Paris Commune and the Socialist Essay

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The new France would, in the Proudhonist version of anarchism, be a collective of collectives, a society without any formal organization, in which individual identity groups made their own rules and moved toward individual, local goals they deemed appropriate:

The Commune was against centralization; its aim was a federation of communes. The Commune was for a people's government in which distinctions between governors and governed would be erased: representatives would receive wages of average workers, be popularly elected, and be subject to immediate recall. The Commune was militantly antireligious: the aim was to free humanity from clerical machination and superstition. And finally, the Commune was for destruction of bourgeois property: cooperative ownership and self-management of production were envisaged.

In stark contrast to the authoritarianism of the Marxian socialists, the anarchists believed firmly in the capacity of the "right" people to spontaneously organize themselves and re-organize society. While sharing many of the same goals as their socialist brethren, they entirely dismissed the need for a formal system of command. Theirs too was a plan of re-education, but one that centered on the freeing of humankind from the controlling influences of what it saw as outmoded and detrimental beliefs and superstitions. Eliminate the "machinations" of church and state, and human beings will naturally create a utopia.

Nevertheless, it was the more radical aims of social change that perhaps doomed the revolution to failure. Implicit in both the socialist and anarchist worldviews were notions of national and regional culture. Early feminist leaders of the Paris Commune, such as Elisabeth Dmitrieff, used the Commune as a platform for women's rights. Besides pushing for equal rights and equal pay, Dmitrieff founded the Union des Femmes pour la Defense de Paris et les Soins aux blesses (Union of Women for the Protection and Care of the Wounded), a group that placed women in the thick of both the physical and intellectual battles for dramatic social change. The Paris Commune was highly unusual in providing such latitude to female participation. Indeed fellow communard, Louise Michel, feared that Dmitrieff's organization would actually hurt the struggle for equal rights by too closely identifying one cause i.e. The care of the wounded, with the campaign for equal pay for equal work, and other fundamental civil rights.

The non-traditional attitudes of the Communards ran counter to the views of many Frenchmen and Frenchwoman in the countryside and smaller cities. The quick suppression of the few other communes that cropped up in a handful of other French cities only underscored the ever present differences between the capital and the provinces. Though a powerful force in Nineteenth Century France, and the motivating factor behind the Commune's decrees of separation of church and state, anticlericalism was not to be confused with an overwhelmingly antireligious attitude on the part of the most of the French population.

Many free-thinkers were desists of one sort or another, and more still favored traditional notions of morality, or at least thought that all should be free to follow their own religious consciences. What so many in France objected to was pervasive clerical control. They objected to papal influence over the state itself. While the separation of church and state that was begun under the Commune would ultimately become official French policy some years later, it did not reflect an overweening desire to overturn the fundamental structures of French society.

Thus, the Paris Commune fell ultimately because, unlike in previous French revolutions, Paris never managed to assert its control over the hearts and minds of the greater France that lay beyond the city's borders. The capital was the capital, and as such it was distinct from the provinces. Many of the workers' goals rested squarely on workers' concerns. Indeed socialism is founded on the idea of a withering away of the state, and its replacement by the rule of the proletariat. Where a proletariat does not exist it cannot find its necessary strength. It was only with the re-working of Marxian concepts much later in Russia and China that socialists were able to effectively conceive of an agrarian collective to balance that of the industrial workers and small artisans. Further, the inherent authoritarian bent of the Marxian socialists worked against the very inchoate nature of the Commune society. It played more directly to Proudhonist anarchist ideas of different personal and regional identities, such as clearly existed in the France of 1871. France was changing in 1871, but much tradition still remained, even in its largest urban centers. Many of the ideas of the Paris Commune were ahead of their time, and ran counter to long-established traditions of social interaction and organization.


Fantasia, Rich. "From Class Consciousness to Culture, Action and Social Organization." Annual Review of Sociology 21 (1995): 269+.

Levy, Carl. "Anarchism, Internationalism and Nationalism in Europe 1860-1939." The Australian Journal of Politics and History 50, no. 3 (2004): 330+.

Marx, Karl, and V.I. Lenin. The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune. 2nd ed. New York: International Publishers, 1993.

McMillan, James F. France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics. London: Routledge, 2000.

McMillan, James. "Chapter 3 'Priest Hits Girl': on the Front Line in the 'War of the Two Frances'." In Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Clark, Christopher and Wolfram Kaiser, 77-101. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Taithe, Bertrand. Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870-1. London: Routledge, 2001.

Tombs, Robert. "The Paris Commune." History Review (1999): 36.

Weir, David. Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

. Bertrand Taithe, Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870-1 (London: Routledge, 2001), 39.

. Robert Tombs, "The Paris Commune," History Review (1999): 36.

. Rich Fantasia, "From Class Consciousness to Culture, Action and Social Organization," Annual Review of Sociology 21 (1995).

. Karl Marx, and V.I. Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune 2nd ed., (New York: International Publishers, 1993), 152.

. Karl Marx, and V.I. Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune 2nd ed., (New York: International Publishers, 1993), 153.

. Carl Levy, "Anarchism, Internationalism and Nationalism in Europe 1860-1939," The Australian Journal of Politics and History 50, no. 3 (2004).

. David Weir, Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 120.

. James F. McMillan, France and Women, 1789-1914:…[continue]

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