E. Belfort Bax

Lissagary’s History of the Commune [1]

(4 December 1886)

History of the Commune, Commonweal, 4th Dec 1886, p.283 (review).
Transcribed by Ted Crawford
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This important work has at last appeared in English, and we do not hesitate to say that it ought to be in the hands of every Socialist. The history of the Commune, as presented in the generally unbiased narrative of Lissagaray, bears a profound moral with it. It is the story of the struggle of noble enthusiasm, genuine disinterestedness and devotion, and, in the ordinary sense great opportunities with foolish vanity, personal squabbles, inefficiency of organisation, and pedantry, resulting in the ascendancy of the latter, and consequent general collapse. The Versaillaise entered upon a victory already prepared for them. And it will be so again in the next great popular movement, should due subordination of function and organisation not be able to keep the whip hand of mere confusion, cliquishness and faddism. But the moral to be drawn is of more immediate application than to the next popular rising. To compare small matters with great, there are Socialist organisatians (save the mark!) in existence to day which are literally qualifying for disaster when the time comes. We see precisely the same elements at work in them which caused the fall of the Commune with the horrors of the “bloody week.” Again and again as he reads the story of the tragedy of ’71, the friend of the Cause feels inclined to wring his hands over the opportunities lost. Lost because everything was in confusion, nearly everybody was wanting to do everybody else’s work, and consequently doing no work at all, and in many cases doubtless with the best intentions. Even at the supreme hour, when the Versaillese were actually inside Paris, there was a chance of rolling back the invasion by means of a cross fire between Montmartre and the Pantheon, had these portions been properly fortified and garrisoned; but there was no one there. Again, when the Commune was in death throes, street after street was sacrificed because officers and others carrying important messages were stopped and forced to assist in the ordinary work of barricade making the last defences being thus literally immolated before a false and idiotic notion of equality.

We wish that every true Socialist at heart whose head is led astray by disintegrative tendencies would read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the important lessons of this volume. The cause was wrecked in 1871, in great part at least, not because of spies or traitors, for there were marvellously few of those who took any prominent part in the movement who can fairly be accused of sinister motives, or of attempts to make personal gain out of it but because of well-meaning conceited, faddy, cantankerous persons, who wasted time in long winded speeches about personal matters, etc., and who would neither do any work themselves nor let any one else do it. Other follies there were of course, although they were doubtless partly caused by the above, such as making decrees and not getting them respected. The case of the hostages was one of the most fatal of these. Had the archbishop been shot on the first corroboration of the fact that Federal prisoners were being butchered at Versailles, the butcheries might have been checked. As it was, he was reserved only to be shot after there was no good to be got by shooting him at all, save to give the civilised world an opportunity of displaying its capacities in shamming horror. The translation of the book, we should say, is excellent.

E.B. Bax



1. This book was, of course, translated by Eleanor Marx.


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