1. Sources of information

First, I feel it is very important to be able to find good sources of information on the subject one studies. As a general rule, the best sources are the participants of the events, participants who are able to reflect on the situation. These are men of thought and action. One prominent example of such is Julius Ceasar with his history of wars in Gaul.

The worst sources of information are those that bore the reader (one definition of "information" is the degree to which it is surprising, the extent to which a piece of data makes us wander). One example of such, in our case, is G. M. Steckloff, with his "History of the First International", 1928. There is a sort of people who are interested in advancing their academic career while pretending to be studying"revolutionary" topics. I think that many graduate students and professors of universities and recepients of "socialist" funds recognize themselves in this category. Their "revolutionary" dissertations become known in a narrow circle of "Ivory Tower revolutionaries", and in time are successfully forgotten. "Let the dead bury their dead".

So, good works on the First International (F.I.) are: 

1)      Letter of K. Marx. to F. Engels, November 4, 1864

2)      “The Inaugural Address” and “Provisional Rules” of the First International, by K. Marx

3)      Wilhelm Eichhoff, “The International Workingmen’s Association. Its Establishment, Organisation, Political and Social Activity, and Growth ”, 1869

4)      F. Mehring, “Karl Marx”, 1918

5)     M. Bakunin, “Marxism, Freedom and the State”, writings from 1867-72.

6)     Karl Marx, “Civil war in France”, 1871

7)     Henry Lissagaray, "History of the Paris Commune of 1871", 1876

8)     Freedland and Slutsky, "History of Revolutionary Movements in Western Europe, 1789-1914", Moscow - Leningrad, 1926 (in Russian, at major libraries)

2. Necessary conditions for a rise of an international

The First International was created in the following conditions: 1) the Industrial revolution, 2) the rising political consciousness of the proletariat, 3) first-rate men devoting themselves to the cause of proletariat.

1. The principal indicators of the Industrial Revolution in XIX century included coal, pig iron and steel production. For France, we have the following dynamic of these principal indicators:

1840 1850 1860 1869
coal 3,003,000 4,904,000 10,317,000 16,101,000
pig iron 348,000 522,000 1,091,000 1,218,000
steel and iron 245,000 320,000 781,000 1,025,000

The principal driving power of the Industrial Revolution in XIX century is the steam. For France, we have the following dynamic:

1840 1852 1862 1872
number of factories with steam power 3200 6500 15000 23000
total horsepower 34300 75000 205600 338000

The dynamic of trade, for France, is represented by the following figures:

1840 1850 1860 1869
export 1,052 1,119 2,657 4,009
import 1,010 1,435 3,147 3,993

Freedland and Slutsky write: "The epoch of Napoleon III was the high time of capitalism in France ... From 1851 to 1869 the national wealth doubled, having risen from 82 billion francs to 162".

Engels comments on the situation like this: “The Second Empire opened the exploitation of France by a gang of political and financial adventurers, but at the same time also an industrial development such as had never been possible under the narrow-minded and timorous system of Louis Philippe, with its exclusive domination by only a small section of the big bourgeoisie”.

2. As for the rising political consciousness of proletariat, we note that after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, the English proletariat was able to pass a Ten Hours' Bill, limiting the amount of hours one could work legally. In France, we note the development of proudhonism, i.e. a philosophy of cooperation between workers. In Germany, we note the embryo of the Social-Democratic Party, led by Lassalle.

3. Finally, as for the leaders of revolutionary movement of proletariat, we have such first-rate men as Karl Marx, F. Engels, F. Lassalle, August Blanqui, P.J. Proudhon, Michael Bakunin. These were men of theory and action; many of them spent time in prisons and in exile.

Taking into account these 3 factors, it should not be surprising that on September 28, 1864, in public meeting at St. Martin’s Hall, in London, an International Working Men's Association was founded. The founding was preceded by mutual visits of French and English workers to each other with the goal of securing their interests against strike breakers (for further details, see Wikipedia, "First International").

3. The program of the International

Application form

An application form for the First International

When examining an organization, it is necessary first to look at its program. In this program, the organization should announce what it intends to do (the goal), and how it intends to do it ("the road map"). The program is the summary of its theoretical baggage; it reveals the methodology of action.

The First International did not have such a program. The closest that the First International came to "a program" is the "Inaugural Address" written by Karl Marx on October 21-27, 1864. What does it say?

"It is a great fact that the misery of the working masses has not diminished from 1848 to 1864, and yet this period is unrivaled for the development of its industry and the growth of its commerce". This is familiar enough today, when the living standards of the working classes in general decline around the globe.

Marx continues: "After the failure of the Revolution of 1848, all party organizations and party journals of the working classes were, on the Continent, crushed by the iron hand of force". This passage we insert because one Russian "Marxist" source, the MRP, the Marxist Revolutionary Party, known for their dogmatic quoting of Marx, writes in "Global Association of Workers", commemorating 140 years of the First International:


An announcement of the First International

"The International was born as an echo of the proletarian stream of bourgeois revolutions of 1848-49", and, "The International appeared in the period between the 'waves' of bourgeois revolutions - 1848 and 1871. The first of these waves moved the proletariat and has given the push for creation of the Association."

In no way a failure of a revolution can serve as a cause for a creation of an International. Rather, an International is created on the waves of a revolution approaching, or actually beginning. Thus, the First International was a sign of a rise in workers' and socialist movement. 

Coming back to "The Inaugural Address", Marx says: "co-operative labor, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries". And hence the duty of the working classes to conquer political power.

In "Rules" of the First International we find following goals:

Engels card

Membership card of Engels

1) "the economical emancipation of the working classes", for which the main condition is that the means of production must belong to those who use them. Let's notice that in the epoch of "knowledge economy" this problem has a tendency to develop in favor of the "workers", i.e. those who work with modern knowledge and equipment, such as computers and software.

2) "Abolition of all class rule", i.e. overcoming division of society into social classes, i.e. those who organize and govern, and those who work with their hands or minds. 

3) Creation of "of a fraternal bond of union between the working class of different countries", i.e. internationalism of the working class.

Bazel congress 1869

Basel Congress of the First International, 1869

4) "This Association is established to afford a central medium of communication and co-operation between Working Men’s Societies existing in different countries, and aiming at the same end, viz., the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes". So, the First International was to be a hub allowing communication and cooperation between organizations of workers in different countries. The ultimate goal of these communications and cooperation was to give freedom to the working class. 

Now, for the means to accomplish the aforesaid goal. The first of these is international organization, which was founded in St. Martin's Hall in 1864. The second is the knowledge of international politics. Marx writes: "The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes".

4. Conferences and Congresses

After establishment in 1864 in London, the First International held its first conference in London in September 1865. Then, there was the first congress, in Geneva, in1866. F. Mehring explains the difference between "a conference" and "a congress": "Marx considered that on the whole the political situation was not yet mature enough to justify the holding of the public congress which had been arranged to take place in Brussels in 1865, and he feared, not without good reason, that it would degenerate into a Babel of tongues. With great difficulty and against particularly energetic opposition from the French he succeeded in securing agreement for the holding of a closed conference in London instead of the public congress in Brussels, a conference to be attended only by the representatives of the leading committees and to be no more than a preliminary to the future congress".

The second Congress took place in Lausanne in September 1867. The third Congress took place in Brussels in September 1868. Wikipedia writes: Wikipedia writes: "The Brussels Congress of the International in 1868, approved Marx’s tactics in regard to the League (of Peace), opposing official affiliation to the League but calling upon the working class to combine efforts with all progressive anti-military forces". The fourth Congress took place in Basle in September 1869. In 1870 there was a conference in London (instead of a Congress). This change was caused by the French-Prussian war. Next, there was a conference in London in September 1871. The last Congress of the International was held in Hague in 1872, after which the seat of the General Council was transferred from London to New York, and the First International stopped its existence (note: the anarchist section of the First International exists today as International Workers' Association. Its official site is  Hence, we see 3 conferences and 5 Congresses. That is the outward form of the life of the First International.

5. Fighting of factions inside the organization: Marx vs. Bakunin



Marx 1864

Marx in 1864

The inner life of the International consisted in struggles between various factions of the working class, each subscribing to this or that theoretician or mode of action. The most prominent of these was a struggle between the Marxists and the Bakunists. In fact, this struggle effectively killed the International, causing Marx and Engels to propose the transfer to New York.

Whereas the history of human society, according to Marx, is the history of the class struggle, the history of organizations is the history of struggles of different factions. Just like a class struggle can lead to a total disintegration of a society, so can a struggle between different factions lead to a disintegration of an organization.

What was the kernel of disagreement between Marx and Bakunin? It seems to me the kernel of disagreement was different attitudes to "the State" and politics in general. Let's listen to Bakunin, first.

It seems for Bakunin the supreme goal is "freedom" (see "Revolutionary catechism", written in tsar's prison in 1851). What is freedom? “Freedom is the absolute right of every adult man and woman to seek no other sanction for their acts than their own conscience and their own reason, being responsible first to themselves and then to the society which they have voluntarily accepted”. Compare this with I. Kant's definition of "Enlightenment", 1784: "Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another". Freedom in Bakunin's understanding is synonymous with Enlightenment in Kant's interpretation.  

Freedom allows for “the triumph of humanity", which is "the conquest and accomplishment of the full freedom and full development, material, intellectual and moral, of every individual, by the absolutely free and spontaneous organization of economic and social solidarity as completely as possible between all human beings living on the earth.”

According to Bakunin, the State is absolutely opposed to the idea of freedom: "But as upholder in all circumstances of liberty, that first condition of humanity, I think that liberty must establish itself in the world by the spontaneous organisation of labor and of collective ownership by productive associations freely organised and federalized in districts and by the equally spontaneous federation of districts, but not by the supreme and tutelary action of the State.

This is the point which principally divides the Revolutionary Socialists, or Collectivists, from the Authoritarian Communists, who are upholders of the absolute initiative of the State. Their goal is the same; each party desires equally the creation of a new social order founded only on the organisation of collective labor, inevitably imposed on each and everyone by the very force of things, equal economic conditions for all, and the collective appropriation of the instruments of labor. Only, the Communists imagine that they will be able to get there by the development and organisation of the political power of the working-classes, and principally of the proletariat of the towns, by the help of the bourgeois Radicalism, whilst the Revolutionary Socialists, enemies of all equivocal combinations and alliances, think on the contrary that they cannot reach this goal except by the development and organisation, not of the political but of the social and consequently anti-political power of the working masses of town and country alike, including all favorably disposed persons of the upper classes, who, breaking completely with their past, would be willing to join them and fully accept their program" ("Marxism, Freedom, and the State").

Hence, Marxists ("Communists") and anarchists ("Revolutionary Socialists") have different methods: "The Communists believe they must organize the workers' forces to take possession of the political power of the State. The Revolutionary Socialists organize with a view to the destruction, or if you prefer a politer word, the liquidation of the State. The Communists are the upholders of the principle and practice of authority, the Revolutionary Socialists have confidence only in liberty. Both equally supporters of that science which must kill superstition and replace faith, the former would wish to impose it; the latter will exert themselves to propagate it so that groups of human beings, convinced, will organize themselves and will federate spontaneously, freely, from below upwards, by their own movement and conformably to their real interests, but never after a plan traced in advance and imposed on the 'ignorant masses' by some superior intellects."

Thus, we see while Marx and Bakunin held the same vision of the goal, they differed in their vision of the road to be taken. Bakunin believed in spontaneous action of the masses and that the State must be immediately abolished on the very next day after a revolution.

"All work to be performed in the employment and pay of the State— such is the fundamental principle of Authoritarian Communism of State Socialism. The State having become sole proprietor—at end of a certain period of transition which will be necessary to let society pass without too great political and economic shocks from the present organisation of bourgeois privilege to the future organisation of the official equality of all—the State will be also the only Capitalist, banker; money-lender, organiser, director of all national labor and distributor of its products. Such is the ideal, the fundamental principle of modern Communism".

Of Marxists Bakunin says: “They are Governmentalists, we are out and out Anarchists.”

“Socialism implies the destruction of the State, those who support the State must renounce Socialism; must sacrifice the economic emancipation of the masses to the political power of some privileged party”. Let's observe the truth that is present in Bakunin. The bureaucracy in the Soviet state has formed "a privileged party". The


An anarchist grafiti in Kiev, Ukraine, 2007

5-year plans, the industrialization and collectivization, were "traced in advance and imposed on the 'ignorant masses' by some superior intellects". These, and other facts help to explain why anarchism still finds some supporters in the former USSR (see photo from an underpass in Kiev, 2007).  

6. The Franco-Prussian war

In light of the increasing possibility of World War III (and hence a new revolutionary wave!), let's take a look at the Franco-Prussian war.

There are several versions for the reason why France desired war with Prussia during the reign of Napoleon III. One is given by Engels in his 1891 introduction to "The Civil War in France". He writes that the very existence of the "Second Empire" meant a tendency to restore France within the borders of the First Empire.

This explanation appears rather abstract. A more concrete approach to the matter is given by Alexander Svechin, one of the best authors on military theory. In his "History of Military Art", Moscow 1927, he writes: "At the end of 1860's Napoleon III began building a colonial power of France. Conquest of Indochina, support of England in its second war with China (1857-60), attempts to unite Latin American states under French hegemony, Mexican expedition which cost so much money - all these were attempts to build a powerful French influence on the Pacific Ocean".

However, the plan to unite Latin American states under the French hegemony, and especially the Mexican expedition of Napoleon III, failed. This has cost the regime a great deal of money and reduced French influence on the European continent. Therefore, regime of Napoleon III was looking for a way to strengthen itself, and one way which it found was "a little victorious war".

I. Stepanov writes: "Napoleon III has turned to the means which are sought by all fledgling and rotten regimes, when they start feeling that a soil is slipping from under them. An external war is supposed to get everyone involved and united around the existing government, military infatuation, glorious victories, defeat of the enemy, conquests, - and as a result, the empire becomes stronger as never before, crushes the opposition, ties the army to itself" ("The Paris Commune and the problems of tactics in a proletarian revolution", Moscow, 1921).

The regime of Napoleon III was full of deceits and cover-ups, and Napoleon III received assurances that his army would easily defeat the Prussians. On the 15th July, 1870, a large delegation came to Napoleon III and reported: "Over these 4 years the emperor has raised the organization of military forces to the highest pitch. Because of you, sir, France is ready!".

However, the army spoke in a different voice. French supplies officer wrote to Paris, on 24th July 1870: "The 3rd corps is marching tomorrow, but I have neither hospital nor supplies clerks, nor do I have marching beds, nor hay for the horses, etc." French general Michel wrote to the war minister in Paris: "Arrived to Belfor, didn't find my brigade, didn't find the commander of the division. What should I do? I don't know where my divisions are". The commanding officers of the French army did not even have an inkling about the general plan of campaign against Prussia. 

On the other side of the Rhine, the overriding concern of the ruling classes of Prussia was unification of German lands under Prussian leadership. In the early part of XIX century this was expressed in the political philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel ("The philosophy of right"). He saw a unified German state as a primary goal of history. The Industrial revolution certainly made German unification necessary. However, interests of imperial Austria, Russia and France, as well as the interests of the many small independent German states, were opposed to this.

Prussia went to war with Austria in 1866, over administration of 2 small states, Schleswig-Holstein. Prussia defeated Austria (to the surprise of Engels, who saw himself as a specialist in military affairs), in large part due to the skillful command of Moltke. Alexander Svechin writes about his style of training the army: "A sufficient space for work of commanders of separate armies was achieved by Moltke directing not through orders, but giving general directives, i.e. he limited himself to stating goals, often rather distant ones. Moltke avoided getting involved in the process of formulating immediate tasks, in the sphere of execution; however, when it became necessary to ensure smooth interaction of two armies and to eliminate frictions between them, Moltke would regulate the details by himself ".

Moltke didn't blindly follow Napoleon's tactics, as did most of the general staffs in Europe in XIX century. He noticed significant changes that have taken place in military technology and operations since the beginning of XIX century. In particular, instead of leading the entire army as one concentrated mass, as Napoleon recommended, Moltke directed the army in two separate columns that would converge on the field of the battle. This was made necessary by the larger size of the army columns than in Napoleon's times.

With Austria defeated, southern German states, in particular Bavaria and Wurtemberg, came within Prussian "sphere of interest". However, their princes were interested in retaining independence, and so they conducted secret negotiations with France. France made a decision to interfere militarily, in case Prussia attempted to force unification. Alexander Svechin writes: "Without a doubt, a successful war with France would cause in Germany an enthusiasm of national and chauvinist feelings. In this militant atmosphere the leaders of south German separatists would lose ground; actually, with the help of documents captured by agents of Bismarck which revealed their [south German's] negotiations with France and preparations for a joint resistance, Bismarck has had his chance at the end of 1870 to shut the mouth of his opponents [within Prussia]."

In addition to steps towards unification of Germany, there were imperialist forces within Prussia, which coveted the two French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Plans for the conquest of the two provinces were made by Moltke as early as 1850.

Thus, the regime of Napoleon III and Bismarck were both looking for a war with each other. A pretext for the war was provided by the so-called "Ems telegram". The circumstances behind it are the following: the Prussian administration wanted to appear on the defensive, and hence the French war party needed to be provoked. So Bismarck secretly nominated one of German princes for the vacant Spanish throne. France became furious, and demanded a withdrawal of the candidate. German Kaiser received the French ambassador in his resort town of Ems and respectfully refused his demand. These news were sent to Bismarck via a telegram. Bismarck edited the telegram for publication in such a way that the French would think that the Prussian king was disrespectful towards their ambassador, while the Germans would think that the French ambassador insulted their Kaiser. Thus, on 16th July 1870, France declared war on Prussia.

Not only people at large, but Marx and Engels as well were fooled by the Ems telegram. Marx, in "The First Address" of the International on the Franco-Prussian war, from 23 July, 1870, writes: "If the German working class will allow this war to lose its defensive character and turn into a war against the French people, the victory will be just as crushing as the defeat". In other words, Marx thought that this was a defensive war on the part of Prussia, while in reality this was a war between two gangs of imperialists, each of which has been preparing for a long time its aggressive plans.

The French socialists also have adopted an incorrect attitude towards the war. Lissagare writes: "On 7th September (1870, i.e. when the Empire has fallen and the bourgeois republic was declared) in the first issue of the newspaper La patrie en Danger Blanqui and his friends offered to the government their most energetic, complete cooperation". In a few months the people from the same government have signed a death warrant for Blanqui and other radicals.

Compare this with the attitude of Lenin to war. The leader of Bolsheviks comes to St. Petersburg on 3 April, 1917, and on 4th April he speaks at a joint meeting of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. For th


Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray

is meeting, he has prepared "The April Thesis". In the first one, he says: "In our attitude towards the war, which under the new [provisional] government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government: not the slightest concession to 'revolutionary defencism' is permissible."

7. The Paris Commune

News of defeat of Napoleon's army arrive in Paris on September 3rd. Immediately the next day a movement against Napoleon's regime starts. Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, a participant of the events, writes: "Many bourgeois, remembering that they are National Guards, put on their uniforms, took guns and forced the passage of the Concord Bridge. Police, seeing such respectable people, let them pass; crowds follow them, burst into the Bourbon palace ... New wave breaks down the doors, fills the halls, displaces and blots out the deputies. Gambetta, who was put on the platform, was forced to proclaim deposition of the Emperor. The people demand more: a republic!..."

Louise Michel

Louise Michel

Another participant of the events Louise Michele writes: "A sea of people was filling the Concord Square. On the far side, in battle formations, one could see the last defendants of the Empire: municipal guards and city police, who considered it their duty to obey the discipline of the dying regime ... Towards the midday, armed formations of National Guards started arriving on the Royal Street. So, the municipal guards unsheathed their sabers and closed their ranks; together with the police, they backed away as soon as the National Guard moved forward with their bayonets locked. Among the people, a cry was heard: 'Long live the republic!' ... The sabers of the police flashed out in the air. The railing was broken; the crowds, together with the National Guards, poured into the Legislative Assembly".

Power falls into the hands of the right-wing republicans (Thiers, Gambetta, Jules Favres). Program of the new government is stated by Delecluz, a Jacobin: "First of all - the Prussians". However, as has become a commonplace in such circumstances, the government is not so much concerned with fighting the external enemy, as in fighting the rising waves of revolution. Louise Michele writes: "the population demanded the weapons, but the government refused to give them out ... limiting itself to mere promises. The Prussians continued to press forward". On September 19, 1870, German armies find themselves at the gates of Paris, and siege of the city starts. Instead of being made a public duty, as was the case in times of the French revolution, the business of building fortifications was given out to private contractors.


A discussion in a Paris Cafe, Sept., 1870

On 5th September in Paris, workers, artisans and petty bourgeoisie created local watchdog committees. Their purpose was to observe the acts of the government and put forward demands of the people. In September these demands were: 1) rationing of food; 2) providing all citizens with apartments. The government does not satisfy these demands, fearing for private property. The formation of these local watchdog committees constitutes beginning of dual power. Another part of the equation was the Central Committee of the National Guard, representing 20 districts housing workers and petty bourgeoisie. The demands it put forward included: 1) everyone joining the irregular formations; 2) arms to be given out to the people.

In October the people learn of peace negotiations between Jules Favres and Bismarck. They call on the government to resign. On October 31, 1870, battalions of the National Guard storm into the City hall. Here, indecision and lack of program are revealed. While there are cries, "Let's not make an insurrection before the eyes of the enemy! Down with the fanatics!", the government officials use the time to prepare an attack on the insurgents. 

On 6th January 1871 the Central Committees of 20 districts criticize the government: "Has the government fulfilled its duty of national defense? No. Due to its slowness, its faint-heartedness, its inaction, the people, who govern us, have led us to the verge of disaster. They can't govern or fight. People are almost dying from cold and starvation. There are aimless sorties, fruitless bloody fights, repeated failures ... The government has shown that it is ruining us. Continuation of this order of things spells our capitulation".

On January 8, 1871 the government surrenders Paris to the Prussians. According to terms of agreement,  France is to pay 5 billion francs to Prussia, and surrenders the provinces of l'Alsace and Lorraine. Strategic plans of Moltke are realized. 

On the 8th February, 1871, elections into the National Assembly are held. Among 750 deputies who gathered in Bordeaux (away from revolutionary Paris), up to 450 are outright monarchists. This National Assembly passes reactionary measures:

a) cancels 30 sous (i.e. 1.5 francs) paid to soldiers of National Guard,

b) cancels moratorium on the payment of rents and bills,

c) suspends the journals (freedom of the press).

On 10 March, 1871, Jules Favres writes to Thiers: "Tonight we've closed 5 newspapers which every day preach murder: 'Vengeur', 'Mot d'Ordre', 'Bouche de Fer', 'Cri du Peuple', and 'Carricature'. We have decided to finish up with bastions of Monmartre and Belville and hope to achieve this without bloodshed. Today there was a trial of the second batch of those accused on 31st October, and the military council has sentenced (in absentia) Flourance, Blanqui, Levro to death".

However, Thiers' government finds itself in a weak position. While all regular troops are disarmed by the terms of agreement with the Prussians, the National Guard are permitted to keep their arms. Hence, it is necessary to disarm them. Thiers explains to Parisians, on 17th March: "The evil conspirators ruin the guns, which, if they were fired, would spell a disaster to your houses and murder to your children and yourselves. Finally, they do not defend but compromise the republic, because if in the eyes of France the republic becomes an accomplice to disorders, the republic will die".  

On the night of 17-18 March, the troops of general Vinua get orders to take the cannons, "mais on avait oublie les chevaux" (but they have forgotten the horses). The troops refuse to fire on the people surrounding them. Instead, they arrest and execute their own generals: Lecompte, who g

Lecompter and Thomas shot

shooting the two generals

ave orders to fire on Parisians, and Clement Thomas, an executioner of 

the June 1848 insurgents. The troops prove to be unreliable to Thiers. This forces the government of Theirs to leave Paris for Versailles.

An attempt to disarm, or to disband, the popular forces constitutes a coup d'etat and can be answered only by an insurrection. Dual power develops to its extreme expression. One center of power is socialist Paris, and one is right republican government in Versailles. Such a condition of dual power can not continue long, and one must act forcefully to tip the scales of balance. However, the socialists in Paris did not know what to do with power. They have developed as opposition and critics of government, but did not develop a positive program. One member of the Central Committee of the National Guard says: "Your role is not up to your age, and your only worry is getting rid of responsibility". Another member of the Central Committee of the National Guard writes: "That evening we did not know what to do; we did not want possession of the Hotel de Ville. We wanted to build barricades. We were very embarrassed by our authority". A modern writer, Aileen O'Carrol, writes: "It was left to the bohemian literary fi


A barricade of the Commune

gure of Edourard Moreau to persuade the Central Committee, amidst shouts of 'Long live the commune', to remain in occupation of the Hotel de Ville at least

for a few days until municipal elections could be held". So, the power falls unexpectedly in the hands of the people of Paris.

On March 26, 1871, municipal elections were held, and the Paris Commune was elected. According to Freedland and Slutsky ("History of Revolutionary Movements in Western Europe, 1789-1914", Moscow - Leningrad, 1926), the social composition of the Commune was as follows:

manual workers 27 35%
office workers 13 15%
artists, doctors, engineers, etc. 32 38%
small traders and entrepreneurs 4 5%
officers 2 2%
unknown professions 5 6%

Thus, manual workers made up 35% of the government of the Commune, while the rest was made up of various "white-collar workers" (artists, doctors, engineers, etc.), military officers and petty bourgeoisie.

Was the Commune "a dictatorship of proletariat"? If the word "proletariat" means those who actually work, as opposed to those who exploit others, then indeed the Commune was the government of the working classes. Socialism is exactly this: an attempt by producers to engage in a general direction of affairs, to control their own lives as a society. It is an attempt to eliminate the bureaucracy and capitalists. 

If by the "Commune" we understand those who were elected in the municipal elections on March 26, then the average age of the Commune was 38. This is middle age - between youth and old age. Let's remember that Napoleon became a general of revolutionary French at 26. Socialism has a youthful face.

The Paris Commune set up a limit for salaries for its own officials; these could not be higher than those of workers.

Marx writes: "On April 16 the Commune ordered a statistical tabulation of factories which had been closed down by the manufacturers, and the working out of plans for the carrying on of these factories by workers formerly employed in them, who were to be organized in co-operative societies, and also plans for organization of these cooperatives in one great union". Thus, the Commune started on the road towards self-management by the union of workers.

The decrees of the Commune were met with enthusiasm. Louise Michele says: "I could see with my own eyes ... that it is devotion to the idea which inspired the entire armed struggle, which helped us to overcome the fear of death and murder". During the Commune, Paris had "all the signs of simply being on holiday". An English observer writes: "The excitement was so intense that people moved about as if in a dream".

Part of the reason for this feeling is explained by Aileen O'Carrol: "For a time a large part of the population became actively involved in public affairs, whether at the level of their district or at that of the city". Louise Michele says: "Everywhere courses were opened up, in order to satisfy the passionate thirst for knowledge among the youth. People were striving towards everything: towards art, science, literature, inventions. Life was boiling. Everyone was in a hurry to run away from the old world". The courses were free and there were plenty of outdoor concerts.

Reading proclamation small

Reading a proclamation of the Commune

Engels writes: "On March 30 the Commune abolished conscription and the standing army, and declared that the National Guard, in which all citizens capable of bearing arms were to be enrolled, was to be the sole armed force". On April 7, 1871 Dombrovsky was appointed to be in charge of the armies of the Commune. Even though Dombrovsky was Polish, the Commune proclaimed that the new general was a citizen of the World Republic.

8. The problems of the Paris Commune

The Paris Commune was made up of various parties. Engels writes: "The members of the Commune were divided into a majority of the Blanquists, who had also been predominant in the Central Committee of the National Guard; and a minority, members of the International Working Men's Association, chiefly consisting of adherents of the Proudhon school of socialism". Proudhonists were in charge of the economic affairs of the Commune. Blanquists were in charge of the political and military measures. There was no possibility of developing a common general program.

Aileen O'Carrol writes: "The members of the Commune lacked political experience. Their debates were often rambling, matters being dropped rather than pushed to a decision and entirely unrelated points were raised and then pursued ... The commune as a whole lacked political direction". For example, the Commission for External Affairs of the Commune forgot its business, and completely concentrated on the internal politics. This chaos leads to liberal-radical deputies resigning from the Commune.

In Paris there was no single government, as the Central Committee of the National Guard first dissolved itself, then, seeing the terrific disorder created by the Commune, gathered again and took back the power.

Barricade fighting

A fighting on the barricade

Within the military-political department, there was a chaos. Clusare was initially put in charge of organizing the defense of the Commune; his only qualification for that role consisted in suppression of the 1848 insurrection. The generals of the Commune prepared neither hospitals, nor reserves, nor food supplies, i.e. they did not foresee anything. Battalions marched without reconnaissance. Peotr Lavrov, a Russian "narodnik" socialist, writes: "Some platoons were in the trenches for 20 and 30 days, while others were constantly in reserve ... This carelessness soon killed all semblance of discipline". Many good suggestions pertaining to defense of Paris were made by officers and officials who deserted from Versailles, but these were largely ignored by the Commune officials. They were simply not competent enough to listen and take action. A report by one of the Commune commissaries reads: 'various young people came to our magazines and took the weapons which were to their taste'."

Instead of marching immediately on Versailles, the government of the Commune engaged in lengthy negotiations with the enemies. Some of the Versailles supporters were the mayors of districts of Paris. One of them, Tirar, writes: "...[our] main goal ... was to prevent the federals from going on to Versailles. I was convinced that, if on 19th of 20th March the battalions of federalists would take the road to Chateulions, Versailles would be in the greatest danger; and I think that our [i.e. mayors'] resistance in the course of several days has given the opportunity to the government to organize the defense". Similar testimony is offered by Shelkher, a deputy from Sienne: "As for my behavior, it consisted mainly in attempting to start the negotiations, hoping that time will make resistance possible".

The Commune did not make an appeal to the outside world, to the socialists and workers who were watching intensely what was going on in Paris.

Paris street
If the Paris does not come to Versailles, the Versailles will come to Paris. Thiers arranged for captured French troops to be released by the Germans. The Versailles government put them back into platoons, gave good uniforms and plenty of food and drink. Then, it directed the soldiers against weakly protected defenses of Paris. Defenders of Paris tried to put up a fire wall between themselves and the offensive. Private mansion of Thiers was demolished, among other buildings of the bourgeoisie. Paris in May 1871 looked like Grozny in late 1990's. During the street fighting in Paris, "each time a barricade fell, the defenders were put up against the wall and shot". We hear of tens of thousands of people being killed, literally being buried alive, with body parts sticking out of the mass graves. Moans of people dyi


Corpses of the fallen Communards

ng could be heard for several days. Many thousands (including Luise Michele) were sent to their death to hard labor camps in colonies of France.

An epilogue: "the Republic of the Dukes"

Following repression of the Commune, we observe rival claims to the throne of France between Legitimists (representatives of the Bourbon dynasty) and Orleanists (representatives of the Orlean dynasty). A ghost of Restoration of monarchy was stalking France. Ivan Sache writes: "On 27 October 1871, Count of Chambord refused to be crowned as Henri V because he did not accept the French Tricolore flag and the expected Monarchic restoration (was) aborted". In 1872 Thiers announced that "the Republic is the form of government that divides us least".

In 1873 general MacMohan, a monarchist, became head of the government. This period is known as "the republic of the dukes". The intellectual capacity of the monarchist party is illustrated by the following incident: when MacMohan was shown a new machine and was explained that it has so much horsepower, he exclaimed: "So, the horses? Great, let's go and show me the stables!"

Meanwhile, Republicans won the elections of 1876, and again in 1877, so MacMahon resigned in 1879. In the same year, revolutionary hymn La Marseillaise was made the national anthem. In 1880, July 14, the day of the fall of Bastille, was declared a national holiday. In 1882 a law was passed that education was to be compulsory, free and separate from the Church.

1876 is marked by a struggle between proudhonists and "collectivists", i.e. adherents of theories presented in "Capital". In 1882 and 1890 the "collectivists" split into "brussists" (also known as "possibilists", a reformist party) and "gedists", or revolutionary Marxists. Ged was the first French Marxist and he organized "the Workers' Party". Its program was developed by Marx, Engels, Ged, Lafargue, and Lombar, and accepted in Paris in 1880. In this program, we no longer encounter the phrase "liberation of proletariat"; rather we hear that "producers can only become free inasmuch as they take possession of the means of production".


Boulanger commits suicide, 1891

A new attempt at Bonapartism appears in the figure of general Boulanger, supported by the clergy, the monarchists, and those who wanted a war of revenge with Germany. Boulanger became a Minister of war in 1886, and in 1889 the Third Republic was on the brink of a new dictatorship.

In 1894 there was a Dreyfus case, in which a Jewish French army officer was falsely accused of spying for Germany. Monarchist elements in France supported these false charges, while radicals and socialists opposed them. One of the most prominent supporters of Dreyfus was a writer and socialist Emile Zola, with his pamphlet "I accuse!". It accused the French Army of anti-Semitism and lies.

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The French in Indochina

Meanwhile, imperialism has developed on the international arena. Encarta 2001 writes: "Algeria had already become a French colony in 1830, and by the end of the century Algeria had a European population—only half of it French—of 665,000 people. Under Louis-Philippe(1830-48), Tahiti and the Comoro Islands were added to the French Empire. Under Napoleon III, the French acquired Cochin China (part of present-day Vietnam) and protectorates over Cambodia and Senegal. In the 1880s, a fresh round of imperialist expansion occurred as France gained colonies in Tunisia, the Congo, Indochina, and Madagascar. Over the following two decades, France expanded its empire in China and throughout West Africa, nearly coming to blows with Britain in 1898 over conflicting claims in the Sudan. The crisis was settled amicably, and the resulting improved relations paved the way for French military alignment with Britain in Europe." In July 1891 the French fleet visited Kronstadt, the Russian naval base. As a sequel to that, in July 1892 a Franco-Russian military agreement is signed. A secret protocol was signed with Russia in 1899, and in 1914, right before WWI, France made a loan to Russia.

In the colonies, French pursued anti-democratic and racist policies. Encarta 2001 writes: “French colonies were governed centrally from Paris through agents who did not answer to any local parliament. In the majority of its territories, France denied full citizenship to most indigenous peoples. Full citizenship was given only to those who could pass a battery of stringent legal, linguistic, educational, and religious tests. Thus in French West Africa, only 0.5 percent of the population qualified as citizens.” In the picture below, you can see how a French officer leisurely stands in Vietnamese countryside, while the peasants on the left huddle respectfully together. The peasant in the center  is probably their overseer (better dressed), he stands closer to the officer than to the peasants. A dog and guns of the soldiers serve as his protection. This reveals the whole colonial equation.

French expansionism came into conflict with Germany over Morocco. In 1909 France signed an agreement with Germany over Morocco. However, in 1911 the Germans sent their gunboat to Agadir, and this lead to another Franco-German convention in 1911, dividing up Morocco and Congo. France established its protectorate over Morocco in 1912.

Industrialization in France proceeded slowly: “Between 1872 and 1911, for example, the urban population in France grew by 6 millions, while in Germany the growth was 24 millions.” Urban planning was falling behind its times. Parisrama writes: “New-York had established a plan for the city and its agglomeration in 1916. In France the first plan for Paris, the Prost Plan, was not decided until 1939”.

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France developed several avant-garde schools of art, such as impressionism (Monet, Manet, Renoir) and Cubism (Picasso). Many famous artists on the fringes of the established schools worked in France at the end of XIX century, one of them being Van Gogh. French literature of the times is realist, criticizing petty-bourgeois notions of life (Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola). Romanticism of Restoration period was overcome.  

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Marie Curie

An outstanding scientist of the times was Marie Curie, of Polish origin. She managed to obtain her education in France and discovered radioactivity. There is an excellent book about her, written by her daughter Irene Curie. 

Next: the Second International

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