Marx and the Paris Commune

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Judy Cox looks at Marx and the Paris Commune, which lasted barely two months (from 28 March to 28 May 1871) but has had lasting effects. After France's surrender to Germany, Parisians "took the defence of the city into their own hands," writes Cox, "and in the process created innovative new ways of organising the city and implementing democratic control from below. [...] The Council disbanded the standing army and separated the Church from the state, ending religious domination over the schools and confiscating Church property:"

The officials of the Commune received only an average workers' wage and were instantly recallable. The Commune reformed working conditions, ending night working for bakers and limiting the working day to 10 hours. They also explored ways to transform the nature of work itself by giving workers the right to take over workshops left empty when owners fled the city.

"For two months," Cox continues, "the workers, the artisans and the urban poor of Paris were in the saddle and a huge outburst of creativity was unleashed:"

Walls were plastered with news posters. Painter Gustav Courbet organised a Federation of Artists which confiscated the art collection stored in Adolph Thiers' Parisian mansion. At Courbet's instigation, militaristic statues were pulled down. Artists drew up manifestos calling for 'Communal Luxury' and 'Public Beauty'. Political clubs sprang up across the city, including the Union of Women. Contemporary commentators sneered at the large number of women who attended meetings of the clubs. Hostile contemporaries described how screeching women with crying babies and red sashes dominated some of these clubs. Marx saw it differently: 'The real women of Paris showed again the surface heroic, noble and devoted. Working, thinking, fighting, bleeding Paris, almost unaware in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibal at its gates-radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative!'

Cox reminds us that "The Commune transformed Marx from an obscure socialist activist into an international hate figure:"

Those terrified by the Commune refused to believe that ordinary men and women were capable of running their own city and sought the real 'leaders'. They found Marx who was portrayed as the 'Red Doctor' and 'Dr Terror'. He wrote to a friend, 'I have the honour to be at this moment the best calumniated and most menaced man of London. That really does one good after a tedious 20-year idyll in the back woods'. Marx's account of the Commune, The Civil War In France, sold thousands of copies and was translated into every major European language. It was in this book that Marx revealed what the Communards had achieved by created their own state: 'One thing especially was proved by the Commune - that the working cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'. The Commune exposed the nature of the capitalist state and this proved crucial to Lenin's State and Revolution which translated the liberatory potential of the Commune into the conditions of Russia in 1917.

What happened to the Commune? Herein lies the sad chapter of this tale:

On 22nd May the French government launched its murderous suppression of the Commune. For a week soldiers burned, shot, and bombarded their own capital city. The last battle was fought at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Some 25,000 children, women and men were shot against the walls of the cemetery and across Paris, thousands more were imprisoned and transported. Dmitrieff, Lemel and many other women stayed on the barricades for days on end. The extreme brutality demonstrated by the French Government reveals the depth of the ruling class's fear and hatred of the Commune. Eugene Pottier wrote the socialist anthem, The Internationale, to commemorate the Parisian dead and the enduring nature of their vision for a society turned upside down.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 28, 2018 3:07 PM.

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