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International Socialism, November 1977


Bob Dickinson

History As It Was Made


From International Socialism (1st series), No.103, November 1977, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The History of the Paris Commune of 1871
P.O. Lissagaray
New Park £3.00

This history was written by a participant in the Paris Commune of 1871. First published in English in 1886, it was translated and introduced by Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s daughter. New Park Publications are to be thanked for making this book available again in paperback.

Lissagaray wrote it after many conversations with Karl Marx when exiled in London after the defeat of the Commune. The Commune comes alive in the pages of vivid description of the struggle.

The Prussian army invaded France in 1870. With Paris surrounded. Bismarck dictated an armistice that the weak and reactionary government of Gambetta accepted. But when the Prussian army entered Paris on the 1st March 1871, the Parisian workers, armed and calling for the Commune, repulsed it and forced the government to flee to Versailles. Inside the barricaded Commune passionate demands for workers control and direct democracy flared up. Workers lives were transformed. Surrounded by armed hostility men and women decided they would die rather than return to the old regime.

The Commune lasted 70 days and in that short space of time many socialist ideas were put into action. Sadly the Commune had more than its share of leaders who preferred talk to action, who lacked vision and the will to carry the Commune through.

The army of Versailles, on entering Paris, killed just about everyone who hadn’t died on the barricades, with a fury hard to imagine. It is no exaggeration in saying that over 20,000 men, women and children were killed in the name of ‘law and order’ by the Versaillais.

Important lessons were drawn from the struggle for the Commune in later years; many of them of value to the Bolsheviks in 1917, lessons that are spelt out in Lenin’s State and Revolution.

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