The Paris Commune. Address of the Positivist Society of Paris
First Published: November 18, 1870;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.
The same men who pushed us into war under Bonaparte when they expected it to be fruitful for them, and who since Sedan have become partisans of peace at any price, are now trying to arrive at their true goal by affecting to consider the immediate convocation of an Assembly the sole salvation for France and for the republic.
They are supported in their efforts by a quite numerous group of revolutionaries who, failing to take into account the recent lessons of history, seem impatient to place the country’s destiny in the hands of the seven million voters who formerly acclaimed the Empire.
The Positivist Society of Paris, using that noble privilege of republican states according to which everyone can submit to the government the projects and counsels they believe useful to the public thing, is of the opinion that in the current circumstances the convocation of an assembly would have deplorable results, and it bases its opinion on the following reasons:
That which politically characterizes the Government of National Defense and renders it superior to that of Bonaparte is that it doesn’t issue from universal suffrage.
Nor is it the result of a riot, since there was neither resistance nor struggle.
After our disasters it imposed itself on all as being at one and the same time inevitable and indispensable, and Paris under threat gathered around it, asking only one thing of it: that it accept the continuation — which had become necessary — of the fight so deplorably begun by Bonaparte and that it take as a program: expulsion of the foreigner and integrity of the territory.
Such an origin and such a situation clearly define the limits within which the government can and should move, and at the same time gives it full power, within these limits, for the accomplishment of its function.
The first condition of its action was necessarily the immediate and radical elimination of the debris of the regime that had just collapsed under its own weight.
In taking the characteristic and new name in history of Government of National Defense the men who had arrived in power thus demonstrated a true political sense, for it was a matter of constructing, outside any constitutional abstractions, a special government adapted to a special end, in the same way that for a distinct function a corresponding organ is required.
It was thus that in circumstances even more difficult the profound political genius of Danton, superior to the metaphysical illusions of his time, dared to conceive and realize the too little admired plan of a revolutionary government as a mechanism appropriate to a transitory situation, and this at a moment when around it was being constructed the abstract plan of the best possible government applicable to all times, places and situations, which necessarily renders it inapplicable to any precise and determined situation.
In allowing themselves to be put in power by the events of September 4, the deputies of Paris and their colleague in the current government thus obeyed a profoundly scientific instinct, which was to declare themselves legitimate because they were necessary, spontaneously accepting and making the French populace accept this principle of positive politics which will increasingly guide true statesmen: the legitimacy of a government doesn’t come from divine right or from universal suffrage, but results from its full harmony with the necessities of a given situation.
Under these terms the Government of National Defense is the most legitimate one that has led France since that of the Dantonians.
Aside from this capital and sufficient consideration, there are two others that should be brought out.
The first is that the government acclaimed by Paris was accepted by the provinces, since the latter obey it — the big cities actively, the countryside passively — according to the nature unique to each of the two populations.
The second is that in the plebiscite of November 3 these powers were confirmed by the majority of the Parisian populace, and also by the majority of the Garde Mobile and the Army, representing in Paris departmental youth; which for those who think voting indispensable constitutes the highest degree of legitimacy in the current situation.
For these reasons the signatories below of the Positivist Society of Paris, having as a doctrine that politics must henceforth be founded on the examination of facts and not on abstract principles, on discovered laws, not invented laws;
Basing itself on the experience of the last twenty years, which demonstrates that it is those assemblies named by universal suffrage who have placed France in the situation in which it currently finds itself by supporting to the bitter end the disastrous politics that were as anarchic as they were retrograde of the last Bonaparte;
Convinced that an Assembly named in the current circumstances would create new and perhaps insurmountable obstacles for the national defense, and that for the moment it is necessary not to disseminate authority but to energetically concentrate it in the hands of a few men;
Respectfully invite the Government of National Defense to not bring together a constituent or legislative Assembly before completing the mission that it accepted, and to not allow anything to divert it in the accomplishment of this mission;
That if the course of events were to render necessary in this short span of time any modifications at all, either by addition, elimination or modification in governmental personnel, the government should make them itself and under its own responsibility, while not losing sight of the fact that in this heroic fight of republican France against feudal Prussia it has full power, but also complete responsibility before posterity. And that it’s necessary, for its honor and its glory, that we be able to later say that the day it declared its mission completed and handed over power, the Government of National Defense left France free and the republic irrevocably founded.
Paris, 14 Fréderic 82*
* Auguste Comte’s Positivist Calendar was first published in 1849. It begins from 1789 and each year has 13 months of 28 days, with an “intercalary” day at the end of each year, and another at the end of leap years. All the months have four, seven-day weeks beginning on Monday. Comte named the 13 months after saints and heroes, consecrating each day of the year to historical figures as well.