1871: The Paris Commune

    This coming week is the anniversary of the Paris Comune. Here we reproduce a short pamphlet to remind working people of our world history. It is being produced by some members of the Melbourne Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, PO Box 145, Moreland VIC 3058.

    Hard copies will be distributed at a commemoration organised by the @narchist Age Weekly and the www.seditioncharter.org crew outside the French Consuls Melbourne Office 150 Queen Street, Melbourne (cnr- Bourke & Queen Sts) 12.30pm Wednesday 28th March 2007. Roll up and collect your own copy!!

A brief history of the world's first socialist working class uprising.

The workers of Paris, joined by mutinous National Guardsmen, seized the city and set about re-organising society in their own interests based on workers' councils. They could not hold out, however, when more troops retook the city and the rich ordered the massacre of 30,000 workers in bloody revenge.

The Paris Commune a highly significant event is ignored in the French history curriculum. On March 18 1871, after France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian war, the French government sent troops into Paris to try and take back the Parisian National Guard’s cannon before the people got hold of it. Much to the dismay of the French government, the citizens of Paris had got hold of them, and wouldn't give them up. The soldiers refused to fire on their own people and instead turned their weapons on their officers.

The Parisian National Guard held free elections and the citizens of Paris elected a council made up mostly of Jacobins and Republicans (though there were a few anarchists and socialists as well). The council declared that Paris was an independent commune and that France should be a confederation of communes. Inside the Commune, all elected council members were instantly recallable, paid an average wage and had equal status to other commune members. The Commune was formed on the 26th of March 1871 and proclaimed on the 28th March 1871.

The majority of Paris organised itself without support from the State and was urging the rest of the world to do the same. The Paris Commune led by example in showing that a new society, organised from the bottom up, was possible. Reforms initiated by the Commune, like turning workplaces into co-operatives, saw by the end of May, 43 workplaces had become co-operatives and the Louvre Museum was a munitions factory run by a workers’ council.

The Mechanics Union and the Association of Metal Workers stated “our economic emancipation . . . can only be obtained through the formation of workers' associations, which alone can transform our position from that of wage earners to that of associates." They also advised the Commune’s Commission on Labour Organisation to support the following objectives: “The abolition of the exploitation of man by man... The organisation of labour in mutual associations and inalienable capital.” Through this, it was hoped that within the Commune, equality would not be an “empty word”.

    Direct Democracy

Mass assemblies were set up like the people of Paris had done just over a hundred years previously. The locals clashed with the delegates who did not want to be recalled. This council became increasingly isolated from those who’d elected it.

The more isolated it got, the more authoritarian it got. The council set up a “Committee of Public Safety” to “defend [by terror]” the “revolution”.

This Committee was ignored by the people who, unsurprisingly, were more concerned with defending Paris from invasion by the French army. In doing so, they proved right the old revolutionary cliche of ‘no government is revolutionary’!

On May 21st, the government troops entered the city and were met with seven days of solid street fighting. The last stand of the Communards took place at the cemetery of Montmartre, and after the defeat troops and armed members of the capitalist class roamed the city, killing and maiming at will. 30,000 Communards were killed in the battles, many after they had surrendered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves. The rich reappeared to cheer on the troops massacre of the rebel poor.

The legacy of the Commune lives on: "Vive la Commune!" ("Long live the Commune!") was painted over on the walls of Paris during the 1968 uprising, general strike by 10 million workers; and not for the last time we can be sure...


In China, before Mao Zedong and the communists took power, the Shanghai Commune of 1927 was created as a grass-roots movement by the workers of Shanghai. It was created after a massive rebellion overthrew the local warlord. However, this movement was crushed on April 12, 1927 when Chiang Kai-Shek entered the city and launched purges.

The Shanghai People's Commune was briefly re-established during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960's. The Commune was modeled on the Paris Commune. Control was supposed to fall into the hands of the workers thus establishing a grassroots system. However it was DISBANDED as Mao Zedong later decided that the commune would not be the best idea at the time. He became fearful that communes would soon replace the PRC and that there would be no need for the party and the government.

Therefore, he ordered the disbandment of the commune after a 'discussion' with the founders. It had only existed for less than a month.


Currently in Durban South Africa there is a small local direct democratically run community see: http://www.abahlali.org/node/237


There have been numerous films set in the Commune: particularly notable is La Commune (Paris, 1871), which runs for 5¾ hours and was directed by Peter Watkins. It was made in Montmartre in 2000, and as with most of Watkins' other films it uses ordinary people instead of actors in order to create a documentary effect.

    WHAT NOW ?

From Argentina & Australia to Zambia & Zimbabwe the Commune’s direct democracy is the spectre that haunts the Powerful. Residents & workers through general assemblies with revocable delegates can take over the City & transform it for better.

    some members of:
      Industrial Workers of the World
        Post Office Box 145,
          Moreland VIC 3058.