Thursday, June 09, 2016

In Honor Of The 145th Anniversary Of The Paris Commune-All Honor To The Communards

In Honor Of The 145th Anniversary Of The Paris Commune-All Honor To The Communards


Some events can be honorably commemorated every five, ten, twenty-five years or so like the French Revolution. Other events need to be honorably commemorated yearly, and here I include the uprising which went on to form the Paris Commune, established on March 18, 1871, the first time the working class as such took power if only for a short time and only in one city, although that the city was Paris was not accidental since the city of lights had an honorable history of such plebian uprisings from 1789, 1830, and 1848 and other lesser such insurrectionary happenings (there was an expression at the time in radical and revolutionary circles that as long as Blanqui was alive and people remembered the Babeuf uprisings that when the deal when down you could always depend on Paris to rise). We can, those of us in what now is a remnant who still believe in the old time verities and who still fight for such things as working-class led revolution, socialism leading to a world communist federation or some such seemingly utopian vision and a fairer shake in the appropriation of the world’s good, still draw lessons from that experience.

Sadly the bulk of the world’s working classes most definitely in the wake of the rather quick demise of the Soviet Union and East Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s which for better or worse had represented some socialist vision however distorted (or to use Trotsky’s terminology deformed workers states) have either dismissed socialist solutions out of hand these days when the situation in places like Greece, Spain and lots of East Europe countries cry out for such solutions or the links to such previous socialist ideas has become so attenuated that the ideas are not even in play. To take Greece as a current example anybody with the least bit of sense knows that you cannot keep squeezing the living standards of the vast majority of people in that country yet the number of those who seek a communist way out, at least as exemplified by the recent parliamentary results, a quick measure of the strength of the harder left is disheartening.

So yes, in the absence of more current positive examples, we can use the Commune to draw lessons that might help us in the one-sided fight against the human logjam that the international capitalist system, complete with its imperial coterie at the top, led by the United States, the has bequeathed us almost a century and one half later and that is ripe, no overripe to be replaced by a more human scale way of producing the good of this wicked world. Hence the commemoration in this the 144th anniversary year.

Some “talking head” commentator in the lead-up to the 2015 celebration of the French Revolution on July 14th, a commentator specifically brought in for the occasion, I heard recently on a television talk show reflecting the same sentiment I have heard elsewhere from other academic and ideological sources, had declared the French Revolution dead. By that he meant that the lessons to be learned from that experience has been exhausted, that in the post-modern world that event over two hundred years ago had become passé, passé in the whirlwind of the American century now in full bloom (an American century that we thought had run its course in the wake of the Vietnam defeat but drew new life, if only by default, with the demise of the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence). While not arguing here with the validity of that statement on the French revolution, a classic bourgeois revolution when the bourgeoisie was a progressive movement in human history and actually drew some connections between the Enlightenment philosophies that gave it inspiration and the tasks of the risen people, there are still lessons to be drawn from the Commune. If for no other reason than we still await that international working class society that such luminaries as the communist Karl Marx expanded upon in the 19th century.          

Obviously like the subsequent Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Chinese revolutions of the 1920s and 1940s, the Vietnamese which took up a great deal of the middle third of the twentieth century, and others the Paris Commune was formed in the crucible of war, or threat of war. Karl Marx, among others, the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky for one, had noted that war is the mother of revolution and the defeat of the French armies and the virtual occupation by the victorious German armies around Paris certainly conformed to that idea that the then current government was in disarray and the social fabric after a near starvation situation required more. Every revolutionary commentary has noted that those factors formed a classic pre-revolutionary phenomena. Moreover the Commune had been thrust upon the working masses of Paris by the usual treachery of the bourgeois government thrown up after Louis Bonaparte lost control. That had not been the most promising start to any new society. But you work with what you have to work with and defend as Marx, the First International, and precious few others did the best you can despite the odds, and the disarray. So no hard and fast blueprint on revolutionary upheavals except by negative example, by what was not done, could come ready-made from that experience.  

To my mind, and this is influenced by the subsequent Russian revolutions of 1905 and February and October 1917, no question the decisive problem of the Commune was what later became to be known as the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Of course they should have expropriated the banks and centered their efforts around strengthening the authority of the Central Committee of the National Guard and not let lots of windbags and weirdos have their say based on barely deserved reputations but the result of those failures were that no serious party or parties were available to take charge and create a strong government to defend against the Thiers counter-attack from Versailles. (Also no appeals to other communes to come to the defense of Paris and no work among the Versailles soldiers.) It is problematic whether given the small weight of the industrial proletariat (masses factory workers like at Putilov in Petrograd rather than the small shop artisans and workman which dominated the Paris landscape), the lack of weaponry to fend off both the Germans and the Versailles armies, and food supply whether even if such a revolutionary leadership had existed that the Commune could have continued to exist in such isolated circumstances but the contours for the future of working class revolution would have been much different. The central and critical role of a revolutionary leadership which got fudged around in places like Germany where the working class party for all intents and purposes was barely a parliamentary party in the struggle against capitalism would have been clarified and at least a few revolutions, including those in Germany between 1918 and 1924 might have turned out differently and the world as well. The “what ifs” of history aside which are always problematic that is the bitter lesson we still before us today.   

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