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The Commune of Paris.





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I.—The Place op the Commune in Socialist Evolution. N the 18th of March, 1871, the people of Paris rose against a

despised and detested Government, and proclaimed the city independent, free, belonging to itself.

This overthrow of the central power took place without the usual

stage elfects of revolution, without the Jiring of guns, without the

shedding of blood upon barricades. When the armed people came

out into the streets, the rulers lied away, the troops evacuated the

town, the civil functionaries hurriedly retreated to Versailles, earrv-/ » * *

ing everything they could with them. The Government evaporated like a pond of stagnant water in a spring breeze, and on the 19th the great city of Paris found herself free frum the impurity which had defiled her, with the loss of scarcely a drop of her children's hlood.

Yet the change thus accomplished began a new era in that, long series of revolutions whereby the peoples are marching from slavery to freedom. Under the name Commune of Pari# a new idea was born, to become the starting-point for future revolutions.

As is always the case, this fruitful idea wiw not the product of aonae one individual's brain, of the conception* of some philosopher ; it was born of the collective spirit, it sprang from the heart of a whole community. liut at first it waa vague, and maoy of those who acted upon and gave their live* for it did not look at it in the light in which we see it to-day ; they did not realise the full purport of the revolution they inaugurated or the fertility of the new principle they tried to put in practice. It was only after they had begun to apply it that its future bearing slowly dawned upon them ; it was only afterwards, when the new principle came to be thought out, that it grew definite and precise, and was seen in all its clearness, in all its beauty, its justice, the importance of its results.

Puring the five or six years that came before the Commune, Socialism had taken a new departure in the spread and rapid growth of the International "Working Men's Association. In its local branches and general congresses the workers of Europe met together and took counsel with one another upon the social question as they had never done before. Amongst those who saw that social revolution was inevitable, and were actively busy in making ready for it, one problem above all others seemed to press for solution. "The existing development of industry will force a great economic revolution upon our society ; this revolution will abolish private property, will put. in common all the capital piled Tip by previous generations; but, what form of political grouping will be most suited to these changes in our economic system V'

"The grouping must not be merely national,*' answered the International Working Men's Association, " it must extend across all artificial frontiers and boundary lines." And soon this grand idea sunk into the hearts of the peoples and took fast hold of th«'ir minds. Though it has been hunted down ever since by the united oHurts of every species of reactionary, it is alive nevei the less, and when the voice of the peoples in revolt shall melt the obstacles to its d» v !i««p-ment, it will reappear stronger than ever before.

]Rut when this vast idea of International Association had be- n struck out, it still remained to discover what should be the component parts of the federation of the world.

To this question two answers were given, each the expression of a distinct current of thought. One said, Tho Popular State ; the other said, Anarchy.

The German Socialists advocated that the State should take possession of all accumulated wealth and give it over to :iBsnci'»ti««i»s of workers, and further, should organise production and exchange, and generally watch over the life and activities of society.

To them the Socialists of the Latin wee, strong in revolutionary

experience, replied that it would be a miracle if such a .State could ever exist; but if it could, it would surely be the worst of tyrannies. This ideal of the all-powerful and beneficent State is merely a copy from the past, they said; and they confronted it with a new ideal: An-archy, i.e.y the total abolition of the State, aud social organisation from the simple to the complex by means of the free federation, of popular groups of producers and consumers.

It was soon admitted, even by the more liberal-minded Stat8 Socialists, that Anarchy certainly represented a much better port, ot organisation than that aimed at by the popular State ; but, they said, tlie Anarchist ideal is so lar oil that just now we cannot trouble about it.

At the same time, it was true that the Anarchist theory did need some short, clear nmde of expression, some formula at once simple and practical, to sh>w plainly its point of departure and embody its conceptions, to indicate how it- was supported by an actually existing tendency amongst the people. A Federation of Workers' Unions and groups of consumers, regardless of frontiers and quite independent of existing States, seemed too vague ; and, moreover, it was easy to see that it could not fully satisfy all the infinite variety of human requirements. A clearer formula was wanted, one more easily grasped, one which had a firm foundation in the realities of actual life.

If the question had merely been how liest to elaborate a theory, we should have said, Theories, as theories, are not of so very much importance. JSut as long as a new idea hns not found a clear, precise form of statement, growing naturally out of things as they actually exist, it cl»cs not take hold of men'* minds, does not inspire them to enter upon a decisive struggle. The people do not fling themselves into the unknown without some positive and clearly formulated id'-a to serve them, as it were, for a springing board when they reach the starting point.

As for this starting point, they must be led up to it by life itself.

For live whole month* Paris had been isolated by the German besiegers; for five whole months she had lived as she listed and had learned to know the immense economic, intellectual and moral strength which she possessed. She had caught a glimpse of her own force of initiative and realised what it meant. At the same time she had seen that the prating crew who took upon them to exorcise authority, had no idea how to organise either the defence of France or its internal development. She had seen the Central Government at cross purposes with every manifestation of the intelligence of the mighty city. Finally, she had come to realise that any government must be powerless to guard against great disasters or to smooth the path of rapid evolution. During the Siege her defenders, her workers, had suffered the most frightful privations, whilst her idlers revelled in insolent luxury, and, thanks to the Central Government, she had seen the failure of every attempt to put an end to those scandals. Each time that her people had showed signs of a desire for a free scope, the Government had added weight to their chains. Naturally such experiences gave birth to the idea that Paris must make herself an independent Commune, able to realise within her walls the wishes of her citizens.

And thus this word—" The Commune"—the freely federated Communes, instead of the State—became the general cry.

The Commune of 1871 could be nothing but a first attempt, re-ginning at the close of a great war, hemmed in between two armies ready to join hands and crush the people, it dared not unhesitatingly set forth upon the path of economic revolution. It neither Ijoldly declared itself Socialist nor proceeded to the expropriation <>t' capital nor the organisation of labour. It did not even take stock of tho general resources of the city.

.Nor did it break with the tradition of the State, of representative Government. It did not seek to effect within the Commune that very organisation from the simple to tho complex which it inaugurated without, by proclaiming the independence and free federation of Communes.

Yet it is certain that if the Commune of Paris could have lived a few months longer, it would have been inevitably driven by tho force of circuinstances towards both these revolutions. Let us not forget that the French middle-class spent altogether four years, iVom ITS!) to 1703, in revolutionary action before they changed a limited monarchy into a republic. Ought we then to be astonished that the people of Paris did not cross with one bound the space between an Anarchist Commune and the Government of tho Spoilers. I Jut lot us also bear in mind that the noxt Revolution, which in France aud Spain at least will be Coaiuunal, will take up tho work of the Commune of Paris where it was interrupted by the massacres of the Versailles soldiery.

The Commune was defeated, and too well we know how the middle-class avenged itself for the scare given it by the people when they shook their rulers' yoke loose upon their necks. It proved that there really are two classes in our modern society \ on one side, the man who works and yields up to the moin»i«»lists of property more than half of what he produces and yet lightly passes over the wrong done him by his masters; 011 the other, the- idler, the spoiler, hating his slave, ready to kill him like game, animated l>y the mo1t savage instincts as soon as he is menaced in his possession.

After having shut in the people of Paris and closed all means of exit, the Versailles Government let loose soldiers upon them ; soldiers brutalised by drink and barrack life, who had been publicly told to mako short work of "the wolves and their cubs." To the people it was said :

44 You shall perish, whatever you <lo ! If you are taken with arms in your hands—death! If you use them — death! If you bog for uierev—death ! Whichever way you turn, right, left, back, forward, up, down*,—death ! You are not merely outside the law, you are outside Immunity. Neither age nor sex shall save you aud yours. You shall die, but first you shall taste the agony of your wife, your sister, your mother, your sons jtad daughtt-rs, even those in the cradle f liefore your oys the wounded man shall bp taken out of the ambulance and hacked with bayonets or knocked down with the butt end of a rifle. He shall be dragged living by his broken leg <>r bleeding arm and Hung like a suffering, groaning bundle of refuse into the. gutter. Death! Death ! Death ! " *

And after this mad orgie, these piles of Corpses, this wholesale extermination, came the petty revenge, the CAtV-nine tails, the irons in the ship's hold, the blows and insults of the warders, the semi-starvation, all the refinements of cruelty. Can the people forget these doughty deeds.

Overthrown, but not Conquered, the Commune in our days is born again. It is no longer a dream of the vanquished, caressing in imagination the lovely mirage of hope. No J the "Commune" of today is becoming the visible and definite aim of the Revolution rumbling beneath our feet. The idea is sinking deep into the masses, it. is giving them a rallying cry. We count on the present generation to bring about the .Social Revolution within the Commune, to put an end to the ignoble system of middle-class exploitation, to rid the people of the tutelage of the State, to inaugurate a new era <>f liberty, equality, solidarity in the evolution of the human ra^e.

ii. — How the com.munf pa i led to realize its true aim an p yet set that aim before the woe li).

Twenty years already separate us from the day when the people of Paris overthrew the traitor government which raised itself to power at the downfall of the empire : whence comes it that the oppressed masses of the civilized world are still irresistably drawn towards the movement of 1871? Why is the idea represented by the Commune of Paris so attractive to the workers of every land, of every nationality?

The answer is easy. The Revolution of 1871 was above all a popular one. It was made by the people themselves, it sprang spontaneously from the midst of the mass, and it was amongst the great masses of the people that it found its defenders, its heroes, its martyrs. It is just because it was so thoroughly "low" that the middle-class can never forgive it. And at the same time its moving spirit was the idea of a Social Revolution; vague certainly, perhaps unconscious, but still the effort to obtain at last, after the struggle of many centuries, true freedom, true equality for all men. It was the Revolution of the lowest of the people marching forward to conquer their rights.

Attempts have been and are made to change the sense of this revolution, to represent it as a mere effort to regain the independence of Paris and thus to constitute a tiny state within France. But nothing can be more untrue. Paris did not seek to isolate herself from France, any more than t.<> conquer it by force of arms; .«he did not care to shut herself within her walls, like a nun in a convent, she was not inspired by the narrow spirit of the cloistor. If she claimed h r independence, if she tried to hinder the interference of the, central p>wcr in her affairs, it was because she saw in that independence a moans of quietly elaborating the bases of lut ire organization and bringing about within herself a social revolution; a revolution which would have completely transformed the whole system of production and exchange l»y basing them on justice; which would have completely imnliiied human relations by putting them on a looting of equality; which would have formed our social morality anew by founding it upon equality and solidarity. Communal independence was then but a means for the people of Paris; the Social Revolution was their end.

And this end might have been attained if the Revolution of March 18th had been able to take its natural course, if the people of Paris had not been cut to pieces by the os*asins from Versailles. To find .1 clear, prccise idea, comprehensible to all the world ami summing up in a few words what was needed to accomplish the Revolution, thi* was really the preoccupation of the people of Paris from the earliofc days of their independence. But a great idea does not germinate in a day, however rapid the elaboration and propagation of ideas during periods of revolution. It always needs a certain time to deveh j>, to spread throughout the masses, to translate itself into action, ami t'u< time failed the Commune of Paris. More especially, because a? we have before observed. Socialism twenty years ago was passing through a period of transition. The authoritative and semi-religious Communism of 1848 had no longer any hold over the practical, free-thinking minds of our epoch. The Collectivism which attempted to yoke together the Wage System and collective property was incomprehensible, unattractive and bristling with di.'liculties in practical application. Free Communism, Anarchist Communism, was but beginning to dawn upon the minds of the workers and scarcely ventured to provoke the attacks of the worshippers of government. Minds were undecided. Socialists themselves, having no definite end in view, did not dare to lay hands upon private property; and deluded themselves with the argument which has lulled the activities of many an age: " Let us first make sure of victory, and then see what can be done."


Make sure of victory ! As if there were any way of forming a free Commune without laying hands upon proporty! As if there were any way of conquering the foe whilst the great mass of the people is 'not directly interested in the triumph of the Revolution, by seeing that it will bring material, moral and intellectual well-being to everybody! They tried to consolidate the Commune first and defer the Social Revolution until afterwards, whereas the only way to go

about it was to consolidate the Commune by means of the Social Revolution.

The same tiling happened with regard to the principle of Government. I>y proclaiming the free Commune, the people of Paris . proclaimed an essential Anarchist principle, which was the breakdown of the State, but as the idea of Anarchism had then but faintly dawned upon men's minds, it was checked half way, and in the midst of the Commune the ancient principle of authority cropped up and the people gave themselves a Council of the Commune, on the model of municipal Councils elsewhere.

And yet, if we admit that a Central Government to regulate the relations of Communes between themselves is quite needless, why should we admit its necessity to regulate the mutual relations of the groups which make up each Commune ri And if we leave, the business of coming to a common understanding with regard tu •niter-prises which concern several cities at once to the free initiative of the Communes concerned, why refuse this same free initiative to the groups composing a single Commune i There is no more reason for a government inside the Commune than for a government outside.


3»ut in 1871, the people of Paris, who have overthrown so many Governments, were only making their first attempt to revolt ngj.inst the governmental system itself; consequently they let themselves be carried away by the fet ish worship of governments and set up one of their own.

The result is a matter of history. Paris sent her do voted sons to the Town Hall. There, shelved in the midst of tiles of old papers, obliged to rule where their instincts prompted them to be and do amongst the people, obliged to discuss where it was needful to act, and to compromise where no compromise was the best policy ; and, finally, losing the inspiration which only comes from continual contact with the masses, they saw themselves reduced to inq»otenee. X>eing paralysed by their separation from the people—the re,vol -tionary centre of light and heat—they themselves paralysed the popular initiative.

The Commune of Paris, the child of a period of transition, born beneath the Prussian guns, was doomed to perish. J>ut bv its eminently popular character it began a new series of revolutions, by its ideas it was the forerunner of the Social Revolution. Its lesson has

liocn learnt, and "when France once more bristles with Communes in revolt, the people are not likely to give themselves a government and expect that government to initiate revolutionary measures. When they have rid themselves of the parasites who devour them, they will take possession of all social wealth^to put it in common, according to the principles of Anarchist Communism. And when they have entirely abolished property, government, and the State, they will form themselves afresh and freely, according to the necessities indicated by life itself. Breaking its chains, overthrowing its idols, humanity will march onward to a better future, knowing neither masters nor slaves, keeping its veneration for the noble martyrs who bought with their blood and suffering those first attempts at '.'mancipation, which have enlightened our march towards the c ».T[uest of liberty.

III.—The Teachings op tne Commune in Modern Socialism.

The public meetings organised on the 18th of March in almost every town where there is a Socialist group are well worthy of careful attention. Not merely because they are a demonstration of the Army of Labour, but also because they afford an opportunity for ^uagitig the sentiments of the Socialists of both worlds. They are a better opportunity for " taking the state of the poll " than could be given by any system of voting, an occasion when aspirations may be imuulated uniniluenccd by electoral party tactics. The workers do not meet simply to praise the heroism of the Parisian proletariat, or t > call for vengeance for the May massacres. "Whilst refreshing themselves with the memory of the brave struggle in Paris, they have gone further and discussed what lessons for the coming Revolu* lion must be drawn from tiie Commune of 1871. They ask what ■wero the mistakes of the Commune, not for the sake of criticising the men who made them, but to bring out clearly how the prejudices about property and authority, which then reigned amongst workers' oiganisatious, hindered tin' bursting forth of the revolutionary idea and its subsequent development into a light to enlighten the world.

The teaching of 1871 has benefitted the workers of every land, enabling them to break with their old prejudices and come to a clearer and simpler understanding as to what their Revolution is to be.

The next rising of Communes will not be merely a "Communal " movement. Those who still think that independent, local self-governing bodies must be first established and that these must try to make economic reforms within their own localities, are being carried along by the further development of the popular spirit, at least in France. The Communes of the next Revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct Socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp which only exists by State protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvellous wisdom, a few economic reforms. The people themselves will abolish private property by a violent expropriation, taking possession, in the name of the whole community, of all the wealth accumulated by the labour of past generations.

They will not wait to expropriate the holders of social capital by a decree which necessarily would remain a dead letter if not accomplished in fact by the workers themselves. They will take po^.-es-sion thereof on the spot and establish their rights by utilising it without delay. They will organise themselves in the workshops to continue the work, but what they will produce will be what is wanted by the masses, not what gives the highest profit to em ployers. They will exchange their hovels for healthy dwellings in the houses of the rich ; they will organise themselves to turn to immediate use the wealth stored up iu the towns; they will take possession of it as if it had never been stolen fix*n them by the middle-class.

And when the industrial baron who has been levying black-mail upon the worker is once evicted, production will continue, throwing off the trammels which impede it, putting an end to the speculations which kill and the confusion which disorganises it, transforming itself conformably to the necessities of the moment under the impulsion given to it by free labour. " Men never worked in France as they did in 1793, after the soil was snatched from the hands of the nobles," says the historian Michelet. Never have men worked as they will on the day when labour becomes free and everything ac-•omplished by the worker will be a source of well-being to the whole Commune.

An attempt has been made of late to establish a distinction between various sorts of social wealth, and the Socialist party are divided upon the question. The present Collectivist school, substituting a sort of dogmatic theory of Collectivism for the Collectivism of tho old International, which was merely anti-authoritative Communism, have sought to establish a distinction between capital used for production and wealth supplying the necessities of life. Machinery, factories, raw material, means of communication, and the soil, on the one side, and dwellings, manufactured produce, clothing, commodities, on the other. The first are to be collective property, the second are designed, by the professors of this school of Socialism, to remain private property.

There has been an attempt to set up this distinction; but tho popular good sense has got the better of it; it has found it illusory and impossible to establish. It is vicious in theory and fails in in practical life. The workers understand that the house which shelters us, the coal and gas wc burn, the luel consumed by the human machine to sustain life, the clothing needlul to existence, the book we read tor instruction, even the enjoyments we get, are all so many component parts of our existence, are all as necessary to successful production and the progressive development of humanity, as machines, manufactories, raw materials and other means of working. The workers are arriving at the conclusion that to maintain private property in this sort of wealth would be to maintain inequality, oppression, exploitation, to paralyse beforehand the results of the partial expropriation. Leaping over the fence set up in their path by theoiciical Collectivism, they are marching straight for the simplest and most practical form of anti-authoritative Communism

Now in their meetings the revolutionary workers are distinctly bating their light to all social wealth and the necessity of abolishing private property in articles of consumption as well as in those of re-prod netion: "On the day of the Revolution, we shall seize upon oil the wealth stored up in the towns and put it in common," say tho Kp'iakcrs, and the audience confirm the statements with their unanimous approval. "Let each take from the pile what lie needs and be buie that in the warehouses of our towns there will be enough food to iYed eve 13* one until freeproduct ion has made a fail start: in the shops of our towns there are enough clothes to dress every one, kept there in reserve while outside there is nakedness and poverty There are even enough luxuries for each to choose amongst them according to his liking."

Judging by what is said at Commune Commemoration meetings in France and elsowhere, the workers have made up their minds that the coming Revolution will introduce Anarchist Communism and the free re-organization of production. These two points seem so far settled and in 1 hese respects the Communes of the next Revolution will not repeat the errors of the forerunners, who so generously shed their blood to clear the path for future progress.

There is, however, a third and no less important point upon which the same agreement is not yet reached, though it is not so very far off. This is the question of government.

As is wjl known, there are two sections of tho Socialist party completely divided upon this point. "On the very day of the Revolution," says the one, " we must constitute a Government to take possession of the supreme power. A strong, powerful, resolute Government will make the Revolution by decreeing this and that, and forcing all to obey its commands.

"A miserable delusion ! " says the other. "Any central government, taking upon itself to rule a nation, must certainly be a mere hindrance to the Revolution. It cannot fail to be made up of the most incongruous elements, and its very essence as a government is Conservatism. It will do nothing but hold back the Revolution in Communes ready to go ahead, without being able to inspire backward Communes with the breath of revolution. The same within a Commune in revolt. Either the Communal government will merely sanction accomplished facts—and then it will be a useless and dangerous bit of machinery ; or else it will wish to take the lead to make rules fur what ha* yet to be freely worked out by the people themselves if it is to bo really practicable; it will apply theories where all society ought to work out fresh forma of common life with that creative force which springs up in the social organism when it breaks its chains and soes new and larger horizon* opening before it. The men in power will obstruct this outburst, without doing any of the things they might theni'idves havo donn if th«y had remained amongst the people, working with thuui at th« now organisation, instead of shutting theukselve* up in ministerial ollioea and wearing themselves out in idle debates. The revolutionary government wiil be a hindrance and a danger; powerless for good, formidable for ili ; therefore, what is the use of having it 1"

However natural and just, this argument still runs counter to a great many prejudices, stored up and accredited by those who have had an interest in maintaining the religion of government, side by sidy with the roligions of property and of theology.

This prejudice, the last of the three, still exists and is a danger to the coming Revolution, though it already shows signs of decay.

We will manage our business ourselves without waiting for the orders of a government, we will trample under foot those who try to force us to accept them as priests, property owners or rulers," so begin already to say the workers. We must hope that the Anarchist pariy will continue to vigorously combat government worship, and never allow itself to be dragged or enticed into a struggle for power ; we must hope that in the years which remain to us before the Revolution, the prejudice in favour of government may be so shaken that it will not be strong enough to draw oif the people upon a false tack.

The Communes of the next Revolution will not only break down the State, and substitute free federation for Parliamentary rule: they will part with Parliamentary rule within the Commuue itself. They will trust the free organisation of food supply and production to free groups of workers—which will federate with like groups in other cities and villages—not through the medium of a Communal Parlia* merit, but directly, to accomplish their aim.

They will be Anarchist within the Commuue as they will be Anarchist ouUide it,—ami only thus will they avoid the "horrors of d feat, the furies of Reaction.


A JOURNAL OF ANARB1IIST COMMUNISM. ' ONE PENNY MONTHLY. vavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavavvavavavavavavav


•No. 1. THE WAGE SYSTEM. By Peter Kropotkine. Id. No. 2. THE COMMUNE OF PARIS. By Peter Kropotkine. Id.


workers. By E. Ma latent a. Id. No. 4. ANARCHIST-COMMUNISM : its basis and principles. By

Peter Kropotkine. Id. No. 5. ANARCHY. By E. Malatesta. Id. No. 6. ANARCHIST MORALITY. By Peter Kropotkine. Id. No. 7. EXPROPRIATION. By Peter Kropotkine. Id. No. 8. ANARCHISM and OUTRAGE. By C. M. Wilson Jd.

No. 9. ANARCHY ON TRIAL—George Etievant, Jean Grave and Caserio Santo. 32 pages; Id.

LAW and AUTHORITY. By Petf.r Kropotkine. 2d.

EVOLUTION and REVOLUTION. By Elyseb Reclus. Id.

AN APPEAL TO TIIE YOUNG. By Peter Kropotkine. Id.

THE CHICAGO MARTYRS. Their speeches in Court and the record of their trial, with the reasons given bv Governor Altgeld for pardon* itig Fielden, Schwab, and Neebe. Price sixpence.

GOD and the STATE. By Michael Bakounine. Price fourpence. A DIALOGUE and humorous poetry *by L. S. B.; 16 pages 8vo, Id' THE IDEAL and YOUTH. Br Elysee Reclus. Id. REVOLUTIONARY STUDIES. By Peter Kropotkine. Id. REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT. By Peter Kropotkine. Id. AN ANARCHIST ON ANARCHY. By Elysee Reclus. Id.

"tPrinted and published by J. Turner at 7 Lambs Conduit Street, London, W. C.

1  Hisfc it populai e et pa Umenta it de la Commune tic Paris, par Arthur Aruould.