as a competitive mentality, intellectual ambition, academic disputes, search for political space, lack of information, different influences (ideologies, interpretations, etc.), among many others, can manifest themselves in each specific case.

[xi] We will not be able to develop here a reflection on the psychoanalytic concept of trauma, which is our source of inspiration and has several developments, starting with Freud (and the modifications he made over time) and having variations in Rank, Ferenczi, Winnicott and others. The individual trauma, here, means an event that promotes an intense psychic impact and that remains in the individual's psychic universe indefinitely, as it may or may not be overcome, promoting psychic reactions as defense mechanisms for the same.

[xii] In French in the original. The term means "mayor", "judge of council", in Portuguese from Portugal. It also means Alcalde (or alcaide, in another spelling), which has Arabic origin and means “governor of provinces”, but had a military character, since its function was the military defense of the village and the performance of judicial and administrative functions, rendering accounts directly to the king.

[xiii] Woman whose appearance and/or mannerisms are similar to men or “woman with masculine habits”.

[xiv] We adapted Portuguese from Portugal at the time (1872) to current Brazilian Portuguese.

[xv] This author should not be confused with the anarchist writer who published several books in Brazil.

[xvi] The historiography, however, followed the bourgeois memorial recovery and its version of the Paris Commune, in several cases. Jones (2018) points to the work of William Pembroke Fetridge, who implements the same anti-Communard interpretation, but, despite placing it as historiographical, he is not a professional historian. Such concern, in the specific case of the Paris Commune, is addressed by Brunner (2014) and his analysis of the “myths” of the Commune, pointing to the need for “historical objectivity”.

[xvii] A careful reading of some of Marx's works, such as The German Ideology, The Communist Manifesto, Capital, The Eighteenth Brumaire, among others, to know that such an interpretation is wrong. However, even some readers seeing the reference to various social classes – which does not require such careful reading – overlook it with disconcerting ease, as if their interpretations were more crucial to understanding the author than his own words. A rigorous analysis of Marx's work points to the existence of several social classes in capitalism, as well as to the deformation of his conception of social classes (VIANA, 2018).

[xviii] On the bureaucratic class, cf. Viana, 2018, in which there is a discussion about the various reflections on this class. We avoid suggesting other texts in which we develop other reflections on bureaucracy, but which can be accessed, in part, on the internet.

[xx] And this is done even by anarchists (cf. BAKUNIN, KROPOTKIN, VIANA; 2021).

[xx] We will not be able to develop here Marx's position on the Commune, which can be seen in his own works (MARX, 2020; MARX, 1986), while our analysis can be consulted in the articles Marx and the Self-Managing Essence of the Paris Commune e Paris Commune: Interpretations and Class Perspective (VIANA, 2021).

[xxx] “Proudhonian thought (Proudhonist – NV), originating from the French internationalists, was merging more and more with Marxist ideas” (KAUTSKY, 1977, p. 60).

[xxiii] With the transition from the extensive accumulation regime to the intensive accumulation regime (VIANA, 2009). This work contains an analysis of the mutation of bourgeois democracy in each regime of accumulation.

[xxiii] It is possible to question why we do not present how Lenin does this, but the reason for choosing Kautsky and Trotsky is due to the following elements: a) Kautsky and Trotsky illustrate two positions of the bureaucratic class before the Commune, two forms of memorial recovery; b) in the essential elements, Lenin reproduces the Kautskyist and Trotskyist conception and in the positioning within the bureaucratic perspective, he agrees with Trotsky's conception; c) the analysis of the memorial recovery carried out by Lenin has already been carried out by us in the article “Paris Commune, Interpretations and Class Perspective” (VIANA, 2021) and it would be repetitive to present it here; d) the space for the development of this article makes it difficult to analyze Lenin's conception. That is why we refer to the cited article, which, although we do not work with the concepts developed here, shows the bureaucratic character of the Leninist approach to the Commune.

[xxv] Pseudonym of Robert Verdier (who used other pseudonyms, such as Deville, Hervé, etc.), a militant who went through some organizations and parties, such as the PSA (Autonomous Socialist Party) and the PSU (Unified Socialist Party) of France.

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