Remember the Paris Commune!
Irish Republican Socialist Committees of North America
18 March 2011
Remember the Paris Commune!
On behalf of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, the Irish Republican Socialist Committees of North America issues the following statement in celebration of the 140th anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Commune.
The establishment of the Paris Commune in 1871, although short-lived, was a revolutionary step forward in the history of class struggle and alternative forms of political administration.
The roots of the Commune lie in the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. The disastrous results of the ruling class's military campaign coupled with the growing sense of grievance on the part of workers, which could be seen as early as the 1830s with the revolts of silk workers in Lyon and Paris, were the tinder for the spark of revolution to set aflame.
At the time, large numbers of Parisians were members of the National Guard citizens' militia, and a Central Committee of the National Guard was formed by republicans and socialists to defend both the city if necessary and the republican government against the threat of a royalist restoration after the election of a pro-monarchist majority.
Fearing the rising power of the Central Committee, French Head of State Adolphe Thiers ordered troops to seize the cannons of the National Guard on 18 March 1871. General Claude Martin Lecomte ordered his troops to open fire on the National Guard and civilians alike. He was dragged from his horse and later executed, while regular army soldiers joined with the National Guard and the people of Paris.
The Central Committee issued a manifesto, which stated: "The proletarians of Paris, amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of public affairs...They have understood that it is their imperious duty, and their absolute right, to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power."
The Central Committee of the National Guard arranged elections for 26 March, and the 92 delegates elected to the Communal Council, a mixture of reformist republicans and more radical socialists, proclaimed the Paris Commune on 28 March under the banner of a red flag.
During the two months of its existence, the Communal Council enacted, such measures as the separation of church and state, making church property the property of the Commune, the right of employees to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner, the secularization of education, and in general provided for the progressive and secular organization of the Commune. Further reforms to provide free further education and technical training were proposed but not enacted before the Commune's destruction.
Female Communards formed the Women's Union for the Defense of Paris and Care of the Injured, which advocated for gender equality in wages and the right of divorce, and for secular and professional education for girls and women. Everywhere, the Commune opened new spaces for workers and other oppressed groups to put forward their own political demands. Sympathetic uprisings in Lyon, Grenoble, and other cities created other short-lived Communes, as the fire of revolution was contagious.
However, as Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin both remarked later, the Communards failed to capitalize on their success by immediately taking the fight to the national government and the ruling class. Precious time was lost, allowing the government to organize a military campaign to subdue the rebellious city of Paris.
Beginning in April, government forces rallied outside the city walls of Paris, and began to put pressure on the defenses of the National Guard. On 21 May, government forces finally entered the city and time ran out for the Communards.
Street battles were waged for the next week, with some of the fiercest resistance found in working class districts, but by 28 May it was all over. The Paris Commune, what Marx described as workers "storming heaven," had been smashed and the forces of reaction began their reprisals. Tens of thousands of Communards and their supporters
were executed, including women and children, while thousands were exiled. Paris remained under martial law for five years.
Despite the destruction of the Paris Commune, it represented the first embryonic form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If it was never a purely socialist revolution and was always beset with the problems of a hastily created government under external threat, it was at least a new example of revolutionary organization, the democratic self-organization of the masses. This remains the enduring gift handed down by the Communards to the revolutionary workers of the future, a gift baptized in the blood of martyrs.
As long as the class struggle engendered by the class dictatorship of capitalism continues, then the Paris Commune will continue to shine a light on a path to a better world.
In the words of Communard Edouard Vaillant, "If socialism wasn't born of the Commune, it is from the Commune that dates that portion of international revolution that no longer wants to give battle in a city in order to be surrounded and crushed, but which instead wants, at the head of the proletarians of each and every country, to attack national and international reaction and put an end to the capitalist regime."
Onward to victory, workers of the world!