Marx and the Commune: storming the heaven!

A proclamação da Comuna: em 1871, o proletariado realizava seu primeiro assalto aos céus
A proclamação da Comuna: em 1871, o proletariado realizava seu primeiro assalto aos céus

Marx and the Commune: storming the heaven!

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200 years of Karl Marx

On March 18th , 1871, the Commune of Paris, the first attempt to storm the heaven, originated the first working republic in the history. Ten days after the people’s insurrection, the new revolutionary government declared the independence of the Commune to the old bourgeois power in Versailles.

It was the heroism of the communards that, supporting the Power in the hands of the proletarian masses in Paris for 70 days, has made the world proletariat to know a new type of State that for the first time in the history has allowed the exercise of Power to the masses. The Commune, uniting the Legislative and Executive functions, has made accessible to the simplest workers the State leadership.

However, in spite of the glorious struggles the Parisian workers have undertaken, weapons in hands defending the Proletarian Power, facing the most brutal and bloody repression, they were defeated. The soldiers at the service of the bourgeois, landlords, financial profiteers and all kind of thieves gathered in Versailles, have seurounded Paris and struck mercilessly the city with the support of the Prussian troops.

The Commune end, far from meaning a definitive defeat for the working class, was a temporary defeat and has become an invaluable contribution for the communist movement.

It fell to Marx, armed with the scientific ideology of proletariat, the dialectical materialism, to extract the teachings and the real historical meaning of those great events, displayed on his famous The Civil War in France. This book was written by request of the International Workers Association General Council (AIT) as a convocation for its members.

As Lenin has signalled in The State and the Revolution: “Although the masses revolutionary movement failed on its objective, Marx saw on it a historical experience of supreme importance, a step ahead in the universal proletarian revolution, a practical attempt more important than hundreds of programmes and arguments. To analyse such an experience, to gather tactical lessons from it and test its theory, this was the task Marx has imposed to himself”.

An enthusiast of the Commune

At the moment the people’s insurrection was started in Paris, Marx was in London for the AIT organization where he had the position of General Council representative. When he received the news he urged to help the insurgents in Paris. He wrote hundreds of letter to the countries where there were sections of the International explaining the international proletariat the real meaning of the March 18th revolution and summoning them to organize a movement for defense of the Commune.

Some months before the revolution in Paris, Autumn of 1870, Marx had warned the French proletariat not to raise prematurely without being prepared for the combat. When the news of the comsumation of the revolution came to him he became its great supporter and enthusiast.

By letters and verbal instructions through reliable persons, Marx and Engels tried to help the communards with advices, warning them against possible errors. But his advices did not always arrive on occasion in Paris, for the city had been enemy-surrounded. Proudhon supporters1 and the blanquists2, at the head of the Commune, relutantly accepted all the measures in contradiction with their sectarian dogmas what made difficult the direction work developed by Marx and Engels.

Historical Lessons for the Proletariat

From the Comunne’s events onwards, Karl Marx demonstrates that the main causes of its failure could be found in the absence of the unique proletarian revolutionary party and its absolute direction as well as in the lack of necessary grasping of the proletariat dictatorship on the grounds of the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes thrown down from power. He saw other teachings from that experience as a new state form different and opposed to the exploiting classes along history. And that the bloodshed done by the reaction united to defeat the Commune that made the proletariat – so far acquainted only to the bourgeoisie as a revolutionary force – saw it as such in the counterrevolution.

In his ingenious theoretical synthesis on the Paris Commune experience, expressed in The Civil War in France, Marx considered the main merit of the communards to try, for the first time in history, to create a proletarian State. The previous revolution had not advanced but was a simple deployment between the ruling classes. They limited themselves to change a kind of exploitation for another instead of destroying the old State machinery, making them pass from one hand to the other. The working class, however, Marx had said, could not simply take over the state machinery and make it function for their own goals.

Marx and Engels considered such a conclusion so important – one of the fundamental lessons from the Commune – that have introduced it as an essential change in the programatic document of the proletariat, the Manifest of the Communist Party, in the 1872 foreword.

On his April 12th ,1871 letter, Karl Marx emphasized that the Commune of Paris had taken again to the revolutionary principles: “ I have read again the last chapter of my Brumario. I affirm that the revolution in France must try, before anything, not to pass over to other hands the bureaucratic and military machinery – as it has happened so far – but destroy it ( the author’s bold). This is the preliminar condition for any people’s revolution in the continent. That is what our heroic comrades have tried in Paris”. (Selected Letters, 1953).

The Commune has not only demonstrated in practice the fairness of the very important thesis formulated by Marx’s work The 18th Brumary of Louis Bonaparte, in which he states the need to destroy the old State machinery, but has preached the raise of a political organization of a new kind for substituting that machinery.

As a result of the Commune of Paris’ experience, the proletariat doctrine has been enriched with the lesson that the State machinery must be destroyed with all its appendix and build a new one at the service of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And it is not enough to take the power but above all to maintain and consolidate it.

By grasping Marx’s teachings half a century later after the Commune of Paris, the Bolshevik Party – under the leadership and jefatura of Lenin – has led to victory the October Revolution of 1917, and the Russian proletariat created the Soviet Power as a continuation of the Commune. That high form of democratic State institution of the dictatorship of the proletariat named Soviet, based on the worker-peasant alliance, was able to unite around itself the most backward, exploited and scattered working masses and assure the transition to socialism.

When the masses guided by Chairman Mao Tsetung and under the direction of the Communista Party seized the power in China, it was the Commune’s experience synthesized by Marx and developed by Lenin, in the frame of Soviets, that has served as basis for the Chinese society structuring. As chairman Mao affirmed: “ What is the nature of the people’s commune?It is the unity for the basis of the social Chinese structure that gathers soldiers, intellectuals and trademen. Presently, it constitutes the basis administrative organization. The people’s commune is the best form of organization for the accomplishment of two steps: the socialism step from today to the general system of property for the whole people; and the step of the general system of property of the whole people for communism. After these steps, the people’s commune will constitute the basis structure for the communist society”.

And later, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), the highest peak ever reached by the world proletarian revolution, were the Revolutionary Committees Three in One, the new organisms for Power, which have been constituted as the continuators of the Commune.

Originated from the tenacious struggle against capitalism restoration, driven forward and led by chairman Mao Tsetung, the Revolutionary Committees Three in One were an indispensable tool of the GPCR by which million of masses have taken into their hands the State affairs, the political, military, cultural problems related to production,etc., and have overthrown the bourgeoisie representatives that had been incrusted in the Party, the People’s Liberation Army and the State, preventing for ten years the capitalist restoration in China.

Invaluable Historical Experience

At the very moment in which the Commune of Paris was struggling, Marx could see its historical importance, exposed its fundamental mistakes and took conclusions of summary importance for the revolutionary theory and practice of the proletariat.

From his letters with Kugelmann, on April 12th , 1871, Marx pointed out the fatal communards’ errors: 1. They should have undertaken immediately an offensive against Versailles while the enemy was panicked and would not have time enough to concentrate their forces. This occasion was lost. 2. The Central Committee resigned too fast giving way to the Commune. Analysing, in The Civil War in France, the social and economical measures adopted by the Parisian workers, Marx distinguished the idea that the most timid it had been, their principal tendency was the expropriation of the expropriators: “ The Commune was formed by the town counsellors, elected in the several districts of the city, reponsible and revocable at any moment. Most of its members were either workers or wellknown representatives of the working class. The Commune should be not a parlamentary body, but an operating, executive and legislative one at the same time. Instead of being an instrument of the central government, the police was deprived of its political attibutes and transformed into a Commune’s tool, responsible and revocable at any time. The same has happenned to the employees of all administration bodies. All members of the Commune, public employees from the top to below, had to be wage earners. The acquired rights and representation subsidies of the high State members have vanished with the members. The public functions were no more the private property of the figureheads of the central government. Not only the local government but the whole State initiatives were set into the Commune’s hands”.

Besides, the Commune confirms the conclusion that the whole historical experience of the proletariat’s struggles, people’s masses and proletarian revolution for the victory or defeat, the decisive factor has been the Communist Party and the prevailing political-ideological line, correct or wrong.

As Lenin has affirmed: “ The Commune cause is the cause for the complete political and economic emancipation for the workers, it is the cause of the world proletariat. In this sense it is immortal”.

The Struggle against Anarchism

The Civil War in France, a very important political document of the International has supplied the international proletariatwith the Commune experience and it was a bright demonstration of the ideological victory of Marxism over the variants of the pre-marxist socialism. “In the end of the first period (1848-1871), a period of storms and revolutions, dies (our bold) the pre-marxist socialism”. (Lenin, Works).

The ingenious synthesis of the Commune experience had a particular importance in the struggle against the ideologists of the petty-bourgeoisie who denied the need of the dictatorship of proletariat. At the period, the most dangerous enemies of Marxism were the anarchists.

In the 1871 London Conference, Marx and Engels demonstrated how disastrous would be the resignation of the political struggle and showed the need to form a revolutionary worker’s party that would be the leading force for the proletariat in its struggle for socialism.

As a result of the Conference, it was passed a resolution on the political struggle of the working class, emphasizing that the proletariat could not act as a class against the collective power of the possessing classes provided it did not organize its own political party, necessary for assuring the social revolution victory and reaching its final goal, the class supression.

Against the efforts from the anarchists for undermining the International discipline and converting the General Council into a simple informative organism, the Conference made clear in several resolutions that the General Council would be, more than ever, the ideological centre, the General Staff of the International.


1. Proudhonists: denomination to the supporters of the petty-bourgeois ideologist, Pierre Joseph Proudhon. They did not grasp the historical role and the meaning of the proletariat, denying the class struggle, the proletarian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat and, as anarchists, denied the need for the State. The struggle determined by Marx and Engels and their supporters against proudhonists finished with the complete victory of Marxism in the First International.

2. Blanquism: followers of the socialist French movement stream led by Louis-Auguste Blanqui ( 1805-1881), a representative of the utopian communism. The blanquists denied the class struggle and believed that “humankind would be free from the wage-earning slavery thanks to the conspiration of a majority of intellectuals”, so well characterized by Lenin. They replaced the revoloutionary party activity by a secret group of machinators not taking into account the concrete necessary situation for the victory of the insurrection and despising the links with the masses.

References: K. Marx, E. Engels, Selected Letters, p. 263. Ed. In Russian, 1953.

Lenin, V. I., The State and the Revolution, Selected Works, Lisbon, Moscow, Editorial Avante/ Edições Progresso. t. 2. 1977.

V. I. Lenin, Works, t. 18, p. 545. 4th edition in Russian.

K. Marx, The Civil War in France, Editorial Avante, 1984.

E. Stepanova, Karl Marx – Biography Project, Editions in Foreign Languages, Moscow. 1954.

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