Showing posts with label dictatorship of the proletariat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dictatorship of the proletariat. Show all posts

Friday, March 18, 2022

From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Honor The Women Of The Paris Commune

Click on the headline to link to a “Wikipedia” entry for the Paris Commune.

March Is Women’s History Month


Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1984 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest- for old "new leftists", perhaps, and new recruits not familiar with this important event in out common working class history. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.

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International Women's Day 1984
In Honor of the Women of the Paris Commune


This year on International Women's Day, March 8, we salute the revolutionary women of the 1871 Paris Commune, whose fierce dedication to fighting for the workers' Commune inspired Marx to propose creating women's sections of the First International. At the 19September 1871 session of the First International Conference a motion, made by Marx, was passed stating: "The Conference recommends the formation of female branches among the working class. It is, however, understood that this resolution does not at all interfere with the existence or formation of branches composed of both sexes" (The General Council of the First International 1870-1871, Minutes).

e Paris Commune was the first modern workers revolution in history, because in Paris for the first time in the world the proletariat not only demonstrated its unquenchable determination to "storm the heavens" and wipe out its exploitation, but proved that it was capable of seizing power, creating new organs of power and ruling society in its own interests. Though they were ultimately crushed after holding out heroically for ten weeks against the counterrevolutionary forces of all Europe, the Paris Communards have inspired generations of revolutionaries. And it was the proletarian women of Paris who were among the most fiery and determined fighters for the new world they were creating, as the following excerpts from contemporary reports demonstrate (taken from a collection of documents titled The Communards of Paris, 1871, edited by Stewart Edwards):

Meeting of a women's club: About two hundred women and girls were present; most of the latter were smoking cigarettes, and the reader will guess to what social class they belonged. The Chairwoman, whose name we could not find out, was about twenty-five and still quite pretty; she wore a wide red belt to which two pistols were attached. The other women on the committee also sported the inevitable red belt but with only one pistol....

The following point was on the agenda: "How is society to be reformed?"... Next came a mattress-maker of the Rue Saint-Lazare who undertook to demonstrate that God did not exist and that the education of children should be reformed.

"What silly women we are to send our children to catechism classes! Why bother, since religion is a comedy staged by man and God does not exist? If he did he would not let me talk like this. Either that or he's a coward!"...

Her place was taken by a little old woman....

"My dear children," she said in a wavering voice, "all this is so much hot air. What we need today is action. You have men—well then, make them follow the right track, get them to do their duty. What we must do is put our backs into it. We must strike mercilessly at those who are undermining the Commune. All men must be made to co-operate or be shot. Make a start and you will see!"

—Report of a meeting in the women's club of the Trinite Church, 12 May 1871, abridged.

The Times [of London] describes a [Paris] women's club: We entered the building without knocking, and found ourselves in a filthy room reeking with evil odours and crowded with women and children of every age. Most of them appeared to belong to the lowest order of society, and wore loose untidy jackets, with white frilled caps upon their heads.... None took much notice of us at first, being too much occupied with the oratory of a fine-looking young woman with streaming black hair and flashing eyes, who dilated upon the rights of women amid ejaculations, and shakings of the head, and approving pinches of snuff from the occupants of the benches near us. "Men are laches [cowardly bastards]," she cried; "they call themselves the masters of creation, and are a set of dolts. They complain of being made to fight, and are always grumbling over their woes—let them go and join the craven band at Versailles, and we will defend the city ourselves. We have petroleum, and we have hatchets and strong hearts, and are as capable of bearing fatigue as they. We will man the barricades, and show them that we will be no longer trodden down by them. Such as still wish to fight may do so side by side with us. Women of Paris, to the front!"... The next speaker seemed tolerably respectable, wearing a decent black gown and bonnet, but her discourse was as rambling and inconsistent as that of her predecessor at the tribune. "We are simple women," she began, "but not made of weaker stuff than our grandmothers of '93. Let us not cause their shades to blush for us, but be up and doing, as they would be were they living now. We have duties to perform. If necessary we will fight with the best of them and defend the barricades...." Encouraged by the applause which had followed her thus far, she now degenerated into rant, attacking the priesthood generally and the confessional, mimicking the actions used at mass amid the laughter and bravoes of the throng. One old lady became ecstatic, and continued digging me violently in the back with her elbow..,. "Ah, the priests!" murmured another from under the heavy frills of her cap, a lady of a serious turn of mind.... "Those priests! I have seen them too closely, la canaille [rabble]!"

—Report by the Paris correspondent of The Times of London of a women's meeting: The
Times, 6 May 1871, abridged.

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Those sharp jabs in the back that so discomfited the bourgeois gentlemen of The Times were but one small token of the throwing off of centuries of subjugation by the awakened women workers, who knew themselves to be for the first time actually making history. Of all the measures the Commune took in its ten weeks of existence—including getting rid of the hated police and standing army and keeping the citizenry in arms, opening education to all and forcing the State-enriched Church back into a purely private role, establishing that all the members of the Commune government would be paid only working men's wage; and be subject to recall at anytime, beginning plans foiworkers' cooperatives to run the factories—its most signal achievement was its own existence, the world's first working-class government; as Marx said, "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour" (The Civil War in France).

In summing up the fundamental lessons of the Paris Commune 20 years later, Frederick Engels emphasized the key question of the state: "From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine—

"The state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap.

"Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentle¬men, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (Introduction to The Civil War in France, 1891).

The embattled Parisian workers, men and women alike, threw their whole hearts into the work of creating the new workers' society—many have commented on the exhilarating, almost festive, air the Commune had as it prepared for its battle to the death with reaction. Against the old world at Versailles of "antiquated shams and accumulated lies," was counterposed, as Marx noted, "fighting, working, thinking Paris, electrified by the enthusiasm of historical initiative, full of heroic reality." The Parisian paper Pere Duchene (originally the paper of the left Jacobins), in its slangy fashion
-here are some excerpts caught this indomitable spirit-from Edwards.

Pere Duchene editorial on girls' education dated "20 germinal, an 79" (19 April 1871): Yes, it's a true fact, Pere Duchene has become the father of a daughter and a healthy one at that, who will turn into a right strapping wench with ruddy cheeks and a twinkle in her eye!

He's as proud as a fucking peacock! And as he starts to write his rag today he calls on all good citizens to bring up their children properly, like Pere Duchene's daughter. It's not as if he's gone all toffee-nosed, but Pere Duchene is sure of one thing: the girl is going to get a bloody good education and God knows that's important!

If you only knew, citizens, how much the Revolution depends on women, then you'd really open your eyes to girls' education. And you wouldn't leave them like they've been up to now, in ignorance!

Fuck it! In a good Republic maybe we ought to be even more careful of girls' education than of boys'!...

Christ! The cops of Versailles who are busy bombard¬ing Paris and firing their bloody shells right the way up the Champs-Elysees—they must have had a hell of a bad upbringing! Their mothers can't have been Citizens, that's for sure!

As for Pere Duchene's daughter, she'll see to it her children are better brought up than that; when she's grown up Pere Duchene will have got lots of dough together selling his furnaces so he can let her have a bloody nice dowry and give her away to a good bugger, a worker and a patriot, before the citizens of the Commune!

Long live the Social Revolution!

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Yes, long live the Social Revolution! And we, when it comes, intend to be no less worthy of our revolutionary grandmothers and great-grandmothers than were the women of the Paris Commune. •

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor The Paris Communards!

Click on the title to link to the Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Internet Archive's copy of Marx's 1871 defense of the Paris Commune, "The Civil War In France".

This is a repost of a January 2009 entry also honoring the Paris Communards.

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Leibknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

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Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts
contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Markin comment:

As Karl Marx noted in the above linked pamphlet, although premature, perhaps, and although they seemingly made every mistake in the revolutionary catechism the Paris Commune and the Communards that defended it represented that first necessary manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a state needed on that road to our goal – the future communist, classless society. All Honor To The Memory Of The Communards!

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

On The 140th Anniversary- From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-The Lessons Of The Paris Commune

Click on the headline to link to the International Communist League website.

Workers Vanguard No. 985
2 September 2011

140th Anniversary

Lessons of the Paris Commune

Part One

As part of the training of young revolutionaries, the Spartacus Youth Clubs strive to critically learn from past victories and defeats of the working class. The Paris Commune of 1871 is nearly peerless in the lessons it has for revolutionary Marxists. We print below a slightly edited class on the Commune given by S. Williams, a member of the Central Committee of the Spartacist League, to the New York SYC.

140 years ago, on 18 March 1871, the working class of Paris rose up and established its own, short-lived workers state in one city. Although much of the capitalist government and army had already fled Paris, the workers swept away what remained and they began to rule. This lasted only for some weeks, until late May 1871. The Commune was the first taste of what Engels, in his 1891 introduction to Marx’s The Civil War in France, called the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Lenin closely studied the Commune: He edited and put out the second edition of The Civil War in France in Russian. He drew on the lessons of the Commune in The State and Revolution, written in the run-up to the October Revolution of 1917, and in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, written after the revolution. Like Lenin, we must gain a critical understanding that, unlike the victorious Russian Revolution, the Commune had no effective leadership and ended in slaughter.

Background to the Commune

The idea of a “commune” dates to the Middle Ages. During feudal times, as cities grew into centers of exchange, city dwellers (e.g., artisans, merchants, and the growing bourgeoisie) would sometimes seek a charter for freedom from feudal tribute, which allowed them to have a kind of autonomous city government “in common” (or a commune in French). Later, during the bourgeois French Revolution, a “commune” arose in Paris between 1792-93. It was the base of support for the most radical Jacobin, Maximilien Robespierre, and was called the “Insurrectionary Commune.” It supported universal male suffrage and was based on the city’s armed citizens. In 1871, workers looked back at these earlier examples as models. In The Civil War in France, Marx wrote, “It is generally the fate of completely new historical creations to be mistaken for the counterpart of older and even defunct forms of social life, to which they may bear a certain likeness. Thus, this new Commune, which breaks the modern State power, has been mistaken for a reproduction of the mediaeval Communes.” The 1871 Commune was new because of its revolutionary proletarian nature.

To understand the figures who played a role in relation to the Paris Commune, we must first look at earlier revolutions, in 1848, when uprisings against monarchic and feudal reaction swept across continental Europe. In France, a monarch named Louis-Philippe d’Orleans had ruled in the interest of the financial and industrial capitalists since 1830. In February of 1848, there was a mass uprising against this Orleanist monarchy, which was overthrown and a bourgeois Provisional Government, including a few representatives of the socialists and workers, took power. Under pressure from the workers, the Provisional Government instituted something called National Workshops that were a kind of make-work/welfare for the Parisian unemployed. The main leftist opposition to the Provisional Government was led by Auguste Blanqui, whose supporters later played a role in the Commune. In April of 1848, the Provisional Government held elections to a Constituent Assembly (which Blanqui opposed). The majority of the French population, the reactionary peasantry, mainly voted for a right-wing coalition of bourgeois-supported monarchists called the Party of Order. One of its leaders was a man named Adolphe Thiers, who was later the butcher of the Commune. In June of 1848, the democratically elected Constituent Assembly declared that the national workshops would be abolished, leading to a workers uprising in Paris. In a foretaste of what would happen with the defeat of the Commune, the June 1848 workers uprising was brutally suppressed by the Assembly and thousands of workers and oppressed were killed.

Not just in France, but across Europe, the working class emerged as an independent class force in 1848, and the bourgeoisie showed that it had become counterrevolutionary as a class. In previous centuries, during the great bourgeois revolutions, the bourgeoisie had overthrown feudal monarchies. But in 1848 they allied with reactionary feudal elements to crush the workers. Prior to 1848, Marx and Engels—who later participated in the 1848 revolutions—had envisioned the possibility of the proletarian party allying itself with a bourgeois republican opposition in the course of a bourgeois-democratic revolution (at least in France and Germany). However, in drawing the lessons of 1848, Marx and Engels emphasized in their famous 1850 address that the workers party had to act independently of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, and they made their point that for a workers party the “battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence.”

Just prior to 1848, Marx and Engels had been instrumental in forming an organization called the Communist League, which was a small group of communist revolutionists whose program was the Communist Manifesto. But a few years after the 1848 revolutions, the Communist League fell apart. By the time of the Commune in 1871, Marx and Engels were leaders of what was called the International Working Men’s Association, or the First International, which had formed in 1864, reflecting the reactivation of the workers movement in Europe after its defeat in the 1848 revolutions. Unlike the cadre organization of the Communist League, the First International was made up of many ideological currents, both revolutionary and petty-bourgeois. The ideology of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was very strong in the French branch of the International. He was an ideological father of anarchism—a petty-bourgeois ideology reflecting the interests of small artisans and not the industrial proletariat. The Proudhonists were “mutualists” who didn’t believe in strike action or participation in “political” struggle. They thought society should be made up of small property holders, and they fought for “Mutual Aid Societies” to provide cheap or free credit, viewing “economic struggle” as their weapon. Blanqui (who did not join the International) was also very influential in the French workers movement. Engels called him a “revolutionary of the old generation” because his ideology had its origins with the radical Jacobin communists from after the French Revolution of 1789. Blanqui believed in the politics of secret conspiracy, i.e., organizing a small minority through secret cells that would then spring up and try to make a revolution through an armed uprising. Blanqui (with about a thousand others) tried this in 1839. The predictable result was that they and others went straight to prison.

The First International also included some English trade unionists. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the trade unions were a mass movement in England, albeit with bourgeois-democratic politics. In the International, there were also some German former members of the Communist League and an eclectic mix of others, including some Italians and Poles. Mikhail Bakunin, the anarchist, allied with the First International in 1868-69, although at the same time he secretly kept up his own parallel organization, the International Social-Democratic Alliance, which was a source of constant tension with Marx and Engels. The Bakuninists, like the Proudhonists, looked toward the petty bourgeoisie as the source for social change, not the working class. Bakunin believed that the bourgeois state could simply be abolished, and he opposed the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as any “authority.” As Engels later put it, for Bakunin “authority = the state = evil in the absolute.” Like Proudhon, Bakunin rejected “political struggle” in favor of “economic struggle.” To learn more about these questions: Joseph Seymour wrote a terrific series on the early communists and the 1848 revolutions in Young Spartacus (1976-1979), called “Marxism and the Jacobin Communist Tradition.” Also, the Spartacist pamphlet Marxism vs. Anarchism has nice details about Proudhon and Bakunin.

Paris and Industrial Development

In the period after the 1848 workers uprising, the industrial proletariat grew quickly in Western Europe through the growth of industry itself: In the 20 years between the defeat of 1848 and the Commune, industrial production and foreign trade in France doubled. In 1840 there were very few rail lines outside of Britain and the U.S., but by 1870 there were about 11,000 miles of rail in France, thousands of miles of telegraph lines, and industrial shipbuilding had massively expanded. Gold flowed into Europe from the California gold rush. Finance capital grew with the founding of giant French banks like Crédit Lyonnais and Crédit Foncier, which financed the massive industrial expansion and huge building projects.

Although the character of the Parisian working class remained largely artisan or organized in small workshops (one reason Proudhon had such influence), the growth of a significant industrial proletariat in France (to a small extent in Paris) was a change relative to the time before 1848, when Marx and Engels thought that the proletariat, particularly of France and Germany, needed more time to develop economically as a class. As Engels noted in his introduction to Marx’s The Civil War in France: By 1871, large-scale industry had already “ceased to be an exceptional case even in Paris, the centre of artistic handicrafts,” and Marx “quite rightly says” that the civil war “must necessarily have led in the end to communism, that is to say, the direct opposite of the Proudhon doctrine.”

Corresponding to this industrial growth, the urban population expanded quickly. The population of Paris more than doubled between 1831 and 1872. In the 20 years before the Commune, a government official named Baron Haussmann carried out a massive urban project in Paris. Prior to Haussmann, much of Paris did not appear as it does today, but rather resembled most medieval cities: tiny alleyways, uneven houses crammed together in the city center, poorly-lit streets that were dirty and crime-ridden, and the working-class and plebeian population was afflicted by all sorts of diseases. The “respectable” middle class was terrified of the city center, which was also the historic center of revolt against the ruling class. Haussmann razed this part of the city, replacing it with “Grand Boulevards” that were wide, with large intersections at angles that would make it easier to move troops and suppress barricades. Haussmann himself said, “We ripped open the belly of old Paris, the neighbourhood of revolt and barricades, and cut a large opening through the almost impenetrable maze of alleys, piece by piece....” The workers were pushed out of the city center and into the hills of the city, like Belleville and Montmartre, which later became the stronghold of the Commune.

The Franco-Prussian War

The event that precipitated the formation of the Paris Commune was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. During most of the 19th century, Germany was not a unified country. In the 1848 revolution, Marx and other socialists fought for the unification of Germany. However, when the German bourgeoisie allied with feudal reaction in 1848, the outcome was that there remained many small German-speaking states, some of which were dominated by local nobility and some of which were under foreign control. The strongest German state was Prussia, ruled by the Hohenzollern monarchy. In the mid 1860s, under King Wilhelm I, a strong German chancellor named Otto von Bismarck emerged. Fighting against Denmark and Austria (successively) for control of German-speaking provinces, Bismarck accelerated a process of German unification embodied in the founding of the North German Confederation in 1867. To complete German unification, Bismarck had to challenge French domination to the west: He essentially provoked Napoléon III into declaring war against Prussia by threatening to put a king from the Prussian nobility on the Spanish throne. (France would have been surrounded by pro-Prussian regimes.)

Louis Napoléon (the nephew of the first Napoléon) came to power as a result of the crushing of the French proletarian uprising in June 1848. He had been president of the Republic from 1848 to 1851, but he carried out a coup and abolished the National Assembly in December of 1851. A year later, he declared the Second Empire, crowning himself Emperor Napoléon III. In reference to the two Napoléons in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx derisively wrote: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

On 19 July 1870, Napoléon III declared war on Prussia and the Franco-Prussian War began. In a declaration on the war, Marx’s “First Address on the Franco-Prussian War” (19-23 July 1870), the International sided militarily with Germany from a revolutionary-internationalist standpoint. He argued that it was a defensive war and supported the unification of Germany, while politically opposing Bismarck and Napoléon III. Marx also warned that “if the German working class allow the present war to lose its strictly defensive character and to degenerate into a war against the French people, victory or defeat will prove alike disastrous.”

But within weeks, Prussia easily occupied parts of France. A decisive blow came when French troops were crushed in a battle on 1-2 September 1870 in the city of Sedan in eastern France, where over 80,000 soldiers and officers were taken prisoner, including Napoléon III. When news was received of the defeat and capture of Napoléon III, there were protests by workers throughout France against Napoléon’s monarchy, for a republic, and in opposition to capitulating to the Prussians. On the morning of September 4, workers in Paris invaded the parliament at the Palais Bourbon. The masses physically drove out the legislative deputies. Léon Gambetta, a bourgeois republican politician, was forced by them to announce the abolition of Napoléon III’s Empire and to proclaim the Third Republic. The workers carried off some deputies to the Parisian seat of government, called the Hôtel de Ville, where the Government of National Defense was set up.

But from that day, September 4, the “Government of National Defense” was “in dread of the working class.” Its leadership was made up partly of “notorious Orleanists [bourgeois monarchists], partly of middle-class Republicans, upon some of whom the insurrection of June, 1848, has left its indelible stigma” (Marx, “Second Address on the Franco-Prussian War,” 6-9 September 1870). Despite their name, the group of bourgeois politicians in the “Government of National Defense” had little intention of fighting the Prussians and principally wanted to keep a workers revolt down. As Jules Favre, the foreign minister at the time, later said: The Government of National Defense had seized power in order to “repel the forces of anarchy and to prevent there being a shameful revolt in Paris.”

Days after the French defeat at Sedan in early September 1870, the First International issued Marx’s “Second Address on the Franco-Prussian War,” which hailed the formation of the French republic and denounced the Prussian invasion of France. The International demanded that the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, where a German dialect is spoken but which have long considered themselves French, not be annexed to Germany. Marx also warned against the danger of the French workers rising up, because he thought it would be premature (although when the Commune later occurred, Marx, Engels and the International were the first to champion its cause). That said, the heterogeneous forces in the International did not all have the same attitude: Marx and Engels were critical of the French section of the International, which issued a “chauvinistic” declaration to the “German people” in the name of “French people,” i.e., on a bourgeois-nationalist (not a working-class-internationalist) basis. This continued to be a political weakness of the elements who later led the Commune. As Lenin remarked: Combining “patriotism and socialism” was “the fatal mistake of the French socialists”; the French bourgeoisie should have borne “the responsibility for the national humiliation—the task of the proletariat was to fight for the socialist emancipation of labour from the yoke of the bourgeoisie.”

Paris Under Siege and Armistice

After 4 September 1870 the French continued to fight the Prussians but under very half-hearted bourgeois leadership. Soon, the Prussians surrounded Paris. The city was under siege and within weeks hunger reigned. By October 1870 not only the working masses but also the bourgeoisie had resorted to eating horsemeat. (The working class had begun to eat it during the industrial depression of 1866.) By mid November, pets were being eaten, and some even ate rats and carrier pigeons. The writer Victor Hugo was given parts from deer and antelope from the zoo. Heating oil also became scarce and the Parisian workers and poor were soon freezing. To top it off, by early January 1871 the Prussians were ceaselessly bombarding the city.

During this period, in the fall and winter of 1870-71, there were further revolts by working-class elements, along with a few lame military attempts by the bourgeois government to attack the Prussians. On 31 October 1870, news arrived in the cities that the second French army was defeated at Metz, and Thiers went to Paris to negotiate an armistice with Bismarck. But the French workers opposed an armistice, and on October 31 they revolted in several cities. In the course of the Paris uprising, radical leaders including Blanqui took members of the Government of National Defense hostage. The socialists made the government promise to call elections to a Commune, but it was a false promise. They had agreed only in order to quell outrage and buy time for pro-government soldiers to surprise and disarm the workers who had been holding the Government of National Defense hostage. After the failed uprising, while the siege of Paris continued, the government began secretly negotiating with the Prussians.

Finally, by late January 1871 much of the French population was exhausted. On January 28, Jules Favre from the Government of National Defense went to Versailles to negotiate an armistice with the Prussians. The terms of the armistice were steep: The payment to Prussia of a 200 million franc indemnity with the first payment to begin in two weeks; immediate surrender of most of the forts around Paris; handing over the guns and ammunition of the army (but not of the National Guard); the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany; and the holding of elections to a National Assembly.

The elections to the National Assembly were held on 8 February 1871. The Assembly was dominated by monarchists elected by the conservative peasants in the countryside. (The Assembly and its supporters were referred to as the “rurals” by the insurgent workers in the French cities.) Adolphe Thiers—who in 1848 was a leader of the Party of Order that massacred the workers—was made head of the government by the reactionary National Assembly. Since the Prussians were still at Versailles, the National Assembly met at the southwestern city of Bordeaux. A month later, on March 1, the Prussians marched symbolically down the Champs-Élysée and soon after, withdrew from Versailles while continuing to occupy land to the east of Paris and in northern France as security for the payment of war reparations due to them.

The National Guard

I want to digress for a moment to talk about the National Guard. The National Guard in Paris was a distinct force from the French army. The existence of the National Guard dates back to the very beginning of the 1789 French Revolution, when it formed as a bourgeois citizens’ militia. During the brief restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the National Guard was abolished, but was re-established in 1830. After that, the class composition and the size of the National Guard fluctuated according to the political circumstances. In the course of the 1848 Revolution, for example, it grew from a small, conservative, bourgeois force to 250,000 people, with a large majority being poor and working-class battalions. After the defeat of 1848, it again became a small bourgeois body. On 4 September 1870, when the Third Republic was declared, the Parisian police fled and the National Guard was the main armed force left in the city. So in the winter of 1870-71, during the siege by the Prussians, the workers of Paris in the National Guard were armed, because there was no other force that could fend off the Prussians. The National Guard again grew, to over 300,000 people. During the siege, all available resources in the city were mobilized to manufacture munitions and, through a subscription set up by Victor Hugo, workers put in money to pay for the manufacture of cannons.

In late January 1871, after the armistice with the Prussians was signed, the French bourgeoisie had only 15,000 regular loyal army troops—the rest were Bismarck’s captives. Meanwhile, there were 300,000 armed workers in the Paris National Guard and quite a few of them were “reds.” Under pressure from the French bankers, in order to get money from them to make the first payment to the Prussians under the terms of the armistice, Thiers had to disarm the Parisian workers. As he later said, “Businessmen were going around repeating constantly that financial operations would never be started up again until all those wretches were finished off and their cannons taken away.”

The workers in the National Guard immediately began organizing in opposition to the January 1871 armistice. National Guard battalions began to form electoral committees on a left-wing Republican basis for the February 8 elections. When the monarchists won the National Assembly elections, the National Guard called further meetings and continued to organize the Parisian workers for about a month between early February and early March. Thiers appointed a brutal army officer as “general” of the National Guard. On 3 March 1871, in opposition to Thiers’ choice, some National Guard leaders (affiliated with the First International) revolted and appointed a provisional leadership of the National Guard and called for elections to a Central Committee. As Marx noted: The rising of Paris “against the government of Defence does not date from the 18th of March, although it conquered on that day its first victory against the conspirators, it dates from the 28 January, from the very day of the capitulation.”

In early March, the elections to the Central Committee of the National Guard were announced with bright red posters all over Paris, urging citizens to organize in their neighborhoods and districts (called arrondissements). In response to the National Guard organizing campaign, the reactionary National Assembly claimed there was “incendiarism and pillage” in Paris. After the Prussians left Versailles, the French government moved there from Bordeaux, not to Paris, for fear of the plebeian masses. The Assembly then also took retaliatory measures against the workers and the petty bourgeoisie of the cities. It abolished the National Guard’s pay, which was one of the few sources of income for most Parisians. The Assembly also supported the landlords who demanded the payment of all back rent due from the time of the siege, which impacted a wide swath of the population. It also demanded that all back bills had to be paid with interest over the next four months, which particularly impacted petty-bourgeois store owners.

These measures provoked broad outrage, but the spark leading to the workers uprising in Paris occurred in the wee hours of the morning on 18 March 1871. Thiers, lacking troops, sent army battalions sneaking into the city to steal the National Guard’s cannons. Symptomatic of the lack of conscious organization in the National Guard, the cannons had been left unguarded. When milkmaids began arriving at dawn and saw the army trying to carry off one of the cannons, paid for by the workers themselves, the women alerted the National Guard and physically stopped the soldiers, scolding them for acting against the Republic. The National Guard began to assemble and appealed to the rank-and-file army soldiers, who went over to their side. When General Lecomte, their commanding officer, gave orders to fire on the unarmed population, the soldiers refused, and the general and another commanding officer were arrested by the soldiers and the National Guard. Soon, all across Paris the army disobeyed orders and fraternized with the Parisian masses. Later in the day, a bourgeois politician who had supported the brutal suppression of the June 1848 workers uprising, Clément Thomas, was recognized in the street. He and General Lecomte were both put up against a wall and shot by the insurgents.

After the March 18 uprising and army mutiny, the governor of Paris fled to Versailles and the Central Committee of the National Guard began to rule, immediately implementing measures favorable to the working masses. On March 21, they suspended the sale of objects from pawn shops (pawning possessions had been one of the few ways poor Parisians had survived the siege). They reversed some of the reactionary decisions of the National Assembly, allowing more time for overdue bills to be paid and prohibiting evictions for unpaid rent. Despite the power in their hands, the Central Committee began to push for elections to a commune, having illusions that it would be possible to negotiate the elections with the bourgeois mayors of the Paris arrondissements, who all supported Thiers. After some days, most of the bourgeois mayors and their supporters fled to Versailles and joined forces with the National Assembly.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Workers Vanguard No. 987
30 September 2011

140th Anniversary

Lessons of the Paris Commune

Part Two

(Young Spartacus pages)

We print below the second part of a class given by comrade S. Williams to the New York Spartacus Youth Club on the Paris Commune of 1871. Part One appeared in the Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 985 (2 September). At the educational, comrade Karen Cole discussed the work of the Women’s Union for the Defense of Paris and Aid to the Wounded. On the facing page, we print her expanded remarks.

The first part of the class covered the background to the Commune, including the Franco-Prussian War, the end of Napoléon III’s empire and the subsequent establishment and collapse of the Government of National Defense. On 18 March 1871, when Adolphe Thiers, elected head of the government by the reactionary National Assembly, sent troops to Paris to capture the cannons held by the National Guard, the workers carried out an insurrection. Shortly thereafter, the remaining elements of the bourgeois state and its supporters fled to Versailles; the Central Committee of the National Guard, despite having the leadership of the workers in Paris, called for elections.

Thus it was that the Central Committee of the National Guard found itself at the head of Paris, with all the material apparatus of power centered in its hands. As Trotsky put it, it was a council of deputies of the armed workers and petty bourgeoisie. But the Central Committee of the National Guard did not see itself as a central, revolutionary authority. Marx argued that, given that the bourgeoisie had only recently fled, was disorganized and had few troops, rather than calling elections to a commune the Central Committee “should have marched at once on Versailles,” but “the right moment was missed because of conscientious scruples.” That is to say, instead of destroying its enemies, the Central Committee sought to exert moral influence on them and the Versaillese were left untouched. This allowed them to regroup and prepare to later smash the Commune.

Other cities of France had already had at least one uprising since September 1870. After March 18, communes formed in Lyons, St. Etienne and a center of heavy industry, Le Creusot. However, the Central Committee and later the Commune Council were beholden to anarchoid ideas of “federation” and “autonomy” and as Trotsky noted, they attempted to “replace the proletarian revolution, which was developing, by a petty bourgeois reform: communal autonomy. The real revolutionary task consisted of assuring the proletariat the power all over the country. Paris had to serve as its base...to attain this goal, it was necessary to vanquish Versailles without the loss of time and to send agitators, organizers, and armed forces throughout France.”

But despite these weaknesses the Paris Commune represented the nucleus of a workers state. As Marx and Engels noted, the proletariat could not “simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”—the workers had to shatter the remnants of the bourgeois state and replace it with their own class dictatorship, the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” And this is precisely what happened. On March 28, two days after the National Guard organized elections to the Commune, to the new Commune Council, the government of proletarian Paris met. Its first decree was the suppression of the standing army and the substitution for it by the armed people. It also transformed the state bureaucracy by lowering salaries and making all officials recallable at any time. A left-Proudhonist in the Commune, Jean-Baptiste Millière, described the Commune succinctly: “The Commune is not a Constituent Assembly. It is a military Council. It must have one aim, victory; one weapon, force; one law, the law of social salvation” (quoted in Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism [1920]). Already in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels understood that it was necessary for the workers to run a state—i.e., the proletariat “organized as the ruling class.” After the experience of 1848, Marx and Engels had understood that it was necessary to crush the bourgeois state machine, but what it would be replaced with remained abstract. Taking the Commune as a model, they acquired a clear understanding of what the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would look like.

I want to talk about what the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is. While the Commune was a glimpse of the future, a full-scale workers revolution was accomplished in fact only by the Bolsheviks in October 1917, when workers and soldiers, led by the Bolshevik Party, organized in councils—a bit like the Commune itself. They overthrew the capitalist class and founded the Soviet workers state, the most advanced social development in all of human history. Revisionists of all stripes distort the meaning of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in order to paint the Commune in the colors of a peaceful bourgeois democracy, thus rejecting the fundamental lessons of the Commune and the Bolshevik Revolution. The original spokesman for this revisionism was Karl Kautsky, a leader of the German Social Democratic Party and the Second International, who abandoned fundamental Marxist internationalism and supported his own ruling class during World War I. More recently, another revisionist, a now-deceased leader of the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat, Daniel Bensaïd, recycled several of Kautsky’s arguments (without crediting Kautsky) in a 2008 essay recently reprinted by Tout Est à Nous! La Revue, the publication of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France.

To paraphrase, Kautsky argued that unlike the Bolshevik Revolution (which Kautsky opposed and considered a “putsch”), “The Paris Commune was a dictatorship of the proletariat, but it was elected by universal suffrage, i.e., without depriving the bourgeoisie of the franchise, i.e., ‘democratically’” (Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky [1918]). Similarly, Bensaïd argued that the “form” of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” in the Commune remained “that of universal suffrage.” That is to say, they both try to reduce the Commune “dictatorship of the proletariat” to a question of general “democracy” and “universal suffrage.” As Marxists we understand that there is no such thing as classless “democracy.” While we defend the greatest democracy under capitalism, “universal suffrage” is a form of bourgeois democracy, i.e., it is a form of class rule of the capitalist class. Both Lenin and Trotsky in their seminal responses to Kautsky (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky and Terrorism and Communism, respectively) noted that the bourgeoisie had already fled Paris at the time of the Commune elections and, while there were elections based on universal suffrage, these fundamentally reflected a class vote—that of the proletariat. What defined the Commune “dictatorship of the proletariat” was the suppression of the bourgeois standing army and the substitution for it by the armed workers.

To paint the Commune in the colors of bourgeois democracy is to glorify capitalism and disappear the key Marxist lessons of the Commune. When looked at on a national scale, “universal suffrage” did not represent working-class interests. The reactionary National Assembly brought to power on February 8 was elected through “universal suffrage” and it sought to crush the Commune, which had overturned bourgeois class rule. In fact, at the time of the Commune there were some “socialists” who supported bourgeois democracy against the workers. One of these was a historic figure named Louis Blanc, who opposed the Communards because they were “insurgents against an Assembly most freely elected”! Such “bourgeois socialists” are the true predecessors of Kautsky and Bensaïd, not the Communards.

Who Was in the Commune and What It Accomplished

One of the main problems once the Commune came to power was the influence of petty-bourgeois and anarchoid leadership, which meant that the different elements of the Commune shrank from centralism and “authority.” As Trotsky put it, the Commune swarmed with “bourgeois socialists” and Marx complained that “the Commune wastes too much time over trifles and personal squabbles. One can see that there are influences at work other than those of the working men.” Nonetheless, the Commune, having seized state power, was driven by this logic to implement measures in the interest of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie, sometimes in contradiction to the formal programs of its participants.

Who were the deputies of the Commune Council? There was a range of figures, from a radical bourgeois Jacobin named Charles Delescluze to around 40 members of the First International, most of whom were influenced by Proudhon (who had died in 1865) and to a much lesser extent by Mikhail Bakunin. (Bakunin’s main contribution in 1870-71 was to try to lead an uprising in Lyons in late September 1870: there he declared the bourgeois state abolished, after which the state promptly crushed his uprising.) There were also some supporters of Auguste Blanqui in the Commune, as well as other diverse elements like the petty-bourgeois adventurer and slanderer of Marx, Félix Pyat, from whom the International had publicly disassociated itself in 1870.

Léo Frankel, a collaborator of Marx in the International, played an important role. Frankel, a jeweler by trade, was in the Commune and he motivated the most progressive reforms related to the working class that were instituted. He pushed for the abolition of night work for bakers and for workers cooperatives and trade unions to take over factories not in use. He argued for the Commune to not accept the lowest bidders, which forced wages down, arguing that the Commune should only buy from workers cooperatives. He lost that struggle, although the Commune Council did agree to establish a minimum wage.

There were also about a dozen supporters of Blanqui in the Commune Council. However, on March 17, just before trying to steal the National Guard’s cannons, Thiers preemptively arrested Blanqui (who by then was an old man) to prevent the Parisian workers from rallying around him. Blanquists were conspiratorial. Their view was encapsulated by a Blanquist leader in the Commune named Raoul Rigault who said, “Without Blanqui, there is nothing doing, with Blanqui, everything.” And they spent much of the revolution seeking to get Blanqui back. A venomous and hysterical attack that bourgeois historians continue to level against the Commune to falsely make the workers appear as bloodthirsty villains is their perfectly defensible arrest of some hostages, including the Archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy, who they hoped to exchange for Blanqui. (Later, as the Versaillese were crushing the Commune, Darboy and dozens of other hostages were shot.) In fact it was Thiers who sought to have the archbishop martyred for the counterrevolutionary cause. Darboy himself pleaded with Versailles to make the exchange and wrote, “It is known that Versailles does not want either an exchange or a reconciliation.”

Reforms carried out by the Commune included the separation of church and state, expropriation of church properties and free public education. The Commune also effectively implemented a program of “full citizenship rights for immigrants,” with the prominent participation of a number of foreigners including the Poles Jaroslaw Dombrowski and Walery Wroblewski, who were some of the Commune’s most effective military leaders, and Léo Frankel, who I just mentioned, who was born in Hungary and worked with the German workers movement. Women also played an important role in the Commune. The Women’s Union for the Defense of Paris and for Aid to the Wounded was founded by Elisabeth Dmitrieff (see article, page 5). She was sent to Paris by Marx and knew him and his daughters. With Frankel’s support her union made clothes for the National Guard in order to engage women and keep them on the side of the revolution. Louise Michel, perhaps the most well-known woman of the Commune, organized a corps of ambulance nurses, tending the wounded even under fire and saving injured Communards from the vicious nuns who ran hospitals in those times.

Marx insisted that a tremendous failing of the Commune was that it did not seize the banks. On March 20, in need of cash, the Central Committee of the National Guard went to the Rothschilds to open a line of credit at their bank. The latter “loaned” the new workers government of Paris a million francs. However, in the Bank of France there were billions of francs, gold bullion, treasury bonds and titles of all kinds. Without the bank, all the capitalists would have been on their knees before the Commune. Lissagaray, one of the key historians of the Commune, who later worked with Marx in London, noted, “Since the 19th March the governors of the bank lived like men condemned to death, every day expecting the execution of the treasure. Of removing it to Versailles they could not dream. It would have required sixty or eighty vans and an army corps.” It was the Proudhonists in the Commune who, bowing before the sanctity of private property, would not touch the Bank of France.

That said, as I noted, some of the Commune’s politics were in direct counterposition to the formal program of some of its participants. In organizing large-scale industry and manufacture, the Commune was taking steps of socialization directly contrary to the Proudhonist program that advocated small property-holding. The Blanquists believed in conspiratorial methods and building a secret organization, yet in actuality their declarations during the Commune called for a free federation of Communes—a large, national organization.

Perhaps the most symbolic act of the Commune, which also often meets with the ire of bourgeois historians, was the razing of the Vendôme Column. In a party-like atmosphere, tickets were sold to the public spectacle of toppling this monument to the first Napoléon’s military conquests. On May 16 the Commune destroyed it as a symbol of their opposition to bourgeois militarism. The artist Gustave Courbet was the most well-known advocate of its dismantling. Another long-lasting symbol, which has its origins in the Commune, is the song of the international workers movement, the “Internationale,” written after the Commune’s defeat by the worker-poet Eugène Pottier, who also sat on the Commune Council. As Lenin put it, the Commune was a “festival of the oppressed,” and in fact, many Communards were gathered at an outdoor concert under the warm spring sun on May 21 when the Versaillese came sneaking into the city to begin their systematic slaughter.

Disorganization and Bloody Defeat

The military interventions of the Commune were hampered both because it lacked serious military leadership and because there was an ongoing rivalry with the National Guard, which only gave up partial power to the Commune. There was never a clear centralized command of the armed forces. When the Communards failed to march immediately to Versailles on March 18, Thiers and the forces of counterrevolution began to regroup. Starting in early April 1871, the Versaillese shelled Paris constantly and through a deal with Bismarck, they managed to have him set free 60,000 imprisoned French soldiers, increasing the loyal troops surrounding Paris. After a series of very poorly led sorties against the Versaillese, between early April and early May, a turning point came on May 9 when the Communards lost the Fort of Issy—a key fort between Paris and Versailles. After Issy, the Fort of Vanves fell. Finally on May 22, the gate to the city of Paris at St. Cloud was left undefended and a spy traitor signaled to the Versaillese troops, who began to filter into the city.

In the weeks before that, the army of the Commune had been totally disorganized. There was little effective leadership or discipline and, faced with constant bombardments from Versailles, there was an increased pressure for some kind of strong, centralized, dictatorial leadership. On May 1, elements of the Commune, harkening back to the old French bourgeois revolution under the Jacobins, formed successive “Committees of Public Safety.” A split in the Commune occurred between a minority, including some supporters of the International, and a majority. Trotsky noted that the Committee of Public Safety was dictated by the need for “red terror” and described the various measures passed in an attempt to defend the Commune. But he also noted that “the effect of all these measures of intimidation was paralyzed by the helpless opportunism of the guiding elements in the Commune, by their striving to reconcile the bourgeoisie with the fait accompli by the help of pitiful phrases, by their vacillations between the fiction of democracy and the reality of dictatorship.” Finally, in late May, as the Versaillese captured more and more of the city, the Commune disintegrated entirely. Delescluze, the old, sick Jacobin elected to lead the last Committee of Public Safety, went to fight at a barricade where he was killed.

After the Versaillese entered the city, the Communards fought desperately. But street by street the Commune was crushed. Men, women and children were indiscriminately massacred. Some of the last fighting occurred in the workers’ districts on the heights of Belleville and Ménilmontant. The “Wall of the Communards” (Mur des Fédérés) in Père Lachaise cemetery was where 200 Communards who fought to the bitter end were put up against the wall and executed. Today, we still march to this place to commemorate our own fallen comrades. Tens of thousands of Communards were massacred by the Versaillese in that last week in May—at least 30,000 people. In one prison so many were executed that blood flowed in its gutters.

Many of those who didn’t die in the initial massacre suffered fates worse than death. Some were taken to Versailles, jeered at and spit on, kept in the open or in dungeons where they died of hunger and thirst, cholera or gangrene. Some were sent to prison barges and kept tied up in tiny cells. Others, after being tried, were deported to New Caledonia, a desolate colony in the Pacific Ocean to the east of Australia, where, if they survived the voyage where they were kept in cages below deck, they also met grisly fates, from malnutrition to malaria to overwork in prison camps. In a particularly vicious and vindictive act, the artist Courbet was held responsible for the demolition of the Vendôme Column and made to pay hundreds of thousands of francs for its reconstruction. To avoid bankruptcy, he had to paint constantly, but the money received for each painting sold went directly to pay the state. Finally, he fled to Switzerland and died penniless in 1877. In a paean to reaction, on top of one of the hills where the Communards fought, Montmartre, a huge white church was erected and in Paris today you can still see this basilica from miles around, a symbol of the counterrevolutionary French bourgeoisie and religious triumph.

While both the Commune and the Bolshevik Revolution, the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” are portrayed lyingly in bourgeois history as vicious and bloodthirsty, the real bloodthirstiness can be seen in the bourgeois ruling class’ treatment of the Communards after the Commune’s defeat. It also shows how correct the Bolsheviks were and the importance of revolutionary leadership in fighting to win.

After the Commune’s defeat, Marx gained a great deal of attention for his book The Civil War in France and differences sharpened amongst the different political currents in the First International (especially with Bakunin) over who could claim the most authority and responsibility for the Commune. By 1872, the First International had effectively fallen apart. In a letter to Friedrich Sorge in 1874, Engels wrote that he optimistically hoped that the next international would “be directly Communist and will openly proclaim our principles.” But it was not the next international, the Second, which ended up openly waving the banner of communism, it was Lenin’s Third International, which was proclaimed in 1919, a result of the victory of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. From the Commune to the Russian Revolution, that is our continuity, the precursor to the banner of the Trotskyist Fourth International.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

In Honor Of The King Of The Folk-Singing Hard-Living Hobos The Late Utah Phillips -From The Archives- The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States- American Socialist Workers Party Leader (And Old Wobblie) James P.Cannon-The I.W.W. ( Industrial Workers Of The World-Wobblies)(1955)

Click on the headline to link to a James P. Cannon Internet Archives online copy of The I.W.W. ( Industrial Workers Of The World-Wobblies)(1955)

Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States-American Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon-"Where Is The Left-Wing Going?" (1929)

Click on the headline to link to a James P. Cannon Internet Archives online copy of Where Is The Left-Wing Going?

Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States- Leon Trotsky Speaks-"On the Labor Party Question in America"-To The Communist League Of America (pre-SWP)-1932

Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.
**********
Leon Trotsky

On the Labor Party Question in America
(1932)


Written: 1932.
First Published: 1932.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 2 Number 7, August 1932. We have added an appendix that was included in the uncopyrighted version of the Merit Publishers version of this interview at the bottom of this article.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.


I reread the theses of the Second Conference of the American League concerning the question of the Labor Party. I find it excellent in every part and I sign it with both hands. I find it necessary to emphasize my full agreement with these all the more as my interview to the New York Times of March 1932 gave rise to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation, especially from the part of the Lovestone group.

1. What was my idea about the “Labor Party” in that statement? I affirmed that American politics will be Europeanized in the sense that the inevitable and imminent development of a party of the working class will totally change the political face of the US. This is a commonplace for a Marxist. The question was not of a “Labor Party” in the specific English sense of that word, but in the general European sense without designating what form such a party would take or what phases it would pass through. There was not the slightest necessity in this interview to enter into the internal tactical differences within the Communist ranks. The translation of my interview from the Russian text which employs the words, “Rabochaya partia” into the English was defective in that it permitted one to get a concrete and specific interpretation of what should have been general.

2. One can declare that even the general term “Party of the working class”, does not exclude a “Labor Party”, in the English sense. Be that as it may. However, such an eventuality has nothing to do with a precise tactical question. We can admit hypothetically that the American trade union bureaucracy will be forced in certain historical conditions, to imitate the British trade union bureaucracy in creating a kind of party based upon the trade unions. But that eventuality, which appears to me to be very problematical, does not constitute an aim for which the Communists must strive and on which one must concentrate the attention of the proletarian vanguard.

3. A long period of confusion in the Comintern led many people to forget a very simple but absolutely irrevocable principle that a Marxist, a proletarian revolutionist, cannot present himself before the working class with two banners. He cannot say at a workers meeting: I have tickets for a first class party and other tickets cheaper for the stupid ones. If I am a Communist I must fight for the Communist Party.

4. One can affirm that under the American conditions a “Labor Party” in the British sense would be a progressive step and by recognizing this and stating so, we ourselves, even though indirectly, help to establish such a party. But that is precisely the reason I will never assume the responsibility to affirm abstractly and dogmatically that the creation of a “Labor Party” would be a “progressive step” even in the United States because I do not know under what circumstances, under what guidance, and for what purposes that party would be created. It seems to me more probable that especially in America, which does not possess any important tradition of independent political action by the working class (as Chartism in England, for example) and where the trade union bureaucracy is more reactionary and corrupt than it was in the height of the British Empire. The creation of a “Labor Party” in America could be provoked only by a mighty revolutionary pressure of the working masses and by the growing threat of Communism. It is absolutely clear that under these conditions the Labor Party would signify not a progressive step but a hindrance to the progressive evolution of the working class.

5. In what form the party of the working class will become a genuine mass party in the United States in the immediate future we cannot prophesy because the Socialist and “Labor” Parties are very different in different countries even in Europe. In Belgium, for example, we see an intermediary sort of party arise. Certainly the phases of development of the proletarian party in America will be sui generis (unique). We can only affirm with the greatest assurance: Especially since the United States, in the period from 1921-1924 has had already an important rehearsal in the creation of a “Labor” or “Farmer-Labor” Party a resurrection of a similar movement cannot be a simple repetition of that experience, but a far more pregnant and more crystallized movement i.e., either under the guidance of the revolutionary Communist Party or under the guidance of reformist elements against the growing Communist Party. And if even in 1921-1924, the Communist Party did not find great possibilities for independent action inside the organization of an inchoate “Labor Party”, it would have less possibility in the new phase of an analogous movement.

6. One can imagine that the trade union bureaucracy and its Socialist and left democratic advisers may show themselves to be more perspicacious and begin the formation of a “Labor Party” before the revolutionary movement becomes too threatening. In view of the groping imperialism and provincial narrowness of the American labor bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor such perspicacity seems very improbable. The failure of such an attempt in the past shows us that the bureaucracy, so tenacious in its immediate aims, is absolutely incapable of a systematic political action on a great scale even in the interest of capitalist society. The bureaucracy must receive a blow on the skull for such a “radical” initiative. However, if the creation of a “Labor Party” would prevent, in a certain period, the large success of Communism, our elementary duty must be not to proclaim the progressiveness of the “Labor Party”, but its insufficiency, ambiguity, and limitations, and its historical role as a hindrance to the proletarian revolution.

7. Must we join that “Labor Party” or remain outside? This is no more a question of principle, but of circumstances and possibilities. The question itself has arisen from the experience of the British Communists and the “Labor Party”, and that experience has served far more the “Labor Party” than the Communists. It is evident that the possibility of participating in and of utilizing a “Labor Party” movement would be greater in the period of its inception, that is, in the period when the part is not a party but an amorphic politic mass movement. That we must participate in it at that time and with the greatest energy is without question, but not to help form a “Labor Party”, which will exclude us and fight against us but to push the progressive elements of the movement more and more to the left by our activity and propaganda. I know this seems too simple for the new great school which searches in every way for a method to jump over its feeble head.

8. To consider a “Labor Party” as an integrated series of united fronts signifies a misunderstanding of the notions, both of united fronts and of the party. The united front is determined by concrete circumstances and for concrete aims. The Party is permanent. By a united front, we reserve for ourselves a free hand to break with our temporary allies. In a common party with these allies, we are bound by discipline and even by the fact of the party itself. The experience of the Kuomintang and of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be well understood. The strategic line dictated by the lack of spirit of independence of the Communist Party and by the desire to enter into the “big” party (Kuomintang, “Labor Party”) produced inevitably all the consequences of opportunistic adaptation to the will of the allies and through them to the enemies. We must educate our comrades in the belief in the invincibility of the Communist idea and in the future of the Communist Party. The parallel struggle for another party produces inevitably in their minds a duality and drives them on the road of opportunism.

9. The policy of the united front has not only its great disadvantages but its limits and its dangers. The united front even in the form of temporary blocs often impels one to opportunistic deviations frequently fatal as for example Brandler in 1923. That danger becomes absolutely overwhelming in a situation when the so-called Communist Party becomes a part of a “Labor Party” created by the grace of the propaganda and action of the Communist Party itself.

10. That the Labor Party can become an arena of our successful struggle and that the Labor Party created as a barrier to Communism can, under certain circumstances, strengthen the Communist Party is true, but only under the condition that we consider the Labor Party not as “our” party, but as an arena in which we are acting as an absolutely independent Communist Party.

11. All the resolutions about the British Labor Party must be taken into consideration not as they were written before the experiences of the Comintern and the British Communist Party in that regard, but in the light of that experience. The attempt mechanically to apply them now in 1932 to the American conditions is characteristic of the epigones’ mind and has nothing to do with Marxism and Leninism.

12. It is not necessary to say that the idea of a Farmer-Labor Party is a treacherous mockery of Marxism.


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Appendix: Excerpt From Interview
The New York Times of March 3, 1932, carried an interview with Trotsky, then an exile in Turkey. One of the questions was: “How do you view the position of the United States in the present world situation?” Trotsky gave the following reply:

“ I think, as a result of the present crisis, the predominance of American over European capitalism will grow still more pronounced. In the same way, as a result of every crisis, you see a growth in the predominance of the big enterprise over the small, the trust over the isolated undertaking. However, this inevitable growth of the world hegemony of the United States will entail further deep contradictions both in the economy and in the politics of the great American Republic.

“ In asserting the dictatorship of the dollar over the whole world, the ruling class of the United States will introduce the contradictions of the whole world into the very basis of its own dominance. The economy and the politics of the United States will depend more and more directly upon crises, wars, and revolutions in all parts of the world. The position of’observer’ cannot long be maintained formally. I think that America will create the most colossal system of land, sea, and air militarism that can be imagined.

“ The conclusive emergence of America from its old ‘provincialism,’ the struggle for markets, the growth of armaments, and active world policy, the experience of the present crisis —all these things will inevitably introduce deep changes into the inner life of the United States.

“ The emergence of a labor party is inevitable. It may begin to grow with an ‘American tempo,’ leading to the liquidation of one of the two old parties, just as the Liberals have disappeared in England.

“ To sum it up, you must say the Soviet Union will be American-ized technically, Europe will either be sovietized or descend to bar-barism, the United States will be Europeanized politically.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor The Paris Communards!

Click on the title to link to the Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Internet Archive's copy of Marx's 1871 defense of the Paris Commune, "The Civil War In France".

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Leibknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

*****

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts
contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Markin comment:

As Karl Marx noted in the above linked pamphlet, although premature, perhaps, and although they seemingly made every mistake in the revolutionary catechism the Paris Commune and the Communards that defended it represented that first necessary manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a state needed on that road to our goal – the future communist, classless society. All Honor To The Memory Of The Communards!

Monday, March 18, 2019

From The Socialist Alternative Website- "The Women Of The Paris Commune"- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to an article about the women of the Paris Commune from the Socialist Alternative Website.


Markin comment:

As always we honor the Communards on this date every year, and this year we give special honor to the women of the Commune, some of the best fighters in its defense.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

*Honor The Memory Of The Paris Communards!

Click on title to link to online "History Of The Paris Commune".

This is a repost of the commentary from the 136th Anniversary commentary on the Paris Commune in 2007

COMMENTARY

March 18th is the 137th Anniversary of the Paris Commune. All honor to the men and women who fought to the death to defend this first beacon of working class revolution.

I would like make a few comments in honor of the heroic Communards.


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. However, one can 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.

BELOW IS A TRIBUTE TO THE PARIS COMMUNE WRITTEN BY THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTIONARY LEON TROTSKY IN RUSSIAN IN 1921 AND LATER TRANSLATED IN THE JOURNAL NEW INTERNATIONAL OF MARCH 1935, VOL. 2, NO.2

LESSONS OF THE PARIS COMMUNE

EACH TIME that we study the history of the Commune we see it from a new aspect, thanks to the experience acquired by the later revolutionary struggles and above all by the latest revolutions, not only the Russian but the German and Hungarian revolutions. The Franco-German war was a bloody explosion, harbinger of an immense world slaughter, the Commune of Paris a lightning harbinger of a world proletarian revolution.

The Commune shows us the heroism of the working masses, their capacity to unite into a single bloc, their talent to sacrifice themselves in the name of the future, but at the same time it shows us the incapacity of the masses to choose their path, their indecision in the leadership of the movement, their fatal penchant to come to a halt after the first successes, thus permitting the enemy to regain its breath, to reestablish its position.

The Commune came too late. It had all the possibilities of taking the power on September 4 and that would have permitted the proletariat of Paris to place itself at a single stroke at the head of the workers of the country in their struggle against all the forces of the past, against Bismarck as well as against Thiers. But the power fell into the hands of the democratic praters, the deputies of Paris. The Parisian proletariat had neither a party, nor leaders to whom it would have been closely bound by previous struggles. The petty bourgeois patriots who thought themselves socialists and sought the support of the workers did not really have any confidence in themselves. They shook the proletariat's faith in itself, they were continually in quest of celebrated lawyers, of journalists, of deputies, whose baggage consisted only of a dozen vaguely revolutionary phrases, in order to entrust them with the leadership of the movement.

The reason why Jules Favre, Picard, Gamier-Pages and Co. took power in Paris on September 4 is the same as that which permitted Pall-Boncour, A. Varenne, Renaudel and numerous others to be for a time the masters of the party of the proletariat. The Renaudels and the Boncours and even the Longuets and the Pressemanes are much closer, by virtue of their sympathies, their intellectual habits and their conduct, to the Jules Favres and the Jules Ferrys than to the revolutionary proletariat. Their socialist phraseology is nothing but an historic mask which permits them to impose themselves upon the masses. And it is just because Favre, Simon, Picard and the others used and abused a democratico-liberal phraseology that their sons and their grandsons are obliged to resort to a socialist phraseology. But the sons and the grandsons have remained worthy of their fathers and continue their work. And when it will be necessary to decide not the question of the composition of a ministerial clique but the much more important question of knowing what class in France must take power, Renaudel, Varenne, Longuet and their similars will be in the camp of Millerand-collaborator of Galliffet, the butcher of the Commune .... When the revolutionary babblers of the salons and of parliament find themselves face to face, in real life, with the revolution, they never recognize it.

The workers' party-the real one-is not a machine for parliamentary manoeuvres, it is the accumulated and organized experience of the proletariat. It is only with the aid of the party, which rests upon the whole history of its past, which foresees theoretically the paths of development, all its stages, and which extracts from it the necessary formula of action, that the proletariat frees itself from the need of always recommencing its history: its hesitations, its lack of decision, its mistakes.

The proletariat of Paris did not have such a party. The bourgeois socialists with whom the Commune swarmed, raised their eyes to heaven, waited for a miracle or else a prophetic word, hesitated, and during that time the masses groped about and lost their heads because of the indecision of some and the fantasy of others. The result was that the revolution broke out in their very midst, too late, and Paris was encircled. Six months elapsed before the proletariat had reestablished in its memory the lessons of past revolutions, of battles of yore, of the reiterated betrayals of democracy-and it seized power.

These six months proved to be an irreparable loss. If the centralized party of revolutionary action had been found at the head of the proletariat of France in September 1870, the whole history of France and with it the whole history of humanity would have taken another direction.If the power was found in the hands of the proletariat of Paris on March 18, it was not because it had been deliberately seized, but because its enemies had quitted Paris.

These latter were losing ground continuously, the workers despised and detested them, the petty bourgeoisie no longer had confidence in them and the big bourgeoisie feared that they were no longer capable of defending it. The soldiers were hostile to the officers. The government fled Paris in order to concentrate its forces elsewhere. And it was then that the proletariat became master of the situation.
But it understood this fact only on the morrow. The revolution fell upon it unexpectedly.

This first success was a new source of passivity. The enemy had fled to Versailles. Wasn't that a victory? At that moment the governmental band could have been crushed almost without the spilling of blood. In Paris, all the ministers, with Thiers at their head, could have been taken prisoner. Nobody would have raised a hand to defend them. It was not done. There was no organization of a centralized party, having a rounded view of things and special organs for realizing its decisions.

The debris of the infantry did not want to fall back to Versailles. The thread which tied the officers and the soldiers was pretty tenuous. And had there been a directing party center at Paris, it would have incorporated into the retreating armies-since there was the possibility of retreating-a few hundred or even a few dozen devoted workers, and given them the following instructions: enhance the discontent of the soldiers against the officers, profit by the first favorable psychological moment to free the soldiers from their officers and bring them back to Paris to unite with the people. This could easily have been realized, according to the admissions of Thiers' supporters themselves. Nobody even thought of it. Nor was there anybody to think of it. In the midst of great events, moreover, such decisions can be adopted only by a revolutionary party which looks forward to a revolution, prepares for it, does not lose its head, by a party which is accustomed to having a rounded view and is not afraid to act.

And a party of action is just what the French proletariat did not have.

The Central Committee of the National Guard is in effect a Council of Deputies of the armed workers and the petty bourgeoisie. Such a Council, elected directly by the masses who have taken the revolutionary road, represents an excellent apparatus of action. But at the same time, and just because of its immediate and elementary connection with the masses who are in the state in which the revolutionary has found them, it reflects not only all the strong sides but also the weak sides of the masses, and it reflects at first the weak sides still more than it does the strong: it manifests the spirit of indecision, of waiting, the tendency to be inactive after the first successes.

The Central Committee of the National Guard needed to be led. It was indispensable to have an organization incarnating the political experience of the proletariat and always present-not only in the Central Committee, but in the legions, in the battalion, in the deepest sectors of the French proletariat. By means of the Councils of Deputies-in the given case they were organs of the National Guard-the party could have been in continual contact with the masses, known their state of mind; its leading center con! I each day put forward a slogan which, through the medium of the party's militants, would have penetrated into the masses, uniting their thought and their will.

Hardly had the government fallen back to Versailles than the National Guard hastened to unload its responsibility, at the very moment when this responsibility was enormous. The Central Committee imagined "legal" elections to the Commune. It entered into negotiations with the mayors of Paris in order to cover itself, from the Right, with "legality".

Had a violent attack been prepared against Versailles at the same time, the negotiations with the mayors would have been a ruse fully justified from the military standpoint and in conformity with the goal. But in reality, these negotiations were being conducted only in order to avert the struggle by some miracle or other. The petty bourgeois radicals and the socialistic idealists, respecting "legality" and the men who embodied a portion of the "legal" state-the deputies, the mayors, etc.-hoped at the bottom of their souls that Thiers would halt respectfully before revolutionary Paris the minute the latter covered itself with the "legal" Commune.

Passivity and indecision were supported in this case by the sacred principle of federation and autonomy. Paris, you see, is only one commune among many other communes. Paris wants to impose nothing upon anyone; it does not struggle for the dictatorship, unless it be for the 'dictatorship of example".

In sum, it was nothing but an attempt to replace the proletarian revolution, which was developing, by a petty bourgeois reform: communal autonomy. The real revolutionary task consisted of assuring the proletariat the power all over the country. Paris had to serve as its base, its support, its stronghold. And to attain this goal, it was necessary to vanquish Versailles without the loss of time and to send agitators, organizers, and armed forces throughout France. It was necessary to enter into contact with sympathizers, to strengthen the hesitators and to shatter the opposition of the adversary. Instead of this policy of offensive and aggression which was the only thing that could save the situation, the leaders of Paris attempted to seclude themselves in their communal autonomy: they will not attack the others if the others do not attack them; each town has its sacred right of self-government. This idealistic chatter-of the same gender as mundane anarchism covered up in reality a cowardice in face of revolutionary action which should have been conducted incessantly up to the very end, for otherwise it should not have been begun.

The hostility to capitalist organization-a heritage of petty bourgeois localism and autonomism-is without a doubt the weak side of a certain section of the French proletariat. Autonomy for the districts, for the wards, for the battalions, for the towns, is the supreme guarantee of real activity and individual independence for certain revolutionists. But that is a great mistake which cost the French proletariat dearly.

Under the form of the "struggle against despotic centralism" and against "stifling" discipline, a fight takes place for the self preservation of various groups and sub-groupings of the working class, for their petty interests, with their petty ward leaders and their local oracles. The entire working class, while preserving its cultural originality and its political nuances, can act methodically and firmly, without remaining in the tow of events, and directing each time its mortal blows against the weak sectors of its enemies, on the condition that at its head, above the wards, the districts, the groups, there is an apparatus which is centralized and bound together by an iron discipline. The tendency towards particularism, whatever the form it may assume, is a heritage of the dead past. The sooner French communist-socialist communism and syndicalist communism-emancipates itself from it, the better it will be for the proletarian revolution.

The party does not create the revolution at will, it does not choose the moment for seizing power as it likes, but it intervenes actively in the events, penetrates at every moment the state of mind of the revolutionary masses and evaluates the power of resistance of the enemy, and thus determines the most favorable moment for decisive action. This is the most difficult side of its task. The party has no decision that is valid for every case. Needed are a correct theory, an intimate contact with the masses, the comprehension of the situation, a revolutionary perception, a great resoluteness. The more profoundly a revolutionary party penetrates into all the domains of the proletarian struggle, the more unified it is by the unity of goal and discipline, the speedier and better will it arrive at resolving its task.

The difficulty consists in having this organization of a centralized party, internally welded by an iron discipline, linked intimately with the movement of the masses, with its ebbs and flows. The conquest of power cannot be achieved save on the condition of a powerful revolutionary pressure of the toiling masses. But in this act the element of preparation is entirely inevitable. The better the party will understand the conjuncture and the moment, the better the bases of resistance will be prepared, the better the force and the roles will be distributed, the surer will be the success and the less victims will it cost. The correlation of a carefully prepared action and a mass movement is the politico-strategical task of the taking of power.

The comparison of March 18, 1871 with November 7, 1917 is very instructive from this point of view. In Paris, there is an absolute lack of initiative for action on the part of the leading revolutionary circles. The proletariat, armed by the bourgeois government, is in reality master of the town, has all the material means of power-cannon and rifles-at its disposal, but it is not aware of it. The bourgeoisie makes an attempt to retake the weapon of the giant: it wants to steal the cannon of the proletariat. The attempt fails. The government flees in panic from Paris to Versailles. The field is clear. But it is only on the morrow that the proletariat understands that it is the master of Paris. The "leaders" are in the wake of events, they record them when the latter are already accomplished, and they do everything in their power to blunt the revolutionary edge.

In Petrograd, the events developed differently. The party moved firmly, resolutely, to the seizure of power, having its men everywhere, consolidating each position, extending every fissure between the workers and the garrison on the one side and the government on the other.

The armed demonstration of the July days is a vast reconnoitering conducted by the party to sound the degree of close contact between the masses and the power of resistance of the enemy. The reconnoitering is transformed into a struggle of outposts. We are thrown back, but at the same time the action establishes a connection between the party and the depths of the masses. The months of August, September and October see a powerful revolutionary flux. The party profits by it and augments considerably its points of support in the working class and the garrison. Later, the harmony between the conspirative preparations and the mass action takes place almost automatically. The Second Congress of the Soviets is fixed for November. All our preceding agitation was to lead to the seizure of power by the Congress. Thus, the overturn was adapted in advance to November 7. This fact was well known and understood by the enemy. Kerensky and his councillors could not fail to make efforts to consolidate themselves, to however small an extent, in Petrograd for the decisive moment. Also, they stood in need of shipping out of the capital the most revolutionary sections of the garrison. We on our part profited by this attempt by Kerensky in order to make it the source of a new conflict which had a decisive importance. We openly accused the Kerensky government-our accusation subsequently found a written confirmation in an official document-of having planned the removal of a third of the Petrograd garrison not out of military considerations but for the purpose of counter-revolutionary combinations. This conflict bound us still more closely to the garrison and put before the latter a well-defined task, to support the Soviet Congress fixed for November 7. And since the government insisted-even if in a feeble enough manner-that the garrison be sent off, we created in the Petrograd Soviet, already in our hands, a Revolutionary War Committee, on the pretext of verifying the military reasons for the governmental plan.

Thus we had a purely military organ, standing at the head of the Petrograd garrison, which was in reality a legal organ of armed insurrection. At the same time we designated (communist) commissars in all the military units, in the military stores, etc. The clandestine military organization accomplished specific technical tasks and furnished the Revolutionary War Committee with fully trustworthy militants for important military tasks. The essential work concerning the preparation, the realization and the armed insurrection took place openly, and so methodically and naturally that the bourgeoisie, led by Kerensky, did not clearly understand what was taking place under their very eyes. (In Paris, the proletariat understood only on the following day that it had been really victorious-a victory which it had not, moreover, deliberately sought-that it was master of the situation. In Petrograd, it was the contrary. Our party, basing itself on the workers and the garrison, had already seized the power, the bourgeoisie passed a fairly tranquil night and learned only on the following morning that the helm of the country was in the hands of its gravedigger.)

As to strategy, there were many differences of opinion in our party.

A part of the Central Committee declared itself, as is known, against the taking of power, believing that the moment had not yet arrived, that Petrograd was detached from the rest of the country, the proletariat from the peasantry, etc.

Other comrades believed that we were not attributing sufficient importance to the elements of military complot. One of the members of the Central Committee demanded in October the surrounding of the Alexandrine Theater where the Democratic Conference was in session, and the proclamation of the dictatorship of the Central Committee of the party. He said: in concentrating our agitation as well as our preparatory military work for the moment of the Second Congress, we are showing our plan to the adversary, we are giving him the possibility of preparing himself and even of dealing us a preventive blow. But there is no doubt that the attempt at a military complot and the surrounding of the Alexandrine Theater would have been a fact too alien to the development of the events, that it would have been an event disconcerting to the masses. Even in the Petrograd Soviet, where our faction dominated, such an enterprise, anticipating the logical development of the struggle, would have provoked great disorder at that moment, above all among the garrison where there were hesitant and not very trustful regiments, primarily the cavalry regiments. It would have been much easier for Kerensky to crush a complot unexpected by the masses than to attack the garrison consolidating itself more and more on its positions: the defense of its inviolability in the name of the future Congress of the Soviets. Therefore the majority of the Central Committee rejected the plan to surround the Democratic Conference and it was right. The conjuncture was very well judged: the armed insurrection, almost without bloodshed, triumphed exactly on the date, fixed in advance and openly, for the convening of the Second Soviet Congress.

This strategy cannot, however, become a general rule, it requires specific conditions. Nobody believed any longer in the war with the Germans, and the less revolutionary soldiers did not want to quit Petrograd for the front. And even if the garrison as a whole was on the side of the workers for this single reason, it became stronger in its point of view to the extent that Kerensky's machinations were revealed. But this mood of the Petrograd garrison had a still deeper cause in the situation of the peasant class and in the development of the imperialist war. Had there been a split in the garrison and had Kerensky obtained the possibility of support from a few regiments, our plan would have failed. The elements of purely military complot (conspiracy and great speed of action) would have prevailed. It would have been necessary, of course, to choose another moment for the insurrection.

The Commune also had the complete possibility of winning even the peasant regiments, for the latter had lost all confidence and all respect for the power and the command. Yet it undertook nothing towards this end. The fault here is not in the relationships of the peasant and the working classes, but in the revolutionary strategy.

What will be the situation in this regard in the European countries in the present epoch? It is not easy to foretell anything on this score. Yet, with the events developing slowly and the bourgeois governments exerting all their efforts to utilize past experiences, it may be foreseen that the proletariat, in order to attract the sympathies of the soldiers, will have to overcome a great and well organized resistance at a given moment. A skillful and well~ timed attack on the part of the revolution will then be necessary. The duty of the party is to prepare itself for it. That is just why it must maintain and develop its character of a centralized organization, which openly guides the revolutionary movement of the masses and is at the same time a clandestine apparatus of the armed insurrection.

The question of the electibility of the command was one of the reasons of the conflict between the National Guard and Thiers. Paris refused to accept the command designated by Thiers. Varlin subsequently formulated the demand that the command of the National Guard, from top to bottom, ought to be elected by the National Guardsmen themselves. That is where the Central Committee of the National Guard found its support.

This question must he envisaged from two sides: from the political and the military sides, which are interlinked but which should be distinguished. The political task consisted in purging the National Guard of the counter¬revolutionary command. Complete electibility was the only means for it, the majority of the National Guard being composed of workers and revolutionary petty bourgeois. And in addition, the motto "electibility of the command", being extended also to the infantry, Thiers would have been deprived at a single stroke of his essential weapon, the counterrevolutionary officers. In order to realize this plan, a party organization, having its men in all the military units, was required. In a word, electibility in this ease had as its immediate task not to give good commanders to the batallions, but to liberate them from commanders devoted to the bourgeoisie. Electibility served as a wedge for splitting the army into two parts, along class lines. Thus did matters occur with its in the period of Kerensky, above all on the eve of October.

But the liberation of the army from the old commanding apparatus inevitably involves the weakening of organizational cohesion and the diminution of combative power. As a rule, the elected command is pretty weak from the technico-military standpoint and with regard to the maintenance of order and of discipline. Thus, at the moment when the army frees itself from the old counterrevolutionary command which oppressed it, the question arises of giving it a revolutionary command capable of fulfilling its mission. And this question can by no means be resolved by simple elections. Before wide masses of soldiers acquire the experience of well choosing and selecting commanders, the revolution will be beaten by the enemy which is guided in the choice of its command by the experience of centuries. The methods of shapeless democracy (simple electibility) must be supplemented and to a certain extent replaced by measures of selection from above. The revolution must create an organ composed of experienced, reliable organizers, in which one can have absolute confidence, give it full powers to choose, designate and educate the command. If particularism and democratic autonomism are extremely dangerous to the proletarian revolution in general, they are ten times more dangerous to the army. We saw that in the tragic example of the Commune.

The Central Committee of the National Guard drew its authority from democratic electibility. At the moment when the Central Committee needed to develop to the maximum its initiative in the offensive, deprived of the leadership of a proletarian party, it lost its head, hastened to transmit its powers to the representatives of the Commune which required a broader democratic basis. And it was a great mistake in that period to play with elections. But once the elections had been held and the Commune brought together, ft was necessary to concentrate everything in the Commune at a single blow and to have it create an organ possessing real power to reorganize the National Guard. This was not the case. By the side of the elected Commune there remained the Central Committee; the elected character of the latter gave it a political authority thanks to which it was able to compete with the Commune. But at the same time that deprived it of the energy and the firmness necessary in the purely military questions which, after the organization of the Commune, justified its existence. Electibility, democratic methods, are but one of the instruments in the hands of the proletariat and its party. Electibility can in no wise be a fetish, a remedy for all evils. The methods of electibility must be combined with those of appointments. The power of the Commune came from the elected National Guard. But once created, the Commune should have reorganized with a strong hand the National Guard, from top to bottom, given it reliable leaders and established a regime of very strict discipline. The Commune did not do this, being itself deprived of a powerful revolutionary directing center. It too was crushed.

We can thus thumb the whole history of the Commune, page by page, and we will find in it one single lesson: a strong party leadership is needed. More than any other proletariat has the French made sacrifices for the revolution. But also more than any other has it been duped. Many times has the bourgeoisie dazzled it with all the colors of republicanism, of radicalism, of socialism, so as always to fasten upon it the fetters of capitalism. By means of its agents, its lawyers and its journalists, the bourgeoisie has put forward a whole mass of democratic, parliamentary, autonomist formulae which are nothing but impediments on the feet of the proletariat, hampering its forward movement.

The temperament of the French proletariat is a revolutionary lava. But this lava is now covered with the ashes of skepticism result of numerous deceptions and disenchantments. Also, the revolutionary proletarians of France must be severer towards their party and unmask more pitilessly any non-conformity between word and action. The French workers have need of an organization, strong as steel, with leaders controlled by the masses at every new stage of the revolutionary movement.

How much time will history afford us to prepare ourselves? We do not know. For fifty years the French bourgeoisie has retained the power in its hands after having elected the Third Republic on the bones of the Communards. Those fighters of '71 were not lacking in heroism. What they lacked was clarity in method and a centralized leading organization. That is why they were vanquished. Half a century elapsed before the proletariat of France could pose the question of avenging the death of the Communards. But this time, the action will be firmer, more concentrated. The heirs of Thiers will have to pay the historic debt in full.

Leon TROTSKY