The first workers’ state in the world was born in France in 1871. It was introduced by Marx as the first republic of labour. The Paris Commune was the first working class government formed under the leadership of the working class, based in Paris. Although the bourgeoisie was able to wipe out the Paris Commune within a short period such as 72 days with a bloodshed, it marked as the most important event in the human history.
What is the background for the Paris Commune?
Under the King Napoleon III, France pursued a policy of aggressive warfare but that continued to be defeated. At the same time, his condition within the country also deteriorated severely. Nevertheless, on July 19, 1870, a war was declared against Prussia to consolidate its losing power. The Napolean’s forces had to surrender in sedans, inflicting heavy casualties on the French troops who had gone in the proud hope of defeating the enemy in a quick attack. As a result, Napoleon’s empire collapsed. Adolf Thierry was the leader of the bourgeois government formed under this situation. They named their government as the National Government. They told the people that their only goal was to save the country from the Prussians. Of course they had no such goal. What they wanted is to disarm the armed forces of the workers still operating in Paris and betray them to Prussia. However the Paris workers wanted to defeat the Prussian invaders and move on.
The bourgeois government was unable to suppress the workers’ uprising of October 31, 1870. Thierry carried his government to Versailles leaving Paris to the workers. But on January 18, 1871, the Prussian army captured Versailles. On January 28, the Prime Minister of the capitalist government signed an agreement to surrender to the Prussian forces. He then went to the polls claiming power to advance the war, which he won, but due to the internal crisis in the country, they began collaborating with Prussia to launch attacks on workers in Paris. The bourgeois army and the Prussian invaders were driven out from Paris by the fierce counterattacks of the already well-prepared Paris Communards. As a result, the revolutionary forces captured important points in the province and, for the first time in history, the workers of Paris seized state power. As soon as it came to power, the regular army of the bourgeois government was disbanded and the military was abolished. The armed Paris community was the army of the new government. For the first time in history, the regular mercenaries were replaced by the armed mass.
The commune which took the administrative machinery into its own hands appointed members of the Central Committee to direct it. Workers, students, small craftsmen and journalists were placed at the top of the administration. The higher paid bureaucracy abolished and fixed a maximum salary for public servants. It was equal to the salary of a skilled worker. The people were also given the power to remove elected representatives from their posts. They also took revolutionary measures such as releasing of political prisoners, relief for tenants, and the abolition of relationship between the government and the church.
In this sense, the decision of the commune was clearly proletarian in nature. Some of these steps were democratic moves which were not implemented by the bourgeoisie due to fear of the rising working class. An example is the separation of government and church. All other measures were to the direct advantage of the proletariat, which shook the foundations of capitalist society. But being surrounded by an allied army and involvement in a civil war, many of these steps were only started. The Commune had to sacrifice the bulk of its labour for the Civil War, for the protection of the proletarian state and the motherland.
As Lenin noted, “Only the working class remained loyal to the Communist until the end. The pro-Republican bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie immediately broke away. The first group withdrew out of fear of the revolutionary-socialist proletarian nature of the movement, while the second group saw it as doomed to inevitable defeat. Only the proletariat fought for the liberation of the working class and for all suffered. They sacrificed their lives. “(VI Lenin, Volume 17, Page 143)
Among the most famous leaders of the Commune were Louis Eschen Charlene, Emil Joel, Emil Ed, Char Amour, Gren, Funua Shurd, and Florence. The nucleus of the Commune was the Central Committee of the army on National Security. In terms of political allegiance, Blankians, Troudens, new Jacobins and democrats were in the commune. Blankians was the majority. With Thierry’s escape, high-ranking government officials and property owners who had joined the commune, abandoned it and joined the enemy.
In fact the commune that fought against the pseudo-patriots took on a truly international form. Examples are the appointment of a German worker as its labor minister, keeping of Polish in the Paris defense front, and the destruction of Napoleon’s war victory pillars as symbols of narrow racism.
With the help of the Prussian forces, the armies of Versailles rounded and attacked Paris. But the workers of Paris came forward with unprecedented heroism and self-sacrifice in the human history and fought to the end. After eight days of fighting, the last members of the commune were killed. More than 30,000 people were killed. Many were buried alive. 15,000 were imprisoned and 15,000 were sentenced to death.
Why was Commune defeated?
It is very important for us to briefly discuss the factors that led to the defeat of the Commune. Marx’s short answer to the question of what the Paris Commune was a proletarian dictatorship. Marx wrote that he would have to add the idea of proletarian dictatorship, the experience of the Paris Commune, if he has to re-write Communist manifesto.
The Paris Commune was a one-of-a-kind experiment that made a lot of mistakes. Lenin stated that the commune could not maintain its glorious victory because of two mistakes.
The first mistake was the stoppage of the commune halfway through its program. The revolution cannot compromise or sympathize with the enemy. They did not nationalize the banks. The central bank was the center of the reactionaries. It strengthened the financial power of reactionaries.
The second mistake was compassion for the enemy. It was a grave mistake to pity the enemies and allow them to flee instead of destroying them. As Marx pointed out, an important lesson learned from the commune was that the proletariat could not use the bourgeois state apparatus as it was, to build power and socialism. It was necessary to overthrow the state and build a proletarian state. The experience of this unique revolution in history and the lessons of its defeat are of paramount importance to all sections fighting to overthrow the capitalist system.