On 18 March, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Commune, Wellred Books launched its latest title: The Civil War in France by Karl Marx. With over 350 people from 37 countries registering, over 150 people attended our first online book launch, which was simultaneously live-streamed to YouTube and Facebook.
Jules Legendre from Révolution – the French section of the International Marxist Tendency – introduced the discussion, describing the heroic struggle of the Paris Commune and the lessons that must be drawn from this important chapter of working-class history.
If you missed the event, the lead-off can be found here:
For two months between March and May 1871, the armed workers of Paris, surrounded by enemies on all sides, took their destiny into their own hands and demonstrated that it is possible for the workers to run society democratically, without capitalists, bankers or even a standing army.
After a month of intense fighting against the forces of bourgeois reaction, the Commune was drowned in blood. The ‘democratic’ capitalist government took its revenge by murdering tens of thousands of Parisian workers. Indeed, the communards faced almost impossible odds from the beginning. Marx described how the workers of Paris “stormed heaven”.
Certainly the communards made mistakes. However, even in their mistakes, there are enormous lessons for Marxists today. Here, for the first time in world history, we were given a glimpse of what a future workers’ state would look like.
In particular, the meeting discussed the lessons of the Paris Commune on the role of the state. In the Commune we have a graphic example of how, in the last analysis, the state is armed bodies of men in defence of the ruling class in society. In Paris power fell into the hands of the armed working class, in the form of the National Guard and its Central Committee. The Commune state represented a new type of state. Based upon representatives on workers’ wages; regular election and recallability, it was a far more democratic state than anything that existed until that time.
The capitalist government meanwhile fled the armed workers to Versailles, along with the capitalists of Paris themselves. Only one side could win in this situation. Either the Commune would crush Versailles, or Versailles would crush the Commune.
The role of women workers in the class struggle was also brought out in the discussion. During the Commune, women played a vital role in organising schools, ambulance services, and taking up arms to defend the revolution. Despite the acute oppression women suffered at the time, the liberation of women was clearly achievable through class struggle.
The book is available to pre-order now here, and our upcoming series of Marx’ key works on France is available to pre-order here for a special discount price, which includes The Civil War in France as well as The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, which preceded and give context to the events of the Commune.
It is essential that all socialists seriously study the Paris Commune. As revolutionaries, it is our duty to learn not only the victories of the working class, but also their defeats, and why events unfolded in the way they did. For all its mistakes, the Commune was a glorious example. It showed us how a workers’ state can be built.
As Jules Legendre explained in his summing up, the International Marxist Tendency is building an organisation of revolutionaries who understand the lessons of history, and who bring them into the mass movements across the world. The oppression, exploitation, violence and destruction of capitalism has been amplified to unimaginable heights since the days of the Paris Commune. The need to overthrow this decrepit system has never been more necessary. Join the IMT today to be a part of the building of a revolutionary organisation capable of smashing capitalism once-and-for-all!
Vive la Commune!