Saturday, May 6, 2017

March 18 was the 146th anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871

A brief history of the world's first socialist working class uprising. The workers of Paris, joined by mutinous National Guardsmen, seized the city and set about re-organising society in their own interests based on workers' councils. They could not hold out, however, when more troops retook the city and massacred 30,000 workers in bloody revenge.

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Photographs and posters from the Paris Commune
The Paris Commune is often said to be the first example of working people taking power. For this reason it is a highly significant event, even though it is ignored in the French history curriculum. On March 18 1871, after France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian war, the French government sent troops into Paris to try and take back the Parisian National Guard’s cannon before the people got hold of it. Much to the dismay of the French government, the citizens of Paris had got hold of them, and wouldn't give them up. The soldiers refused to fire on their own people and instead turned their weapons on their officers. The PNG held free elections and the citizens of Paris elected a council made up mostly of Jacobins and Republicans (though there were a few anarchists and socialists as well). The council declared that Paris was an independent commune and that France should be a confederation of communes. Inside the Commune, all elected council members were instantly recallable, paid an average wage and had equal status to other commune members.

The French Government declared War on the city of Paris. On March 26, 1871, in a wave of popular support, a municipal council composed of workers and soldiers – the Paris Commune – was elected. Throughout France support rapidly spread to the workers of Paris, a wildfire brutally stamped out by the government. The workers of Paris, however, would be another problem. Within Paris, the first workers government was being created:

On March 26 the Paris Commune was elected and on March 28 it was proclaimed. The Central Committee of the National Guard, which up to then had carried on the government, handed in its resignation to the National Guard, after it had first decreed the abolition of the scandalous Paris "Morality Police". On March 30 the Commune abolished conscription and the standing army, and declared that the National Guard, in which all citizens capable of bearing arms were to be enrolled, was to be the sole armed force. It remitted all payments of rent for dwelling houses from October 1870 until April, the amounts already paid to be reckoned to a future rental period, and stopped all sales of article pledged in the municipal pawnshops. On the same day the foreigners elected to the Commune were confirmed in office, because "the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic".

On April 1 it was decided that the highest salary received by any employee of the Commune, and therefore also by its members themselves, might not exceed 6,000 francs. On the following day the Commune decreed the separation of the Church from the State, and the abolition of all state payments for religious purposes as well as the transformation of all Church property into national property; as a result of which, on April 8, a decree excluding from the schools all religious symbols, pictures, dogmas, prayers – in a word, "all that belongs to the sphere of the individual's conscience" – was ordered to be excluded from the schools, and this decree was gradually applied. On the 5th, day after day, in reply to the shooting of the Commune's fighters captured by the Versailles troops, a decree was issued for imprisonment of hostages, but it was never carried into effect. On the 6th, the guillotine was brought out by the 137th battalion of the National guard, and publicly burnt, amid great popular rejoicing. On the 12th, the Commune decided that the Victory Column on the Place Vendôme, which had been cast from guns captured by napoleon after the war of 1809, should be demolished as a symbol of chauvinism and incitement to national hatred. This decree was carried out on May 16. 

On April 16 the Commune ordered a statistical tabulation of factories which had been closed down by the manufacturers, and the working out of plans for the carrying on of these factories by workers formerly employed in them, who were to be organized in co-operative societies, and also plans for the organization of these co-operatives in one great union. On the 20th the Commune abolished night work for bakers, and also the workers' registration cards, which since the Second Empire had been run as a monopoly by police nominees – exploiters of the first rank; the issuing of these registration cards was transferred to the mayors of the 20 arrondissements of Paris. On April 30, the Commune ordered the closing of the pawnshops, on the ground that they were a private exploitation of labor, and were in contradiction with the right of the workers to their instruments of labor and to credit. On May 5 it ordered the demolition of the Chapel of Atonement, which had been built in expiation of the execution of Louis XVI. (comment by Frederick Engels)


Less than three months after the Commune was elected, Paris was attacked by the strongest army the French government could muster. 30,000 unarmed workers were massacred, shot by the thousands in the streets of Paris. Thousands more were arrested and 7,000 were exiled forever from France.

Read more:
Photographs and posters from the Paris Commune