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The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune (1871)

by Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Friedrich Engels (Author), Peter Kropotkin, Vladimir Ilʹich Lenin

Other authors: Hal Draper (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Karl Marx's analysis of the Paris Commune of 1871, when the citizens of Paris rose up against their government and installed a system of radical democracy until they were bloodily suppressed, is regarded as the definitive account. This title shows how a movement propelled itself into history.

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In this pamphlet, Karl Marx reacted to the catastrophe of the Paris Commune with a qualified restatement of the traditional revolutionary standpoint set forth in the Communist Manifesto. He gives an impassioned defense of the Paris rising, whose tragic defeat he represented as “the glorious harbinger of a new society.”

Marx drew a picture of the French government as a “centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature-- organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labor.” The Commune was both an elected body and a true representation of the working class. It took the form of a republic, the direct antithesis to the French Empire. The Commune realized it could not simply lay hold of the existing state machinery and use it for its own purposes. Marx declares that “the Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.” It was to serve as a model to all the great industrial centers in France. Once the communal regime was established in Paris and the secondary centers, the old centralized Government would in the provinces also have to give way to the “self-government of the producers.” This reflected the traditional Proudhonist goal of federalism: the replacement of bureaucratic centralization by local self-government. The uprising was a confusing mixture of these Proudhonist goals with the Commune’s being largely run by a Jacobin-Blanquist majority, which stood for the revolutionary dictatorship of Paris over the rest of France on the model of 1793. And yet the Commune from a legal viewpoint was simply the democratically elected municipal government of Paris. It was not a proletarian dictatorship because it had been duly elected and it had a diverse political composition. Marx saw the Commune as breaking the modern state power in restoring to the social body all the forces absorbed by the State. It would have initiated the regeneration of France by bringing the rural producers under the intellectual lead of the central towns of their districts. Marx said nothing about the need to establish a centralized revolutionary government but rather seemed to anticipate a reign of liberty without further preliminaries. This was an ultra-Democratic vision: for this very reason it was also a utopian one.

The Civil War in France straddles the Proudhonist and Jacobin-Blanquist issues in a manner which has enabled adherents of both Social Democracy and Communism to claim Marx for their master. But with the passage of time, Marx backed away from any belief that the utopian goals could have been achieved. In a letter written in 1881, Marx comments: “apart from the fact that this was merely the rising of a city under exceptional conditions, the majority of the Commune was in no way socialist, nor could it be. With a modicum of common-sense, however, it could have reached a compromise with Versailles useful to the whole people-- the only thing that could be obtained at the time.” [1961]
  GLArnold | Aug 21, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karl Marxprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bakunin, Mikhailmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Engels, FriedrichAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kropotkin, Petermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹichmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Draper, HalEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Engels, FriederichForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Karl Marx's analysis of the Paris Commune of 1871, when the citizens of Paris rose up against their government and installed a system of radical democracy until they were bloodily suppressed, is regarded as the definitive account. This title shows how a movement propelled itself into history.

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