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Joseph Carter

The Paris Commune

(March 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 13, 16 March 1935, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“When the Commune was set up in Paris after the war of 1870, we know what bloody work had to be done by French soldiers to rescue the capital and the country from the deadly menace.” (New York Times, February 8, 1934)

In these words the spokesmen of the American master class rightfully consider themselves the heirs of the butchers of the heroic Paris Commune of three score and four years ago. And four days after this editorial the bloody work against the Communards was repeated in the civilized Europe of today, by the reactionary, Fascist soldiers of Dollfuss against the Austrian workers.

Violence against the oppressed, against the masses, that is patriotism and justice; but violence of the masses against the handful of exploiters for the purpose of building a free and human society, that is treason, a “deadly menace” against which all means are justified.

“All this calumny, which the party of order never fail, in their orgies of blood, to raise against their victims,” wrote the founder of the modern militant workers’ movement after the suppression of the Paris Commune, “only proves that the bourgeois of our days considers himself the legitimate successor to the baron of old, who thought every weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon of any kind constituted in itself a crime.”

How true this is to this day! The march of Fascism in Europe, the growth of the vigilante groups in the United States, the terrorism against the trade unions, the Hearst red-baiting campaign, these are the acts of an outlived, but desperate parasitic class which glories in its Paris Commune traditions.

Deadly Menace to Whom?

“The Commune was a deadly menace to the old world, founded on slavery and exploitation,” wrote the incomparable leader of the international and Russian working class, Lenin. Provoked by the reactionary national government, the workers, supported by the small shopkeepers of Paris, established their own government on March 18, 1871.

In the seventy days of workers’ rule, the church was separated from the state, education was taken out of the hands of the priests, the system of fines for workers was abolished, night work for bakers was prohibited, plans made for the taking over by workers’ associations of factories and shops abandoned by the former owners.

The standing army, which stood apart from the people as a power for its oppression was replaced by the armed people. The Commune abolished the old apparatus of government and replaced it by an administration in which the officials received the equivalent of the average wages of the Parisian workers. In a word, they rid themselves of the reactionary government and put in its place “a truly democratic proletarian government”.

This was too much for the parasites who were accustomed to live by the labor of the masses! The national government of France could not suppress the rebellious workers by itself. The French “national patriots” did not hesitate to call upon their yesterday’s enemy-in-war, the Germany of Bismarck, to supply hordes to suppress the Paris Commune, murder French workers, destroy Paris. And Bismarck willingly supplied the aid. Once again showing the internationalist character of the class struggle, which knows no national borders! An excellent lesson for the workers!

Toll of the Bloody Work

The bloody work was successful. 30,000 Parisians were brutally murdered, about 45,000 were arrested, some executed, thousands were exiled or imprisoned. 100,000 victims was the toll paid by the heroic Paris Communards. In this way, the narrow-minded and short-sighted reactionaries thought that they would once and for all do away with the threats of workers’ revolution!

What an illusion! For the development of capitalism itself, bringing workers together in large factories, mines and mills, creates the conditions for renewed workers’ struggles, for trade union and political organization, for revolutionary action. From the defeat of the Paris Commune the workers learn the lessons of their future conflicts.

The Communards had no strong trade unions or clear headed, trained workers’ party. The Parisian workers of 1871 were in the main artisans or workers in small factories. The development of capitalism had not yet reached that stage where the working class could be sufficiently developed to unequivocally go forward to socialism. They had little experience of past workers’ battles to go by.

That is why the Communards did not understand the need of concentrating the political power in the hands of the Central Committee of the National Guard, starting an immediate offensive against the national government at Versailles, taking over the national bank, before proceeding with the elections for the Commune.

Russian Workers Learn Lessons of Commune

Drowned in blood, the Commune has remained an inspiration for the producing masses the world over. As the first example of a workers’ government it served as the guide to the victorious Russian working class.

They built their revolutionary leadership, the Bolshevik Party, with a clear understanding of the tasks of the revolution.

The Bolshevik Party understood that the old state apparatus, whether its form be that of a monarchy or of a democratic republic, had to be smashed and replaced by workers’ institutions. Out of the Russian class struggle arose the Soviets, the councils of workers from the factories, soldiers from the barracks and forts, peasants from the fields. Later the Soviet form arose also in Western Europe, showing that it is not a purely Russian phenomenon.

Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the Russian workers and peasants, organized in Soviets, overthrew Russian capitalism and established their workers’ government as the first stage of the world revolution to usher in international socialism. On the basis of the experiences of the Commune they succeeded in warding off internal counter-revolution and imperialist intervention. That is how the present workers’ state, the Soviet Union, was established.

Commemorate the Commune – Build Workers Party

The lessons of the Commune and of the Russian revolution must become part of the living movement of the American workers. In the present period, the need of a revolutionary organization which unites the most intelligent, courageous and experienced workers on the basis of these lessons which form an integral part of Marxism, and puts these lessons into daily practise, is greater than ever. The true commemoration of the Paris Commune is the building of the Workers’ Party of the United States as a section of the coming Fourth International of revolutionary labor.

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