History of the Paris Commune, Prosper Olivier Lissagaray, translated by Eleanor Marx, Black and Red Press, St. Petersburg, Florida, 2007
When one studies the history of the Paris Commune of 1871 one learns something new from it even though from the perspective of revolutionary strategy the Communards made virtually every mistake in the book. This book by a participant and survivor of the Commune has historically been the starting point for any pro-Commune analysis. The original English translation by Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, has given the imprimatur of the Marx family to that view.
Through a close study of the Paris Commune one learn its lessons and measure it against the experience acquired by later revolutionary struggles and above all by later revolutions, not only the successful Russian Revolution of October 1917 but the failed German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Chinese and Spanish revolutions in the immediate aftermath of World War I. More contemporaneously we have the experiences of the partial victories of the later Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions.
Notwithstanding the contradictory nature of these later experiences, as if to show that history is not always totally a history of horrors against the fate of the masses we honor the Paris Commune as a beacon of the coming world proletarian revolution. It is just for that reason that Karl Marx fought tooth and nail in the First International to defend it against the rage of capitalist Europe. It is one of our peaks. The Commune also presented in embryo the first post-1848 Revolution instance of what was later characterized by Lenin at the beginning of World War I as the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the international labor movement. So this question that after Lenin’s death preoccupied Trotsky for much of the later part of his life really has a much longer lineage that I had previously recognized. Unfortunately, as we are too painfully aware that question is still to be resolved. Therefore, even at this great remove, it is necessary to learn the lessons of that experience in facing today’s crisis of leadership in the international labor movement.
As a final thought, I note that in the preface to this edition that the editors have given their own view about the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Paris Commune. Although virtually every page of Lissagaray’s account drips with examples of the necessity of a vanguard party their view negates that necessity. While we can argue until hell freezes over, and should, about the form that a future socialist state will take one would think that there should be no dispute on that necessity of the vanguard party at this late date in history. In any case read this important work (including the above-mentioned provocative preface) as it tells the tale of an important part of our working class history.