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Jack Weber

The Immortal Paris Commune

March 18th Was the 70th Anniversary of That Great Uprising

(March 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 12, 22 March 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The spector of the Commune drove the French General Staff in the present war to yield Paris to Hitler without a struggle.

In the War of 1870 Bismarck defeated the French army and laid siege to Paris. The armed workers of Paris forced the capitalist government to hold out. Finally the Laval and Petain of hat period, Thiers and Trochu, treacherously gave Paris up in fear of the revolutionary proletariat.

On March 18th, 1871, the Parisian workers rose up against the capitalist betrayers and took the power into their own hands. They established the Commune, the first workers’ government in history. Bismarck, not daring to send his own troops into the fiery furnace of Paris, helped the French capitalists to put down the Commune. Against the working class, the French and German ruling class easily formed a united front.

The Commune lasted only seventy days, but the memory of those days makes the heart of every militant worker beat faster the world over. The devotion and sacrifice of the Communards, butchered against the famous Wall of the Federals by the vile General Gallifet, were not in vain. They had broken the path followed by the Russian proletariat in 1905. Profiting by the lessons of the two defeats, Lenin and Trotsky led the workers to victory in October 1917, less than half a century after the imperishable example of the Commune. That splendid victory marks the greatest turning point in all history. The Soviet form of the workers’ government was based directly on the Commune. Thus today the heritage of the Commune is firmly bound up with the even greater heritage of the Russian Revolution. The celebration of the one is at the same time the celebration of the other.

The more or less peaceful development of the capitalist system, after the downfall of the Commune and up to the first World War, brought a change into the working class movement. The lessons of the Commune were, deliberately ignored and covered up by Social Democracy. Reformism replaced revolutionary Marxism.

It took the new experience of the Russian Revolution itself to revive the lessons of the Commune. The Social Democratic revisions of Marxism were swept away by the strong current of the revolution.

Degenerate Stalinism Perverts History

But when the revolutionary wave subsided in Russia, the reactionary Stalinist bureaucracy usurped the power and constituted itself a specially privileged caste to justify its existence, this parasite attempts to falsify Marxism: it violates history in search of some “foundation” and traditions.

It is for this purpose that the gravedigger Stalin orders his paid henchman Dimitrov, head of the Communist International, to “celebrate” the Commune.

Why did the Commune fail? It failed because the proletariat did not have a real program of its own, embodied in a working class party prepared to guide the revolution. Also because the workers did not. act with the utmost firmness against their class enemies.

Out of these correct conclusions about the Commune, Dimitrov tries to manufacture a justification for the Stalin regime in Russia. The article by Dimitrov in the Daily Worker says:

“But the most fundamental weakness of the Commune was that it lacked a genuinely working class communist party ... The October Revolution achieved victory mainly, thanks to the undivided leadership of ONE party, the Communist Party. The Paris Commune suffered defeat primarily because it was led by two parties, neither of which was communist.”

How the Russian Revolution Really Happened

The facts of history (how unfortunate for Stalin!) give the lie to this bureaucratic and totalitarian view. The Bolsheviks were in a minority in the Soviets when Lenin and Trotsky demanded that the Soviets take the power. They were willing to back up the other parties, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists, if they would take the power and end the bourgeois government.

Only as the struggle developed between the Soviets and the provisional government did the Bolsheviks win a majority. The October insurrection took place with the help of another party, the Left Social Revolutionists, who broke away at a later period.

It was only an accident of history that the Bolsheviks became the only party in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Why does Stalin try to raise this accident into a principle? For one reason only: to justify his totalitarian grip on the present regime; to justify with revolutionary phrases the fact that no other parties are permitted and no democracy exists in Russia.

Marx and Lenin on the Commune

Dimitrov, under orders, forgets Marx and Lenin. Let us remind him of their remarks on the democracy of the Commune. Marx says: “On the other hand, nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture.” But that is precisely what Stalin has done. He rules as a dictator. Universal suffrage is the same fraud in Russia as in Germany.

Again, Marx says:

“The very existence of the Commune involved, as a matter of course, local municipal liberty, but no longer as a check upon the now superseded state power. It could only enter into the head of a Bismarck (as now into the head of a Stalin!) ... to ascribe to the Paris Commune aspirations after the caricature of the old French municipal organizations of 1791, the Prussian municipal constitution which degrades the town governments to mere secondary wheels in the police machinery of the Prussian state.”

A brief quotation from Lenin will show how he was poles apart from the mechanical, bureaucratic idea of unity of the present ruler of the Kremlin:

“Although the Socialist proletariat was divided into many sects, the Commune was a brilliant example of the capacity of the proletariat to unite for the realization of democratic tasks to which the bourgeoisie could only pay lip service.”

The Stalinist gravediggers of the October Revolution celebrate the Commune — and do not even dare to speak about its proletarian democracy! With good cause.

A New Alibi for Stalin’s Blood Purges

Dimitrov tries to perform another service for Stalin. He says:

“Secondly the workers of Paris displayed excessive magnanimity toward their class enemies of Versailles and their agents. Instead of adopting extraordinary measures to settle accounts with its enemies, the Commune permitted reaction to organize its forces in the very heart of Paris.”

Are we wrong to see implied in this the “justifying” of the bloody purges of Cain-Stalin? There is only one difficulty with this brazen attempt at finding “traditions”: it is precisely Stalin who has permitted the enemies of the Russian working class to organize at the very top of society, in the very heart of the corrupt bureaucracy. All the extraordinary GPU measures have been aimed at the best revolutionists, the same Bolsheviks who created the unity of October. Stalin’s “extraordinary measures” consist in the creation of a GPU murder-machine reaching out all over the world to kill the enemies not of the workers but of Cain-Stalin.

No, it is clear to all but the doomed and blinded bureaucrats, they cannot find nor build any working class traditions. The Commune is not for their ilk! No parasite has ever been able to sink real roots deep in the hearts of the workers, to flower into noble traditions for all time. Lenin and Trotsky have done that. If Stalin must have a tradition on which to base his regime, let him seek in the proper place, among the gravediggers of revolution. His name will be linked forever, not with the October Revolution, nor with its great predecessor the Commune, but with the Gallifets and the Hitlers, the hangmen of the revolution!

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