On the Paris Commune: Part 2


The Commune as an 'expansive form'

Perhaps the most appropriate entry into Marx's reflection on the Commune is an emblematic passage in his The Civil War in France — doubtless the most oft-cited part of this text. Behind its apparent simplicity and its concise formulations, this is an extraordinarily dense passage — and for this reason, its full implications are rarely grasped:  

The multiplicity of interpretations to which the Commune has been subjected, and the multiplicity of interests which construed it in their favour, show that it was a thoroughly expansive political form, while all the previous forms of government had been emphatically repressive. Its true secret was this: It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.[1]

Marx thus begins with a point of method whose importance can hardly be exaggerated. As against any positivist or objectivist pretence of freeing 'the facts' from their various 'interpretations' and upholding an (allegedly) ‘impartial’ position detached from the 'interests' at play — that is, as against the 'historian's history' that takes nothing from the event but 'its ashes'[2] — Marx insists that this multiplicity (of interpretations and interests) is present within the object itself. Far from seeing this as an anomaly or a weakness, Marx takes it for an index which allows us truly to understand the Commune as an object. For the Commune itself bears multiple different meanings, which give rise to so many different interpretations depending on the chosen line of approach — a choice corresponding to the multiple social and political interests crystallised in this object.

This is what makes the Commune an 'expansive form' — that is, in the first sense of this term, one open to plural further developments, 'while all the previous forms of government had been emphatically repressive'. Hence bringing these 'previous forms' to a close did not mean a simple closure of meaning — or, more precisely, this closure is just the effect of the (class) domination which these governmental forms express.

This allows us to zone in on the notion of form, which is central to Marx's elaboration of the critique of political economy — but also as we can see, here, to his critique of politics tout court.[3] Such a form is not a simple envelope, indifferent to its contents, but rather the form proper to a specified content, from which it cannot be dissociated. In other terms, the ‘form’ as the formal determination of a given 'material' through an activity which is essentially transformative. This formal determination bears on its extension: on what is — or more accurately, becomes — political, and thus explodes the previously established separations. The 'previous forms of government' are ‘repressive’ because they act as an autonomised principle of limitation and command, which reproduces the division between 'politics' and 'the economy', qua the sphere where the overall process of social reproduction unfolds. In so doing, they depoliticise the functioning of the economy, by protecting it from any possibility of control by the producers and by extending this dispossession to the entire spectrum of social activities.

This is the sense in which these 'previous forms of government' are statist in their nature — using a definition of the term 'state' which we should now clarify. The Commune led Marx to pick up the thread of his reflection on the previous revolutionary experience in France, from back in 1848: 'If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire you will find that I say that the next attempt of the French revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it [sie zu zerbrechen], and this is essential for every real people's revolution [Volksrevolution] on the Continent'.[4] 

Written in light of the last two decades under the Bonapartist regime, The Civil War in France updated the analyses Marx had offered the Eighteenth Brumaire. Behind the varied series of political regimes, the Eighteenth Brumaire had discerned a single deeper tendency at work: namely, the construction of an ever denser and more ramified 'state machinery' [Staatsmaschinerie]. This machinery dispossessed society of its 'common' interests as it transformed them into an 'object of government activity' and entrusted them to a specialised state machine, which 'snatched' the 'activities' coming from below.[5] In the first draft of The Civil War in France, Marx spoke of the Bonapartist state as a 'centralized State machinery which, with its ubiquitous and complicated military, bureaucratic, clerical and judiciary organs, entoils (inmeshes) the living civil society like a boa constrictor'.[6] From this flowed the need to 'smash' this machine. Rediscovering the Spinozist notes of his youthful texts, Marx pointed to this as the necessary condition for the 'popular masses themselves' to reappropriate their own forces, which the state had organised and directed against them. For Marx, 'The Commune — the reabsorption of the State power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it, by the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organized force of their suppression — the political form of their social emancipation, instead of the artificial force (appropriated by their oppressors) (their own force opposed to and organized against them) of society wielded for their oppression by their enemies'.[7] 

We will later return to the question of what exactly the 'smashing' of the state should be taken to mean. But already at this point we can specify a second dimension of the expansive character of the political form represented by the Commune. For this is the form which opens the way for the 'increased potential for action' (as Spinoza might have put it) of the active subjectivity which Marx here designates not as the 'proletariat' but as 'the popular masses'. In a youthful manuscript, Marx had spoken of 'democracy' as the 'self-determination of the people' — the only form that could be understood 'on its own basis', starting from the Fichtean-inspired theme of self-activity/self-activation (Selbstätigkeit/Selbstbetätigung).[8] But this was no longer a matter, as in Fichte, of the original freedom of the absolute Ego. Rather, it meant a process through which the masses gain mastery over their own living conditions. This is an eminently practical process, continually striving for the revolutionary transformation of its material conditions. In a similar formulation, Marx writes that the Paris Commune was 'the people acting for itself by itself' — in outright contrast with both the pre-modern communes dominated by elites of archaic notables, and the self-government so dear to English liberals, which he termed the 'self-government of the country through the means of an oligarchic club and the reading of the Times newspaper'.[9]

We can thus get a more accurate sense of the particular opening that came with the Commune grasped as an 'expansive form'. This opening designates a political process in the making, open to its own development. Even if it drew on a rich tradition of ideas and practices nurtured by the people of Paris, this process would expand not by applying some pre-established schema but rather by experimenting in new forms, proceeding through mistakes and successes. It was, of course, brutally cut short – the life of the Commune lasted for only 72 days; but its intensity was inversely proportional to its duration. This allowed it to momentarily reach a popular politicisation which was always in excess of its institutional forms, even though it cannot be dissociated from them. This is why the Commune itself was not an endpoint, a final destination. Rather, it was a mediation that made possible — and gave impulse to — a process of social transformation that would have to unfold in the long term, fuelled by the initiative of the popular masses. For Marx, 

The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du people [by people’s decree]. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.[10]

The Commune's significance lay wholly in this rejection of utopia —if we take this term to mean not a sense of the possible (which Marx and Engels always sought to preserve) but rather a pre-established plan to which reality would have to conform. This is also the reason why, despite Marx's approving presentation of the Commune in the third part of the Civil War in France, the significance of both its real achievements and the plans that remained on paper (i.e. most of them) should also be relativized, albeit not denied (though not denying). Marx underlined the Commune's limits, imposed by the lack of time and the context of near-permanent armed confrontation: 'The financial measures of the Commune, remarkable for their sagacity and moderation, could only be such as were compatible with the state of a besieged town'.[11] For, ultimately, 'The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence. Its special measures could but betoken the tendency of a government of the people by the people.'[12]

Many commentators — and in particular, some historians — have considered these arguments as a mere projection of Marx's ideas onto the Commune such as it really was. They accuse him of an instrumental approach through which he came to take his desires for reality, and then drew many of his readers down this slippery slope. Robert Tombs thus emphasises that 'The classic Marxist analyses ... contained many myths, illusions of hindsight and polemical distortions, as Engels privately admitted'. In particular, these consisted of 'repeating contemporary propaganda as fact, assuming the actual application of measures that existed only on paper, misinterpreting or exaggerating acts and intentions, and blithely recruiting after the event any Communard they approved of into the Marxist or at least Internationalist camp'.[13] Yet it seems that historical research into popular political practices and the discourses which actors mobilised does validate Marx's central idea that Commune was bound to remain a 'sphinx', unless it was understood as an expression of the will of large sectors of the popular masses to take their own affairs in hand. This meant establishing forms of 'direct government' which transcended state forms such as Marx understood them — and, it would seem, such as the actors themselves did. Here, it is worth citing the French historian of reference on this question, Jacques Rougerie: 'In delving deeper into matters I saw the insurrectionary event of 1871 as the expression of a deep-seated aspiration of the people of Paris, or at least of a popular majority, for a true democracy, for what had since 1848 been called the social and democratic Republic. In truth, the questions of [achieving the] "right" Republic, democracy and the revolutionary transformation of the social order are inextricably linked'. Citing the programmatic texts produced by the Commune and the Communard movement, Rougerie brings out one constant theme: the demand for the weakening or even the elimination of the distance which representative institutions established between the people and its representatives. These themes had deep roots in the tradition of Rousseau, in Robespierrian Jacobinism, in the practices of the sans-culottes and the discussions of direct government and decentralised forms of power that developed from the 1848 revolution onward. Turning toward the local-level practices and forms of organisation that emerged during the Paris Commune (clubs, municipal commissions, arrondissement committees, the councils of Garde Nationale legions) Rougerie notes that despite the confusion, the unresolved conflicts and the false steps, 'most of the reforms envisaged by the Commune were realised — and this was the most original thing — through local initiative'.[14] The empirical material thus reveals that 'for the people in action in Paris of 1871, to self-govern was to be one's own master. We see this in the fact that the ordinary people exercised an everyday, local small-scale power, in their clubs or in their end of the neighbourhood. Thus transpired — in a rather disorderly and often naive fashion — a popular will to direct political participation'.[15]

If recent works in particular have considered it good form to counterpose the Commune's efforts to the 'Marxist myth' or an ill-defined 'communist historiography' (if not necessarily Marx himself),[16]Rougerie has never hidden the fact that his 'sympathies lie with Marx (and of course, also the men and women of the Commune!)’.[17] In one recent text he underlines both the significance and the validity of Marx's analyses: 'today we understand better what Karl Marx — a partial, but even so, privileged witness — was offering in The Civil War in France when he said that the Commune was "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour." Either one could consider this formula as a way of lionising the insurrection, or else — and I shared in this error — one could see Marx as the partisan of a straightforward abolition of the state. But there was much more to it than that. Since his neo-Hegelian youth, Marx had been a sharp critic of representative democracy. What he envisaged in 1871 was a form of democratic representation, on a properly communal basis, which would emanate from and adjust to the radical transformation of society, in a finally egalitarian sense'.[18] Moreover, in giving a label to this form he proposes the same term — 'true democracy' — that Marx used in a youthful manuscript to designate the process abolishing the separation between the (solely) political state and its conditions. This, not only in the sense of 'participatory democracy', 'for this word is much too weak', but as a form that 'really guarantees the interests and rights of the governed — if need be, against those who govern them'.[19]

Working-class hegemony and the revolutionary people

But we have not finished with the famous citation from Marx just yet. Even having specified what he meant when he characterised the Commune as a 'thoroughly expansive political form' we still need to pin down the meaning of the second sentence, in which Marx proposes to resolve the enigma posed by the Commune — the 'sphinx so tantalizing to the bourgeois mind'.[20] Indeed, as countless commentators have emphasised, this enigma has not only tormented bourgeois minds. 'Its true secret', Marx writes, 'was this: It was essentially a working-class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.'[21]

Looking at the formulation 'working-class government', for the moment we will leave aside the discussion of the term 'government', since it raises the question of the Commune's relationship with the state, which will be addressed more systematically in subsequent sections. For now, we will focus on the qualifier 'working-class' — that is, on the idea that the Commune was a political form in which the 'working class' was in power, or exercised power, and in so doing worked for its own emancipation, 'the economic emancipation of labour'. 

What does Marx mean, then, when he designates the Commune as a 'working-class government' — and, therefore, as the first government of this type in history? Here, too, the problem has two closely interlinked dimensions: the idea of the 'working class' occupying positions of authority and thus standing up to lead society, and the idea of the working class as an active force which permeated and nourished the full spectrum of social activities. In other words, this is a view of power both 'from above' and 'from below'; and here, the two terms converge in the idea of the working class as a protagonist in an overall process that revolutionises social conditions; a process that radically reorients national life itself, but also transcends national borders, as it aims for nothing less than universal emancipation.

Let us now try and unpick these different dimensions and look at them in light of some of the concrete analyses provided by historians. The term 'working class' occurs twenty times throughout The Civil War in France, added to which are a dozen instances of 'proletarian(s)/proletariat and eight for 'workman(/men)' — quite a few in a relatively short text. These two terms are used in various ways — they are sometimes descriptions of historical contexts or meant as objective qualifiers, but they sometimes mainly serve to point to the central subject of the Paris revolution. ‘Proletarian(s’)/’proletariat’ is more systematically used than working-class in this latter sense, though Marx considers the two terms essentially equivalent. 'Working-class government', 'proletarian revolution', 'the proletarians ... understood ... their imperious duty', 'the French working class is only the advanced guard of the modern proletariat' — these are just some of the instances of these terms, suggesting that 'working class' and 'proletarian' refer to privileged forms of subjectivation in the revolutionary process in question. For Marx, there was no doubt that the working class was the protagonist in the 18 March insurrection and the government that resulted from it. This was true not simply in terms of the sociological composition of the mass of the participants (the same could have been said of the February 1848 revolution and even that of July 1830, not to mention the June Days of 1848, doubtless the most 'working-class' of all the Paris insurrections) but also at the level of its leadership: Marx said of the Commune's elected Council that '[t]he majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class'.[22] 

Yet the especially striking thing, when we read Marx's texts — The Civil War in France but also the two drafts, and even some of his letters from the period — is the frequent recurrence of the terms 'people'/'popular’. The term 'people' appears slightly more often than 'working class' in The Civil War in France (by 21 instances to 20) and to an even greater degree in the first draft (42 instances, against 34); 'popular' and 'workman('s)' appear at a similar rate.[23] Here, too, the term is used in multiple different ways, but  it takes on a particular meaning when it is more generally used to designate the revolutionary process and the nature of the political power that took shape with the Commune. As we have seen, Marx identified the deeper meaning of the Commune's social measures, as so many indicators of 'the tendency of a government of the people by the people'. The Commune itself was defined as 'the people’s own government', the expression of 'the people acting for itself by itself', of 'the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organized force of their suppression — the political form of their social emancipation'. Thus the 'popular masses' appeared as the subject of 'social emancipation', which was not simply a proletarian affair but referred to a more expansive process. Yet, the working class did not melt into an undifferentiated mass, but rather had to play a leadership role, i.e. to constitute a 'revolutionary people' under working-class hegemony.

A first level of analysis can be formulated in terms of class alliances. Drawing a balance-sheet of the failure of the previous French revolutionary experience in 1848, Marx understood that the proletariat could not win power unless it 'obtains that chorus without which its solo song in all peasant nations becomes a swan song [Sterblied].'[24] Hence, of course, the particular attention which he devoted throughout this 'terrible year' to the divide between Paris, and urban areas more generally, and the countryside — the 'peasant nation' that was the France of the final third of the nineteenth century.[25] Building upon his earlier analyses of the evolution of France's social structure since the Revolution, he pointed to the peasantry's essential role as the social basis of the overthrown Bonapartist regime, and a reservoir of reactionary forces. This much was confirmed by the 8 February 1871 election, which resulted in a majority for the 'Rurals', who dominated the Assembly. Marx insisted that it was decisively important that the Communards fight the reactionaries for leadership over this social base. Citing the appeal 'To the worker in the countryside' which the Commune tried to circulate (in truth, much too belatedly) in early May 1871, he wrote: 'The Commune was perfectly right in telling the peasants that “its victory was their only hope.”' In The Civil War in France, he advanced considerations useful for analysing the upheavals which traditional peasant-proprietors were experiencing under the dual pressure of both the state and the market mechanisms spurred by the capitalist transformation of agriculture — upheavals pointing toward its expropriation. Here, he emphasised that their emancipation depended on them coming together with the urban, Parisian revolution. The Versailles government established a cordon sanitaire around the insurgent capital precisely in order to block off any such prospect — which alone could have led to a victorious revolutionary outcome. as Marx put it: 'The Rurals – this was, in fact, their chief apprehension – knew that three months’ free communication of Communal Paris with the provinces would bring about a general rising of the peasants, and hence their anxiety to establish a police blockade around Paris, so as to stop the spread of the rinderpest [cattle pest – contagious disease].'[26] At the moment that he wrote these lines Marx was, of course, well-aware that the Commune had but reiterated the Paris proletariat's 1848 'swan song'. Moreover, Élisabeth Dmitrieff had warned him of the belated and tentative character of this appeal to the peasants, notwithstanding her own efforts as well as those of Serraillier, the International's other envoy. Here we will simply note that this fresh defeat led Marx — as we shall see in our conclusion — to more systematically study the questions of agriculture and the political potential of the peasantry. In this he especially drew on precapitalist examples of communal and community structures, in a renewed vision of the space-time of revolutionary processes on a global scale. But, for the moment, he chose to emphasise something that was widely seen as one of the Commune's successes — its capacity to rally wide layers of the middle classes, from the word of owner-operators, small traders, artisans and small businesses, which together represented a major share of the Paris population.[27] At a more political level, he emphasised that the bourgeois forces' defeatism — strikingly illustrated by the terms of the peace treaty agreed by Thiers’s government and Bismarck on 26 February — combined with the antirepublican attitude of the majority in the National Assembly and its belligerent anti-Parisian stance, had allowed the revolutionaries to break out of isolation, leading to the success of the 18 March uprising. For Marx: 'The capitulation of Paris, the open conspiracy against the Republic at Bordeaux, the coup d’état initiated by the nocturnal attack on Montmartre, rallied around it all the living elements of Paris'.[28]

Marx praised the Commune's social measures for having reinforced this dynamic. His clippings from the newspapers show the attention he devoted to 'Measures for [the] Working Class, but mostly for the Middle Classes'.[29] The information reaching him from Paris confirmed that these measures (and most importantly the decrees on rents and  payments due) had met with real success, significantly broadening the ranks of the Commune's supporters.[30] The Paris proletariat was unable to overcome its separation from the peasantry. But it avoided the tragic isolation it had experienced during the June Days of 1848,[31] raising itself to the position of a force leading an urban social bloc able to conquer and exercise power, at least at the city level. For Marx, 'this was the first revolution in which the working class was openly acknowledged as the only class capable of social initiative, even by the great bulk of the Paris middle class – shopkeepers, tradesmen, merchants – the wealthy capitalist alone excepted. The Commune had saved them by a sagacious settlement of that ever-recurring cause of dispute among the middle class themselves – the debtor and creditor account'.[32] Lissagaray expressed this idea in the most stirring language: 'This was a unique moment in this history. The union of our dawn was reborn. The same flame burned in men's souls, soldered the petty bourgeoisie to the proletariat and softened the middling bourgeoisie. This was one of those great historical turning-points when a people may be remoulded.'[33] It was doubtless the Commune's relative but real success in constituting a worker-dominated urban bloc in Paris that led Marx's first drafts to exaggerate the possibility of a juncture with the other cities — for he saw the Versailles blockade and the hangovers of the Empire as the only obstacles to this.[34] Yet while the cities were largely republican and hostile to Versailles, even in the most advanced cases  — as in the Midi, where 'communalist' movements emerged — they remained largely under the thumb of local bourgeois-republican elites. And from sharing the Paris insurgents' revolutionary objectives, these latter stuck to a line of 'conciliation' and averting civil war.[35]

So, if Marx may be faulted for excessive optimism, he was perfectly in line with the concrete perception of the class divides such as they appeared in the Paris of spring 1871; the terms that he deployed were the same ones that were widespread in the press and the Communard discourse of the time. Hence he wrote of 'Paris — the “Paris” of the mass of the Paris people fighting against [Thiers] is not “Paris.” “Paris — that is the rich, the capitalist, the idle” (why not the cosmopolitan stew?). This is the Paris of M. Thiers. The real Paris, working, thinking, fighting Paris, the Paris of the people, the Paris of the Commune is a “vile multitude.” There is the whole case of M. Thiers, not only for Paris, but for France.'[36] So, in making out the contours of the revolutionary people, Marx could write of 'The Communal Revolution as the Representative of all Classes of Society not Living upon Foreign Labour' (as the title of one section in the first draft of the Civil War in France puts it).[37] And the 'working-class government', as defined in the quote at the start of this section, was posed as 'the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class' — a struggle not identical to the opposition between proletarians and capitalists, though not in direct contradiction with it. The political Marx thus showed himself able to appropriate the same language used by the actors involved in the Commune. As Jacques Rougerie emphasises, 'the fundamental words and antagonistic pairs in the "socialist" texts [produced by various Communard sources] had a vaster reach but were also vaguer. They opposed the new world to the old, but above all the idle and those who worked, parasites and producers, leisure and toil... Proletarian, serf, and slave were absolutely synonymous. In particular, it could be said that the "capitalism" they attacked had something rather remote and mystical about it'.[38] Making the effort to listen to the Commune thus also meant speaking a language that could be understood by those actors. But it also meant working through these discursive elements from within, in order to open them up to novel aspects and encourage a turn from a 'rather mythical' conception of the enemy to a clearer and more  effective one. This move provided the necessary basis for fashioning an intervention which was informed by the concrete experience of social actors but also sought to transform its terms.[39] 

So, as we have seen, the primary task for a class aspiring to its own emancipation was to affirm its capacity to be recognised as the force leading a new 'historic' social bloc connecting urban producers to producers in the countryside. Such a bloc would have to be able to lead the nation and remould it by giving a new, properly internationalist sense to its role in the world. It is hardly strange, then, that in The Civil War in France — Marx's first reflection on a concrete, even if not-fully-formed, experience of a working-class-led popular government— we find a first definition of what Gramsci's Prison Notebooks would identify as the hegemonic moment of the new subaltern historic bloc,[40] linking its class dimension to its national-popular and cosmopolitan function. For Marx, 'If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was, at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labour, emphatically international. Within sight of that Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world.'[41] Clearly, here Marx was not talking of a fait accompli but of a dynamic at work — a possibility that had not yet been realised but whose elements had already begun to emerge, thus making it possible to think of a new path for revolutionary political action.

Still, this poses the question of how well-founded Marx's vision of the Communard 'people' really was. We should first note that — unlike certain historians today — the Commune's contemporaries (whether its partisans or its detractors) had no doubts as to its specifically working-class character and the violence of the class feelings expressed during this period. Few would disagree with the response that Louis Fiaux — during the events a simple doctor at the Saint-Louis hospital, and later a municipal councillor and militant active in the movement for the abolition of prostitution — gave to La Revue blanche's 1897 survey of the Commune. As Fiaux put it 'The 18 March revolution was working-class in its instruments; it was workers who cried its name and supported it; their vote, their guns, were on its side. The two months of the Commune were days of working-class action. The social goal was visible, though rather less the details of its means, impossible to discuss amidst the tumult and the gunpowder smoke'.[42] The anti-Communard discourse, in its own way, said little different, for instance when figures like Edmond de Goncourt depicted the 'street despotism of this scum dressed up as soldiers', or, like Maxime du Camp, the 'pig-headed brutes who understood nothing except that they had good pay, a lot of wine and too much eau de vie'.[43] (The theme of alcoholism was an obsessive topos of the portrayal of the 'dangerous classes' by bourgeois men of science and letters.)

It is also worth noting that the fact that a major part of the Paris middle classes swung behind the Commune, at least in its early weeks, was not plucked from the imagination of a militant like Serraillier, nor some sort of self-delusion resulting from Communard propaganda. For further evidence of this we can look to another direct witness, the Parnassian writer Catulle Mendès, a figure resolutely to the Commune but more lucid than many others. Observing the procession of the fédérés battalions heading to the outposts, he noted that 'these are not only the fédérés of Montmartre or Belleville; under the képis, one could recognise the easy-going figures of bourgeois or traders; many of them have white hands, not workers' hands. They march in good order; they are calm and resolute; one feels that these men are ready to die for a cause they believe to be just'.[44] 

The historiography of the Commune would confirm and further sharpen these assessments. Jacques Rougerie's research, conducted on the basis of the data provided by the Appert report on arrestees[45] and those convicted by the courts, has made it possible to establish beyond all doubt that 'The Commune was indeed a working-class insurrection';[46] almost 70 percent of the 36,000 arrestees belonged to these layers of the population. Among the ranks of worker-Communards, the 'new trades', especially metallurgy, were over-represented, as was construction (these trades counted for 12 and 16% of all arrestees, respectively, but just 8 and 10% of the general population). These were also the two sectors most emblematic of Paris's economic development under the Second Empire. Their over-representation was even stronger (at 30%) among those considered most implicated in the Commune, i.e. those sentenced to deportation. We can also note the significant numbers of white-collar workers involved (employés, 8% of arrestees), much more so than during the June Days of 1848; they were especially over-represented among deportees (10%) and National Guard officers (15%), reflecting the 'cadre' role they played in the insurrection. This role should, in turn, be set in relation to the oppositional movements against the Second Empire, and the substantial participation therein of figures from lower-ranking intellectual strata. As for the National Guard, it is worth noting that the great majority of its officers and sub-officers also came from working-class ranks (the five top-represented sectors alone made up 40% of the total), with metalworkers (12%) again especially conspicuous. 

This 'popular intelligentsia'[47] — a small minority among intellectual and artistic professions as a whole[48] yet, as we have just seen, strongly represented among the cadres of the insurrection — also provided a large proportion of the representatives elected to the Commune Council. This is unsurprising given that access to elected functions has traditionally been connected to the need to hold 'educational capital' to use Pierre Bourdieu’s concept. This 78-member assembly (the total number who actually took their seats) thus counted five small owner-operators, fourteen white-collar employees, clerks and bookkeepers, twelve journalists, a dozen members from intellectual and liberal professions (lawyers, schoolteachers, artists, doctors) but also no fewer than 33 workers.[49] As even such a harshly 'revisionist' and anti-Marxist historian as Robert Tombs notes, 'the proportion of working-class leaders — about half the Commune's membership — has probably never been equalled in any European revolutionary government.'[50] At a more political level, one oft-promoted image — also spread (for polemical purposes) by some of the Commune's own members — holds that socialists were only a small majority within the Council. So, it is worth highlighting that members of the Paris workers' organisations, affiliated to the IWMA either directly or indirectly (i.e. via the chambres syndicales, union sections), were in a strong position from the outset and after the 16 April by-elections they became a majority on the Council (rising from 32 to 42 members out of 78).[51] Of course, this does not mean that their views were in any way homogeneous. When Marx spoke of a Commune Council '[t]he majority of [whose] members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class',[52] this was neither an exaggeration nor something plucked from his imagination. The same can be said of his recognition of the working class's pre-eminent place within a broader popular bloc that formed the active base of the Paris revolution.

Some have sought to relativise or even refute these data by objecting that the Parisian workers of 1871 were still 'artisans' and that they were, in any case, different from the modern industrial proletarian. In his early works, Jacques Rougerie saw the Communard more as a descendant of the sans-culotte of Year II of the 1789 Revolution than the prefiguration of the revolutionary proletariat of the twentieth century. This allowed him to reach the conclusion — summed up in a very widely-adopted formulation — that the Commune was 'the "twilight" of the revolutions of the nineteenth century and not the "dawn" of those of the following century, or centuries'.[53] Two arguments blend together, here: the discourse mobilised by the actors in the Commune, be they its leaders or anonymous figures, and a sociological consideration, itself built on a vision of economic history which emphasises the supposed continuity between the Paris of the French Revolution and the Paris of 1871. We will return to the first of these aspects later on; for now, we shall focus on the latter question. It is quite right to say that, for reasons owing much to the decisions taken by the political authorities — who had had their fingers burned by the precedents of 1830 and 1848 — big industry was kept away from intra-muros Paris, even after the 1860 extension of the capital's territory into neighbouring municipalities.[54] The Parisian worker of 1870, the Communard, was essentially a worker in so-called 'traditional' trades, often crafts, as part of a dense fabric of small and middling enterprises. Added to this picture was the still-important place of the construction industry, halfway between traditional skilled trades and especially casualized forms of manual labour — sharply invigorated under the Empire through the process of Haussmannisation. From this we could conclude that 'artisanry' endured and interpret the type of socialism nurtured by the workers' organisations of the era on a similar basis: a 'craftsmen's socialism' of a seemingly still-Proudhonian matrix.

Yet as numerous works by urban sociologists and historians have shown, behind the apparent continuity with Year II's pre-capitalist world of artisans and apprentices, profound transformations had taken place.[55] Since the July Monarchy, Paris had undergone a process of 'organic industrialisation' (Maurizio Gribaudi)[56] which spread across the urban fabric through a dense network of small and middling enterprises. Highly specialised, they were often the bearers (or beneficiaries) of technological innovation and connected among themselves by a complex pattern of hierarchical relations of dependence and command. Even where the artisan did remain owner of the raw materials and/or the holder of a license, he was transformed into a manufacturer working on others' command. In the construction industry, a sector that underwent an unprecedented boom in the Haussmanian period, a system of cascading subcontracting developed, largely profiting those able to put up capital. There thus took form a set of procedures that Marx analysed as forms of the 'formal subsumption' of labour by capital (such as home-working, piece rates, and the putting out system). Thus, while Marx's views on industrial development have often been reduced to a linear march toward large-scale concentration, here he noted forms through which a preindustrial labour process was nonetheless subjected to the constraints of capitalist value-production.[57] This underlines the paradoxical modernity of these forms, whose incorporation into the capitalist mode of production brings, as a general rule, devastating effects for wage-workers' living and working conditions. This 'deconcentrated factory' model (as Jeanne Gaillard terms it) saw a fresh boom under the Empire, with the sharp rise of mechanical and metalworking industries in the periphery on the city's eastern and northern flanks— but also, in more concentrated form, in Grenelle, which became part of Paris’s 15th arrondissement in 1860. So, it is no accident that the emblematic districts of this revolution, a Commune which had such strong local roots, were Belleville, Les Batignolles and Montmartre — and not the Faubourgs Saint-Antoine or Saint-Marceau, so closely associated with the sans-culottes and indeed the June Days of 1848. Jacques Rougerie largely revised his own initial views,[58] emphasising that 'in the original "intermediate" economic context that was the Paris of the time', artisanal labour was already largely dependent on a form of cascading subcontracting, even as it preserved some of its ancient characteristics and a stubborn desire for independence. This, even though their everyday existence remained dominated by precarity and — a peculiarly Parisian phenomenon, this — the deteriorating housing conditions connected with an ever more accentuated spatial polarisation, which should rightly be called a class polarisation.[59] Given this, Rougerie reformulated his earlier dictum, now in a more open sense: 'I emphasised, as Marx did, that 1871 was the last of the Parisian revolutions of the nineteenth century. For me, it thus bore the whole decisive weight of those that had gone before it. It was above all a twilight! Perhaps also a new dawn!'[60] It is worth emphasising that this question hardly just concerns the Commune specifically. Daniel Bensaïd perfectly understood this: 'an enigma irreducibly attaches itself to the event, at once an origin and a bifurcation, the end of one era and the opening to another. Hence, in the case of the French Revolution: was this the last classic bourgeois revolution, and/or the beginning of the era of modern revolutions? And what about the Commune: was it the last proletarian revolution of the nineteenth century or the "finally discovered form" of the revolutions of the twentieth? Was May 1968 the final seismic shock in which a revolutionary cycle came to an end — a backward-looking illusion — or the first rumbling of the crises of the twenty-first century?'[61]

The Communards' socialism: a 'possible' communism?

Yet we still have not finished with the famous citation. At the  intersection of the Commune as a 'thoroughly expansive form' and the Commune as a 'working-class government' (in the sense of working-class hegemony within a national-popular bloc) we find the doubtless most illustrious formulation in this emblematic passage. It tells us that the Commune was the 'the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour'.  We shall now try to explain the particular meaning of this expression within the economy of Marx's text. To this end, we first need to make a brief detour via an earlier text which, though written by Marx, also appeared (like The Civil War in France itself) as a statement by the IWMA— i.e. the preamble to its 'General Rules'  since its creation (1864). It then appears that the 1871 text entertains a dialogic relationship with the 1864 one, thus expressing both developments within the IWMA itself and the novel situation created by the revolution in Paris. In the 1864 text, the IWMA had declared that 'the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopolizer of the means of labor — that is, the source of life — lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence ... The economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means'.[62] By Marx's own admission (and that of other figures involved in drafting the text) this was a compromise formulation which opened up the possibility of the working class's autonomous political action only to immediately restrict it to an instrumental and subordinate role. This was a necessary compromise, insofar as it allowed forces of highly varied status and orientation (British trade unions, French Proudhonian socialists, German émigrés, Italian republicans , etc.) to be gathered within one same transnational structure. Nonetheless, questions had been raised over this formulation already in the years before the Franco-Prussian war, as part of the IWMA's complex development process. This speaks to the decline of Proudhonian ideas in favour of 'collectivism', the rising strength of trade union action using strikes, and the emergence of working-class organisations in the electoral-political arena (the 1864 movement for working-class candidacies in France, the creation of the Lassallean and 'Eisenacher' socialist parties in Germany). But so, too, the formation of an 'anti-authoritarian' current around Bakunin, which was resolutely anti-political and oriented toward immediate insurrection. These interwoven divides were heightened at the Basle Congress (1869) and especially inflamed by the split in the IWMA's Romance Federation, opposing Bakunin's supporters to the partisans of the Marx-dominated London General Council; the Paris Congress of the IWMA scheduled for spring 1871 was supposed to pronounce on the dispute, but it had to be called off because of the war.[63]

The 1871 formulation was thus an intervention in a conflict-ridden debate which was already underway before the Commune. At the centre of this dispute was the question of political action. The Civil War in France hardly settled this question — once again, this was a text in which the expression of Marx's thinking immediately integrated the constraints imposed by a collective statement, synthesising partially divergent views. But it did change its terms. On the one hand, it lay emphasis on politics: the economic emancipation of labour required a fully 'political form' — and this was not a simple subordinate means, or one destined to wither away, for it was posed as expansive. On the other hand, this form bore an explicitly anti-statist ambition, for 'The very existence of the Commune involved, as a matter of course, local municipal liberty, but no longer as a check upon the now superseded state power.'[64] 

This posed in different terms — and we will return to this point in the next section — the question of a political action irreducible to state power, precisely because it created alternative public institutions seeking to take the state's place. The very purpose of this action was to 'discover' the 'expansive form' 'under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour'.

But what exactly does this mean? The term 'discover' ('the form at last discovered') is fundamentally important, here, in that it indicates that this was an invention — the product of the action of the 'popular masses' of Paris themselves — and not the application of any pre-existing doctrine: 

The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.[65]

The importance of these lines cannot be exaggerated: right in trend with Marx's stubborn refusal to 'write recipes ... for the cook-shops of the future',[66] any schematic idea of emancipation pre-existing the dominated classes' struggles is flatly rejected. The driving force behind historical change is to be found in what we should call the praxis of the subaltern groups and classes; for here, Marx cites almost word-for-word the formulations from his 1845 Theses on Feuerbach, which would only be published posthumously (in 1888), by Engels. In the 'long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men' (The Civil War in France) re-emerges 'the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing [Selbstveränderung] [which] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice [revolutionäre Praxis]' (Thesis 3).[67] The 'self-changing' in question was nothing but the fundamental principle according to which ' the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves' — as the first line of the IWMA's General Rules had proclaimed.[68] But the 1871 text also emphasises that the struggles needed to achieve this will be 'long' ones, that they will involve 'a series of historic processes' endowed with their own temporality. Yet by no means was this idea of a long process a synonym for gradualism — for the condition of its success was a revolutionary rupture, breaking the old state machinery and establishing a new type of political power. Nonetheless, this also implied that it would be wholly illusory to imagine that the 72 days of the Commune could have 'realised' socialism. They simply broke down the barriers — and this was already a huge achievement — set up by a repressive state power, which embodied class domination; and this leap made it possible 'to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant'.[69] In this formulation we find the Marx/Engelsian principle of the immanence of communism to the movement of social relations, grasped in all their contradictions. This is summed up by the famous definition that appears in The German Ideology: 'Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.'[70] This, then, is Marx's (and Engels's) method: to see, or more precisely, to discover in the real process such as it presents itself, the 'premises' pointing to its own transcendence, picking out the elements of this 'real movement' within the 'present state of things' that it tends to 'abolish'.

Marx was thus fully aware of the limits of the Commune's real social measures, which he studied closely; [71] he never confused them for socialism or communism. He thus congratulated it for its sparing financial measures, 'remarkable for their sagacity and moderation'; its measures in this regard 'could only be such as were compatible with the state of a besieged town'.[72] For, as we have seen, the essential thing, '[t]he great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence'.[73] A passage in the first preparatory draft for The Civil War in France further elaborated this idea: 

The greatest measure of the Commune is its own existence, working, acting under circumstances of unheard-of difficulty! The red flag, hissed [sic —"hoisted"] by the Paris Commune, crowns in reality only the government of workmen for Paris! They have clearly, consciously proclaimed the Emancipation of Labour, and the transformation of society, as their goal! But the actual “social” character of their Republic consists only in this, that workmen govern the Paris Commune! As to their measures, they must, by the nature of things, be principally confined to the military defence of Paris and its approvisionnement [supply]![74]

Marx was not, it should be understood, in any way belittling the value of these measures, which 'under circumstances of unexampled difficulty', proved the concrete reality of a 'working-class government', of its class character, and of its capacity to take urgent measures that favoured workers and the popular classes. But this is not the essential thing we need to look at, if we want to understand what aspect of the Commune most deeply embodied the 'real movement which abolishes the present state of things'. The Commune-form freed up a multiform working-class and popular expression, thus favouring a direct government — the popular masses taking their own affairs in hand. It was neither the endpoint nor a goal unto itself, but a framework, a 'rational medium' which allowed for the concrete experimenting of mechanisms aiming at the 'emancipation of labour and the transformation of society'. As one passage in the first draft emphasises, 

the Commune is not the social movement of the working class and therefore of a general regeneration of mankind, but the organized means of action. The Commune does not [do] away with the class struggles, through which the working classes strive to [read for] the abolition of all classes and, therefore, of all classes [class rule] ... but it affords the rational medium in which that class struggle can run through its different phases in the most rational and humane way. It could start violent reactions and as violent revolutions. It begins the emancipation of labour – its great goal – by doing away with the unproductive and mischievous work of the State parasites.[75]

This is the reason why — and this fact is rarely highlighted — in both The Civil War in France and in the preparatory manuscripts there is never any discussion of 'socialism', but only of communism.[76] In this there is no sign of maximalism or wild voluntarism; rather, it expresses fidelity to the immanent definition of communism-movement, a result of the class struggle unfolding toward its 'rational' endpoint — i.e. the abolition of class domination. To put that in other words, to think communism as the 'real movement' anchored in the class struggle and not as the application of a pre-existing schema means that communism's political form discovers itself in the course of this process, in its practical condition, as the result of the 'working existence' of the Commune itself.

Having practised them in the International, and been sometimes sharply confronted by them, Marx was keenly aware that in the French workers' movement — among the socialist militants who provided the Commune the bulk of its cadres — there was an abundance of aprioristic schemas and doctrines. But this was not the essential thing: for the force of the event overwhelmed its participants' own consciousness. Neither an ex nihilo creation nor a 'ruse of history' playing out unknown to the actors themselves, this process fuelled a whole set of developments — of doctrines, of projects, and of watchwords which had pre-existed this event. It nonetheless exceeded their intentions and its participants' initial objectives, which were constantly overwhelmed by their own actions. If this may seem a rather abstract dialectic, it allows us to give a sense of the most concrete experience the Commune's participants (or those in any other revolutionary experience) had their experience of being caught up in a torrent impossible to get any grip on, opening up to an 'after' which was unthinkable even yesterday, and from which they would re-emerge profoundly altered. Victorine Brocher — a cobbler's seamstress, a militant in the International and a simple ambulance attendant for a fédéré battalion — tried to paint this picture when she wrote 'in those days I achieved great feats of which I would never have believed myself capable; the nervous excitement, driven to the utmost limit, transforms one's being; sustained by an idea, one's strengths multiply to an extraordinary degree’.[77] Lived time seemed to explode from within, allowing the  novum to surge to the surface: 'in revolutions there is no day-after [lendemain] but always the unknown'.[78] This sentiment of  being overwhelmed by the sudden emergence of the unknown also appears in more abstract terms in the writings of Arthur Arnould — a member of the Commune Council, subsequently a figure on the libertarian wing of the exile Communard community and, later still, high priest of the Paris theosophists. For Arnould, 'The Paris Commune, which introduced a new idea as the first Revolution once had, which brought the realisation of the socialist programme into the world, thus had no bearings, nothing in the past that could guide it, wherever it may have looked. If it turned back to 1792, it found a terrible struggle, whose triumph was accomplished by means appropriate to the circumstances and the environment of the time. Beyond that, there was sheer nothingness. It was necessary to invent everything, to create its policy from scratch'.[79] Starting from the 'nothingness' of the void, there emerged the 'new forms' demanded by the 'inventions of the unknown', to paraphrase Rimbaud.

But let us get back to Marx. What real evidence was he drawing on, when he identified in the Commune not just immediate measures in favour of the working class by a government of their own, but elements of communism expressed in a practical  state? Here, the question plays out at two distinct levels. First is the level of 'proclamations' — the goals that the Commune itself proposed to achieve. As we have said, while communism is immanent to the movement of social relations, it is not the spontaneous movement of History — rather, it requires a will, actors' own conscious (and even total) commitment, a subjectivity that constitutes itself in and through the struggle, and through  the imagined representation of its place within this struggle. Of course, the Commune's visiting card was hardly reducible to the emancipation of labour alone, and this objective was not foremost in the texts approved by its Council. Some historians have gone so far as to deny that the Commune had any ambitions that went beyond a socially-inflected republicanism, a social dimension that was rooted in commonplace moral principles of dignity and justice.[80] Yet as well as the abundance of explicitly socialist texts published in its Journal officiel, even the text most clearly representative of the Commune — the 19 April 1871 Declaration to the French People,[81] to which Marx attributed a central place in his analysis of the Commune as a political form — cannot be reduced to a 'communalist' version of a republican programme. It did, indeed, begin by presenting the 'recognition and consolidation of the Republic' as the guiding principle of the 18 March Revolution, an effort which had to be mounted from below through 'the absolute autonomy of the Commune', which was to be 'extended to all localities in France'. But the objective it aimed toward was nothing less than 'to universalize power and property'. It would strive for the 'end of the old governmental and clerical world, of militarism and fonctionnarisme,[82] of exploitation, speculation, monopolies and privileges to which the proletariat owe their servitude'. This language may not have obeyed any kind of socialist doctrinal purity, but it certainly set its sights higher than anything an advanced republicanism was ready to accept. Even the Central Committee of the National Guard, which was most inclined to speak a strictly republican language (though also a radical one) changed its tone when, less than a week after the 18 March insurrection, the conflict with Versailles harshened. Its 24 March address to citizens and National Guards, calling for mass participation in the 26 March elections to the Commune Council, spoke of 'the advent of the workers' world' and a fight to the last for 'the cause of democracy, the people's cause'.[83] The same day, the IWMA's Paris Federation council and the trade union chambers affiliated to it called on 'workers [travailleurs]' to head to the polls to 'uphold the principles of the Communal Revolution' and 'consolidate order on new bases [by] reorganis[ing] labour, which is its first condition'. The 'Communal delegation' that was to be elected in this vote was itself conceived as 'the guarantee of workers' emancipation', an aid to 'laying the first stone of the social edifice'.

It is also worth adding — and this is no mere detail — that the last people to doubt the significance of this revolution were its adversaries. Far from seeing it as a simple republican endeavour, more patriotic and hotheaded than the initiative taken by the men of the government of National Defence, they immediately saw the Commune as a threat to social order which had  profoundly split the republican camp. Thus, as early as 21 March — even before the new Paris authorities had adopted the slightest socialist measure — the republican Jules Favre told the Versailles Assembly of his sense of alarm: 'don't we know that the requisitions are beginning, that private property is going to be violated and that we are going to see ... the collapse of all society, undermined from below through a series of steps, in knowingly calculated perversity’.[84] Two months to the day later, just as the Versailles troops had entered Paris, this same Jules Favre received the following telegram from Adolphe Thiers, whose contents he was to transmit to Bismarck: 'Mr von Bismarck  should be perfectly calm. The war will be finished within the week. ... I beg Mr von Bismarck, in the name of the cause of order, to allow we ourselves to complete this repression of the anti-social den of thieves which has set up camp in Paris for some days now. For to act otherwise would do fresh damage to the party of order in France, and thus in Europe. Count on us, and social order will be restored within the week'.[85] Here, Thiers appealed to Bismarck to allow him to massacre the insurgent Parisians as he saw fit, in the name of a mission the belligerents had in common — i.e. to defend a social order they both supported, not any particular political principle or system. As Marx wrote in The Civil War in France, 'the national governments are one as against the proletariat!'[86]

Stimulated by the experience the workers' movement had accumulated in the preceding period, and feeding on the revolutionary tradition of which the people of Paris saw itself the bearer, the Commune's dynamic really was the dynamic of a social revolution. Yet, if this was a necessary condition for Marx to be able to make out a '"possible" communism' therein, that alone was insufficient. Indeed, it took the stubborn work of the men — and as we shall see in a moment, women — of the International for the 'socialist' experiments mentioned in The Civil War in France to see the light of day, or at least, for the first concrete steps in this direction to be taken. But what kind of 'socialism' was this, exactly? If we were looking for doctrinal or programmatic clarity, or in particular any kind of 'application of Marxist principles', we would surely be disappointed — and moreover, this was certainly not Marx's own approach. The French workers' movement of the time was characterised both by its eclecticism, or more precisely, by the syncretism of its theoretical reference points, and by a telling evolution in its orientation — a synonym for its radicalisation, which had accelerated at the end of the 1860s. This radicalisation was driven by the new experiences emerging in this period: a rising tide of strikes and trade-union organisation, a growing political involvement in the (republican, in a very inclusive sense) opposition to the Second Empire, and intense programmatic debates within the IWMA.  While the mid-1860s had been marked by a 'Proudhonian moment' — revolving around the ideas (and practices) of mutualism, consumer cooperatives, and a ‘people's bank’ financing a system of 'equal market exchange' between individual producers or small-scale associations — by 1870-71 this vision had largely been superseded, even if some traces of it can be made out in Communard discourse and proposals.[87] The 'collectivist' ideas that prevailed at the IWMA's Basle Congress (September 1869) and trade-union organisation marked out the new framework of the French workers' movement's thought and action — and even led to a redefinition of the content of cooperativism, which remained this new socialism's foundation. Rather telling in this sense is the political evolution of its main leader Eugène Varlin, from guild mutualism toward collectivism and involvement in political struggle.[88] So, what was this Communard socialism really about?

The best definition is that provided by Jacques Rougerie: it was a project for 'syndicalisation of the means of production', leading to their 'collectivisation', their collective appropriation, by the producers as organised in a network of trade-union chambres, or sections.[89] The starting point, in this project, was the capital to be provided by the public authorities — i.e. by the Commune — which would allow the creation of cooperative workers' associations. These associations would then pay the workers the full value of their products; deprived of a boss creaming off profits, they could peacefully extend their reach and finally win out over capitalist businesses, without any need for violent expropriation, and ultimately take full control of a given branch of production. This co-operative strategy attributed a decisive role to the trade-union sections, which were meant to federate together and take over the collectivised productive apparatus in each trade — and, at the other end of things, control hiring. These ideas would later inform revolutionary syndicalism and the bourses du travail (labour exchanges) movement. The state or, more precisely, the public authorities were called on to support this process — this, not by becoming a 'state-boss' but rather by providing capital, credit and preferential tendering to the co-operative sector, encouraging its emergence where it did not yet exist, and immediately placing under workers' control those companies that were already in the hands of  the municipality or the state (armaments factory, the post office, public services). Rather than Proudhonism, this should be seen as a version of the 'organisation of labour' project conceptualised by Louis Blanc on the basis of ideas widespread in the Paris ateliers, and taken up already in 1848 by the Commission du Travail du Luxembourg and the Comité central des ouvriers de la Seine, earning Proudhon's categorical opposition. Under the Commune, 'the organisation of labour' became the governing idea of the Labour and Exchange Commission, a bastion of Internationalist militants, acting under the leadership of Léo Frankel, a Hungarian militant close to Marx. In constant interaction with the trade-union sections and the women's organisations, and in particular the 'Women's Union for the Defence of Paris and Care for the Wounded' — 'too anodyne a title', Rougerie stresses, for 'we would probably speak of the Paris Working Women's Union Federation'[90] — this Commission became the laboratory for the socialisation projects that saw the light of day under the Commune.

This tendency provided the context for the Commune's 16 April decree on the requisition of the abandoned workshops — the fruit of this Commission's work. Some observers, and especially certain historians, have remarked sarcastically on the fact that, far from seeking to 'expropriate the expropriators', as Marx and Engels claimed, this decree respected property. After all, it stipulated compensation for the proprietors, with the sum to be paid  — quite prudently — left up to the future decisions of an 'arbitration jury'. More broadly, the scope of this decree has often been played down, given that there was almost no opportunity to implement it (just one firm, the Brosse foundry in the 15th arrondissement, was requisitioned) and it has also been suggested that this was a mere expedient measure in the context of a war economy (i.e. by punishing 'deserter' proprietors).[91] What truth is there to all this? Firstly, even just to read The Civil War in France is enough to correct claims as to what kind of argument Marx was making. When he wrote that '[t]he Commune, they exclaim, intends to abolish property, the basis of all civilization!', he was speaking of the Commune's adversaries — or its false friends. And, he continued: 'Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the labour of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labour.' This was, then, not the 'abolition of property' but a matter of 'mak[ing] individual property a truth' — a formula that some may find surprising, but which is familiar to attentive readers of Marx, whose oeuvre is rich in passages working through the historical evolution of the notion of 'property', from pre-capitalist societies to communism. In this theoretical elaboration, he sought to demonstrate that individualisation does not mean privatisation (especially under capitalism, it rather more means its negation) and that the abolition of class property should be understood as the emergence of a new individuality as well as of a new collective formation.[92] Even in the passage in Capital which concludes with the famous formula referring to the 'expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people', Marx defined this process (and note, it is carried out by the 'mass of the people' and not the 'proletariat' alone) as 'the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.'[93]

Thus, Marx spoke of 'cooperation' and 'possession in common' — and not of a state takeover. With regard to cooperatives more specifically, Marx was far from having the hostile attitude he is often attributed.[94] The IWMA's inaugural address, which he alone authored, speaks of the 'cooperative movement' as a 'still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property' — still greater, that is, than the law on the 10-hour working day. The text continues: 

The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.[95] 

Marx would never depart from this largely enthusiastic assessment, which — the reader will have noted — also extended to Owen and the French initiatives of 1848. The further thesis that he introduced — expressing his own position — held that '[t]o save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means', which implied smashing the 'political privileges' used by 'the lords of the land and the lords of capital' 'for the defence and perpetuation of their economic monopolies'. From this flowed the conclusion that '[t]o conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes.'[96] So, in Marx's view, it would be mistaken to counterpose cooperative experiments to political action, or consider them able to replace it, or wield them as an argument against large-scale, technologically-advanced production. These essential demarcation-lines separating him from Proudhon's conception of cooperativism do not amount to a condemnation of this endeavour itself.

In important passages of Volume III of Capital, dating from 1865-67, Marx reiterated and further specified the significance of co-operatives within the perspective of communism. Their existence brought practical proof that it was possible to abolish waged labour, and in particular the capitalist form of the division of labour as crystallised in the autonomization of the functions co-ordinating (and supervising) production. At the same time, co-operatives were understood as a form of transition to communism, even if, left to themselves — i.e. if unaccompanied by the political overhaul necessary to realising their initial ambition — they tended to make their members a 'collective capitalist'. 'Co-operative factories furnish proof that the capitalist has become no less redundant as a functionary in production as he himself, looking down from his high perch, finds the big landowner redundant.'[97] This function of directing production was now detached from ownership; it could be entrusted to hired administrators — those who would become known as managers — paid for their ability to keep exploitation going on capital's behalf, while also taking on general functions necessary to the onward march of production. Yet, '[i]n a co-operative factory the antagonistic nature of the labour of supervision disappears, because the manager is paid by the labourers instead of representing capital counterposed to them'.[98] Yet there was still more to this question — for co-operatives also offered the proof that it is possible to provide a non-capitalist resolution to the contradiction between the social character of the production of wealth and the private nature of their appropriation. Co-operatives thus appeared as an alternative to the other tendency — joint-stock companies — which provided the negative resolution of this same contradiction, thus reproducing the terms of a Hegelian 'bad infinity':

The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. ... The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other. [99]

The reader will have to excuse our detour via these long citations. But they are necessary to show that Marx had no trouble in grasping the significance of the experiments launched by the co-operative initiatives which emerged under the Commune. In the Paris proletarians' determination to form associations and take production in hand, Marx saw both their longstanding rejection of the subsumption of labour to capital (which was still far from a fait accompli, in the Parisian ateliers) and an alternative principle for the organisation of the economy, which was now to be organised by the producers themselves. So, it was only natural that he saw in this aspiration an attempt at 'transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labour'.[100] And, he continued, directly in line with the IWMA's inaugural address (though making no pretence that these were part of the Commune's own plans), by listing the conditions he considered necessary for this project to succeed (hence the repeated iterations of 'if' in this passage), 'If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production – what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, “possible” communism?'[101]

Marx thus made no pretence that the Communards had any idea of a 'common plan' for France in the pipeline — indeed, he steered clear of identifying this idea with state planning, when it was instead a matter of allowing the 'united co-operative societies' to take large-scale production 'under their own control'. In speaking of a 'possible' communism — a possibility opened up by the Paris insurgents' experiments — Marx went no further than the position which both he and the IWMA's foundational text had taken, holding that such an organisation was needed to prevent cooperativist socialism turning into 'a sham and a snare', allowing it to realise its goals and become an effective form of the emancipation of labour.

Marx was all the more inclined to take such a position — and, in a sense, authorised to do so — given the role of IWMA militants in the Commune. As Jacques Rougerie emphasises, 'if anything could be taken for granted it is that the Commune of 1871 would not have assumed the socialist character it doubtless did have if it were not for the tireless activity of Internationalist militants at all levels. The socialism of 1871 was wholly theirs'.[102] As we have noted already, several of the leading actors — some of them women — in this matter were militants in direct contact with Marx, not least Léo Frankel and Elizabeta Dmitrieff. The small part of their exchanges that still survive suffice to demonstrate that this was not at all a matter of Marx, or the IWMA's London-based Council more generally, dictating orders or bombarding its interlocutors with ready-made plans, but of giving advice and responding to — often pressing — requests for help.[103] In any case, this correspondence sheds light on Marx's fulsome praise for the 16 April decree on the abandoned workshops. Once again, let us hear what Rougerie has to say on this score: 'It would be easy to judge this decree as rather mediocre in scope. But if it were so, what explains then the enthusiasm it undeniably aroused in the workers' organisations?'[104] Tailors, mechanics, jewellers, saddlers, candlemakers, all vied to offer the highest praise to the vistas that had now been opened up: 'never, as the tailors' union chamber put it, had any government offered the class of workers a more favourable opportunity. To abstain would be to betray the cause of the emancipation of labour.'[105] Marx was thus hardly the only one excited by the measure. 

We could say that Lissagaray was still under Marx's influence when he paid tribute to the decree in his History of the Paris Commune;[106] but this was how the anarchist Gustave Lefrançais, a virulent opponent of Marx — and a figure with great reservations with regard to co-operatives — put it: 'this decree was nothing less than the true setting-underway of the social revolution. This was the expropriation in the general interest — any question of compensation put on hold — of the equipment left unproductive by will of its present owners'.[107] There would thus appear to be every grounds to echo Jacques Rougerie's assessment that Marx's formulation was 'the most accurate interpretation of the spirit of the 16 April decree'. [108] 

Yet one actor played a particular role in driving the process which led to the 16 April decree and the first stuttering attempts to implement it: the women's movement. In particular this meant the Women's Union, led by the International's envoy Elizabeta Dmitrieff and by the bookbinder Nathalie Le Mel, who was also a member of the International and a, experienced trade unionist.[109] Founded on 11 April 1871, this Union des Femmes was from the outset characterised by the radicalism of its positions, taking a much more offensive stance than the IWMA itself: 'No more exploiters, no more masters! Work and wellbeing for all — the people's self-government — the Commune is to live free by working or to die fighting!' Women were called on to conquer their proper status as citoyennes — a key term whose use would gradually spread under the Commune. This would happen not through the granting of political rights but rather through their full participation in the activity of the revolution, in the co-operative organisation of the trades where they were dominant, but also full participation in the tasks of military defence. This meant not only the army roles traditionally entrusted to women (running ambulances and canteens) but women themselves taking up arms. 

No less remarkable was this organisation's robust internal structure, with membership numbers similar to that of the International's Paris Federation.[110] It combined a centralisation uncommon in the custom of the workers' movement of the time, with a principle of election, public debate and recall of representatives. Lastly, even beyond their ardently combative spirit, the Women's Union's texts were characterised by an intransigent internationalism, aiming at 'the universal social Republic'. The organisation saw itself as an integral part of an international project for building co-operative associations — of which the International was seen as both a model and an active part. Soon becoming a privileged partner of the Labour and Exchange Commission (to which Dmitrieff's closeness to Frankel contributed greatly) the Women's Union became the spearhead of the co-operative projects, radicalising them in the direction of an abolition of gender and class hierarchies.[111] As Jacques Rougerie notes, 'here what we could properly term a socialist endeavour was set in motion, under the aegis of the men and women of the International; there was not enough time to bring it to full fruition'.[112] This did not mean that the Commune itself had become feminist,[113] though there were a few bold civil-rights measures like the introduction of equal pensions for women either living with their husbands or cohabiting, also extended to children, be they legally recognised or otherwise. This measure prompted Arthur Arnould to say that 'with these six words, the Commune did more for women's emancipation, for their dignity, than any of the moralists or legislators of the past'.[114] We could also mention educational projects directed at women, in tandem with the Commune's secularisation effort. But this does not mean that the Commune as such was a champion of women’s emancipation. Noting the military leaders' (especially Dombrowski's) hostility to women's participation in defence efforts — and others' lack of interest for questions concerning women — the socialist feminist André Léo spoke of a 'Revolution without woman' and admonished those in Communard ranks who were happy to liberate woman from the grip of priests but persisted in believing that 'nor must she be her own master any more than beforehand, that she must remain neutral and passive, under man's direction', limited to 'swapping [the man] whom she had to confess to'.[115] Even so, like other revolutionary movements, the Commune was marked by both the power and the visibility of women's participation — an indicator which ought not mislead us as to how much it really shook up existing social relations. One of the pillars of the International in Paris and a prominent figure in the Commune, Benoît Malon — who was also André Léo's partner for several years — grasped this perfectly: 'the women's revolutionary action, which we see only on peoples' greatest days, excited the Fédérés' resolve and infuriated the reactionaries who, for this very reason, saw that they had a genuine revolution on their hands. Workers in power, women as citizens in the forum — for [the reactionaries] this was the pit of despair!'[116] The outright dehumanising portrayals of the woman Communards as pétroleuses — criminal arsonists and prostitutes — spoke to the ruling classes' fear over this development, both the reality and a metonymy of the threat that loomed over even the most basic fundamentals of social order.

If this socialist, working-class feminism was the product of a movement that had emerged across the previous decade, the Commune's rapid, bloody end would interrupt its progress. Yet, as the historian Eugene Schulkind suggests, we may well ask whether '[i]f the Commune had lasted longer, could such a transformation have become a watershed for socialist feminism, which might have been even stronger than contemporary developments in, say, Germany'?[117] In any case, we can find a trace of the Commune's brilliant breakthroughs in Marx's call for the creation of women's sections at the International's London Conference (September 1871).[118] In his speech introducing the proposal at the London conference, stressed ‘the ardent participation of women in the events of the Paris Commune’, and added: ‘Women play a great role: they work in factories; they take part in strikes, in the war, in the [Paris] Commune. They have more ardour than men’.[119] Defending the creation of non-mixed women’s section, against the objections raised by some participants (among them the Belgian socialist leader César de Paepe who warned against the risk of creating a “sort of International of women”), Marx claimed that ‘in countries where women are employed in industry they would prefer to meet among themselves to discuss’.[120] Even if, eventually, they did not enter into practice within the IWMA, these proposals announce the growing importance of the women's question within the workers' movement in the years following the Commune.

[1] 'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[2] Daniel Bensaïd, 'Péguy, l’inglorieux vertical. Critique de la raison historique' (1992), available at danielbensaid.org/Peguy-l-inglorieux-vertical.

[3] Here we draw on André Tosel's analysis of the category of 'form' in his major text 'La critique de l’économie politique ou les catégories marxiennes de l’émancipation', in André Tosel, L’esprit de scission. Études sur Marx, Gramsci, Lukacs, Besançon, Annales littéraires de l’Université de Besançon, 1991, pp. 18-32.

[4] Marx to Kugelmann, 12 April 1871, text from marxists.org.

[5] Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire, text from marxists.org.

[6] Marx, The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, text from marxists.org.

[9] The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org

[10]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org. 

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune 1871, London, Routledge 2014, p. 201. 

[14]  Jacques Rougerie, 'La Commune et la démocratie' (2011), www.commune1871-rougerie.fr. Further, 'In the libertarian climate of the moment, it was left up to municipalities to proceed with reforms', Rougerie, Paris libre 1871, op. cit., p. 169. 

[15]  'La Commune et la démocratie', art. cit.

[16] Again, Robert Tombs's The Paris Commune 1871 is unsurpassable on this  terrain.

[17] Paris libre 1871, op. cit., p. 6.

[18]  'La Commune et la démocratie', art. cit.

[19]  Ibid.

[20]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org. 

[21] Ibid.

[22]  The political composition of this leadership is a more delicate question, given not only its internal fragmentation and conflicts, but also the mobile and sometimes confused character of the dividing lines. We will return to this point.

[23]  There are 8 instances of each of the words 'popular' and 'workman' in The Civil War in France, and 21 and 28 respectively in the first draft.

[24]  Marx, 'Eighteenth Brumaire', in The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, New York: WW Norton, 1978, p. 614.

[25]  In 1876 the agricultural sector embraced around 49% of the active population, as against 28% for the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century it remained above 40%. See Brunot Hérault, La Population paysanne: repères historiques, Centre d’études et de prospective, Ministère de l’Agriculture, no. 11, 2016, p. 13.

[26]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[27]  The category patrons [employers] corresponded to around 13.5% of the city's active population — including their families, this would amount to 20% of the 1.8 million Parisians of the time (calculation based on the figures in Jacques Rougerie, Paris libre 1871, op. cit., p. 10). The huge majority were owners of very small businesses, making them akin to artisans. In 1861-65, 61.5% of Parisian patrons employed one worker or less, and 31% between two and ten. With the annexation of the inner banlieue to Paris in 1860, the already weak concentration of the manufacturing sector fell further. See Jeanne Gaillard, Paris, la ville (1852-1870), Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997, p. 313.

[28]  The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org

[29]  Ibid.

[30]  See Auguste Serraillier's letter to the General Council (via his wife).

[31]  'On the side of the Paris proletariat stood none but itself' —The Eighteenth Brumaire, Chapter 1, text from marxists.org.

[32]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[33]  Prosper-Olivier Lissagary, History of the Paris Commune of 1871,  text from marxists.org.

[34]  ' If then the provinces have till now only made a passive resistance against Versailles without rising for Paris, [it is] to be explained by the strongholds the old authorities hold here still, the trance in which the Empire merged and the war maintained the Province. It is evident that it is only the Versailles army, government and [the] Chinese wall of lies, that stand between Paris and the provinces. If that wall falls, they will unite with it.' — The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org.

[35]  As Jeanne Gaillard emphasises in her pioneering Communes de province, Commune de Paris 1870-1871 (Paris, Flammarion, 1971): 'In fact the Commune went far beyond what the provinces wanted. It had become — deliberately or not — a government with its assemblies, its army, its Journal officiel, and when it did agree to deal with Versailles it did so as one government to another. The choice that the Appeal [to the worker in the country] and the Declaration [to the French people] proposed ... stood above what the main French towns wanted, for they did no more than complain against being "put under [others'] control"' (pp. 82-83).

[36]  The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org. 

[37]  Ibid.

[38]  Paris libre 1871, op. cit., pp. 244-245.

[39]  As Louis Guilbert noted at the end of a meticulous linguistic study of the syntagma 'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, 'if [Marx] analysed the political content of the Commune's action as a lucid revolutionary, he used the words common among all the members of the International and among Commune supporters more generally. The new term, with its different content, would take form only at the end of his description of the Commune's political content': Louis Guilbert, 'La formation du nom “La Commune de Paris” dans le discours de Marx', La Nouvelle Critique, op. cit., p. 5

[40]  The emergence of the problem of hegemony in Marx's reading of the Commune qua political form was highlighted by Monty Johnstone, 'The Paris Commune and Marx’s Conception of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat', The Massachusetts Review, vol. 12, no 3, 1971, pp. 447-462, and especially p. 447-449, as well as Roger Thomas 'Enigmatic Writings: Karl Marx’s The Civil War in France and the Paris Commune of 1871', History of Political Thought, vol. 18, no. 3, 1997, p. 495. Se also the the remarks in the same sense by Daniel Bensaïd; though, doubtless embarrassed by the emphasis here placed on its function as a 'truly national government', he takes Marx's comment for an 'enigmatic formula': Daniel Bensaïd, 'Politiques de Marx', in Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Inventer l’inconnu. Textes et correspondance autour de la Commune, Paris, La fabrique, 2008, p. 57.

[41]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[42]  La Revue blanche, enquéte sur la Commune (1897), reprint by Les Éditions de l’Amateur, Paris, 2011, p. 65.

[43]  Cited respectively by Laure Godineau, La Commune de Paris par ceux qui l’ont vécue, Paris, Parigramme, 2010, p. 111, and Paul Lidsky, Les Écrivains contre la Commune, Paris, Maspero, 1982, p. 61.

[44]  Cited in Lidsky, cit. p. 62.

[45]  These data have certain biases given their function as a charge-sheet against the Communards. Yet they remain an irreplaceable source, providing a substantial enough sample to serve as the foundation for more general conclusions. See Jean Maitron's discussion of this source, 'Étude critique du rapport Appert. Essai de “contre-rapport”', in La Commune de 1871, Colloque de Paris – mai 1971, Paris, Les Éditions ouvrières, 1972, pp. 95-118.

[46]  Jacques Rougerie, Procès des communards, op. cit., p. 127. See also, by the same author, 'Composition d’une population insurgée. L’exemple de la Commune', Le Mouvement social, no. 48, 1964, pp. 31-47.

[47]  As Jacques Rougerie calls the IWMA's militants, in 'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier à Paris pendant les événements de 1870-1871', International Review of Social History, vol. 17, no. 1, 1972, p. 65.

[48]  On this, see Paul Lidsky, Les Écrivains..., op. cit., pp. 9-39.

[49]  Jacques Rougerie, Paris insurgé. La Commune de 1871, Paris, Gallimard, 1995, p. 34.

[50]  Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune 1871, cit., p. 116.

[51]  'In truth, if we count up the number of Commune members who were either outright members of a ‘section’, or part of the leadership of a trade-union association attached to the Federal Chamber, we find that in the 26 March elections at least 32 of the total 92 representatives elected could be considered Internationalists (they took some 35 seats, for Varlin was indicated in three [arrondissements]... and Theisz [in] two). Their numbers increased yet further in the 16 April by-elections; 10 further Internationalist representatives were elected; it is worth remembering that they now formed the majority of the Council of the Commune [] now reduced by various defections or absences to 78 members' — Rougerie, 'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier...', art. cit., p. 59.

[52]  'The Paris Commune', in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[53]  'This was, above all, a sans-culotte people. It was also socialist, but this was a socialism that ultimately came second... The Communard fully belongs to a prehistory of the workers' movement and of socialism. And the Commune is but the last revolution of the nineteenth century — the final, furthest point of the French revolutionary act of the nineteenth century. A twilight, not a dawn' —Procès des Communards, op. cit., p. 240-241.

[54]  Thus, in 1971, Rougerie argued that 'Paris had, moreover, not much changed since Year II, in terms of its social and industrial structures, and hardly more so in terms of its human, urban structures' — 'Mil-huit-cent- soixante-et-onze', in La Commune de 1871 – colloque de Paris, op. cit., p. 62.

[55]   See Jeanne Gaillard, Paris..., op. cit., pp. 47-59, especially on the role of octroi duties, including under Haussmann.

[56] Beyond the aforementioned work of Jeanne Gaillard — pioneering study which remains all-too-little-known — it is worth citing Alain Faure, 'Petit atelier et modernisme économique. La production en miettes au XIXe siècle', Histoire, économie et société, no. 4, 1986, p. 531-557; Maurizio Gribaudi, Paris, ville ouvrière. Une histoire occultée 1789-1848, Paris, La Découverte, 2014 ; André Guillerme, La Naissance de l’industrie à Paris. Entre vapeurs et sueurs 1780-1830, Paris, Champ Vallon, 2007 ; David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, London and New York, Routledge, 2003.

[57]  The formal/real subsumption pairing is systematically elaborated in a preparatory manuscript sometimes called an 'unpublished chapter of Capital':  MECW, Volume 34, p. 93-121. It appears in a more concise form in the final version: Capital, Volume I, chapter 16, ‘Absolute and Relative Surplus-Value’; On this “medley of transition” (Marx) see ibid., Chapter 15, ‘Machinery and Modern Industry’, Section 8, ‘Revolution Effected in Manufacture, Handicrafts and Domestic Industry by Modern Industry’ – texts in marxists.org.

[58] 'In the portrait I gave in 1971, I doubtless over-emphasised the Communard's "backward-looking" aspect, as a "belated sans-culotte", as I summarily put it. This was a deliberately provocative thesis — the historical debate of 1964-1971 required as much, but today this would be insufficient' — 2004 preface in Paris libre 1871, op. cit., p. V.

[59] Ibid., pp. 13-14, 17-19.

[60]  Ibid., p. 6.

[61] Bensaïd, Walter Benjamin..., op. cit., p. 124. 

[62] IWMA, 'General Rules, October 1864', text from marxists.org.

[63] On this first round of the Marx-Bakunin clash, see Mathieu Léonard, L’Émancipation des travailleurs. Une histoire de la Première Internationale, Paris, La Fabrique, 2011, p. 154-184 and Marx/Bakunin, Socialisme autoritaire ou libertaire?, a collection of texts edited by Georges Ribeill, Paris, UGE 10/18, 1975, vol. 1. pp. 73-143.

[64] The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org. In Engels's German translation, from June-July 1871, the term 'superseded' in the English-language original is translated as überflüssig gemachte, 'made superfluous' (MEGA I.22 204).

[65] Ibid.

[66] Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Afterword to the Second German Edition, 1873, text from marxists.org, translation altered.

[67]  Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, text from marxists.org.

[68] IWMA, 'General Rules, October 1864', text from marxists.org.

[69] 'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[70] The German Ideology, ' Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook A. Idealism and Materialism', text from marxists.org.

[71] They are outlined in some depth, drawing on his voluminous press clippings, in the first draft of The Civil War in France.

[72]  'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[73]  Ibid.

[74] The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org.

[75] The Civil War in France, First Draft, text from marxists.org.

[76] The only exception being a pejorative reference to 'socialist sectarianism' in the first draft (ibid.), which Marx claimed the workers had left behind them. 'Communism' is mentioned four times in the final version.

[77]  Victorine Brocher, Souvenirs d’une morte-vivante. Une femme dans la Commune de 1871 (1909), Paris, Libertalia, 2017, pp. 214-215.

[78] Ibid., p. 230.

[79] Arthur Arnould, Histoire populaire et parlementaire de la Commune de Paris (1878), Paris, Klincksieck, 2018, p. 148.

[80] Objectives and real achievements were, indeed, often confused. According to Jeanne Gaillard, 'all these measures [taken around the start of May] had points of reference in republican practice or programmes; some had been outlined in the provinces, six months before Paris' (Communes de province..., op. cit., p. 58). In line with his revisionist ardour, Tombs categorically denies that the Commune could have been even the harbinger of a 'social revolution' (The Paris Commune 1871, p. 90); he sees its activity as expressing only 'familiar republican demands' and argues that it was 'not under pressure for more radical economic and social reforms' (pp. 97-8). To take a more recent work, while Quentin Deluermoz does not deny the emergence, over the Commune's existence, of 'a deep shaking of social relations' (Commune(s)... op. cit., p. 176) he does not attribute the organisation of labour and the economy any important role in this process. He sees the Declaration to the French People as expressing only a vague, happenstance Proudhonism, expressing moral principles of dignity, independence and equality; he adds 'one did not have to have read socialist texts to be attached to one's possessions, one's economic independence and a sentiment of social justice, upon such an occasion' (ibid., p. 171).

[81]  'Manifesto of the Paris Commune', 21 April 1871, text from marxists.org.

[82]  From the French term fonctionnaire, which refers to civil service. Fonctionnarisme is broadly equivalent to the mentality and practice of state bureaucracy as a closed and privileged caste.

[83]  Journal officiel, 25 March 1871.

[84] Cited in Paris libre 1871, op. cit., p. 123. Jacques Rougerie aptly comments that 'often it is a revolution's opponents who understand its meaning quickest, and best'.

[85] Full text in Jules Simon, Le Gouvernement de M. Thiers, Paris, Calmann Lévy, 1880, vol. 2: 8 February 1871-24 May 1873, p. 183.

[86] ‘The Fall of Paris' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[87]  For example, in the Declaration to the French People we can note Proudhonian-inspired formulas, in particular that asserting the need ' to create the institutions needed to develop and spread instruction, production, exchange and credit'. On the overcoming of the Proudhonian moment, see Bernard H. Moss, 'La Première Internationale, la coopération et le mouvement ouvrier à Paris (1865-1871): le mythe du proudhonisme', Cahiers d’histoire de l’Institut de recherches marxistes, no. 37, 1989, pp. 33-48. It is worth specifying that political Proudhonism, which revolved around a federalist vision (which it certainly had no monopoly on) had a very different fate, combined as it was with other projects working toward a radical decentralisation of power.

[88] See Varlin's own texts from 1869, a watershed year in his intellectual and political journey: Eugène Varlin, ouvrier relieur 1839-1871, edited and introduced by Michèle Audin, Paris, Libertalia, 2019, pp. 189-286. On this moment, see also Michel Cordillot, Eugène Varlin, internationaliste et communard, Paris, Spartacus, 2016, pp. 118-131; Jacques Rougerie, Eugene Varlin. Aux origines du mouvement ouvrier, Paris, Éditions du Détour, 2019, pp. 71-80, 139-145.

[89] See Jacques Rougerie: Procès des Communards, op. cit., pp. 209-232 ; Paris libre..., op. cit., pp. 173-193; 'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier...', art. cit., passim; 'Mil-huit-cent...', op. cit., pp. 70-77.

[90] Paris ville libre..., op. cit., p. 181.

[91] See on this, Jeanne Gaillard, Communes de province..., op. cit., pp. 58-59. Faithful to his usual style, Tombs peremptorily declares that to echo Marx and Engels in seeing this as a step toward communism would be a wholly baseless claim. In his rather confused discussion of co-operatives, which he denies any revolutionary or even 'subversive' dimension (The Paris Commune 1871, op. cit., p. 94), he presents the aims of the decree as a matter of 'ensur[ing] jobs and "essential works" of military importance' (ibid.). More surprisingly, Quentin Deluermoz argues that 'contrary to the hopes of Marxist analysts, the Communards generally did not want to abolish property. The idea was rather more — as the famous line in the 19 April 1871 manifesto put it — "to make power and property uniform", i.e. to ensure each person enough for a dignified existence, the basis of independence and equality' (Commune(s)..., op. cit., p. 170). But the 'famous line' of this text said something quite different: not 'to make power and property uniform' but to 'universalise' them, and this in order to put an end to the proletariat's 'servitude'. And Marx (and Engels's) project was not at all a matter of 'abolishing property' but, as the following phrase of The Civil War puts it, to 'make individual property a truth'. In support of his argument, Deluermoz presents the Proudhonian journalist Pierre Denis as the sole 'author of the manifesto', even though we know from multiple sources that it was the work of several people, in a commission set up for this very purpose, including Vallès and Delescluze. According to Arnould, a member of the Commune Council, the declaration owed 'to the pen of Delescluze, with the help of Jules Vallès': Histoire populaire... op. cit., p. 141. During the discussion of the text at a session of the Council on 18 April, Vallès even insisted that 'this programme was wholly conceived and written by citizen Delescluze' (cited in Rougerie, Paris libre..., op. cit., p. 156). According to Lissagaray, Pierre Denis wrote only the 'technical part' of the text (Histoire..., op. cit., p. 212). 

[92] The standard work of reference on this question is Paul Sereni, Marx: la personne et la chose, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007.

[93]  Marx, Capital Vol. I, chapter 32, text from marxists.org.

[94] On this see the useful collection of texts edited by Pierre Cours-Salies and Pierre Zarka: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Propriété et expropriations. Des coopératives à l’autogestion généralisée, Paris/Québec, Syllepse/M éditeur, 2013

[95] Marx, 'Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association', text from marxists.org.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Chapter XXIII, text from marxists.org.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100] 'The Paris Commune' in The Civil War in France, text from marxists.org.

[101]  Ibid.

[102] Rougerie, 'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier... ', art. cit., p. 77.

[103]  In her letter to Hermann Jung, Dmitrieff strongly upbraided her London comrades:  'How can you stay there doing nothing, when Paris will perish on this account? Every effort must be devoted to whipping up the provinces to come to our aid'.

[104]  'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier...', art. cit., p. 76

[105] Cited in Rougerie, 'Mil-huit-cent...', op. cit., p. 75. See also Rougerie, Paris libre..., op. cit., p. 180-181.

[106] 'The decree relative to the deserted workshops made restitution to the masses, dispossessed for centuries, of the property of their own labour. ... Thus "the expropriators were in their turn expropriated." ... No doubt this decree contained voids and stood in need of an elaborate explanation, especially on the subject of the co-operative societies to which the workshops were to be handed over. It was no more than the other applicable in this hour of strife, and required a number of supplementary decrees; but it at least gave some idea of the claims of the working-class, and had it nothing else on its credit side, by the mere creation of the Commission of Labour and Exchange, the revolution of the 18th March would have done more for the workmen than all the bourgeois Assemblies of France since the 5th May, 1789.' Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune of 1871, Chapter Eighteen, text from marxists.org.

[107] Lefrançais, Étude..., op. cit., p. 196.

[108] Paris libre..., op. cit., p. 190.

[109] On Nathalie Le Mel (1826-1921), see Édith Thomas, Les “Pétroleuses”, op. cit., pp. 35-36, 117-118 ; Jean Bruhat, 'La Citoyenne Le Mel, ouvrière relieuse et communarde', La Commune, no. 2, 1975, pp. 11-29; Eugène Kerbaul, Nathalie Le Mel, une Bretonne révolutionnaire et féministe, Pantin, Le Temps des cerises, 2009.

[110] Eugène Schulkind speaks of 1,000 to 2,000 participants ('Socialist Women during the 1871 Paris Commune', Past and Present, no. 106, 1985, p. 156); Jacques Rougerie offers an identical range for the direct membership of the Paris Federation of the International during the Commune ('L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier... ', art. cit., p. 56). 

[111] The 'Address from the Central Committee of the Women's Union to the Labour and Exchange Commission' promoted a radically anti-capitalist version of 'the organisation of work'. Beyond the end to capitalist exploitation and the workers taking charge of production, it extended to the abolition of the debilitating division of labour and of all competition between men and women workers. 

[112] Rougerie, 'L’AIT et le mouvement ouvrier...', art. cit., pp. 74-75.

[113] For an overview see Bibia Pavard, Florence Rochefort, Michelle Zancarini- Fournel, Ne nous libérez pas, on s’en charge. Une histoire des féminismes de 1789 à nos jours, Paris, La Découverte, 2020, pp. 71-96; Jacques Rougerie, '1871 La Commune de Paris', in Christine Fauré (ed.), Encyclopédie politique et historique des femmes, Paris, PUF, 1997, p. 405-431 ; Édith Thomas, Les “Pétroleuses”, op. cit.

[114] Arnould, Histoire..., op. cit., p. 156.

[115] 'La Révolution sans la femme', La Sociale, 8 May 1871, reproduced in André Léo, Écrits politiques, Paris, Éditions Dittmar, pp. 169-172, quote from p. 170.

[116] Benoît Malon, La Troisième défaite du prolétariat français, Neuchâtel, G. Guillaume, 1871, p. 280. 

[117]  'Socialist Women...', art. cit., p. 163.

[118] The 5th Resolution of the London Conference “Formation of Working Women's branches” goes as follows: “The Conference recommends the formation of female branches among the working class. It is, however, understood that this resolution does not at all interfere with the existence or formation of branches composed of both sexes”, MEGA I.22 340.

[119] Ibid ; p. 670.

[120] Ibid.