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Joseph Carter

The Paris Commune

(March 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 11, 17 March 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With the recent struggle of the heroic Austrian workers, and the militant demonstrations of the French masses before our eyes, the historical significance of the Paris Commune of 1871 takes on increased importance. When on March 18th we commemorate the seventy-one days of workers’ rule in Paris we at the same time pledge ourselves to carry on the innumerable struggles of the revolutionary toilers for class emancipation. We gain inspiration for our battle from the Communards of ’71, the Russian Revolution of 1905, the glorious Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the heroic January days of the German Spartacus in 1919, the courageous battles of the Bavarian and Hungarian workers of 1920, the self-sacrificing struggle of the Austrian workers in 1933.

Through all these events, and countless others, we learn the brutal and murderous character of capitalist rule. To defend the profits of the few, to keep the workers in subjection, to perpetuate capitalism, the modern slave-holding class resorts to the most violent means at its disposal. Those) who dare threaten its power are met by the armed forces which exist for its defense.

The Rise of the Commune

The Paris Commune of 1871 arose as a reply to the provocation of the national government of France. The government which had come to power on the basis of the popular republican revolution in September 1870 at the termination of the Franco-Prussian War, secretly planned to disarm the revolutionary Parisian workers organized in the National Guard. The workers responded by abolishing the old officialdom, the bureaucracy and the standing army and making the National Guard, which was open to all workers, the only military force in Paris. The executive and legislative functions of government were united in the Commune.

This revolutionary act was in open defiance of the existing democracy which by universal suffrage had elected the national government of Versailles. Let the worshippers of bourgeois democracy who give lip service to the struggle of the Communards reconcile this “anti-democratic” action with their own fine-spun theories! Their fore-runners, such as Louis Blanc and his kind, self-avowed socialists, were active in the camp of the reactionary Versailles government.

The Commune had proceeded to pave the way to a classless society.

“Its special measures could but betoken the tendency of a government of the people, by the people. Such were the abolition of the night-work of journeymen bakers; the prohibition, under penalty, of the employers’ practice to reduce wages by levying upon their workpeople fines under manifold pretexts – a process in which the employer combines in his own person the parts of legislator, judge, and executioner, and filches the money to boot Another measure of this class was the surrender, to associations of workmen, under reserve of compensation, of all workshops and factories, no matter whether the respective capitalists had absconded or preferred to strike work.” (Karl Marx)

The church was separated from the state, the pawn shops were abolished, plans were made for cooperative production for the benefit of the real producers, the workers.

Mistakes of the Commune

Under the conditions these plans were never executed. The Versailles government launched a military attack on the Commune and the foremost task was that of revolutionary defense. Mistakes were made by the Communards, such as the failure to commence a military offensive against Versailles, the failure to take over the national bank and the hurried transfer of power from the Central Committee of the National Guard to an elected Commune. These mistakes, while directly the consequences of the practices of the parties in the Commune, the followers of Proudhon and the Blanquists, were fundamentally, a reflection of the backwardness of the conditions of capitalism for successful working class revolution. The Parisian workers of 1871 were artisans, journeymen, and employees in small factories. A sound revolutionary party, the indispensable weapon for victorious working class revolution, could only develop on the basis of mass production, large scale industry and through varied experiences of class struggles.

Courageously the Parisan workers fought for the defense of their Commune. The forces against them were too great. Thousands were killed on the field of battle. Other thousands, men, women and children were captured, tortured and murdered in the most brutal fashion.

Heirs of the Communards

The militant working class inherits the revolutionary traditions of the Communards. The Russian workres absorbing the lessons of this struggle forged the Bolshevik party, organized Soviets, established the Russian Commune, the dictatorship of the working class. The spokesmen for capitalism openly inherit the traditions of the bloody assassinators of the Communards. They do not attempt to hide the murderous character of the suppression of the Paris Commune. They defend the vise of all means which perpetuate capitalism.

It is not through peaceful methods that these bloody oppressors will be overthrown. The American master class will undoubtedly employ the most violent means to continue their bankrupt robber system. American labor history is replete with instances of the use of the armed forces against strikers and! workers’ demonstrations.

The Party – the Instrument of Struggle

We must reply by forging our own instrument of struggle, a revolutionary party which through the battles of today can lead the workers to the decisive class conflict. In the present epoch, when all the material conditions are ripe for a socialist transformation of society, it is the revolutionary party, uniting the most advanced and experienced militants, bound by a common program and steeled in a common struggle which is the decisive factor.

The absence of such a party in Germany resulted in the victory of Fascism; in Austria, the bloody slaughter of the militant workers preparatory to a full Fascist regime. Fascism, the most violent weapon of capitalism, is growing in all capitalist countries. At the same time imperialist war looms as an imminent threat to the entire world. Workers’ Russia, the inheritor of the Paris Commune, is in danger of military attack.

The true continuators of the heroic traditions of the Paris Commune have one and only one course to follow: to take their place in the great movement now being carried on for the construction of a world party of revolution – the Fourth International – which can inspire the workers in struggle, give them guidance and leadersihp, insure the final emancipation of the working class, and with it the whole of humanity.

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