Karl Kautsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter VI
The Second Paris Commune

The Origin of the Commune

The Soviet Republic of 1917, like the Paris Commune of 1871, was the result of war and military defeat, and had to be borne by the revolutionary proletariat. Apart from that, a comparison with these two is at an end. The Bolsheviks succeeded in gaining political power because they, of all the political parties of Russia, were the one party which most energetically demanded peace, a peace at any price, even a separate peace. They did not worry about the general situation that might thereby arise, or whether the victory and the world supremacy of the German military monarchy might thereby be assisted or not. For a considerable time the Bolsheviks constituted themselves hirelings of the German militarists as much as the Indian or the Irish rebels and the Italian anarchists. Quite different was the attitude of French radicalism in the war of 1870, after the downfall of Napoleon and the proclamation of the Republic, and after the Germans began to make their claims of annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. In this struggle of the Third Republic against the united monarchs of Germany it seemed that the situation of 1793, with its struggle of the First Republic against the allied monarchies of Europe, would again came to life. The traditions of that earlier time again came into force, and again the proletariat of Paris formed the most warlike elements, which pursued the war in the most energetic and determined manner, for the salvation of the one and indivisible Republic.

Meanwhile the peasants of 1870 were no longer the same as those of 1793. Those of 1870 hated Paris and her supremacy. Nevertheless, they were convinced of the necessity of repelling the common enemy, since the victory of the latter would bring them again feudal exploitation, and would threaten to take from them the ecclesiastical and other property that they had acquired for themselves. The peasants of 1870, on the other hand, had nothing of a similar kind to fear from the victory of the Prussians. For them the ecclesiastical question was paramount so that the loss of Alsace-Lorraine seemed to be the lesser evil, compared with the devastation and burden of war. Apart from the people of Alsace-Lorraine, who in desperation fought to the last moment against separation, the thought of peace gained rapid ground among the peasants and the people of the provinces as war continued. This clamour for peace arose in opposition to the radical and war-like elements of Paris, which represented the war-cry of the reactionaries and the monarchists. As in 1917 in Russia, the peace party of 1871, the party which was wearied of war, gained the upper-hand over those who wanted to continue the war. But the peace ideas in 1871 did not assist the most radical of the radicals, but on the other hand, the most reactionary among the reactionaries.

On February 8, 1871, a National Assembly was elected to conclude peace. It numbered only two hundred Republicans, and on the other hand over four hundred monarchists. “Almost the whole province demanded peace at any price. Paris, on the other hand, cried for war to the knife. She elected only those men who were pledged to the continuation of war, and who opposed a peace purchased at the price of yielding up territory.” (M. Louis Debreuilh, La Commune, Paris.)

On February 12th the National Assembly met in Bordeaux, and on March 1st it voted for the Peace Treaty by 516 against 117. Nearly the half of these 117 votes represented the delegates from Paris. The National Assembly was elected only with a view to the conclusion of peace. Only in consideration of this had the electors given their votes. The great majority of reactionaries in that Assembly was attributable not to the dislike of the Republic, but to the insuperable demand for peace. After this event the mandate the National Assembly came to an end. In its place new one had to be elected, which should decide on matters in connection with the constitution. The votes might have turned out other than did those the Assembly at Bordeaux, for the Republic met with less opposition than did the continuation of the war. As a matter of fact, however, the elections which took place throughout France on April 30th, 1871, gave great Republican majority. But just because the ‘junkers’ of that Party feared the National Assembly they clung all the more tenaciously to their mandates. They formed themselves into a Constitutional Assembly, and without any doubt would have reinstated the monarchy, if they had not been split into two halves, the one half among them consisting of the legitimist supporters of the dynasty, which up to 1830, in France had been regarded as the legitimate dynasty; and other half being the Orleanists, the opposers of the dynasty, who, as a result of the Revolution of 1830, were placed in the position of the hereditary rulers This split saved the Republic, yet it did not prevent Paris from being the object of the combined hatred both factions. The French Republic had no other strong support outside Paris, but the strength of this support had proved itself on numberless occasions since 1789. There was no possibility of restoring monarchy so long as Paris was not overcome. Provincials fought with more and more fury against Paris, against the immoral, godless, warlike Republican Paris, quite apart from its Socialism. From the very beginning of its sittings, the National Assembly gave loudest expression to its horror. Heroic Paris, which had sustained a fearful siege of over five months in the service of land defence, was now the object of the most scandalous vituperation on the part of its sublime patricians. To humiliate Paris, to deny it all self-government, to rob it of its position as the capital, and finally to disarm it in order with greater security to carry out a monarchic coup d’état – this was the chief concern of the National Assembly and of Thiers, its chosen Chief of Executive.

We see how utterly different this was from the coup d’état of the Bolsheviks, who derived their power from the desire for peace, who had the support of the peasants behind them and who found no monarchist apposition to them in the National Assembly, but only the opposition of social revolutionaries and Mensheviks. The immediate causes of the Bolshevik Revolution and of the Second Paris Commune were as different as the results of these two movements. The Bolsheviks acquired power through a well-prepared coup d’état, which in one stroke yielded to them the entire State machinery, which they immediately proceeded to exploit in the most energetic and reckless manner possible, with a view to depriving their opponents of all political and economic power – of all their opponents, including the proletariat. On the other hand, at the time of the suspension of the Commune, nobody was more surprised than the revolutionaries themselves, and to a very large number of them this conflict was anything but desirable. Certainly, as the result of revolutionary tradition, the tactics of the armed insurrection, which received due preparation, were strongly supported by the Parisians. The Blanquists were their chief representatives among the Socialists. At different times during the siege they and other elements of a Jacobin character tried to promote riots; but they could not find sufficient support, so that these attempts invariably came to nothing. As a consequence of the impression made by the capitulation of Metz on October 31st they rose and demanded the election of a Paris Representative Council, namely, the Commune, on socialist but not on patriotic grounds, in order to carry on the war more energetically than the First Paris Commune had done from 1792 to 1794. That part of the National Guard faithful to the Government succeeded in quelling this revolt without shedding blood, since the Government troops found so little opposition to overcome. In order to strengthen their position, the Government had a General Election of the people in Paris on November 3rd. As the result, there ware 558,000 votes for the Government, and not quite 63,000 against. The “men of action at any price” fared no better on January 22nd. Although they opposed at the time the highly popular and patriotic voting for the continuation of the war, the Government had announced that capitulation was inevitable; and, as a result, there was an outburst of fury among the revolutionaries, which had bloodier results than the revolt of October 31st, but which, likewise, was soon crushed without difficulty.

These failures had wearied, deceived and weakened these men of action. They were not yet prepared on March 18th to call for a new revolt. On the other hand, the men of the Socialist International were, from the outset, opposed to any attempt at revolt. Immediately after the downfall of Napoleon, during the September revolution, Karl Marx wrote to Engels (September 6, 1870):–

I had just sat down to write to you when Seraillier came in, and informed me that he would leave London for Paris on the morrow, where in any case he will stay only a day or two. His object is to arrange affairs there with the International Federal Council of Paris. This is all the more necessary, since at the present moment the whole ‘French Section,’ is streaming into Paris, in ardor to perpetrate same folly in the name of the International. They want to overthrow the provisional Government, to establish the Commune of Paris, and to appoint Pyat as French Ambassador to London, etc. I received to-day a proclamation of the Federal Council of Paris to the German people, which I will send you to-morrow. It contains an urgent request to the General Council to issue a new and special manifesto to the Germans. I had already intended to make the same proposal this evening. Be so kind as to send me, as soon as possible, in English, military information about Alsace Lorraine, which will be useful for this manifesto. I have already answered in detail the Federal Council in Paris, and at the same time have undertaken the disagreeable business of opening their eyes to the real state of affairs. ( Correspondence between Engels and Marx, I. IV., p.330.)

I have been reproved for being merely a “degenerate Epigone” of Marx. It is certain that Marx’s revolutionary nature and his volcanic temperament at the time would have driven him straight into the camp of the Bolsheviks. We see from his letter how his volcanic temperament, at the time of the Revolution, made him regard it as his first duty to undertake the disagreeable duty of opening the eyes of his comrades as to the actual state of affairs; and that this same temperament, in spite of all its volcanic character, was capable, under circumstances, of carrying out a revolutionary action, even though it was a stupid action. Engels replied to Marx on September 7th as follows:

Dupont has just gone. He was here this evening and is furious over the wonderful Paris proclamation! The fact that Seraillier is going to Paris, and that he has already spoken to you, has pacified him. His views of the whole affair are perfectly clear and right, namely, Republic has turn to account the freedom which the Republic has granted for the organisation of the party in France ; to take action when opportunity shall present itself after the organisation has been formed; and to restrain the International in France until peace has been made.

To this Marx replied on September 10:

Tell Dupont that I am in entire agreement with his views.

In other wards, it was organisation, and not action, which appeared the more important to his volcanic temperament. In the very fact of maintaining reserve the International in France was pursuing nothing less than a plan for precipitate action.

Let us give an example. On February 22nd, at the sitting of the Paris Federal Council of the International, a member proposed that a peaceful demonstration on February 24th should be made, on the anniversary of the Revolution of 1848. Even this peaceful demonstration appeared to the majority of the Federal Council, in view of the tense situation, highly inopportune. Frankell, in particular, opposed this suggestion. He demanded that they should devote all their strength for the moment to the organisation of the proletariat, to the study of the most important economic problems, and above all, to the payment of the wages that had became overdue during the siege, and also to the question of unemployment.

The representatives of the International in the National Assembly, Melon and Tolain, were to give expression to the will of the people. As the result of Frankell’s proposal, the Federal Council decided not to arrange a demonstration, but to leave it to each individual member to decide whether he should take part in such demonstration or not. This shows no very strong leanings towards insurrection. Indeed this insurrection was engineered, not by the revolutionaries but by their opponents. As a result of the exigencies of the war the proletariat of Paris was being formed into the National Guard, and had become armed. This state of affairs appeared to those elements that had formed round Thiers – junkers, financiers, the heads of bureaucracy and of the army – as a very grave danger. After the signature of peace, it seemed to them that nothing was so imperative as the disarmament of the proletarian section of the Paris National Guard. This was begun by their being deprived of cannon. The German rulers had caused the Paris National Guard to come into possession of these cannon; since they, the Germans, hoped that this National Guard “would be the spark to set fire to the powder magazine,” as Bourgin has rightly said. (Georges Bourgin’s Histoire de la Commune, Paris 1917, p.43.)

The thorough exploitation of victory is of the very essence of military action and science. It is part of a general’s duty not only to conquer, but also to bring about the complete demobilisation and breaking up of the conquered enemy. Of a different order, however, are the aims of a statesman. He must look beyond the victory, in order to discover what conditions are possible for future relations with the momentary enemy. These two conceptions are found in opposition to one another in every crusade. The results are fatal when the military idea gains influence on politics, outside the actual prosecution of war. In the year 1866 Bismarck had already mastered and acquired the military way of thinking, if, however, with great difficulty. Yet it was the very successes of 1866 that had given the Prussian General Staff such enormous prestige, which, through the victory of 1870, increased still more. Bismarck could not oppose the Prussian General Staff. He had to yield to the military way of thinking, and as a result his own political understanding was disturbed and blinded. Hence the demand for the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, which lengthened the war by months, which drove France into the arms of Russia, and prepared the present disruption of Germany. Nevertheless, Alsace-Lorraine was still economically and strategically a very tangible gain for the moment. But they were not content with that, but in addition tried to bring about the humiliation of Paris, that centre which the Germans so hated, because of its opposition to their armies; and they compelled France on February 26th to grant that German troops from March 1st should invade Paris and take possession of the Champs Elysées. When on February 27th this information became known to the Parisians, there arose a general cry of indignation and a call to arms, in order to throw back the common enemy by means of force. Nearly all the battalions of the National Guard declared themselves ready to follow. It was only the Internationalists who kept quiet. However disastrous for them at the moment an insurrection against an internal enemy appeared to be, no less disastrous was a rising against the enemy from without. They implored the Central Committee of the National Guard to abstain from every attempt at armed resistance, which they said would only lead to a repetition of the slaughter of the June before, and to the drowning of the Republic in the blood of the Paris workmen. They proposed that the National Guard, instead of offering armed resistance, should surround the Germans with a cordon, which would cut them off completely from the Paris population, and keep them in isolation.

The Central Committee allowed itself to be persuaded at the last moment, and so we have the International to thank that the vain arrogance of the German conquerors did not provoke the most fearful street fighting in the world’s history. It was not the German but the French soldiery, which a few weeks later let loose the bloody slaughter among the Parisian proletariat.

According to the capitulation of Paris on January 28th, all war material of the troops in the town had been made over to the victor, excepting the arms of the National Guard; not only their weapons, but also their cannons, which were provided, not by the State but by the city of Paris. When, therefore, the Germans entered Paris, the Government took no steps whatever to remove to safety those cannons which, by contract, the victors had left in their care. The Government probably wished that the enemy had taken them, and thus weakened the strength of the enemy within. But the National Guard were well prepared, and brought these cannons, four hundred in number, in good time to those parts of the town to which the Germans had no access. To get back these cannons into their possession was the great anxiety of the Government after the conclusion of peace. In this way they hoped to disarm the proletarian section of the Paris National Guard. The National Guard had threatened to decapitate and decapitalise (décapiter et décapitaliser) Paris. With this end in view, they decided not to sit in Paris. With great difficulty Thiers persuaded them to make the seat of their Conference in Versailles, in the neighbourhood of Paris, instead of in Bordeaux, as had been the case up till then. On March 20th they proposed to meet there. Beforehand they had to be reassured that they had nothing to fear from Paris. Therefore it was decided to confiscate these cannon on March 18th. Thiers thought it the wisest course to steal these cannon secretly, instead of openly by force. At three o’clock in the morning, while all Paris was asleep, several regiments took possession of Montmartre, where the cannon were standing unguarded, and endeavoured to remove them. But, strangely enough, they had forgotten to bring with them the necessary horses. These therefore had first of all to be fetched; in the meantime the Parisians “smelt a rat” and, quickly gathering together, formed a continually increasing group, which finally compelled the soldiers to leave the cannon alone. They were successful. The soldiers who had lived among the Paris populace, who had fought with it against the common enemy, and had joined with it in despising the incapable generals, now fraternised with the people and the National Guard. General Lecomte, who ordered the troops to fire on unarmed crowds, merely succeeded in causing his own soldiers to turn against him, and arrest and shoot him. This shooting affray belongs to those terrorist atrocities, which one is inclined to lay to the blame of the Commune. This is also true of the shooting of General Thomas, who was seized on the morning of March 18th in civilian dress, as he was taking notes among the crowd. He was executed for being a spy. Already on the 28th of February a police agent, who was caught in the act of espionage, was thrown into the Seine and cruelly drowned.

Those people who attribute these deeds to the Commune forget that, at the time when such things happened, the Commune was not yet in existence. On the other hand, one should not lay the blame to the civil population of Paris. Each one of these executions was carried out by the soldiers, and not by the civilians. They were the outcome of the ideas, not of the proletariat but of the militarists who do not attach much importance to human life. And those friends of humanity, who wax indignant over the soldiers because they shot their bloodthirsty generals, would not have a word to say if those same soldiers had shot down women and children. “Instead of his shooting women and children, his own people shot him.” (Lecomte). “Deep-rooted habits, which soldiers acquire as the result of training given them by the enemies of the working classes, do not suddenly lose their power at the moment when these same soldiers go over to the working people, and join them.” – Marx, Civil War in France, p.38.)

Whatever action the National Guard took in these events was undertaken only with a view to prevent further bloodshed. They succeeded, in fact, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, in rescuing from the indignant soldiers the officers they had arrested, so that only those mentioned were killed. On March 19th the Central Committee of the National Guard at last protested against any participation whatever in this slaughter. In its declaration, which was published in the official journal of the Commune of March 20th, is the following statement:

We declare with indignation that the bloody disgrace with which our honour has been besmirched is a shocking infamy. Never did we decide on an execution, and never has the National Guard taken part in any such crime.

This was a strong denunciation, not only of the accusers but also of those cruel deeds which were ascribed to the National Guard. In view of the secession of the troops to the people, the Government had only two courses open to pursue – either to make concessions to the enraged masses, to bargain with them, or else to retire in flight. Thiers would, on no account, engage in discussions, but took a headlong flight with his Government out of Paris, and hurried to gather round him all those troops that, as yet, were untainted with the spirit of mutiny. He even abandoned the forts round Paris, including the prominent fort of Mont Valerien. If the Parisians had kept to the heels of Thiers, they would perhaps have succeeded in overcoming the Government. The troops which were withdrawing from Paris would not have been able to offer the least opposition. That is what their general later on declared. Then it would have. been possible to introduce a new Government, which, however, would not have been able to carry out a Socialist programme. For that the conditions were not ripe enough. But they could have dissolved the National Guard, and have elected a new one with the following programme, namely, the strengthening of the Republic, self-determination for the various districts, Paris included, and the substitution of militia in place of the standing army. More than this, at that time, the Commune did not demand, and this programme was possible at the time on account of the conditions in France. But Thiers continued to retire. They allowed him to take his troops and to reorganise them in Versailles, to fill them with fresh spirit and to strengthen them. Nobody was more surprised at the retreat of the Ministers than the Parisians themselves. There was no organisation at hand that could take over the guidance of affairs in place of the rulers, who had taken flight. Even on the morning of March 19th Paris was entirely without any Government. Force of circumstances made it necessary for the Central Committee of the National Guard to take their place, and thus was formed a body without a fixed programme and without any clear purpose. They discharged their responsibility, in the first place, by delegating their power to a single individual, Lullier, to whom they confided the supreme command over Paris. He was the most unsuitable man conceivable, a drunkard and one who did not know whether he was “more of a fool than traitor, or vice versa. This man succeeded within the space of forty-eight hours in making the most terrible blunders possible – blunders that could not be remedied. But this unfortunate choice of Lullier was at bottom merely a sign and indication of the situation at that time.” – (Dubreuilh, La Commune, p.283.)

It was not till April 3rd that it was decided to make an attack on Versailles. But what might have brought success on March 19th was on April 3rd a cause of failure. The expectation that the soldiers would again go over to the Parisians as on March 18th ended in bitter disappointment. The Parisian National Guard stumbled upon most obstinate and determined opposition, which they could not overcome. From that moment they were put on the defensive against the whole of France, and in consequence, from that time onwards their downfall was certain. And from that time onwards the Paris rising was exclusively proletarian. Up to that moment many of the supporters of the bourgeois hesitated as to whether or not they should go over to the proletarian, but henceforth they let the proletariat alone go on with the fight.

How very differently things proceeded in the insurrection of March 7th, 1917, in Petersburg, as compared with that of March l8th, 1871, in Paris! This Russian insurrection was prepared by the Revolutionary Committee, which organised the working classes and the soldiers, and urged them to attack the Government, which at that time was in Petersburg, and had as little strength behind it as had Thiers in 1871 in Paris. But it is certain that the immediate occupation of all posts of power in the capital would not have determined the victory of the Bolsheviks, had not the condition of things in the whole Empire been far more favourable to them than they were for Paris in 1871. At the time when Kerensky fled to Gatschina, as formerly Thiers fled to Versailles, he could not reckon on a peasantry which would uphold him. The peasantry, and along with it the armed rising in Russia, all went to the side of the revolutionaries, who were in power in the capital. This gave their regime a force and permanent character, which was denied the Paris regime. On the other hand, it brought about an economic reactionary element from which the Paris Commune was saved. The Paris Dictatorship of the Proletariat was never founded on Peasants’ Councils as was the case in Russia.



Workmen’s Councils and the Central Committee

The Paris Commune and the Soviet Republic were fundamentally different in their starting point, no less different also in their organisation and the methods then employed. It is true that the Paris Commune had an organisation which might easily be compared to the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Council. Indeed, it was in a similar position to the Russian Revolution, since it followed, like the. Russian, a despotic regime which prohibited every kind of open political organisation of the masses, and also forbade the organisation of Trade Unions only shortly before its downfall. Just as little as in the case of the Russian workmen in 1905 and 1907, the French workmen, after September 4th, 1870, found no strong political and Trade Union organisation ready to hand, which would have enabled them to make a united fight. This was one of the reasons, as we have seen, which led Marx to desire so sincerely that the workers should, in the first place, utilise the new Republic for their own organisation and instruction, and by this means make it ready and well equipped to act as a ruling power, and not waste its strength in little skirmishes, which even in the most favourable circumstances could never give them any lasting supremacy. But since they came into power by means of a contest that was forced upon them, and not by a mere skirmish, they had to be careful to provide, in the absence of any political and Trade Union organisation, some substitute which they found ready to hand. For the Russian workmen there was such a substitute to be found in the organisation of gross industry.

“Modern industry has changed the small workshop of the patriarchal master of former days into the large factory of the industrial capitalist. Groups of workmen herder together in a factory become organised like soldiers. Like all ordinary industrial soldiers they are placed under the supervision of a thorough-going hierarchy of officers and under officers.” (Engels to Marx, Communist Manifesto) “The industrial soldiers” of the factory had only to substitute for the officers and under-officers, placed in command by the capitalists, similar officers of their own choice, and hence organisation in the factory became in reality a close organisation of factory workers. Thus arose the institution of the Workmen’s Councils among the proletariat of Russia. As against the organisation of party and Trade Unions of countries more advanced than Russia, these Workmen’s Councils do not represent any higher form of proletarian organisation, but merely an emergency measure to supply what was lacking. But Paris workmen had no such measure. Parisian industry was, for the most part, industry for the leisured, and not industry for the masses. Evan up to the time of the Second Commune, the “small workshop of the patriarchal master” was paramount, since the great factory of the industrial capitalist was almost entirely lacking, the contrary being the case with the industry of Russia, especially in St. Petersburg. The Russian Empire shows its economic backwardness in its lack of industry, and in the small number of industrial workers as against the peasantry. Whatever there is, however, of capitalist industry bears the stamp of modern manufacture on a large scale. The Parisian workmen had to furnish some other substitute for the political and economic organisation of the masses, which at that time was lacking, and this substitute was found in the National Guard. The Revolution of 1789 had as a result the arming of the people everywhere in France, but especially in Paris. This arming served a double purpose. The lower classes, the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie took to arms, and organised themselves for insurrection. The Revolution had not brought them what they wanted, and could not bring it them, as the result of the conditions then prevailing. Hence their persistent impulse, by means of an armed rising, to push the Revolution still further forward. The situation was quite different for the bourgeoisie, the capitalists and the well-to-do middle classes, and the intellectuals who were in quite comfortable circumstances. The Revolution of 1789 brought them exactly what they wanted. They armed and organised themselves in order to defend that which they had won, and they fought on two sides – against the reactionary powers, which strove to restore the ancient feudal absolutism, and also against the lower strata of the people, who were impatiently pursuing their object and pressing forward. Their armed organisation was that of the National Guard. The bourgeoisie remained the victor in the revolutionary struggle, and along with the bourgeoisie the National Guard was established as an institution for the protection of the propertied classes, who themselves nominated their officers and who possessed a certain degree of independence, as against the Government.

The height of importance was attained by the National onward in the July monarchy, 1830 to 1848. Nevertheless, it could not save that monarch, and proved itself in 1848 to be very unreliable. Napoleon III., after his coup d’état, took from the National Guard its independence, namely, the right to elect its own officers, but he dared not dissolve it completely. Then came the war of 1870 and the speedy defeat. Once again the Fatherland was in danger, and once again the spirits of 1913 were incited to continue the traditions of the victorious fight against Europe, by means of the “levée en masse,” through the armed rising of the whole people. Under pressure of this situation, the legislative body in Paris on August 11th proclaimed a law, on the proposal of Jules Favres, that the National Guard, from being a citizen Guard, should be converted into a universal Guard for the whole nation. To the sixty old battalions of the National Guard, which were drawn from the propertied classes, were attached two hundred new battalions from the poorer classes, who even had the privilege of nominating their own officers. In this way the new battalion of the National Guard of Paris became in reality the organisation of the proletariat. The whole law over the extension of the National Guard was really due to sudden fright rather than to mature reflection. The fathers feared their children, so they decided to do all in their power to prevent these children from gaining strength. But they could not hinder the Paris proletariat from arming itself; the military authorities of Paris, however under the command of Trocus, omitted everything which could have helped towards the National Guard’s developing into troops of any use. In this way they betrayed their Fatherland, but they feared the Paris workmen more than the soldiers of Wilhelm. In Paris, at the beginning of the siege, one hundred thousand troops were to be found, and in addition a hundred thousand Guards. If one assumes that, of the more than three hundred thousand National Guards, two hundred thousand were fit for active service, that makes altogether an army of four hundred thousand men, to which the Germans, when they were outside Paris, could not have opposed more than half the number, which, moreover, were scattered over a very wide area. But from August onwards the National Guard was given ample time to get into shape. As a consequence, the authorities in Paris had a large majority at their disposal to oppose the Germans. If they should succeed in breaking through at any point the iron ring that enclosed Paris, the outlook for the German army of ever winning the war wasp extremely small. But that would have been possible only if the National Guard could become militarily organised at once. Before this eventuality they shrank. They preferred to lose the war, and to hand over Alsace-Lorraine to the enemy. That is what the Parisians felt, and hence their fury against those rulers who had betrayed France. When Paris had capitulated, and the whole Assembly had been elected, and when the hatred of this latter body against the Republic and the capital had come to light in the most provocative way, the Parisians realised that they were involved in a serious conflict. The only power on which they could rely was the National Guard;. The Revolutionary battalions had already, during the siege, kept in close contact with one another. They now joined into a federation. Hence they were called the Federalists. It was on February 15th that the delegates of the revolutionary battalions first met together, in order to discuss the federation. They appointed a commission to draw up the Statutes, which were then laid before the new Assembly on February 24th; but the Assembly was at that time too excited to deliberate, because a German invasion was feared. They broke up the meeting, in order to take part in a revolutionary demonstration on the Place de la Bastille. During the following days, a provisional Central Committee of the National Guard came into being; which was in the highest degree necessary, in view of the imminent incursion of the Germans, and in order to guard against panic. It was not until March 3rd that the delegates’ Assembly came to any thing like a definite organisation. It was decided that a Central Committee of the National Guard should be appointed, consisting of three delegates) for each of the twenty districts (arondissements) of Paris. Two of the three were elected by the Council of the Legion, and the third by the Chief of the Battalion of the Legion. On March 15th the men chosen as the definite Central Committee met together, and so dissolved the Provisional Committee, which had functioned hitherto. One might regard this Central Committee, since it was elected from among the National Guard, as a Soldiers’ Council; but it was chosen from among the proletariat and from the National Guard, who stood in close relation with the proletariat, since the battalion of the leisured classes took no part in these deliberations. According to the information received by the Central Committee, this latter had supporting it, on March 18th, 215 of the 260 battalions of the Paris National Guard. So far, therefore, it was a kind of Workmen’s Council. One can therefore quite well compare it with the Central Committee of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils. Nevertheless, the Paris Commune was by no means a Soviet Republic. When on March 18th the Government took to flight, there was none to occupy public office. This very naturally fell to the Central Committee, for it was the only organisation in Paris that was held in universal esteem, although all its members were wholly unknown people. On March 10th they met together, in order to deliberate what was to be done. As is so often the case, they formulated the problem on this occasion as an “either, or” whereas a “both, and” would have been more to the point. Thus the Socialists repeatedly discussed the question whether there should be reform or revolution, instead of saying that the striving for reform and the struggle for revolution should be so conducted, that neither one of these movements should exclude the other, but rather support it.

On March 19th some members of the Central Committee demanded that a march should be made against Versailles. Others wanted to appeal to the electors then and there, and again, others wanted first of all to take revolutionary measures. As if each one of these steps was not equally necessary, and as if any of them could exclude the other! The Central Committee decided, in the first place, to take only one of these steps, and one that seemed to be the most imperative. It wished to show that behind the Paris rising the majority of the electors was to be found, and it wished in this way to give the insurrection the greatest moral support. That was perfectly right; only it would have been more advantageous to strengthen, by means of revolutionary power, the moral authority of the General Election as against the enemy, who himself was undoubtedly endeavouring to get the support of the army. The immediate election of a communal administration for Paris, based on universal suffrage, which the Empire had hitherto withheld from the Parisians, was certainly inevitable. Immediately after the downfall of the Empire in September, 1870, the Paris workmen had obtained from the new provisional Government the assurance that the election of a commune would soon be undertaken. The failure to fulfil this promise contributed not a little to the disorders that arose during the siege. The insurrections of October 31st and of January 22nd took place amid the cries of “Long live the Commune.” Hence it was necessary to make at once a complete list of the electors for the Commune. It was arranged first for the 22nd, and then for the 26th of March. The Central Committee regarded itself merely as a temporary body to hold places in reserve for those who should be elected by universal and equal suffrage. In the Journal Officiel de la République Française de la Commune of March 20th, the following announcement was made to the citizens of Paris:

In three days you will be called upon, in perfect freedom, to elect members for district representation of Paris. Those who have seized power as the result of necessity will then hand over their provisional authority into the hands of the elected of the people.

But they did not stick to their promise. After the Commune had been constituted the Central Committee delegated its power to that body on March 28th. It even went so far as to give signs that it would dissolve completely; but the Commune did not insist on this, and so this Central Committee continued to function under the Commune as a part of the military machinery. This did not serve to facilitate the carrying on of business, nor the conduct of war. But the Central Committee never attempted to upset the principle that the supreme power belonged to those elected by universal suffrage. This Central Committee never claimed that all power should fall to the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils, that is, in the present case, to the Central Committee of the workmen’s battalions. In this paint also, therefore, the Paris Commune was the exact contrary to the Russian Republic, and yet Frederick Engels wrote on March 18th, 1891, on the twentieth anniversary of the Paris Commune: “Gentlemen, do you want to know what the dictatorship of the proletariat looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.” We see that Marx and Engels, under the title of dictatorship, in no way understood the withholding of universal and equal suffrage, or the suppression of democracy.



The Jacobins in the Commune

At the election on March 26, ninety members of the Commune were elected. These included fifteen Government supporters, and six citizen radicals who were in opposition to the Government, but who nevertheless condemned the insurrection. A Soviet Republic would never have allowed such elements of the counter-revolutionaries to appear as candidates, let alone to be elected as members. The Commune, out of its respect for democracy, never hindered its civil opponents from election. If their activity in the Commune came to a sudden end, this was their own fault. The company in which they found themselves was not to their liking and they very soon took their departure.

Some, indeed, retired before the election candidates met together, and others, a few days after the Commune was established. These resignations, as well as certain mandates, made a re-election imperative, and this took place on April 16th. The great majority of the members of the Commune were on the side of the insurrection. Moreover, among the revolutionary members of the Commune, not all were Socialists. The majority consisted simply of revolutionaries. Most of them were guided by the principles laid down in 1793, and by the traditions of the Jacobins. Some had already shown their allegiance in 1848 to the “Mountain,” for instance, Delescluse and Pyat, and not a few were forced out of their private professional life as the result of their political struggle, and became conspirators and revolutionaries by profession. The older members among them lived according to the traditions of the past, and had no real interest for new developments and conceptions.

“The others, that is the younger ones, were to a large extent men who resorted to force without any sound foundation. They were often merely heroes in word, and were now playing with the insurrection just as, a few months before, they had played with wars – men who talked a great deal and contented themselves with mere talking. Their revolutionary ideas were confined to mere externalities. They were superficial, and even the very best of them were actuated by feeling rather than by reason.” This is the criticism of these men given by that great revolutionary, Dubreuilh, La Commune, p.332.)

Most of them understood nothing about Socialism, Not a few of them were directly against it, especially Delescluse. One could not call them bourgeois politicians in the sense that they at all represented the interests of the propertied classes. On the contrary they stood side by side with the lower classes and fought for them as much as the people of the “Mountain” of 1793 had done. But just like these latter, they could not escape from the questions of property and privilege belonging to the bourgeois classes, and for this reason they may be said to have formed a bourgeois element. This applies to the majority of the revolutionaries in the Commune. Only a few of them belonged to the working classes. Among them were to be found ordinary officials, apothecaries, investors, lawyers, and, above all, journalists. Different from the Jacobins were the Blanquists, seven in number, among them Blanqui himself, who, however, could not take his seat. It shows how little the Blanquists expected the insurrection of March 18th, for Blanqui, shortly before the outbreak, in order to recuperate his health, had left Paris. On March 17th he was arrested in Figeac (Department Lot). Blanqui agreed with the Jacobins on one point, namely, in their endeavour, by means of an insurrection on the part of the lower classes in Paris, to govern Paris; and through Paris, by means of a regime of force, the whole of France. But they went further than the Jacobins, since they recognised that this method of government would not suffice to liberate the exploited, unless that government could be used to create a new social order. In other words they were Socialists. Yet in their case it was always the political rather than the economic interest that weighed most with them. They did not study economic life, nor did they endeavour to gain any systematic economic knowledge. They betrayed this characteristic by frequently excusing ignorance, saying that they wished to be entirely untrammelled by dogma. They did not want to be “bewildered” by prejudices and “academic discussion.” When the proletariat came into power, they said, it would very soon know what it had to do. Their chief concern was to give the proletariat this power, and they regarded the insurrection, which was being prepared, as a means towards this end.

They were unfortunate, however, since the insurrections which they carefully prepared always came to grief, and the one that was successful found them unprepared. Moreover, the Blanquist teaching made no great claims on the intelligence, but contented itself with immediate action. Indeed, this teaching had enormous attraction for men of action. In spite of this fact, however, it found more acceptance among the intellectuals, especially students, than among the workmen.

The following is a tabulation of the elements which constituted the Blanquist Party at that time. On November 17th, 1866, a secret meeting of the Blanquist group was surprised by the police in a Paris café and the members were arrested. There were forty-one, and each one’s occupation was given. These included fourteen artisans, four shop assistants, thirteen students, six journalists, one lawyer, one foreman, one landowner, and one independent merchant. The number of students would have been far greater, only, on November 7th the holidays were not yet at an end, and so many students were absent from Paris.

This meeting throws a light upon Blanquism, not only on the manner of its constitution but also on its aims. In September, 1866, the International Congress met in Geneva, and the Blanquists were invited to attend. Blanqui refused, but two of the chosen delegates, namely, the lawyer Protot and the employee Humbert, nevertheless went. In consequence there was great excitement in the Blanquist camp, for, according to its traditions, the dictatorship belonged, not only to the proletariat, but also to the leader of their party. Both kinds of dictatorship were closely connected. For the first time since the existence of the Blanquist organisation an order from the head of the party had been disobeyed. Up to that time they had followed in blind obedience, and even later they adhered to this principle. A meeting was held on November 7th in order to bring Protot to judgment; but this meeting was dissolved before any conclusion was reached. A few were able to take to flight, among them Protot himself. The others, as we have said, were arrested. (Charles Da Costa, Les Blanquists, Paris 1912, pp.17-22).

Among the Blanquists of the Commune were found the lawyer Protot again, and also two of the members who were arrested on November 7th. They were the lawyer Tridon and the student Raoul Rigault. Among the others elected were Blanqui, a lawyer and a doctor (who had studied both faculties), Eudes, an apothecary, and Ferré, an accountant. In the whole Blanquist faction was found only one single working man, the coppersmith Chardon. Of the elected members of the International who were found in the Commune two had relations with the Blanquists, namely, a smith, Duval, and the student Vaillant. We see how much the intellectuals preponderated amongst them. Even within the Commune itself, the Jacobins, like the Blanquists, troubled little about economic questions. The war against Versailles, the policing of Paris, and the struggle against the Church – these were the questions to which they devoted their energies. This last struggle also, like the military struggle against Versailles and the police struggle against the Versailles associates in Paris, was carried out by means of force, and by an attack on persons and externalities.



The International and the Commune

The third of the groups in the Commune was formed by members of the international, seventeen in number, almost exclusively Proudhonists. Proudhonisrn was in sharp contrast to Blanquism and Jacobinism. The Regime of Terror of 1793 was for Proudhonism something to be avoided, not to be imitated. It saw very clearly the weaknesses of this regime and the unavoidability of its failure. It realised that the mere acquirement of political power on the part of the proletariat could alter nothing in its social position, and that it could not abolish the system of exploitation from which the proletariat suffered. It realized further that the change could be reached not by political disturbances but only through an economic reorganisation. This, therefore, made the Proudhonists suspicious of the Blanquist methods suspicious of the insurrection and of Terrorism, and none the less opposed to democracy. In the February Revolution of 1848 the Parisian Proletariat had conquered the democracy; but what had it gained by its action? A growing mistrust of the proletarian struggle for political freedom, and of the participation of the proletariat in matters of policy animated the Proudhonists.

Today similar ideas have arisen, and are offered as the latest products of Socialistic thought, as the product of experience, which Marx neither knew nor could know of. These are merely variations of ideas that are over half a century old, but they have not for that reason become more correct. Proudhonism showed how a policy for the liberation of the proletariat, undertaken by means of an economic transformation alone, is doomed to failure. To-day we preach about the powerlessness of democracy to free the proletariat, so long as this proletariat is held bound in the chains of capitalism. But if economic liberation must precede the political, then, logically, every kind of political activity on the, part of the proletariat is equally useless, of whatever kind it may be. Whereas the Blanquists devoted their attention exclusively to the political struggle against the existing powers of State, Proudhonism, equally exclusively, sought means to give the proletariat economic freedom, without any assistance from the State. As a consequence, the Blanquists reproached the Proudhonists for discouraging the working classes in their struggle against the Second Empire, under which they lay bleeding. Even Marx accused Proudhon, saying that “he coquetted with Louis Bonaparte and endeavoured to justify him in the eyes of the French working-men.” (In his article of January, 1865, which appeared in the German edition of Poverty of Philosophy, second edition, p.32.) On the other hand, the Proudhonists were conscious of the class antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeois, for the good reason that, with the Proudhonists, the economic question was of first importance. They realised, further, that the proletariat would have to trust to its own strength to gain its freedom. They realised this far more than the Blanquists; for these latter were to a large extent a student party, whereas the Proudhonists formed the real Labour Party in France under the Second Empire.

When in the ’sixties the Labour Movement everywhere awoke from the death-sleep into which it fell, as a, result of the reaction after 1848, and at the time when the International of the working party was being formed, it was the Proudhonists in France who joined up with them. This was reason enough for Blanqui to forbid his followers to attach themselves also. In the International, however, they learnt to know of a new order of theory and practice, which made them turn away all the more from one-sided Proudhonism. For just at the time of the foundation of the International Labour League, their leader, Proudhon, died on January 19th, 1865, and in France a new condition arose for the continuation of the class struggle. Proudhon wished to inaugurate a purely labour movement without polities, but that was possible only by renouncing all attempts at a struggle that would involve their coming into conflict with State authority. Quite peaceful means were to be employed to free the working classes, namely, guilds, banks of exchange, a mutual system of insurance. These ideas were possible in Paris where industry, as has been shown before, had very little of the character of manufacture on a large scale, and where the exploiting capitalist appeared to the workman much more as the monied capitalist, taking all the profits, than as a real industrial contractor.

In the International the French Proudhonists learnt something of English industrial capitalism, and of a Labour Movement corresponding to this capitalism, which laid most emphasis, in economic matters, on the importance of the organisation of their struggle, on Trade Unions and strikes, with which the Proudhonist would have nothing to do. Over and above this system of practice, there arose a theory which shed the clearest light upon the laws underlying modern society and social life, a theory which was still unknown to the majority of the International, and was not rightly understood even by those who knew. The creator of this theory, however, by his immense superiority, inspired the International in all its activity with his spirit and ideas. In Marx’s theory, the one-sidedness of Proudhonism and of Blanquism also was overcome. Like the Proudhonists, Marx recognised that the economic relations were of the first importance, and that without some alteration of these relations no political change of whatever kind could possibly emancipate the proletariat. But, nonetheless, he recognised that the possession of State power and authority was absolutely necessary in order to break the domination of capital, and in order to carry out the emancipation of the proletariat by economic changes. The fundamental importance of the economic factor received at the hands of Marx an utterly different character from that given by Proudhon. Economics in the eyes of Marx made politics not superfluous, but necessary. The character and outcome of political struggle and its very effect, depended, to a large extent, on the economic question. But he realised that economic conditions themselves form a steadily progressing process, which makes a political result possible to-day and inevitable to-morrow, whereas yesterday it seemed impossible. The relation between economics and politics consisted for him in studying the economic conditions and tendencies, and in attempting to make political aims and methods fit in with them. The Blanquists and Proudhonists, on the other hand, entirely neglected the historical aspect. Their chief endeavour was not at any given moment to find out what was possible and necessary from an economic point of view, but to find the means which, under all conditions and in all historical and economic circumstances, should give the desired result. If the Socialists have found the right means, they are then in a position to carry out their Socialism exactly as they wish. It was believed that these ideas had been superseded by Marxism, but we find them still in existence even to-day. Once again we find men in Moscow and Budapest who, instead of asking what policy is possible and necessary in the present economic conditions, are proceeding from the standpoint that, since Socialism is desired by the Proletariat, the Socialists have a duty to carry out their Socialism, wherever they have the power to do so. Their duty consists not in examining whether, and how far, this scheme is possible, but in discovering where the Philosopher’s stone is to be found, that universal remedy which Socialism, in all circumstances and in all conditions, undertakes to provide. And people of the present day believe that this problem has been solved by the proclamation of the dictatorship on the basis of the Council system. In the Second French Empire the Blanquists thought to discover the Philosopher’s stone in a revolt, the Proudhonists, in the banks of exchange.

Even at the present day Marx has been little understood. He demanded far too great mental energy and far too great subordination of personal desires and needs. But, in a general way, all the aims, ways, and means adopted by him, as well as by Engels, were successful, because the logic of things was on their side. In consequence, the Marxist ideas gradually ousted the Proudhonist ideas from the French Internationalists. As soon as the Labour movement again came to life in France, Trade Unions and strikes were inevitable. The Empire endeavoured to lead the movement on legal and non-political lines, and sanctioned the formation, in 1864, of Trade Unions, as well as the carrying out of strikes – in the very year in which the International was founded. The members of this International, including the Proudhonists, not only were forced to take part in this spontaneous Labour movement, but circumstances forced them, as the best representatives of the economic interests of the Labour classes, to come to the head of the organisation and the movement. It was inevitable that they should thus come into conflict with the State authority, and in this way they ware drawn into the political struggle, into the struggle against the Empire. Under these circumstances the ideas of the French Internationalists; which at the start had been Proudhonist in character, became more and more Marxist in colour. Yet, at the outbreak of the revolt of the Commune, not one of them could be described as a Marxist. They had lost their old Proudhonist foundation, but had not yet gained new ground. Their ideas were still lacking in clearness. Nevertheless they were the members of the Commune who took the most trouble to examine economic life, and who best understood the vital needs of the time. They formed the real Labour representatives in the Commune. Lissagaray says about them:–

People have said that the Commune was a Government of the working classes. That is a great mistake. The working classes took part in the struggle, in the administration, and their breath alone made the movement great; but they were very little engaged in actual government. The election of March 26th gave the workers only 25 votes as against 70, which went to the revolutionaries. (History of the Commune, second edition, p.145.)

But of these 25, the majority, 13, belonging to the International, had all told only 17 representatives in the Commune. Only four of the International were not Labour members and of these one of them, the student, Vaillant, had leanings towards the Blanquists. Out of the 13 members of the Labour group among the Internationals we find the most important men in the Commune, namely the bookbinder, Varlin, the carpenter, Theiss, the painter, Malon, and the jeweller, Frankel. In accordance with their Party standpoint they left all direct action, the conduct of the war, and the organisation of the police, to the Jacobins and Blanquists, and turned their attention to the question of peace, to tile administration of the districts, and to economic changes. Only one of them showed any warlike spirit, namely, the metal worker, Duval, and he was inclined, as we know, like Vaillant, to Blanquism. He was one of those in the Commune who, at the outbreak of April 3rd, was captured and shot by order of General Vinoy. Thus he was one of the first martyrs of the Commune.

His comrades in the International confined their attention almost entirely to the economic problems, and they did remarkably goad work, namely, in administration. For instance, Theiss in postal arrangements, Varlin and Avrial in other important positions of command, in spite of the enormous difficulties, which arose from the fact that the higher officials having fled from Paris, or at least from their positions, the working classes had suddenly to take over and carry on work to which they were wholly strangers. Along with the Internationalists of the Commune there were other members of the Paris International who were successful in their labours, for instance, the bronze worker, Camelinat, who, in the month of April, took over the coinage, and in a very few weeks made vast improvements, which, after the fall of the Commune, were still maintained. Them there was Bastelica who undertook the direction of customs, and Combault, Director of Indirect Taxation. Both were workmen.

One of the first actions on the part of the Commune consisted in handing over the separate districts of the Executive, not to individual ministers but to special commissions. The Commission for Labour, Industry and Exchange, also the Commission representing the Socialist side of the Commune consisted of the Internationalists Malin, Theiss, Dupont (basket maker), and Avrial (mechanic), Gerardin and one single Jacobin, whose occupation I could not find. Of the five members of the Commission for Finance, three belonged to the International, the painter, Victor Clément Varlin, and the rather wealthy philanthropist, Beslay, one of the few bourgeois in the International. Besides these men there were the Jacobin, Regère, a veterinary surgeon, but an old, fighter against the Empire, as well as the cashier, Jourdes, who had no particular tendencies, and who was the real head of finance, through whose hands millions of francs had to pass, while his wife continued to carry on the family washing in the Seine, he himself never dining at a higher cost than 1.60 fr. In both the Commissions for labour and finance utterly different methods were employed from those in the Commissions for the army and police. The contrast in these methods has been very well characterised by Mendlessohn, in his appendix to Lissagaray’s, History of the Commune (second German edition):

“The war administration in the Commune had very little satisfactory means to hand. Here we find incapacity, ignorance, vanity, absence of all feeling for responsibility, etc. Here we find the reflection of all the unfortunate disorganisation of the conditions under which the Socialist movement had to suffer during the Empire, and we need only go from the Place Vendôme to the Prefecture of Police, in order to find the second reflection of these conditions.

We certainly find a peaceful change from the noisy self-importance of the new Hebertists, who formed the general staff of police at the time, when we pass over to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Exchange. The name itself shows the influence of the Proudhonist doctrine. Apart from this, however, the conscientious and modest members of the. International were so occupied in their labour, that they put aside all that was impossible and fantastic. Regarding themselves as a committee. of the working-classes, they did not look for signs of their power in orders and badges. They formed a commission out of the members of the Trade Unions and Labour Commissions. As a result, this Ministry so carried on its work, that one can say it did what it could according to the conditions then prevailing, and never undertook anything that it could not carry out.

In this Ministry the Socialists stood well concentrated. It was Marxist in character. It represented the actual revolutionary elements in the Commune, and yet it showed a measure of caution, which was perfectly amazing. The reason for this caution, which was also noticeable in the Ministry of Finance, was given by Jourde on the occasion of a debate on pawnbrokers shops. It was ordered that pledged clothes, household furniture and utensils up to twenty francs in value should be returned to their original owners without payment from May 12th onwards. The State undertook the compensation. In the course of this debate Avrial proposed that in the place of these pawnbrokers’ shops a better kind of Labour institute should be established, whereupon Jourde replied:

They say form an institute. But that is all very well. We must first have time in order to study the question before we do anything. If Aerial was told to manufacture cannons he would demand more time. I demand that also. (Sitting of May 6th, Officiel Journal of May 7th, p.433.)

The Commune found no time to do anything on a large scale on the social question, and the best people among them would not undertake anything, without thoroughly studying the question first. Most of their social measures would to-day seem trivial. For instance, the suspension of night labour among the bakers, and the prohibition of fines in business houses. The most important conclusion never got beyond mere examination. During the siege and after March 18th there was a large number of factories in Paris closed down by their owners, who fled and escaped. On the proposal of Avrial an inquiry into this very serious question for the working classes was made, and the conclusion ran as follows:

In consideration of the fact that numerous factories have been closed down by those who hitherto ran them, in order that the owners might avoid their civil duties, and without taking into consideration the interests of the workmen; further, in consideration of the fact that, through this cowardly flight from their positions, much important labour for the communal life has been interrupted, and that the working man is thus endangered, the Commune of Paris makes the following declaration:

The Trade Unions of the workmen shall be called together, in order to form commissions of inquiry with the following object in view:

(1) To gather statistics of the businesses thus closed down, as well as an exact description of the state in which they are at present, as well as of the machinery contained therein:

(2) To provide a report as to the practical measures to be taken in order to put these factories into working order, not through those who have deserted them, but through associations of workmen who were employed in them;

(3) To form a scheme of action for these associations;

(4) To set up a court of arbitration, which shall settle under what conditions these factories shall be definitely handed over to the possession of these Labour associations, when the owners who have fled shall return to Paris; and further, to decide on the compensation that these associations shall make to the original owners. This Commission of Inquiry must lay its report before the Commune Commission for Labour and Exchange. Furthermore, and in the shortest possible time, a synopsis of this decree, which shall serve the interests of the Commune and of the workmen, is to he laid before the Commune.

This Order is dated April 16th and the Journal Officiel, April 17th.

This Commission of Inquiry met together on May 10th and 19th. Soon after that came the defeat of the Commune. That socialising Commission therefore came to no practical result. Nevertheless, its formation was of importance, for it pointed the way which the Socialists of the Commune would have been forced to go, if the proletarian regime had been of longer duration. There could be no question of a complete socialising or of an immediate elimination of the whole system of capitalistic enterprise. On the contrary, these very men were reproached for abandoning their factories in such a cowardly manner, and for leaving the working man without employment. At the same time, however, the contrary reproof was hurled at them.

The Central Committee of the twenty arondissements (districts) (not to be confused with that of the National Guard, which had been formed during the Siege), complained that the employers had kept the workmen in the factories, and in this way prevented them from fulfilling their duty as members of the National Guard. Only those concerns which had been abandoned by their owners were to be socialised, in the first place, according to the plan of the Commune; and only these after very careful and exact consideration. Another step in the direction of socialization was planned in connection with supplies for army uniforms and ammunition. These supplies were, as far as possible, to be made through the workmen’s associations on the basis of Contacts of Supplies, which were to be drawn up by the Director, in common with the Guards and the Minister of Labour. There is to hand a scheme of Labour Order, which was submitted by the workers to the Commune, and which was concerned with the factories employed in repairing arms, and demanded a fixed ten-hours day.

This Order, which contains some twenty-two paragraphs, was printed in the Journal Officiel de la Commune on May 21st (pp.628-629). It shows very well the socialising tendencies of the Socialist workers of the Commune. In accordance with this Order, the workers elected their own representatives of work-shops in the Commune, their own superintendent, as well as their foremen. A Management Council was formed consisting of the above officials, to which a workman from each worker’s bench was allowed to come. On the part of the Commune a Supervisory Council was to be formed, which should be duly informed of all that was done, and which had free access to inspect the books and ledgers. The workmen showed themselves to be very anxious to uphold the interests of the Commune. In Article 15 the scheduled time was fixed at ten hours per day, and not at eight which the International Congress of Geneva in 1866 had demanded. In special cases of urgency overtime was permitted, if the Management Council agreed. For any overtime no increased pay was granted. Apart from this, the wages at that time were very low. The Director received 250 francs a month, the manager 210, the foreman 70 cents. an hour. For the ordinary worker there was no minimum wage fixed, but a maximum wage. He could not receive more than 60 cents. an hour. Interesting also is the declaration contained in Article 16, which ordains that there should always be a night watchman in the workshops in case of weapons being needed. Every workman was bound to take his turn at night duty. The conclusion ran as follows:

As under the present circumstances it is absolutely necessary to be as economical as possible with every farthing of the Commune, the night watchman will not be paid. (Journal Officiel, p.629.)

Truly these workmen did not regard the time of their “dictatorship” as an opportune moment for demanding an increase of wages. The great and general cause for good, in their estimation, had a higher claim than their own personal interests.


Last updated on 19.1.2004