Friday, 18 March 2016

The Paris Commune of 1871

On  this day March 18th, 1871, artisans and communists, labourers and anarchists took over the city of Paris and established the Paris Commune.
This radical experiment in socialist self government lasted 72 days before being violently  being crushed in a brutal massacre that established France's Third republic. This rebellion  would shake the foundations of European society to the core, the people rising up against a despised and detested government and its  its capitalist rulers  proclaiming  the city an  independent municipality, belonging to itself .  a commune where they would directly and collectively manage their society through new institutions and voluntary associations of their own creation. It would mark the first major experience of the proletariat seizing  political power. Taking charge of their own destiny.
The Paris Commune  was  the high point  in the surge  of the workers movement also expressed in the First International  founded in 1867. Ideologically charged, with lots of division, the backlash following the defeat of the Commune, also broke up the International in 1872, which would see it splitting into  two factions; Marxist and Anarchist. The leading  figures  on the two sides were Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin.
Both Marx and Bakunin supported and hailed the Commune - unlike some English trade unionists in the International, who recoiled in horror. Bakunin and his followers would use the word 'commune' a  lot saying  that the state could  be immediately abolished by transforming society into a federation of free communes.  The Paris  Comune  reflected anarchist ideas of community control, workers associations and confedorations, and suprisingly at the time Karl Marx strongly embraced the Commune, writing at the time he said " Working men's Paris, with  its commune,  will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. It's martyr's are enshrined in the great heart of  the working class."
Since then the Paris Commune has been thus variously described as either Anarchist or Socialist  depending on the ideology of the commentator.  It still fills me with much cause for celebration and inspiration as the Commune had put forward a  radical social agenda that included seperation of Church and State, womens suffrage, abolition of  interest on debts and worker self-management.
From March 18 to 28 May the two million  residents of Paris ran their city as an autonomous commune, establishing 43 worker co-operatives,  and advocated for a federation  of revolutionary communes across France, establishing an 8 hour day,and began to regulate workers wages and contracts, abolishing fines for workers, giving them compensation, this was truly a government who put the interest of workers first . It also aimed to make education free, opening up culture for the people, formerly the sole property of the wealthy, opening reading rooms in hospitals to make life pleasant for those sick. Paris was filled with life, ideas and enthusiasm , though their city was  under siege, attempts made to starve  and break the will of the people surrounded by a hostile army.
Peter Kropotkin later enthused "Under  the name of the Paris Commune,  a new idea was born, to become a starting point for future revolutions.' But many others thoughts that the Paris Commune did not go far enough .
Anyway the French government was not going to tolerate this radicalism in its capital, and finally the French army  marched from Versailles, but retaking the city would prove to be difficult, the communards would hold out for several weeks. The revolutionaries had built 600 barricades around the city which had to be cleared one by one. The French army finally entered Paris on May 21 and crushed the movement by May 28. Paris burned and was drowned in blood , the  estimate of Parisian civilians killed usually tally's to be around 20,000, many died on the barricades. The leaders of the Commune might have had faults  but for all their mistakes , they chose to fight to the end alongside  the other workers.  At the Pere Lachaise Cemetery the French army lined up and executed 147 Commune members. Around 6000 communards  fled as the fighting doomed their experiment, fleeing to surrounding  nations.
Since then  both Communists, left wing societies,  socialists, anarchists and others have see the Commune as a model for a  prefiguration of a liberated society, with a political system based on participatory democracy from the grass roots up. It is a story of possibility not failure, evidence that points to the seeds of building an alternative society. The people of Paris began the fight for a new world, I guess it's up to us to finish the task.

further reading :- The Paris Commune: Revolution and counter revolution in Paris 1870 -1871

                                Communards at the barricades.


No comments:

Post a Comment