T. A. Jackson

The Commune of London

Source: The Communist, March 19, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE Commune of Paris failed from lack of power to drive home its initial victory; and its lack of power arose primarily from the lack of concentrated will which inevitably follows from want of understanding. That this want of understanding was inevitable under the then existing circumstances should in no wise blind us to its primacy is determining the fate of the Commune of ’71.

* * * * * *

It is an historical necessity that the more inevitable a revolution, the more completely it will take everybody by surprise. The frenzied efforts of the doomed order to stall off the day of reckoning bear to all but the expert observers as appearance of vitality and arrogant invincibility. The compelling necessity which, pressing upon the subject class, will, in the end, consolidate them into a mighty revolutionary force, has at first the effect of sobering them into what can really be mistaken for abject submission. The victims are numbed before they are goaded into paroxysms. And the theoreticians and organisers of revolt even, just because they see the crisis approaching, became morbidly fearful of a false step, mordantly self-critical, hypercritically exacting. The dying order never seems so strong as in the hour before its crash; the revolution never so weak as in the hour before its dawn.

* * * * * *

To the student no phrase is more absurd than “make a revolution.” It is as though a husband, on being informed by his spouse that an addition to the family was impending, should respond: “Very well let it occur on the 1st of April!”

When the first State was established, the conditions were engendered for the Last Revolution. One does not make a revolution; but there is always the problem—“Shall we summon the midwife?—or do we wait?”

Suppose, for example, a financial and industrial crisis was to occur in Britain (say) six months hence. Suppose wholesale closing of banks and consequent general stoppage of industry. The very Press which normally serves to keep the proletarian mass hypnotised in admiration of their “superiors” and “governors” will now, perforce, be filled with raging, raving and lamentation—with call, counter-cry, accusation and rejoinder. The means of creating mass faith in the powers that be will become a means for dissipating that faith into dust whirled before the blast of controversy.

In London particularly, hunger, sudden and vast, will stare whole masses of the population in the face. The theatres, music-halls and restaurants will be busier than ever—crowded, as they will be by those seeking distraction in a moment of unwonted idleness or unendurable tension.

There will be food in the shops, and gaiety in the areas for its professional purveyance. All the glimmer and less endurable by contrast will be, in the background, the hunger of the mass.

The crying of a child may quite easily set the world ablaze.

Who, think you, would under those circumstances be the first to smash a shop-window? The Bolshevik, the Revolutionist, the Communist will be at his club, union or branch meeting—considering what to do. He is trained to mass action, and for mass-action he will be preparing.

But the respectable go-to-chapel-on-Sunday, spend-my-money-on-my-home young father of a family who has shunned Bolshevism as a blasphemy and Communism as damnation—such a one caught in the toils of an utterly unexpected crisis with his savings at the bank, and that shut, with all credit stopped and his needs great upon him—it as such as he that will cast the first stone and make the smash that will set all nerves jumping. And everybody being on the point of frenzy, the passion wi1l spread.

The police will be called out and will realise their pitiful inadequacy in the face of overwhelming numbers. There will be anger, not bloodshed. The troops will be sent for . . . .

* * * * * *

It is just here where the critical point comes. Try as they will, Governments can never learn how to teach troops to preserve their equanimity when used to batter into submission an unarmed mob of civilians. They will grow angry alike at the mob (and shoot too soon, making a bad job incurable), at their superiors (and refuse to shoot at all), at themselves (and casting aside arms and equipment merge themselves in the mass now frantic beyond recognition).

The authorities torn with recriminations, will hesitate, resign, send for more troops and resign again. If they can conduct a vigorous propaganda among them, the troops can be steadied. While the mob are just civilians, their slaughter is beyond a point something no army normally will undertake. Can the mob be branded as “pro-German,” “alien,” “Bolshevik,” “Sinn Fein,” or something? If the printing machines can be got to work fast enough, they can. If the trains will move fast enough, fresh troops can be brought in. If the people can be persuaded of the streets into their homes, a curfew can be established and hunger forced into concealment.

But will the printing presses move quick enough? And will they move at the Government’s command? Will the telephone and telegraph system remain at their exclusive disposal? Will the trains move bringing the troops? What will the Unions have been doing?

It is clear that in the outer suburbs of such a town as London the problems of police will be at their maximum—the possibility of military coercion at a minimum. In Edmonton, Walthamstow, West Ham, Plaistow, Peckham, Tooting, Wandsworth, Hammersmith (to name a few haphazard) are normally domiciled millions. In the daytime these areas are denuded of adult males; in the night-time they are vast dormitories. Normally, few police are required. There is nobody to create disorder, there is traffic only on the main arteries, there is nothing to tempt the burglar. Imagine these areas aflame with a mob of the hunger mad. What could possibly follow but chaos?

And out of that chaos what could possibly emerge as a guiding, directing and controlling force but the authority of the only undiscredited thing left—the local revolutionary agitators, the local trade union stalwarts, shop stewards and the like. We can predict with certainty that a harried chief constable would leap at the chance of appealing to a popular Communist agitator and his organisation as the only power possible for the exercise of control in such an emergency.

To prevent the mob taking food by force—and wasting ten times as much as they gained—a system of rationing would need to be improvised. The local shop stewards committee, unemployed committee, Communist Party branch, and trades council (if any) would give the nucleus of such an organization. Coordinated centrally with the general London organisation, such a committee could control the rationing and distribution of foodstuffs from the dock or market to the mouths of the hungry; the Seamen’s, Docker’s; Transport Worker’s, Railwaymen’s and Shop Assistant’s Unions delegates serving as of the process?

But how to get this co-ordination?

* * * * * *

If the Government can control the output of the printing press, it will be enormously difficult. If the printers join the movement and put the Press at the disposal of the Central Committee, it will be easy. Imagine, in the familiar type and get up of the “Mail,” “Telegraph,” “Times,” “Express,” “Chronicle” and “Post”—the Special Revolution Number of the COMMUNIST! If there also exists a strong and well-knit Communist Party in close co-operation with the Trade Unions, it will be impossible for it to fail.

The food would be rationed, the workshops reopened, the police and soldiery brought over and disarmed, a workers militia in possession of the public offices and arsenals—the crisis would be passed and the Revolution accomplished. The Commune of London would appeal to the provinces, and unless they failed Paris, even the inevitable “Black and Tannery” of the counter-revolution would be unable to cancel its triumph.

And then the real work would begin. The Commune of Paris knew how to die. The Commune of London must know how to live.