By Vincent Presumey.
First phase of the war: Bonapartist France against German unity.
A telescoped retrospective view gives us the impression that the Paris Commune was born directly from the Franco-German war of 1870-1871(eighteen-seventy/eighteen-seventy-one).
But the deep working-class and democratic forces which led to the Commune, “the antithesis of the empire”, were at work long before. To a fairly large extent, the war was initially an obstacle for them.
The forces of the International in France in 1870 (eighteen-seventy), then its most promising, most prolific section, were still very confused, but questions of revolutionary strategy, including that of arms, were addressed by officials like Varlin.
The “natural” development of the transition from the political crisis of a regime to the revolutionary crisis was thwarted by the Bonapartist initiatives taken to ward off it:
Liberal “opening” with the government Emile Ollivier, plebiscite, spectacular trial against the International accused of being a secret society wanting to liquidate Napoleon III, and finally plunge headlong into the provocation stretched by the Chancellor of Prussia Bismarck, triggering the Franco-German war.
This was the most unfavorable alternative from working class viewpoint. The empire sought to reenact the war of 1792 (seventeen-ninety-two) but this time as being the enemy of the rights of the German nation. If he won, he was strengthened and Germany was pulverized, opening a deep period of reaction in Europe.
If he lost, the Second Empire would certainly collapse, but not under the blows of the masses. A bourgeois republic fully preserving the imperial apparatus with its prefectural framework, would see the light of day, and this is what happened, quickly, with the battle of Sedan and the capture of Emperor Napoleon III by the Prussians.
The understanding of the progressive nature of the war on the German side at first, despite Bismarck and the King of Prussia, ran counter to the dominant mental representations among militants outside Germany, and even, in part, among those in South Germany like Wilhelm Liebknecht.
The tendency to believe oneself again in 1792(seventeen-ninety-two) remained latent. Subject to this reservation, the calls for the universal fraternization of the working classes launched by the French Internationalists and taken up by the workers’ meetings in Brunswick and Chemnitz as well as by the Berlin section of the International, affirmed an independent workers policy.
For the Brunswick committee, the leadership of the Eisenach tendency of Social Democrats of Germany, as for Marx and Engels, this was not, however, a policy of “no to war” or “war to war” in general. But, while distrusting dynasties and despots, it did consider this war to be legitimate, national and defensive on the German side.
At least as long as it does not degenerate, because of the Prussians, in a war against the French people with annexationist projects … In this case, Marx warned, the war would also become anti-national against the German people, thwarting the progressive content of its unity by monarchical affirmation and by imperial drift, and thus re-editing, in worse and greater, what had been the history of Prussia and Germany after the wars of liberation against the first Napoleon.
Part 2 – Second phase of the war: Bismarckian Reich against the French Republic.
Bonapartism by its last military coup d’Etat, which was basically the entry into this war, had signed its own death warrant, while depriving the masses of their historic right to overthrow him: Bismarck took the emperor prisoner. Overnight, Sedan converted the war into a reactionary invasion of France by the Prussian armies. The masses in Paris and Lyon begin to burst in, but they are deprived of the essential – both of the question of the state and of the government and of the conduct of the war.
The German workers’ parties, that of Lassale as well as that of Eisenach, now oppose the continuation of the fighting. Marx and the General Council, in the latter’s second Address on the Franco-German War, call for the defense of the French Republic without illusions about its character (French workers “must not let themselves be carried away by the national memories of 1792 ”), and condemn the project of annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by remarkably predicting that it will eventually lead to a Franco-Russian alliance and to a terrible “ war of races ”between the Germanic peoples on the one hand, Latin and Slavs on the other hand.
To the French labor movement, their advice is very cautious:
“May they calmly and resolutely take advantage of republican freedom to methodically proceed with their own class organization. “
This is roughly the approach of the French Internationalists, although periodically they are drawn with the Blanquists in attempts to force attacks, which are not intended to overthrow the bourgeois Republic, but to force national defense. The Blanquists in fact adopted on September 4, when the Republic was proclaimed, a policy of support for the national defense, which equates the present moment with 1792 (seventeen-ninety-two).
The Swiss Jura Internationalists close to Bakunin, believing that the Socialists had seized power on September 4 in Paris, called on the 5th to form international brigades converging from all over Europe :
“Republican France represents the freedom of Europe, monarchical Germany represents despotism and reaction. Republicans on all sides must rise up and march in defense of the French Republic. “
The author of this initiative, James Guillaume, will argue later that in the first hours, he and his companions had believed in the advent of the
Social republic in Paris, but that by the next day they understood that it was only the bourgeois republic. Except that the next day he wrote this to J.P. Becker: “Without doubt the French republic is still bourgeois: but if the International gives it its support, this republic will infallibly become social in the very near future. “
The “Jura anarchists” appear here for the far-left wing of bourgeois radicalism. This unsuccessful call for republican anti-German war was the highlight of their activism throughout their history.
Michel Bakunin’s real position was not the same. He too wanted France to win, but he understood that such an objective lay in the revolutionary struggle against a Republic which was, as a state, only continued Bonapartism.
Hence his famous insurrectionary attempt in Lyon at the end of September, which differs from the Blanquist attempts only by certain anti-state ideas put forward and by the real desire to go all the way, by overthrowing the “Republic” itself. even (to replace it with a sort of self-proclaimed Committee of Public Safety, and not “anarchy” as legend has it, black or gold …), a desire that we are far from finding among all the protagonists of this adventure, which was not, however, the simple pantalonnade that Marx and Engels wanted to see in it.
For Bakunin, this attempt was his “everything”: “… if the social revolution in France does not emerge directly from the current war, socialism will be killed all over Europe and will not be resuscitated for a long time yet. “.
This pessimism is linked to his conviction that Germany, and in Germany the
“Social democracy”, as he said, is the mark of authoritarianism, its victory can only stifle any prospect of emancipation, which the Slav and Latin peoples are the bearers (among which the Jews are the agents of German authoritarianism). …).
In Marx, on the other hand, if it is important to defend France now and to limit Prussian imperialism as much as possible by fighting the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, the shift from the center of gravity of the European workers’ movement from France to Germany is a good thing, and any French workers’ insurrection that would take over the war would in reality be a regression around 1792(seventeen-ninety-two), leading to chauvinism on both sides. A period of organization and maturation, throughout the continent, is possible, provided that the situation in France does not lead to a bloody premature defeat …
The end of the war
Between the capitulation of besieged Paris on January 28, 1871, and the outbreak on March 18 of the civil war between the armed proletarian people of Paris and the bourgeois state, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on February 26, which was to become de facto the founding charter of the capitalist order on
continent of Europe until 1914 (nineteen-forteen).
Despite all the efforts made by the French Provisional Government to prevent the people from defending themselves, a large part of the Parisian proletariat was armed as part of the National Guard. The stabilization of the bourgeois state in France, after the fall of Napoleon III and the military defeat, therefore required the resolution of this problem. From a Blanquist as well as a Bakuninian perspective, insurrections in France had only been envisaged within the framework of the war, and not following the defeat: the Commune imagined remaking 1792 (seventeen-ninety-two) when it was about something else.
Michel Bakounine, throughout this period and since the Lyon failure, has been working on the drafting of a major work, which remains unfinished: The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution. The Knouto-Germanic Empire is naturally Germany. An important reflection on the State, the history and the philosophy of the principle of authority, this work also testifies to what Bakunin, after Lyon, defeated France, no longer envisaged a revolutionary offensive: the Commune will be “inopportune” as much in his logic as in that of Marx.
On March 18, Thiers tries to take the cannons and weapons of the Parisian National Guard. The spontaneous insurrection, with the women of the Montmartre district in the first row, undoes this provocation and quickly, the social fear of the bourgeoisie, the popular spontaneity, and the cunning of Thiers who intends to retreat to come back in force, empty Paris of its privileged and of the state apparatus, handing it over to an elected self-administration, which will be the Paris Commune.
This insurrection which finally arrives, victorious in the great city of revolutions, arrives however late and at the wrong time. The war is over and the Prussians are present, their threat weighs; the bourgeois government has the support and the apparent legitimacy of a constituent assembly of reactionary “rural” elected at full speed under Prussian threat, and the province, which is already much restless and tired, will not follow suit. The most likely fate was therefore that on which Thiers bet: Paris isolated, then bled.
In this sense, the Commune was “inopportune” as it led to a major defeat for the working class on a European scale. Karl Marx, as soon as his outbreak was proven, accepted it as a fact and fully committed himself to his support, with the General Council as a means of propaganda and organization.
Bakunin, in his conferences in the Val de Saint-Imier, just as clearly took a position for the Commune. Once there, the Commune ceased to be “untimely”, it dominated and determined everything, it even had a slim chance of success.
For this, an opinion immediately formulated by Marx, Engels and discussed in the General Council, it would have been necessary to take the military offensive resolutely and quickly and crush Versailles immediately. Instead of launching into this attack, the Central Committee of the National Guard was absorbed by the municipal elections which formed the Commune proper on March 26.
The situation that such an offensive would have created, if one can risk the game of hypotheses, would undoubtedly have been that of a genuine democratic and secular republic, giving free rein to the development of class antagonism, but not again the full “Social Republic”, because it is not obvious that the exercise of real power by the armed proletariat, effective in Paris, could have been generalized to all of provincial and rural France. It would have been a huge victory already.
From the moment when Paris was again besieged, then invested, the advice coming from Marx focused on the seizure of the Banque de France, which would have been the best of all hostages, on the fortification of the side exposed to the Prussians, in warnings towards some bawling “Republicans”, and in the suggestion to shelter the diplomatic and police documents seized for publication. On the whole, therefore, it was harsher and more assertive political and military measures that Marx advised the Commune through probably quite abundant oral clandestine contacts.
The level of consciousness of the majority of the leaders of the Commune was, naturally, below the level reached concretely by it in the acts. The majority was, not “Blanquist”, but Republican and always believed to relive 1792 or 1793. Particularly incompetent and irresponsible elements, in this framework there, did not do it service.
The “Blanquists” were the marching and effective wing, militarily speaking, of the majority, without being entirely assimilated to it. The minority came mainly from the ranks of the International and pushed for social measures, while opposing the imitation of the Revolutionary Terror by the majority which wanted, in a faint-hearted way, “to attack heads rather than take it in the pockets », according to a happy phrase lent to Bakunin. The Internationalists are at work in the labor, finance, education and supply committees, eager to rebuild all public services on new bases, outside the existing state.
The “communalist” theme, consisting in calling for the formation of communes everywhere, was a confused way of combining the will to fight and extension, the abolition of current forms of the state and a certain federalist and mutualist culture of Proudhonian kinship. . Let’s not confuse it with “decentralization” in the state sense taken in France at the end of the twentieth century:
it resulted precisely by the liquidation of the parasitic state apparatus of the bourgeoisie and Bonapartism, in achieving genuine national unity.
The Commune, by itself, carried out few direct incursions into the land of property especially the seizure of workshops abandoned by their bosses, measures on debts and rents, and the protection of apprentice bakers.
The main thing is that the Commune put an end to conscription and the standing army, proclaimed and put into practice the arming of the people, including the participation of women; it severely purged the old police; it has expropriated, repressed and driven the clergy out of schools; and it established the eligibility, with a capped salary, of all senior officials, including the judiciary. These four sets of measures, towards the army, the police, the clergy and the bureaucracy, are decisive.
They began the destruction of the bourgeois state and the state in its usual forms, and its replacement by the self-organization of the armed people. As Engels will summarize it in a text published for the 20th anniversary of the Commune:
“Look at the Paris Commune. It was the dictatorship of the proletariat. »
Beaten, the Commune was savagely repressed and aroused the social hatred of the ruling classes. Dead, missing, deported, banished numbered in the tens and tens of thousands.
Varlin – who was in secret correspondence with both Marx and Bakunin – among others was massacred after a vile policeman stole the watch that his fellow bookbinders had given him for the successful conduct of their strike, in 1864(eighteen-sixty-four).
After the Commune : Marx, the General Council, the trade-unionists, Bakounine
The defeat is consummated on May 28. Two days later, Marx, exhausted and sick, submits to the General Council the declaration known as The Civil War in France, (in fact Address of the General Council on the Civil War in France), a fundamental text whose content will be more or less ” forgotten ”thereafter until 1917(nineteen-seventeen).
The political lessons of the Commune are grouped together in section III, section I being a gallery of unflattering portraits of the heads of the French bourgeoisie, section II dealing with the circumstances which gave rise to the appearance of the Commune, and section IV of repression and calumnies.
With the Central Committee of the National Guard, it was the proletariat that had seized power in Paris.
The democratic form of state that he established, the antithesis of the completed form of the bourgeois state that is the Empire, gave its true content to universal suffrage through the responsibility and revocability of elected officials, forming political bodies acting both in the legislative and executive fields, destroying the four pillars of the permanent state – army, police, clergy and bureaucracy.
Only the proletariat has achieved democracy, and the cheap government that the bourgeoisie claims to want and that the middle classes and the peasantry would like to have.
Democracy which pits its mayor against the prefect, its schoolmaster against the parish priest, and his own person against the gendarme. The “workers’ government” has demonstrated that it is potentially the “true national government” and, at the same time, “international in the full sense of the word”. The conquest of political power by the proletariat therefore does not consist in the management of the existing state apparatus but in its destruction, which the two accomplices(Marx and Engels) repeat again in 1872.
Assuming political responsibility and unconditional defense of all actions of the Commune, Marx and the General Council were designated by an international press campaign as a universal conspiratorial center having fomented and remote-controlled the Commune, and preparing other blows. The French and Spanish governments called on all governments in Europe to mount a comprehensive police crackdown on the International, referred to as a death threat to “civilization,” a threat centered in London.
“Bourgeois understanding, soaked in the spirit of the police, naturally imagines the International Association as a sort of secret conspiracy, whose central authority orders, from time to time, explosions in different countries. “
So it was at this point that Marx became a celebrity for the “general public”. However, until then, there was no “Marxism”!
There was an enormous intellectual, economic, historical elaboration, done under the pen of Marx and, to a lesser extent and with interesting differences which one will not notice until later, of Engels, elaboration of which the major part was still unpublished; there was a network of political friends who were more or less loyal (and who were not bound by any oath of loyalty); and above all there was the role of Marx within the General Council.
But, this had been precisely decisive insofar as Marx had not sought to delimit a current of his own, but to express the common movement. The sects which failed to get their hands on this organism denounced the stranglehold of Marx, unable to understand that one could function otherwise than they did it themselves. But, no, in fact there was no “Marxism” yet!
For there to be “Marxism”, the united front framework that was the International Association had to expire, because that meant that the pole which had made it unity and strength became at its own turn, by necessity, a separate stream. This is roughly what happened quickly, following the public designation, by the bourgeoisie itself, of Marx as the underground conductor, inventor and initiator, as many fools have said and believed, of class struggle !
For at the same time, the Address on Civil War in France aroused reactions and forced differentiations.
It brought up to date the unspoken and latent problems with the trade unionists, whose two most notorious representatives, Odger and Lucraft, resigned from the General Council to avoid having to assume it.
The union leaders who dragged their feet to support the Irish therefore made the choice of respectability, against the revolution represented by the defense of the Commune. This was a decisive break, in itself arguably more important for the future of the International than the Marx-Bakunin conflict.
English trade unionism had been the founder of this movement, it was he who had entrusted the theoretical and political head of it to Marx, it was he who was leaving it now, at a decisive hour.
Even though the third major figure in trade unionism at the time, Applegarth, still remained a member of the General Council until 1872, even though the League for the 9-hour day as well as the temporary membership of local Trade Councils from Birmingham and Manchester to the General Council, gave hopes that it would continue to polarize and inspire the most combative sectors of the British proletariat, the links were not reestablished and they withered irremediably and rapidly.
The root cause was the defeat of the Commune and the climate of reaction which loomed over Europe, when in Great Britain there were the most gains from past struggles to be retained.
Bakunin and his friends saw the Address on the Civil War in France’s close proximity to their own views. Bakunin considered this a forced homage, due to the power of the revolution, positive but temporary.
It is not to downplay the importance of Bakunin’s contribution on questions of power, the State, and domination, to recognize that the Address, one of the rare works of Marx which has precisely also the State as subject, is the text which gave an account, and gave all its scope, to the Commune.
Bakunin did not feel the need to write a live analysis of the Commune because he thought he had said the essentials in the “political testament” that he had undertaken to write, thinking that there would be, precisely, no Commune, because the carrots were cooked.