Republican or workers' commune?

La Mort Communards, fighting in the streets during the Paris Commune of 1871


The meaning of the Parisian insurrection

On May 30, 1871, when the International Workers' Association made public its message on the civil war of the Paris Commune – a message written by its corresponding secretary Karl Marx, entitled The Civil War in France –, a controversy opened not only in the political field, involving socialist and liberal currents on the memory and inheritance of this political experience, but also in the intellectual domain, more specifically of social history, on the meaning of the Parisian insurrection. One hundred and thirty years later, on the occasion of an international colloquium at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), the debates converged mainly on the disjunctive: republican or working-class commune?

Historian Danielle Tartakowsky (University of Paris VIII) updated the analysis of the Paris Commune as the last of the republican revolutions of the 2001th century, comparing the “ideals” of the Social Republic of Commune members with the aspirations for social rights of the street demonstrations in Paris at the end of the 38th century. For Danielle Tartakowsky (1964, p. XNUMX), relying on a work by Jacques Rougerie, published in XNUMX, “the vast majority of Communards believed in the republic and had hopes in it; (…) because, for them, the republic itself was profoundly democratic and social”.

Claude Willard, historian and president of the Association of Friends of the Paris Commune, maintained that the meaning of the Commune would contemplate two dimensions: social democracy and socialist power. Claude Willard argues that, although many participants in the Parisian insurrection did not voice a socialist program discourse, they were in practice beginning to build the institutions of socialist democracy.

Armando Boito Junior (Unicamp), highlighting Marx's analysis of the outline of new political institutions – imperative mandate, revocability of mandates, recruitment based on anti-bureaucratic criteria – during the months of government of the Paris Commune, indicates that these institutions they were inducing the process of socialization of power and the means of production, under the direction of the workers' unions. Therefore, it is convenient to maintain the characterization, initiated by Marx, of the Commune as an essentially workers' government.

So why, The Civil War in France does it remain as a current text?

This is an exhibition that cannot be confused with sociography; the first paragraph of the text already presents the structural determinations – bourgeoisie and proletariat – of the historical event. The development of this dialectical synthesis about the civil war – “Armed Paris was the armed revolution” – allows the enigma of the Commune to be unraveled as the outline of a socialist government.

The text, by its dialectical method, places itself outside the terrain of social philosophy. The formalism of the philosophical or mathematical method becomes insufficient to expose the total movement of essence and appearance of the history of class struggles. Hegel had criticized the formalism of Newton's hypothetical-deductive model. Marx inverts Hegel, criticizing him for his priority in the logical determination of real movement.

This critique of Marx allows him to apprehend the totality of real movement in the concrete moment, and not in the abstract moment. Thus, Marx takes the Paris Commune as a total social fact: economic, political and cultural; local and national; International. What is the center of this social and historical totality? To answer this question, we would have to show that the national community is the one that reproduces the relationship between bourgeois, owners of wealth, and proletarians, frustrated in their needs.

Finally, The Civil War in France contains the solution to the most difficult problem of a science: its starting point. We know that, using the dialectical method, the researcher cannot resolve this difficulty by resorting to principles (postulates, axioms). In The capital, Marx had discovered the kind of thought experiment that started the critical analysis of economics. Now it is a question of formulating the kind of thought experiment that starts the dialectical synthesis of social history.

For these elements outlined here, it is considered justifiable to commemorate the practice (the Communards) and theory (Marx) around the Paris Commune.

* Francisco Pereira de Farias He is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí. Author, among other books, of Reflections on the political theory of the young Poulantzas (1968-1974) (anti-capital fights).


Armando Boito Jr. (ed.). The Paris Commune in History. São Paulo, Shaman, 2001.

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