Workers Vanguard No. 980

13 May 2011


In Commemoration of the Paris Commune

(Quote of the Week)

On the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune, we honor the heroic proletarian militants who seized power in the French capital in March 1871, the first historical expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Two months later, amid a reactionary frenzy whipped up by the bourgeoisies of Europe, French troops drowned the Commune in blood, massacring tens of thousands and imprisoning or deporting tens of thousands more. In a 1927 American Communist Party pamphlet, Max Shachtman, quoting from Karl Marx’s 1871 The Civil War in France, outlined the bold measures taken by the Communards, despite shortcomings, to establish workers democracy and begin undertaking socialist measures. Among the Commune’s best militants were members of the International Workingmen’s Association (First International), of which Marx was a principal leader.

The Commune took hold of the old bureaucratic and militarist apparatus, the bourgeois state, and crushed it in its hands, and on its broken fragments it placed the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workingmen of Paris organized as the ruling class of France. With a single stroke it abolished the standing army of the Second Empire and the Third Republic and replaced it with the people’s militia, a force, directly responsible to the Commune, of all the men capable of bearing arms....

The ruling body was based upon a real proletarian democracy, providing for the recall of unsatisfactory representatives, abolishing special allowances, paying all state officials the wages of workers, and realizing that “ideal of all bourgeois revolutions cheap government by eliminating the two largest items of expenditure—the army and the bureaucracy.” The parliamentarism of the bourgeois society was smashed and the Commune transformed itself into a “working corporation legislative and executive at one and the same time,” and held itself up to the provinces of France as the mirror of their own future. Church and State were separated, ecclesiastical property was confiscated and all education secularized.

The pawned property and furniture of the workers were returned, the workers were relieved of the payment of the overdue rents, it abolished the sickening piety of charity and “relief,” and resumed the pay of the National Guard. Thru Frankel, the Internationalist delegate of labor, it took its first steps, however few and unclear, to destroy the system of capitalist production and socialize it by turning it over to the trade unions; to ameliorate the conditions of the workers; to enforce a “fair wage” proviso in Commune contracts and abolish the abominable system of fines and garnisheeing of wages by employers; it planned the institution of the eight-hour day. Its internationalist character was testified to by the Hungarian, Frankel’s presence as delegate of labor, Dombrowski and Wroblewski, the Poles, in the defense.

Its heroic and noble spirit of sacrifice has been left as a revolutionary legacy to the new generations of the avenging proletariat. The Commune was a dim glass in which was reflected the rise of that greater and more powerful dictatorship of the proletariat, the successful proletarian revolution in Russia.

—Max Shachtman, 1871: The Paris Commune (1927)