Jack Fitzgerald

The Commune in Paris

Source: Socialist Standard, April 1905.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

Speech on the thirty-fourth anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune at Sydney Hall on Sunday, 19th March.

J. Fitzgerald then mounted the platform, and referring to the statement frequently made by capitalist writers, to wit that in establishing the Commune the workers had chosen the wrong time, said that this was a favourite argument of the upholders of capitalism. When the workers tried to better themselves, they were always told it was the wrong time. In fact never had the-workers done anything that was not done at the wrong time. In 1830 the capitalists were compelled to give the workers some political power, and in 1848 the workers had political power, and weapons to defend it.

The men of property never relished the idea of seeing arms in the possession of the men of no property, and the reason was obvious. Theirs saw that if the capitalists of France were to continue as the dominant class, the working-class must no longer have arms, and it was decided that the National Guard must be disarmed. These arms were not the property of the government, as they were paid for by public subscription : and moreover at the surrender of Paris to the Prussians it was clearly stipulated that they were not to be given up. But Thiers ordered them to be seized, and in the night a detachment of the military marched on Montmartre to steal the cannon of the National Guard. The-attempted governmental theft was discovered just in time, and the Parisian working-class refused to be disarmed. That was the beginning of the revolt. The working-class, however, had not then realised that the only people the working-class could rely upon were the working-class themselves, and so they were looking for help and counsel from some middle-class men who only succeeded in muddling matters.

The establishment of the Commune came as a surprise to the rest of France, for when the Commune issued a manifesto to the other towns, the people in the provinces said they did not know the men who signed the manifesto. This in itself was sufficient evidence-that the ground had not been prepared, and even in quarters where perhaps assistance might have been expected the Paris workers were sadly disappointed. The radical left, the men who were "coming our way," were determined to help the working-class, and to-day should a crisis involving similar grave issues be prehistory would repeat itself, and the are "coming our way" would be found wanting. Let the Socialist working-class beware of these men.

From the Commune many important lessons were to be derived, the first being the unreliability of any section of the capitalist-class. Secondly it showed clearly that the working-class ought to look askance at the students, the class that provided the material for future "intellectuals," for during the struggle in '71 the Latin quarter, the students' quarter, went over to Versailles, whence they heaped opprobrium on the working-class.

We were told by "Social-Democratic" papers to-day that the students in Russia were aiding the working-class, but the converse would be nearer the truth. The Russian revolution now in progress was a middle-class revolution, and it was misleading to say that it was a working-class revolution. He (the speaker) found all doubts on the subject vanish when he heard that the students in Russia were in the movement.

Another point to be noted in connection with Commune was the fact that the working-class had not half enough hatred nor half enough organisation. The working-class will learn yet that the class struggle is war to the knife against capitalism, a war which allows of no parleying with the enemy. Thiers demanded the unconditional surrender of Paris, and to-day in like language, The Socialist Party of Great Britain demanded the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class. Organisation was of prime importance, for without a sound organisation of the working-class there would be another Commune—another wholesale slaughter of the workers.

He had heard someone once say that what they ought to do is to wait for a while and then "make a rush for it." Make a rush with what ? Without organisation nothing could be done. Again, they had been told by some by worthy people, even by a man of the stamp of Morris, that the soldiers would fraternise with the people. Did the soldiers fraternise in '71 ? No, they did not do so, nor would they do it to-day, for the soldiers of capitalism are kept apart from the people, and do not sympathise with the people. The soldier as a rule only learnt to obey orders and would shoot when told.

The Commune also showed the nature of the "religion" of the disciples of Christ, as the treatment of the wounded by the Sisters of "Mercy" testified. Finally, the utter uselessness of "humanity" in dealing with the foes of the working-class was shown during the Paris struggle. Let them realise that there would be no successful revolution of the working-class until that class had studied well the economic and political history of the workers; until the memory of the working-class is well stored with a knowledge of what has been done to them by the ruling-class. Cluseret, who in a manifesto told the Paris workers that without military organisation the workers could be relied upon to defeat the best strategist, was a dangerous fool. Let them beware of the of to-day, and learn above all that there was no hope from "Labourism," "bogus Socialism,", or any other manifestation of capitalist politics.