Paris Commune, the urban revolution

Dora Longo Bahia, Liberdade (project for Avenida Paulista II), 2020 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper 29.7 x 21 cm


The Paris Commune was an experience of proletarian power that shuffles big politics and the daily lives of the masses, in the multiple revolutionary incursions in the streets of the city

“When the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will fall from the top of the Vendôme column” (Marx, 2010, p. 154). Marx ends, with these words, the 18 Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, a work that he published in 1852. However, it was in May 1871 that the monument on the 1st. arrondissement, abhorred by the crowd in Paris, really goes downhill; the scene of collective fury against the statue – an image so recently rescued in the anti-racist uprising in the heart of imperialism in the year 2020 – took place there while the mass, in revolt, was hit by the shots of the reaction that surrounded the city, already in the bloody defeat of the revolution.

The Franco-Prussian war created, on the one hand, the first modern experience of the seizure of power by the proletariat and, on the other hand, the unification of the German empire. Both France and Germany obviously do not follow the example of industrialization that Marx referred to in England – and it is basically a futile task to abstract that any place has followed suit.

Louis Bonaparte's Second Empire was an autocratic way out of the economic crisis that gripped Europe, particularly France, in the 1840s; it was an autonomizing solution, raising state power above the then diverse fractions, from republican idealists (bourgeois and radicals) to monarchists, in the shadow of the insurrection experiences of 1830 and the June 1848 days. authoritarian, of course, the protection of property and the prevention of new revolutionary uprisings.

The urbanization of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, mayor of the Seine between 1853 and 1870 (the year before the Commune), a unique historical product of Bonapartism, produced the most modern of European capitalist cities – a city, according to its autocratic mentality, whose vocation to “western capital” would only be comparable to ancient Rome (Harvey, 2015, p. 187).

The authentically modern plan of works and public investments resizes the city, assimilates its suburban regions, unprecedentedly increases the scale of the means of circulation, geometrizes its radii in a Euclidean manner, decentralizes State control, multiplies the size of avenues, expands the rail network and communications linked to Paris, demolishes the alleys and alleys of popular housing, reestablishes housing segregation designs.

For years, Paris becomes an endless construction site, where thousands and thousands of proletarianized peasant migrants go to work. They build the networks of railway and telegraph infrastructure around the country and also the boulevards and retail stores west of Paris, while the city is fermenting brand new contradictions of its own.

The impact of the subjective transformation, of the very creation of a new subject, the proletariat, which was no longer the sans culotte, which was no longer the working, but a mass subsumed above all by this urbanization of new dictates – globally innovative and resulting from the planned acceleration of time by the production of space – is difficult to measure. Even if urbanization, as a specific movement of compression of time by space, is a generally common experience in the history of capitalism, it is still theorized today below its importance.

The new Paris planned by Bonapartism, promising seat of the technological imperatives of capital circulation, also architected its negation. Proletarian political ties, forged from the city's neighborhoods, were crucial to the uprising that seized power 150 years ago. The Parisian proletariat of 1871 spread northwest across the east to the southwest of the city. A horseshoe that isolated the western region, of expressively bourgeois occupation and fundamental in the geographical takeover of the Commune in May by the counterrevolution.

In this space horseshoe of proletarian occupation, there were multiple concentrations of mutual aid associations, forged since the previous decade, in which Blanquism and other radical currents had political insertion. The territorial community poles distributed basic consumption items in the neighborhoods and were the material premise of the public meetings held for the education and politicization of the impoverished and radically dissatisfied population since 1868.

The "other Paris", to the east, was convulsed by heated daily debates in public squares, conducted by the variety of radicals, blanquists, socialists, leagues from the Seine. These meetings forged a new street culture to the sound of new revolutionary ballads of the period, while strengthening trade union organizations, barrio cooperatives and working women's initiatives (the latter the germ of Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and Care of the Wounded, an important organizational political reference during the Commune itself).

The unhealthy overcrowding of the central proletarian neighborhoods that we know from Balzac's descriptions were dredged up by Haussmann's radical reconstruction and the regimentation of a renewed front of interests of real estate-financial capital. The demolitions were proportional to the new constructions, huge numerically, to widen the noble zones of the city to the west and to the proletarian periphery of the city to the east. The systematic increase in real estate prices and the increase in the proportion of income spent by rented workers in the period are significant factors of these new class contradictions.

In the months that the Commune lasted, the suspension of rent payments, the use of properties for housing, and, more importantly, the political decision-making organization established with territorial criteria, based on the Neighborhood Committees, are not only the expression of an ideology autonomist and municipalist, derived from the program of the most influential radical currents during the revolution; they cannot be interpreted solely as the reason for the failure of the revolution; are constitutive of a formation experienced in the previous several years on the ground of the city, which managed a class, the very class that, by the way, by the way, was globalized in this XNUMXst century: the urban proletariat, the peripheries produced on a planetary scale, i.e, urbanization as proletarianization.

Abolition of the police, distribution of food, education for children, housing for the entire population, political decisions crucial to the fate of that Paris – and, potentially, the fate of the entire modern world – being defined among neighbors, among the targets of that new process of urban dispossession.

The Commune revolution, taken “in action”, as presented by Marx in Civil War in France, was effectively an experience of proletarian power that shuffles big politics and the daily lives of the masses, in the multiple revolutionary incursions in the streets of the city.

It is also the specific form of capitalist production of urban space, a pioneer of modernity, which fertilizes the very contradictions that fermented the Commune. The city invents a new power, based on the germs of spatial materiality, that is, it generates new modalities of social reproduction and, with that, also of reproduction of the social relations of production. These were the promising seedlings of the surviving mutualism of a class ravaged by war, industrialization and the rebuilding of urban life.

All immediate needs for survival are transformed into gratuitousness; working hours are shortened, urban land ceases to be land rent and becomes an insurrectionary use without the formal determination of the commodity. Vehicles are prohibited and the streets are taken over only by pedestrians by collective decision.

If the Commune was “the greatest party of the XNUMXth century”, as Henri Lefebvre insists, it is because history came to be commanded by everyday space, by the finally concrete idea of ​​freedom. The big complication is that the defeat of the Commune is also, at the same time, its imaginative human exuberance: the urban revolution.

Carolina Freitas is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at USP.


HARVEY, David. Paris, capital of modernity. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2015.

MARX, Carl. The civil war in France. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

MARX, Carl. 18 Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2010.

LEFEBVRE, Henri. The Importance and Meaning of the Commune. In: VIANA, Nildo (org.). Revolutionary Writings on the Paris Commune. Rio de Janeiro: Rizoma, 2011.


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank