The year 1871 is the fulcrum point of human history.
It was on March 19th of that year that the Revolution of Paris brought about the final rupture between working-class democracy and the ruling classes. Today, we must look back to the heroes of the Paris Commune and understand how important their bravery was to our changed and happier condition.
The buildup to the Revolution is as inspirational story as one is likely to read. The reactionary rulers of France and Prussia had been subjecting their peoples to a brutal war precipitated by nothing more than pride and adventurism. The people of Paris and the National Guard had been resisting Prussian forces for over six months. Finally the French aristocracy capitulated to the Prussians, and in the peace terms gave Paris over to be sacked.
To facilitate this transfer of power, the officers commanded the National Guard to lay down its arms and surrender its cannons. This was refused, and a rowdy but good natured mob of working Parisians, combined with the citizen soldiers of the National Guard, forced the French army to flee to Versailles. The people then threw up over 600 barricades throughout the city to defender her against all aggressors. In reaction, the vile and treacherous French government declared war upon the citizens of Paris, who had only wished to defend themselves against a foreign invader!
On March 28 the Paris Commune was declared, after democratic elections appointed 101 councilors as wards of the city. Of these 21 were Socialist members of the International Working Men’s Association. Among the many policies implemented, the Commune put a moratorium on unpaid rents, shut down pawnshops, separated the church from the state seizing church property, excluded religion from schools, postponed debt obligations, and abolished interest on the debts.
Local councils were formed to run the city with a high degree of worker control and cooperation. Revolutionary tendencies included anarchists, socialists, Blanquits and libertarian republicans.
Ultimately Paris fell to the treacherous forces of Versailles, who were tellingly more afraid of their own citizens than of a foreign invader. The reactionary leaders of the supposedly opposing sides even collaborated to put down the revolution, with the Prussian king releasing 130,000 French prisoners to send against the Communists. After one month of resistance, Versailles marched through the gate at St. Cloud. In the end nearly 30,000 martyrs lost their lives, men women and children, slaughtered without prejudice. These facts were gleefully recorded by the reactionary press itself, cravenly celebrating the mass murder.
The Paris Commune marks the beginning of the new world for the working classes, and the beginning of the end for class society. This was quite clear at the time to the reactionaries, and continues to be the thing which they fear most to this very day. The Commune was fueled by the moving spirit of a social revolution, a movement of the lowest classes to seize true freedom and equality for all men. The blood of the martyrs is why we raise the red flag to this day!
The history of great peoples contains startling pages which compel the admiration of posterity, and the greatest of these are not generally the records of speedy victories or obvious successes,’ but rather those terrible tragedies in which the souls of nations are rent to the very depths, and show suddenly such tremendous energies that we do not know whether they ought not to inspire us with elevation rather than fear.See also:
Such are the memories which peoples guard as tokens of undying glory, because, in these events, their energies attain the summit of power. The intensest passion used for the furtherance of the loftiest and purest ideal — there is nothing higher than this under the sun. Therefore, the conscience of the people is not deceived herein, and it is in these passages of despair and enthusiasm that they inscribe the names of their heroes.
So, for our part, we say that the Parisians who chose to bury themselves in the smoking ruins of Paris rather than to allow Socialism and the Revolution to be befouled and degraded are as great as the greatest heroes of history.
A Short Account of the Commune of Paris of 1871. by E. Belfort Bax, Victor Dave and William Morris